Monday, January 04, 2016

Smoking in the name of science

Back in 2011 I already published a report about "La Méthode de Jacques Puisais", a method which recommends the following:
"...(the) recommendation is to cut the cigar AFTER lighting up and to blow through the cigar before you take the first draw, to remove all "impurities" from it..."
Honestly I use this method since approx. 4 or 5 years and somebody asked me about the unusual way of firing up my cigar when I was at the shop of Portmann in Kreuzlingen a while ago. Coincidentially around the same time I was asked by friend of mine (who's also writing for the magazine of which I'm also a part in the meantime) for my impression of a parallel smoke and pictures of a cigar comparing the two different ways. He also smoked with another friend the Montecristo No. 4 out of the 50ct humidor which has been released in Switzerland at the end of 2012, so we're again three people smoking 6 cigars out of the same box. And to make a long story short: our impressions were more or less the same.

Due to the fact that I wrote not so much in the article back in 2011 I picked up the topic again and planned to go a bit more into the details. I wrote it also for the cigarslover magazine (it's been published in issue No. 7), maybe some have read it there already.

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Montecristo No. 4, 50ct. humidor for Switzerland from 2012

For this test both cigars were fired up with the same lighter, a Dupont soft flame lighter. One cigar was cut after the lighting (and purged by blowing through before the first puff), the other one cut and fired up as maybe 95 % of the smokers all around the globe do it.

The interesting question of this test: will there be a difference? For me I can say definitely yes. At least for the first third of the smoke. And for the burn. For me that's reason enough to stick to this method because it gives me more pleasure for the whole smoking time!

But why is there a difference when you use this method? One possible explanation is some kind of "chimney effect" within the cigar which's already been stated by Jacques Puisaus. While firing up one end there is a high difference of temperature between both ends and the hot, burnt air will find its way through the channels in the tobacco and will leave some of the side products of the combustion process within the cigar which'll have an effect on the taste especially during the first third.

But when you smoke a cigar, the tobacco will burn too... so why is it problem when firing up and no problem when smoking it? Good question, I've no scientific explanation but a possible reason could be the temperature: the temperature of the lighter while firing up could be higher and the burning process more intensive than during the regular smoking process when you take maybe a puff per minute. If you smoke a cigar very fast, it'll get hot and bitter soon. I'm sure that many of us have made this experience also in the past...

At the end of the day it's all theory, theory which doesn't help so much as an experimental smoke. Smoke two identical cigars parallel and check out the difference. So did I and here's the result with the traditionally rating by the 3 thirds of the cigar.

For the rest of the tasting and the report I'll refer to cigar 1 as the one which has been lighted with "La Méthode de Jacques Puisais". Obviously cigar 2 is the one which has been cut before lighting.

The first third:

The smoke of cigar 1 is very creamy, intensive aromas of cacao and light coffee, also some milk chocolate... a very nice and pleasant mixture.

Cigar 2 is a bit harsh. There are definitely some more edges, a decent bitterness hits the taste buds, notes of black pepper and some fresh roasted coffee.

The second third:

With the start of the second third the cigars were more or less the same tastewise, therefore I go ahead without the distinction of them. The main flavor is cedar wood, added by some espresso and hints of leather.

The last third:

The cedar wood gets more intensive, also the leathery notes.. all is supplemented by polished wood and dark roasted coffee. The cigars get a little bit different from each other again. While the smoke of cigar 1 is still very creamy and pleasant, cigar 2 develops some bitter notes and has to be put to the ashtray sooner. I smoked both with the same speed, so I can exclude that one got hotter than the other based on the "smoking technique".


Cigar 2 was finished after approx. 50 minutes of smoking, I'd some serious issues with the burn and had to put it to the ashtray due to some intensive bitterness.

Cigar 1 had a smoking time of 65 minutes with a ruler-straight burn, absolutely no issues.

As for many other things I want to summarize it as follows: for me I can say that I taste a difference (if it's there or not, I don't care), so I'll use this method.

Jacques Puisais was a guy who did a lot of research on the field of taste, flavor etc. and I think he'd some really high educated taste buds. I know other people who've very well educated taste buds, working with wine and/or food and also smoking cigars and all of them are convinced of that method which's another indication for me that there should be something about it.

If you don't believe it, if you think it's too much hype around the simple thing "cigar", then let it be... to each his own. Do whatever you like, because there is no wrong or right. But maybe you should try it out before you say it's bullshit.

In the meantime I got some interesting feedback which claims that this method (or also any other method to compare cigars) is not valid because of the variation from cigar to cigar: "It is a fact that the weight of individual cigars within one box is varying and based on that you should expect a shorter smoking time for the cigar with the lower weight." Frankly speaking I'm too much of an engineer to keep this fact aside therefore I took this into account for my "test" and the one which lasted longer was the one with the lower weight. I also made the test vice versa but the result was still the same. Taking into consideration that I tried it several times I can exclude the influence of the weight in this case as a major influence on the result. On the other hand: it is no scientific test, it is just an subjective point of view and everybody should find out if it makes a difference for him or not.

Finally here are some of the comments which came up while I posted a comment regarding this technique on Facebook.

"I have had similar results. When I remember to I still use the Puisais method. I say when I remember because it is still not natural for me. I suspect it is because of the amount of carbon (ash/burn etc) produced is less. I think the first third tastes better because the ignition isn't as deep without the flow through of air during lighting. Not scientific analysis but what my gut and my tastebuds tell me."

"I found the difference to be less noticeable in a figured or torpedo."

"Not an issue for me. If using a torch, I only hold it close enough to barely ignite the foot. I also purge just after lighting. You can simply hold your finger over the cut cap to stop inductive draft while lighting. With the QC of Cuban cigars, I will NEVER light any cigar before testing the draw."

"Never tried it. IMHO people make too much of an issue about lighting cigars. As long as you gentle about it and don't over heat when using a torch it's fine. Also the theory about not drawing thru the cigar when using a Lighter is BS unless you are using a Zippo. Butane burns %100 clean and leaves no after taste."

"Lighting first before cutting is the best way, lighting however gentle causes burnt gases that can permeate into the cigar if you blow through a straw the air comes out of the other end these could be burnt gases but blow into a cigar tube, you cannot so cutting after lighting keeps burnt gases from permeating deep in to the cigar, also after lighting then cutting blow through the cigar to purge any residual gases"