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!
Released into the market at £60 in early November, prices are already up and stock is running out. These smoke fantastically already and if you are wanting to make the most of its ROI potential, you need to buy boxes before Christmas as, moving into the new year, they will be scarce and perhaps too expensive for anyone who has left it too late.
Juan Lopez Seleccion Superba
An edition just for the UK, it launched at the beginning of the year and so far hasn’t experienced that much uplift. Word is out however that the tide is beginning to turn, as it is a large format cigar that smokes beautifully. The café au lait wrapper gives away the softness of the smoke, which is unlikely to draw much criticism from seasoned smokers.
For a limited edition there seem to be plenty of these around. The Topes entered the market last year for £39 and they are now around £60. They are indeed limited though, which means that the fact that people are smoking plenty of them means that, at some point, they will be both scarce and expensive, so now is the time to get them.
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