An interview with Chris Miller of Frank Correnti Cigars, a family business in Toronto that goes back generations. Correnti specializes in hand-rolled cigars using imported Cuban and Dominican tobacco. Many of their clients have their own private label with an exclusive blend of custom-made cigars. The walls of their Toronto location are covered with images of statesmen, sports stars and movie celebrities who are regular customers:
RL: What is the hallmark of good cigar?
CM: Cigars were perfected 300 years ago, so any manufacturing process that mimics the ‘old days’ is likely the best. A good cigar’s leaves are aged – one year is a quality cigar; 30 years is the best cigar you can buy. The aging process sounds similar to scotch or rum. A good leaf is aged in the sun, which removes oils from the leaves. The cigar must be rolled using whole leaves. Cheap cigars or cigarellos are rolled using pieces of leaves. A good cigar will use roughly 12 leaves per cigar. It must be hand-rolled.
RL: What is it about the experience of smoking cigars? What do you think makes it such a luxury?
CM: Over 100 years ago (he used the movie Lincoln as an example) most men smoked cigars; it was the fashion. It was the most popular tobacco product. In North America, at this time, there were 80,000 cigar factories. However, first the Great Depression and, later, the Cuban Missile Crisis, completely changed the market. Today Correnti’s is the only handmade cigar manufacturer left in Canada. Cigars experienced a resurgence in the 1990s. Tobacco laws were much more lenient than they are now, but a lot of it might have had to do with Cigar Aficionado magazine. This magazine put celebrities on the cover and made good cigars a luxury item.
RL: What are some of the essential cigars any self-respecting aficionado should have?
CM: That is a very personal question, of course. The best cigars, as mentioned, are handmade and made from natural products. Habanos SA is the company that owns Cohiba and Montecristo. These are deemed as some of the top brands, but again, it’s a personal choice.
RL: In this day and age of smoking bans, why do you think that cigar-smoking still exists as the one (somewhat acceptable) guilty pleasure?
CM: People on the street have told my customers that they are offended by their cigar smoking. The problem is that people are not educated, they lump all smokers in one category. Cigars are 100% organic and natural, the only nicotine in the cigar is found in the oils in the leaf, whereas cigarettes are full of chemicals and toxins.
Five popular cigar-related holiday shopping ideas: