Ye Olde Tyme Cigar Lighting Ritual

Last weekend, on a whim, I lit my cigar using a cedar strip.

Ordinarily, cigar smokers use a wooden match or a butane lighter to get their stick a-smokin’. However, the traditional lighting method used by gentlemen before the advent of high-quality lighters was to set a small strip of cedar aflame, and then light from the strip.

The sequence is simple: Light a small cedar strip, using a butane torch or wooden match. Use the strip to toast the foot. Then, draw off the cigar with the foot just above the flame on the cedar strip. When your cigar is lit, extinguish the cedar.

The argument is that lighting from cedar rather than a match or torch will protect the cigar from chemicals in the match head or from unburned butane, either of which could negatively impact the initial smoking experience. Whether this is true or simply pedantic is an open question. The people who make this sort of claim are usually the same people who can claim (with a straight face) to detect hints of leather and cinnamon and lemon peel in their cigars.

The “cedar strip” method is more involved than just grabbing a torch, but the process creates a bit of ritual, much like using a slotted spoon and sugar cube creates a ritual for drinking absinthe. And undoubtedly, the aroma of burning cedar is pleasurable. I’d rather smell cedar than sulphur.

Bottom line: The cedar strip method doesn’t really add much in a technical sense, except additional steps, but if taken slowly and deliberately, the practice can help set a sense of style and ritual to frame your smoking experience.

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