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Cigar 101

Reasons to Sniff & Smell Your Cigar

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

Smelling a cigar plays a valuable role in your appraisal of it. The way a cigar smells is more important than its taste – or rather, our sense of smell outweighs our sense of taste. Allow us to explain why it’s important to smell a cigar before you smoke it. Buy it first, though, if you’re in a retail shop. No one wants to put a cigar in their mouth after it’s been passed back and forth under your nose.

We Remember Smells

Scent is the most powerful of the five senses. Because our olfactory receptor neurons, located behind our sinuses, are the only neurons in our bodies exposed to air, they make physical contact with the actual molecules that create an odor and send a report straight to our brains. Our sense of smell steers our behavior with emotion, perception, and memory more than any other sense. Our sense of smell heavily influences our sense of taste. Smell triggers our strongest reactions and molds our olfactory memory. That’s why a powerful flight response kicks in when a whiff of death and decay hits our nostrils, and a pizza fresh out of the oven makes us hungry even if we just ate.

The scent of a premium cigar is among the most unmistakable you’ll encounter in life. Cigars rank up there with fresh bread, diesel fuel, hot coffee, and apple pie. You couldn’t forget the first time you stepped into a cigar shop if you wanted to – at least not its smell. The smoky and sweet aroma of tobacco, leather, wood, old library books, and spices permeates a cigar store. The tobaccos that make up premium cigars are fermented and aged for many years according to precise techniques to achieve their flavor and aroma. This smell forms a rigid impression in our brains.

Preview the Taste

Smelling a cigar before you light it is a preview to its taste. A cigar’s smell and taste may not be carbon copies of one another, but you can learn to predict specific tasting notes by smelling a cigar first. Understanding how your palate interprets taste is helpful in recognizing the way flavor and aroma are linked. A cigar’s cold taste and cold aroma are different from what you taste and smell after you light it up, but they can indicate the presence of spices, sweet flavors, minerals, or even if a cigar is fresh or dried out. If the scent of ammonia overpowers your nose, the cigar may need to be aged longer before you smoke it. However, the taste of a great cigar is often foreshadowed by desirable aroma in its unlit state. 

How to Smell a Cigar

You cannot smell a cigar with its cellophane on. While it’s amusing to watch someone deeply inhaling a cigar through a sealed cellophane wrapper to smell it, it’s better to let them know to at least squeeze the foot of the cigar through the open end of the cello to access its scent. Cellophane is invaluable for shipping, displaying, and inventorying premium cigars, but it is a barrier to a cigar’s raw aroma. 

After the cellophane is removed, put the foot of the cigar right up to one of your nostrils and take deep sniff. You’ll get the most from smelling a cigar’s foot because you can perceive the binder, filler, and wrapper tobaccos all at once. After smelling the foot, it’s customary to roll the cigar from head to foot directly under your nose for a pronounced dose of the aroma of the wrapper leaf. As you twist the cigar in your lips and light it up, recognize how its cold aroma translates to the flavor you taste while you’re smoking.

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