Saturday, February 16, 2013

One of the two greatest cigar debates: band on or off? – Part 1

Your cigar band collection accumulates quickly.

Something that has always been fun about working in this great industry, with the best customers in the world, is the various preferences, opinions, and debates that arise.  Everyone has their own, deserved, opinion of a myriad of cigar topics.  Two that are perhaps the most recurring are the great debates of: cigar band on or off while smoking; and cellophane on or off while storing in the humidor.  Let us tackle that first one first.

How should you properly smoke a cigar?  Is one to leave the band on the cigar, brandishing the brand name for all to see, admire, scoff at, or acknowledge?  Or is it better to remove the band, either discretely or ceremoniously, in order to smoke the cigar and experience only the important part –the tobacco?  Here is an answer in two parts.
Not to disappoint, but there is no wrong answer to this debate.  There are just personal preferences.  Clearly the line is drawn and there are two camps.  I don’t have much experience of crossing between those camps.  I’ve stayed pretty resolutely in mine, and have observed those in the other camp standing their ground too.  Personally, I hail from the leave-the-band-on camp.  I hold this belief for a number of reasons. 

First, cigars are one of the finest conversation starters in the world.  Countless times I have leaned over and asked a fellow cigar smoker what he, and sometimes she, was smoking.  Most of the time I have already recognized the brand, and been ready to probe deeper as to why they enjoy that cigar.  For nearly a decade and a half I have immersed myself in this industry.  As such I’m sometimes afforded the chance to chat about a cigar someone is smoking, ask them why they like it, and share some interesting anecdote about the brand or the blend.

A well designed cigar band is a thing of beauty and can tell you a good amount about the stogie it surrounds.  The name of the brand is usually prominent.  Many times there is also a name, or other identifying marks, to the specific line within the brand.  The country of origin is almost always listed, and on some of the most beautiful and compelling bands there is gorgeous artwork.  The single scene portrayed on the band can set the stage that the blended tobacco leaves within are presumed to execute.

Oh, and secretly, sometimes a cigar has a gigantic band that is 2” or more long.  I like garish bands like this about as much as I favor 6x60s, but they both have their places.  If I’m going to be cleaning the pool, or working in the garden, I’ll sometimes grab a cigar that has one of these armor-plated monster bands on it because I know that I can easily handle the cigar only by the band and not damage the wrapper.  You’re right I probably should choose a cigar based upon the blend I want to smoke and not the size of the band, but some of these large banded cigars are tasty and utilitarian.

So, to close out this first part of the answer to this debate: yes, please leave the band on.  It is an integral part of the overall presentation and persona of the cigar.  Allow it to have its own identity and feel free to judge it accordingly.  Across the centuries the cigar band has been one of the coolest marketing and branding devices ever conjured up.  They are at times serious, thoughtful, and mirthful.  And if the cigar is good enough to warrant it, smoke it right up to and past the band.  When it is time to remove the band, so you can avoid smoking paper, just gently pick at the end with your fingernail.  The heat from the burning cigar softens the glue holding the band together and usually makes it a cinch to pop it free without damaging the wrapper.  Perhaps that is the biggest reason to leave the band on, at least for a little while.  If you try to wrestle it free on an unlit cigar you definitely run the risk of damaging the wrapper.  Mangling the outer leaf during a quest to strip a cigar of its identity is foolhardy at best.

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