Holy Smoke

Alexander Kraft, bequeathed to his grandfather's enviable cigar collection as a teenager, continues to produce fine cigars with EGM Cigars, this time paying homage to Sir Winston Churchill's cigar legacy.

Freddie Anderson

1895 in Ohio, Florida, and Havana, coincidentally located on the same vertical longitude line or very close to it, was a year that would be pivotal to the cigar’s antiquity and enduring history. In Cleveland, Ohio, Julius Caesar, an émigré from Hungary, founded the J.C. Newman Cigar Company, currently based in Tampa, Florida, which is now America’s oldest family-owned premium cigar maker. The Ybor City neighbourhood of Tampa is named after Vicente Martinez Ybor, who was the linchpin in turning Ybor City into a mecca of cigar factories, which by 1895 had become known as the “Cigar Capitol of the World.” And at the foot of this line Havana, Cuba, would be the city hosting Winston Churchill for his 21st birthday.

Sir Winston Churchill (Press Portrait Service via Alamy)

Churchill’s birthday was November 30, and he was in Cuba to submit dispatches to the Daily Graphic as a young cavalry officer. That day, while reporting on the Cuban War of Independence, he found himself in Arroyo Blanco, a small village in the east of Sancti Spiritus province, and he came under gunfire. It is true that Churchill did believe cigars helped calm his often-unsteady nerves, but it is unlikely this brush with death had any bearing on his exacerbated passion for cigars during his Cuban foray. His cigar was his trademark, smoking between eight and ten per day, and after living off morsels existing of only local specialties, oranges, and cigars with his fellow officer Reginald Barnes, from that point he favoured Cuban cigars above others, notably from the brands of Romeo y Julieta and La Aroma de Cuba.

Churchill was omnipresent with the cigar dangling from his lips, and when his partially smoked cigar from his 1947 visit through Paris-Le Bourget Airport came up for sale, an unnamed collector from Palm Beach bought it for $12,000, symbolising the magnitude of the Churchill cigar legacy. And recognising his enduring infatuation further, the AK Churchill Hommage (56 ring gauge and 166mm length) by Alexander Kraft Monte Carlo x EGM Cigars is imminent to arrive. Together with the AK Reserve (54 ring gauge and 144mm length), the second largest custom cigar, they will provide a slightly more intense and nuanced cigar experience than the existing AK MC cigars. And in particular, the AK Churchill Hommage cigar, which is entirely hand-made with Cuban-seed tobacco from the Dominican Republic, is perfect for the tail end of a long day or a special occasion.

W. Averell Harriman, an American diplomat and intimate friend of both the Churchill and Kennedy families, emphatically told historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. four decades after World War II that Churchill despised Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch. But Churchill didn’t share the same sentiment for his second-oldest son, John F. Kennedy, and this viewpoint was reciprocated. The young Jack, especially when recuperating from regular illness, read many of Churchill’s accounts chronicling his adventures and first-hand perspective of bloody battles, and he was captivated. It illuminated and curated an encyclopaedic map of life from an esteemed statesman that he pined to learn from, in case such consequential political decisions would one day fall to him. They did, but also the love of the aroma of a cigar – so much so that when president of the United States of America his right-hand man Pierre Salinger successfully secured 1,200 puros hours before signing the trade embargo with Cuba in 1962, which must put JFK alongside Churchill as the greatest cigar-smoking statesman of all-time.

President John F. Kennedy with cigar and New York Times newspaper aboard the “Honey Fitz” yacht, Hyannisport, 1963. (Bill Waterson via Alamy)

Aside from political statesmen, specific monarchs, notably King Edward VII and his grandson Edward VIII, were important and prominent cigar smokers. Succeeding his mother, Queen Victoria, who vehemently frowned upon tobacco, soon after his coronation Edward VII announced, “Gentleman, you may smoke.” It certainly marked the end of the Victoria era’s distaste for tobacco. When Edward VIII came to the throne, albeit for a self-reduced time, he smoked nearly everything: cigarettes, pipes, and cigars, the latter of which he opted for in a length that wasn’t particularly in vogue in the 1920s. He would often be puffing on a Toro-sized cigar, which is typically 159mm compared to the shorter Robusto measuring between 121mm and 140mm, which most, unlike the Duke of Windsor himself, considered more elegant.

Winston Churchill with the Prince of Wales, future Edward VIII, 1919 (Classic Image via Alamy)

When the gaiety of the Roaring Twenties was in full flow there was a spike in the demand for corona-shaped cigars, which were generally constructed with a 42-ring gauge and measured 142mm in length. Today, the Montecristo No.3 Cigar, an extremely popular vitola, would be a close representative of this classic trend. At the turn of the ’30s, the Churchill vitola began to creep up in sales, and when the Allies were victorious in World War II in 1945, Churchill’s heroic contribution enticed fanatical numbers to indulge in the 178mm in length by 47 ring gauge cigars. EGM Cigars stocks the H. Upmann Sir Winston Gran Rerserva Cosecha 2011 Cigar, a rare and fitting tribute to Churchill’s cigar heritage, aged for a minimum of five years. By the 1970s and 1980s, the most sought-after cigar version became a torpedo, which stood out with its pointed head and bulging middle, and one can sample this style by turning to the Montecristo No. 2 Cigar, a favourite of many cigar aficionados. And not long after the millennium had passed, there was an interest in thicker ring gauges, some of which expanded up to 80. It prompted many brands to release cigars in the Robusto vitole. This particular size has been described as the consummate combination of taste and time.

Patrons of the Carnegie Club in New York will be only too familiar with the Dominican Republic’s steady dominance in cigar exports to the United States. In response to the Fidel Castro-led revolution in Cuba, JFK imposed a full trade embargo in February 1962, eliminating any imports of cigars from Cuba to the US. To put the disparity of revenues into perspective, last year Habanos SA, the Havana-based business that oversees all Cuban cigar sales, reported $545 million turnover, whereas the Dominican Republic even at the start of the decade reached $1 billion. Someone who has been observing this shift of supremacy with an enhanced interest is Eddie Sahakian, who for the past 30 years has worked at Davidoff London, the cigar retailer founded by his father, Edward, in 1980. The original eponymous Davidoff store was founded in Geneva in the early 20th Century by Zino Davidoff and has been owned by Swiss importer Oettinger since the 1970s, and their affiliation in stocking Cuban cigars seemed enduring – even during World War II.

But in 1987 Davidoff opened its first shop in the United States, which was confirmation of the demise of their relationship. One reason for this cut in ties was Davidoff’s concern over quality control, but with the trade embargo still rendering exports from Cuba to the US, a huge market for cigars, illegal, this probably exceeded the quality control reasons behind it, deferring instead to Dominican Republic-made cigars. Crafted in the beloved Robusto format and produced entirely by hand using long filler leaves all from the Dominican Republic, the Alexander Kraft Selection x EGM Cigars, which you can enjoy between 45 and 60 minutes, are a cordial smoke, and the eagerly awaited AK Churchill Hommage cigar will be tantamount to this enjoyment.

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