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Cigar 101

How to Get and Keep a Long Cigar Ash

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

If you’ve ever been to a “longest ash” competition, it’s easy to appreciate the sheer obsession a number of cigar lovers exhibit over keeping the ash on their cigars intact for as long as humanly possible. They take great measures to smoke an entire cigar without budging an inch or letting a breeze come near them.

Getting an excessive ash on the end of your cigar doesn’t have to involve a tournament, either. For some it simply happens by accident. You’re puffing away for an extended period of time and you’ve managed to neglect the ashtray because your cigar’s ash has shown no signs of falling off – a sign your cigar is perfectly constructed.

However, there are a handful of mom-and-pop smokeshops and neighborhood herfs where getting the longest ash has been turned into a competitive spectacle. Many years ago, I worked in a cigar shop that hosted an annual longest ash competition. The contestants were fanatical. One year, we actually had to disqualify a smoker who inserted a thin metal wire into his cigar to ensure the ash would stay intact right down to the nub. Pure absurdity.

Whether you’re simply challenging yourself to smoke a cigar without ashing, or you’re provoking your pals to beat your ash, here are some helpful strategies for getting a long ash on your cigar (without cheating).

Smoke Indoors

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. If you’re out on your deck or rollerblading down the sidewalk, keeping an ash on the end of your cigar will be inherently more challenging. Smoke inside. Sit in a comfortable chair and tell others not to disturb you. If your pals are getting up and down or opening and closing doors around you, they can easily create a draft that will send your ash into thin air. If you can convert your man cave into a vacuum, you’re set.

Choose the Best Cigar

Some cigars will hold an ash better than others. Stick with a premium cigar handmade with long-filler tobaccos only – no short-fillers, mixed-fillers, or Cuban-sandwich blends. Cigars made entirely from whole-leaf tobaccos exhibit superior construction and integrity. The ash on a short-filler cigar is far more likely to flake off while you’re smoking. Premium long-filler cigars rolled in the entubado method are best. Entubado is a process where each individual leaf of long-filler tobacco in a cigar is rolled up in a tube and the tubes are assembled together. Entubado is a more time-consuming rolling process, but it results in a superior draw.  

Choose a good size. Traditional shapes like a Toro, Robusto, Churchill, or a Double Corona are best. Cigars that are too thin (like a Lancero) or too thick (like a Gordo or anything over a 58 ring gauge) won’t exhibit the best physics for maintaining an ash. A small draft of air can disturb a thin ash and gravity will work against an ash that is too thick.

A thick and oily wrapper is best. Cigars blended with a Maduro or Oscuro wrapper leaf typically demonstrate more cohesion – especially if the cigar is crafted from a relatively dense recipe of tobaccos. The ash is less likely to stay intact on cigars that reveal a softer, looser construction. Ideal candidates include Ashton VSG, My Father Le Bijou 1922, San Cristobal, and La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor.

Technique Matters

Hold your cigar vertically. Smoking a cigar with the goal of getting the longest ash possible is more of an endurance exercise than an excuse to relax and actually enjoy your cigar. Others watching you may feel like they’re at the circus. Your head is tilted back while you’re drawing on the cigar as you hold it up like an antennae over your mouth. Beads of sweat may form on your forehead. It’s uncomfortable and your neck will likely get stiff, but no one will be able to hold a candle to your ash if you can maintain your concentration.

Take slow and easy draws. Don’t wait too long between puffs (around a minute) and don’t puff too quickly. The goal is to keep the cherry on your cigar as cool as possible while you’re smoking, without having to relight it.

Keep an even burn. You want your ash to look like a stack of dimes as it grows. A nice straight column is best, but don’t get discouraged if the ash tilts a little. Just be aware any crookedness can cause the ash to drop. If you do need to touch up a crooked burn, use a single-jet torch lighter with a precise flame. You only want to hit the small areas of the cigar that need a little more heat (not the entire foot) while the ash is developing.

Do not set your cigar in an ashtray. Obviously, if you set your cigar down in an ashtray or in a horizontal position, there’s a far greater chance the ash will come off. Don’t jostle or maneuver your cigar unnecessarily. Stillness is your friend.

What a Long Ash Says about Your Cigar

You’ve managed to sit as still as a statue and now you’ve got a towering eight inches of perfectly smoked ash resting on the nub of your cigar for all to see. Congratulations! Hopefully you can sneak your smartphone out of your pocket to capture the glory for an Instagram post. A long ash is a great indication your cigar was rolled perfectly. Patience, attention, and skill are required to assemble the many tobaccos that go into a premium cigar. A strong ash is a sign your cigar was rolled with passion and pride by an experienced cigar roller.

The final step in the process is to smoke a second cigar – one that you can sit back and enjoy without worrying that a leaning tower of ashes will topple into your lap. Cheers.

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