Have you ever faced the problem where you are trying to buy a special gift for the man that has everything? He has designed his own house, customised his car, has every custom-made Italian suit and shoe in the market – so are you lost for ideas? I have just the gift for that special occasion.
Gurkha Cigars — a company based in Miami that makes the number one rated cigar in the world, and is known as the Rolls-Royce of cigars in the industry has introduced an ultra-lux service where they make cigars 100 per cent customised to the tastes of a cigar smoker. Yes, you can now make your own personalised brand of cigar. Imagine the bragging rights that this gives a man when he gifts his own cigar brand to his cigar-smoking buddies.
If you are not familiar with cigars, you are, no doubt, wondering how much can one actually customise a cigar. All tobacco comes from Cuba and is basically the same, isn’t it? Absolutely not. Cigars can range from $1 up to $3000 per unit, and come in many sizes, shapes, flavours and strengths. There are four major factors that determine the flavour and strength of a cigar. The country and region of origin of the tobacco, the part of the tobacco plant that the leaves come from, the age of the tobacco, and whether the cigar is in its natural form or is infused.
Many countries in the world grow tobacco, but the vast majority of tobacco for cigars is grown in Central America and the Caribbean. Cuba is, most commonly, known for making tobacco for cigars, and the typical flavour profile of this tobacco is earthy. There are many countries which grow tobacco that have very different flavour profiles, however, tobacco from the Dominican Republic is commonly sweet; Nicaraguan tobacco is spicy; and tobacco from Honduras is normally peppery. The most expensive tobacco in the world is actually grown in the southern part of North America, in Connecticut. Contrary to common perception, tobacco from Cuba is actually among some of the cheapest that you can buy.
Tobacco is grown on plants that can reach eight to ten feet in height, and is grown in hot countries. The higher up the plant leaf is, the more sunshine it gets. The leaves below get shade from the higher leaves. The more sunshine the leaf gets, the more it gets burned by the sun. The leaf becomes darker, thicker, has more flavour, more nicotine and is stronger to smoke. This is why cigars with dark-coloured leaves are often very strong, and can make you break into a cold sweat when you smoke them, even though you are not inhaling the smoke.
The ageing of tobacco is similar to ageing whisky or wine. Young tobacco will taste bitter and harsh. Aged tobacco becomes smooth, creamy and has complex flavours. The highest rated cigar in the world — and the only cigar to receive a rating of 99/100 in blind tasting — is Gurkha’s 15-year aged Cellar Reserve. This is made from Dominican tobacco that is aged for 15 years in the Dominican Republic before it is rolled into a cigar. If you have tasted a young wine, it will not have complexity of flavours and can often be bitter, and the aftertaste is a little harsh. It is the same with tobacco. When you smoke a cigar, if it has a bitter aftertaste on the top of your tongue, you know it has been rolled using young tobacco.
Infusing cigars is something that was discovered by accident. When the British army was at war, the only place that they had to store their cigars to keep them dry was inside an empty rum barrel. When they took the cigars out to smoke them at the end of a successful battle, to their immense joy, the cigars had acquired the flavour of the rum and enhanced the natural flavours of the tobacco. You can infuse cigars with any alcohol that you like, and Gurkha uses the finest alcohols to infuse cigars, from rare 100-year aged French cognacs like Louis XIII to aged and rare Panamanian rums.
My favourite cigars are those that have tobacco blended from different regions of the world. A cigar typically has five leaves-three leaves inside the cigar that are called filler, one leaf that binds the filler together called the binder, and one beautiful outer leaf that is called the wrapper. If all five leaves come from the same region, then the cigar will have one primary taste. If it is Cuban tobacco, it will be earthy, if it is from the Dominican Republic, it will be sweet. If you select leaves from different regions, it could then be sweet, spicy and peppery, for example. These are my personal favourites. You never use only one spice to cook your food, and you don’t have to have only one flavour in your cigar.
To make your own cigar, the founder and owner of Gurkha Cigars, Kaizad Hansotia, who is a master cigar blender, personally guides you on both the recipe and process, to make sure that your own cigar is among the finest in the world. According to Hansotia, “It is important for Gurkha to understand what each person wants in a cigar; everybody’s taste is different. We have to understand whether you want a strong, full-bodied cigar, or a more mild or medium-bodied smoke. We get a good idea of people’s flavour preferences from the food that they eat. Do they like spicy Indian food, bland English food, or something in between? We get them to smoke Gurkha cigars from different regions, so that we can experiment with different strengths and flavours of cigars and understand their taste preferences. We also have to determine whether they would like to invest in a heavily-aged tobacco or be more budget conscious. Would they like to infuse the cigar with their favourite alcohol? There are some very important points to keep in mind when blending your own cigar. 60-70 per cent of everything that you taste while smoking a cigar comes from the outer wrapper, so your decision of which wrapper to choose is critical.”
The process of blending your own cigar can take anything from as little as one week — which would include a couple of days in Miami spending time with Hansotia, learning how to blend a cigar, and then a few days in the factory working with the master blenders and rollers — to multiple trips over months. It depends entirely on how particular and how passionate you are. One thing is guaranteed. The experience of blending your own cigar, and designing your cigar packaging, including the band and box, is unparalleled. When you finally get to gift your personal brand of cigar to your cigar buddies, the sense of pride and joy that it brings is something that few get to experience. Says Hansotia, “To ensure that everyone’s cigar is unique and truly one-of-a-kind, once you have selected your favourite blend for your cigar, nobody else will be allowed to use the same blend, so your cigar will be truly a unique one-off blend.” If you have a special man in your life who has everything, and he likes a cigar, you now know the perfect gift to give him for that big birthday, wedding present or wedding anniversary.