A number of the PG Team enjoy a cigar on the rare occasions when they are not planning Gentlemanly world domination. So we thought it timely to prepare a short encomium on the history of the cigar and the Gentleman who did and still do enjoy a stick once in a while.
There was a time when London’s Gentleman retired to ‘Cigar Divans’ to enjoy a contemplative cigar and do business or to relax with friends. Back in the 19th century they were all the rage and highly fashionable places to see and be seen for the businessman about town.
There were also specialist cigar stores, most long gone, some with their own brand of cigars especially selected, blended and branded for the stores. The well known Cuban brands were imported by numerous companies and stores typically stocked only one or two brands.
Today it’s not uncommon for a Gentleman to slip into his favourite store for a couple of single cigars to enjoy that afternoon or pick up a handful of cigars for his chums on a shooting or golfing weekend. Historically cigars were purchased in the huge wardrobe sized cases containing five or ten thousand cigars in which they were shipped directly from the factories in Cuba. It was Alfred Dunhill, always wanting to improve the gentleman’s experience, who hit on the scheme of maturing and aging cigars. This necessitated the building of three huge rooms under his Jermyn Street store in the 1920s, the Maturing Room, the Keeping Room and the Humidor.
Many non cigar aficionados don’t realise that cigars improve with age; in same way that wines does. Following Dunhill’s lead it became the norm for stores to bring cigars to the UK, mature them and slowly release them onto the market aged and refined.
The modern world has brought about a number of changes to this elegant and relaxed way for gentleman to enjoy smoking a fine cigar. Following the revolution Cuba in 1959 there was a gradual takeover of all elements of cigar production which saw some famous names like Dunhill and Davidoff leave Cuba.
The moves to better ‘efficiency’ and the pressure of costs on business has seen a steady move away from the wardrobe sized cases to smaller boxes of cigars to the point where the cabinets of 50 cigars with air and space for a cigar to mature gently are now rare in the cigar catalogue. New cigars released each year at the Habanos festival are packed in boxes of 10 or 25. Very few cigar stores have the space or capital to mature large numbers of cigars at their own expense.
Then the smoking ban of 2007 saw many wonderful London cigar smoking venues closing.
But it’s far from doom and gloom. The green shoots of recovery in the Cigar life of London have been visible for some time and they keep getting stronger.
In 2014 there are some twenty five cigar lounges in London. Outdoor smoking areas where it’s possible to enjoy your cigar. This number has risen by ten in the last 2 years and the new comers to the community are all thoughtfully designed, beautifully executed and in many cases heated so that the cigar lover can enjoy a cigar all year round despite the famously inclement British winter weather.
The cigar lovers of London are also getting more fussy and choosy about their cigars. The most popular cigars to be found in most of the cigar stores in London are rarely more than months or at most a year old judging by the box codes. So many canny investors and collectors are building up collections of cigars which, as long as they carry the EMS (English Market Selection) stamp ensuring they have been selected and quality checked by the UK Importer Hunters and Frankau, and kept in perfect condition, ideally at one of the well regarded London cigar depositories, can be expected to fetch a very significant premium when they come back to the market through the six monthly London cigar auctions.
The growth in the market for aged and vintage cigars among the discerning visitors to London has driven this market. The move of Habanos over the last few years to increase the sophistication of the regular new releases of cigars each year with well defined Regional Editions and special very limited quantities of Reserva or Gran Reserva cigars created from already aged tobacco is creating wonderful cigars. These are snapped up by collectors and investors alike and hidden away to become the amazing matured cigars we will enjoy in five or ten years time.
The UK Habanos importer Hunters and Frankau are also making a significant contribution. They are gradually releasing their own aged and matured Vintage range of cigars. Recent releases of wonderful 1990’s and early 2000 cigars which have been aged in the UK and then quality checked by Cuban specialists before release is creating a new availability of superb aged cigars generally available and at very affordable prices.
The final highly anticipated present from Hunters will mark their 225th anniversary in 2015. The experts from Hunters travelled to Cuba in 2010 to start the process of selecting the blend of cigars for release in 2015. Having selected the blend the cigars were created in 2013 and shipped to the UK in specially made cabinets each containing three bundles of 50 cigars. This was deemed the ideal size for perfect aging. The cigars will now sit in the UK vaults for two years waiting for 2015 and their release to an impatient group of UK and probably worldwide cigar lovers.
So Gentlemen, it really can be seen that London is now more than ever a really great place to live or to visit if you are a genuine cigar lover!