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Issue 11 - The A-Z of Cigar tasting

Whisky Magazine Issue 11
September 2000


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The A-Z of Cigar tasting

Expert James Leavey provides the ultimate guide to smoking pleasure.

Tobacco was native to the Americas long before it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in Cuba in 1492, and transplanted around the world.

In their original arm-length form, Cuban cigars were rough and harsh to smoke. Until the Europeans, notably the Spaniards, successfully applied the processing techniques (double fermentation, constant watch over the second fermentation, ageing of the components, and the blending of different year's harvests) that were also used to make fine wine, beer and, not least, whisky.

The result of all this is the world's finest cigars, especially Havanas, which mature and improve long after their initial production, rather like the malt whiskies which some of us would argue are their perfect accompaniment.

Fine cigars are chosen not just for their taste, but also for their strength, which ranges from mild, mild to medium, medium to full-bodied, to very full-bodied. The flavour of the tobacco leaf itself is influenced enormously by the soil in which it is grown, the climate, and humidity. Even the same seed grown in different areas of a country will produce tobacco with different characteristics of taste.

Then there's the colour of a cigar, which ranges from light green to darkest brown, that can also affect its taste. For example, darker wrappers indicate a concentration of sugars in the leaf and such cigars often taste sweeter – not bitter as you'd expect. Conversely, a light coloured wrapper usually offers a drier taste.

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