Smoking a fine hand-rolled cigar has become synonymous with celebration, extravagant gratification and pampered relaxation. It is something to savour alone or in company in a well-appointed smoking room, perhaps with an aged single malt to hand.
As an aficionado of this pastime, Aaron Sigmond has had the pleasure of sampling some of the world’s finest cigars. An award-winning publisher, editor and author, his book The Impossible Collection of Cigars brings together the most remarkable cigars of the 20th and 21st centuries. We sat down with him to discover more…
What set the flame to your love of cigars?
Like many cigar enthusiasts, or foliumphiles, I took an interest in cigars because my father would smoke one for special occasions. This made me curious. My father was very much a social or celebratory cigar smoker – he would have one at weddings and events, or to mark the closing of a big business deal.
When I later went to university in England, Edward Sahakian, the proprietor of Davidoff London, befriended me. He was a wonderful Cuban cigar mentor, and after that I was in it for good.
What makes smoking a cigar so uniquely appealing?
A cigar is akin to other epicurean or gastronomic delicacies. Like truffles, morels, caviar, Champagne and whisky, a cigar has to be savoured, studied and appreciated. Similarly, just like vintage wines, a fine cigar can be aged for years, even decades – the best ones improve over time.
But what makes cigars singularly unique is that each and every hand-rolled premium and ultra-premium cigar is made individually, one at a time. There is no batch, barrel or cask, and no method for making fine, long filler cigars other than one at a time, and this must be done while maintaining the blend cigar after cigar, hundreds and thousands of times over. Even the best wine in the world is not made one bottle at a time.
So why are they not appreciated by everyone?
Most cigars have a specific, pungent quality, which means they are only appreciated by a few. As a result, a fraternity of ‘brothers of the leaf’ has been created.
Can you reveal any secrets about your personal cigar collection?
The most famous cigar I have ever owned was made in Cuba expressly for Sir Winston Churchill. It was a Santa Maria presidente-size cigar in an aluminium tube, which is an early tubo with a cotton wad for cushioning inside and had ‘Supplier to the Right Honourable Winston Churchill’ printed on the outside. It was gifted to film director Cecil B DeMille by Churchill, who received him at his home in London’s Hyde Park Gate in 1956. I purchased it at an auction and subsequently sold it to the Academy Award-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg. It has been a cause of regret ever since.
How did you make your selection of cigars for your book?
It was a deep and very specific process in which I had to consider things such as the number of Cuban cigars versus non-Cuban, and which Cuban Habanos cigar brands to include, whether pre-revolution or post. You will have to read the book to learn more.
What are some of your favourite cigar-friendly places around the world?
I’ve had the good fortune to travel extensively, and at this juncture I’ve smoked at many of the most notable cigar boutiques, cigar clubs and cigar-friendly restaurants.
Among my favourites is the Red Chamber Cigar Divan in Hong Kong, with its red-themed interior and large club chairs. In Kyoto, Japan, Bar K6 is a favourite and renowned for its collection of sakes and Scottish whisky. I also like The French Laundry in Napa, California, as well as the Grand Havana Room and Club Macanudo in New York City.
And in Europe?
In London, I would recommend The Lanesborough Garden Room and the Sahakian Cigar Lounge at The Bulgari Hotel, which are both luxurious and comfortable locations for smoking.
I have been to Switzerland many times, but I have sadly never been to St. Moritz. However, I would love to smoke in the Renaissance Bar-Vintage Cigar Lounge at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel one day, so I will add that to my list!