Thursday, January 3, 2013

What is this wacky term Retrohale? (your nasal passages can do this?)

Retrowhat?  Retrohale.  It’s a term you may have already encountered and been puzzled by.  If you have never heard it, listen for it and you will.  Any serious discussion among a couple of cigar fiends will doubtlessly end up with at least a mention of the retrohale of the cigar.  In short, retrohale is, as its name hints at, a reverse, or retro, inhale.  So it’s a backwards inhale, also more plainly known as an exhale, but with one important distinction: while you draw the smoke in through your mouth –and never inhale it into your lungs- with your mouth closed, you exhale some amount of smoke through your nose.
At first you might doubt that your head is plumbed in such a way as to make this possible.  Think of that last pesky cold you had with post nasal drip.  Somehow that annoying mucus drained into your throat.  That’s because your nasal passages, not to be mistaken with your sinuses, are connected to the mouth and throat at the very back of your palate.

The interesting opportunity that this presents for us cigars smokers is the retrohale.  You can exhale smoke through your nose and get a different take on the flavors and character of the cigar’s blend.  We all know that we can taste a surprisingly limited range of tastes with our taste buds: bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and the late comer, umami.  In stark contrast to the four, or five, basic tastes, our sense of smell can detect literally thousands of different odors.  Most of what we perceive as flavor, and especially when we have trained our palate to delicately pick apart subtle layers of flavor, is driven by our noses and not our taste buds.
Taste buds and noses work as a great pair, but when you have a cold, and your nose is clogged up and out of commission, the vividness of your sense of taste is almost wholly lost.  So, back to cigars.  The retrohale permits your nose to get a really close look at the flavors that are bound up in your cigar’s smoke.   It doesn’t require much volume of smoke to retrohale, and, especially starting out, less is more.  You will be amazed at the clarity that a brief retrohale can offer to your palate.  Don’t think you need to do it frequently.  Just a very few times during the entire duration of the cigar is sufficient.  If you’re a newbie starting out, be gentle.  Retrohale smaller volumes of smoke, and certainly less frequently, if a cigar is powerful.  Also, if you are trying to master this technique, I recommend you work out the details with a mild and sweeter blend.  A dry spicy stick will bite even the best of us.

So there’s the what in regards to retrohale.  Next time we’ll discuss the how.

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