Whisky & Culture

Firing up

Like a fine malt, a good cigar will sooth the savage breast, says James Leavey.
By James Leavey
Soothed or not, there are times when even the mildest of us are sorely tested. Take, for example, the cigar freaks who insist on extolling the merits of Cohiba Lanceros while pooh-poohing the underrated qualities of a Petit Punch, just because the former stick of Cuban tobacco is five times the price of the latter. It’s a marketing con, I keep telling them, so don’t go belittling one of my favourite smokes.Then there are those who tell me that cigar smoke is heavier than cigarette smoke and that’s why they can’t bear to share a room with it. So how do you measure the smoke of a cigar? Well, first weigh it before you light up and then drop your ash carefully onto the scales. When you’ve finished the cigar, weigh the stub and deduct that from the first number. Then weigh the ashes and deduct that from the revised total. The difference is the weight of the smoke from the cigar you’ve just enjoyed.I’m thinking of carrying around a set of kitchen scales with me so that I can give demonstrations on the spot. If only I could do the same with the nostril-wrinkling whiffs that emanate from that strange multitude of people who apparently enjoy fast food, cheap after-shave and saving on the dry cleaning bills.The thing is, I am very careful where and when I fire up my cigars and never toast a Havana in a non-smoking area. To give you an example, football bores me almost as rigid as cricket but I was in London with a pal and we decided we just had to watch England versus Argentina in last year’s World Cup; it was either that or spend the rest of the millennium on the Northern Line, trying to get home.
So there we were, in the middle of a crowded smoker-friendly hotel bar at Victoria Station, half an hour into our Montecristo No.2s and a bottle of Oban, when three youths sat down next to us and started coughing, loudly, until I suggested they either went outside to play with the traffic, or grew up.I mean, do they know how much these things cost? Stubbing out a Havana is a serious matter. I wouldn’t mind if the complainee offered to refund the cost (between £4-£26 a single stick), but they never think of it. Nor do they think of the great crime against humanity they’re committing by interrupting one of life’s rare moments of pure pleasure. And you know, if they stopped thinking about how much they hate cigar smoke they might even find themselves enjoying it. Just a bit. I mean, if I can bring myself to watch a football match...