By Iuliana Petre
Killeen Daily Herald
When Bill Lusk was a young soldier in the U.S. Army, he watched as his avid-cigar-smoking platoon sergeant puffed away and he thought "how neat."
Intrigued with cigars, Lusk spent much of his time in the service researching cigars and learning about the premium tobacco industry. After retiring from the Army, Lusk opened the Cigar Box – Killeen's only full-service, premium tobacco shop – a business he's been operating for 13 years.
Complete with a smoke room in the back and a walk-in humidor, the Cigar Box is a cigar smoker's paradise.
At the Cigar Box, Lusk stocks more than 40 brands of cigars and on any given day there are more than 2,000 cigars to choose from on the shelves.
"Owning a cigar shop is not for everybody," Lusk said earlier this week, adding that it took years of research to open and keep his business operational.
It's not strong, it's full-bodied
Cigars are categorized as either mild, medium or full-body.
For beginner smokers, Lusk recommends a mild cigar.
"Think about coffee," Lusk said, drawing a comparison to the equally aromatic drink.
"When you brew a pot of coffee in the morning the first cup tastes mild. After sitting in the pot for a while, the coffee develops a medium flavor. By the end of the day the coffee from that same pot has developed a stronger taste," Lusk said.
"But, don't call a cigar strong because that's like calling something cheap when you really mean to say 'it's inexpensive'," Lusk said, adding that calling a cigar strong turns people off to it and belittles the product.
In addition to the categories as mild, medium or full-body, cigars also come in as many flavors as there are colors of the rainbow, Lusk said, adding that the most popular sellers at the Cigar Box are cognac, vanilla, cherry, Maker's Mark Whiskey – these cigars are actually made by the Maker's Mark Bourbon Distillers – and rum.
The brand on the band
Don't get carried away with the name on a cigar's band because it's simply an advertisement for the manufacturer.
"When you're a cigar manufacturer you can call a cigar anything you want," Lusk said adding that names like Fuente and Padron are the last names of the owners of cigar companies.
And of the many cigar names out there, the Padron Anniversary – a 100 percent pure Nicaraguan cigar – is the one that Lusk recommends most.
"Pure means there's nothing mixed in; all of the tobacco comes from that country," Lusk said of the full-bodied Padron Anniversary cigar that is made by one family – the Padron family – who grow and age their own tobacco. Every Padron Anniversary cigar is aged four to five years.
The quality of the tobacco is also consistent, Lusk said, adding that "if you smoke a Padron Anniversary cigar this year and smoke another one next year, they will taste the same."
Rules for cutting, lighting and storing
The avid smoker knows how to properly cut, light and store a cigar. For beginners, Lusk offered a few tips: (1) the preferred cutting method is with a guillotine cutter; (2) cedar matches are preferred for lighting a cigar, although a lighter is acceptable; (3) cigars must be stored properly; cigars that are not smoked within three or four days of purchase will dry out if not stored in a humidor.
"The flame of the match (or lighter) should never touch the tobacco," Lusk said, adding that the heat from the flame will light the tobacco.
"You need to have a humidor, even a homemade one made of a plastic bag and a sponge," Lusk said, adding that if you cut a cigar and it splits or cracks, then you know that it's dried out.
It's a lifestyle
But, there's more to cigars than just picking one out, taking it home and smoking it.
Buyers should purchase cigars for the time of day they plan to smoke, determine how much time they have to smoke and select cigars based on their smoking experience.
"The best time to smoke is on a full stomach because the cigar tastes better, smoother," Lusk said, adding that cigars are just like coffee, if you smoke them later in the day you may want to select a more flavorful cigar.
Second, determine how much time you have to smoke, Lusk said adding that if you don't have a lot of time, pick a shorter cigar. A short cigar may take about 20 minutes to smoke, whereas a longer cigar may take more than an hour.
"Smoke it all in one sitting, don't come back the next day. If you put it out and relight it the next day you'll notice that the cigar will be very bitter," Lusk said.
Cigar smokers, who've been smoking longer, usually prefer full-bodied cigars over mild ones.
For avid smokers – those who smoke cigars a couple of times a week – smoking is like a ritual, Lusk said.
"Cigar smoking is a lifestyle. It's the lifestyle of people who enjoy the finer things in life," Lusk said, adding that smoking cigars is not addictive because you don't inhale, and nicotine comes out of the tobacco during the aging process.
Contact Iuliana Petre at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7469.