Rupert Mackintosh counts down to 2014 with some advice on removing Cigar labels.

…5!…4!…3!…2!…1!...Arghhh! Rupert, you’ve spilt ash all over me! That’s right, you wouldn’t catch old Rupert counting down to 2014, but I could be found skylarking around trying to see if I could win the “Long Ash Competition 2013” – seeing who can keep the ash attached to the end of their cigar the longest. Cheaters try to get ahead by inserting cocktail sticks, the honourable try for a steady and a better rolled cigar to carry them through!

Trinidad Cigar

Games to be played and enjoyed when in the comfort of familiar surroundings, with chums that will forgive (and indeed forget) a little horseplay.

Some years I am lucky enough to attend far more civilised New Years Eve dinners requiring a lot more decorum and better behaviour. Other years it’s vaulting over makeshift steeple chases made out of club furniture. Variety is the spice of life.

So what does this have to do with cigars?

One of the questions asked by smokers advancing from rank beginner to intermediate is the correct protocol regarding the label on the cigar. Should it be removed? If so, when? Why is it there?

The label, or “band”, is a familiar sight on a cigar (I would hazard 90% of hand rolled Cubans have them these days) and obviously helps with visual identification. However, the ever-conservative and staunch Victorians didn’t appreciate the fact that they were advertising the brand they smoked, and saw this as very bad form. Housewives favourite Romeo y Julieta features a fair number of gold dots on their red background – there are symbolic of the vast number of industry gold medals they have been awarded (discreet, huh?). Conversely, however, the Victorians noted that the band meant their white dress gloves did not get little brown marks on them while out at the opera, so they enjoyed a real ‘love/hate relationship’ with them.

These days the stuffiness about the label has gone, and indeed many people actually choose to broadcast that they are smoking a Cohiba. This I think is a little sad (not just from the materialistic point of view) but there is something rewarding in having someone spark up a conversation with you to ask what it is you are smoking – it’s such a talking point between cigar smokers in a random hotel bar on the other side of the world.

Anyway, if you are so minded to remove it, the best option is actually to smoke part of the cigar first. The labels are attached with a special, glue-free gum of which holds the paper together. This can be picked apart before lighting, but it will usually result in a tear to the paper, which may carry across as stress and strain to the wrapper itself. Best option is to smoke about a third of the cigar, and the label may be loose enough to slide off, or can be carefully picked open once the internal heat has melted the gum a little.

There are always exceptions to the rule, however, and cigars from America (or specifically for the American market) seem to hold the crown. I have seen sticks with multiple labels, some upwards of an inch in size and featuring the cut-out head of a Red Indian Chief. What our Victorian forefathers would have made of this is anyone’s guess, but I’m pleased to report the cigar was not one I will be sampling again – for many, many reasons!


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