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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cigar you going my way?

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The walk-in humidor at Siciliano's
From the boss' first smoke to his best smoke and just about all smokes between, a history of tobacco at Siciliano's.

By Steve Siciliano

I’m proud of the fact that our store has garnered a reputation as being a destination location for a wide variety of products: craft beer, fine wine, mead and packaged liquor; beer-, wine-, cheese- and bread-making supplies; bulk tea and coffee; a constantly expanding selection of do-it-yourself books; gourmet chocolates and hand-crafted sodas. Something that doesn’t get mentioned quite as often, however, is the fact that we also are a tobacco shop.

I like wearing my tobacconist hat. I enjoy weighing out ounces of pipe tobacco on the triple beam scale and I get a lot of satisfaction from selling pipes, humidors and premium cigars especially.

I smoked my first cigar when I was sixteen. I had a job as a bus boy in the cafeteria of the old Pantlind Hotel and once a week a crotchety old fellow came in and after supper would always smoke a cigar. To this day I remember the cigars he smoked, a brand called Optimo that were beautiful, oily dark maduros. One day I got up the nerve to ask him where I could get one.

“Why?” he growled.

When I told him it was my dad’s birthday and I wanted to buy him a cigar the old codger actually cracked a smile. “Across the street at Elliot’s,” he said. Despite my age the clerk at the shop had no problem selling me one of those Optimos which I smoked on the walk home.

I would like to say that I’ve smoked nothing but premium cigars all my life but that’s not the case. When in high school I would occasionally burn a wood tipped Hava-Tampa Jewel or a plastic tipped cigarillo. In college I had a predilection for rum soaked Crookettes and in my twenties and thirties it was an Antonio y Cleopatra Grenadier, a White Owl or a Dutch Masters during weddings and weekend fishing trips.

It was in my mid-forties when I began smoking only the premium, hand-rolled cigars and, looking for anything back then to generate sales in a struggling store, I decided that I would try selling them. I began with a few inexpensive brands in a humidified counter top case, progressed to a couple of glass displays and then finally built the walk-in humidor.

Today the humidor is well stocked with cigars from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. In two reach-in cases we display cigars that are rum flavored, vanilla flavored, chocolate flavored and some that are infused with botanicals. We even have a cigar that’s flavored with hops (see below). Because of our government’s continued trade embargo with Cuba we are unable to sell any Cubans. Hopefully someday that will change.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Cuba and while there took a day trip to Vuelta Abajo which is considered to be the finest land for growing cigar tobacco in the world. While I was standing on a high ridge gazing down at the indescribably beautiful valley an old Cuban approached me. He was selling bundles of cigars that he had rolled himself from tobacco that he had grown. I had doubts about their quality but took a chance and handed him ten pesos, about the equivalent then of ten US dollars. They turned out to be the best cigars I have ever smoked.

Hopz Cigars, $11.89/stick

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