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Thu 5 Jul 2007 03:00 PM

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Going up in smoke

Offering a wide selection of cigars and finding the right drink pairings are key to a successful cigar lounge, as The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai's team explains.

Smoking is an increasingly touchy subject across Europe, with smoking bans in public places gradually being rolled out from country to country. In the Middle East's hospitality industry though it is a different story, with cigar lounges still a prominent feature in most luxury hotels.

While a true cigar aficionado will know exactly what type of cigar he prefers, there is still the opportunity for outlets to up sell, with drink pairings ranging from white wine to Cognac.

"There are a few people in this market who really now about cigars, mainly businessmen, but in the UAE there are a lot of people that smoke a cigar for prestige," comments Tanja Fuchs, Lobby Lounge and Library bar manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai.

Offering around 25-30 Cuban cigars at any one time in the Library, Fuchs says the history and expertise of Cuban cigar rolling places them as the most prestigious, and sometimes most expensive cigars in the world.

While prices vary from AED20-AED200 (US $5-$55) for a cigar at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, occasionally the market releases a vintage cigar that can reach more than AED1000 ($272) each, due to limited availability.

Offering the right drink pairing is key though, and depends on the type of cigar being smoked and the occasion. Fuchs comments that as a general rule, women prefer smaller cigars - the smallest of which is known as a Panatella - with a Torpedo recommended for first time cigar smokers. An afternoon cigar smoker on the other hand, would perhaps be more comfortable with a light Cognac and Davidoff cigar.

"For this region the time of year dictates the number of cigars we sell. Generally it is around 25 a week, but during the low season [the summer] it slows down. This is generally because it is cheaper to stay during the low season, so the average guest has a smaller budget," says Fuchs.

Available in varying sizes, the most famous is the Churchill, named after its most famous smoker Sir Winston Churchill. The Robusta on the other hand is similar in thickness to the Churchill but shorter, and then there is the Torpedo, which is named after its shape.

"If a guest is not a regular cigar smoker then I would recommend the Torpedo as the leaves are loosely rolled; it has a lighter taste. Also, the Torpedo is easier to cut so you can offer a small opening, ideal for someone who doesn't want too much smoke to come through the cigar," advises George Roberts, bartender, The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai.

Using either special scissors or a two-blade to cut the cigar, the cut should be a straight line. Occasionally though the guest may ask for an even smaller hole for less smoke, in which case a hole punch is used to simply perforate the end of the cigar.

"No more than 2mm should be cut off the end of a cigar. Anything over this and you risk the tobacco falling out. When cigars are rolled a piece is usually cut out and placed over the end as a sealer, so this is a good indicator as to where it should be cut," adds Roberts.

Rolled using three different types of tobacco leaves, first there is the filler - which is the driest leaf and the tobacco that is smoked - and then the binder that is a rough leaf around the filler. The smooth leaf rolled around the binder is known as the closer. In order to keep the cigar in good condition though, it should be stored in a humidor with around 75-80% humidity.

"Cigars should feel quite soft and bouncy, which is why they are kept in a humidor, otherwise they would dry out and disintegrate," warns Fuchs.

"It is important for every cigar bar or lounge to have the correct equipment, because an experienced cigar smoker will know immediately if it is not right purely from touching the cigar," adds Fuchs.

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