Cigar smoking has a deeply entrenched reputation as being an opulent pastime for blue-bloods and captains of industry- an image that we all know flies in the face of the average cigar smoker and the average cigar. For whatever reason, people associate cigar smoking with wealth. And while we may all dream of smoking exclusively VSGs, Davidoffs, Behikes and Graycliff, those of us in the know feel no need to break the bank in the pursuit of a perfectly pleasant puro.
A more interesting question is: how did cigar smoking get branded as a hobby for the elite? An expensive luxury out of the reach of the average proletariat? I think it has to do with that one equity that is so hard to come by- time. Using your average robusto-size cigar (5” long by 50/64ths of an inch thick) as a benchmark, you’ll need a good 45 minutes to dedicate to smoking. Any while you’re smoking, you can’t clamp the cigar in your teeth like a pipe or a cigarette- it’ll get soggy. So not only do you need ¾ of an hour, but you need a free hand as well.
With the dual necessities of time and physical preoccupation, the very act of cigar smoking precludes you from certain manual labor-related activities, and takes too long to sneak off for a quick fix or to stretch a lunch break for an extra 5 minutes. If you were an average laborer, you would never have the opportunity during your day to make smoking cigars part of your routine. You’d need to dedicate time in the evenings, or over the weekend to get your smoking done. Which leads us into our beloved cigar lounge and public humidor.
There was a book written a few years ago that talked about the rise and fall of bowling leagues in the United States. Basically what it said was that more games of bowling are being played now than ever before in our nation’s history, but that the number of individual games being played alone is also much, much higher than ever before. People used to socialize and gather at bowling alleys in leagues- they’d have teams, practices, and league games. And, as Walter Sobchak so elegantly reminded Smoky with a little assistance from his sidearm, league games used to be very important. We used to be a society that was built of groups- now we’re much more individualized. But fortunately, we can still gather at cigar lounges to be together, to smoke new cigars, and to gain the camaraderie that is missing so prevalently from our society.
Lounges are, in our opinion, the backbone of the cigar community. People of all walks of life, all incomes and aspirations can freely gather in these smoke-filled havens of personal freedom and dedicate that gift of time to the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Modern cigar lounges almost all have large, intimidating walk-in humidors, boasting dozens if not hundreds of choices. We’ve seen cigars retail for as much as $200 per stick, and as little as $2. If money and cost are of no consideration when you buy a cigar, you can go do something else. For those of you who want maximum pleasure for minimum price, please continue.
It seems that the most popular price point in the cigar business is between $10 and $14 (California Tax is 31.73% of the wholesale price- your state may be different), but that’s not our focus today. What do you do if you have $8 burning a hole in your pocket? Or $6?
The first place the smoker on a budget should start is with the House Blend, if there is one. This is usually a cigar that the shop will have commissioned for them in bulk by any one of a variety of manufacturers. They are usually unbanded and in a tray display of some sort. Other shops will have “wine racks” built in their humidor for display. Ask your tobacconist about strength, flavor, origin, etc to see which one will work best for you. The other benefit is that lounges usually have good profit margins on these sticks, so you help yourself not break the bank, and you help the lounge stay in business.
Another popular route is to go with a smaller size than you usually smoke- if you like 6×60, try a Churchill. Or trade down to a robusto. Or if you’re hell-bent on a certain stick, see if they make a corona or petite lancero. The only problem with this solution, as elegant as it is, is that you end up with a short smoke. And if you’re looking to fill an evening, you’ll need to either buy a few or smoke at such a diligently slow pace that you’re spending more time thinking about your smoking speed as opposed to your smoking pleasure.
Our favorite way is a two-pronged approach. First, you have to learn about what you like- not the brand name, but the tasting notes and origins of the tobacco itself. Do you like mild Dominican cigars? Or are sticks with strong Nicaraguan ligero tobacco more your speed? Spend some time with your favorites and figure out what it is that you like about them. Then, once you can speak about your preferences beyond saying “strong” or “Cuban”, start perusing the humidor and looking at prices. Once you’ve selected a few candidates, ask the employees or the owner to talk to you about the taste profiles of what you’ve chosen.
And the most important part of smoking on a budget- be open to trying new things. Take some direction from your fellow smokers, seek out brands that you’ve neglected, and try to appreciate each cigar for what it is, not what you want it to be. And if you buy a value cigar and don’t fall in love, at least you had the experience. You may not have money to burn, but as long as there’s more than lint in your pockets, you’ll have cigars.