It's a family affair

It's a family affair

Cigars, whisky, live music and laughs ease the lockdown blues for Robert Graham customers.

People | 19 Feb 2021 | Issue 173

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George Grant, scion of the mighty Glenfarclas dynasty, is no stranger to Zoom events.

Tonight, as he tells a live audience nearing 100 ticketed guests, is his 80th online event over the past few months – and this one he won’t forget in a hurry.

For tonight, George is introduced to the owners of Joya de Nicaragua, that country’s oldest factory, who join him live from Manugua. And while he bemoans the two feet of snow outside the distillery door, they bathe in tropical afternoon sunshine.

This online gathering is the creation of Steve Johnstone, the owner of Robert Graham 1874, a whisky and cigar specialist with stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cambridge. Each month, lovers of the good life buy a ticket and settle in for an evening of great drinks and smokes – and live guitar music from Scottish cigar duo, Beach Crows. It’s proved to be a winning formula, and while many online events struggle to gain traction, Robert Graham’s have been going from strength to strength.

“It started during the first lockdown and we’ve continued with at least one every month since,” says Steve. “At first, I just wanted to create something out of the ordinary to keep people’s spirits up and help drive a few sales when things were looking bleak under lockdown. I’ve been amazed by how well the events have been received, and humbled by the community we have built around them.”

As part of their pack for this evening’s extravaganza, guests are treated to five Glenfarclas drams of distinction and a Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 cigar, posted to their homes in plenty of time. Joya and Glenfarclas share similarities, and both remain family owned.

"At nearly 100 attendees tonight, it’s clear we’re doing something right..."

“We are very proud of our heritage and the people who have helped created it,” explains Dr Cuenca as he holds the audience spellbound with a historical account of the Antãno and how it came to be.

“I bought the company back in 1994, right in the middle of a cigar boom. But I knew that it couldn’t last. You have to prepare for both for the good times and the bad, and we’re all in another difficult position now. Tonight is a wonderful example of how we can make the best of it.”

George Grant goes on to admit that while the Grant family had received offers to buy the beloved Scotch whisky maker – which has been creating magic in its six gas-fired stills in Banffshire since 1836 – they had never been seriously tempted to sell up.

“I’d have to pay my own expense account then!” he quips. “But seriously, the answer to the question is no, because this is a family business and I’m the sixth generation to be involved in the making of whisky, which we believe is the very best Scotland has to offer.”

The Glenfarclas taster pack sent to each guest includes 10-, 15-, 17- and 25-year-old drams, as well as a snifter of the legendary cask-strength 105 (a favourite of George’s grandfather, he reveals). George introduces each dram in between discussions as the near two-hour evening unfolds.

Overall, the event has a feeling of a good evening down the pub.

Joya de Nicaragua is the first Nicaraguan cigar factory, with many of its staff working in the same striking building in Estelì, northern Nicaragua, for decades or more. Despite economic upheaval, US embargoes, civil wars, and natural disasters since the factory opened its doors in 1968, Joya has maintained the integrity for which it is known, and the and respect of cigar lovers worldwide. Joya de Nicaragua remains a name synonymous with quality and innovation.

One such recent innovation is the Shut The Box Special Edition, recently released and showcased tonight. On the face of it, this is just another regular cigar box, bedecked with the Joya logo and containing dark and alluring beauties within in the form of the Antaño cigar. But once those cigars are removed – or, more likely, smoked – you’re not left with just another box to be filled with knick-knacks and forgotten about. Each box is cleverly engineered to double up as a prop for the pub game known as Shut The Box – an addictive game of numerical strategy which is a favourite of Dr Cuenca’s. As if to prove a point, in the final minutes of tonight’s event, he proceeds to play (and beat) his son repeatedly in a live demonstration.

Before and after each Robert Graham event, Scottish guitar duo Beach Crows performs live in the ‘lounge’ to warm up and wind down guests. Guests are invited to donate ‘tips’ to the musicians for their efforts. Overall, the event has a feeling of a good evening down the pub.

“We have folks who have attended every single event and we always have newcomers each time,” says Steve Johnstone.

“At nearly 100 attendees tonight, it’s clear we’re doing something right and it feels like a good use of new technology to bring together businesses and their customers from all over the planet, live, in the spirit of friendship and solidarity.”

As the event draws to a close, Dr Cuenca remarks, “Since I first came to London in the 1960s, the UK and its people have always been very special to me. It’s wonderful that both Joya and Glenfarclas can come together tonight to celebrate the simple art of creating pleasure.”

George Grant concurs, as the last dregs of whisky are drained. “I’m very much looking forward to trying my cigar later and to being able to meet Dr Cuenca and Juan in person in the sunshine one day.”

It’s a hope echoed by all – but in the meantime, as the live music starts up once again, this isn’t a bad alternative.

Click here to find out how you can attend the next Robert Graham tasting event. You can purchase the tasting pack here.

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