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Across the Counter
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No.425 March 29-April 11, 2018


Sometimes “just browsing” pays off.

In my shop we like to greet anyone who comes in before he/she has time to greet us or ask to be served.
I’m just browsing is a very common response to our approach.
However, while browsing they may find an item of interest, or maybe they just enjoy the smell.

Preparing to write this article I found myself with a dilemma.
I had nothing new to write about; it was too soon to receive any news from the Habanos February Festival in Cuba, and most of the news from the Procigar programme in the Dominican Republic was not really relevant for us in South Africa.
“I’ll just browse through a few recent Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider articles and hope for the best” went through my mind.
One thing led to another and I soon I had three sets of 10 “things to do and not to do” - with cigars and our enjoyment of smoking them.
With a sigh of relief I read through them and filtered out 6 snippets that fell outside the most familiar “do and don’t” points.
I hope you find at least one or two of these of interest or help to you.

1. Don’t cut a cigar in half to share, or even prune it down to the size you want for the time you have to smoke it.
In the first instance the wrapper on the headless half will almost certainly unravel in an untidy unsatisfactory smoke.
In the second instance you will ruin the overall balance of the cigar. The blender places specific leaves in different positions in the cigar to allow for the taste to develop fully over the whole length of the cigar.
By cutting off the foot of the cigar you will be eliminating the cool, mild introductory puffs on the fresh cigar.
Rather make sure that the sizes in your cigar selection cover several smoking times. Top up any missing sizes with single cigars or packs of 3 or 5.

2. Don’t put a half-smoked cigar in your humidor.
Not even if you have trimmed it and blown through it to expel any smoke.
The cigars in the humidor will be tainted and, worse still, probably the whole inside of your humidor will take on a “smoky” aroma, difficult to remove.
Rather have available a few glass tubes with stoppers, or zip seal packets with a small humidipack.

3. Over-humidification - what to do.
If, for whatever reason, your cigars have become soggy through over-humidification there is a simple, practical remedy. Insert several strips, or sheets, of cedar into your humidor. Cover the bottom and then depending on how many cigars you have in the humidor and the severity of the problem, distribute more strips strategically among the cigars.
Keep an eye, and a finger, on the cigars as you may be surprised how quickly the cedar will absorb the excess humidity. Don’t overdo this exercise.
You may like to use a Digital Hygrometer/Thermometer to keep a check on the overall condition in your humidor, and/or install a two way Nano Technology bead humidification system.

4. Storing cigars in cellophane or branded tubes – yes nor no?
No! Both coverings will prevent any humidification reaching the cigar. This may be needed.
However, keep the odd tube handy to use if you want to carry a cigar in your pocket, or briefcase.
If you are storing cigars from different countries all in one humidor try not to have them touching – use separate trays, or dividers to keep them apart, preserving their identity.

5. Fermentation –how and why?
The “why” is easy – fermentation of tobacco is necessary because it makes tobacco taste better. It improves the taste and the aroma by reducing the sharpness and bitterness to leave a nutty, sweeter, mellow flavour.
The “how” is very exacting, needing constant regulation of temperature and moisture content over the whole fermentation time period.
Each pile of tobacco must be made up of leaves of a similar size or style, not a jumble of mixed leaves which won’t respond to the process all at the same rate.
The process cannot be slipshod or underdone. It is critical for the development of premium cigars.

6. The binder – The unsung leaf in the construction of a cigar. 
Sometimes described as the wrapper that just didn’t make it, possibly because it was a little too coarse and not eye catching.
However, besides being sturdy enough to hold the filler leaves in place, the binder is crucial to the combustion rate of the cigar, allowing for a smooth draw, especially if the filler includes flavourful, oily leaves that are not easy burning.
The binder can be summed up as the catalyst between the filler and the wrapper - it can make or break the smoking quality of the cigar.

In previous articles we’ve concentrated on the Nano Bead Technology, but in any case you might be happy to know exactly what is happening in your humidor.
Are the Temperature and Relative Humidity right for your cigars?
You can keep a check with the Slim black Digital Hygrometer/Thermometer ~ °C or °F

From 5-18 April, 2018, we offer
25% off73-J6501 Slim black Digital Hygrometer/Thermometer ~ °C or °F
Normal price R756.58 (incl.15% Vat)

Why leave it to chance when, for the cost of less than 3 cigars, you can be certain.

Colin Wesley

No.425 March 29-April 11, 2018

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


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No.426 April 12 - 25, 2018

The traditional straight pipe

Not every pipe smoker wants only bent pipes!

In the early days of pipe manufacturing, straight pipes were easier to make than bent models.
There was still much from which to choose: Apples, Billiards, Bulldogs, Canadians, Dublins, Liverpools, Lovats and Pokers – all in different sizes, but all straight. Just look at the Dunhill White Spot Shape Chart.
I have never seen a picture of Alfred Dunhill smoking a bent pipe.

As the pipe industry grew so did the competition.
In the 1950s and 1960s the Scandinavians took the pipe world by storm with their “outlandish” Danish shapes – mainly bent pipes. The modern Stanwell pipes are excellent examples – yet even they have traditional straight pipes in their range.

Further developments, especially with the introduction of artificial flavourings into pipe tobacco blends, called for more “filter” pipes. This was made possible by the introduction of the Teflon Tenon which today offers both 6mm and 9mm “filter” options.
These shank filters were ideally suited to bent pipes causing their popularity to overwhelm the demand for straight pipes.
During the course of all these changes and developments, the prices for entry level pipes had, along with all other briar pipes, risen considerably.

Erik Nording the innovative Danish pipemaker, saw a gap and decided to fill it.
In 2011 Erik and his son Knud would make a pipe with all the criteria for a perfect entry level priced pipe. In fact more than that, the pipe would be suitable for any pipe smoker who wanted a good smoke from a pipe at a price that would not be a disaster if the pipe became damaged or lost.

The Eriksen Keystone filter pipe ticked all the boxes with one possible negative – it was a straight pipe.
The pipe has been so successful that to date there are no plans for a bent model.

The Nording Eriksen Keystone Pipe was brought to mind again in my shop last Saturday by two very different customers:
The first customer wanted a straight pipe which didn’t cost too much and he’d heard about the Nording Keystone. We spent a very pleasant 45 minutes chatting about all the advantages of the Nording Keystone – easy to fill, light up and smoke; durable; leaving no lump of wet tobacco (the dottle) and needing little maintenance; affordable!
He was happy to choose a bowl finish he liked. The free can of Keystone pellets was an added bonus.

The second customer had bought a Keystone pipe previously, having read all about it on the website. He was so satisfied with it that he wanted another pipe in a different finish. In just a few minutes he had decided exactly which finish he preferred, paid and left – another happy customer.

We’d like you to be happy too:

From 19 April to 2 May, 2018
25% off the normal price of
Nording Keystone Pipe; Nording Keystone Pipe Bowls; Keystone Pellets

This good offer is not too good to be true.
The Keystone filter pipe smokes well above its price.

Don’t be shy, stocks are limited.

Colin Wesley

No.426 April 12 - 25, 2018

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No.427 April 26 to May 9, 2018

A passion for farming & for cigars
– thank goodness!

The US had a long history of buying Cuban tobacco, then rolling cigars in the States, especially Tampa, Florida.
They were very dependent on good, continuous supplies from Cuba.
In 1960 Fidel Castro confiscated 16 of the prime cigar plantations with all the buildings and operations without any compensation for anything.
These were the assets and operations of families like Carlos Torano, Fernando Palisio, Alonso Menendez, Pepe Garcia, Ramon Cifuentes - their homes and their life’s work. Not only were their assets stolen, their bank accounts were frozen.

Those who had made financial contributions to Castro’s war pleaded for exception from this programme. They were dismissed with a curt “you were fools”, “now get out”.
95% of all Cubans thought that Castro would bring in a reign of democracy after defeating the dictator Baptista.
Castro had kept his communist intentions for Cuba to himself and his close associates.

Most of these now homeless farmers headed for the USA: Florida in particular because this was where they had sold their cigars and tobaccos.
Life was not easy for them and many people took whatever work they could find.
But their hearts were in farming, particularly tobacco farming which was too expensive for them in America.
They needed inexpensive land and the right priced labour.
The obvious answers were to be found in those countries with similar climatic and soil conditions to Cuba – Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Cameroon, and others.
Some tried as far away as the Canary Islands – very successful for a few years even though they didn’t grow their own tobacco. Montecruz, a play on the name Montecristo, became the No.1 seller in USA.
Their forays into the Central American and African areas were fraught with danger from volatile governments, hostile weather conditions, and different people with different work ethics.

After the 1962 USA embargo on all Cuban products these families recognised the opportunity to now supply more and more non-Cuban cigars into the massive American market.
Their intensified efforts were now supported by American cigar manufacturers who could no longer buy Cuban tobacco. Read more about the effect on the US market.

Working with agricultural products to develop an end product is a slow process, with many ups and downs.
It has taken many years to reach the stage where we are now, with a vast array of great cigars from these non-Cuban countries.
Without the passion of the old Cuban cigar families this could not have happened.
The cigar smoking world owes them and their successors a deep debt of gratitude.

Now we will soon have a new premium cigar to offer you in the form of a Puro from France – filler, binder and wrapper all from Hedon “Eclatant"Beam in the South West, originally part of the Kingdom of Navarre.
Hedon cigars first started in 1999 with Cuban seeds planted in the area and tended to by Cuban farm workers.

This first attempt failed but the second attempt has been successful.
The new Hedon brand was launched in 2016 with the intent of being a small-scale, high quality cigar with the unique French taste, aroma and flair.
Visit the Hedon website to find out more.
We expect a small experimental supply of Hedon “Eclatant” soon; a classic Short Robusto: 105mm x Ring 50.

Another thought:

Is your cigar ashtrayThe black cigar ashtray with a sliding bridge
• Large enough?
• made to hold the resting cigar horizontal?
• suitable for different lengths of cigars, or of one cigar as it burns down?
• stylish and elegant in appearance?

The black cigar ashtray (73-J3292) with a sliding bridge ticks all the boxes.

From 3 May – 16 May, 2018
25% off the normal price of
The black ceramic cigar ashtray – 73-J3292 R801.97

This is the only ashtray that allows you to move the supportive bridge along the line of the cigar as it burns down to its final resting place – keeps the resting cigar always horizontal.

Colin Wesley

No.427 April 26 to May 9, 2018

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No.428 May 10 - 23, 2018

A pipe is a pipe isn’t it?

For the fun of it I recently “Googled” pipe making.

After filtering my way through all the sites to do with steel and aluminium pipes I came across a young man who was about to show me his video on how to make a wooden smoking pipe.
I logged in.
He was holding a round piece of a tree branch about 5-6 cm in diameter and 13-14cm long. Both ends were cut flat and the bark was still on.
He clamped the item in a vice, and then using a large 2 cm round drill he drilled a hole about 4 cm deep at the one end. He then, using a sharp knife, tapered the other end down over a slope of 4-5 cm to a width of 1-1.5 cm.
Then he changed the drill bit for 6 mm size. Re-clamping the “pipe” in the vice, he drilled a hole from the tapered end through to the 2x4cm hole at the other end, entering somewhere near the bottom.
That was it – he had made a smoking pipe.
All in all it took about 5 to 10 minutes from start to finish.
He held it up, trophy-like, with a big smile on his face.
A nice looking young man he was.

I suppose one can’t argue with the young man - Acorn shells, Corncobs and Clay have been used, and some still are.
But there are the briar pipes that can take weeks to come through the 60, or more, operations that are performed on the raw Ebauchon (block) that arrives at the factory after having been boiled and dried over 8 to 12 months, and before that 50-60 years in the harsh ground of the Mediterranean climate.
The whole process is like a slow metamorphosis from the raw block to the beautiful finished pipe that is often slipped into a velvet, or chamois, bag before nestling down in an elegant branded box.

Commercial pipe manufacturing really kicked off in the early 1900’s peaking in the 1950-60’s.
Around that time came the pipe artists. People with a flair for personal designs that made best use of the matured grain of the block to influence the overall shape and finish of each individual pipe.
Some designs worked and some didn’t.
It was soon observed that two of the fundamentals of making a pipe that smoked well were that the inner shape of the bowl had to have parallel sides, not narrowing down to the base of the bowl. And the smoke hole had to be flush with the bottom of the bowl, not even one, or two mm off the base.
Today these are still observed by any pipe maker of note.

The flexibility has been in the overall shapes and the finishes on the outer surface of the pipe, and of the mouthpieces.
So what have we seen?
The shapes can be weird or wonderful but the overall shape and balance has to be comfortable in both hand and mouth.
The outer finishes started just with smooth and then sandblasting. Now the colours of the smooth finishes have grown to include all the colours of the rainbow. A fine example from Nording
Sometimes the finish is to cover the grain, sometimes to enhance it.
Sandblasting requires great skill and much time to really be effective in exposing the hardwood grain.
Machines can “rusticate” a bowl in minutes and this process is used mostly to cover surface flaws or soft wood.

On the practical side, the composition of the mouthpiece is moving away from vulcanite, which on contact with moisture from the mouth or just in the air oxidises rapidly, causing a bitter taste.
The new ebonite or acrylic material which doesn’t oxidize is good. They have also introduced different colours, some rather bizarre, others subtly nice like the Cumberland.

The introduction of the Teflon pegs has been a bigger bonus because it covers two problems – it is virtually unsnappable and can be made to hold 6 mm to 9 mm “filters”. Which are now almost obligatory for the modern “aromatic” tobacco blends.

The embellishments in the new mouthpieces range from a few neat rings of different metals or colours to sterling silver bands or gemstones studded in ornate gold or silver bands.

Even with the restrictions of the basic features of a briar pipe much can be made of the overall shape, style, finish and colour of the pipe.

Do you feel that you have an urge to express yourself or to copy a pipe you have always wanted?
You’ll have realised that the most important start is the correct shape for the inner bowl, and the correct alignment for the smoke passage through the shank, and for its entry to the bowl.The “Carvit” - A block of briar with the inner bowl and the shank hole prepared

Fortunately Lorenzo has anticipated these requirements and provided the “Carvit”.
A block of briar with the inner bowl and the shank hole prepared – and that’s all!
The outside is all yours to shape and finish as you like.

“Carvit” ~ Here’s a beautiful example. Thank you RS.

The “Carvit” - A block of briar with the inner bowl and the shank hole prepared

Here’s a beautiful example. Thank you RS.

Of course, the pipe can be smoked as it is –well-cured briar in a very unusual shape!

To encourage budding pipe artists ……….

From 17 – 30 May, 2018
25% off the normal price of
Lorenzo “Carvit” – carve-your-own pipe
54-LCarvit R398.46 R298.85 Buy Now

Don’t hold back - smoke it as it is, or get to work and create your own “masterpiece”
Have fun!

But you will need some proper wood-carving knives to achieve this.
Your Victorinox or Leatherman may be very versatile, but you’ll possibly find that the densest wood ever found is beyond it.

Good luck and enjoy your handiwork.

Colin Wesley

No.428 May 10 - 23, 2018

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


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No.429 May 24 – June 8, 2018

Discussing Cigars

The American way.

My impression is that Americans seem to love rules and statistics, leaving little to chance or instinct.
Their business and sports are classic examples of this, though with sport they do allow for that degree of natural talent or flair a person may have for a particular sport.

So when I came across a blog where two “newbies” were being introduced to premium cigars, I decided to watch and listen.
In this particular episode, part of a series, the presenter was describing how to choose a cigar, differentiating one from another, and then how to cut it and light up.

The first point the presenter made was that, until the cigar was paid for, the customer could not handle the cigar. This also applies in South Africa but is not strongly enforced. We use glass tubes to bypass this obstacle and to minimise damage.
He then went through the 5 senses of man, Sight, Touch, Hearing, Taste and Smell, and how each one can be applied to the selection of a cigar.

  • Sight: the cigar should look alive. The wrapper should virtually glow, be relatively blemish free, with no strong veins or creases.
  • Touch: over the length of the cigar there should be no hard or soft spots which indicate poor construction or rolling. The feel should be firm but supple.
  • Hearing: if you can hear a crackle it could indicate poor humidification which will cause a dry, harsh, smoke.
  • Smell: he made the good point that this sense is used on the wrapper and on the foot. The wrapper should be fresh and possibly a little spicy. The foot should be more flavourful, but with no ammonia. Ammonia could mean poor, or insufficient, fermentation.

If the cigar fails any of these criteria it should be rejected.

  • Taste: this can obviously only be tested once the cigar has been cut and put to the flame. But the presenter made the point that if the blend of the cigar is known, the customer should have an idea of what to expect.

I don’t think we emphasise this enough as so many of our premium cigar smokers only smoke Cuban cigars. It would be good to encourage the cigar smoker to try to expand their experience to include more non-Cuban tastes. Download a Tasting Score Sheet
The presenter also made the distinction between taste and strength. Taste being the flavour and strength being the nicotine content. The higher the nicotine content the stronger the cigar.

Next came the cutting of the cigar.
The presenter demonstrated the punch, the two finger cutter, the V-cut and using cigar scissors.
Like me, his preference was for the scissors.
I use them because if the cigar is rotated as the pressure is applied, the cap will invariably pop off. The edges can be tidied up leaving a nice opening.

His suggestion was that the scissors made it easier to measure how much was being taken off with a clean snap.
He emphasised not to cut below the shoulder of the cigar (we talk of the cap line) to prevent the cigar from unravelling.

Before lighting up he suggested a dry puff on the cigar to test the draw. It should be easy and gentle.
To do this he suggested that the cigar should be held by the teeth, behind closed lips – not just wrapped up in the lips or pushed up against the lips. Interesting!

Lighting up – which one?  
Matches, Spill, Zippo, Butane Standard, Butane Turbo.

Matches: let the Sulphur burn off before applying the flame to the foot of the cigar.
Spill: good but not always available. If the cigars you bought have a cedar wrap or layer, break off a strip.
Zippo: not favoured because of the fuel taste. Zippo say let the flame burn for a while before lighting.
Butane Standard: good under calm conditions.
Butane Turbo: his choice unreservedly; my choice, especially in windy conditions, taking great care not to burn the foot of the cigar.

Here we had a difference of opinion, or theory.
His practice is to char the foot as quickly as possible. Then blow through the cigar and continue to light the foot thoroughly, puffing at the same time to expose any small areas that might need attention.
This is a quick, sure fire, method of getting the job done – American style.

The method we propose is a more gentle, slower one.
Hold the cigar at an angle of 45˚ above the flame with the foot facing down.
Gently rotate the cigar, watching for the oils to evaporate. The outer rim of the cigar usually lights up first followed by the rest of the foot area. Move the cigar away from the flame, blow or draw on the cigar to highlight problem areas, remedy them gently, then draw steadily and relax.
Should the cigar inadvertently go out, no problem, just blow through it gently and relight.

WALNUT DECOR HUMIDORSWe both agreed that when the time came to say goodbye, the cigar should be put down
to self-extinguish itself – no stubbing out please.

We also agreed that the cigars should be stored under certain conditions:
70% relative humidity at 70°F (21.1°C)
Almost any airtight container would do, but there is something really special
about a cedar-lined box with a fine wood finish.


Here’s your opportunity:

From 31 May – 13 June, 2018
25% off the normal price of
Walnut finish humidors, cedar-lined, with Nano bead humidifiers
73-J1276 for 30 cigars, normal price R1407.24
73-J1015 for 20 cigars, normal price R1205.48

The programme ended up with the three of them puffing away with smiles all round - nice.
I’m sure that you will too.

Colin Wesley

No.429 May 24 – June 8, 2018

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