Saturday, April 25, 2009

Smoking a Castro and Other Cigars

Everything You Didn't Know about Cigars and Were Afraid to Ask

Rudyard Kipling once jibed “A lady is only a woman, but good Cigar is a smoke “. Thankfully, in these turbulent times of the ever-growing health mafia who balk against anything entering your body that isn’t made exclusively from oat bran, corn flakes or probiotic yoghurt, the seven-inch Cigar is making a modish return. And a real comeback it is!

I had my first Cigar smoke during my high school days when me and my mates experimented with cheap Indonesian spiced Cigars, smuggled inside our school grounds and traded with Iron Maiden tapes. It was not until my second job that I had my first authentic Cigar experience – an original Partagás gifted to me by a gregariously benevolent client who I helped save a substantial sum of money.

Last week, I had my Cigar experiences reawakened as I had to gift an entire box of pricey Dominican Cigars - Arturo Fuente for a close mentor of mine – a retired Army General with a penchant for luxurious Cigars and the most expensive wines for his 69th birthday.

Swanky, posh and undeniably male, Cigars combine the poise of the gentleman with the air of the cad. Even though annual Indian consumption is among the lowest in the world (we smoke a mere .08 per head, as compared to 220 per head in Denmark), the Cigar seems to have unfettered itself from the injurious image of its poor and vastly inferior relative, the acidic Cigarette. Always popular in gentlemen’s clubs, Cigar smoking has been attracting more youthful practitioners recently. Experts believe that the Cigar’s suave image makes it all more attractive to the younger men (and also women).

According to Iian Crawford, the author of ‘The Havana Cigar’, a bible for any serious Cigar enthusiast, a Cigar greenhorn should choose a brand that fits his own particular style. While this is good advice, Crawford approach is rather literal: for example, he suggests that if you have a long thin face you should avoid fat Cigars, and vice-versa. A more realistic approach is to begin by buying a selection of different Cigars- a good Havana can be had for around $15 -$20 and simply try several until you find one that suits your palette and personality. A diffident Romeo Y Julieta number One might be a good starting point. At five and a half inches, it is neither too large and nor too aromatic and has a distinct taste of burnt wood smoke – a perfect after-dinner Cigar. But whichever brand you decide to try, it’s wise to avoid Cigars that are under-matured. Even the most hardened smoker would find the notorious “green” Cigar intimidating, if not upsetting, so it is not recommended as an introduction for the uninitiated.

Once you’ve found your perfect Cigar, you are then faced with a minefield of Cigar etiquette to navigate. If you thought it was a case of lighting up and puffing away, you’re very much mistaken. Avoid rolling the Cigar next to your ear or running it under your nose. All this will prove is that Cigars sound like desiccated leaves and smell of tobacco. Cutting the end of your Cigar using a special Cigar guillotine is to be recommended. Alternatively, pierce the end with a matchstick; but be warned, this concentrates the Cigar smoke like a jet on to your tongue, with an associated burning sensation that can be very distasteful.

Never bite off the end of your Cigar – this might be fine in an Italian spaghetti Western, but outside of Clint Eastwood territory, few people find it attractive. Most importantly, light your Cigar with a wooden match, rather than with a petrol lighter or a candle, both of which severely impair the flavor. And, once lit, only smoke three quarters of its length; after this, the tobacco oils concentrate in the remaining area of the Cigar and cause a bitterness, which ruins the otherwise mellow taste. Finally, never stub out your Cigar-once half its length has been smoked a Cigar will automatically extinguish itself if left unattended.

There is little that can match the aromatic smell and taste of a good Cigar. For anyone who claims to enjoy tobacco, it is the ultimate in sheer pleasure and good taste.

The Premium Brands…

Dunhill Aged - Mainly due to the increasing difficulty in importing Cigars from Cuba in the late Eighties, Dunhill decided to produce its own brand of Cigar. It uses South American tobacco and the leaves are matured over a number of years. The result is surprisingly, a much milder and nuttier tasting Cigar that lacks the pungent kick found in the stronger blends. Increasingly popular, the Dunhill Aged is the ideal Cigar for smoking during the day or over a light lunch.

Romeo Y Julieta - One of the world’s most popular Cigars, the Romeo Y Julieta is classified as a medium flavored Cigar. Tasting woodier than the Dunhill Aged, there is no mistaking the punch that lurks within it. However, the medium taste is still aromatic and palatable with our being overpowering. A version worth trying is the Romeo y Juliet Fedros, which boasts a sweeter woody flavor thanks to a cedar wrap around the Cigar.

Montecristo - Similar in taste to the Romeo Y Julieta, but slightly stronger. The increase in the Monetecristo’s strength is more pronounced in its most popular version, the Corona No 3. This Cigar has a very definite rich and pungent nutty flavor that lingers on the palette. Probably best enjoyed after a heavy evening meal.

Bolivar - The strongest of all Cigars, the extremely dark leaves used in the Bolivar give it a very strong taste. Too much for many tinge of bitterness and, if you are unaccustomed to it, can quite literary make your head spin.

Cohiba aka Castro- The Rolls Royce of Cigars, the Cohiba is rolled from the choicest leaves of each year’s Cuban tobacco crop. This Cigar only become available in the West because its Castro’s personal brand.

Besides Partagás, Hoyo de Monterrey, H. Upmann and José L. Piedra, other good Cuban brands include Belinda, Cuaba, Diplomáticos, El Rey del Mundo, Flor de Cano, Fonseca, Gispert, Guantanamera, Juan López, La Gloria Cubana, Los Statos de Luxe, Por Larrañaga, Punch, Quai d'Orsay, Quintero, Rafael González, Ramón Allones, Reloba, Saint Luis Rey, San Cristóbal de la Habana, Sancho Panza, Trinidad, Troya, Vegas Robaina, Vegueros and many more.

Health Warning - Cigars can be fun but they are as damaging to our Health as Cigarettes or even worse. Think twice before you light one!


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