As a reformed cigarette smoker, I certainly do not advocate smoking those things. I quit 36 years ago and I don’t miss it one bit. However, I still like a good cigar every now and then. (Cigar smoke should not be inhaled, and I don’t.) By "every now and then" I mean I go a few years without a cigar, and then something comes up like an outdoor project during black fly season, and I’m suddenly clenching a big ol’ Churchill between my teeth, the most effective bug repellent I know of. I hadn’t smoked a cigar in four or five years, now I’ve gotten back into it. Last Christmas my oldest daughter gave me a few CAO cigars and suddenly I’ve purchased another humidor and I’m experimenting with different cigars from all over. I do like that aspect of cigar smoking. Additionally, with cutters and punches and draw pokers and humidors I also find it easy to get caught up in the paraphernalia associated with stogies.
While I’m no cigar aficionado, there is so much history and lore associated with cigars that I find it fascinating. I’ve sampled cigars from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Cuba, and so on. In fact, my very first cigar was purchased at the age of 14 in Montreal in the Cuban Pavilion at EXPO 67. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations on my crime of importing a Cuban cigar into the U.S has expired, and I was underage at the time of the crime, so I can cop to it. I’ve legally enjoyed Cuban cigars in the British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and again in Montreal a few years back, and yes, they are fine cigars. However, there are some excellent cigars with very high ratings being produced by American entrepreneurs. Rocky Patel comes to mind.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a Rocky Patel 1990 cigar (among others) at a tobacconist in Savannah, Ga. The 1990 is a cigar rated at 90+ by those who know, and I hope to sample it later today when the temperature outside gets up to nearly 30. When in the mild Georgia and Florida weather I was able to comfortably enjoy a couple of the cigars I had purchased, but it has become increasingly difficult to smoke a cigar without offending someone, and I do understand, so I pick and choose my moments very carefully. Back to Mr. Patel. Rocky Patel was an entertainment lawyer in Hollywood, working with stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gene Hackman when he was introduced to the cigar world. He sold his practice, went to Honduras for five years to learn the cigar business, and now heads up his own cigar company that generates well over $20 million in sales annually. His top-rated cigars are manufactured in Honduras and the tobaccos are sourced from all over the world. After returning from vacation I find out that Rocky Patel has a cigar bar in Naples, Fla. We stayed in Naples for a couple of days. I’m kicking myself, but in reality I probably couldn’t have afforded to walk into the place anyway.
What is interesting is that we live in the valley where the world’s finest cigar wrapper leaves are grown. Known as "Connecticut shade" you see the crops growing under white cloth in fields along the Connecticut River starting around Deerfield, Mass., and into Connecticut, even along the access road to the airport north of Hartford. The drying sheds are common sights to anyone who has lived in this area. The Connecticut shade plants have been exported and propagated in countries like Nicaragua, as well. Evidently the climate is just a bit too hardy for this plant north of, say, Greenfield, so I don’t believe there is any Vermont grown Connecticut shade tobacco.
Fortunately, one cigar goes a long way for me. After enjoying a stogie I generally don’t have a hankering for another one for days, weeks, months, sometimes years. My fiancee hates the smell of cigars on me, so that can be considered a limiting factor as well. When George Burns turned 100, he claims that his doctor limited him to just 10 cigars a day. I would be hard pressed to smoke that many in two months. I can’t effectively communicate all of the reasons I enjoy a good cigar every now and then. It’s an acquired taste and not for everyone. For me, smoking a cigar has always been a solitary activity. I don’t have to share the experience with anyone, and I certainly don’t apologize for enjoying cigars, especially on such a rare and limited basis. Like the man said, "Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em."
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.