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Friday, April 9, 2010

CIGARS 101 - IT'S PERSONAL

I have always been of the opinion that you shouldn't trust anyone who doesn't have at least one known vice, be it swearing, drinking, smoking, or whatever. If they appear to be overly virtuous, then they are probably hiding something much more malicious. I remember one fellow from Toledo who went to great lengths to project a Lilly-white image. He regularly attended church, could quote chapter and verse from the Bible, and condemned anyone for any form of indiscretion. You would have believed such a person would be trustworthy, honest and forthright. Frankly, I found him to be one of the most ruthless and unscrupulous businessmen I ever had the displeasure to meet, not to mention an extreme bore. I have challenged this rule about vice over the years and found it to hold true time and again.

As for me, my passion has always been cigars, something I learned to smoke when I was thirteen years old behind my friend's house in Chicago (a White Owl Classic if memory serves me correctly). I am not advocating smoking or trying to encourage others to imbibe, just to describe someone's choice in life. I do not promote or advocate smoking cigars, but I have found it to be a small personal pleasure. I guess I am at the stage where I am no longer impressed by mansions, fast sports cars, boats, or any other "boys toys" to find happiness. To me it's the little things that makes life pleasurable, such as a fine woman, good company and conversation, perhaps a drink, and a really good cigar.

I never acquired a taste for cigarettes or chewing tobacco and found them to be simply a waste of time (and money), but that's me. Occasionally I'll pick up a pipe, but frankly, I get more enjoyment out of a cigar. In addition to recreation, I enjoy smoking a cigar while I'm writing as it allows me to pause and concentrate on the subject at hand. It also helps me pass the time when performing the tedium of mowing my lawn.

Cigars come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors and tastes and one of the biggest misconceptions I would like to clear up is there is no such thing as a bad one, unless of course it has dried out, been soiled, or somehow been damaged. Actually, it's a matter of matching the right person to the right cigar. There are some cigars I simply wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, such as a green-leafed natural, something soaked in liquor, or twisted to look like a rope. I have enjoyed tobacco from Cuba, the Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Philippines, and many other locations. My tastes have evolved over the years whereby I prefer a large cigar with a generous ring size and wrapped in a dark Maduro leaf. But again, that's me. Cigars are a personal thing. What one smoker may enjoy, another may despise. That's why it is a matter of trying different cigars until you find what you like. Novice cigar aficionados should seek the expertise of a mentor to provide the proper tutelage. The worst thing you can do is try to smoke a type of cigar to impress someone else, not yourself. Further, a cigar should not be forced on you as it is a conscious decision you must personally make.

I cannot possibly teach you everything you need to know about selecting a cigar herein, there are simply too many variables involved, everything from its origin and manufacturer, to the wrapper, the filler, or even how it should be cut and lit. Outsiders may be surprised to learn the best cigar wrappers do not come from the Caribbean, but rather Connecticut, right here in the good old U.S.A. There is evidently something in the Connecticut soil conducive for growing the right leaves for wrapping a cigar. As Stengel would have said, "Who da thunk it."

I was always envious of Winston Churchill, the famous Prime Minister of England, who was an iconic figure for the cigar. I have read books on Churchill and had the pleasure of visiting his Chartwell home in England. Interestingly, when Churchill was alive there was always at least 10,000 cigars in his home. It seems he received truckloads of them from various heads of state, grateful constituents, and various manufacturers who hoped he would endorse their product. Imagine what a learning experience it would have been to sample the various cigars under his roof.

Yes, I have had my fair share of detractors over the years condemn me for my passion, and I make an effort not to let it interfere with others, but the taunting by the anti-smoking establishment gets rather tiresome. They just do not understand the pleasure of a good cigar. A few years ago when I was still coaching and umpiring in Little League, I went down to the local ball fields one night to see a friend's son play. I was comfortably sitting away from others in the outfield and had just lit a cigar when another coach spotted me and, lacking an umpire for his game, begged me to call the game for him. I reluctantly accepted and entered the field with my cigar in tow. Some of the parents jeered me for the cigar but I assured them not to worry and I put it out and stuck it in the backstop fence so I could smoke it later. The game went on for several innings. When it was over, I returned to retrieve the cigar and found it had fallen out of the fence and on to the red clay of the field, much to the amusement of the parents who chided me earlier. Unfazed, I simply rubbed the red clay off and re-lit it, much to the amazement of the parents. "Sorry," I said, "but there is nothing like a good cigar."

It's personal.

P.S. - The term "Stogie" comes from Conestoga, a village of southeast Pennsylvania which, in its heyday, manufactured cigars.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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