I've recently had the pleasure of enjoying some decent cigars, and invested in a small Spanish cedar humidor in order to keep a dozen or so on hand. While I can't stand cigarettes, I enjoy a good cigar once or twice a month in the presence of like-minded friends, or alone on the back porch with a glass of Bourbon and a good book. Since I've written here about beer, spirits, cocktails, food, and whatever else is on my mind, I figure there's room for the occasional cigar review as well.
So how did I get interested in this subject? Well, I tried my first cigar at the age of six during spelling class.
Now, before anyone accuses my parents or the school of negligence, there were extenuating circumstances. For Halloween that year we were allowed to dress up for school, and I chose to be Groucho Marx. I had the fake glasses, big nose, and mustache from TG&Y, and on the way out the door Dad thought a cigar would round out the look. He fished an old, forgotten stogie out of his dresser drawer and handed it to me. It was wrapped in plastic, and I put it in my mouth and tried the duck walk with great success.
At school no one seemed to mind the presence of the cigar, and the plastic held up for the first hour or two. However, I was a bit of a chewer as a kid, and tended to grind my pencils into splinters. So during a rigorous spelling test of hard words like February and Wednesday, I chewed through the plastic and got a little nicotine buzz. Perhaps my experience chewing the leather on my baseball glove prevented me from getting sick off the tobacco.
While it was an enjoyable memory from childhood, I honestly waited until my early 20s before I touched any form of tobacco again, and I've probably only smoked a dozen cigars in my adult life. Unlike the quick, furtive fix of a cigarette, a cigar is something to be savored and experienced over an hour or two, preferably with friends. It makes it less of a bad habit and more of an occasional indulgence.
Tonight I enjoyed the Arturo Fuente Royal Salute Natural. 7⅝" long, with a ring gauge of 54 (diameter measured in sixty-fourths of an inch, or ⅞"). This is a big, heavy cigar, but appearances can be deceiving. It's mild to begin with but the thicker, longer cigar makes for a smoother flavor. It's shipped in a cedar sheath with a black ribbon around the foot. The A. Fuente was rich with oak, leather, chocolate, and nice touches of sweet and bitter that went well with the Bourbon.
With wine, you've got two horizontal belts around the earth: one in the north that passes through California and most of Continental Europe, and one in the south that passes through part of Chile, Argentina, the tip of South Africa, and Southern Australia and New Zealand. Those two "purple belts" are where climate, sun, and seasons are most conducive to producing good wine.
Making a wide equator between those two is a "brown belt" that provides the world with the highest quality chocolate, coffee, and tobacco. For cigars, we're talking the Caribbean, the northern regions of South America, Cameroon, Indonesia, etc. Most cigars are made from tobacco leaves of different countries for different purposes. In this case, the binder and filler are both from the Dominican Republic, while the wrapper is sun-grown Ecuadorian.
In the photo the cigar is resting on my copy of Robert Poole's detailed history of the National Geographic Society, Explorers House. Damned good book if you're a lover of the magazine.