Whether you are an avid collector or an aficionado, there is the same feeling of excitement when you find that old or rare box in a small shop in the middle of nowhere. It is that exact feeling, Lisa a well respected aficionado from Toronto felt when her dad showed up with something he found in his basement. It was two boxes of cigars he had got from Cuba in a trip in the late 80’s early 90’s, Cohiba Lanceros with the Diplomatic packaging.
Original wax paper wrapping; Matching seals; The cellophane sleeves are looking yellow/brownish Older Cohiba bands:
I can only imagine the feeling you get from seeing your dad walk in with these 2 rare and coveted boxes. So Lisa took her treasure to our common cigar community forum and showed her treasure. Her joy and surprise was immediately shared with members from across the world. Auction records were quoted (1900 £) moochers were looking to get their hands on samples, doubters doubted but everyone had something to say. As any true collector should do, she decided to verify with experts the authenticity of these older cigars. After a quick call to the Toronto La Casa del Habanos, she was on her way to meet with an experienced Cuban roller, Arnaldo, that had worked during the time these were made in Cuba.
Arnaldo, Cuban torcedor Checking with reference book; Here came the ultimate test to any Cuban cigar, the dissection to see if they are rolled with long filler tobacco.
Alas, these were just 20 something years old fakes rolled with short filler tobacco. Here are some observations a fellow member posted on why he had doubts about the authenticity of these: If these cigars were acquired in 1990-1992 they should not have the habanos strip on the top right hand corner. The cellophane was supposedly stopped being used on hand made cigars in 1989/1990. Also whenever cellophane was used on cigars it was slightly longer then the actual cigar so that it could be folded over.
The bands on the cigars are cut at different points above the last row of dots. Up until the early early 1990s (not sure if it is 1993 as Trevor puts it on CCW) the bands had circular dots like the following band. Lastly when you look at the seal of 99% of boxes the seal should be folded down the middle of the left hand crest. After learning the sad news, Lisa was not a bit disappointed and took the whole thing as a learning experience. When I contacted her about writing about the events, she agreed that it was a great story that others could benefit from reading. Nonetheless, this story showed us the passion people have for Cuban cigars but also, the magic moments they can produce.
Courtesy, Simon Robillard, SticksandDrinks.com.
On a recent trip to Brussels (May 2012), Matthew and I came across this stunning, block long installation that absolutely blew us away. Made of long pieces of wood and painted orange, this huge sculpture which becomes interactive as you walk through it, is a fabulous contrast to the centuries old buildings around it.
That’s Matthew in front of it in the third photo just to give you an idea of scale. Magnificent!
The great actor/manager Sam Neill is, in his spare time, also the President of the People’s Republic of Pinot. He has put up on his website a simple test John designed as a guide to a knowledge of fine wines. Here it is:
Are You a Wine Expert?
- Do you have more than two books about wine?
- Are your other books about food, rugby and the genius of Neil Diamond?
- Have you ever held a glass up to the light, rolled the wine around and said ‘Yes. Excellent’
- Do you think the wine is better if the bottle is covered in dust?
- When you hear that something has a good nose, do you you think of Gerard Depardieu?
- Do you think Sangiovese is quite a handy flanker from Hawkes Bay?
- Do you send wine back, but order the sausages?
- Have you ever stopped singing ‘Danny Boy’ in order to ask a friend which side of the hill the wine comes from?
- Do you regard anything over $12 as an investment wine?
- Do you think a garagiste is a person skilled in the housing of tractors?
- When you see a refractometer, do your bowels tighten slightly?
- Do you think Chateau Margaux is where Rudolf Nureyev had his barrique looked after?
- Do you frequently tell people red wine is good for you because it contains antioxidants?
- Have you ever considered refraining from eating oxidants?
- Do you wish to personally congratulate the man who invented the screw-top wine bottle?
- Do you swill a small taste of wine thoughtfully around on your palate before spitting into the sommelier?
- When you hear mention of a drip dickey, do your thoughts turn automatically to the trouser?
- Have you ever consciously attended a horizontal wine-tasting?
- When you enjoy a Reserve Pinot, do you secretly hope one of the other Pinots gets injured, so it can get a run on the park?
- When being breathalysed, have you ever asked the police officer for a pH reading?
By Alexander Britell
While Cuban cigars are renowned the world over for their quality and their history, the process of how Cuban cigars are made – and just what they mean to the Cuban people – have remained largely unexplored, particularly in film. But thanks to the efforts of James Suckling – one of the world’s leading experts on cigars (and wine), viewers of his new film, Cigars: The Heart & Soul of Cuba, get a unique glimpse into the culture and production of habanos. Suckling, the former European Editor at Cigar Aficionado and now the pioneer of a new media venture, JamesSuckling.com, that provides cutting-edge analysis of wine and cigars, guides the film, which was written and directed by noted Canadian director James Orr. To learn more, Caribbean Journal talked to Suckling about Cuban cigars, their importance to the Cuban people and what makes them one of the most sought-after products in the world.
What motivated you to make Cigars: The Heart and Soul of Cuba?
I always wanted to do a movie on Cuban cigars, because I’ve been going [to Cuba] since the early 1990s as the European Editor of Cigar Aficionado. So when I left the magazine, one of the main reasons was that I wanted to do this movie on Cuban cigars.
What was the process like making the film?
The process was actually a lot easier than one might expect. I know the subject very well, after writing about Cuban cigars for almost two decades, and then I was working with my friend, director James Orr [Sister Act; Three Men and a Baby], who is a very accomplished Canadian film director, and he smokes cigars, and he’s one of my best friends. So we didn’t really have a script. It was all done spontaneously, and it went really well. We had a local film crew, and worked with an English guy who has a travel business there, so he also helped in the production. It was a really fun project, with friends, and it came out really well.
What do cigars mean for Cuba?
I think it’s almost like a religion for Cubans. They have such pride in cigars, and the tradition, the process, it’s part of their culture, so it’s sort of like when you think of wine, with Frenchmen, or pasta with an Italian.
You’ve been traveling to the country for some time now – what does Cuba mean for you?
There’s something mysterious about Cuba. The people are educated, the histories are amazing – going back to Columbus, and everything is just so beautiful with the colonial architecture. It’s like going back in time.
Did you learn anything in making the film that you didn’t expect?
Because when we filmed it, we didn’t really have a script, in an interesting way, we didn’t know completely what we had. We went though the process of cigars, but it was really a journey to find out why Cuban cigars are the best in the world, why they are so exceptional. In the end, after five days of doing the film, it was really my sort of journey, into finding out why. Obviously the things are the soil, the climate, the processes, the history – all of this accounts for the greatness of Cuban cigars. But in the end, what we realized was that it was the people, the Cuban people, that make it with such passion and love.
How do cigars impact other facets of Cuban life?
I don’t think it impacts it much at all – other than that it’s an accepted pleasure and pastime in Cuban life. It’s also used in their Afro-Caribbean religion, Santeria, but it’s just something that a Cuban enjoys – like a good glass of rum – it’s just sort of part of life.
How much has the quality of Cuban cigars changed over the years?
From about when I started going there in the early 90s, the quality was amazing. Production was pretty small. And then, by around 1998, they started over-producing, and the quality went down until about 2001. Then they started really focusing on quality, and fine-tuning some of the process. Now, I think the quality is back up to where it should be.
What do you see going forward for Cuban cigars vis-à-vis the United States?
Well, if the embargo were dropped, they might be able to sell their entire production. Right now, estimates are that they export about 80 million to 100 million cigars a year, and maybe as much as a third of that goes to the US anyway – whether it’s Americans traveling, buying them, or them being smuggled in. America is probably now the biggest consumer of Cuban cigars.
What do you ultimately want people to take away from this film?
I hope that the film can give people the feeling of how Cubans are, and how Cubans are very much like all of us, with the same aspirations and feelings, that this sort of forgotten island for many people actually has much more in common with us than we may think. I think the biggest thing is, when people see the movie, they can ‘t believe how much work goes into the production of Cuban cigars – from growing the tobacco – where the tobacco may have been handled over a hundred times through making the cigar, and can go through 200 processes. So it’s really interesting – I had no idea about how much went into making the cigar, and in a way I can’t believe how inexpensive they are. I think what I liked, too, about the movie is that by seeing the process, seeing the people behind it, you really get an idea that, in this age of internet and Twitter and Facebook, that there are still products like Cuban cigars that are really hand made, that are artisanal products, and I think this is really important.
Every day I participate on several online forums, learning the latest about coffee and cigars. The wealth of knowledge out there is incredible and the members of these forums are generous to a fault – usually. But take advantage of this generosity and you will be thrown to the wolves like lambs to the slaughter.
Today I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful post on a cigar forum site, www.friendsofhabanos.com, where not only have I participated online but met members in person several times at a herf, or gathering to smoke fine cigars. This post tells of the delicious pairing of salty foods and cigars. The author was kind enough to allow me to post it here. Enjoy!
So let’s go back to 1979 when a paint brush was not a button on a computer and you had to go through some real hoops to impress some big folks at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Canada to get in. And by big, I mean a lady named Joan Burt, who was a meanie of a lady who was the head of Environmental Design and a piece of human architecture herself. Threatening was not the word. Terrifying was more like it.
I am currently teaching at The College, first year. Unlike now, where neophytes take their courses based on their area of expertise, all first years took Foundation Studies: 2-d Design, 3-d Design, Colour Theory, Drawing, Symbol, a couple of others I cannot remember. This was over thirty yeas ago!
Two Dimensional design consisted of creating a series of acrylic canvases for an older fellow named James Cridland who had little patience for students who did not understand his humour but was a very nice man. He had a huge farm of dairy cows north of the city and came in several days of the week to train us.
Move ahead thirty years… I have become a successful graphic designer, illustrator, account director, wife and mom, and somewhat of a vintage art collector. We enter the BUNGALOW shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market and find this lovely painting on the wall, marked 1960′s graphic whatever.
NO NO NO I say, that’s from my class, Jim Cridland, OCA, 2-D design, 1979-ish. Matthew says, “You have to be kidding”. The owner pulls it down from the wall, and not only am I right, but I even know the artist, none other than Kim Yakota, who I worked with for years.
This is the painting. That is me in the class. These are the markings on the back, and that is the logo of the Art College way back when. The painting graces our dining room wall and we were thrilled to purchase it for $200.
In the land of potatoes, Mennonites, butter tarts and fresh corn, yesterday (September 18, 2011), hell broke loose behind the Feversham, Ontario, Canada, Osprey Community Centre and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Trucks pulled tractors, tractors pulled trucks and babies played in mud up to their eyeballs and even ate hay. french fries were so greasy they could have fueled the vehicles and mercy, they tasted incredible.