Tab Tries: Cigars and Whisky

JOSH SIMONS reviews the manliest products on offer to man…

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Ten press-ups? Check. Best Tweed Jacket? Check. 5 stock whisky phrases? Check. Gracefully bringing down my umbrella, I pulled the door hard, then read: ‘Please Knock to Enter’. I’m standing outside Robert Graham, cigar and whisky specialists, on Sidney Street.

After entering and pissing all over my territory, I sized up the smaller of the two shop assistants: almost weedy for a place like this. All was set: I was to seamlessly slide into the whiskey-world without anyone noticing.I walked over to the counter, bringing my knees slightly higher up than usual in each step, and said, ‘I want to learn about whisky.’

‘The best way to learn about whiskey, is to drink it, Sir.’

I punched him mentally.

‘Ah, yes. What was the first whisky you tried?’ I asked him.

‘When I was 10, my girlfriend gave me some Bells. Then at 15 I got some Jack Daniels from the pub.’

‘You see, my first was Auchentoshan.’

Bam. Pre-visit revising paid off. He looked at me as though I’d just spouted a verbal turd. Perhaps I had; in fact a subsequent Google of the pronunciation made it quite clear I had. Oops.

Easier to drink than to pronounce

I looked at him squarely and said, ‘Well, can I try some of that one there. Please.’ Pointing directly to my right, as it seemed like a physically loaded gesture, an assertion.

‘Black Dick, certainly Sir.’

I winced, tightened my lips and followed Fergus downstairs, clasping my bottle of Black Dick tightly.

‘Welcome to the man-cave,’ he said. This particular phrase comes from a regular American customer, a cigar connoisseur, who occasionally brings his son along for a forty-minute puff.

The basement of Robert Graham is quite a sight. Picture red leather sofas, an enormous ashtray, bottles of golden ‘Knob’s Creek’ lining the wall, soft jazz music, and right in front of you an intimidatingly large ‘Size Guide’ . I checked my pockets for reassurance.

Fergus thrusts an extremely small thimbleful of Black Dick towards me.

‘So how do I do it then? What do I do first?’ I asked.

‘Smell it, then rest it on your tongue; it should be heavy. Keep it on your tongue for a while, then swallow all of it.’

I shoved my nose into the thimble, so it almost touched whisky’s surface. My eyes watered and watered.

‘How was it?’

Eyes watering? Can’t say that.

‘Dark, strong and peaty.’

Next stop was the cigar cupboard, which from the outside resembles a small fortress. Regulations. Inside it is filled to the brim with tightly wrapped Cuban cigars. As you enter you are immediately confronted with a sort of dungy stable smell; almost like rotting cowpat, but much nicer.

So many cigars, only one Josh

On the top shelf you have Cigars for Sensitive Scholars: ‘Raphael Gozalezes’. The bottom shelf is BNOC boulevard: wad-like 6 inch jobs. The middle suits those who can’t quite make their mind up either way. My friend helpfully pointed out that the middle row looked like a collection of smoke-able tampons. Fergus raised his eyebrow.

I went for a wad-like Monte Christo No. 5, but only 4 inches. I took my wad over to the sofa and sat down.

I’m Al Pachino. It’s Scarface. All I need is a gun and a dead woman next door. I fumble about with it, not quite sure where to start. I swear he bites the end of it before he smokes it.

It’s hard out here for a bitch

Fearing, I think, that I might bite the end off, Fergus politely handed me what was essentially a mini guillotine: ‘You use this and chop a tiny bit of the end off.’ I guillotined my cigar. He then passed me the cigar-lighter, the mother of all lighters. It’s essential a cube that’s 3 inches tall, 3 inches wide and jets out flame. Like a small blow-torch for cigars.

Carefully I singed the tip of my cigar on the gasjet. ‘So what’s the point in sitting here for ages, not getting the same hit as you get from a cigarette?’ I asked.

‘It’s about taking twenty minutes out of your day to contemplate things, with a slightly light head of course.’ I shook my head to check – it was light.

My eyes started watering again, but I didn’t much care. Feeling very chilled, I pondered whether cigar smoking was much different from smoking pot. The idea is kind of the same. I suppose it’s legal though.

So I guess there are two morals to this story. If you’re a pot-head, but not a law breaker, go visit Robert Graham. If you just want twenty minutes out of your day to desperately enforce your masculinity on a very small space, but know it’s probably futile, go visit Robert Graham.