Ask any cigar enthusiast what their best advice is and you’ll likely get a slurry of answers. Yet, the best advice always answers your initial questions. It also places you on the right path to a cigar lifestyle. There’s one question I get more than any other, or some variation on it. “I’m interested in trying cigars. Where do I start?” And it’s not like these things are cheap. I don’t want to buy bad ones. Which cigars do you recommend for someone new?” There are a lot of things new cigar smokers should learn about like cutting cigars, storing cigars, and lighting cigars but we’re just going to focus on getting starting buying and selecting the actual cigars.
Palates Change and Differs
I’m going to give you my best advice on cigar selection but first a couple of universal points. Understand that what you like will be different than what your friend likes or the “expert” on Facebook love. Smoke what you enjoy. Secondly, understand that there is a very good chance your palate will change or “evolve” as you become a more frequent cigar smoker.
Like most new cigar smokers, I initially gravitated to mild or mild to medium blends. Today while I can appreciate those cigars and their place my preference is medium to full or a full-bodied cigar. My early “go-to” sticks I won’t select today. That’s perfectly normal and it happens very gradually over the course of years.
Picking the Sticks is a Process
At the end of the day, it all comes down to trying a number of different cigars and figuring out what’s right for you. The good news is if cigars are going to become a pleasurable pastime for you, trying out a bunch of cigars trying to find your sweet spots shouldn’t feel like a chore. Most of them won’t be awful and many will be really good even if they aren’t your favorite. For a new cigar smoker, finding a palate should be like dating without the drama!
Whatever you pick (and we’ll get to that in a minute), journal your cigars, either literally or figuratively. That means taking notes on what you smoked and what you liked about it/disliked about it. You can formally do this in a physical journal or on your phone. If you’ve got a pretty good memory taking mental notes can work too (for me the mental notes worked just fine, and they can be as simple as “would/would not buy again”). Pro tip: after you remove the band instead of throwing it away put it in your pocket or take a picture of it to refer to when you journal.
Bricks and Mortar (B&M) Strategy
Go to your local cigar store. Not the place with a little humidor and a few boxes for sale but one where their whole business is cigars. Be upfront with the staff member that you are new and looking for help. Introduce yourself. New smokers are their lifeblood and they should be happy to help you and greet you enthusiastically.
Part of the value they should be offering you is the best advice on selection. If possible talk to the owner or a long-term employee. They don’t necessarily need to be a certified tobacconist, but they need to know their stuff. If you don’t get a good vibe about their expertise or they are short with you consider leaving and finding another store or buying just one and trying another time (when maybe a different staffer will be there).
Ultimately what you are trying to find is someone that will truly guide you through the journey. Prices will vary regionally but expect to pay $8 – $15 (each) for premium brand name cigars. He or she may also have some value or “house” sticks for less ($3-6/stick). Don’t be afraid of those. They are an excellent way to develop your palate.
The Online Strategy
Google “introductory deal for new cigar smokers” or similar and look at the results. Odds are you’ll find several different offers on the various links. Often these deals will cost anywhere between $15-30 all in including shipping and consist of 8-12 different brand-name premium cigars usually with some sort of accessory (humidor, cutter, lighter, etc.) thrown in on the deal. These are a fantastic deal! No these aren’t the best cigars in the world and you aren’t going to find an Opus X in there, but they are quality cigars that will give you a great cost-effective way of doing the trial and error.
You will also find these introductory deals in the USPS “junk mailers” you typically get with your grocery store coupons. They are almost always limited to one per customer or address as the deals are designed to be attractive. Nothing says you can’t take advantage of the offers from multiple companies. They are all trying to win your business long-term.
The Hybrid Strategy: A Little of Both
On a going basis, the online retailers will almost always beat the B&M guys on price. That’s just reality. I won’t turn this into a primer online vs. B&M retailing. Amazon is less expensive than CVS on the corner. You get it. That doesn’t mean one is better or worse. Regardless of where you buy online can be an invaluable source of information on the different cigar brands and figuring out what other cigars are similar to the ones you enjoy (remember you’ll be journaling this stuff). Most of the time the reviews and product descriptions from the top sites are fantastic.
Maybe you do a little bit of both. Then, my best advice is to buy a couple of introductory samplers. Make a friend at a cigar shop. Hard to put a price on the value of a friend at the shop.
In fact, they can complement each other. You can buy a sampler online then go into the store and be able to tell the merchant about two or three things you really like, and it will help him recommend other sticks to try. Just remember cigar etiquette, if you go in and talk the B&M merchant’s ear off or take up fifteen minutes of his time, buy something! He’s got to eat, too, and he’s providing value to you through the education he provides.
Final Word on Pricing
Unless you are just oozing with coin and frankly can never see yourself smoking anything but the ultra high end, don’t start your cigar journey at the top. Frankly, an inexperienced palate won’t appreciate what it is smoking. Don’t start at the bottom. Everything you smoke should be a premium, handmade, long filler cigar. Smoke a mix of brand names and value sticks until you figure out what you like.
If you’re a wine connoisseur or just familiar with wine drinking you’ll quickly see a ton of similarities between wine drinking and cigar smoking on a lot of different levels. One is if you really don’t know wine, for the most part, you won’t appreciate great wine. You’ll recognize the difference between a $4 bottle and a $40 bottle but you won’t know the difference between a $40 bottle and a $400 bottle. Cigars are the same way. I’d just say, the best advice here is to save the $20+ (per stick) stuff for when you can appreciate the nuance that makes a great (and priced appropriately) stick a great stick.
Bringing it all Together
Whether you go the B&M route or the online route will probably be based in part on the availability of good B&M near you, your budget, and your personality. Either is fine. The important thing is to get out there and start smoking! Take some notes from the best advice and figure out what you like and keep smoking. Don’t worry about what other people are smoking as long as you’re enjoying yourself. As I like to say, “My favorite cigar is the one I’m smoking right now!”
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.co/a4/b09ca63b”>Retronaut</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re6/11a56829″>Visualhunt.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”> CC BY-NC-ND</a>