Having become a staple accessory for the discerning gentleman, cigars emanate character, class and pleasure. The perfect accompaniment to a fine scotch, the combination makes a most relaxing pastime.
Cigars are prized around the world for their complex and rich flavour and have been enjoyed since the early 10th century. We take a look into the long and interesting history of cigars, as well as some tips on how to really smoke a cigar like a pro.
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Who Invented Cigars?
Historians generally believe that the cigar was invented by the ancient Mayans, who would wrap the tobacco in a palm or a plantain leave and smoke it. Archaeologists have even discovered an ancient Mayan pot from the 10th century that depicts a Mayan man puffing on one of these very early cigars.
When Christopher Columbus came over to the New World he was one of the first Westerners to discover tobacco. The local Indians showed him how they smoked the tobacco leaves and Columbus and his lieutenants quickly adopted the habit. When they brought the idea back home, smoking became quite popular in Spain and Portugal. The French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot, popularized cigar smoking in France and nicotine was named after him. It was around this time that manufacturers in Spain started wrapping the dried tobacco in papers rather than leaves. After that, many companies started to grow tobacco and mass-produce cigars.
Cuba became a very popular location to grow the tobacco plants, due to the fertile land and the warm climate. Soon a Cuban tobacco-growing industry was established and sailing ships were distributing the tobacco grown in Cuba from Europe to Asia. Columbus had claimed Cuba for Spain and during this time the Spanish dominated the tobacco industry. They even placed a monopoly on the crop that lasted until 1817, forbidding any Cuban growers to sell to anyone but them.v
Cigars Across The World
Cigars continued to grow in popularity all over the world, with the USA consuming approximately 300 million cigars by the middle of the 19th century. Tampa, Florida became a cigar hotspot and many Cuban cigar-makers migrated there.
Cigars started to become a status symbol and a part of popular culture and a lot of famous people smoked them, including King Edward VII, Ulyssess S. Grant, Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Jordan.
In 1962 US President John F. Kennedy imposed an embargo on Cuba. Of course, before he put the embargo in place he ordered his press secretary to buy up every Cuban cigar he could find. After Kennedy had stashed approximately 1,200 of them he placed the trade embargo in effect.
This trade embargo is still in effect, which means that US citizens have discovered cigars grown in other Central American nations including Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. However, there are no restrictions on other countries purchasing Cuban cigars, so it’s possible to enjoy them in fine cigar houses in London and other locations around the world.
The Finest Cigars of the Americas
Although it’s rare to find a cigar factory in the U.S specifically, Central American countries have a reputation for producing some of the best cigars in the world. We take a look at some of the finest brands of cigars made in the Americas, from Cuba to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
Cohiba Esplendido, Cuba
Reputedly conceived with the help of Fidel Castro, Cohiba cigars are today some of the most sought after in the world. In the 1970s, Castro saw his bodyguard smoking a certain cigar of which the aromas were most pleasing. Learning they were made by a friend of the bodyguard’s, Castro issued instructions that the man must be found.
They then set up a special factory, where the mysterious character covertly produced cigars exclusively for the top Cuban government officials. This production was made even more top-secret by ongoing assassination attempts against Castro and Che Guevera by the CIA.
Today, Cohiba cigars are produced in Cuba and also the Dominican Republic, in order to evade the US ban on Cuban exports. The Cohiba Esplendido is a thick, classy smoke that privileges smoothness and creaminess while maintaining a perfect balance between strength and flavour.
This one is for the seasoned cigar aficionado, but one will be hard-pressed to find many of better quality. Indeed, Forbes’ resident tastemaker, Nick Passmore, labelled it the “best cigar [he has] ever smoked”.
CAO Gold, Nicaragua
A classic cigar blend, CAO Gold is made by master rollers in Nicaragua from aged long leaves. All of these cigars are painstakingly made by hand.
The founder of the company, Aylin Ozgener-Sherman, is actually Turkish, which may not be the nation that first springs to mind when discussing cigars. Yet the success of the brand owes much to the entrepreneurial spirit of what remains a family-run business.
Growing up in Istanbul, Ozgener-Sherman fell in love with smoking pipes. But he was not happy with the quality of Turkish meerschaum. So he would change the stems and modify them, eventually stumbling upon the perfect formula.
With CAO Gold, the blend is a mellow one, with added flavour to compensate for its mild to medium strength. The robust tasting notes give a hint of cocoa and espresso, while every cigar released by the CAO brand has been met with critical acclaim.
Romeo y Julieta 1875 Reserve Maduro, Cuba
Winston Churchill famously chewed on the cigar to aid his methodical process of decision making. And he certainly had some tough ones to make during his premiership. His favourite two cigar brands were La Aroma de Cuba and this masterpiece, Romeo y Julieta. Indeed, the company eventually named one of their brands after the Prime Minister.
A young Churchill wanted to make a name for himself. He believed the best way to do so was to engage in military battle. At the end of the nineteenth century, with no live battle in Europe, he travelled to Cuba.
He and a fellow officer, Reginald Barnes, went to help the Spanish Empire put down the protests in the country. Stood up by the Spanish commandant who was due to meet them, however, the pair spent the next few weeks in Havana’s finest hotels, acquainting themselves with two of the staples of Cuban lifestyle: oranges and cigars.
From then on, Churchill was rarely separated from his cigars, stocking between 3000 and 4000 in his Kent residence. Seldom pictured without one, he would go to some lengths to ensure his love affair could be continued.
One such example came when he hosted a lunch in honour of the King of Saudi Arabia in 1945, before which he was aghast to learn that neither alcohol nor tobacco should be drunk or smoked in the king’s presence.
He recorded the difficulty in his memoirs: “I had been told that neither smoking nor alcoholic beverages were allowed in the Royal Presence. As I was the host at the luncheon I raised the matter at once and said to the interpreter that if it was the religion of His Majesty to deprive himself of smoking and alcohol I must point out that my rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them. The King graciously accepted the position.”
Romeo y Julieta’s 1875 is a full-bodied smoke which lacks nothing in flavour. It features a blackened Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, a tasty Nicaraguan binder, and a bold blend of Nicaraguan, Peruvian, and Dominican long-fillers.
Diamond Crown, Dominican Republic
If you’re looking for something truly rare, Diamond Crown fits the bill. A super-premium brand of handmade cigars, it is made in the Dominican Republic. Another brand with consistent 90+ ratings, there are very few places where Diamond Crown is available for purchase.
In fact, the cigars are made by the Fuentes family, a bunch steeped in cigar history who are foremost experts in growing and manufacturing.
As part of the brand’s centenary celebrations, in 1995, Stanford Newman joined the company to develop the super-premium cigars so sought after today.
Striving to design the richest, most consistent and most complex cigar possible, he created a 54 ring – larger than the largest cigars on the market at the time, 52 ring varieties. This allowed for six to seven individual tobacco leaves to be blended together, providing the full-bodied flavour that makes Diamond Crown so coveted.
Unlike almost all other wrappers, Diamond Crown’s Connecticut Fermented Wrapper is fermented twice in order to develop a light, rosado colour and the sweet, smooth and rich flavour.
How To Smoke A Cigar Like a Pro
Many cigar aficionados will tell you it’s not worth deliberating over the chemical analysis of cigar smoke or the leaf compounds of tobacco – what seasoned experts and green novices alike are mostly interested in is if it tastes good or not. Cigar smoking is deemed a romantic pastime, and while it might be best to come equipped with a general grasp on smoking etiquette, it is not always conducive to enjoying the overall experience.
Your first encounter with a cigar will be by sight, smell, and touch. A good cigar can often be determined by rolling it between the fingers. The best wrappers are silky to the touch, without blemishes, and can possess an elastic quality. Cheap cigars are typically not consistent in their colour, are rough in complexion, and won’t emit a fresh aroma.
Premium cigars often come out of the box with a closed head, requiring it to be cut before it may be smoked. How you do this is up to you, though the cleaner the cut the less likely you are to ruin the cigar, so a single-edged cutter is the best method. In terms of where to cut, aim for the ‘shoulder’ – the part where the end of the cigar begins to close. Removing this section from the end allows a large, flat, and even surface without removing the glue that keeps the filler leaves compact. Generally, it’s difficult to go wrong with a sharp cutter and a steady pair of hands.
It’s best to avoid conventional cigarette lighters as they taint the end of the cigar and leave an unpleasant aroma. The good old fashioned matchstick, a butane lighter, or even better a cigar lighter, are generally the preferred ways to go. To avoid overheating the cigar, make sure the flame does not go too near it. Simply hold the cigar over the flame, rotate gently to maintain a glowing ring around the tip, and draw until the cigar is well lit. Note the colour of the ash – a white drop of ash indicates a better quality of tobacco, while a grey one would suggest the soil in which the tobacco was grown was lacking the right nutrients.
It’s good to note that no two cigars will taste the same. Farmers have good crops and bad ones, and tobacco growers are no different. Ingredients might be incorporated into the blend to compensate for a bad crop, but only to improve the overall taste. However, a balance in flavour is often achieved to get as close to a taste that the smoker is familiar with. In terms of etiquette, ash should fall naturally from the cigar end, so knocking or flicking them off is not always required. When finishing the cigar, it’s best to leave a nub of two inches unsmoked, as even the finest cigars will taste bitter if smoked in their entirety.
5. Relax & Enjoy
If there’s only one thing to remember it’s that, like a fine wine or rare whisky, a cigar should always be savoured. That said, it’s important to note cigars aren’t designed to be inhaled like cigarettes. For one it won’t do your lungs much good, and neither will it improve the taste of the cigar at all. While a cigar is often well enjoyed in a group, it’s usually considered good etiquette to smoke in the company of other cigar smokers, especially if you want to avoid making new enemies.
Light One Up
History has shown that a good cigar is well-loved and this indulgence continues to be enjoyed as much as it was over a thousand years ago. If you’re on the hunt for the best place to savour a premium cigar, we’ve curated a list of the top cigar spots in London to sit back, relax and light up a stogie.