It seems cigar smoking is still regarded as ‘naughty but nice’, at least by one doctor—an anaesthetist into the bargain—who in a recent interview in The British Medical Journal admitted that his ‘guiltiest pleasure’ was ‘the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No 2 cigar’. He added, guiltily, ‘Although I know I shouldn’t.’
I thought there was something familiar about this Cuban stogie—Yes, it’s also the declared favourite of the well-known designer and cigar smoker, Sir Terence Conran.
The last time I smoked a cigar was several decades ago. There was nothing particularly pleasant about it that I could discern and I awoke the next morning with a decidedly unpleasant taste in my mouth.
I shall spare the blushes of the above-mentioned doctor by leaving him unnamed, but being intrigued by his intimation that cigars, at least for him the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No 2, are pleasurable, I wrote to him and asked if he would be so kind as to tell me, briefly, exactly what he found pleasurable about them; to my disappointment he didn’t reply.
I understand the way to smoke a cigar is definitely not to try to inhale the smoke, but to suck it into your mouth and let it linger so you can savour the flavour—and then you blow it out again. It reminds me of a cartoon at the time of the second Gulf war, of the elder Bush giving advice to Dubya: ‘Breath in. Now breath out.’
Of course, by holding the smoke in your mouth you are absorbing nicotine—which is no doubt why Sir Terence appears to be addicted to his cigars. And while this is going on presumably you are supposed to experience wonderful diverse flavours such as can be found with wine or whisky. For example, one cigar tasting ‘wheel’ refers to plants, herbs and spices, earth and minerals, fruits, nuts, etc. Is this true? Unfortunately, as mentioned, Dr X declined to tell me, which I think was most uncollegial of him.
The curious idea that cigars are something special also emerges periodically from the pages of the British coffee-table magazine, Country Life. For example, in the issue of 29 January 2014, p89, there is an article by their cigar correspondent (yes, they do have such an one) who goes by the name of Bolivar. He refers to Sir Terence Conran as the greatest living English cigar smoker. There is Sir Terence in the photo, impeccably attired, standing in a garden, his pleasant face beaming up at us while he expertly clutches a fat cigar in his right hand. However, the mention of Sir Terence is only to introduce the venerable Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No 2, which had this effect on Bolivar when he smoked it:
I was prepared for a bit of a headache when I set fire to it and, by the time I reached the end, I needed to sit down.
The wonders of cigar smoking are further demonstrated in the link in this article to a video called, appropriately enough, ‘How to smoke a cigar’, featuring Edward Sahakian, the proprietor of Davidoff of London: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnSNJf5cnhs
To the accompaniment of a Vivaldi concerto to set the mood, Mr Sahakian tells us, in his mildly laryngitic voice (paraphrasing slightly):
My first cigar starts as part of my breakfast…It’s very important to choose the right cigar for the occasion…this morning, as I’ve had a nice breakfast, and a coffee, to complement that I’m going to smoke one of my favourite cigars…it’s a mild cigar, smooth, it will probably keep me going for a good hour, an hour-and-a-half…and sometimes I could stretch that into a couple of hours…Before I do anything with the cigar I always look at it. It’s very important (coughs)…it’s the love affair (smiles), the first sight…
So he’s had a nice breakfast, and a coffee, and there may be Vivaldi in the background, and he’s set up for the day. Indeed, I often start the day myself in this way. But then what does Mr Sahakian do? Over the next hour, hour-and-a-half, or even two hours, he proceeds to absorb through the lining of his mouth into his bloodstream nicotine and other poisonous chemicals. And this, it seems, is a love affair!
Will someone please tell me: are we non-cigar smokers missing something?
Text © Gabriel Symonds