Whether it is a single door humidor topped to the brim or it is a walk-in humidor with shelving all round with cigar boxes packed in tightly, walking into a tobacconist or any space that sells cigars can be daunting, especially when you are still at the beginning of your cigar journey. The different brands, shapes, sizes, colours, etc are numerous. Plus, each cigar company generally has a multitude of different cigars in their stable.
In the early days of my cigar exploration, I walked into a tobacconist in Santa Monica in Los Angeles and spent thirty minutes standing there, paralysed by the options. The sales person was, at least, knowledgeable about cigars and asked me questions like, “what strength of cigar do you enjoy?”, “what’s your preferred ring gauge?” and the like, but I was still figuring out.
I ended up leaving with a couple of Padrón sticks simply because I had read a great article on the patriarch and founder of Padrón Cigars, José Orlando Padrón. I am a sucker for a good story. Quick side note: I wasn’t disappointed in the cigars and was thrilled to eventually find a supplier of Padrón in Johannesburg, so I didn’t have to wait till I travelled again.
In those days, I was buying my cigars in the duty-free shops in the various airports I went through, as I was travelling quite a bit for work. I bought a small pack of the Davidoff Winston Churchill Robusto at the duty-free tobacconist in Zurich’s airport, liked it, and couldn’t get it for another two years. I also spent quite a bit of time “browsing” in the tobacconists Wesley’s Tobacconists in Rosebank and JJ Cale in Mandela Square, wanting to try different cigars but being held back by budget.
Slight detour: Condolences to the family and friends of Colin Wesley, who recently died. The first time I experienced a proper cigar tasting, it was with him.
Keep trying new cigars
Randomly selecting different cigars to find what you like requires a budget that not many of us have and yet the best way to discover your palate, what you like and don’t like, the flavours and brands that appeal to you, is by constantly trying new cigars.
I was fortunate to find someone who worked at a tobacconist that I frequented who understood both cigars but also his customers. We reached the point where he knew exactly which cigars I would enjoy and even today, 6-7 years later, two of my favourite cigars — Oliva Serie V Double Robusto and Rocky Patel Decade Robusto — were his recommendations.
This is where cigar variety samplers come in. A cigar sampler is a curated or selected pack of different cigars, usually from one manufacturer. (I did write about the Cigars 4 Hope sampler some months back, which had a selection from different manufacturers.) The two main advantages of a sampler pack are, firstly, you get a selection of cigars to experience and, secondly, they are generally more affordable than purchasing the cigars in singles. In SA, for the ones available, pricing usually ranges between R1,500 to R2,500 for anything from three cigars to eight.
The sampler allows you to, in essence, both fine-tune your palate and discover what appeals to you in terms of blends, strength, shape, size and countries of origin of the tobacco. The first sampler I was mildly obsessed with was the Gurkha Godzilla, which comes with eight 6 x 60 cigars, namely: Gurkha Assassin XO Maduro; Gurkha Beast XO Limited Natural; Gurkha Beauty XO Limited Natural; Gurkha Evil XO Maduro; Gurkha Ninja XO Maduro; Gurkha Vintage Shaggy XO Natural; Gurkha Seduction XO and Gurkha Vintage Shaggy XO Maduro.
I discovered my preferred Alec Bradley cigars with the Taste of the World, which consists of Post Embargo, Sanctum, Prensado, Black Market, Nica Puro Rosado and Tempus Nicaragua, all in Toro size. I lean towards Prensado and Black Market.
There are so many samplers to choose from out in the world, some easier to access than others in this part of the world, from AJ Fernandez’s 6 cigar The Chosen Few, Oliva’s NUB Sampler 8 and Rocky Patel’s Petit Belicoso Special Edition (six cigars) to Arturo Fuente “Variety” Sampler (with two cigars each of five blends), Plasencia’s 5-Cigar Box Set and My Father’s Toro Selection (five cigars). Some manufacturers, such as Plasencia, have samplers with the same cigar but in different shapes and sizes, such as the Plasencia Reserva Original Sampler (five cigars).
Smoking cigars can be a beautiful journey of discovery and exploration and samplers are the perfect way to do this. What are your favourite samplers?