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Pièce De Résistance

The Legacy of heroes embroiders history with the gilt of immorality. Very few men have currency bearing their name, let alone a country. But then, Simon Bolivar aka El Libertador wasn’t just any man. Bolivia, which he liberated from the Spanish Royalists, is named after him. So is the Bolívar Fuerte, the currency of Venezuela where he was born. And most of all, the Bolivar cigar is a tribute to the aristocratic deliverer of Latin America, a swashbuckling nobleman from Caracas who freed the continent from King Ferdinand’s grip. Ironically, these full-bodied smokes appeared first not on the Liberator’s soil or in Cubas tobacco fields, but in imperial Britain in the early 20th century. At that time, the Bolivar, one of the biggest Cuban tobacco brands today, was also the world’s smallest cigar. Named Delgado, it was barely two inches long with a 20-ring gauge. Perhaps because of its British pedigree, the dollhouse in the royal nursery at Windsor Castle houses a miniature box of Delgados-a rather peculiar object for Plantagenet toddlers to play with.

The Bolivar’s Draw

Just like their namesake, Bolivar cigars have strong character: rich, bold and imbued with flavors of leather, chocolate and cedar wood. The toreadors of Cuban cigar factories call the unique Belicoso Fino a campana, which is a size shorter than a piramide but sports a 52-ring gauge and a tapered head. Though the authoritative magazine Cigar Aficionado deplores the fact that the consistency of the cigar has waned, the company recently launched the exclusive 6 1/2 inches by 42 ring gauge Bolivar New Gold Medal during the Habanos Festival, last month. Perhaps even stronger than the campana is the petit corona Bolivar Tubos No.2, a 42 ring gauge, 5. 1 inch long hand -rolled cigar that packs a creamy wallop: crimson being the colour of revolution, the Tubos come in a box of 25 red aluminum cylinders.

Again, like a guerilla adept at shoot and scoot tactics, this small cigar’s size makes it ideal for a smoke and scoot expedition. The draw of the round-shaped corona is easy and smooth, exuding spicily scented smoke. Like the Belicoso, this full-strength cigar has notes of wood and earth, although pernickety smokers wish the leaf had a tighter roll. But Cuban rollers do know that a very tight draw means a bitter smoke since the flavours would be over concentrated. It is always a good idea to age Bolivars for a couple of years to get the best flavour and finish. The taste of cedar, earth and chocolate is a signature of the brand, well experienced in the Royal Corona, a 4 7/8 inches long and 50 ring gauge robusto with a long finish. A cigar’s finish, much like that of wine, alludes to the composite feel and flavour that lingers on the palate after the last puff. Just the first inhalation and exhalation can indicate a cigar’s finish and duration. Blended Cuban cigars made with Ligero tobacco offer a spicy finish while a Maduro wrapper is as sweet as “Tu” by Shakira. No frequent insufflations please if you don’t want a bitter finish: let the leaf burn slow and steady. The right way of cutting and lighting a cigar will also determine its taste. Out deep and light it slow. Don’t hold the flame too close to the cigar’s foot or relight it too frequently to avoid excessive butane gas from polluting the tobacco.

War and Piece

Latin America was one of the most interesting places to be in during the two world wars: a continent of spies, stogies and salsa where a decorated general shone in the bright sunlight of adoration while the footfalls of conspirators echoed in the backstreets of history. If Simon Bolivar was a flamboyant warrior, Hermann Upmann, a German financier in Havana was the Kaiser’s spy in Cuba. Hermann ran a bank as his cover for espionage after Cuba declared war on Germany in 1917. Manufacturing cigars was another one of Herman’s side gigs. After purchasing a local cigar factory, he opened business under the H Upmann brand. When the bank broke after the war ended, he was arrested and jailed. The factory was eventually bought in 1935 by Menéndez, Garcia y Ca Co., which makes the popular Montecristo cigars. But flip flamboyance is not the mot juste for a H Upmann product.

The Magnum 46 is a serious smoke a 5.6 by 46 ring gauge corona gorda (Spanish for fat corona); a piquant well-constructed toro that comes in a yellow brown wrapper. Its lemony and woody flavour is characteristic of the big boy.

In contrast, the richer and bolder H Upmann 50 can be identified by its classic deep black-brown and veined wrapper.

It emanates complex notes of honey and caramel, subtly layered with black tea and almonds, which pleasantly move to the fragrant end.

The cigars of South America have retained their exclusivity through revolutions, wars, invasions and the derring-do of soldiers and spooks. The story of Cuba is the story of haute tobacco, Havana, whose patron saint is San Cristobal, is a Spanish corruption of La Habana, its original Taino Indian site. Hence the San Cristobal de La Habana El Principe cigars honour both this sacred past and the endless wars that cleaved the continent. Each hand-rolled, light to medium San Cristobal de La Habana El Principe vitola is named after one of the four fortresses that defended Spanish Havana between the 16th and the 18th centuries: El Morro, La Fuerza, La Punta and El Principe. If the history of a nation can be captured in the best of its specialities, it would be wine for France, crystal for Switzerland, cheese for Denmark and tobacco for Cuba. Baptised in the blood of revolution and resistance, its cigars represent an age of both war and luxury.

By Shankar Gangadhar as written and published by India Today Spice

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