Exploring Cigar Ashes

Ashes to Ashes, or the story of the end of your cigar!

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Big Boardroom II 14″ x 9″ Ashtray from 5 Vegas

Here, the Ashtray is the unsung hero of the smoke-space. Often underrated, often berated, and way too often ignored its not just a trash bin of sorts, but the cigar ashtray is an important part of cigar smoking that is critical in defining your cigar smoking.  After all, what ends up in the ashtray is not on your floor., or in the Petunias. Why else would there be such a plethora of decorative and brand loyal designs’ Cigar Ashtrays are highly visible pieces of specific tabaccophenelia.

The ashtray does deserve a lot of thought. The most obvious being to prevent a fire hazard: you toss a stub into a trashcan and next to some carelessly discarded paper or other trash it can easily start a fire. Similarly, a breeze or a draft can knock a burning cigar off a small plate or shallow ashtray and roll into disaster. With the emergence of more and more outdoor smoke spaces deeper metal or ceramic ashtrays have become popular.

Ashtray too small

Classic ceramic and glass cigar ashtrays are still the most ubiquitous,… mainly because they look good and are easy to clean. Ash contains some harsh and abrasive compounds so you should empty and clean your ashtray at the end of your smoking day. After dumping the ashes out give it a quick rinse. Even a quick wipe with a moist rag or paper towel after smoking will do wonders. Let the ashes accumulate and sit there for many days, cleanup becomes a challenge because some ashes harden and there will be a harsh build up that makes cleaning much more difficult, requires scrubbing and the ashes often become abrasive, and scratch the finish and wear off decorative design elements.

Here is a practical hack that’s works with us on glass, chrome and ceramics ashtrays: Every few months, after thoroughly washing and drying ashtrays we periodically apply a little WD40 or a car window product called Rain X with a soft polishing cloth, and then let the smell air off in a well ventilated area… Thus prepared, glass and china surfaces of your ashtray become far more slippery and ashes will wipe or rinse off much more easily, for some time. Common sense precautions: Printed ink may rub off with these chemicals, so test carefully first. This treatment may damage or stain ashtrays of wood, melamine, composites or stone. The WD40 also does double duty on steel as it helps prevent rust. These chemicals while wet are highly flammable, so wipe them to a thin film and let them dry and air off thoroughly.

Here in the United States, we are big on celebrating individuality and freedom of expression. To this end, the Man-Cave and cigar smoke-space is an ever-evolving area of our social life and in this day and age, these personal spaces are finally finding the attention they truly deserve in real estate and design. There is definitely a rising trend in demand for items that improve personal smoke-space. This is why we have rugged new ashtrays like the CAO Aluminum Flathead ashtray that fits perfectly into a Gearhead’s smoke-space, or the wind resistant deep dish “Stinky” Steel cigar bowl that ..due to a clever footing counterweight also floats conveniently in a swimming pool! In man-cave smoke spaces we have also seen some other creative ashtray solutions like built in ashtrays, or converted hubcaps and salvaged truck cylinders as well as custom built in ashtrays made of concrete or stone. Still,the ubiquitous goto squeeky clean classic ceramic cigar ashtray does a lot to declutter and enhance any smokespace.

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The thoughtful gentleman on the move brings his own ashtray! For this the unfortunately but aptly named “Stinky” covered and scent sealed cup-shaped steel ashtray that fits a standard car or cooler cup-holder is quite appropriate. So is the very discrete, and classy foldable Zederkoff, that does duty as a last resort only, and must be cleaned before folding back up.

and some say that you can read the future in the ashes left by your cigars:

What’s in an ashtray’ Mostly trash … BUT:Also, what remains and eventually falls off from the end of your cigar is another related topic that ranges from smoke experience to important forensic information about your cigar, and shows that this cigar you may have been conversing with has a whole other story to tell about itself.

Ashes is simply what is left after the desired volatile and aromatic compounds were converted into smoke. A well constructed cigar which may have many layers leaves a delicate lattice work of its original construction with its ashes. Most ashes are so delicate, that gravity alone, or just a little nudge or shake make it break off and collapse into powdery ashes and other detritus. You may not have the calling, skill, or training to read your future from these ashes, but you can certainly learn more about your cigars.

There is a common myth that finer expensive cigars must carry long ashes. From such ashes at the end of cigars comes the often, unspoken, but nevertheless fierce competition amongst cigar smokers of who will endeavor to maintain the longest ashes without dropping anything outside the ashtray. …Beware of the unspoken rules of engagement: Dropping ashes outside the ashtray especially messing up a host’s smoke space is a lot more offensive and embarrassing than losing. Thus be careful and be prepared to not begrudge a host’s a distinctive home court advantage by not messing up your hosts smoke space with accidentally dropped ashes.

As with many myths, there is also a morsel of truth: A fine cigar started with rolling of the Ligero, a leaf from the top of the tobacco plant which is richest in nicotine, and moisture and even in a well aged cigar this Ligero will often hold up the longest during smoking. Cigars like that leave a cone of ashes on the cigar after dropping off, because this ligero takes the longest to burn, and provides a little extra support to the cigar’s inner core during it’s burn. But this little tidbit is not a universal rule to go by, because the cigar is the product of crafting and blending for flavor, burn, and consistency, and is made for your personal appeal and enjoyment, rather than for juvenile competition. But tell this to a bunch of guys smoking while telling tall tales, and you will probably be ignored.original_they_finally_noticed_png_fs

Much of the quality and composition of your cigar reveals itself in the ashes it leaves behind. This is especially true for hand-mades where the skill of the cigar rollers, reveals itself one last time in the ashes. A cigar should burn evenly and consistently and not “canoe” with the ashes riding on an unburned section of the wrapper..

Cigars are made up entirely of leaves that grew not only to the manufacturer’s high demand of perfection but also subject to the whims of nature. Even with perfectly made cigars that are in the best condition you will come across a inexplicable rogue burner that needs fixing or may have to be tossed. Seasoned cigar smokers accept this as part of the “personality” of cigars. Repeated Rogues in a box and that’s bad behavior! Unevenly burning cigars can sometimes be fixed to an extent. Counter-intuitively turning the unburned section to be the lowest section of the burn often helps. Its counterintuitive to heat rising, but in any case, the bottom of a uneven cigar often burns off quicker that way. Toasting that unburned bit and even burn it off, with a good butane cigar lighter is another remedy, and, of course, you can also cut the entire misbehaving end off and relight your stick.

Cigar Ashes are also a secondary indicator of condition:

A dry cigar burns too fast, too hot and ashes fall off quickly, all resulting in an almost white, powdery mess in your ashtray.

A dry cigar looses its ability to retain its essential oils where the flavor resides, and thus renders the cigar bland and often with the remaing flavors coming on as harsh. Much has been written that sometimes dry cigars can be re-hydrated, which may work for cigars that have only just dried out. But re-hydration cannot bring back aromatic compounds that were evaporated and lost with the dried out cigar’s humidity.

Sometimes Cigars are too humid to smoke well. This is because Cigars naturally attract moisture beyond the 75% humidity tolerated by many cigar smokers. That means that your cigars can actually get soggy and too wet just from the humid air around them, including overzealous humidifying in a humidor. This encourages mold and bacteria. Beware of wet, and spongy soft cigars. If a careful sniff test reveals even a hint of mold, discard it, because mold is potentially a serious health hazard. A “healthy” well-kept cigar may have a fine “barnyard smell”, which ,..if appealing, is generally normal,…but if it became moldy, it should not be smoked.

Obviously, wet cigars either don’t light all or are hard to light. Toasting a wet cigar is not a good remedy. Soggy cigars may be dried, but beware, as they are like rolled up wet towels that cannot be unrolled while drying and will dry unevenly. Therefore they are likely to attract molds. Never dry soggy cigars in the proximity of your good ones. Needless to say soggy cigars don’t really leave ashes, but rather trash.

Less experienced cigar smokers sometimes mistake the white crystalized residue of aromatic oils that forms on some correctly aged cigars with mold (greenish in color, and powdery from spore production), and toss out perfectly fine cigars!

Well aged cigars contain aromatic compounds that had the time to meld together, which tends to translate in a balanced flavor profile. Humidity is also balanced throughout. Therefore aged cigars also tend to burn more evenly and leave behind the desired lattice of ashes. Thus I can guess a lot about my immediate future when I find beautiful “hayrolls of ashes” in a host’s ashtray, who is offering me a cigar from the personal stash.

A stale cigar is really similar to one that dried out and lost its aromatic compounds with the difference that stale compounds suffered a change to unpleasant by oxydation during aging. The Stale Cigar and Ashes may look perfect but the taste will be unbalanced and “metallic “ or harsh after-tastes remain on the tongue.

How important is the size of your cigar’ It is only as important as your comfort level, and time. Even though large cigars leave more ashes, they also burn longer.

A large cigar may be considered by some to be a wasteful smoke but other smokers see advantages. Wastefulness in copious smoke is relative as many large cigars are also better value per volume of tobacco used, and for many cigar smokers, a large cigar becomes a friend for the day. The smoke of larger cigars tends is often cooler to the palate and for many that brings a better balance of milder strength and stronger flavors. The larger cigars also have arguably more to tell from their ashes. Really small cigars behave more like cigarettes and often benefit from a mouthpiece in lieu of a cigarette filter.

Oh and do not stub out a cigar in the ashtray.

In conclusion There’s a lot that Cigar ash can tell you about the cigar’s origin, and how it was cared for. Much more than I ever expected! That does explain why professional tasters and experienced aficionados examine the ashes. That is best done in a good looking, safe, and otherwise clean ashtray.