2KW959H LONDON, UK - NOVEMBER 16, 2022: Signs outside Cigar merchants James J. Fox in St James's Street in Mayfair

Havana splendid time

On the joy of cigar smoking

Now do not misunderstand me. Smoking tobacco is bad for your health. You should not do it. To smoke is foolish. Just as you should not drink overmuch whisky or go out in a storm without a coat. These are also dangerous to your health. To get soaked (in both senses) is foolish.

Smoking is also bad for the health of others. You should not inflict it upon them. To smoke is selfish. Just as you should not drive a diesel motorcar nor board an airliner. These too are bad for other people’s health. To travel (save by bicycle or hang-glider) is selfish. So, if you are neither foolish nor selfish stop reading right here and hide behind the Guardian. However, if you belong to that vast majority of humanity which is often foolish and sometimes selfish, feel free to read on.

Ever since I have been able to afford it (in truth I have never really been able to afford it) I have relished a good puff on what Cockneys call a “lah-di-dah” and what H. Upmann call a Half Corona. Rudyard Kipling, poet of Empire and thus despised by the fashionable intelligence, was keen on cigars too and wrote a now notorious couplet about them in his poem “Betrothed”. Because once upon a time anyone who was anyone smoked stogies.

They were as much a part of a gentleman’s life as his hat or gloves or his copy of the Morning Post. And women smoked them too. From Marlene Dietrich to Madonna, an array of actresses and chanteuses have helped their huskiness along with a Hoyo de Monterrey.

Inevitably the most famous cigar smoker must be Sir Winston Churchill. He was rarely photographed without one. Churchill, for whom moderation was a foreign word, kept thousands of cigars at Chartwell. He also kept his tobacconists waiting for payment, which often amounted to a considerable sum. In 1909 £15,000 (in today’s terms) of the great man’s money went up in smoke. At James Fox’s elegant establishment on St James’s (above), they still hold copies of his bills, including some where settlement remains outstanding.

Over time the simple cigar has acquired numerous nicknames. “Stogie” derives from the Pennsylvania town of Conestoga in Amish country from where waggoners delivered tobacco around the eastern United States.

“Cheroot” describes a cigar that is square at both ends, not tapered at one. The name is often associated with cowboy westerns but probably descends from the Tamil word curutti meaning to roll.

A.E. Lloyd of Aberystwyth is a tawny Aladdin’s Cave of tobacco treasures that since 1890 has supplied everyone from Lloyd George to King Edward VII

“Nic Bomb” is modern slang for a very strong cigar, and there is the old, beloved moniker “Dog Rocket” which, when one considers a cigar’s shape and colour, requires little further explanation.

Cuban cigars are the most celebrated, just as the most famous wines are French. But Cuba is not the only wellspring for a fiesta de fumar. Since Castro’s revolution Nicaraguan nics have become popula, as have Honduran blends, each with their distinctive appearance and piquancy.

Nicaraguan tobacco from Estelí is much stronger than the sweeter flavours found in the Honduran Jamastrán Valley. For tobacco, like grapes, is the fruit of its terroir. The balance of minerals, texture of soil, vagaries of climate all combine to create distinctive aromas and tastes.

Despite our deification of the eWorld, one can still buy cigars from a traditional tobacconist. One such emporium is A.E. Lloyd of Aberystwyth, a tawny Aladdin’s Cave of tobacco treasures that since 1890 has supplied everyone from Lloyd George to King Edward VII. They are expert in explaining the variety of options and patient in helping develop a novice customer’s palate. They are online too if you really must log on to light up.

And whilst I would never dream of encouraging anyone towards this foolish, selfish vice, I do confide this emendation of Kipling’s couplet: “A woke is only a woke, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

This article is taken from the November 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

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