Over the last year or so, I’ve really come to enjoy cigars. They’re undergoing something of a renaissance, especially among the young conservative crowd. It’s so relaxing to come home at the end of a long day, pour a glass, grab a stick, and watch the sun set from your back porch while puffing and drinking away. And I’ve found that it’s an excellent way to build community – especially among men.
Cigars used to be cool, but they don’t have the greatest reputation in our modern heath-conscious world. Like many of you, I heard that all forms of tobacco smoking placed you at exceptionally high risk for cancer and heart disease. But then I noticed that several friends, men whose judgment I greatly respected, smoked cigars. Some of the oldest men who have ever lived, in fact, were regular cigar smokers.
So I did some research.
Based on the best studies we have, cigars aren’t healthy like kale’s healthy. But they are not a significant health risk if smoked in moderation. The FDA recently undertook a survey of several peer-reviewed studies of smoking and mortality rates. They found that while regular cigarette smoking puts people at seriously heightened risk of serious disease and death, smoking 1-2 cigars per day or less led to no statistically significant increase in the same risks.
This surprising result makes sense when you consider two factors.
First of all, handmade cigars contain only two ingredients, and both are entirely natural: dried tobacco leaves and a fruit-based adhesive called pectin. By contrast, according to the American Lung Association, cigarettes contain over 600 ingredients and create more than 7,000 chemicals when burned. At least 69 of these chemicals are carcinogenic (meaning they cause cancer), and many more are toxic.
And second, not only do cigarettes have gobs of harmful chemical compounds, but they are smoked in a much more physically harmful way than cigars. Cigarette smokers breathe smoke into their lungs, but cigar smokers, like Bill Clinton, do not inhale. So while occasional cigar smoking is not entirely harmless, it certainly doesn’t carry the same risks to your lungs or throat as cigarette smoking.
So let’s say you’re interested in trying cigars out. Where in the world would you start?
First, you need to know how to smoke a cigar. There is a certain step-by-step art and ritual to it. And different cigars, like different wines or whiskies, have notes of flavor that you can discern when tasting or smelling them. I’d recommend the video here from cigar reviewer Bryan Glenn, if you want to learn how to partake.
Now you just need to pick out a cigar. And that’s where I hope I can help.
Below I’ve picked out five excellent low-priced cigars that won’t overwhelm newbies and will satisfy veterans. They’re on the mild-to-medium end of the strength spectrum. All of them should be readily available in 5-packs at Cigars International, my favorite online cigar store, or as single sticks at your neighborhood cigar retailer.
5 Vegas Gold
SIZE: Robusto (5″x50) PRICE: $3-4 per cigar
NOTES: Probably the single best cigar available at this particular price, this is a consistent winner from a cigar brand with a proven track record of excellence. Light it up and you’ll discover plentiful, creamy smoke. It tastes and smells heavily of wood, with a peppery finish tinged by a slight smell of ink – a characteristic of high quality tobacco.
SIZE: Hyde Park Robusto (5.5″x49) PRICE: $6-7 per cigar
NOTES:A favorite among fans of lighter cigar fare, this consistently well-made classic is the top-selling cigar in the world. It smells of fresh flowers and grass, tasting of earth and oranges, with a hint of nuttiness.
Drew Estate Undercrown Shade
SIZE: Robusto (5″x54) PRICE: $7-8 per cigar
NOTES: This one’s a little pricier than the others recommended here, but well worth it. It was crafted by the cigar rollers at Drew Estate as their own personal blend. Mellow with superb construction, this stick tastes of citrus, cream, and freshly baked bread. Notes of sweetgrass, wood, and leather are present near the finish, delighting your palate with a complex yet pleasant character.
Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur
SIZE: Epicure Robusto (5.2″x50) PRICE: $5-6 per cigar
NOTES: Beloved by Cigar Aficionado, those famed cigar ranking experts, Excalibur is slightly stronger than the three picks above. Made with tobacco of exceptional quality – only the top 10% of the Monterrey’s Honduran and Nicaraguan leaves make the cut – and near-perfectly constructed. Delicious notes of toasted nuts and honey dominate, with a strong aroma of leather and baking spices.
CAO La Traviata
SIZE: Divinio Robusto (5.0″x50) PRICE: $4-5 per cigar
NOTES: Medium-bodied yet perfectly balanced and accessible, with a tobacco blend from Ecuador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. Like the Excalibur, it’s a darling among the cigar critic crowd, and has made the Top 25 Cigars of the Year list twice – a nearly unheard-of feat. Neither overly spicy nor overly sweet, it contains notes of cedar, earth, leather, and cream. It’s a personal favorite.