Smoke: Historically Accurate

  • Brent Butterworth

For Paul Garmirian’s taste, the term vintage is used too liberally by many of his fellow cigar makers. “It’s totally revolting to me,” complains Garmirian, who also owns and operates a cigar boutique, McLean Cigars in McLean, Va. “I place an order for a cigar that is marketed as ‘vintage,’ and they’ll tell me they’re out of them, but six weeks later the cigars arrive at my store. Where did they come from? If they’re vintage and they’ve been aging for years, they’re either available or they’re all gone, right?”

As Garmirian implies, a cigar may not be nearly as old as its vintage year seems to indicate. In most cases, only the wrapper was harvested in the year printed on the cigar band. The filler tobacco and the binder leaf that holds it together are typically only two or three years old. Garmirian argues that combining aged tobacco with relatively fresh leaves may not result in a coherent blend. “I have tried many ‘vintage’ cigars in which the young age of filler jumps at you,” he says. “Young filler contrasts too much with the subtlety of an old wrapper.”

Garmirian takes a purist’s approach to the vintage concept: All of the aged cigars he offers were manufactured in the listed year, from tobaccos that had already been aged three to five years. Cigars younger than 10 years old are available from P.G. dealers; for these cigars, Garmirian cites the year of manufacture but does not assign a vintage. “To me, a cigar must be 10 years past its production date to be considered vintage,” he explains. The true jewels of the collection are the Private Reserve vintage cigars, which are available only through McLean Cigars or by special order through a P.G. dealer. Garmirian signs and dates each Private Reserve box.

A few puffs of an aged P.G. reveal the virtues of a thoroughly vintage cigar. The Family Reserve cigars from 1996 and 1997 that we tried were light and accessible, yet brimming with subtle flavors. The cigars’ aromas are addictive; it is as much a delight to smell the wisps emerging from the burning ash as it is to smoke the cigars. The 9-inch, 50-ring-size Celebration from 1996 is a particular treat because its lengthy burn affords you ample time to explore all the facets of its flavor. The 1991 Private Reserve Corona Grande, however, almost makes P.G.s from the late 1990s seem immature by comparison. The flavors of its tobaccos—which can date to 1986—blend into one of the most delicate, sublime smokes we have experienced. “The best light cigar I have ever tried,” one of my smoking companions enthused.

Aging cigars has been a priority for Garmirian since his company’s inception. “I began putting cigars away when I started the company in 1990,” he says. “So now I can offer cigars dating back to 1991. A company that makes 50 million cigars a year would need an airplane hangar to age its cigars this way. But for a small company like mine that makes only about 150,000 cigars per year, it’s feasible.”

And what became of those cigars Garmirian stored in his first year of production? “I do have some,” he says, “but I keep those purely for selfish reasons."

Paul Garmirian Cigars, 703.848.8095, www.pgcigars.com

Photo by Jim Fets
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