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No.410 August 10 - 23, 2017

Cuban Blending – it starts with the seeds

In November 2015 we covered some of the life time work of Eumelio Espino Marrero, one of the world’s most renowned tobacco geneticists.
Work spent redefining the Cuban tobacco seed to preserve and protect the unique properties and qualities of the “Tobacco Negro” or Black Tobacco, the foundation for all Cuban cigars; in particular protection against the ravages of Blue Mold and other fungal and parasitic diseases.

But the right foundation is not enough, on its own, to produce consistency in the taste and qualities of each of the major export brands available to us.

Traditionally these major Cuban brands have distinct characteristics:
Hoyo de Monterrey is a medium -to-light blend with some herbal notes;
Montecristo has a core of coffee and spice;
H.Upmann is a lot like Montecristo (perhaps with less power but more finesse);
Romeo y Julieta produces a medium-bodied cigar, with cocoa-bean flavours in its benchmark Churchill;
Partagás (especially in the Serie D No. 4 and Lusitania sizes) presents power and spice with long, earthy finish. Other brands, such as Bolivar and Ramon Allones were often recognised as very powerful cigars.

This is where the continuing work of the “Tobacco Research Institute” of Habanos comes into play.
The Institute controls the authorisation of which seeds are allocated to which farms to produce the right tobacco for each major brand.
From their records, some of which go back to before the Revolution, they know the physical and chemical composition of the tobacco produced from every main farm in Cuba. And where each seed varietal grows best – the best yields, but more important the right flavour characteristics.

The institute is adamant that there is no intent to organise all the brands into one homogenous blend.
On the contrary, they insist that they always try to select the same tobaccos from the same traditional farms used for each individual brand.

A check point for this continuity is that samples from each factory, for each production run, are sent to the National Commission for tasting by a panel of 10-15 Tasters, comprised of the best, most experienced Tasters from the panels of each independent factory.
The panel meets each month and together they review a cross-section of cigars presented by each brand to see whether they are preserving their individuality.
A source close to the panel says:
“When you smoke these cigars side by side you will see that Habanos is still preserving the taste and quality of each blend.”

(Acknowledgment to Steve Harvey, Cigar Insider, March/April 2017)

You can put this comment to the test, while enjoying some of the best Piramides, Robustos or Petit Robustos, all offered by Habanos in selection cabinets.
Petit Robusto Selection 10 cigars  (90mm x Ring 50) - 5 Brands 52-SelPetRob5 R3968.00
Piramides Selection 6 cigars (156mm x Ring 52) - 6 Brands52-SelPyr R3109.50
Robusto Selection 6 cigars (124mm x Ring 50) - 6 Brands52-SelPyr R2818.50  (to arrive)

In our “Fine Cigars” selections, we offer 3-cigar packs of
Cuban Robusto Selection  52-SelRobCu R795.00
Cuban Value Selection  52-SelValue R330.00
Cuban Petit Corona Selection  52-SelPetCorCu R525.00

Should you wish to expand your education on Cuban and other cigars, there is no better starting place than Rick Hacker’s The Ultimate Cigar Book, 4th Edition.
The publisher’s introduction says it all:

“Forget 1492. This book starts out in B. C. (Before Columbus) and transports the cigar enthusiast on a fun and fact-filled adventure into virtually every realm of today’s popular and growing cigar smoking pastime. Written by one of the most knowledgeable and internationally-celebrated pipe and cigar authors of our time, Richard Carleton Hacker’s well-known wit and wisdom will keep the reader enthralled with every turn of the page, as he takes you on an information-packed would tour of cigars. Starting off with a history of cigar smoking, the author then shows us how cigars are made today (handmade, handrolled, and machine made), divulges the secrets of finding the “perfect” cigar, and discusses the ritual of smoking and how to properly care for and store our cigars. From there the book lists a number of innovative cigar accessories, suggests which beers, wines, whiskeys, brandies, and cognacs go with what cigars, enlightens us with a chapter on cigar smoking celebrities, and concludes with the world’s first International Compendium of virtually every cigar brand known today, complete with histories and observations on taste, according to the author’s HPH (Highly Prejudiced Hacker-Scale) ratings. If that was not enough, there is even a dictionary of CigarSpeak!”
(Skyhorse Publishing)

The Ultimate Cigar Book - Richard (Rick) Carleton Hacker

I’ve known and appreciated The Ultimate Cigar Book since its 1st Edition in 1993.
The cigar world is not static – as usual there’s something new in this edition.

     75-UltCigar4  R495.00


The Ultimate Cigar Book is an entertaining read and an ideal reference book.

From August 17 - 30, 2017 we offer
20% off The Ultimate Cigar Book, 4th Edition
Normal price only R495.00
Offer only from Wesley’s Shops and Online Store.

Take this opportunity to buy one for yourself.
Or for a well-appreciated gift for any cigar enthusiast - really worth having.

Colin Wesley
No.410 August 10-23, 2017

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.


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No.411 August 24 – September 6, 2017

Trends in Smoking

Pipe and Cigar smoking are very often coupled together and so they should be.

Both pathways to the enjoyment of pure tobaccos start with a conscious decision to put the time aside to enjoy a smoke. The amount of time available is an important factor in the decision.
Select from your pipe collection a pipe with a larger or medium-small inner bowl capacity and a suitable shape for the occasion; from your humidor a smaller or larger cigar, one with richer or lighter leaf.

Then the comparisons go on.
After selecting the appropriate cigar/pipe and tobacco, preparing the pipe/cigar, lighting up the pipe/cigar and then relaxing for the next 15, 30, 40 minutes, before putting the pipe/cigar down to extinguish itself gracefully.

At this stage the comparison stops.
The stub of the cigar may be trimmed and kept to be finished off in a pipe at a later stage. “Makes you think!
The pipe smoker, on the other hand, would gently clean out the pipe bowl with a blunt instrument, and allow it to dry out before the next smoke. He would remove any 6mm or 9mm “filter” (cartridge or balsa) and leave it to dry out and used again, or disposed of. Next, he would pass a fresh pipe cleaner through the mouthpiece to mop up any moist residue before it dries up.
Finally he would rest the whole pipe, bowl down, open to the air to dry out in time for the next smoke.
All part of the relaxing routine.

These comparisons are all in the details of pipe and cigar smoking.
But there has also been a similarity in the overall smoking pattern to smaller, shorter smokes.

By this I don’t mean physically smaller, milder cigars, or delicate 10 minute pipes filled with bland aromatic tobacco.
On the contrary a Petit Robusto or a nub size cigar is not a cheroot; these sizes offer a fully satisfying 20/30 minute smoke.
And a short, compact Marca Snug or a Savinelli shape 320, 321 will be equally satisfying in less than 30 minutes. Especially when filled with a modern blend of natural tobaccos with a dash of aromatic Burley (Houseblends Nos. 46, 47 – Peterson tobaccos).

While there are all these similarities between pipe and cigar smoking there is one major difference – the cost of each individual smoke. Read a blog from 2012.
No wonder pipe smokers are often pictured with quiet smiles on their faces.

We often refer to the original “Lorenzo”. As we wrote in 1971: Lorenzo Tagliabue was an artist amongst pipe manufacturers – a “Pipe Couturier par Excellence”. His special shapes showed his special talent for design, and his vivid imagination.
He was a tall man with big hands – and his special pipes were often a real handful.

Take the original Valgardena – The lower part of the bowl is for holding – so comfortable in the hand.
Lorenzo Valsesia circa 1990The line continues artistically into the triangular shank.
From this wrap-around holding section emerges a classic bowl shape:
Billiard, Dublin, gently curving Apple.
More inspiration – flatten the base and you have the standing Valsesia
– one of the most popular of the original Lorenzo shapes.

We move to the present day where such large bowls are for a relatively long smoke on a peaceful afternoon or evening.
And so the “Vivace” was born – a smaller version of the Valsesia, with the same elegant lines, comfort in the hand, and with a medium bowl capacity more suited to the time constraints of today’s smoking.
In Lorenzo’s storeroom this year, we were delighted to find this Vivace range of 5 shapes in four different finishes - Two Tone, Spot carved, New rustic, and the lighter Lipari finish reserved for those bowls with minimum surface flaws and plenty of hard wood.
These scaled down versions of the original Valsesia shapes have a unique, great feel in the hand, and being on the short side, rest comfortably in the mouth.

As we left the Lorenzo storeroom, some elegant black and silver pipes caught our eye – a preview of a special range that was being prepared under the name Anne”,
We managed to persuade him to give us a dozen at a good price – so 12 pipes only, 2 each of 6 shapes.
Just enough for 12 people to enjoy.
(A noteworthy point is that the silver bands are part of the mouthpiece – adding to its strength.)

We’re passing these excellent Lorenzo prices on to you.
Even better:

From August 31 to September 13, 2017
25% off Lorenzo Vivace and Lorenzo Anne pipes.
Normal prices from R440.00 to R695.00

Only Lorenzo can make pipes, in these shapes, in these qualities, at these prices.
Take a plunge – buy more than one.
I don’t know when we will see them again.

Colin Wesley
No.411 August 24 – September 6, 2017

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.


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No.412 September 7 - 20, 2017

Vintage Cigars

A recent report in Cigar Insider, covering an auction of vintage Cuban cigars in London, grabbed my attention.
The top-priced item was a box of 500 pre-embargo Punch Coronas that sold for GBP 40500.00.
That is about £80 (R1360) per cigar.
Old yes, but “vintage” as in wines?
Did the Habanos stamping indicate that the cigars were from a “vintage year”?

A quick visit to Google on the matter didn’t quite open up a can of worms, but it would appear that there is no exact definition for such cigars.
In fact there are at least three different definitions of “Vintage” cigars.

“Vintage” – referring to cigars with a wrapper from an exceptional harvest. The wrapper leaves are reserved to age for a future “vintage” blend of filler and binder.
The “2006 Rocky Patel Vintage” cigar launched recently has an 11-year old Mexican wrapper, with Nicaraguan filler and a Connecticut Broadleaf binder.
Coincidentally, Two Vintage Rocky Patel cigars have just arrived:
Vintage 1990 Robusto Single in a glass tube R225.00    R3893.00 box of 20
Vintage 1999 Robusto Single in a glass tube R237.00    R4117.00 box of 20

 “Vintage” in that all the leaf, filler, binder and wrapper, come from the same harvesting year.
Since 2003 La Aurora has developed a range of Vintage cigars. They have the additional benefit of being aged for several years before being rolled, and then in the box.
The La Aurora Puro Vintage 2006 was released in 2015.
Interestingly, although they are labelled “puro” the leaves do not necessarily all come from one country – in fact La Aurora uses leaf from Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua.

“Vintage” as an indication of the age of the cigar – in the case of Cuban cigars, the year in which the cigars were boxed, although the leaves may come from different years.
Since each major brand has its own “supply chain”, one can’t take filler from a really good Romeo y Julieta harvest, bind it with a leaf from the Montecristo line and wrap the bunch with a Partagas wrapper, even if all of these are “vintage” leaves in their own right.
The “year” stamp on the box is often covered by the health warning. Although the older cigars may have had more time to age – this is only beneficial if the cigars were good quality in the first place. Otherwise they may just be old and dusty. This is particularly true of Cuban cigars rolled towards the end of the last century and beginning of this one.
However, since 2005 quality control has improved in Cuba with amongst other thing the introduction of draw-testing machines. This combined with the outstanding “vintage” harvests of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 means that Cuban cigars from those dates onwards are some of the best in years – and will someday probably be considered really worthwhile “Vintage” cigars.

In the meantime there may be no need to search, and possibly overpay, for “vintage cigars” to find a truly satisfying smoke. Experiment by buying single cigars, or selections – Wesley’s has a wide range in their humidors.

And when you find your most satisfying cigars, you might want to carry a few with you.
A recent arrival from our supplier of fine leather goods in India is a leather cigar case for three Robusto-size cigars, with a pocket for a cigar cutter; sold with or without cigar scissors.

From September 14-27, 2017 we offer
25% off Leather cigar case for 3 Robusto-size cigars, with pocket for cutter
Normal prices: 73-Ex142 R750.00; with cigar scissors 73-Ex142c R950.00
Offer only from Wesley’s Shops and Online Store.

The old adage still applies even at today’s prices:
“A premium cigar is still one of the world’s most affordable true luxuries.”

Colin Wesley
No.412 September 7-20, 2017

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.


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No.413 September 21 – October 4, 2017


- take note of the name.

We love Stanwell pipes!

Over the years we have written several articles on Stanwell.

  • On their origin in around 1942 when pipes with an English sounding name were in great demand,
    irrespective of their actual country of origin.
  • How they “tweaked” the classic English shapes to become Danish style pipes.
  • How they commissioned Danish Pipe Artists to create new “Danish” shapes which they then registered
    to foil the copycats.
  • How they introduced multiple metal templates for these models, reducing the cost of production
    making the pipes more accessible to the growing pipe market, worldwide.
  • How they introduced acrylic mouthpieces which did not oxidise and taste bitter,
    to the delight of those pipe smokers, and shop keepers, in high humidity climates.

So it is not surprising that we are now seeing new ideas in the manufacturing and marketing of their pipes to the world.

Being part of the great Scandinavian Tobacco Group, they can pick up trends towards bigger/smaller cigars or stronger/milder pipe tobaccos and apply these findings to their market of pipe smokers.

Some findings from a survey of 10000 pipe smokers:
Age 60 plus     Usually heavy users and have been pipe smokers all their lives.
Ages 35-50      Fewer consumers.
Ages 20-35      Biggest growing share of consumers; they outnumber the heavy users
but they often only smoke a few times a week.

Cross smoking – alternative smoking.
60% of pipe smokers also use RYO tobacco
60% regularly smoke cigarillos
50% regularly smoke premium cigars.

Back to pipes
Research has pinpointed the best-selling Stanwell shapes in both filter and non-filter pipes.
We concentrate on the 9mm filter pipes.
Amongst the shapes are 015 - 084 - 088 - 0185 - 207 – 232 – 234 - 246.
These shapes they try to have in stock, over a variety of finishes, at all times.
Try is the operative word.

We are obviously a “typical” importer as this plan suits us very well.
But to try to co-ordinate our orders with the supply situation is very much a hit or miss matter, which is why we have been out of stock of odd shapes and finishes over the year.
Orders for less than 50 pipes at a time are not really economical and orders over 100 pipes can give us indigestion.

To find in the Stanwell stock around 50 pipes in the shapes and finishes we want is not always easy,
but we came close this time.

Stanwell Silke Brun finish Poker shape 207
We received all the pipes we ordered in the Silke Brun finish,
including Poker shape 207 (pictured right) – new to us.

And despite the annual increases from Stanwell the price increases have been minimal.

Stanwell “Black & White” pipes

We were also able to top up our range of “Black & White” pipes.
So beautiful, and so practical with the choice of long or short mouthpieces. 9mm option.

Even better news – we have chosen Stanwell Black & White and Stanwell Silke Brun finish pipes for our next special offer.

From September 28 to October 11, 2017
25% off Stanwell Silke Brun pipes.
Normal price R1595.00
25% off Stanwell Black & White pipes
Normal prices Smooth R2195.00, Sandblast R2095.00

If you have been looking and waiting for a Stanwell pipe, buy it now.
And then put some time aside to light up and enjoy the feel and the quality.

Colin Wesley
No.413 September 21 – October 4, 2017

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.


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No.414 October 5-18, 2017

Large Ringsize cigars – some comments

The upside:
We hear plenty of the upside of these super thick cigars.
The most important is that the blender can develop more complexity in the taste with the possibility of a bigger variety of leaves in the filler.
One of the earliest of the thicker cigars came from J.C.Newman in 1995 – ringsize 54.
He appreciated the possibility of making a more complex blend:
"With a thicker ring gauge, you can make a better cigar because you can blend in five or six different leaves." It's a matter of physics: a thick cigar has room for more tobacco leaves than a thin one, and more leaves can create a complexity impossible in a thinner smoke.
Thick cigars today have ringsizes of 60, 70 and even 80!

Then of course the sensation of a larger volume of smoke obtained with an easy draw.
These cigars are a boon to those smokers who tend to have a “heavy” draw which would make the thinner cigars burn too fast, hot and bitter.

The downside:
Above the 54/56 ringsize the cigar becomes more clumsy in the hand, and simply too much of a mouthful for many people.
If you prefer a “light” draw it may be difficult to keep alight.
Finding a cigar cutter may present a problem, especially if the head is flat. The best solution I heard of is to use a punch to cut a centre hole, and then surround it with several more holes in a circle. If the head is slightly domed, then my favourite method is to use cigar scissors – will cut any ringsize cigar.

Now, thanks to a customer, I have heard of a more serious downside effect: as the cigar is smoked the wrapper may begin to crack, and even burst open.
According to my customer, the analysis of this disaster concludes that as the cigar is being smoked it warms up, and the filler may then expand; and the wrapper may dry out, particularly in non-humid conditions.
Put the two effects together and what do you get?
A broken wrapper which sometimes even peels off in pieces.
Not a pretty sight, and definitely a spoilt smoke.
We both agreed that this downside may be exacerbated up here on the Highveld, smoking outside on a sunny winter day.
The suggested remedy, he says, is to lightly moisten the cigar before lighting up, and keep the wrapper moistened while smoking it.
This can be a finicky, tricky exercise, which takes much of the enjoyment out of the smoke.
Alternatively, use an ultrasonic humidifier which produces a cool mist. Keep it next to your chair – indoors or outdoors.

And to start with, the manufacturer has to choose very carefully the wrapper for the larger ringsize cigars. Elasticity and tensile strength are paramount. Read more about wrapper.
The best wrappers are said to come from Cuba, but then Cuba at present doesn’t make cigars in its standard range with a ringsize of over 56. The individually boxed Hoyo de Monterrey Giant has a ringsize of only 57.
Many of the large ringsize cigars use wrappers grown in Ecuador, agreed to be some of the best.
Ecuadorian wrappers are available in a range of varietals depending on the seed from which they are grown:
Ecuadorian Havana, Ecuadorian Sumatra, Ecuadorian Connecticut Broadleaf, and more.
There is plenty of choice.

For these large ringsize cigars we suggested the use of a good quality cigar punch, or of cigar scissors.
Let’s make it easier:

From October 12-25, 2017 we offer
25% off Cigar Punches and/or Cigar Scissors
Normal prices from R89.50 / R315.00
Offer only from Wesley’s Shops and Online Store.

Don’t let a poor cut ruin your enjoyment of your fine cigar.

Colin Wesley
No.414 October 5-18, 2017

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.