Up in Smoke: The Art of Preparing a Fine Cigar

I’ve resisted the temptation to provide commentary on all manner of pursuits pertaining to what is now referred to as ‘lifestyle’ – not least because I find the term to be tacky, at best, and sullied by luxury brands, at worst. But, because I believe my patrons to be discerning enough to make informed decisions for themselves with regards where they eat, where they drink, where they shoot, and where they spend their vacation time, I’m in no hurry to fill these pages with things unrelated to the fine art of tailoring.

However, having given it some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that given the location of Brown in Town’s studio, in Hotel du Vin’s humidor, it would be churlish not to indulge in a little cigar commentary from time to time. Let’s face it, it is, like bespoke tailoring, one of life’s great pleasures, nay, luxuries, and one which is seldom afforded the column inches that bespoke tailoring is these days. And more’s the pity.

And there are few pleasures, that I can think of at this moment anyway, that are as gratifying as smoking a cigar after a good meal – not that we are often afforded this luxury in modern times, and, ergo, all the more important to maximise one’s enjoyment when it happens.

The meal in question was lunch at Bristol’s Bell’s Diner & Bar Room, where I was joined by restaurateur Jack Bevan, of The Ethicurean – a man that knows his seasonal from his seasoning – something that our scallops on oxtail was to perfection.

Together with the salt cod croquettes, matched with champagne bellinis, it was a perfect precursor to our cigars course.

The cigars in question were Davidoff robusto’s which produce a generous plume of smoke, with chocolate and coffee notes and a mildly sweet finish. However, tasting notes, are, at the best of times as subjective as they can sound pretentious, so we’ll not concern ourselves with the enjoyment which one derives from smoking these Dominican delights. Instead, I thought it might be worthwhile taking the time to consider just how one prepares a cigar for smoking in order to glean maximum enjoyment. So, here we go;

Storage
Cigars, and, moreover, the tobacco leaves from which they are rolled, like to be kept in the manner to which they are accustomed – that is to say, stored in a humid climate. This is particularly pertinent if you have received, or receive, a cigar once in a blue moon and wish to save it for a special occasion.

A humidor is a box designed for storing cigars, which is typically cedar lined, and air tight. By means of a humidifier (a method by which humidity is released gradually into the atmosphere), the humidor attains a constant relative humidity of around 74 degrees – theories abound as to the perfect humidity, but you get the idea.

A cigar is made-up of 3 parts; wrapper leaf – the highest quality leaf  of the cigar, like wood veneer, and which fetches the highest price from the plantation. The binder leaf – which is what holds the cigars contents together. And the filler, which is typically ‘long-filler’ in all handmade cigars, which are whole tobacco leaves bound together, air dried, and rolled to form a tube shape – sadly not on the thighs of Cuban virgins. Have you been?

Cutting
The majority of hand-rolled cigars have one capped end; this is the end which is cut using a cutting implement such as a guillotine, cigar scissors (the personal favourite of Bristol’s local tailor) or a punch (a bullet shaped/sized tool with a circular blade at one end which is pushed into the capped-end of the cigar) through which the prerequisite ‘draw’ is attained.

The cap must not be removed completely, for, if it is, the wrapper leaf will unravel like a flag on a pole! We’ve all done it, but taking time to observe, and appreciate, the skill and workmanship that goes into capping the end of a hand-rolled cigar, you will quickly become accustomed with how much of the end to snip.

Remove almost all of the capped end of the cigar, leaving app. 1-2mm remaining in order to hold the wrapper leaf in place.

Now, unless one is smoking one’s own ‘stock’, which we will assume is perfectly kept at the right humidity etc. then I generally take the precaution of moistening the capped end in my mouth, as if smoking it, prior to cutting – this prevents the wrapper leaf from splitting as it is cut.

Lighting
A cigar sommelier friend of mine once showed me how a cigar is ignited without even putting the cigar in one’s mouth – a neat trick used by a sommelier when lighting a customer’s cigar; hold the end of the cigar in a flame, or, if using a high powered jet-type lighter, point the flame at the end of the cigar and, using a circular motion, begin to first char the end until, gradually, it glows orange.

Draw
In order to ensure a smooth smoke, and, moreover, a smooth smoke until the very last without causing the cigar to ‘burn-hot’ – a peppery taste at the tip of the tongue – it is imperative to achieve an even draw. The analogy I use is to consider one’s self attempting to coax a milkshake up a straw which is little more than ice cream – difficult. Simply clamp the end of the cigar between your teeth and, firmly yet gently clamp your lips around the barrel and pull/suck slowly, as if to melt the ice cream by transferring heat from your lips to the end of the shaft – easy!

The Three Pull Rule
I generally recommend pulling/sucking on the cigar, as described above, three times in order to coax a generous plume of smoke up the barrel and into one’s mouth – in order the smoke might swirl around the pallette in order we may taste the cigar, before exhaling.

Now, sit back, let time stand still, and enjoy..

Attire
Now, unless you are a patron of Hotel du Vin, Cambridge or Cheltenham who have smoking cabins (lucky devils) in order that we might smoke in luxury, protected from the elements, then I suggest that 3pc suits made of flannel cloth might be the most appropriate attire for this time of year – a wool or cashmere overcoat or covert coat might also be prudent depending on the size of your cigar, and, ergo, smoking time required. Personally, and providing Douglas (my mannequin) allows me to borrow it, my grandfathers smoking jacket which he Douglas wears, is really the ticket – if he ever allows me to borrow it!

I welcome your cigar anecdotes and hope to join more of your over the coming year for a cigar here at Hotel du Vin.

Provenance: The Bespoke Tailoring History of Bristol

Opening shop in a cigar humidor was coo enough for Bristol’s local tailor, but you can imagine this renaissance man’s glee when he learned not long before Brown in Town opened it’s doors that our new tailoring business is but a stones throw from the site of Bristol’s first tailors, at Tailors Court off Broad St.

The Guild of Merchant Tailors was one of the ancient guilds of Bristol, set up by charter of Richard II in 1399. It’s patron saint was St. John and the guild’s motto was “Concordia Parvae res Floruit”, or “Concord makes small things flourish” – and whilst one’s latin is not what it used to be, I’m happy to be girded by such an edict.

Rules of the Guild were very strict:

  • A master was allowed 3 apprentices at one time and no more

  • None to be admitted to the Guild unless they had served 7 years as apprentice and had a testimonial.

  • No-one not a freeman of the company was to make garments, make or sell stockings

  • None to backbite or undervalue another’s workmanship.

  • No-one to open shop or work on the Sabbath or festivals.

  • In 1489 it was ordained that no merchant tailor was to sell hose (men or women’s) on a stall in a market except at fair time but only in shops or houses.

  • Some were allowed only to be hosiers – one person, David ap Howell was allowed to make no new garments but only to mend old.

In fact, whilst we may now be able to walk from Sugar House to Tailors Court, as opposed row a boat across the drink, little else has changed in the surrounding area; St. John’s and it’s wonderful archway still stand, flanked left and right by graffiti from the annual UpFest celebrations of street art. The passage which runs past Albion Chambers still connects Broad St. with Small St. or rather, new speciality coffee shop Full Court Press on Broad St. is connected to it’s peers at Small St. Espresso by the passageway – both of which thrive each day with men of the bar wearing their suits and gowns – quite a sight to see as some of these gentleman are the best dressed in the city, sporting handmade British shoes like Church, Cheaney, Loake and Barker, and wearing double breasted suits and 3pc suits, and almost all wear a tie, if not a pocket square. It brings a smile to my face each day, and not least as a large portion of my business is concerned with making suits for such gentlemen, but because they still take pride in what they wear and know how to dress appropriately.

It is in these surroundings that I ply my trade and go about my tailoring business, and what more befitting a part of this wonderful city of Brigstowe, as Bristol was once known, could a tailor wish to inhabit. And whilst I do my level best to adhere to all of the tailors guild rules, at the very least I endeavour each week to smoke at least one cigar in the proximity of the old cigar humidor at Hotel du Vin, albeit outside and within view of Tailors Court.

Relax!

“Relax!” was the parting gesture of my publicist – yes, it came as a surprise to me too, but if it was the done thing for his grandfather’s charge, Sir Hardy Amies of Savile Row,, then who is Bristol’s local tailor to argue!

However, whereas, it may come easy to some, it’s certainly not the BLT’s modus operandi. In fact, it couldn’t be farther from reality. You see, I’ve alway operated at 100 miles an hour; people to see, places to go, suits to make, blogs to write etc. etc.

But when I launched Brown in Town, it was with a view to taking things a little more slowly, you know, yoga in the morning before a leisurely stroll to The Humidor, taking appointments at at time it best suits my customers, putting family first, and striking a work/life balance.

Now, whilst yoga is a constant reminder that one must breathe more regularly, for me, there is no greater relaxation than taking time to enjoy a fine cigar, an hour and half usually does it – how befitting, then, that my new studio is the cigar humidor at Hotel du Vin, albeit devoid of cigars.

The trouble with these methods of relaxation, these pleasures, if you will, is that it is often only possible to enjoy them every now and then – that is certainly the case in my hectic schedule anyway.

But, it was on the day of Brown in Town’s photoshoot, as I was donning my new bespoke suit, and shirt, tying my Anthony Haines tie and lacing my semi-brogue shoes from my chosen retailer of choice Herring, that I was reminded that getting dressed, is, perhaps, one of the greatest and yet simplest pleasures of all.

Sadly, because of the light required to shoot (photos, not pheasant) outdoors, we had to start early to afford us the best of December light. This meant that the location shots would be done first and the close-up shots of the details of our fine suits and accoutrements, would be taken at the end of the day, away from the photographers lens – long after I had considered each detail in turn.

But I will indulge you in the things which I believe one should take time over and enjoy, everyday;

Socks
I’ll spare you the initial part of the dressing process and move swiftly on to socks. I’ve long-since favoured the Dolce & Gabbana school of thought that one’s socks should match either one’s trousers or one’s shoes – there are of course exceptions to this rule but I’d suggest that the tone of your socks at least match either your trousers or shoes.

Shirt
If you prefer that your shirts tails remain tucked in at all times, then you will almost certainly have to invest in tailor made shirts as they will more than likely be cut the same length as your jacket – unless you insist on ‘bum freezers’, in which case I’d suggest you ask the tailor to cut them to the top of your thigh. And, aside ironing one’s shirt oneself, surely the greatest pleasure, if not least, the most rewarding, is fastening one’s cufflinks.

Trousers
I prefer a zip-fly for suit trousers, but often have buttons on my slacks and chinos. However, it fastening the pointed waistband that I glean most pleasure from, both tactile and visual and above all, old school. Trousers also provide the perfect cut off for one’s tie, e.g. a tie should not be below the waistband of one’s trousers, not unless it is a zoot suit that you are wearing.

Tie
Providing it has the prerequisite ‘pinch’ visible beneath the knot, sport whichever knot you prefer, or are able to tie without being frustrated, or, moreover, disappointed.

I will say this, however, if you like a larger knot as sported by Prince Michael of Kent, or, previously by the Duke of Windsor, it is not the knot which takes the Duke’s name that affords them this voluminous creation but a thicker cloth. Our Anthony Haines ties, made of worsted or tweed, provide just such a knot.

Waistcoat
Simply, if you fasten your waistcoat from the top down, you will be reminded to leave the last one unfastened. Perfection.

Jacket
Providing your jacket has been cut for you – and you’ll know that it has immediately you’ve put it on. Fasten only the top button of a two-button jacket, the middle of a three, and no prizes for a single button jacket! Shoot around ½” of cuff when your arms are rested by your sides, and, Bob’s your uncle.

Pocket Square
Personally, I prefer a little flounce, but whichever style you prefer, sporting a pocket square provides an enormous amount of pleasure and brings a flourish of colour to one’s ensemble.

Handkerchief
You may well ask how anyone can derive any pleasure from the common or garden handkerchief; well, I do. And even more now that I am sourcing my own handkerchiefs – not that I take any less pleasure when my good lady, Saffron Darby presents me with these beautiful patterned-cotton squares each year at Christmas. You see, Saffron in her capacity as snr. designer at Toast sourced such beautiful accoutrements from around the world, and ergo inspired me to source these gems from India, and which are one of my favourite accessories.

And there you have it; the joy of dressing-up, or just getting dressed. A simple pleasure that all can enjoy..

I leave you with a quote from Sir Hardy Amies, as it best sums up my feelings on the matter, “A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care, and then forgotten all about them”. In other words, relax!

Wacky Wednesday: Sartorial Inspiration for the Day

Being, as it is, a Wednesday, it raised a wry smile on Bristol’s local tailor’s moustached lip when I read the title of this morning’s Dr. Seuss book to my excitable daughter: ‘Wacky Wednesday’?!

Being a creature of habit – I hear you sniggering at the back! – I was slightly perturbed to learn that Wacky Wednesday is not illustrated by Dr. Suess’s more well known illustrator, Jason Peltz, but instead, by George Booth – though Grace Blake was more concerned with crocodiles in prams, and skateboards under the school teachers feet – actually they were rollerskates, but skateboards take precedent in the Darby Minns household!

But what Booth lacks in the blissfully off-the-wall illustrations of Peltz, he more than makes up for in his capturing of the style of a bygone era, and, one of my favourites to boot; the 1960’s!

Albeit published in 1974, the style of dress is still very much 1960’s with gents wearing well tailored suits and trilby hats and carrying umbrellas with cane handles – think Mad Men. The women, or possibly nanny’s, all pushing vintage looking prams and also wearing hats – think Breakfast at Tiffany’s – such a great look I’ve always thought. The policemen, referred to as ‘patrolman’, carrying truncheons and wearing peaked caps – think Chief O’Hara in Adam West’s Batman – look so smart with their melton cloth blousons and tapered trousers, and the shoes, which appear on the ceiling, on the wall, as plant pots and, most wacky of all, floating on clouds in the sky, are beautifully illustrated brogues.

And as for my Wacky Wednesday, aside learning that one of my favourite local breweries, Exmoor, has started producing a tomato and ale chutney, it’s been fairly ordinary thus far. Oh, apart from the fact that today marks Brown in Town’s 2nd (week) anniversary, no less!

I bid you a good Wacky Wednes-day..

Something for the weekend, Sir?

Friday is here and we know what that means; the opportunity to dress-up, dress-down or simply to wear something different to that which we’ve been wearing all week.

For some us, myself included, it will mean hanging our 3pc suit to rest, separately, of course; jacket on a sturdy wooden hanger which supports the sleeve head and gives the sleeves the ability to rest and rid themselves of their wrinkles, and, so too, ones’ trousers by hanging them upside down on a trouser clamp hanger in order to eradicate the wrinkles from behind the knee and the stretching in front of it. And, not forgetting one’s waistcoat of course, which simply requires airing and so will be hung separately on it’s own hanger.

Talking of separates, it will most likely be the the look of the weekend for Bristol’s local tailor, affording one, as it does, casual elegance and also utility; the jacket being the male handbag and useful for carrying one’s wallet, phone and keys etc. – and, if I foresee an opportunity arising, a cigar in my tailored-cigar pocket!

And, affording us a Robin’s dash of colour at the chest in place of one’s tie, the ever-elegant pocket square. From the silk, the spotted, the bright or the patterned, what better alternative to brighten up one’s ensemble.

This is not to say that there is not a place for the tie at the weekend, though I might opt for one less formal, a tweed or worsted tie by Anthony Haines perhaps, to provide some texture and depth of colour, natty too – and also particularly good for keeping one’s neck warm during this cold-snap we’re experiencing.

So, whatever your plans, remember to enjoy your 2 days of rest, and, if the opportunity arises, sartorial exploration.

Have a nice weekend one and all.