Usually regarded as the province of stuffy males of a certain age, cigar smoking is enjoying a growing popularity among women, who are keen to learn about the art of the aficionado, as Colette Doyle discovers
I was initiated into this arcane practice at Number 10 Manchester Street, a chic boutique hotel in London?s Marylebone that has a stylish terrace housing a well-stocked humidor. The hotel runs regular tutored cigar-tasting sessions for ladies, hosted by Hunters & Frankau, a leading independent importer of Cuban cigars.
London Sales Manager Daniel Pink says that he has noticed ?genuine enthusiasm and a real depth of detail? in terms of the questions women ask at his sessions. ?Ladies? questions tend to be very astute and less predictable [than mens?],? he comments.
He attributes the increased popularity in tasting classes as being part of a trend where consumers are becoming more interested in knowing about the provenance of what they?re putting into their bodies ??whether that be wine, food or cigars.? As for the growth in female-only tutorials, he reckons that this is because they ?provide an unimposing arena for women to enjoy and learn about a product that has historically been seen as very much male-dominated.?
Over at The May Fair Hotel, General Manager of the cigar room Cigdem Gultekin has also been involved in running masterclasses exclusively for women, which take place on the spacious terrace modelled after a New York-style loft.
?They like the fact it?s a women-only space, as it makes them feel more comfortable and it?s less intimidating than a mixed environment,? she explains. The clientele is varied in terms of age, and the participants come from all walks of life, notes Gultekin, including the arts, media, fashion and the restaurant trade.
Gultekin herself grew up with a cigar-smoking father and that?s what tempted her to try it. She likes a good Montecristo No2 or a Cohiba BK52, both of which she says go well with a glass of R?my Martin or vodka with lime.
?Cigar smoking is definitely more socially acceptable than cigarettes,? opines Gultekin. ?It?s about quality time, as it takes at least 20 minutes to smoke a cigar, so you can catch up with friends and relax while you?re doing it.?
At Aqua Nueva?s fifth floor cigar terrace, which offers stunning views over the West End, Bars Manager Manuel Soro comments that cigars are more appreciated in the UK than in his native Italy. ?People here have a greater knowledge of spirits,? he comments, adding that this is an important factor because cigars taste best when paired with a drink such as rum or cognac. In fact, the terrace will shortly be hosting a cigar masterclass in association with renowned producer Hennessy.
Although Soro favours cognac personally, he points out that Champagne is often a favourite of lady smokers: ?Krug, for instance, goes especially well with a Partagas No4.?
As I relax on the terrace after a long day in the office, with a freshly lit Cohiba in hand, I reflect that while it may be cold outside, my dalliance with cigar smoking does, in a very non-PC kind of way, feel rather cool.
Top tips for cigar novices
Select the right size cigar for the occasion so you don?t rush the smoking experience.
Ensure you have a cutter ? guillotines are preferred for a clean sharp cut that leaves an eighth of an inch of the cap.
Use good cigar matches or a butane lighter, but never a petrol lighter or candle as they will impart their odour and taint the cigar.
Select a drink that complements the cigar; the trick is to not let the alcohol overpower the delicate flavours of the tobacco. Courtesy of Mitchell Orchant, Managing Director, C Gars Ltd.