A premium cigar is a thing of beauty and it requires a lot of time to produce—a number of years in most instances. In fact, it is estimated that fifty pairs of hands are involved from the planting of the seed to the final shipment to your local tobacconist. Therefore, I find it very disconcerting when I observe a smoker that begins his smoking experience by inserting the foot of his cigar into the 1500 degree blue flame produced by a torch lighter—the extreme heat immediately charrs the tobacco, resulting in a harsh and hot smoke with diminished flavor. Properly lighting a cigar requires a bit of patience, practice, and time. But the steps—which are centuries old—are worth the effort.
- First, never let the cigar touch the flame.
- Hold the cigar at a 45 degree angle above the flame, just far enough to allow the flame to dance up to the cigar without touching the foot.
- Rotate the cigar so the foot lights all the way around.
- Blow on the cigar’s foot to determine progress—the cigar will be done toasting when the entire foot glows red—black areas signal further toasting is required.
- Gently exhale through the cigar to remove any potential impurities from the ignition source—this is commonly referred to as “purging.”
- Begin puffing in a normal manner, occasionally rotating the cigar to regulate the burn and to prevent possible tunneling.
- Sit back and take the time to enjoy the smoking experience.
While a torch flame lighter can be used to properly light a cigar in the above manner, a lower temperature, yellow flame will usually yield better results. There are many options available and they can be separated into four main categories—spills, matches, disposable butane lighters, and refillable butane lighters.
A spill is a long, twisted piece of paper or a thin strip of wood which is ignited at one end and then employed to deliver a flame of fire to another object. For centuries, these “devices” were utilized to light candles, lamps, ovens, stovetops, cigars, and smoking pipes. Spills were typically kept in a container on top of a fireplace mantel, allowing for easy access and immediate lighting. The coal or wood in a fireplace was traditionally lit with a striker—a tool that looked like a pair scissors, but with flint on one “blade” and steel on the other.
Nowadays, the smoker has several options when choosing to toast and light his cigar with a spill. Many boxes of cigars contain a thin sheet of Spanish cedar (a type of mahogany that burns with minimal impurities) which separates the rows of cigars. This sheet can be cut into narrow strips with an X-ACTO knife, producing a handful of spills. Additionally, some premium cigars are entubed in cedar sleeves, which can be unrolled and then sliced into spills. Spanish cedar spills are also available from Commonwealth Cigar Spills or Cigar Reserve for the true connoisseur of spill ignition.
The driving ideology behind the continued use of cedar spills is to retain the cigar’s natural essence. Cigars are often packaged in cedar and spend the majority of their existence aging with Spanish cedar, melding with the wood’s complimentary aromas. Therefore it becomes the next logical step to light the tobacco from the very same material. The primary drawback in the use of spills is the fact that they have to be lit from another source.
- Beneficial aroma
- Often impractical
- Requires external lighting source
- $0 – $1
- $0.30 (100 spills / $30.00)
Jean Chancel, the assistant to Professor Louis Jacques Thenard of Paris, invented the self-igniting match in 1805. The match’s head was composed with a mixture of sulfur, potassium chlorate, sugar, and rubber, and was ignited by dipping its tip in an asbestos bottle filled with sulfuric acid. Chancel’s matches were expensive and inherently dangerous, prohibiting widespread acceptance. Over the next several decades, improvements were made to his invention by various individuals but the major breakthrough did not occur until 1844, when Gustaf Erik Pasch of Sweden invented the safety match. A “safety match” separates the reactive ingredients between the match head and a striking surface impregnated with red phosphorus. Initially, these matches were produced with one end made of potassium chlorate and the other of red phosphorus, requiring the match to be broken in half and then rubbed together. In the late 1890s, the American Joshua Pusey patented the matchbook, which he then sold to the Diamond Match Company.
A match produces a great soft flame for the lighting of a cigar, with the added advantage of being found most everywhere—bars, convenience stores, gas stations, grocers, restaurants, and tobacconists. The preferred choice is a wooden match, since the residual chemicals in a paper match may taint the initial flavor of the cigar. Additionally, allow the match head to burn completely off before bringing the flame to the foot of the cigar. When lighting a vitola with a large ring gauge, two matches held closely together can be utilized to created a wide double-flame. While many companies manufacture long matches specifically designed for the cigar smoker, Davidoff offers sturdy 3.75 inch matches made from non-aromatic wood, providing a clean and orderless burn.
- Foul odor/chemicals must be avoided from match’s head
- Can require multiple strikes with larger cigars
Disposable Butane Lighters
Contrary to popular belief, the ubiquitous Bic lighter was not the first disposable butane lighter brought to the market. That honor belongs to S.T. Dupont of Paris, who introduced the inexpensive Cricket lighter in 1972. A year later, Bic began the marketing of its disposable butane lighter, which could provide three-thousand lights before the tank was empty. A Bic lighter produces a nice soft flame and works very well in toasting and lighting cigars with a ring gauge of 50 or less. The main drawback in using a Bic lighter is that the flame is not adjustable and it diminishes in size as the fuel is depleted.
Another choice in this category is the Djeep—arguably the ultimate in disposable butane lighters. Manufactured in a state-of-the-art factory in France, the Djeep undergoes 110 individual quality steps to produce a lighter that is ISO 9994 certified. Offered in a wide variety of colors, logos, and graphics, the Djeep lighter feels great in the hand and has an outstanding combination of features—a child resistant mechanism, an extra-large wind guard, an oversized thumb plate, a triple fuel tank, providing four-thousand lights, and an adjustable flame. While sightly more expensive than a Bic or a Cricket lighter, the Djeep is well worth the price differential and is capable of properly lighting any size of cigar.
- Affordable / best “bang for your buck” value
- Many models become dangerous with long toasts—causing excessive heat on lighting mechanism
- Most models do not have adjustable flame height
- $1.00 – $2.50
- $1.50 (Bic lighter – median price)
Refillable Butane Lighters
The options in this category are practically endless—ranging from an inexpensive unit all the way up to lighters that are firmly in the jewelry classification. For the budget-conscious, Vector’s Thunderbird division offers a flip-lid lighter for under twenty dollars. Its yellow-flame insert is also available separately for use in a Zippo casing. (A standard Zippo lighter is not recommended because it uses lighter fluid instead of orderless butane.) The Xikar Forte G2 Soft Flame ($69.99) delivers a wind-proof yellow flame which can be used at altitudes up to 12,000 feet without extinguishing. In addition to a large flame-adjustment wheel at its base, the Forte has a built-in seven millimeter cigar punch. Colibri’s hefty Julius lighter ($125.00) is a well-designed double soft flame lighter. Once lit, the Julius produces two flames—one at a 45 degree angle and the other at a 90 degree angle. The two merge to create a fat flame which is large enough to easily light large ring-gauge cigars.
Residing in the luxury category of refillable butane lighters is the three D’s—Davidoff, Dunhill, and Dupont. Dunhill’s single-flame Rollagas lighter ($450.00 to $995.00, depending on finish) is the company’s oldest and most popular design. Like most of the lighters in this category, the Rollagas utilizes the classic flint roll-bar ignition system. The Prestige lighters from Davidoff ($800.00 to $1700.00) are offered in a number of opulent finishes—silver, gold, palladium, and Chinese lacquer. Manufactured by S.T. Dupont and using Dupont Yellow Can butane, the Davidoff Prestige cigar lighters are cut from a solid block of brass and feature a dual burner system, producing the ideal double soft flame for toasting and lighting a cigar. S.T. Dupont produces the widest array of options under its brand, ranging from the newly-released Initial ($496.00)—inspired by a lighter designed for the Maharaja of Patiala in 1941—to the Complication Lighter ($41,000.00)—a work of jewelry art in palladium and yellow gold with nine rubies. Their most popular model is the Ligne 2 ($769.00 and up, depending on finish), which is virtually identical to the Davidoff Prestige.
- Repairable (most with manufacturer warranties)
- Aesthetically pleasing
- High cost of most models
- Flint will need replacing
- Requires purchase of butane
- $20.00 – $41,000.00+
- $125.00 (Colibri Julius)
When the occasion presents itself, you’ll find a properly lit cigar a rewarding experience.
Lighting a cigar with a soft flame is the sign of the true cigar connoisseur—one who respects the time and effort required to produce a premium cigar by spending the time and effort to properly bring it to life. Of course, life doesn’t always provide the opportune moments for these time-honored methods of cigar ignition. A windy afternoon will make soft-flame lighting feel more like an olympic sport—only, the torch bearers never had this much trouble with the flame! Other gripes include the added time it takes to toast using soft flame; and this may be true, to an extent. But just as there are cigars designed for special occasions, there is proper technique and etiquette to accompany them; and when the occasion presents itself, you’ll find a properly lit cigar a rewarding experience.