Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sketches from a cigar smokers album

I should feel a wretch for adapting the title of my favourite author's debut, especially for a pastime that so many find so socially abhorrent…but I don't. These sketches, the first collection in what I hope will be many, will perhaps provide some fun, witty and informative vignettes of why I enjoy the occasional cigar! (in due course these will be moved to the cigar specific page!)


I'm sorry, but there is no substitute, admirable imitations - yes worthy contenders - but in truth, nothing beats the magic of a Cuban cigar. Anyone who has read this blog will have seen my account of a trip made by a good pal and yours truly to the cigar lounge at the Lanesborough Hotel. There really is nothing like smoking a Siglo I Cohiba in the warming atmosphere of a deep armchair by a roaring fire whilst the ice chinks away in a crystal tumbler filled with one of the establishments finely made Negronis. 

Myths, legends and the like surround what makes a Havana so special. It could be the climate, the soil the tobacco plant grows in, the fermentation process or the way they are made in Cuba under such strict conditions. Whatever it may be, they are delicious and well worth the price tag they command. 

Hand made, artisan products are coming back into fashion and I would like to champion the cigar. Perhaps, if I make some money, somewhere down the line (doubtful), I will put the proceeds into building a temperature controlled greenhouse and curing room and produce some exclusive 'Henry Rubinstein' British cigars. Perhaps I'll inspire a revolution, Sainsbury's might start a Taste the Difference range, Tesco a Finest…. here's to entrepreneurial dreaming!


The other Sunday, a Montecristo came to mind. After a fine lunch of roasted shoulder of lamb with all the trimmings nothing seemed more fitting than a Montecristo No. 2 and a glass of ice cold Cointreau. I had recorded the Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas classic Out of the past and sat down to watch it. 

The cigar was sublime, as said above there is no substitute for Cuban. Montecristos have a mild and characteristically dry finish - savoury and light. This is a perfect compliment to the dense, citrusy sugariness of the Cointreau. This format (No. 2) is my favourite of the range as it gives a longer smoke than the smaller Coronas and Petit Coronas which, due to their dry nature burn relatively quickly. Possibly the most prolific global cigar brand along with Cohiba, this to my mind is the perfect place to start and I would thoroughly recommend it to a beginner  before embarking on harder formats likeBolivar and Romeo y Julieta which are moister, denser and slower burning. 


CAO is not a label that most people think of when it comes to prime cigar smoking. A boutique American producer, running events and producing an array of cigars using a blend of tobaccos from the world over apart from of course Cuba. At JFK airport I came across a sampler pack of their wares. As a keen and enthusiastic cigar smoker  - if not an efficianado - I brought the pack to see if the Yanks could produce a world beater. 

I was delightfully surprised by the fantastic Brazilian offering coupled with a few delicious, ice cold bottles of Mexican lager. I had put the cult classic Vanishing Point (see post: Film for Thought - Vanishing Point 11/01/2011) and all the elements fell together to make for an enjoyable, relaxed evening in front of the goggle box. Rich but not too heavy with a long ash, like the accompanying film - a slow burner but definitely worth the cheap price I paid for them. 

For other drinking alternatives should you prefer something stronger, a smooth blended whisky like Canadian Club or J&B. If you pass through duty free and you see some of these in the humidor, then I thoroughly recommending buying a box of five. 


Christmastime seems like a distant memory now, but a time of cheer it surely is and to my mind a time for a Bolivar of gargantuan proportions. They say it is the time of year that people need to treat themselves and there is plenty of need for that in these austere times. I'm sure that our dear leaders Cleggers and Cameron both enjoy chomping on a Cohiba at their local watering hole (secretly) or after the kids have gone to bed. 

In this case a vintage port would come in handy, perhaps with a nice reblechon and a cup of strong black coffee. Last year it was a fantastic, if slightly maderised 1949 Fonseca, not a year of note - according to Michael Broadbent - but certainly a fantastic drink, and a slice of our history. Served, of course,  in Waterford port glasses out of a grossly inappropriate (and illegally leaded) Czech crystal decanter!

The cigar itself is a project alone, with 5-6 hours of smoking time, dense smoke and almost overwhelming richness, this is not an undertaking for the faint heart or those with weak constitutions. 

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