The smoking gun
For some, the choice of cigars to be savoured on a day’s shooting is as important as the cartridges
Bolivar chooses the best cigars for shoot days
ADEFINING characteristic of the shooting season is the amount of kit that one must cart around: dinner jacket, shooting suit, foul-weather gear, thermals, knitwear, cap, boots, shoes, ear defenders, chokes, guns, cartridges and perhaps a spare pair of barrels. All in all, it gives the impression one is about to tackle a Himalayan peak rather than boarding a train and returning in about 24 hours.
Such is the packing panic in the Bolivar household come the season that the most important decisions find themselves hurried. Here, these aren’t such academic considerations as shot weights, barrel lengths and wad types, but rather the choice of cigars I should bring.
Just as others find themselves carting along half the contents of Purdey, I could easily talk myself into packing my entire humidor. It was, therefore, with great pleasure that I accepted an invitation from the Arts Club for a day of clay shooting and cigar smoking at West Wycombe.
The powder-and-shot side of the day was organised by Lady Lucan and the E. J. Churchill shooting grounds. Lady Lucan is a champion live-pigeon shot, an experienced game shot and a seasoned cigar smoker; her impressive skill base was supplemented by Manu Harit, cigar sommelier of the Arts Club. Manu began his career working for the Sahakian family at Davidoff and the Edward Sahakian Cigar Shop at the Bulgari Hotel. Having subsequently passed the British Master of Havanas qualification, he boasts a knowledge of fine tobacco that is an example to all young people.
As this was a day out rather than an overnight stay, he recommended a trio of cigars: a 20year-old Punch Royal Coronation for elevenses, the pigtail-headed Montecristo Especial No 2 (below) to be enjoyed before lunch and the often-overlooked Churchillsized Cohiba Esplendido to be taken postprandially.
The clay-target shooting at West Wycombe gives a good facsimile of a day’s shooting, the cortege of Range Rovers processing from one stand/drive to another across the Buckinghamshire hills and fields replicating the ambience and pace of game day. After dispatching some rather rapid coveys of grouse, followed by 40-yard pheasants and a combination of springing teal and going-away birds, we were ready for elevenses at a charming folly.
The Punch was just right in terms of size, but the delicate and complex flavours imparted by 20 years of age might have required too much palate-searching for the shooting man forcing down a pork pie, a couple of fingers of sloe gin and mustardslathered sausages in midwinter. That sort of thing requires brevity and unmistakable character.
My preference would be for the San Cristobal El Principe, which has flavour and complexity in a compact package that can be completed in 15–20 minutes. Similarly sized, but with a little more spice and heft, is the Partagás Short—both are 41∕2in long, with a ring gauge of 42. An alternative is the 31∕2in 44 ringgauge Montecristo Media Corona, which delivers the typical astringent and agreeable bitterness of the brand in a short time.
Two more drives followed with a dizzying storm of clay targets flying in every direction and a set of rabbits to end. We had overrun and it was now closer to teatime than lunch, so, instead of savouring the petillant and intriguing Montecristo with a flute or two of Pommery, we were keen to sit down. Thus it was that I found myself enjoying the rich and nuanced Cohiba Esplendido in the car on the way home. Not perhaps as the fastidious Manu had envisaged, but very agreeable nonetheless.
The day highlighted the chief issue when considering cigars for shooting: the compression of time. Night falls early during the
season and even the most elegant of lunches is a speedy affair. If I were to recommend a cigar for after lunch, it would be something that would take no more than 30 minutes and could be finished on the peg.
Moreover, given that shooting lunches are usually stout and hearty, something with a chunky flavour profile might be required. Bolivar’s tips would be the Medio Siglo from Cohiba (a sawn-off Siglo VI, at 4in with a 52 ring gauge) and the Montecristo Petit Edmundo (41∕2in, 52 ring gauge). In a similar vein, but a touch lighter is the Trinidad Vigia (43∕8in, 54 ring gauge).
There are, of course, some truly hardened sybarites who require a cigar on the peg—usually, these are the sort of men who polish off a Bolivar for breakfast. If you’re heading out on an autumn or winter day, a Bolivar Royal Corona, a classic Robusto, has the trademark steamroller strength that aficionados look for in a no-nonsense traditional format. What’s more, it’s available in a tube that can be easily slipped into the pocket (just don’t mix it up with the cartridges).
A slightly surprising contender for power on the peg is Davidoff’s Yamasa—its strong character, unusual in a Dominican Davidoff, would suit country pursuits on cold days.
I’m not much of a shot and, for me, handling gun and cigar simultaneously is simply too much in the way of multi-tasking. I would argue that anything too refined is wasted on the peg. I find myself always looking for somewhere to rest it: grouse butts offer a handy surface, but, in the heat of the action, it’s possible that a cigar will drop to the ground. Retrieving and reigniting it at the same time as getting the perfect left and right might prove tricky.
There is, of course, an answer —you could always bring a cigar ‘sommelier’ to stand to your left, to whom you hand your cigar as your loader hands you your gun.