On Jan. 1, Chicagoâ€™s new smoking ban officially snuffed out peopleâ€™s ability to light up in bars and restaurants. And since this winter is already in full chill, standing outside your favorite spot to have a quick cigarette is, well, no fun.
But instead of freezing your ass off to enjoy a Camel Light, why not enjoy a nice cigar at home? â€œPeople donâ€™t buy cigars because theyâ€™re must-buys,â€ says William Oâ€™Hara, owner of Jack Schwartz Importer (141 W. Jackson, 312/782-7898). â€œPeople buy cigars because smoking them makes the event much more memorable. You can be celebrating a party, a birth, a graduationâ€”whatever. Itâ€™s an occasion.â€
If youâ€™re going to take the plunge and enjoy a handrolled cigar, there are a few things you should know first. When picking out a cigar, Oâ€™Hara suggests you give it a squeeze. â€œIf the cigar is stored properly, youâ€™ll find it has just a little bit of give,â€ he says. â€œYou donâ€™t want it to be too dry, because it wonâ€™t smoke properly, but you donâ€™t want it to be too moist either. Youâ€™re looking for a smooth draw, because if you fight with the cigar, it wonâ€™t be as enjoyable.â€
Because there are hundreds of cigar manufacturers in business, choosing the cigar thatâ€™s right for you is a very personal experience, says Raki Mehra, owner of Hubbard State Cigar Shop (6 W. Hubbard, 312/670-0687). But there are a couple of things youâ€™ll want to consider: Cigars vary in length (they can range from four inches long to seven or more); thickness, which is measured in ring gauge (a cigar with a 64 ring gauge is one inch in diameter, and most cigars fall between 32 and 52); and, of course, flavor.
A cigarâ€™s flavor has a lot to do with its wrapper (the tobacco leaf wrapped around the filler tobacco), and darker cigars will generally taste heavier and spicier than lighter cigars. â€œ The darker and [more] shiny a cigar looks, the more complex the flavors will usually be,â€ Mehra says.
Time is also a huge factor in picking out a cigar. A bigger cigarâ€”a seven-inch Churchill, for exampleâ€”can take up to two hours to finish, which is way too much time in the winter for most. A four-and-a-half-inch petit perfecto, on the other hand, takes as
little as 30 minutes. (Smaller cigars are also lighter on the wallet.)
Also, if youâ€™re new to cigars, you probably donâ€™t want to turn three shades of green. As much as youâ€™re tempted, lay off that super-dark, Tony Soprano-esque double maduro cigar, no matter how cool you think itâ€™ll make you look.
If you decide to become a full-time cigar smoker, you canâ€™t just leave them laying around: Store them in a humidor, which runs anywhere from $20 to tens of thousands of dollars depending on how many cigars you want to store. Youâ€™ll also need a humidifier and a gauge.
The investment, says Mike Maddaloni, 40, a Loop-based web consultant, is worth it. â€œ When youâ€™re smoking a cigar, youâ€™re not running around or doing anything fast-paced, and it adds to a good experience,â€ he says. â€œIâ€™ll smoke a cigar, and Iâ€™ll spend more money on that than people would on a pack of cigarettes, but in the long run, itâ€™s cheaper.â€
Quick cigar suggestions
The CAO America ($6-$8) is a beautiful-looking smoke. Itâ€™s not too full-bodied and has a bit of a chocolatey, earthy taste.
Since itâ€™s cold outside, the Punch Champion ($3.50-$4.50) is a good short smoke.
For folks looking for a good budget cigar, the Occidental Reserve by Alec Bradley (roughly $2 on CigarsInternational.com) is a sure thing.
If you have $20 burning a hole in your pocket, you may want to check out the Graycliff Professionale. Itâ€™s worth every penny and is good for weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduationsâ€”or if youâ€™re trying to kiss up to your boss.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 8 issue of UR Chicago Magazine. You can pick it up from a UR Chicago box in downtown Chicago or you can read it here.