How to get the most out of a Havana cigar
SIMON CHASE PROVIDES THE ULTIMATE PRACTICAL GUIDE TO ENJOYING A HABANOS, FROM CHOOSING THE PERFECT STICK TO UNDERSTANDING WHEN TO PUT IT OUT
Simply hold the cigar between your thumb and forefinger, and squeeze it gently. If it feels firm yet springy, the condition is good; if it is hard and brittle, it is out of condition. The squeeze test can be extended along the whole length of the cigar to ensure that the filler is evenly packed and contains no holes that might cause an uneven burn.
Such an invasive procedure is better undertaken with cigars you own. Few cigar merchants would welcome such treatment of their precious stock, although I would recommend that you do not patronise any shop that refuses to open a box and let you view its contents before you get out your credit card.
The first thing to look at is the wrapper colour. Traditionally the wrapper colours of Cuban cigars vary between boxes. This applies to all brands and all sizes, so you can find anything from claro to maduro in a Montecristo, a Partagas or any of the other 25 brands Habanos makes with the exception of most Cohibas, which have their own colour grading regime. There are one or two other exceptions to this rule— like the annual Limited Edition releases whether it is full or light-flavoured. For my part, I have particular colour preferences for different brands based on my belief that the wrapper adds a certain top- taste to the cigar on a scale stretching from dryness, if it is light-coloured, to sweetness, if it is dark. The fuller-flavoured Cuban brands, like Partagas for example, are better dressed for my taste in dark wrappers, whilst the lighter blends that you find in Hoyo de Monterrey or El Rey del Mundo go better with light, drier-tasting wrappers. Colour apart, all wrappers should be smooth, vein-free and have that all-important lustre or sheen; this is where the smiling comes in.
When it comes to taste, experience is the only trustworthy guide. Habanos SA, the Anglo-cuban company that distributes Cuban cigars worldwide, classifies all its 27 brands according to five strength categories—light, Light to Medium, Medium, Medium to Full and Full. As one of the team that worked on these taste classifications, I am conscious that many smokers would like more information. I have always opposed this because I feel taste is such a personal matter. Also, I