I have the stogie woes, the 'gar blues. Cigar shops in the UK continue to disappoint me. Even more irritating is the deceitful, very misleading appearance they present, from the rustic looking cubans in the shiny humidors to the nicely dressed "knowledgeable" staff working behind the counter who pronounce the esteemed brand "Oliva", "Ah-liv-uh".
Upon first moving to the Britain both my father and I were beyond excited to have unrestricted legal access to cuban cigars. Most of you are aware of the embargo that the United States has with Cuba ever since the Bay of Pigs under the Kennedy administration. Statements have been made by the president on more than one occasion his intention to end this embargo. Well, as with other things, like shutting down Guantanamo Bay, the embargo has yet to be lifted.
Needless to say, my old man and I were quick to get our hands on a batch when we stepped foot in Union Jack land. We discovered a highly rated tobacconist in Oxford known as (much to our excitement) the "Havana House". As you enter the shop the first thing you notice is the fresh, bold scent of dark tobacco. For an avid cigar smoker like myself, the aroma is quite pleasant. The people working the counter are "Havana specialists", dressed typically in fine italian suits and dinner jackets, warmly offering their assistance, recommending the more expensive sticks when they can.
The cigar collection they boast is admittedly pretty well rounded.In addition to the highy regarded havana tobaaco, they offer a nice assortment of Nicaraguan and Dominican blends as well as popular American operated brands like "Oh-Leev-ah" (Oliva). They also have a nice variety or triple flamed table lighters, cigar cutters, humidors, and even hookah merchandise.
All of the cigars are very nice looking, with attractive visible veins, a nice aroma, and a smooth but rustic feel to the touch. Don't let the cigars' appearance deceive you however.
After purchasing the cigar (which are all typically 3 to 4 times more expensive than priced in the UK), it's quite tempting not to light up the attractive looking tobacco leaves as soon as you get home. It's best to not have high expectations.
Now, if you're new to the cigar world, odds are you won't know a bad cigar if it slapped you in the face. After the being in the game for about 5-6 years now, it's not hard for me to tell. All but one of the cigars that I have purchased in the United Kingdom have been bad, if not atrocious cigars. They have all either tunneled, have trouble staying lit, and just offer an overall bad experience (see my previous cigar post about how to get started the right way, and to find more information on tunneling). Not to mention my dad and my own disappointment to find that the Cuban blends we were so keen to try are actually worse than the other blends! It is very unlikely I will ever purchase another cigar here.
That being said, one shop in particular did offer a quite juxtaposed experience. The cigar shop in Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare's home, is (in contrast with the whole of the UK it seems) quite nice. Unfortunately I have only ever purchased one stogie from that shop; it wasn't even cuban. It was an unlabeled nicely constructed medium-bodied cigar that the shop owner claimed to be an unmarked experimental cigar from Davidoff. I found this hard to believe because the stick cost only 8 quid (about 13 USD at the time of purchase; for those that are not familiar with Davidoff cigars, look it up. 13 bucks is a bargain if it ever was one).
While I did have to relight it once or twice, the constuction was on par with a stick produced by Davidoff. The flavours were all there and the draw was perfect. That being said, I doubt that I'll ever be in Stratford upon Avon anytime soon.