The long and the short of cigars

If you’re new to the cigar, scene, here’s some information that will help place that cigar, rather than your foot, in your mouth:



THE BASICS: Cigars usually come in boxes with a 25 count. In the U.S., size and shape are designated by length in inches and ring gauge (diameter) in 64ths of an inch, but this is simplified by an olla of exotic names, such as Panatela, Gran Panatela, Lonsdale, Corona Grande, Corona, Rothschild, Belicoso/Torpedo, Culebra, Churchill and Double Corona. Wrapper color is the next major distinction; there are over fifty shades, ranging from the greenish Candela to the light brown Claro to the reddish-brown Colorado to the darkest Maduro. Prices vary greatly, but some of the upper end prices range from $80 to $300 per box. There are over 200 manipulations of the leaf from the original sorting to the boxing. “They have to go through particular fermentation, maturation, handling methodology,” says John Barton, Up In Smoke’s area manager. “Consistency is the key. If you buy a box of cigars, the last one should taste as good as the first one, if not better. The extremes in quality control these companies go through have been nothing but good for the product, especially the outer wrappers. Mainly because, like a great wine, the aging process affects the flavor-the same way with cigar outer wrappers. You can change it from ultra mild to spicy to whatever.”

PUBLICATIONS: Cigar Aficionado, a lifestyle magazine, has seen rapid growth since its inception in 1992. Good reference hardbacks include The Ultimate Cigar Book by Richard Carleton Hacker, The Gourmet Guide to Cigars by Paul B. Garmirian, and The Connoisseur’s Book of the Cigar by Zino Davidoff. All these sources provide a 1 good overview of the different kinds and qualities of cigar. Cigar Aficionado regularly features the results of blind taste tests. My favorite source book, Holy Smoke, by G. Cabrera Infante, reads like one of Joyce’s Dubliners in Ulysses telling the history of cigars.

ACCOUTERMENTS: These are many and varied and make great gifts for everyone from your boss to U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. There are cutters, for example, simple tools to clip off the end of your fine cigar for smoking, and these fall into three types: guillotine, wedge cut, or pluckers. Humidors, which come in a variety of sizes and price tags, keep cigars in the proper storage environment of 70 percent humidity and 70 to 72 degrees. At the Galleria’s Up In Smoke, the individual-box models range from a handsome and mid-priced Ashford ($420) to an elite Davidoff with a blond cigar leaf laminated into the lid and dual humidifiers ($735), while for $1,500 to $3,000 you can get cabinet style humidors capable of holding 500 to 600 cigars. Spanish Cedar is the wood of choice for the interior. North Park’s Alfred Dunhill of London carries a humidor called The Apex Box, designed in a limited edition by Viscount David Linley, for $14,000. Then again, there’s the budget humidor-a coffee can with a damp sponge in it.

Lighters are snazzy and elaborate, though Paul Garmirian’s book The Gourmet Guide to Cigars suggests that only an oaf would light a cigar with a gasoline-flame lighter. Wooden matches, preferably not the sulfur kind, offer old-fashioned grace. Butane lighters are adequate and cleanly burning enough. Zippos suggest the nostalgia of Bogart in Casablanca and can be had for $10 and up, but cigar shops also carry $85 to $115 lighters that would do nicely. Pocket cases are leather holders for a handful of cigars, usually three to four, used to keep the daily cigars neat and well protected rather than simply stuffed in a coat pocket. Ashtrays need to be nearly massive to hold a full-figured Churchill or Double Corona. Dunhill’s has a crystal beauty for $300, but a $5.95 souvenir shop shape o’ Texas monster would probably do just as well.

CHOOSING A CIGAR: While aficionados tend to hedge on the question of how to choose a good cigar, there are some marquee names the neophyte can recognize when searching the humidor. In the area of fine cigars, Davidoff, Romeo y Julietta Vintage, Paul Garmirian, Dunhill, and Avo Uvezian are well known non-Havana cigars. Cubans still have the finest reputation, though they are, of course, banned in the U.S., and most agree that the quality of non-Havanas has improved enormously in the last decade or two. “Tastes are subjective,” says John Barton of Up In Smoke. “Depends on what you’re doing. Cigars are designed and meant to complement a particular moment.” Or, as he told one customer at the counter, “This one’s great with wives, girlfriends, or both.”

An important issue is what size cigar you want. A recent New Yorker cartoon featured a man shopping for suits and cigars at a men’s clothing store: as the sales clerk offers a box of cigars, the shopper holds one and checks the mirror. The Gourmet Guide to Cigars includes a chart designating cigars appropriate to one’s height and weight, recommending, for instance, the substantial Churchill for those who weigh 190 and are six foot or under, the Double Corona for those over 200 pounds, and the Long Panatela for string beans.

PRICE RANGE: When asked how much you have to spend for a good cigar, Joe Owens of Servi-Cigar, Inc., says, “That depends on the ind vidual. There are excellent cigars for between $1.50 and $3. Most people will spend that. And then they go on up from $5 to $20. But, for instance, when you’re buying a Davidoff, you’re buying a name.” Al Ramirez, a Dallas-area education lobbyist, concurs with Owens on this, but notes that for the most expensive cigars, and Cubans in particular, “It’s like buying a Mercedes. Even if it’s broken down and it won’t run, it’s still a Mercedes.”Some aficionados collect cigars and pay five-figure prices for pre-Castro Cubans, boxes owned by John E Kennedy or other famous people. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who buy cigars based on the box, the wrapper, or the look of the cigar. There are Dunhills that come individually wrapped in elegant white aluminum tubes. The best boxes are made of Spanish cedar, and some have elaborate woodworking and beautiful designs. But don’t judge a cigar by its box- some inferior cigars have the most elaborate packaging. If it’s just the box you want, Edward’s Pipe and Cigar at 1715 Promenade Center sells their empties for $2 each.

CIGAR AND TOBACCO SHOPS: A brief listing of these in the Dallas area includes Servi-Cigar, Up In Smoke, Tobacco Lane, Edwards Pipe and Cigar, Lone Star Cigars, Alfred Dunhill of Lmdon, Tobacco Club of Dallas, and The Smoker’s Shoppe Some smokers cite Dunbill of London in Nortg Park as their favorite shop, though the humidor seems awfully small. The store has the odd distinction of also selling clothing. You can buy a shirt, tie, and sports coat as you’re picking out a handful of Romeo y Juliettas. The stores atmosphere is more sophisticated than that of Up In Smoke, which, by contrast, sells a distressing amount oil itsch and Texana, including a number of tacky statues. For example, there’s an ertire dwarf motif: bowling dwarves, tennis -playing dwarves. No cigar-smoking dwarves, however.

For the purist, one of the finest shops in the city is Servi-Cigar. This cosy store in the Bachman Creek Shopping Center on Northwest Highway boasts one of the biggest walk-in humidors in town, at 438 square feet, and has a smoking room in back with a patio that overlooks scenic Bachman Creek. The shop has oddities that distinguish it from others: the owners do not advertise (the store is not even listed in the Yellow Pages). “We get our customers by word of mouth only,” say the owners. “That way you keep up the quality of your clientele.” They sell nothing but cigars and accessories: no cigarettes, pipe tobacco, dwarf statues, canes, bumper stickers, or haberdashery. Just cigars. And they have perhaps the best selection of fine cigars in town, which they deliver locally or which can be ordered through their mail order business. And they offer a full guarantee on their product,

Both Servi-Cigar and Up In Smoke sponsor and arrange some of the popular cigar dinner-smokers at restaurants around the city, with Up in Smoke supplying the cigars for recent dinners at Morton’s of Chicago and Yegua Creek Brewing Company, and Servi-Cigar performing the same service at Matt’s No Place and The Fontaine Hotel.

Some experts believe that the quality of a cigar can he told merely by looking at its ashes: the paler the ashes the better the cigar.

-FROM HOLY SMOKE, BY G. CABRERA INFANTE

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