The smok­ing gun

For some, the choice of cigars to be savoured on a day’s shoot­ing is as im­por­tant as the car­tridges

Country Life Every Week - - CONTENTS - Pho­to­graph by John Alexan­der

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.

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