Blow political correctness to the wind and light up in style
If you want to make an upper-crust statement and can afford it, a good cigar is the way, writes DAVID BULLARD
It was one of those "God's in his heaven and all's well with the world" moments that one is apt to experience when putting a match to R85 worth of fine Cuban tobacco.
The occasion was the launch of Cigafrique (pronounced cigar-freak), The Great African Big Smoke Cigar Club, at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank last weekend; an evening of unashamed and politically incorrect hedonism dedicated to popularising fine cigars.
Thanks to magazines like American publication Cigar Aficionado, cigar smoking is enjoying a welcome renaissance and specialist cigar bars have been popping up all over the US.
Fortunately, cigarette smokers seem to be bearing the brunt of the anti-smoking lobby's wrath at the moment, with tobacco advertising subject to strict rules. Cigars have always been aimed at a more sophisticated market and top producers do not need to spend millions on advertising.
Indeed, the problem is that demand far outstrips supply and there are simply not enough premium cigars produced. Like grape vines, tobacco is subject to the vagaries of the weather and crops vary from year to year, in yield and in quality.
Because of the continued economic boycott against Cuba, Havana cigars are not sold in the US although dedicated cigar smokers almost certainly stock up when they travel abroad.
If sanctions against Cuba fall away, as they are bound to do, the addition of the US market will make it even more difficult to buy fine cigars. At the moment, Cuba favours countries like Spain and Switzerland who have been good customers of long standing, leaving SA to source its Havana cigars from other countries.
One of the purposes of a club like Cigafrique is to demonstrate that there is demand for fine cigars in SA and to persuade Cuban exporters to deal directly with this country. Having said that, there are some very enjoyable Honduran and Dominican Republic cigars available and SA even has its own cigar producer, The Serengeti Cigar Company.
The company was started by Tom van der Marck in his garage at Roodepoort and was originally called the Gauteng Cigar Company. The name was changed on the advice of his new American partners who claim that none of their clients can pronounce Gauteng.
Cigar prices in SA are on a par with the rest of the world and a good Honduran, Jamaican or Dominican Robusto will cost around R20, with the Cuban equivalent around three times the price. The most expensive cigar available locally is the Cohiba Splendide, Fidel Castro's personal favourite until he gave up smoking. One costs R180.
If the gala launch at the Hyatt was anything to go by, the Johannesburg chapter of Cigafrique could be the first of many.
Cigar importer Colin Wesley has joined forces with Peter Hayward, chief executive of event planners Secluded Africa and graphic artist Christian Zimelka to form Cigafrique. Apart from providing cigar smokers with a chance to get together over dinner and compare different types of cigar, the club is also planning to bring out a magazine and newsletter and to arrange unashamedly sybaritic weekend getaways and leisure events for its members, with trout fishing, archery, clay pigeon shooting and falconry already on the cards.
Although the logo of Cigafrique shows an elegantly attired male arm (the rest of the body hidden by a studded leather club armchair) with a large fat cigar in his hand, the club is definitely not a male preserve. There were plenty of cigar smoking women at the Hyatt launch last week. Now it's only a matter of time before somebody opens a cigar bar. I even have a suggestion for a name. How about Zoomers?
Cigafrique's Cigar info hotline number is (011) 440-3877. ý Pat Sidley, Business Times's health columnist, has left the Sunday Times. For the time being, health-care issues as they affect consumers will be covered in Business Times Money, while policy issues in the sector will be reported in the Business Times news pages.