1st June 2016 (with distinction)
Place of Work:
Havana House (Hove)
117 Church Road
01273 731 351
What do you enjoy most about working with cigars?
I have always been interested in high quality, artisanal products. I am a guitar player, collector and maker and draw a comparison between hand made cigars and the attention to detail and quality control of high end, vintage instruments. I find it a privilege to handle and be surrounded by a hand crafted product that has been treated with such care and respect during all stages of manufacture. Few things exemplify this as fully as Cuban Cigars and their beauty and true quality are an inspiration and delight. I also love to smoke Habanos and take great satisfaction from recommending new things to customers that help open the door to this most enjoyable past time.
What first interested you in cigars?
I think as much as anything my interest in cigars began with the aesthetic. I remember seeing American blues harmonica player Phil Wiggins enjoying a large cigar at a gig and thinking “that looks really cool.” I love the music and fashions of the modern United States and was encouraged to try smoking cigars based on films and TV shows. Soon though, I realised that although cigars are undoubtedly a thing of beauty and style the flavour and quality are the main thing - enjoying a really good cigar - it turns out - is a personal thing and has nothing to do with the opinions of those around you.
Do you remember your first cigar?
Although I no longer remember my first cigar I do vividly recall my first great cigar experience... 11am on a Saturday morning and I sit down to cut and light my first ever Partagas Short. Half an hour later I know this will become a life-long passion. The rich depth of flavour, the sweet intoxicating aroma and the magical feeling of well being are overwhelming. This is far more than smoking as a means of nicotine consumption in the same way that fine wine has nothing to do with getting drunk. The humble Partagas Short remains a firm favourite and will always hold a special place in my heart as the cigar that woke me up.
What is the best piece of advice you have for someone just starting to smoke cigars?
Cigar smoking is a matter of taste and there is no such thing as a “bad” hand made cigar so try as many sizes and styles as possible while keeping an open mind. Don’t be intimidated by some of the more elitist, old-fashioned myths about cigar smoking, I have yet to meet a cigar smoker who has been anything other than generous and open with their knowledge and the pleasure they take in the subject. There is a cigar for everyone and everyone should be able to feel comfortable enjoying one regardless of their experience, background or gender.
What are your favorite three cigars?
I enjoy a wide range of cigars and one of the best parts of smoking Cubans is the huge range of vitolas to choose from. For a light everyday smoke there can be few things as good as an H. Upmann Petit Corona - the sweetness and texture of the smoke are a real delight. After a fine meal and in good company the two and a half hours of challenging, full flavoured richness offered by a Vegas Robaina Don Alejandro are the perfect thing to inspire conversation and aid relaxation. And for pure elegance and complexity nothing comes close to the Trinidad Fundador whose length and draw I find almost completely perfect. However each cigar is truly unique and so many factors effect the experience, from the weather to the company in which you choose to smoke, that it is impossibly to rank them and my favourite cigars will inevitably have more to do with a memory associated with one particularly good smoke than an objective analysis of the leaf, construction and blend. I am led back to the old cliche that my favourite cigar will always be the one I am about to light.
Has becoming a Master in Havana Cigars helped you in your profession?
The acquisition of knowledge is a very worthy goal in and of itself but when it can be combined with practical material that informs your daily life there is an added satisfaction in its attainment. Taking part in the Hunters and Frankau Higher Certificate course has encouraged me to go far deeper into the subject of Havana Cigars than I otherwise would have and this has given me the confidence and understanding to hold my own on the subject. Gaining an academic qualification will never compare to the comprehension attained by experience but at least now when a customer who has smoked many, many more cigars than me talks about the 1998 Cohiba Lancero they smoked at a grand dinner I can say something useful despite the fact I have not had personal experience of the cigar. I suspect the huge quantities of figures, dates and unpronounceable Spanish terms will over time fade from my memory but the principles of quality and attention to detail that learning about the history and production of Havana Cigars have given me will continue to inspire and inform the respect with which I treat these precious products for as long as I can continue to be involved in them.