Owing to anti-smoking legislation, cigar smoking at this time of year is problematic. If you are on a night out, setting fire to one is committing to anywhere between 45 minutes and two hours, so you better make that clash with the elements worth it. More often than you may think, the process of choosing the best cigar is a bit like looking for a new box set on Netflix. You scroll for an eternity to find something decent, wasting time choosing something that you don’t want to waste your time with. And who can blame you? Walk-in humidors at reputable tobacconists offer a vast selection of the finest that Castro’s ancestral island has to offer. The following guide intends to make the whole process much easier, whether you buying a present or treating yourself. Christmas is stressful enough and any added angst caused by rolled up tobacco leaves undermines the point that cigar smoking is meant as a restorative pastime, so hopefully this helps. Happy smoking!
Ramon Allones Club Allones LE 2015 (Single £20.49)
By my money, the best cigar marque on the market (above). In comparison to other brands like Cohiba or Montecristo, there is much less range, but each one is both covetable and enjoyable. Their latest limited edition, the Club Allones is still young and remarkably cheap. Definitely grab a few boxes now as they will appreciate in value. They are a true winter warmer, with a distinct peppery taste that may fade in a year or so, but is absolutely ready to smoke now.
Juan Lopez Selección Superba Regional Edition (Single £32.50, Box of 10 £285.00)
Only recently released to the market, potentially under most people’s radar because there are a few new Romeo y Julietas being released that has soaked up all the attention. Hunters and Frankau, the Cuban cigar importers into the UK, have backed this cigar and it is easy to see why. It is large, but there is an easy draw, with a soft, silky taste and plenty of smoke.
Upmann Magnum 56 LE 2015 (Single £31.49, Box of 25 £769)
Another limited edition from 2015, this was billed as an Upmann with some strength. Well, yes Upmann is usually very mild flavoured and good entry-level brand but I am not sure that entirely sums it up. Perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of security but the ‘strength’ was a very mild spice that was absolutely delicious. As this is a young cigar, this blend felt like a conscious decision. Very good indeed.
Por Larrañaga Sobresalientes (Single £29.95, Box of 10 £285)
This is a UK regional edition from 2014 but it still holds its own for a smaller brand of cigar. It is a great size, large (6 inches and a 53 ring gauge) with a café au lait coloured wrapper. The taste is fruity with an excellent finish by only slightly lifting the spice without overwhelming, and ultimately ruining, a fantastic smoke.
Partagas Maduro 1 (Single £29.99)
The dark leaves of this cigar comes from the extra ageing of the wrapper. Do not be fooled, dark does not mean strong, in fact it is more likely to taste sweet. But set fire to this cigar and you will experience a complex, well-balanced cigar. Which may be exciting news for anyone who usually steers clear of Partagas’s customarily punchy cigars. Hard to find so you may, so grab them where you can.
Tips for buying
Feel free to inspect the cigar. Don’t be British about reviewing the merchandise. The sales person will likely check, too, but make sure to pick up the cigar you want to buy and pinch it gently up and down to check for imperfections, small tears can mean big problems when lit. Also if you feel an irregular dip in the cigar this will be a simple problem with construction. It’s not uncommon but affects how evenly the cigar smokes. So there is nothing wrong with putting back and trying another till you feel confident in the purchase.
Try all strengths and know what works for your palate. Having to wrestle cigars into submission is not what smoking is all about. If you find the nuance, subtlety and deliciousness of a mild flavoured cigar then all power to you. The last thing you want is to buy a box of 25 cigars, get half way through the first then need a lie down. When you inspect the box, look for even colours throughout as a tip for a good quality box.
A great party trick. More a tip for smoking than buying, I picked this up from Hunters and Frankau MD Jemma Freeman and it works every time. With a larger format cigar, the process of smoking, while very enjoyable, stores gas towards the end of the cigar. As a result, especially with younger cigars, the spice and acidity near the end can be a bit unpleasant. So when you hit the final third, take a blowtorch lighter (available in all cigar shops) and blow through the cigar towards the waiting lighter flame. This forces the gas out the other end and you will know it is working when it ignites and forms a flame out the far end. Keep blowing till it extinguishes. Then draw again and your cigar will feel brand new.
Punch. Easy to attach to key rings, the punch (above) is a perfectly legitimate way to open up a cigar. You don’t need a pair of ornamental scissors or a cutter, just as you don’t need to light it with a strip of cedar wood. The new Davidoff duo punch has two sizes of punch depending on the ring gauge of what you are smoking. If you aren’t a cigar smoker, and you know someone who is, this is a great stocking filler.
Lighter. There is nothing to match Dupont for lighters. Table lighters with jet flames are de rigeur but there is still an elevated plain that Dupont sits on above anything else. If you can get one, it is absolutely worth it. The Ligne 2 is a classic and has a double flame application, which makes lighting the cigar evenly much easier.
Elie Bleu Humidor. Every Elie Bleu humidor is a work of art. Whether you buy a simple varnished wood or highly embellished version, you need it for keeping cigars in and that they do very well. Small tip, if keeping cigars sounds high maintenance, don’t fear, the Boveda humidification pouches available from all the below stores work amazingly well and are as simple as opening and closing the lid to use. If you want to buy British, then Linley have a superb selection of humidors.
Where to buy
JJ Fox. This is a historic address (above), with plenty of fun things inside including the chair Winston Churchill ordered his cigars from and Oscar Wilde’s unpaid cigar bill. Upstairs there is a rather nice sampling lounge too. 19 St James’s St, SW1A 1ES
Davidoff of London. Spectacular cigar collection with avuncular staff and a panoply of accessories. Proprietors, father and son Eddie and Edward Sahakian are both highly respected and well liked. In the range is some of Edward’s rare cigars including 2009 Romeo y Julieta Dukes and the first batch of Cohiba Siglo VI sticks. 35 St James’s St, SW1A 1HD
Sautter’s. Smaller than the other two establishments and usually you will walk into a haze of smoke and the sound of laughter from men and women passing the time over a stogie. If what seems like a cliquey environment puts you off, don’t let it, they will all be serious cigar smokers and keen to help you pick out the perfect smokes for you, just ask. The shop has a good selection of private blends, too. 106 Mount Street London W1K 2TW UK
Tom Chamberlin is editor of The Rake