Cigar Ash 101
The ash of a cigar seems like a rather insignificant aspect of the smoke. However, overlooking this facet would be a mistake, as it divulges facets of the leaf and construction. Furthermore, the act itself should not be taken lightly; improper etiquette can embarrassingly reveal your beginner status, as well as affect the overall taste and experience.
The optimal ash hue is considered to be white, as it reflects large deposits of calcium content in the soil that the cigar tobacco was grown. Sometimes the ash will be light grey with white streaks, which is also desirable. White ash is usually associated with Dominican soil and the Aging Room Havao is a perfect example.
Less desirable ash is darker, even black, which reveals fewer minerals in the soil and which will often produce a less pleasurable, more acidic, partially burnt flavor and scent. However, there are exceptions to this rule, as Cuban soil tends to contain more magnesium which can lead to a darker colored ash.
A cigar’s ash should extend about one inch, if not longer, beyond the burning cherry of the cigar. This inch of ash provides a buffer around the end, modulating the airflow around the burning point to keep the cigar burning cooler, slower and steadier. An ash-less cigar will burn too hot, negatively affecting the smoke. Therefore, it is crucial that you find the perfect balance between none and too much ash hanging off the end of your cigar.
Quality of the Cigar
The cigar’s ash is largely determined by the tobacco used and the quality of its construction. Longer filler tobacco, like that found in a Don Pepin Garcia Series JJ, and better wrapper leaves provide the best, most consistent smoke. How well the cigar is rolled also contributes to its ash. Poorer tobacco leaf or inferior rolling will lead to an uneven burn (tunneling), and weak ash will fall off the foot of the cigar too easily.
The Correct Way to Ash
Cigars should be ashed in a certain way. It is often thought that cigar should be either tapped off regularly or allowed to burn until the ash falls off, but neither is correct. If you do the first as if your stick was a cigarette, the cherry is constantly exposed and the cigar will burn too hot. If left on for an extended time, the cigar becomes too cool, potentially prone to extinguish itself; immediately after the ash drops the cherry is again uncovered.
Therefore, the best method for ashing is a routine, gentle roll of the cigar in the ashtray, maintaining an ash of about an inch, in a ball or cone shape. However, the shape and exact length of the ash can be influenced by the consternation or temperament of the cigar, and does not need to be too forced.
The ash itself and the technique used to ash a cigar are parameters that influence the quality of a smoke, including the flavor and scent. A well-maintained inch-long cigar ash will optimize the cigar smoking experience.
For more tricks allowing you to perfect the cigar smoking experience, check out JR’s top ten cigar tips.