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A Few Good Books

Cigar Aficionado Rates Three Cigar Guides
Michael Frank
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95

(continued from page 1)

The two shortcomings of The Illustrated History of Cigars arise from a generally overzealous love of Cuban cigars and a failure to adequately describe non-Havana stogies and their lineage. The former quirk is in evidence when the authors claim Havana cigars are produced from tobacco that has been aged for four years. This might have been possible when The Illustrated History of Cigars went to press more than five years ago, but today there is little chance that the Cuban government can afford such a luxury.

The authors' very cursory look at the non-Cuban cigar industry is an oversight that should be addressed in any updated editions. In the 1993 edition, little is said about cigars from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras and Nicaragua. An exhaustive chart at the back of the book, which includes nearly every size and shape of Havana cigar, lists only seven non-Cuban brands.

The guidance in The Illustrated History of Cigars is excellent, but sometimes more fascinating are the tidbits of history, from the origin of cigarettes to the myth that young Cuban women roll cigars on their thighs.

The Cigar Companion: A Connoisseur's Guide
by Anwer Bati,
Running Press,
Philadelphia (1993),
224 pages, $24.95.

The Cigar Companion was never intended to be as comprehensive as The Illustrated History of the Cigar, but it does stand up on its own merits. The first 46 pages give an accurate, if occasionally curt, description of the cigar, its origin and manufacture, and the next 156 pages evaluate nearly every cigar brand on the market, with a few notable exceptions. In the back of the book is a guide to buying and storing cigars and a directory of retailers.

In Bati's tasting pages, he lists country of origin, flavor (in terms of strength) and quality of construction. He does not subdivide cigars by country, but he does seem to have a bias toward Havana cigars, heavily favoring the Cubans when most people admit that they are not as well made today as they once were. Bati also gives little detail on the history and flavor of Dominican and Honduran cigars, while talking extensively about many Cuban brands. However, Bati prefaces his tasting notes by stating that cigars are evaluated subjectively and the only definitive barometer of taste is your own discretion.

There are several odd inclusions and evaluations in the "Tasting Directory," such as Gispert cigars, which are unavailable anywhere, and many inconsistent cigars from the Philippines and other countries that receive fair and even good ratings in the book. Bati does redeem himself by accurately evaluating most brands, but it is a shame that the pages weren't used to better analyze the history of major Dominican and Honduran brands--not to mention cigars from Mexico and Nicaragua.

While Bati's language often flows, it becomes stilted just as frequently, sounding like an old Soviet apparatchik handing down edicts: "The cigars are marketed under different names in Europe and America. Some sizes come in a choice of maduro or 'natural' wrappers. The Hemingway Signa tapers at one end. The dark Rothschild is a splendid cigar."

There are other things to quibble about in The Cigar Companion, such as Bati's recommendation for restoring dry cigars. The author suggests wetting the bottom of a cigar box and putting the box into a sealed plastic bag, which seems a very haphazard method for restoring what are likely very precious, old smokes. He also says that no cigars are worth aging for more than 15 years. There are a few smokers coughing on their pre-Castro Havanas at that idea.

The Ultimate Cigar Book
by Richard Carleton Hacker,
Autumngold Publishing, Beverly Hills (1993),
262 pages, $34.95.

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