Cigars and Whisky

Cigars and Whisky

Ageing is also a key step in cigar production

Cigars & Whisky | 01 Sep 2017 | Issue 146 | By Christopher Coates

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As with the production of quality whisky, a significant degree of patience is required in order to produce a superb cigar. From seed to smoking, the process involves a surprising amount of waiting around - whether that's as the plants grow, when curing or fermenting the leaves, or ageing the final product. In truth, ageing takes part during three stages of a cigar's lifespan. Firstly, there's the ageing of leaves following their final fermentation. At this point the fermentation bales are broken down and leaves are aired on racks for a few days before being packed up and sent to ageing warehouses. Full-flavoured leaves, such as ligero and medio tiempo, will generally be aged for the longest period, generally around two years minimum in Habano production. On the other hand, lighter-flavoured leaves will be aged for a shorter period. Leaves will be baled up and wrapped in hessian cloth, placed in bins, or sometimes even stored inside a cask. During this period the tobacco will release additional tannins and internal sugar levels will increase, which in turn results in flavour changes during smoking. Once the tobacco has been rolled, quality cigars will enjoy their first period of ageing as a complete product. The finished cigars will be taken to a conditioning room or 'escaparate', where they will be placed in cedar-lined drawers and given time to release excess moisture. These conditioning rooms are usually maintained at between 16˚C-18˚C and 65-70 per cent humidity. Although many people who work in the industry or simply live in tobacco-producing regions will regularly smoke cigars that have just been rolled, or rolled very recently, it is generally necessary for the new sticks to have spent at least 10 days in the conditioning room in order to reach an optimal smoking humidity. After this they will be boxed and shipped.

Generally, at least six months will pass between boxing and arrival at a retailer. When buying Habanos, customers may pinpoint the age of their cigars with some accuracy as all Cuban cigars sold since 1985 have been packed in boxes with a marked date that details the month and year in which the cigars within were packed and sealed. It is at this point that the final (and often the longest) period of ageing begins. As long as the boxes are kept in ideal conditions, similar to those in the conditioning room, cigars will continue to develop over time. Exactly how old a cigar should be to be considered 'aged' is up for debate. Some say two to five years from the box date, others insist that more than a decade is required. What's certain is that over time harsher characteristics will fade away and a more rounded, cohesive flavour will develop.

The expert

Matthew Woodly-Wilson

Matthew is the manager of Robert Graham Cambridge and has been a lover of whisky and cigars for many years. No matter how much knowledge he accumulates, the amount of work that goes into producing both always continues to astonish him. With so much care going into the products, Matthew feels it is his duty as a retailer to deliver a buying experience of the same high standard. Naturally, this has led him down the cigar pairing path!

Where to smoke

Havana Club at Emirates Palace

Famous for being described as a 'seven star' hotel, the Emirates Palace is certainly an opulent setting in which to enjoy a whisky and cigar pairing. Housed within the hotel, the Havana Club features walls decorated with tobacco leaves, an outstanding selection of Scotch whiskies, rums, Cognacs, and Armagnacs, and a superb cigar selection befitting of its discerning clientele.

West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Telephone: +971 2 690 9000

Christopher recommends

The 'Late Night Reading' Pairing

Nub Maduro 460 and Craigellachie 23 Years Old

The accurately named Nub cigar brand is a part of the prestigious Oliva Cigar Co., a family-owned business that is Nicaragua's second largest grower of Cuban seed tobacco. Packed tightly, this short, stout cigar opens on heavy notes of spicy black pepper and bitter coffee beans. Somewhat one dimensional at first, as the smoke develops, peanuts and cream are added to the mix, which bring nuance and depth. In time, allspice and dark cocoa come to the fore - think Mayan-style hot chocolate! But be warned, if rushed the flavour could become abrasive or even acidic. The slower you smoke the better this stick performs. The Nub is no wilting flower, so it benefits from pairing with a robust, meaty whisky that you can really sink your teeth into. While lesser drams may be steamrollered by the Nub, this Craigellachie's slightly sulphuric character, along with its sun-dried mango and pineapple flavours, makes it bold enough to more than hold its own. By bringing some citrus, honey and nectarine to the table this dram delivers a combined experience that's befitting of long contemplation - the perfect accompaniment to a good book or an evening spent pondering some of life's eternal mysteries.

Matthew recommends

The 'Last of the Summer Whisky' Pairing

Cuaba Divinos and Dancing Stag Benrinnes 1988

Just like the name Cohiba, Cuaba is an old Taíno word. In this case, it was the word used to refer to the combustible bush used to light bunches of tobacco leaves that they were observed smoking. The Cuaba Divinos is an interesting little figurado (cigar of non-standard shape) that is defined by Habanos SA as a double figurado and by the Cuaba brand itself as a Petit Bouquet - although it's also known as an Exquisito. A century ago many cigars would have looked like this, but it's a rare shape today and one that often raises eyebrows and prompts a few jokes from people unfamiliar with it! The Divinos is just four inches long, but still packs a punch. Notes start spicy and peppery before developing dark chocolate and nuts, while a hint of five spice brings an oriental twist to the cigar. The Benrinnes, on the other hand, is all tropical fruit, along with peach and nectarine. Hints of puff candy and icing sugar deliver a sweet and spicy combination that makes the mouth water - especially in conjunction with the spicy smoke. This cigar doesn't yield a long smoking experience, but let's be honest, the whisky won't last long in the glass either! It's a fabulous combination for those extended summer nights.
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