Every industry has its own lingua franca… a language that people in that industry will know and understand, that may sound like gibberish to the outside world… or even to new members of that industry. Cigars are no different. A few weeks ago a friend asked me what my plans were for the weekend, and I told them I was planning to herf with the boys. She looked at me like I was from the moon.
People should not be embarrassed by not knowing a lot of these terms. With that said, I thought I would put out a short glossary of terms that we use frequently.
Bombs / Grenades
I am always amused when I read on someone’s Facebook that their mailbox was blown up by a package from Fred. Rest assured, no explosives are involved. A bomb or grenade is a gift of a cigar (and occasionally other related items, such as booze or accessories) from one cigar smoker to another. These can be sent by mail, but more often they are gifted as herfs (see ‘Herfs’).
If you are reading this article, you are most likely one of these. Brothers of the Leaf and Sisters of the Leaf are people who enjoy cigars and pipes. Unlike cigarette smokers, who are usually addicts, people who smoke cigars and pipes are more often than not members of a community. We have a hobby in common, and we bond.
It is amazing to think how many of my friends I met through cigars, both in Canada and the USA. Shortly after my move to California, Liza commented how amazed she was that I had met so many people and was able to blend in so easily. How did I do it? My second day in the state I walked into a cigar lounge and lit up a cigar. People started talking to me, and we went from there.
Brothers and Sisters of the Leaf are always going to have something to discuss, whether it be a new cigar they enjoyed (or disliked), their family, sports, politics, and myriad other topics that people will cover while enjoying a drink and a stick.
Brick & Mortar (B&M)
In the era of online retailers, the traditional brick and mortar stores were suffering even before the global pandemic. It was a common call to arms from cigar groups to ‘Support your local B&M’ which, simply put, means you should buy cigars from local stores rather than online resellers. It was always a double-edged sword. On the one hand, B&Ms always have great people working there, and those people are a great resource to ask for advice and guidance. These stores also, in many cases, are a place where you can smoke the cigars you buy there. The downside is that the cigars are almost always more expensive at B&Ms than the same cigars from online resellers. What is the right answer? I don’t know… but I have always tried to split my business between the two. I want to support my local B&M but I am also on a budget… so I do a bit of both.
A cigar that burns severely unevenly can be called a canoe. a canoe is not just a cigar where one side burns a bit faster than the other; this is usually a cigar where one side hardly burns at all, and the other side burns too fast. This can be caused by a badly rolled cigar, or by one that is stored improperly, or by a cigar that was accidentally wet on one side. Whatever the cause, it will prevent the smoker from properly enjoying the cigar, which is blended to burn evenly so as to allow the taste properties from all of the leaves to be enjoyed as a whole.
CC / NC
There are several regions and countries in the world that produce cigars and tobacco. With that said, they are generally divided into two categories: Cuban Cigars (CCs) and Non-Cubans (NCs). Are Cuban cigars still the best in the world? That is for you to decide. Are Cuban cigars this cigar aficionado’s favourites? Absolutely.
These are people who do not think we should be changing things. They do not believe in different shapes of cigars (there are companies that make cigars shaped like footballs and more); they do not believe in flavoured cigars (there are companies that make cigars flavoured with everything from coffees to whisky to bubblegum). A cigar purist would poo-poo all of these… and almost any other advancement in the industry.
I admit, I am a bit of a purist in many ways. But here’s the thing: if we the original introduction to cigars to Europeans was when Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, at what point did they reach perfection that should not be messed with? Certainly none of us would recognize the original ‘cigars’ smoked by the Taino tribes, and the only similarity they would have to what we smoke today is that they are made of tobacco leaf. I do not like flavoured cigars because I do not believe in interfering with perfection… but there are people who make faces at me when I add milk and sugar to my coffee.
The purist believes we should only smoke cigars the way they were however-many-years-ago. A cigar snob, on the other hand, only believes in smoking high-end cigars; often this will be only Cuban cigars, but other snobs will only smoke Davidoff… or whatever other expensive and exclusive line they favour.
I was once a Cuban snob; two things cured me of that. The first was the realization that there are indeed some exceptional NCs out there (see ‘NC’). The second was a combination of the financial aspect (Cuban cigars are generally very pricey) and the fact that authentic Cuban cigars are often difficult to come by in the US.
There are many people who see their cigars as status symbols. I was in a cigar lounge in China once and I saw many people holding their cigars over their head. I thought this might have to do with the ventilation, but in fact, my host told me, it was that people wanted others to see what they were smoking. ‘I’m smoking a Cohiba, while you are only smoking a Romeo y Julieta’ sort of thing. This culture bothers me a little… but I was in someone else’s lounge in a foreign land, and they probably think some of the cultural habits that I find normal are silly.
Coning / Caving
A coned cigar burns faster on the outside than the inside… hence, it looks like a cone. A caved cigar is the opposite, where the inside burns faster than the outside. Hence, it looks like a cave.
When a cigar burns perfectly, especially a long-filler cigar, we call it a dime-stack. Why? Hold it upright and look at the ash… it looks like a stack of dimes! We will also talk about a laser-burn, where the cigar is burning perfectly the entire circumference of the cigar.
Dog Turd / Dog Rocket
There are so many different cigars available today that there is going to be something for everyone. Some friends of mine used to herf together in Ottawa and we always joked that a particular cigar was the worst dog turd (or dog rocket) any of us had ever tried. However it is a cigar that has been around for a very long time, so there must be someone out there who disagrees with us.
Yes, a dog turd or dog rocket is simply a term for a bad cigar.
A herf is generally defined as a group of people getting together to smoke cigars (and pipes). This can be at a cigar lounge, in a park (where local bylaws permit), or at someone’s house (where wife permits). Herf it both a noun (I am going to a herf) and a verb (I am meeting my BOTLs to herf).
I am not entirely sure where the term came from, and its acceptance among cigar smokers is mixed. I know a few who hate the term, but I have never really understood why it would be so controversial a word.
There are several Facebook groups that refer to themselves as an on-line herf, which is just fine by me.
We get our cigar, we cut (or punch) the crown so that we can smoke it; but the draw is tighter than normal and tighter than comfortable. This usually means something is blocking (or plugging) the normal flow of smoke through the cigar. There are tools available to fix this, but sometimes a cigar may be beyond saving.
You will notice the hash mark in front of this because it is, more often than not, used as a hash tag on social media. It stands for ‘Put Some Smoke In The Air’ and simply means to smoke cigars or pipes.
While there are several ways to light a cigar, one of the more common ways it to toast the foot. You hold it over a flame, not touching it but just above the tip. You make sure that the foot is evenly heated, taking care to not damage the wrapper leaf. Once it is toasted, the entire foot of the cigar should be red when over the heat source, and your cigar is probably ready to smoke.
A hard to find cigar is called a unicorn. These can be limited edition cigars, or older ones, or regional edition cigars. If you cannot walk into a B&M (see ‘B&M’) to buy one, or order it online from your regular sources, it is likely a unicorn.
The combination of the size, shape, and recipe of a cigar combine to make the vitola. It is a lesser-used term in North America, but it is the proper term.
There are several different shapes of cigars, but the standard ones are:
- Parejo – normal, mostly rounded head, straight body, flat foot
- Figuerado (or Torpedo) – tapered (pointy) head, straight body, flat foot
- Doble figuerado – tapered at both ends.
- Perfecto – tapered head, wider body, usually flat-foot.
This is combined with the length (usually measured in inches) and the gauge (diameter), measured in sixty-fourths of an inch.
There are many more terms you will come across throughout your journey. These terms I listed are just some of the ones I think everyone should know… or at least be aware of.
Do you have others you want explained? Just ask!