Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Richard Branson, Sept/Oct 2007
When I was a boy in London, it was a time when men still wore three-piece suits. My grandfather always wore a gold chain across his waistcoat with a heavy gold watch on one end and an Asprey gold cigar cutter on the other. He was given the cutter as a gift in May of 1866. After dinner the men would retire to a special room in the house where they could smoke cigars, talk and drink Port or brandy. My father eventually was handed down the cutter.
I remember before I went into the army, he took me to a dinner at Simpson's in the Strand. We ate in a huge upstairs dining room where only men were allowed. Roasts were wheeled around on trolleys with silver canopies and they cut the meat at your table. After dinner, they came around with another trolley loaded with cigar boxes. You selected one and they warmed and cut it and you smoked it. A perfect meal. Eventually I ended up with the cutter.
For 30 years I traveled and worked all over the world. Every time I went out to an evening of dining, it was with me. It always cut a perfect V and has never been sharpened. I finally retired and I now live in Arizona. My friends and I have had 20 years of cigars in bars and after dinner in some of the truly great restaurants that are here.
On April 30, it all came to an end. Arizona has banned smoking in public places. Secondhand smoke is a danger. My grandfather lived to 96, my father to 93; on that basis, I've got another 20-odd years to go. Now the cutter stays home when I go out. I have no son to leave it to as I have four daughters. I'm going to ask one of them to slip the old cutter into the box with me when I go, just in case there truly is a heaven. I only hope your magazine is in the waiting room.
Mine is a tale of the inexpensive, generic, bundled cigar. When I began smoking premium cigars, price was an issue. My online retailer sends out regular e-mail specials, and I was glad to see the low prices on what were hailed as "premium, hand-rolled, long-filler cigars."
I was ready to stock my two humidors and immediately ordered three 25-count bundles. They were all different brands, in different sizes. What they all had in common was poor construction. Nearly 50 percent turned out to be unsmokable, with the rest drawing poorly and burning unevenly. I learned a hard lesson during the time it took me to make my way through the three bundles. What was normally an incredibly relaxing experience became a painful struggle.
No more bundles for this cigar smoker. As is the case in most areas of life, you get what you pay for. While I know from reading your wonderful magazine there are bargains out there, they come in the form of name brands. I'll never skimp on my cigars again. You can't put a price on the enjoyment received from a well-constructed cigar with a perfect draw and an even burn.
San Jose, California
Editor's note: Mark, sorry you had such a bad experience. Not all bundle cigars are bad. But there's a saying I've heard related to wine—life is too short to drink bad wine. The same is true for cigars.