Don't let price fool you
Price was one of the biggest illusions I fell under during my beginning as a cigar smoker and I'm still paying it off! I would visit websites and look for the cheapest cigars and just assumed they were good! This is a BIG problem. Now, I have probably 25 sticks left that are just more or less dog rockets. I would go on to America's #1 Online Cigar Auction - first, best, biggest! - CigarBid.com and just buy 5-packs for $5 and assume they were good. In the end it boils down to a waste of money. If I could do it all over again, I would search for solid sticks that were less than $4 per stick. This is a good starting point I believe. Now let's discuss the other side of the spectrum. Let's say you want to start smoking cigars and you have $50 in your pocket and you head to your local B&M. I would definitely NOT recommend you go in, ask for the most expensive stick, and drop $30 on an Arturo Fuente Limited or Ashton or Davidoff. Are they bad cigars? Absolutely not! But, as a beginner cigar smoker this money might be put to better use as your palate develops. You will not be able to pick up all of the subtle nuances that a seasoned cigar smoker might. Therefore, your money would be better off buying a variety of cheaper $4 and under cigars and maybe pick up a couple of $5 sticks for good measure. Finally, are there good inexpensive cigars? You bet! Just do some looking around and if you see people giving a $2 stick great review time and again, go ahead and try a five pack! Things like a Gran Habano 2002 come to mind. Do your research and don’t let the “price trap” fool you one way or another!
One of the things I saw reoccurring on this thread was the “importance of a five pack”. This sounds perhaps a bit silly but other BOTLs and myself included, believe in this philosophy as a beginner to cigar smoking. Just as wine becomes finer over time, often times cigars will have the same result. When ordering online or from a B&M, try to five packs. When received, try smoking right out of the package (ROTT). Then, put the other four in your humidor and try one in week, then another in a month, and so on. I truly believe you will notice a large difference in the taste of the stick. Maybe you didn’t like it a week after but maybe six months later, you uncover it, spark it up, and are greeted with a delicious stick. Sometimes cigars just need a little rest to truly blossom into a great cigar. If you can be patient, that initial dog rocket may very well turn into your favorite cigar with a little rest.
In my original post, I definitely overlooked a couple of important matters that I want to address in this area of “sampling around”. I initially suggested new cigar smokers to stick with lower end, more inexpensive sticks and waiting to try more expensive $10 cigars until much later. In all actuality this was a mistake on my part. Consider this, if you drove a very old, beat up pickup truck that was missing a door and rusting through the bottom and smoked when you started it, but you had never driven another vehicle or even seen one, you would not know that your vehicle was bad. Ok so that was a lengthy not-so-good analogy but the point I am trying to make is that if all you do is spend your money and time on smoking cheaper, lower end sticks, you don’t know what is actually out there and what is missing from your sticks and the different flavors, perfect burns, and flawless draws that can be had in SOME, not all, more expensive cigars.
Size and Vitola
Although a huge, fat Churchill cigar looks awesome and appears that you are getting more bang for your buck, I would still suggest you try some other vitolas. Either they come from the same cigar line or you simply pick different vitolas in different cigars. You can get a very different smoking experience with a different vitola and one may feel much more comfortable than another. Also, base your purchase around smoking time. If you have only planned for maybe an hour, don't pick up a large 6 x 56 belisco because you might puff too fast in hopes to finish it all. Try out some robustos or coronas, just venture out! Also, as your palate matures, you might become more partial to different vitolas. I bought a bundle of 30 Churchills in a sampler and enjoyed the first two but then realized, I don't always have an hour and a half or two hours to puff on this! I became frustrated and immediately wished I had some robustos or coronas or even petite coronas.
Don't assume that the first website you come to is the cheapest or most economical. Same with B&Ms. They tend to mark prices up but a lot of times, they are only a few cents above an online store and it's always great to support a local tobacconist if at all possible. They need and appreciate the business so it's great to be able to order and shop there whenever allowable. Auction sites such as Cigar Auctioneer and the above mentioned Cigar Bid are great places to start. NOTE: They can and probably will be highly addictive haha! Beware though, some items can go well over MSRP, and you can be getting the sour end of a deal. Just shop around. Do a search online and great stores such as Cigars International - discount cigars, humidors, cigar accessories and Cigars - Humidors - Cigar Accessories | Famous Smoke Shop will come up. Also be sure to check out the Cigar Monster on Famous' website, a lot of great deals to be had and most come with free shipping. BEWARE though, the price trap can here again take a toll on your wallet. Not all things are great on the Monster or Joe’s Jambalaya (nicknamed “The Jam”) so do your research before pulling the trigger on some sticks from either of these places.
Storage and Accessories
As a college student, I have a VERY limited budget for cigars, let alone big humidors and nice cutters and lighters. I'm here to tell you, you can EASILY get a good start on cigar smoking with very little capital. First, there's nothing wrong with starting with a cheap, plastic guilitone cutter. They work for awhile but do wear out. This might have to be the first accessory you upgrade to. Something that will last and work time after time like Xikar, which also has a lifetime guarantee. Next, a lighter. Don't use some cheap 99 cent quick stop lighter. Simply go to Wal Mart or another big store and pick yourself up a Ronson Jet Light. They can be had for under $3 most times and work great. Even most veterans carry them as everyday lighters. Butane is cheap for them as well and if you need to replace it, it's only a cheap bucks! Finally and possibly most important, storage. Do you need a $60 humidor or some big huge 500 count one? Absolutely not. A simple and effective way to store cigars at proper RH is either a tupperdor or even better, a coolidor or iglooidor. A simple cooler, filled with the proper cat litter and watched closely, will maintain RH perfectly. For more information on this, check out some of the other threads devoted to that, you'll find a great wealth of knowledge! Also, do yourself a favor and invest in a quality hygrometer. This may be one of your more expensive purchases but for less than $20, you can find a great hygrometer like the Western Caliber III or others that work great. I wasted money on cheaper hygros when I could have used that money towards a nice one.
Keep the Stash to a Minimum Starting Out
Sure, buying 200 cigars and jamming them into a couple humidors LOOKS impressive but in the end, it can be very confusing and sometimes frustrating wondering what stick you should smoke next and what if you bought a whole box just because it was a good price and don’t even like them?! A very knowledgeable BOTL recommended that beginning cigar smokers keep a smaller stash when starting out so they can stay focused on cigars they really like and can come and easily pick out a stick instead of sorting through a huge stash. I am just as guilty of building up a huge stash and having troubles deciding. Be sure to ONLY purchase a box after you have had multiple singles of a five pack and time after time, you constantly say “Wow!” after smoking it. As a beginner, you don’t want to commit to a whole box unless you absolutely love it. It can be a waste of money that could be much better spent.
Keep a Log
This may seem an absurd idea to a new cigar smoker to keep a journal or log of cigars you smoke but it's actually quite helpful. Personally, I have not kept one but I really wish now that I had. It would have helped a lot when making future cigar purchases. Writing things down as you go you can keep track of certain flavors you experience. Also, let's say you are smoking a maduro wrapper cigar. You go in to purchase anther cigar and you come out with a natural, connecticut wrapper. You aren't impressed and you do not particularly enjoy it as you were hoping for something more full bodied. Had you kept track in your cigar journal that you enjoyed this cigar with a maduro wrapper, you may have enjoyed purchasing a deep colored, maduro wrappered cigar. Just some food for thought. Is it necessary to write every time you smoke? Not at all! Sometimes you just want to kick back, relax and enjoy that fine cigar you bought, nothing wrong with that at all! It also helps if you ever want to write some review for a website or even here at Puff. The people here love reviews and feedback on cigars. We want to know whether it's worth the money or not.
Along with this, I would like to add that you beginners should try and smoke as many different kinds of wrappers, fillers, and binders as possible. This will definitely expand your palate and open you up to all of the available options that the cigar world has to offer. Do some looking around and reading about different cigars with tobaccos from different areas (Dominican, Nicaraguan, etc.) as well as the wrappers (Connecticut, Maduro, Habano, Cameroon, etc) and the flavors and tastes that each one could offer.
Further your knowledge and be sure to research
If you have a B&M nearby, I strongly recommend you go in and talk to a tobacconist. They are experts on cigars and anything in the tobacco field. They should be happy to answer any questions you might have and happily point you in the direction a stick you might enjoy. As one BOTL stated, a tobacconist can describe the intricacies that a cigar has whereas the internet just cannot put that into perspective nearly as well. Another great step you can take when starting smoking is one you have most likely already done if you are reading this post: join a great forum like Puff! There is a large wealth of knowledge that can be gained from chatting with other cigar enthusiasts. Also keep in mind, there is no such thing as a stupid question!! Any question is fair game and do not be shy to ask, people will be more than happy to answer as they were at one time in your very same shoes as a newbie. There are great members here and at other forums so soak up all you can!
One last piece of advice under this heading, be sure to read a lot of reviews. Sure, everyone will not experience the cigar in the same way or under the same conditions. Most reviews don’t take into account how long a certain stick has been resting in a humidor or whether it was just smoked ROTT. So with that being said, take those reviews with a grain of salt. It’s a safe to go ahead and buy if there is a lot of information about a certain stick out there and there is a large majority of “yes” reviews. So with all of this being said, do your research, ask questions often, and dive right in!
Last words of wisdom
I will leave you with one last piece of advice and I cannot take credit for it at all either. I have to fully credit Joe (jswaykos) with lending me these words. “Smoke what you like and like what you smoke”. As he also put it, there is no wrong way to enjoy a cigar. If you like infused sticks, or flavored sticks, cheap sticks or expensive ones, as long as you can kick back and relax or perhaps gather around with a bunch of friends and puff a cigar, it’s the enjoyment you get out of it. Smoke the way you want to and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Happy smoking friends!