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Smoking In The Boys Room

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” Sigmund Freud once said. Many cigar smokers likely would dispute that notion. Perhaps author John Galsworthy best articulated the conviction of cognoscenti: “By the cigars they smoke,” he said, “ye shall know the texture of men’s souls.”CEO aficionados include former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca and Lazard Freres Managing …

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” Sigmund Freud once said. Many cigar smokers likely would dispute that notion. Perhaps author John Galsworthy best articulated the conviction of cognoscenti: “By the cigars they smoke,” he said, “ye shall know the texture of men’s souls.”

CEO aficionados include former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca and Lazard Freres Managing Partner Michel David-Weill. Billionaire businessman Ronald 0. Perelman has been known to light up in boardrooms as well as at $1,000 black-tie events, or “smokers.” Perelman ranks among the most enterprising cigar lovers: In 1993, he bought the nation’s largest cigar maker, Consolidated Cigar Corp., for $180 million. Bill Clinton also partakes. But in this case, given the tendency of cigar smokers to puff the product with their mouths only, it seems certain the president does not inhale.

Executive smokers share a sense of camaraderie. Leonard Riggio, CEO of $2 billion nationwide book chain Barnes & Noble, once threw a party at his house for about 200 people and treated his guests to several boxes of fine cigars after dinner.

“After a while, probably 90 of the 100 men had lit up,” Riggio recalls. “I’ll never forget that smoke-filled room; it was an eye-opener. That was -the first `smoke-in’ I ever attended.” To be sure, it wasn’t the last. “These events are usually full of interesting, important, dynamic, and very funny people,” he adds. “You can see the energy there.”

Riggio smoked his first cigar nearly a decade ago, but he doesn’t remember the brand or the occasion. When he travels overseas, he likes to smoke Montecristos, though overall his favorite has become the Macanudo, medium-size, No. 1. (For a detailed description of cigar criteria, see nearby sidebar.)

Philip H. Geier Jr., chairman and CEO of The Interpublic Group of Cos., a $1 billion international organization of advertising agencies, smokes an average of three to four cigars a day-mostly on the job to avoid scolding from his wife. “I have to put a little spray on my suit before I go home at night,” Geier jokes. “You put on a little after-shave lotion, and then you are usually home free.”

The CEO often receives fine cigars as gifts from overseas executives when they visit him at his New York headquarters. He keeps these and others in a well-stocked humidor in his office along with an ample supply of Montecristo No. 2 torpedoes. Geier also has a weakness for the Montecristo “A.” “It’s good for 1 1/2 hours, and it is easy to smoke, but hard to find,” he says. “Usually you can get the best selections in the duty-free shops in

Geneva or Zurich.” At the office, Geier typically smokes one cigar in the morning and two in the afternoon. Nonsmokers are safeguarded by custom-installed ventilation ducts in Geier’s offices and Interpublic’s boardrooms.

He first sampled cigars in the 1970s when he was living in London. Like Riggio, Geier underscores the social aspect of smoking. “In those days, it was nice to talk about politics and business and have a good cigar after dinner with a glass of port,” he says.

Geier peppers his recollections with good-natured accounts of attempts by his wife to sever his ties to tobacco, often while they are traveling together. “I once went through customs with some cigars,” Geier says. “My wife motioned to a customs agent who immediately opened my bag, went through it, and saw the cigars. He was an Irishman. My wife is Irish. The agent said, ‘I can’t believe she’d do this to you. Go ahead.’ He let me through,” chuckles Geier.

On another trip, Geier enlisted the aid of a fellow cigar smoker to avoid having his wife discover a cigar purchase: “I was talking with Whoopi Goldberg at the Concorde lounge in London. I was having a hard time figuring out how to get to the duty-free shop to get myself the box of cigars I wanted, because my wife was watching me carefully. So Whoopi sent her traveling companion to get the cigars for me. He brought them through the back door and then gave them to me on the plane after we took off. She was a cohort, so to speak.”

Much of the resurgence in the popularity of premium cigars has been attributed to Marvin R. Shanken, chairman of M. Shanken Communications and publisher of Cigar Aficionado. The slick magazine, which has become the connoisseurs’ bible, features a “Dear Marvin” letters section. Among those who have written to Shanken are President Clinton and the Secretary of Cuba on behalf of Fidel Castro. Besides producing the magazine, Shanken organizes smoking events. His largest, “The Big Smoke” and “The Big Smoke Seminars,” takes place in New York City and draws more than 1,500 attendees.

Shanken was a freshman in college when he first acquired a taste for fine cigars. “It was the thing to do,” he says, “smoking cigars and drinking Bacardi rum and Cokes.” Epiphany came later, on a visit to Cuba. “Smoking a Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona just after it was rolled, and being given the cigar by the roller who made it, was an exciting experience,” Shanken recalls. “It tasted horrible, because it didn’t have a chance to age. But just the idea of being that close to the birth of the cigar was. stimulating.”

The publisher is relentless in his quest to sharpen his taste buds and learn more about cigars, partly as a service to readers. Each issue, Cigar Aficionado ranks as many as 70 cigars in a blind taste test: A “classic” rates from 95 to 100 points, “outstanding” from 90 to 94, very good to excellent” 80 to 89, “average to good commercial quality” from 70 to 79, and “don’t waste your time” scores below 70.

Cuban cigars consistently rank as “outstanding”: the Partagas No. 1, Quintero Churchill, Romeo y Julieta Churchill, Hoyo de Monterrey Churchill, and San Luis Rey Churchill, to name just a few. Cigars from the Dominican Republic typically rank as “very good to excellent” and occasionally as “outstanding.” These include Pleiades Pluton, H. Upmann Pequenos 100, Macanudo Hyde Park Cafe, and Dunhill Romanas Vintage 1987.

Cigar Aficionado has given only a few cigars the “classic” score: Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona, Cohiba Robust°, Flor de Cano Short Churchill, Romeo y Julieta Fabuloso, and the Montecristo “A.” These cigars are not available in the U.S. (legally, that is). They range in price from about $9 to $28 for the Montecristo “A.”

Shanken admittedly has “a very big investment in cigars,” keeping them in warehouses in New York, London, and Havana-the cigar capitals of the world. In addition, there’s always a stash in the private, walk-in humidor in his office, adjacent to his boardroom. A good humidor is temperature-controlled, Shanken says. Since most cigars are made from tobacco grown in tropical areas, a humidor must maintain this environment.

The executive recently traveled to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro for his magazine. He wouldn’t reveal the source of a mother lode of Cuban cigars, stockpiled in his humidor: “The better cigars you buy legally in the international markets,” he says, deftly deflecting an inquiry. “You have to know where to buy them, and you have to know what to buy. It is a sophisticated business.”

Shanken’s humidor inspires delight among visiting cigar lovers. For his part, the executive revels in sharing with his peers what he describes as a “spiritual” passion. “Through the passport of the cigar, I have come into contact with some incredible people, many of whom I can now refer to as good friends. The bond that brings us together is the cigar. It’s a special element that creates fraternity. It’s euphoric.”

Like author Galsworthy, Shanken opts for an ethereal metaphor. The late Rudyard Kipling drew a more prosaic comparison: “A woman is just a woman,” he intoned. “But a cigar is a smoke.”

Had Mr. Kipling collided with the spouses of Messrs. Riggio and Geier, however, his cigar worship might have been blunted, if not broken.

“According to my wife, the two worst habits a man can have are cigar -smoking and philanidring,” Riggio says. Adds Geier: “I don’t smoke on weekends, because I’d get shot if I smoked around the house.”

Besides-supporting Freud and discrediting Kipling-there are indeed times when a cigar is just a cigar.

“A cigar,” Phil Geier concludes, “is not too good in bed!”


DOING A SLOW BURN

Cigars, like fine wines, frequently are described using lingo that bewilders all but the expert. Cigar aficionados often use terms such as aroma, curing, handmade, full-bodied, aged, and hand-selected leaves. Brand, color, shape, size, and price also may factor into one’s smoking preference or purchasing decision.

Brand names are printed on the cigar band, wrapped around the head of the cigar. Note: Cigar bands do not always designate the country in which the cigar was produced.

In terms of color, experts agree there are six classifications:

  • Light green, referred to as Candela, or Claro, claro   tastes mildly sweet. €.Light tan, identified as Claro-has a neutral flavor.
  • Brown to red-brown, known as Colorado     has a rich flavor and subtle aroma.
  • Light brown to brown, Natural.
  • Dark-brown, Maduro has a rich, strong flavor and mild aroma.
  • Dark or negro or black Oscuro.

Shape and size can be confusing, because some countries produce similarly named cigars in different shapes and sizes.

Rule of thumb: Length is measured in inches or centimeters; ring gauge, or diameter, is in 64ths of an inch or millimeters. The ring gauge indicates relative temperature of the cigar smoke. For example, cigars with larger rings (e.g., Corona extra 48) produce a cool and full-flavored smoke; those with small rings (e.g.,Panetela 28) produce a hot but typically mild smoke.

Most cigars come in two basic shapes: straight, or parejos, and irregular, or figurados. Most smokers are familiar with parejos cigars, including corona, panetela, and lonsdale. Figurados include pyramid, torpedo, perfecto, and culebras, which looks like three cigars braided together.

Whatever brand you choose, taste is enhanced by following some basic ground rules: Use a cutter to clip the end of a cigar; use a butane lighter or wooden match to light a cigar; don’t relight a cigar after it has gone out and cooled down–it affects the taste. U

-Margaret Alison Hart


Margaret Alison Hart is a freelance writer and a former senior editor of Chief Executive. She is also a senior editor at The Conference Board, a New York-based international clearinghouse of business information.

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