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Cigarden Owner Monique Henderson Helps Us Explore the Evolution of Cigar Culture

Cigar culture is shifting to include women and younger purveyors. Here's your primer to puffing like a pro.

Lauren Jeziorski

Cigars have long been a symbol of luxury. Michael Jordan puffing on the golf course, Jay Z sparking up a cigar at a fancy gala – and mafia characters like Tony Montana, who smokes dozens of parejos throughout the film Scarface. Beyond popular culture, political figures throughout history such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton have also been known to enjoy cigar smoking.

These cigar aficionados, though very different people, all fall into the typical cigar smoker demographic: older and male. The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2013 that just over 8 percent of adult males in the U.S. smoke cigars, compared to 2 percent of adult females.

But, increasingly, cigars are a key aspect of the luxury lifestyle so popular among today's young adults.

"Younger people are starting to smoke, women are starting to smoke," say Monique Henderson, a longtime smoker and owner of cigar retail and Farmington Hills-based event company Cigarden.

Henderson has seen, firsthand, the growth in nontraditional smokers picking up the hobby at the "cigar 101" events she hosts throughout the year. Henderson and her team of female experts have hosted cigar education events around town, which quickly earned Henderson the nickname "the cigar lady."

"We're not all about just being cute," Henderson says. "We are cute, but we're not about just being cute. My team of ladies is knowledgeable. We know what we're talking about."

Henderson says the goal of her events is to make cigar smoking more approachable to those who might feel daunted by cigar culture.

"It's a very intimidating thing because it's such a man-driven activity and industry. You get some guys that kind of look at you like, 'What are you doing here?' But for the most part, they think it's the sexiest, coolest thing ever," Henderson says. "People tell me all the time that I'm changing the game when it comes to women smoking. They're actually seeing women doing it, knowing what they're talking about and now other women want to be a part of it."

Whether you're interested in picking up cigar smoking as a hobby in the new year or shopping for a cigar smoker this holiday, we've compiled the basics on selecting, storing and smoking cigars to help get you past the intimidation hurdle.

 

SELECTING A SMOKE

Every cigar bar and shop is a little different, but one thing you'll undoubtedly see in almost every one is a walk-in humidor – a room with wall-to-wall wooden shelving filled with hundreds of cigar options. The options may vary wildly, but the main three components remain the same: the filler (tobacco), the binder that holds it all together and the wrapper, which is the visible part – and the source of most of the cigar's flavor. The origin of these components can vary, even in a single cigar.

"You can have a wrapper from Ecuador, a binder from Nicaragua and your filler can be Cuban. It really is your preference," Henderson says. "After you smoke for a while, you get that preference for flavor and you kind of know what to expect from various regions."

Price is probably one of the most important aspects when selecting a cigar, since it can vary widely. Not counting the $2 Black & Mild cigars you can pick up from the liquor store, the typical starting price is around $6 or $7, and the prices can go up into the hundreds for a single smoke.

Another factor to consider is size. Henderson says typically the cigars you'll see start around 30 gauge – about the diameter of a tube of ChapStick – and usually go up to about 70 gauge, which is about the diameter of a $1 coin.

"A lot of guys are driven to getting a bigger cigar – they think bigger is better," Henderson says. "Men also tend to think that the flavored cigars are for women, which is so not true. I tell men all the time: 'So what if you want a small cigar that tastes good, if that's your preference?' At the end of the day, you need to be enjoying what you're doing."

Cigars can range from the fruity or chocolate flavors to alcohol-infused options like cognac or bourbon. Flavor can also be determined by the color of the cigar.

"If you're wanting a much stronger, more robust cigar, you're going to go with a maduro, for example. That's one of the darker cigars."

 

KEEPING IT FRESH

Once you've selected a cigar, if you're not going to smoke it right away, it needs to be protected from drying out. A humidor is the proper way to store a cigar. Like the large walk-in humidors at cigar shops, the smaller boxes for home use achieve the same goal – an environment with controlled airflow and humidity.

Some people swear by storing their cigars in the freezer to maintain freshness, but this is often frowned upon by serious smokers.

"If you're not going to smoke your cigar right away, and you don't have a humidor, you can use a Ziploc bag with a piece of moist paper towel," Henderson says. "You don't want it drenched because you don't want that moisture to directly touch the cigar. Put those in a bag and make sure it's zipped up and just kind of let it sit."

 

LIGHTING IT UP

Before you can get to puffing, you have to cut the cigar.

"There are three ways you can cut a cigar: a punch, a 'v' and a straight cut," which, Henderson says, is all based on preference – and achieved with three different tools.

The punch is exactly what it sounds like – a hole punched at the end of the cigar using a slim metal tool. A v-cut (also known as a wedge cut) slices the cap of the cigar instead of cutting it off. And a straight cut is the most common type of cut. When you're ready to light up, Henderson stresses: Don't inhale – something that is typically an obvious giveaway of a novice smoker.

"A lot of people don't know that you shouldn't inhale a cigar," Henderson says. Rather, you're just supposed draw the smoke into your mouth and taste it for a few seconds before letting it go.

Henderson says she can also tell a smoker doesn't know what they're doing by the way they hold their cigar.

"A lot of people tend to just pick it up like a cigarette because that's just the natural thing to do, but cigars are held a little bit differently (than cigarettes)," Henderson says. "Some people will tell you to sort of hold it like a pencil. You hold it with your thumb, index finger and middle finger. I find that it is more comfortable, and I think you have better control of the cigar."

For Henderson, atmosphere plays a big role in a good cigar-smoking experience. She says she prefers a relaxing environment with soft music and a glass of Jack Daniels.

"Get comfortable," Henderson says. "Sit back and take your time, because cigar smoking isn't something that should be rushed."

 

CIGAR LOUNGE GUIDE

Finding the right smoking atmosphere can turn a good cigar into an experience. Henderson and the Cigarden team will host their next pop-up event at the Detroit Lions tailgate at Eastern Market on Dec. 16. In the meantime, check out these metro Detroit cigar lounges and shops, each with something different to offer.

 

Ambassador Cigars & Spirits

A year old this month, this newer kid on the block has a rich old-school vibe (see it on the cover!), a sprawling humidor and bragging rights to currently being home to Michigan's only female certified retail tobacconist.

3614 Rochester Road, Troy · 248-250-9716

 

La Casa Cigar Lounge

In the heart of downtown Detroit, La Casa serves up old-school cigar bar vibes with its lineup of live music performances. The knowledgeable staff welcomes cigar aficionados and newbies alike. La Casa also has locations in Ann Arbor and in Las Vegas – and offers VIP memberships.

1502 Randolph St., Detroit · 313-285-8332

 

Jenuwine Cigar Lounge

The Jenuwine family has been selling cigars in Michigan for over 70 years. Its three locations, all in metro Detroit, are no-frills destinations prime for winding down with a smoke and a drink.

44791 Schoenherr Road, Sterling Heights · 586-997-1731

1122 E. Big Beaver Road, Troy · 888-232-4427

27754 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak · 248-291-5634

 

LCH Cigar Lounge

Eat a steak and smoke a stogie just steps apart at the LCH Cigar Lounge, located inside the historic London Chop House in downtown Detroit. The bar offers a wide selection of premium cigars and spirits in a high-end atmosphere.

155 W. Congress St., Detroit · 313-962-0277

 

Secreto Cigar Bar & Bistro

Putting a trendy twist on the typical cigar bar, Secreto offers small batch smokes in addition to top-shelf favorites. With wine options almost as robust as the cigar offerings, Secreto often attracts nonsmokers just looking to grab a drink.

315 E. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale · 248-542-4427

 

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