Many of us think we know everything there is to know about cigars, and even call ourselves connoisseurs who can pick up the subtlest of flavor notes and qualities in different tobaccos and wrappers. But, the reality is that due to the nature of cigar-smoking, we tend to miss out on a lot of the subtleties that separate an okay cigar from one that’s simply astonishing.
There are various techniques for getting more out of our cigar experiences, and one such technique is known as pre-haling. Fortunately for us, pre-haling is one of the simplest techniques that can change our relationships with cigars and help us enjoy them more than ever before.
What Exactly is a Pre-Hale?
Pre-haling is a technique that involves inhaling before the combustion process has begun. The reason for it is actually quite fascinating. Essentially, the way in which we smoke cigars causes us to miss out on the more nuanced notes found in the wrapper and binder, as well as the tobacco itself, and all of these notes come together to deliver the aroma and flavor of each individual cigar we encounter. The oils are particularly rich in notes, and truly elevate the experience in terms of how our senses perceive them.
But, due to the nature of combustion, in which fire is applied to the cigar to cause it to burn and produce smoke, these subtleties within these oils tend to disappear, as they are pushed out in the form of smoke rather than actually getting onto our palates and into our olfactory glands. The sudden changes in temperature modify the way in which we perceive our cigars and leave us missing out on quite a bit of flavor and aroma.
Let’s compare it to cooking for a moment. Think about when you slow-cook a delicious piece of meat. First, you brown it to bring out richer and sweeter flavor notes, before allowing it to slowly develop internal heat without burning. But, if you were to first brown that meat and then apply it to a 500-degree oven, you’d end up missing out on the qualities that benefit from browning, as the high heat burns away a lot of the flavor notes before you get to enjoy them.
Pre-haling allows us to enjoy the flavor of our cigar during the “browning stage”, when the cigar has actually browned but not yet been exposed to combustive properties. It’s an extra step we can take before fully smoking our cigar, to appreciate its qualities more intimately.
Why is Pre-Haling a Good Practice?
Pre-haling simply allows us to warm the oils in a cigar prior to smoking it to get a fuller and richer picture of its subtle aromas and flavors. We’re applying very low heat to the cigar on the outside rather than, essentially, lighting it on fire.
This can benefit the smoker in a few ways. One is that it adds depth to the experience of smoking a cigar, much like testing a wine before drinking it. The flavor notes and aromas blossom more as they have yet to be modified through combustion. Not only does this enhance our experience with each cigar, but it can help us develop our palates to notice more complexity each time we smoke. And, it helps us separate mediocre cigars to those that are absolutely phenomenal in quality, bursting with a more nuanced flavor profile than most of what’s on the market.
The Process of Pre-Haling
Pre-haling is something that can be practiced by anybody with any cigar, as it’s actually very simple to do. It can also open up an entirely new world of flavor and discernment for the serious cigar enthusiast.
Step #1: Grab your cut cigar and a lighter.
Step #2: Now, hold the cigar at a 45-degree angle, and simply move the lighter’s flame back and forth slightly away from the cigar’s foot. Do this back and forth gradually, without ever letting the flame make direct contact with the cigar. This will warm it slowly, without burning it.
Step #3: Eventually, smoke will appear, but just a very small amount. At the same time, the foot will begin to brown. Continue doing this until the entire foot is brown.
Step #4: Then, take the cigar as though you were going to smoke it, but instead, inhale through your nose. You may also inhale using your mouth, to get some of the oils onto your palate, but note that you won’t really get any smoke.