A lot about a cigar can be determined just by looking at it, but sometimes you need to take further steps to inspect a cigar for factors like quality, as well as freshness. The freshness of a cigar is a factor that can’t be overlooked, as a cigar that’s not fresh will simply fail to deliver the satisfaction you crave, or, in some cases, fail to smoke at all.
Luckily, there’s the “pinch test,” which is the most common go-to method for cigar enthusiasts who want a fast, easy and accurate way to determine how fresh a cigar is before they smoke it.
The Importance of Checking a Cigar for Freshness
The bottom line is that you should only smoke cigars that are fresh. Cigars that have “gone bad” can be too soggy or too dry, depending on how they were stored and humidified, and both qualities are going to lead to disappointment. Soggy cigars will have a musty taste and may fail to smoke at all, while cigars that are too dry will burn far too fast and fail to deliver good flavor or smoothness.
The ideal storage conditions for cigars are 70% humidity and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Cigars maintained otherwise will almost inevitably degrade, thus losing the freshness that makes them worth smoking in the first place.
The Pinch Test
The pinch test is simple: it’s the act of pinching a cigar to determine how fresh it is. How a cigar responds to a pinch tells you a lot about the quality of smoke you’re going to get out of it. It takes just a second, and is easily one of the most important inspections you can do before you light one up.
Now, there is one thing to keep in mind, which is that when you’re pinching a cigar, you’re not necessarily solely relying on the give to determine how fresh it is. Some cigars are more densely packed than others based on the manufacturer’s methods, and this doesn’t necessarily translate to quality, and certainly has nothing to do with freshness. Instead, you’re checking to see how quickly the cigar bounces back, so to speak. A cigar that’s over-humidified, for instance, will give you little to no bounce back, while a cigar that has dried out will not respond to pinching very well if at all.
How to Do the Pinch Test
To do the pinch test, grab a cigar that you intend on smoking. Now, use your thumb and pointer finger to gently squeeze the foot of the cigar. Note that the pinch should be gentle – squeezing the cigar will simply run the risk of ruining it completely by harming the wrapper, and throw off the distribution consistency as well. If you accidentally crack the wrapper, the cigar might as well be thrown out on the spot.
When doing the pinch test, you’ll start at the foot of the cigar and slowly work your way up to the other end. While doing so, you’ll be checking for inconsistencies in the spring of the cigar, noting any potential soft spots that you encounter along the way. Needless to say, the response you get should be consistent from one end to the other.
Ideally, the cigar should be firm but give you some spring. If you hear a cracking sound, or if your cigar feels extremely stiff with little to no bounce back, it’s likely too dry. Meanwhile, if it feels very soggy, and doesn’t immediately bounce back to its proper shape after being pinched, the cigar has been exposed to too much humidity. If you encounter either issue, the good news is that using the 70/70 storage rule offers a good chance of salvaging it.
Other Ways to Check for Freshness
After you’ve done the pinch test, you can do a couple of other tests for freshness. One is the hearing test, in which you gently spin the cigar. A very slight rustling is the sound that you want to hear. If the sound is more like crackling, the tobacco is likely very dry. If you hear next to nothing, it’s likely too wet. You should also always smell a cigar before smoking it. If you get a musty or dusty smell, it’s been over-humidified, and should be thrown away as there’s nothing you can do to remedy mildew.
The Bottom Line
Even the finest cigar is going to let you down if it’s not fresh. And, the good news is that the pinch test allows you to check a cigar’s freshness before you go through the trouble of lighting it up. While the pinch test is practically an essential part of being a cigar enthusiast, it’s even more important to store your cigars properly so that they have a high chance of passing the test when the time comes. So, make sure you have a high-quality, properly maintained humidor to keep your cigar at the exact moisture level conducive to a quality smoking experience.