Originally published Mar 26, 2015. Republished for London Week.
Smoking – at least of the cigar variety – has long been accepted as a pastime of the well-heeled. But knowing when (and how) to light up with grace and style is a bit more of a complex issue. To get the inside scoop on the latest in the cigar world, we spoke with Giuseppe Ruo, the director of food and beverage at London’s posh hotel The Wellesley.
Ruo, a well-respected sommelier, is an expert in the trade of cigar selection and pairing, leading to his current role curating London’s most extensive hotel cigar collection. Here’s what we learned:
The concept of a ‘cigar lounge’ seems uniquely masculine, but many females enjoy a good smoke as well. Are there more ‘female friendly’ cigar brands?
Yes, many women enjoy cigars and it’s definitely not a man’s world. The cigar brand, Romeo y Julieta is one of the most popular cigar brands that appeal to women. It’s been known that even Winston Churchill became a fan of the brand.
How should a newcomer to cigar smoking discover his or her tastes?
Very simple. Like with anything, start small. The best way to start with a small and light cigar such as H. Upmann Half Corona, Montecristo No. 5 or Cohiba Siglo I. After 1-2 puffs, the smoker will know immediately if they are into cigars.
From there, try three to four different types to acquire the taste and consistency of cigars. Some people like short smokes (two second or less inhale) and some like long smokes (two second or greater inhale). It takes time to know what you like, but you won’t know until you try.
Are there etiquette concerns that should be addressed, particularly when smoking in public?
I always am very careful around kids as anyone should. The difference with cigarette smoke and cigar smoke, is that cigarettes are an addiction. Cigars aren’t, so people can wait to have one until they are in the right conditions. Ideally, a smoker wants to relax and feel pleasure from the tobacco.
Cigar etiquette is very personal. There are, however, some rules to note: always cut the cigar with a cutter never bite them or use your nails. Do not tap the ash, just let it fall down by itself. You should also always take the cigar band off. You do not want to show off what you are smoking.
Cuban cigars obviously have the most famous reputation – why? Are there other regions you’d say offer the same quality, but lesser cost or easier accessibility?
Cuban cigars are so famous because they are the absolute best. They have the best quality without a doubt. Cuban cigars are made with tobacco that is grown in Cuba on the island. Tobacco grown in the most western region of the island is best for cigar growing. The tobacco plant can be grown in sun or shade and it depends on the conditions for growing the perfect wrapper leaf. Climate, soil and irrigation all contribute to a premium Cuban cigar.
Other cigars can be made with various types of tobacco. Some smokers may not mind this, but a true cigar aficionado will recognize immediately if it’s Cuban tobacco or not. Cuban cigars have an aroma that derives from their high quality.
Davidoff cigars from Dominican Republic and Padron from Nicaragua are also both nice. Toscano is another excellent cigar brand that can be found in Italy.
What are the top trends in cigars today?
It is very fashionable to smoke cigars today. The trend currently is to smoke big, long cigars if time allows. Some big cigars trending at the moment are Cohiba Behike, Montecristo 520 and Bolivar Libertador.
If time is limited, smokers should try a shorter cigar such as Partagas Serie D No. 4, Cohiba Robusto or Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2. These are all big cigars, but short so they will not take so much time to smoke.
Cigar lounges are popping up all around the world to offer guests a nice environment to smoke. I wouldn’t say it’s quite a “trend” because serious smokers are passionate about cigars and maintain an interest in the industry. The best conditions would be a nice drink, good company, excellent music and a first-rate cigar. This could be experienced anywhere from a beach to an elegant lounge; it all really depends the smokers preference.
What draws people to your cigar lounge (at The Wellesley) in particular? Other than the size of the collection, are people drawn for specific amenities not found elsewhere?
We offer a bespoke service. The hotel has one of the best cigar collections in all of the world and we have a Cigar Sommelier team on board that can educate you about cigars, smoke your first cigar with you or you even talk with you for hours into the night with our team about the best cigar and compare and contrast experiences.
We want this experience to not only be memorable, but we truly have a team that knows cigars inside and out and have been in the cigar industry for years. Our goal is that you will smoke one of the best cigars and have a drink and have a wonderful experience at The Wellesley
In terms of spirit pairings, cigars tend to be associated with dark liquors like whiskey and scotch. Are there specific pairings you’d suggest?
Pairing spirits and cigars is an excellent choice but it really depends on how much a smoker wants to spend. This could pairing could be well into hundreds of dollars or pounds. I personally love a Cohiba Siglo 6 with Remy Marti XO.
What is the most expensive cigar in your collection?
Our Cohiba Behike 2005 cigars sell for about $6,700 per cigar. It was rolled by Norma Fernandez, the personal roller to former Cuban President Fidel Castro.