We’ve all been there. Sometimes you just get a cigar that can’t be smoked, its plugged. The draw is devilishly hard, smoke volume is low and the extra effort it takes to draw leads to poor technique and subsequently harsh and bitter flavours. It happens. Premium Cuban cigars are 100% made by hand, and there will be some unavoidable variables that lead to construction consistency.
Not all cigars get turned to ash. Some just get thrown away.
It’s rarer nowadays; ever since Altadis, the Franco-Spanish tobacco giant bought into Habanos SA to the tune of 50% ownership in 2000, the quality control techniques Altadis transferred over have been a boon. Before then, Habanos SA didn’t use modern technology to QC their production (amazing how such amazing cigars were still produced consistently), but since then equipment such as draw testing machines have come into the picture and a good sample of every batch of cigars is tested before boxed and sold.
And still we get cigars that are difficult smokes every once in a while. I would estimate prior to 2002 before some of the new techniques became widely used, between 5-10% cigars smoked would have “issues”. Since then, perhaps 1-2%.
This morning, for the first time THIS YEAR, i came across one such cigar and its ruined my day. Making the time for a cigar is a conscious decision, and as time is rare for me (as it probably is for many working professionals), a dud cigar is akin to a massive waste of time. You expect a good cigar to put a smile on your face, give you a bit of focus and perspective (that’s the nicotine talking), and so when it doesn’t do that, you can forgiven for getting more than a bit upset.
There a few things that you can do so “save” a plugged cigar.
1. Throw it away and start over. That’s what i normally do. I don’t have time for a plugged cigar, and the best way to erase the memory of one is to replace it with another that isn’t. Most good cigar lounges and tobacconists will do the same, if their reputation is worth anything.
2. Most plugged cigars are plugged because the finish on the cigar is rolled too tightly, or a bunching error near the top of the cigar. If you’ve seen a roller in action (watch a video of a Master Roller do his work here on My Cigar Blog), you’ll notice that he spends most of the time “finishing” the cigar — the top portion of the cigar where the cap is applied. Sometimes, the roller gets it wrong, and one stray leaf of secco or volado in the wrong place will close off all the airways and lead to the plug.
In such cases, chopping off the top third of the cigar will do the trick and open up the draw. This isn’t ideal of course, since it means that the cigar will likely unravel as you smoke it. But better than being unsmokable.
3. Use a skewer or poker to create an artificial airway. One of those metal skewers you use for making meat kebabs will do, or a bamboo satay stick. Poke the cigar from the top all the way through. This method also runs the risk of ruining the cigar, and more often that not will make it burn too fast and hot. But again, better than an unsmokable cigar.
4. Cut the cigar in half, and smoke it reversed. I’ve only done this a few times, and only with longer vitolas such as double coronas or dahlias. Slice the cigar in half, and smoke the cigar from the foot of the cigar; meaning you light the top of the cigar at the cap and draw from the foot. This works most times, however, you then get a really weird smoking experience. A cigar is rolled with the intention of it being smoked from foot to cap; smoking it in reverse will likely lead to unusual and unexpected flavours as the intended blend burns backwards.
Personally, i almost always stick to the first option — throwing the cigar away and starting again. Time is too precious to mess around with a bad cigar.