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CIGAR WOMAN

Updated on September 13, 2008

WOMEN LOVE CIGARS TOO

Cigar Mall USA found information that Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America, reports that sales of cigars dropped steadily from 1973 to 1993. Starting in 1994, though, they surged from 3,400,000,000 to 4,400,000,000 in two years -- partly due to cigars' fast growing popularity among women. Sales of the high-priced handmade variety that females favor jumped nearly 65%, from 170,000,000 in 1995 to 280,000,000 in 1996.

Women made up just 0.1% of all cigar buyers in the U.S. in the mid 1980s. Today, they constitute as much as five percent of the market. "The industry never saw this coming," says Sharp, and he demand for premium cigars has driven much of the growth. "They are less than 10% of the cigars sold, but account for more than 40% of the retail dollars."

On The Rise

Women have made powerful advances in the corporate world, which were male-dominated for so long, they also experience

more stress.

They have more disposable income. Women are less afraid of embracing typical male pastimes for relaxation, like smoking

a fine cigar.

Cigars have recaptured their traditional symbol of success, celebration and achievement. People yearn for old established rituals — rituals of elegance and sophistication, of good

fellowship and camaraderie.

The New Cigar Smoker: Women Aren't Waiting to Exhale

Restaurants USA magazine's final issue was published in September 2002 but these archived articles remain available for our readers' convenience.

Restaurants USA, April 1996

There's no doubt women have come a long way, and some of today's women are choosing to celebrate their expanded economic and social horizons by lighting up a stogie.

By Rhona Kasper

Cigar craze has ignited around the country. Cigar bars, cigar cafes and special-event cigar dinners are sprouting as fast as tobacco plants in warm sun.

"The resurgence in the interest in cigars caught the industry by surprise. The number of imported premium cigars sold has increased by 30.6 percent in the past year. Nobody saw it coming," says Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America in Washington DC. "The industry is back-ordered, and it takes one to two years to train a person to make cigars by hand."

Cigar Aficionado magazine reports that there were 500 cigar events held in restaurants, clubs and hotels in 1993; that number tripled to more than 1,500 in 1994. And the new crop of puffers is proving that cigars' appeal is widening - women now represent a fast-growing market segment of cigar smokers.

Niki Singer, senior vice president of Cigar Aficionado, says, "Industry estimates of women cigar smokers are as high as 5 percent, and it's growing every day."

Cigars on a roll

Why the sudden interest in cigar smoking? According to Sharp, "Cigars have recaptured their traditional symbol of success, celebration and achievement. I believe the return in cigar popularity is due in a large part to cigar dinners. People yearn for old established rituals - rituals of elegance and sophistication, of good-fellowship and camaraderie. Cigar dinners provide this."

But what explains the growing number of women cigar smokers? Allan Whitlatch, owner of Lone Star Cigars - the largest cigar retailer in Dallas with more than $1 million in sales a year - says, "We've seen a dramatic increase in women buying cigars. It seems that as women make advances in the corporate world - which was male-dominated for so long - they also experience more stress. They have more disposable income. Now, women seem to be less afraid of embracing typical male pastimes for relaxation, for instance, cigar smoking. I think it's great."

Even amidst anti-smoking pressure, cigar smoking has set itself apart. Some restaurants now promote themselves as havens for lovers of the leaf. For the first time, Zagat restaurant surveys included a listing of cigar-friendly restaurants in its survey. Cigar Aficionado listed close to 1,000 cigar-friendly restaurants in its restaurant guide last year.

And more women are among those diners seeking out restaurants that cater to cigar smokers - particularly women smokers.

Mary White of Seattle attended her first women-only cigar dinner at Lakeside Coastal Grill in Seattle. "I would not go to one that wasn't just for women. I went to a mixed event the night before, and it had a different feel to it," she says. "The food at the women's dinner was lighter, there were wines versus scotch."

The publicity generated by such events has operators smoldering with excitement. "I'm looking at 3 inches of clippings from our women-only cigar dinner," says Wendy Aiello, marketing director of Morton's of Chicago, Inc. "We had calls from England, Japan, even the Soviet News. In all, it was a huge success from a cost, operational and PR standpoint."

Tarek Merhebi of The Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg, Ohio, regularly hosts cigar dinners for men and women, and has found the events to be good public-relations tools. "This is the third time I've made the local news [with a cigar dinner]. It's a good way to expose the establishment to new clientele, different than what you normally have as guests," he says. His first women-only dinner is scheduled for next month, and it is already 50 percent booked.

In Atlanta, Fariba Todd, co-owner of The Martini Club, uses cigar dinners as fundraising events for a local women's shelter. She has hosted two cigar smokers for women (men are also invited), and each has been successful. "We've raised over $1,000 each time and usually have 200 people attending - 50 percent men, 50 percent women," she says.

Leafing through the possibilities

Before setting cigar to flame, restaurateurs need to make some basic decisions, such as, will the dinner be formal or casual? The price and frequency of the event should dictate the dress code.

Generally, formal events should be held annually or semiannually on a weekend night. Monthly cigar dinners can be held during the week to boost business on a slow night. Set the event charge to attract the audience you want to introduce to your restaurant. Price the event higher than an average per person meal at your restaurant, but not so high that you won't fill the house. If you price an event at $200, you'll attract a select, older crowd with high expectations of the food, service and cigar selection. But if you charge $50 for the dinner, you'll attract younger as well as older patrons.

Dumont's cigar events are theme-related. The most popular dinner featured Winston Churchill's favorite dishes, Churchill-size cigars, and a presentation by an author and authority on Churchill.

Smoke signals

Tell servers to promote the event to women diners. Hand out invitations to male diners and ask them to pass the invitations on to their wives, girlfriends, female colleagues or women friends. Mail invitations to women customers on your mailing list.

And don't forget the avid women cigar smokers. Ask local tobacconists to put up posters advertising the event in their shops and to hand out fliers to women customers. Many operators promote their cigar events by mailing invitations to female patrons of local tobacco shops.

Contact cigar and beverage magazines and ask if they list events. For example, Cigar Aficionado lists cigar events free of charge if information is submitted six months in advance of the event. Also send notices of the event to the newsletters of local women's civic groups.

For its nationwide women-only smoker, held in 28 locations, Morton's sent press kits to every major newspaper and magazine. The company teamed up with spirits, wine and cigar vendors, who helped promote the event. Morton's also mailed elegant invitations to women customers.

The company's return on its promotional investment was huge - every location was sold out and almost half of the units had waiting lists. In total, more than 1,500 women attended the event, smoking close to 5,600 cigars. But the biggest pay off may be still to come. Most of the women who attended the event had never been to a Morton's before, so the company may have earned hundreds of new customers.

Drawing up the menu

When planning the menu for a cigar dinner, remember that the stogie selection - and women diners' menu preferences - should drive food-and-beverage choices. Ask a local tobacconist to help you choose the cigars, and also consider asking the tobacconist to attend the dinner to answer questions about cigars or make recommendations. Often guests at cigar dinners - particularly women - are new at cigar smoking and may appreciate having an expert on hand to acquaint them with the art of cigar smoking.

Three to four cigars are usually served: one during cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, another after the main course, a third offered with an after-dinner cognac or dessert liqueur, and sometimes a fourth cigar given to diners to take home and enjoy. A good rule of thumb is to start off the evening with a milder, smaller cigar and end with a heavier, more time-consuming smoke.

Don't be alarmed if the cigars aren't all smoked during the event. Smoking three or four cigars in one evening is unusual even for the most avid cigar smoker. Some diners may sample a portion of each cigar, others might enjoy one or two in its entirety. Only the most enthusiastic will want to finish off every cigar presented.

Operators shouldn't assume that women only will smoke the smaller, more slender cigars - offer a choice. Mary White would have changed just one thing about the women-only cigar dinner she attended - "I only wished that we were offered a choice of cigars. I prefer the larger ring-size cigars, and the impression is that women like the smaller cigars."

Selecting foods for the cigar dinner can be tricky. One technique is to match the wines to the cigars and then plan the menu around the wines. Although meat is often featured at cigar dinners, consider offering lighter dishes for your women smokers - who, although willing to indulge in a cigar, may not want to indulge in a heavy, high-calorie meal.

The cigars should complement the beverages served. If a light wine is offered, choose a cigar that won't overpower the wine's bouquet. Some examples of pairing cigars with the meal courses are a Panetella cigar to accompany the hors d'oeuvres, a Rothschild after dessert and then perhaps a sturdy Double Churchill with a single-malt whiskey or cognac.

Seegar setup

Many operators choose to close the restaurant for special-event dinners, but if you have a large restaurant with well-delineated rooms and a skillful staff, it's possible to hold an event and still remain open for regular business. If you decide to remain open, use your best-ventilated room for the event.

Seasoned cigar-event planners say that the best setup is one or two large banquet tables so that guests can sit together and discuss the cigars.

A week before the event, schedule a service call for your ventilation system to make sure it is operating at peak performance. Consider renting big, quiet window fans to help remove cigar smoke from the room, or buy, lease or rent smoke-eaters to clean the air. Some operators ask local dry cleaners to give them discount coupons to hand out to diners.

Educate the staff members who will be working the cigar dinner. Hold a staff cigar-tasting a

Women In The Cigar Industry: Sometimes A Cigar Is Just A Smoke

Articles submitted by Garson Smart

Submitted Thursday, January 31, 2008

Submitted by: Garson Smart (789) Blue Level Author Verified Account

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Maybe it's Victorianism. Or perhaps it's that '30s stereotype we all still have of cigar smokers as heavyset, overcoated, wealthy men, lighting their stogies with $100 bills. Or maybe it's even because of that folkloric Freudianism, still so influential in America, that tells us cigars are always intended to- substitute for something.

But whatever the reason, cigar smoking is often thought of as a "boy's game." In fact, though, at least half a million American women smoke cigars, according to a 2002 estimate by the Cigar Association of America. That number makes sense in a country where - according to demographic research by Cigar Babes, a nonprofit organization for women cigar smokers - women make 85% of buying decisions, start 70% of new businesses, and buy 50% of the products classified traditionally as "male."

The cigar industry has begun to reflect these demographic changes, with women assuming positions of power at the industry's highest levels. For starters, there's Janelle Rosenfeld, the Vice President of Advertising and Communications for cigar giant Altadis USA. A native Midwesterner, Rosenfeld developed an interest in cigar smoking during the so-called "cigar boom" of the 1990s, and left the pharmaceutical industry to work in advertising for Altadis (then called Consolidated Cigar Corporation), according to an interview published recently in Cigar Magazine.

Rosenfeld has spearheaded some bold advertising campaigns for Altadis, some of which reflect, interestingly enough, a rather reactionary gender politics; these include a recent print ad featuring a nude woman covered in paint (shades of Goldfinger!) and a series of advertisements posing the question, "Are You Man Enough" (for Trinidad cigars, that is)? Is that message mixed enough?

Then there's Lisa Figueredo, who in 2005 started Tampa, Florida's, only cigar specialty mag, Cigar City Magazine. As she told Jeffrey Beckwith of Cigar Envy, Figueredo had nostalgic memories of growing up touring the cigar warehouses of Ybor City and West Tampa, and thought it was odd that an area of the country with deep roots in the cigar business lacked its own cigar magazine. So she started one.

With a small group of friends, family members, and colleagues, Figueredo spent months contacting local businesses and locally-based cigar corporations, scaring up the contacts and ad sales necessary to fund a new publication. Starting a new magazine on any subject is incredibly tiring work, but Figueredo and company managed to put together a 25,000-copy print run for issue one and to distribute it to over fifty local venues. It retails for free, with the costs covered by advertising.

Mariana Miranda is one half of the husband-and-wife team that owns Miami Cigar and Co. With hard work, this literal mom-and-pop operation distributes cigars from Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic to the United States, and has done so since 1989. The late eighties was hardly an auspicious period in the history of the premium cigar industry - sales flattened through much of the decade - but Miami Cigar had enough staying power to outlast the industry's gray period.

By 1995, they were clearing 3.1 million cigars per year in distribution. The business started when a bored Mariana suggested to her husband, Nestor, that she sell cigars to the liquor-store company for which he worked, according to an interview she gave to Cigar Aficionado magazine. Initially unfamiliar with cigars (she confused the term for "small cigars" with the Spanish word for "pound cake"), she grew to be, in the words of CA writer Shandana Durrani, "one of the foremost women executives in the cigar industry."

Finally, consider Raquel and Patricia Quesada - the pair of sisters who, according to Cigar Magazine writer Miranda Osborn, "represent the fifth generation of loving caregivers" (interesting word choice!) to the Dominican-based cigar company Manufactura de Tabacos SA (MATASA). They follow their father, company president Manuel Quesada, and three earlier generations in working for MATASA, handling a bewildering array of tasks: for Raquel, there's the supervision of filling, binding, and wrapping; quality oversight; inventory, ordering and shipping, while Patricia works with accounting and supplies.

These hard-working women keep a family tradition alive and pave the way for further acceptance of women at high levels of the cigar industry - all while helping to operate the company that brings you Jose Benito, Casa Blanca, and Fonseca, to name a few.

What, after all, could be more appropriate than women's conquest of the cigar industry? The cigar world has always used women's labor - as rollers, lectors, and growers - so it's only right that women should, increasingly, make the decisions by which today's huge, multinational cigar corporations are directed. Women are no longer an "invisible presence" in this industry. Women of the cigar world, we salute you!

The Anatomy of a Cigar

Cap, Head or Flag- A loose piece of tobacco applied with natural glue as the finishing touch to the cigar. Offers a nice appearance and, if applied properly, feels good in your mouth and prevents the wrapper from unraveling.

Body- main portion of cigar consists of Filler, Binder, and Wrapper.

Filler- long leaves of tobacco (Long filler) or cut up pieces of tobacco (Short filler) that compromise the bulk of the cigar and deliver most of the flavor.

Long filler- filled with long leaves of toba

Glossary of Cigar Terms

What's the difference between seco and ligero? How is ring gauge measured? What's tunneling? Our recently updated cigar glossary is a must-read for novices and aficionados alike. Heard a term that you can't find here? Let us know and we'll do our best to add it.

Amarillo-- A yellow wrapper leaf grown under shade.

American Market Selection-- Abbreviated AMS, a seldom-used term created by the major importer of Cuban cigars in the 1950s to designate claro-colored wrappers. (Also see English Market Selection.)

Amatista-- A glass jar containing 50 cigars (occasionally 25), sealed to be sold "factory fresh."

Band-- A ring of paper wrapped around the closed head of most cigars. Legend says that cigar bands were invented by Catherine the Great or by Spanish nobles to keep their gloves from being stained. Others credit this invention to a Dutch advertising and promotion genius named Gustave Bock, who stated that the band helped keep the cigar wrapper together. Cigar bands are often printed with the name of the brand, country of origin, and/or indication that the cigar is hand-rolled. They also often have colorful graphics, which have made them popular collectors' items. In many folk tales, a cigar band served as a wedding band in impromptu ceremonies. For the record, it is equally appropriate to leave the band on while smoking a cigar or to remove it, as long as the cigar's wrapper leaf is not torn when the band is removed.

Belicoso-- Traditionally a short, pyramid-shaped cigar, 5 or 5 1/2 inches in length with a shorter, more rounded taper at the head and a ring gauge generally of 50 or less. Today, belicoso is frequently used to describe coronas or corona gordas with a tapered head.

Binder-- The portion of a tobacco leaf used to hold together the blend of filler leaves called the bunch; with the wrapper and filler, it is one of three main components in a cigar.

Blend-- The mixture of different types of tobacco in a cigar, including up to five types of filler leaves, a binder leaf and an outer wrapper.

Bloom (also called Plume)-- A naturally occurring phenomenon in the cigar aging process, also called plume, caused by the oils that exude from the tobacco. It appears as a fine white powder and can be brushed off. Not to be confused with mold, which is bluish and stains the wrapper.

Blue Mold-- Peronospara tabacina is a fast moving, airborne fungus that can ruin a tobacco field in just a few days. It flourishes in cool, cloudy weather with light rain and riddles tobacco leaves with small round blemishes.

Boite Nature-- The cedar box in which many cigars are sold.

Book Style (also, Booking)-- A rolling method by which the cigarmaker lays the filler leaves atop one another, then rolls them up like a scroll. Book style, or booking, is common in Honduras. The alternate style is based on the old Cuban method called entubar (see entry).

Bouquet-- The smell, or "nose," of a fine cigar. Badly stored cigars lose their bouquet.

Box-- The container used to package cigars. There are several traditional styles:

-- cabinet selection refers to wood boxes with a sliding top, designed to hold 25 or 50 cigars.

-- 8-9-8 refers to a round-sided box specifically designed to accommodate three rows of cigars-- eight on top, nine in the middle, eight on the bottom.

-- flat top, or 13-topper, is the flat rectangular box most popular today, with 13 cigars on top and 12 on the bottom. divided by a spacer.

Box-pressed-- The slightly squarish appearance taken on by cigars packed tightly in a box.

Bull's-Eye Piercer-- A device for opening the closed head of a cigar before smoking. It creates a circular opening like a target's bull's eye.

Bulk-- A large pile of tobacco leaves in which fermentation occurs.

Bunch-- Up to four different types of filler tobacco that are blended to create the body of the cigar. The bunch is held together by the binder.

Bundle-- A packaging method, designed with economy in mind, that uses a cellophane overwrap. It usually contains 25 or 50 cigars, traditionally without bands. Bundles, oftentimes seconds of premium brands, are usually less expensive than boxed cigars.

Burros-- The piles, or bulks, in which cigar tobacco is fermented. They can be as tall as a person and are carefully monitored. If the heat level inside them gets too high (over 110°F), the burro is taken apart to slow the fermentation.

Cabinet Selection-- Cigars packed in a wooden box rather than the standard cardboard or paper-covered cigar boxes. These are preferable when buying cigars for aging.

Candela-- A bright green shade of wrapper, achieved by a heat-curing process that fixes the chlorophyll content of the wrapper while it's still in the barn. Also referred to as double claro.

Cap-- A circular piece of wrapper leaf placed at the head of the cigar to secure the wrapper.

Capa-- The cigar's wrapper.

Carotene-- A naturally occurring compound found in aged cigars.

Case-- In the cigar production process, workers "case," or slightly moisten, aged tobacco so that it will be easy for hand rollers to work with.

Cedar-- The kind of wood that is used to make most cigar boxes and humidors.

Chaveta (roller's knife)-- The knife used in a cigar factory for cutting the wrapper leaf.

Churchill-- 1. A large corona-format cigar, traditionally 7 inches by a 47 ring gauge but often a 48 ring gauge today. 2. Sir Winston Churchill, who was famous for almost never being seen without a cigar.

Cigarillos-- Favored by some aficionados and scorned by others, these thin, three-inch cigars, popular in Europe, are generally machine-made, and many brands use homogenized wrappers or binders.

Claro-- A pale-green to light-brown wrapper, usually shade-grown.

Clear Havana-- A cigar made in the United States prior to the embargo with Cuban tobacco.

Colorado-- A medium-brown to brownish-red shade of wrapper tobacco.

Corojos-- Plants that are chosen to provide wrapper leaves and are grown under a gauze sunscreen.

Corona-- The most familiar size and shape for premium cigars: generally straight-sided with an open foot and a closed, rounded head.

Cuban Seed-- Usually refers to plants grown in non-Cuban countries with seeds from Cuba.

Cubatabaco-- Formerly the worldwide distribution company for Cuban cigars; now called Habanos S.A.

Culebra-- Spanish for "snake." Culebras are cigars made of three panetelas braided and banded together; usually 5 to 6 inches in length, most often with a 38 ring gauge.

Diademas-- A big cigar with a closed and tapered head. Generally about 8 inches long; the foot may be open, or closed like a perfecto.

Double Claro-- (See Candela.)

Double Corona, also called prominente-- A big cigar, generally 7 1/2 to 8 inches by a 49 to 52 ring gauge.

Draw-- The amount of air that gets pulled through a lit cigar. It can be too easy (hot) or too tight (plugged).

English Market Selection-- Abbreviated EMS, a term used to designate a natural color wrapper, not claro or lighter shades, nor maduro or darker shades. In the United Kingdom, an EMS sticker found on boxes of Cuban cigars refers to inventory that has been vetted by Hunters & Frankau, cigar distributors. (Also see American Market Selection.)

Entubar-- A rolling method that originated in Cuba. Rather than booking (see entry above) the filler leaves, the roller folds each individual filler leaf back on itself, then bunches the leaves together. Proponents of this method say it creates superior air flow through the cigar, which results in an even draw and burn.

Escaparates-- Cooling cabinets in which cigars are kept at the factory for a few weeks after they have been rolled.

Fermentation-- After harvest, workers gather the tobacco leaves in large bulks (or piles), moistening the leaves and allowing them to ferment. Temperatures may reach 140°F before the bulk is broken down and restacked until fermentation stops naturally. This process, called working the bulk, releases ammonia from the tobacco.

Figurado-- A Spanish term that refers to cigars with shapes sizes, such as belicosos, torpedos, pyramids, perfectos and culebras.

Filler Leaves-- The individual tobacco leaves used in the body of the cigar. A fine cigar usually contains between two and five different types of filler tobacco.

Finish-- A tasting term. It refers to the taste that lingers on your palate after a puff. Mild cigars do not have much finish, either in terms of length or complexity. But stronger, more full-bodied cigars have distinctive flavors that linger for a while.

Flag Leaves-- An extension of the wrapper leaf shaped to finish the head of a cigar; used instead of a cap. Flags are sometimes tied off in a pigtail or a curly head.

Foot-- The end of the cigar you light. Most often it is pre-cut, except in the case of torpedos and perfectos.

Gorda-- Spanish for "fat," as in the corona gorda shape, a "fat" corona. The traditional size is 5 5/8 inches with a 46 ring gauge.

Gran Corona-- A very big cigar; generally 9 1/4 inches by 47 ring gauge.

Gum-- A vegetable adhesive used to secure the head of the wrapper leaf around the finished bunch.

Habana-- (See Havana.)

Habano-- A designation which, when inscribed on a cigar band, indicates that a cigar is Cuban. (Note: not all Cuban cigars are marked with "Habano" or "Havana.")

Habanos S.A.-- the worldwide distribution company for Cuban cigars; formerly called Cubatabaco.

Half-wheel (media ruedas)-- A bundle of 50 cigars. Cigar rollers usually use ribbon to tie the cigars they produce into half-wheels.

Hand-- Individual leaves of tobacco that are hung together after harvest and tied at the top. These hands are piled together to make a bulk for fermentation.

Handmade-- A cigar made entirely by hand with high-quality wrapper and long filler. All premium cigars are handmade. Hand-rollers can generally use more delicate wrapper leaves than machines.

Hand-rolled-- A cigar made entirely by hand with high-quality wrapper and long filler.

Havana-- Capital of Cuba. The

SOME CIGAR HISTORY

Cigars Are Known To Have Been Smoked Since 900 AD

Any tightly rolled bundle of dry as well as fermented tobacco can be called a cigar and it is very popular in Cuba, of which they are considered as being without equal. Cigars from the Honduras as well as from Nicaragua are close competitors to Cuban cigars, whose reputation emanates from its unique characteristics as well as the skill of Cuban makers. They have been smoked since about 900 AD and evidence of it being smoked has been found in Mayan archaeological sites in Guatemala. Cubans are made out of tobacco components that are widely found in the island of Cuba and include the filler, actual tobacco as well as wrappers and may be the reason why they are considered as being the best. However, given the strained relations between Cuba and the United States, the latter has enforced an embargo on Cuban cigars and it is not legal for Americans to buy or import them from Cuba, which has given rise to a lot of smuggling activities, high prices as well as a lot of cheap imitations.

Manufacturing For the Perfect Taste

Cigars are manufactured with the ageing of harvested tobacco in which heat and shade helps to lessen sugar and water content and at the same time not rotting the leaves. This is known as curing and takes anywhere from 25 to 45 days and is dependent on climates as also constructing barns and sheds to store the harvested tobacco. Curing is followed by fermentation in which temperature as well as humidity is controlled so that the leaf will still ferment and not rot or disintegrates and this process causes the soon-to-be-made cigar leaf to get its flavor as well as burning and aroma characteristics.

When the leaves are properly aged, they can be sorted for being used either as filler or wrapper depending upon their appearance as well as overall quality. It may need continuous moistening as also careful handling so that each leaf can be optimally used for its individual qualities. After the leaf has been matured according to specifications given by manufacturers it will then be used for producing cigars. The best ones are still produced by hand and a good well versed cigar roller may be able to roll hundreds of outstanding quality and almost identical cigars in a day. After rolling, they are kept in wooden forms for drying and are now completed and ready for sale. These cigars can last for decades, if not centuries and the best storage utility for them are wooden boxes or humidors in which conditions can be carefully controlled and even dry cigars are able to be re-humidified with careful handling.

A CIGAR MINUTE - A video review of a CAO AMERICA Cigar

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Taste and Flavor

by Michael Frank

Still, despite the romance, Fuente and Carrillo, along with Hendrik Kelner (president of Tabacos Dominicanos, which makes Avo, Davidoff, Griffin's, and Troya) make no claim that a good cigar cannot be differentiated from a bad one via objective analysis. All of these men were born and raised in the tobacco business. (Fuente says he was brought to the factory when he was three days old and later made forts in the giant bales of leaves as a boy. According to Fuente, the doctor who delivered him was paid in cigars.) And all agree that there are certain constants, that structure and the ingredients of any cigar determine its taste.

Talking about the taste of cigars requires that you sit down with a great cigar and smoke it from beginning to end. Kelner, Carrillo and Fuente advocate this method because they have all learned by experience, by doing and by smoking. And to them, there is more to it than putting a cigar in your mouth-taste means using all of your senses. Sight, touch, smell, taste and, yes, even hearing play a role in cigar smoking. Kelner and Fuente say that a cigar should be listened to as you roll it between your fingers to determine the moisture content of the wrapper.

Sight and touch go hand in hand. The first thing you do when you remove a cigar from a box, or from your humidor, is inspect it. The appearance and feel of the cigar wrapper tell a story about taste. And while wrapper alone cannot make or break a cigar, according to Fuente, "the wrapper plays an important part in the taste because it embodies the overall personality of the cigar. It allows the cigar to have texture and beauty." Even before you light up, seeing and feeling a wrapper with nice silky oil-indicative of proper humidification-and without visual blemishes can give you certain expectations, though wrapper appearance will vary depending upon where the leaf was grown.

The best wrappers from Cuba are indeed like silk, with exceedingly close cell structure; they don't feel like vegetable matter because their surface is so smooth. They also possess an elasticity and strength often lacking in wrapper leaves from other countries. By contrast, Cameroon wrapper shows oil in its bumpy surface, called tooth in the tobacco industry. These bumps are a good sign that great taste and aroma will follow, even if the texture of the leaf isn't silky. Wrappers from Connecticut and Ecuador are somewhat close in surface texture, though not in color. Better Ecuadoran leaf has less tooth, is smooth to the touch and has a matte-like appearance. Connecticut wrapper shows more color depth, a bit more tooth and a nice shine.

Despite the differences in the way oil appears, oil in wrapper leaf indicates that the cigar has been well humidified (oil secretes from tobacco at 70 to 72 percent humidity) and that the smoke should be relatively cool. A cool smoke is a tastier one, because your nose and mouth can pick up more nuance than just hot, carbonized tobacco flavor.

If you don't see any cracks or ripples in the surface of the wrapper leaf, you also know that the cigar wasn't exposed to cycles of over-humidification and excessive dryness. This, too, is important. If the cigar is forced through rapid cycles of expansion and contraction, the internal construction is destroyed. A cigar with internal damage will smoke unevenly, or "plug," drawing unevenly. This may still occur due to faulty construction, but your chances are better with a perfect wrapper than with a broken one.

After lighting your cigar, you can make additional visual evaluations. First, look at the ash. According to most cigar experts, a white ash is better than a gray one. This is not merely an aesthetic issue, either. "The soil produces white ash-the better soil gives whiter ash and more taste," says Fuente. He says that certain manipulations of soil can be made through fertilization, but if too much magnesium (a key ingredient in producing white ash) is added to the mix, the ash will flake, and nobody wants a messy cigar, even if the ash is white.

Of course, ash is not something you taste or smell, but a gray ash indicates that the soil was lacking certain key nutrients, leaving the cigar with insubstantial body, or perhaps little complexity-resulting in a lesser smoke.

A final visual cue is the burn rate. You can taste a cigar that is burning improperly because, according to Kelner, an uneven burn "distorts the flavor of the blend." Simply put, a cigar is designed to burn evenly. A cigar is constructed to burn different tobaccos throughout the length of the smoke. A cigar may start off mild, grow stronger, or change in some other way, and these changes are attributable to the location of different tobaccos in the cigar structure. An uneven burn sets these intended taste changes on edge. Perhaps a "tunneling" effect will occur, with one side of the cigar burning while the other stagnates. If this occurs the draw will be uneven, the smoke may become very strong, and the taste in your mouth becomes overwrought with a single signature-and a one-dimensional taste is far less interesting than a multifaceted one.

Taste and smell are almost inseparable sensations. While some people may have more highly developed perceptions of taste or smell, nearly everyone agrees that clogged sinuses hamper their ability to taste. Basically, when you can't smell, half of your "taste buds" are missing, especially in cigar smoking, because you're not eating the smoke, but smelling it.

To make a good-tasting cigar, then, cigar makers are very concerned about the smoke and the aroma it delivers. Carrillo maintains that aroma and taste are inseparable: "It doesn't have to mean strong or mild [aroma], but it doesn't work if I don't get any taste from a cigar." To Carrillo, there's no quantifying cigar taste; it either exists or it doesn't.

By contrast, Kelner says that taste, at least the act of tasting, is highly quantifiable. "The sense of taste is located mainly on the tongue and to a lesser degree on the palate. There exist only four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Everything else is either a combination of these four or a combination of taste and aroma." Fuente agrees, at least in part, with Kelner's claim. Fuente says that when he talks with other tobacco men, he doesn't use what he calls elaborate "food language" (coffee, chocolate, nutty, etc.) to describe cigars. "We use words like, acidic, salty, bitter, sweet, bite, sour, smooth, heavy, full-bodied, rich and balanced."

Regardless of the language used to describe and evaluate cigars, coming up with a blend of tastes that works requires many different types of tobacco. And to reach a consistent taste, one that stays the same year after year, is the most difficult task for any cigar maker. Explaining what happens to tobacco over several growing seasons, Fuente says that no two leaves of tobacco are the same, and no two cigars can be exactly the same year to year. "Every year, if you were to go by the numbers [to use strict ratios of the same tobacco blend in any given cigar], that cigar would be completely different." Any tobacco, even tobacco grown on the same spot, changes constantly.

Kelner says that cigar makers use several different tobaccos for two reasons. The first reason is to compensate for nature-which alters tobacco leaf taste from year to year, plot to plot and plant to plant-but the second is to vary taste. Elaborating, Kelner says, "It is possible to obtain an agreeable flavor from only one tobacco type, but a single taste will make the smoke tiring." Kelner notes that to ensure an interesting taste variety, as well as a consistent flavor over the years, "a good blend must be made with tobaccos from different [geographic] zones, varieties, grades and harvests, so that the cigar will be complete and balanced." Agreeing with Kelner, Fuente enthuses that, like a great chef, a cigar craftsman must have a variety of tobacco ingredients with which to work: "If you give him just salt and pepper, he's really limited. But if you give him different amounts of herbs and spices, even if you have a bad crop of pepper one year, you could adjust the balance so the consumer wouldn't recognize that there was something different."

Fuente, Kelner and Carrillo often talk about creating cigars that make us believe in an unalterably consistent blend, but what they are actually saying is that the consumers' taste buds are always being fooled. Two Red Delicious apples never taste exactly the same, but we've become accustomed to, and believe in, a certain taste attached to that piece of fruit. Likewise, no two cigars taste exactly the same, but adding a stronger tobacco one year and a weaker one the next to achieve the same "balance" creates the illusion of consistency-no such thing ever really exists.

Achieving this balance is also complex; there are an infinite number of variables that can alter the taste of any blend. Kelner categorizes just ten: soil, tobacco variety, climate, ground condition, curing, the harvester, fermentation, aging, manufacture of the cigar and the humidity of the cigar. But not all makers agree. The list of variables inevitably expands and soon becomes unfathomable. The only agreements among makers seem to be that a wrapper has the greatest potential impact on nuances (Fuente calls these "overtones" and "undertones") of taste, and filler (the heart of the cigar) determines overall strength or weakness (or fullness of body). "With a neutral wrapper," such as Cameroon, according to Kelner, "it can be compensated for with a filler and binder that has more flavor and especially more aroma." Kelner says that "Connecticut wrapper [contributes] to about 20 percent of the flavor, with Cameroon at about 5 percent." Of course he qualifies his numbers, saying that a stronger binder and filler will have a dissipating effect on this 20 percent figure, and a cigar with a larger ring gauge will be far less affected by wrapper

Smoking History

by James Suckling

The Best Aged Cigars, From 30 to 60 Years Old are Refined, Stylish Powerhouses of Flavor

The cigar's wrapper has an opulent dark brown color; its texture is silky and flawless. A large band, slightly yellowing and oily like the surface of an old painting, encircles it with the name "Belinda" printed in block letters. Perhaps most striking is its ornate style with a red background and a gold crest of a leaping lion, a key and three bricked towers, which speak of another time, a grandiose age long forgotten in the cigar factories of Havana.

Slightly hard and very square in shape, the six-inch cigar crackles as the cutter nips off its end. It quickly takes to the flame of the wooden match, almost lighting itself as it rotates under the fire. Within a few minutes, a white velvety ash develops, giving off blue-tinted smoke. Its aromas and flavors are refined with a mild, spicy tobacco character and a soft texture.

Who would have thought that smoking a piece of history could be so good? When this Belinda corona cigar came off the workbenches of the La Belinda factory in Havana, no one would have ever expected it to be so delicious almost six decades later. The corona is believed to have been produced in the late 1930s; yet it is fresh and savory like a cigar made just a few years ago.

Some connoisseurs will tell you that the sensation of smoking a great, aged cigar can compare only to drinking a fine, mature bottle of wine. They're wrong. A rare smoke gives you more. Both mature wines and cigars stimulate your senses of sight, sound, smell and taste, but touch is enjoyed only with cigars. And the right cigar aged the proper way will give you an unparalleled sensual experience that fully expresses the joys of all five senses.

"There's nothing like it," says Shelly Jacobs, 48, a Minneapolis-based restaurateur with one of the world's largest private collections of aged cigars. He claims to have nearly 300 boxes of Havana cigars from the late '50s and older.

Collectors like Jacobs are primarily interested in old Cuban cigars although they may also buy the occasional mature box from Jamaica, Honduras, the Dominican Republic or the Canary Islands. Older cigars produced before the December 1959 Revolution are commonly described as "pre-Castro." Those made before President Kennedy declared the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in February 1962 are "pre-embargo."

This doesn't mean that a cigar must be more than three decades old before it's considered properly matured. Usually cigars develop a mature character after about eight to 10 years of age. That means that cigars should ideally have five to seven years of storage once they arrive from the factory because aged tobacco is used in the blends of nearly all premium hand-rolled cigars.

"After about 10 years of age, cigars change their character," explains Jacobs, who seldom smokes anything with less than five to six years of box age. "By that time, they have a great bouquet and become slightly musty like ripe cheese. I really enjoy my aged cigars. I smoke them only on special occasions, however. There's nothing better than lighting one up at night by myself with a glass of Port."

Buying and smoking fine old cigars may seem appropriate for only the most devoted aficionado, considering the cost and inconvenience. But once you try a well-matured cigar, you must have more. "I am now like some wine collectors I know," says Jacobs. "I have too many aged cigars now. I don't know if I will ever smoke them all."

Yet Jacobs is still buying. It's a little like an addiction or collecting vintage sports cars. Of course, a fresh-off-the-factory-line Hoyo de Monterrey double corona or a new Porsche 911 each represent superb quality, but there's something extra, something special, when you're touching a vintage edition. "Aged cigars are the best thing in the world," said Michael Croley of James J. Fox and Robert Lewis, a London merchant with a long history in selling aged cigars. "It's more subtle. I can smell the difference between an aged cigar and a new one right away."

Not all cigar experts agree, however. Dick DiMeola, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Consolidated Cigar, says his cigars are ready to smoke when they leave his factory in the Dominican Republic. Avelino Lara, manager of Cuba's El Laguito factory, which makes Cohibas, believes that aging cigars makes little or no difference. "Cigars improving with age is folklore," Lara says. "Some people even say that Cuban cigars improve when they cross the sea to England." Nonetheless, both men have been known to praise a fine, old cigar when they smoke one; Lara even gives seven-to eight-year-old Cohiba Lanceros as special gifts to visitors.

Other merchants with a commercial interest in promoting young cigars are less critical. "I am not saying that fine, aged cigars are better; they're just a different experience," says Desmond Sautter, one of London's more knowledgeable cigar merchants. "I was skeptical myself in the beginning when I sold some very old cigars. How good could a 35- or 40-year-old cigar smoke after all these years? But once I started selling them, people kept coming back and saying, "My God. Have you got any more of those?"

Part of the buzz about these cigars, especially pre-Castro and pre-embargo ones, admittedly has nothing to do with quality. People appreciate them for their age. "They can be good cigars, but I don't go crazy over them," says Edward Sahakian, owner of the Davidoff store in London. "A lot of it has to do with nostalgia. My emphasis is on the future and not on the past."

Nevertheless, a trip to the past while smoking a fine old cigar can be memorable. For this report, CIGAR AFICIONADO tasted 14 old cigars, mostly from the late 50's, and there was not a poor one in the bunch. Perhaps we were slightly more forgiving of the cigars in view of their age, yet they all offered a finesse and a subtle depth in character that we seldom find in cigars currently available on the market.

Take the Cabanas No. 751, which was made in 1960 for Alfred Dunhill Ltd. Rich and mellow, it delivered loads of creamy, nutty tobacco flavors yet retained an amazing delicacy. It was the kind of cigar you would burn your fingertips with rather then let it extinguish.

"I wish I knew exactly what happens to a cigar when it ages," says Simon Chase, the marketing director for London-based Hunters & Frankau, the key importer of Cuban cigars in the United Kingdom. Chase is considered one of the world's leading experts on old cigars. "But the cigar becomes more refined and easier to smoke regardless of the richness of the blend. It is a maturing and aging process rather than a fermentation process. There is no major chemical change taking place. Cigars tend to dry out a bit with age, but they can be wonderful to smoke," he says.

When a cigar reaches about 10 years of age, it doesn't hold as much moisture, and it is usually slightly hard and dry compared with fresh cigars. But once you tight them, and an inch or two of ash develops, they soften, giving a clean, fresh flavor. That dryness seems to play a special role. Most of the London experts in aged cigars agree that storage should be at a lower humidity than the industrywide standard of 70 percent. "If they are too wet, some of the aging doesn't take place," says Chase. "There has never been a disagreement with that."

Years ago, London cigar merchants wanted to store their cigars at about 55 percent humidity, producing what was known as the classic, dry British style, according to the late cigar merchant Tony Anderson. He also said that English importers would dry their cigars before importing them to reduce the duty and taxes levied according to the weight of the cigars. "But a dry, aged cigar gives you the taste of pure tobacco," Anderson always said, "not simply water."

Most cigar merchants who currently store cigars for clients tend to keep the humidity slightly higher. "We keep clients' cigars at a maximum of 65 [percent humidity], although closer to 60," says Neil Millington of Dunhill's humidor room in London. "We want them a little wetter than in years past to keep the oils in the cigars, but they are still dry enough so that we have less problem with mold."

Storing old cigars is one thing, however, buying them is another. Even a merchant such as Desmond Sautter, who specializes in old cigars, comes across only 20 or 30 boxes a year. Few, if any, other cigar merchants around the world hold mature stocks; they're just not available. Most of the buying and selling of these cigars is done among a handful of experts and collectors. They know where the mature cigar stocks are and who wants to sell or buy.

Nonetheless, serendipity does occasionally occur, and those who follow the market tend to come across the older stocks more frequently. "They pop up in the most interesting places," says Jacobs. "But you have to ask around. It's like collecting [rare] fountain pens. You have to look everywhere: collectors, stores, restaurants."

The most common way to buy aged cigars is through a cigar merchant who is holding stock for clients who decide to sell them. The past five years have been very good for buying customer reserves from merchants in the United States and England. London's Robert Lewis and Dunhill as well as Dunhill in New York updated their reserve lists a few years ago and contacted their clients who hadn't touched reserves for years. Many decided to sell.

Updating of client reserves is an ongoing process. For example, London's Robert Lewis (now James J. Fox and Robert Lewis after a merger last December) still has 2,000 to 3,000 cigars on reserve and pending a response from owners who are classified as inactive. Some haven't been in contact with the shop for more than a decade.

In most cases with unclaimed reserves, merchants try to contact family members or wait for some communication. A former employee with

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It is close to impossible to get Rocky Patel cigars in Europe, but fortunately my friends from the US sometimes bring me some interesting specimens. The Vintage 1990 line is getting a lot of coverage online and I was anxious to try it out.

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Smoked a few of these during the weekend. Cohiba Siglo IV is a cigar you must treat with respect, make sure you have plenty of time to enjoy it - if you are in a hurry, you won't get much out of it (I learned this from my own mistake and nearly spoiled one).

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