Smoke&Whiskey by Sarah Baird

Cigar 101 Tobacco Leaves 1

For people new to the world of cigars, figuring out what to smoke — and knowing where to find what you like — can seem fairly daunting. After all, cigars are not just a hyper- specific niche unto themselves; they are often a ticket to relaxation and luxury when coupled with the (other) finer things in life: a wedding reception, a good glass of bourbon after a fine meal, a round of golf with longtime friends. It’s hard not to want to kick back with one.

Cigars are made up of types of tobacco leaves.

The wrapper is the cigar’s outermost leaves, or what you see when you look at a cigar. Its color runs from light green or yellow to almost black. The wrapper determines up to 60% of the cigar’s character and flavor. A good wrapper should have steady- burning qualities. Filler makes up the majority of the cigar. Filler is wrapped-up bunches of tobacco leaves. Cigars usually contain three types of filler tobacco, chosen from various parts of the plant to affect how the cigar will burn. The filler is responsible for how strong a cigar will taste. 2 Binder leaves are what keep the filler leaves in place and separates them from the wrapper. This is what gives the cigar its proper shape and size & holds it together — effectively binding the cigar (hence the name). Binder leaves are usually picked from the bottom part of the plant, where the leaves are thicker and stronger. Cap orHead The cap, or head , is the closed end of a cigar. This small, round piece of tobacco helps to hold the wrapper together. This has to be cut, pierced or removed before you can smoke a cigar. Before you do that, make sure you see where the cap ends to avoid tearing the wrapper. Cut the cap using a punch cutter to make a small hole, or remove the cap from the end with a guillotine or scissors, cutting off no more than 3-4 mm. Cigar Band The cigar band is the branded label that wraps the head of the cigar. Wait to remove the band until it’s in danger of igniting. Foot The foot is the end of the cigar that is lit. 3

For charismatic cigar legend Rocky Patel, owner of Rocky Patel Premium Cigar Company, the relaxation factor looms large in his cigar creation, as does the desire to create opportunities for happy surprises. “It's kind of like wine, right? In the wine industry, for a long time people were just drinking Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Then, all of a sudden, you had something different: Pinot Noir, and Brunello, and Shiraz fromAustralia. So, the same principle applies in cigars. People are looking for unique, varied taste profiles,” Patel explains. “They get tired of smoking the same tastes all the time, the same brand all the time. And when you actually incorporate and blend tobaccos from different regions in the world — I’m known to source regions that have never been used before, such as Costa Rica and Panama — it’s like a good chef. When you have different ingredients, you can cook and make different recipes.” Patel, who found his way into the cigar industry during the “cigar boom” of the early 1990s and who spends almost 300 days of the year on the road, has a charm that lends itself to making sure customers are deeply enjoying their cigar experience, whether it’s at a barbecue or a black-tie gala. “Smoking a cigar is like meditating, slowing the day down and being able to collect your thoughts, whether you’re sitting around with some friends — talking about life, politics or sports — or golfing, hunting or fishing,” says Patel, who has smoked cigars with everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Meat Loaf to Michael Jordan. “It’s just very leisurely: Smoking a cigar helps you to slow down the pace of life, take it easy and just chill.” For those uninitiated into the high-end, ultra-tailored world of luxury cigars who are looking for a reason to treat themselves, Patel suggests starting with a Vintage 1999 from his collection, which he describes as “a very mild, smooth cigar, a very buttery cigar that’s easy to draw and easy to smoke, light

on the palate, elegant and well-balanced.” For the more seasoned smoker, his pick would be the “caramel, coffee, espresso and lingering white pepper” notes of his Sun Grown Maduro. Soon, the company will be releasing a unique line of cigars made with tobacco that has been aged between eight and 12 years. For ultimate relaxation, Rocky likes to pair his cigar with a glass of red wine or a single malt scotch. As for me, I believe that cigars and bourbon are the ultimate match. A good cigar can open up a glass of bourbon and add new depths of flavor that you didn’t even know were present before you rolled the smoke around in your mouth. I enjoy playing scientist, experimenting to find just the right match between the spicy notes of a bourbon and the creaminess of a good cigar — or vice versa. (I’ve had particular successful with Calumet Farm bourbon as a real tasting workhorse; I’ve found it lends itself well to pairing with a variety of cigars.) Up next on my list? Taking one of Patel’s top-notch cigars — the Vintage 2003 Cameroon, perhaps? — and settling in to unwind with a flight of bourbons until I find just the perfect pair.


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