Nick Hammond delves into the world of cigars to discover the latest trends, from the best cigars to smoke, to the trendiest places to be seen smoking them in.
The C&TH Guide to Cigar Smoking in London
The low end of the cigar market is dominated by machine-made smokes – chopped up bits of tobacco rolled into a tube by a machine and churned out by the bucketload.
The fine, handrolled cigar is made entirely by hand; totalmente a mano, as they say in Spain. This phrase is even burned onto the bottom of every Cuban cigar box to reinforce the distinction.
Buy a gift of these handrolled beauties – a single cigar or a box, Cuban or New World – and you’ll make a friend for life. It shows a touch of class to take the trouble to learn something about a subject as infinitely fascinating as the world of wine itself.
Cigars for Beginners
Like wine, there is a confusing array to choose from. First, find a specialist tobacconist, equipped with a humidor which keeps the cigars in prime condition. Havana cigars are excellent but expensive – from around £15 per stick upwards – and New World cigars offer a good value alternative, if the smoker isn’t a confirmed Cuban cigar snob. Here are a couple of alternatives:
Hoyo de Monterrey No.2 – A classic Cuban cigar, suitable for beginners to experts, it’s full of light, ethereal charm and comes in robusto size (4 7/8 ins x 50 Ring Gauge) which is big enough to be a ‘proper cigar’ but not so large it’s daunting or ostentatious. RRP £15
Dunhill 1907 – Produced by Dunhill of St James’s Street – itself a subsidiary of the giant British American Tobacco – this is a lovely little New World cigar with depth and character and a hint of sweetness from the Brazilian filler leaf. Great value and recommended again in the robusto size. RRP £12
Montecristo No.2 – Long regarded a Cuban classic, this is a Piramide, or pointed cigar and is a big hitter at 6 1/8ins x 52 Ring Gauge; expect bold, leathery flavours and a long and satisfying smoke. RRP £20
Ashton VSG Illusion – The Illusion is a longer, thinner smoke than the above fatties and perhaps more elegant because of it. Sun grown Ecuadorian tobacco gives this New World cigar a wonderful depth of flavour. You won’t want it to end. RRP £17
A cigar lover doesn’t just need cigars, mind. A good humidor, ashtray, cutter and lighter are also de rigeur. For the man who has everything, plus a few spare million, Imperiali Geneve has just unveiled its Emperador cigar chest, touted as the most prestigious one in the world, comprising as it does of 2,675 components, several international patents and state-of-the-art technology, including the world’s first self-regulating humidity system. It costs a mind-boggling one million Swiss francs (around £650,000). For a, ahem, more reasonable option, look no further than master craftsman David Linley’s versions which start at £1,195.
For other accessories, online retailer C.Gars Ltd offers a range of options to suit all budgets, while the luxurious Davidoff of London or perhaps the world’s oldest tobacconist, JJ Fox of St James’s, may be preferable to handpick your selection. Both shops are redolent of old England and wonderful places to escape on a rainy day.
You may be stumped for somewhere to enjoy a cigar, but never fear; despite the smoking ban on indoor spaces, there is a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Cigar campaigners fought a long and ultimately successful war against being lumped in with cigarettes and a cigar exemption is made at specialist tobacconists, who are able to offer tastings or ‘samplings’ of cigars inside their stores or lounges.
Where to Smoke Cigars in London
Lanesborough Hotel, Knightsbridge – newly-refurbished and the ultimate in opulence, The Lanesborough offers The Garden Room as its cigar lounge. Armchairs, a cosy fireplace and a humidor to drool over, all overseen by the consummate Neil Millington means this is an incredible place to visit (as long as you bring deep pockets).
No. Ten Manchester Street Hotel, Marylebone – A cool outdoor terrace or a fabulously decorated sampling room, the choice is yours. There’s a brilliantly designed humidor here too, packed full of choice smokes and the service is second to none.
Dunhill at No.1 St James’s Street – James Bond meets Indiana Jones; a super cool, modern and comfortable store with a glass sampling lounge and state of the art air extraction so you don’t get kippered. Friendly and hospitable staff and great selection of well-kept smokes. Good value, too.
And finally, cigar smoking is not just the bastion of bewhiskered old barnacles. In recent years, many more women have been seen at cigar specific events and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a Ladies Night cigar event at a venue near you before too long. Ask your local cigar specialist for tips and advice.