Friday, 7 December 2012

A Smokey Pokey Christmas
by James Leavey

There we were, Guy Hancock and I, hanging the Havanas on the Christmas tree in the speakeasie that nobody can tell you where without our killing them, somewhere in the heart of Dublin.

'Jaysus, James,' said our man from the DCE, 'watch where you're putting those Double Coronas...they're supposed to be hanging from the lower branches so we can stick the Petit Coronas at the top.'

'Guy, that lethal DCE Yuletide punch must be getting to you,' I barked back.  'Tell you what, let's smoke a couple of these fuckers and start again.'

'Fair play, Seamus, you mad bugger,' responded Dublin's unofficial Tobacco Ambassador to and from Cuba. 'Now what the fuck did we do with the cutters and lighters?'

'Bloody hell, we've wrapped them up and they're somewhere in that enormous pile of presents under the soddin' tree.'

'Ah, God help us and save us, we'll be here until the New Year before we can light up for Christmas!'

'How about we get some of that The Wild Geese Irish liquid gold down us, before we start again, Guy?'

'All four?'

'Is the Pope a Catholic...'

Pop went the corks, glug glug glug glug went the four whiskies - into the waiting virgin glasses.

'Slainte, Seamus.'

'Ditto, Guy, and may your cigars never need relighting...Hold on, what's this I've sat on?  A plastic anti-smoking fairy from ASH... It must be some non-smoking fuckers' idea of a joke!'

'Where do you want it, Seamus, my man,' said the Guy, who had already drained all four glasses and was looking happy and seasonal if a trifle unsteady.

'I think we should shove the Christmas tree right up its arse, Guy.'

'With, or without, the KY?'

'Oh, I think this cheap plastic representation of the ignorant blinkered pompous bullying over-exaggerating little shits who have given such a hard time to all of our cigar comrades – and us - should get the full seasonal experience.   What a shame the twat who designed it isn't here to join in the fun.

'Now, as the Aussie foreplay expert would say: “Bend over and brace yourself, Sheila”...'

'And a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all, especially all our fellow cigar lovers,' said Guy, somewhat muffled.

'Ditto, Guy.  Guy? Guy? Where are you?'

'Under the presents, under the tree.  I've found the hic! cutters...'

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The ins and outs of smoking

Lighten Up with James Leavey  Column/blog no.7

The ins and outs of smoking
by James Leavey

I was sharing an ashtray in one of Dublin’s many smoke easies with a Dubliner cigar comrade the other day and happened to mention a Dutch lesbian lorry driver I used to know, one Muffy van Dyke.  And what a one. And what a pair too.

And I said how we used to joke about a virgin boy skater named Hans Brinker who saved Holland by climbing onto a dike and slipping his finger in its hole.

“He'd have had to do a lot more to get me going,” said Muffy. “For a start he'd have needed a tongue like an ant-eater.”

“I'm sorry to shatter your erotic dreams,” I told her, “but Brinker is a fictional character.  Still, you could always ask Amsterdam zoo if they'll lend you their resident worm-tongue for a night of debauchery.”

“Bejaysus, Seamus, you awful man,” said the Dubliner, a fellow dedicated nicotine companion who, like me was at that wonderful moment in time enjoying an Arturo Fuente Gran Reserva Churchill, which would awaken the dead at the end of the world, but very nicely, “how did you ever get to know her?”

“We worked together in a London pub, years ago,” I replied, after taking a long puff on my excellent medium to full bodied Nicaraguan stick of premium tobacco, “and we both shared the view that we wouldn't throw a beautiful woman out of bed.  It didn't stop us sleeping together, of course.”

“Did she smoke, Seamus?”

“Only afterwards.”

After a few more similar pleasantries, the Dubliner and I moved on to the subject of the most unusual place either of us had ever lit up in.

The Dubliner admitted to enjoying a Hoyo on the roof of a hospital.  “And you?” he asked.

“Well, there's a bit of a list to choose from...maybe if I just narrow it down to Dublin...?”

“That's a good start,” said the Dubliner. “But then Dublin always is.”

“OK then.  A few years ago the BBC encouraged me to smoke cigars in all sorts of places in Ireland's fair city, including on the Abbey Theatre stage and in a cell in Dublin's main prison.”


“No, really.  The cameraman and myself first had tea and biscuits with the prison governor, in his office, after which he took us to an empty cell and unlocked it.

“I looked inside and noticed it was the secure, temporary - one hopes, home of a young male prisoner, judging by the photos of his wife and children on the wall.  But what kind of disturbed me was the lack of an ashtray, suggesting he was a non-smoker. Plus, he couldn't open the window to let the smoke escape, what with the bars and usual security. And I didn't want to cause the poor man any more grief, not even from my second-hand smoke, than he was already getting doing his porridge. So I told the governor I wasn't sure it was the best cell for me as there was a lack of an ashtray.”

“What happened next?”

“The governor sent off a guard to fetch a suitable receptacle for my ashes and handed it over.  As our visiting time was running short I agreed to go in, sit on the prisoner's bed, and ignite the Montecristo No.2 that I just happened to have with me.”

“Did you also happen to have a cutter, some matches and/or a lighter?”

“Is the Pope a Catholic?  So I lit the Havana and took a few puffs for the camera.  Said my bit. Took another puff.  And we were out of there and away, unlike the poor sod whose cell I had temporarily invaded while he was exercising in the yard with the other prisoners.”

“Did you really feel bad about smoking in that man's cell, Seamus?”

“Oddly enough, in the end I didn't.  For I left him a partly smoked revered Havana that would be worth a small fortune in any prison – where an ounce of bog-standard rolling tobacco a.k.a. snout greases many palms.”

“Thanks be to jaysus you weren't smoking a Hamlet,” cried the Dubliner, wiping his eyes at the very thought of such a sad act.

“There are some lines I will never cross,” I growled. “I would never stoop that low.”

Monday, 15 October 2012

When a good cigar is ready to smoke by James Leavey

If you're a cigar smoker and desperate for a communal public drink in Dublin, look for a bar, hotel, cafĂ©, or restaurant with a partly covered outdoor smoking area.  Or one with a deep doorway, in which you can crouch and gargle while you smoke in the rain.

God help us and save us,  doesn't that sound dreadful!  I wouldn't put my cats out in the wet and dismal weather Ireland's smokers are bullied to light up in.

Thankfully, even Ireland gets its share of sun.  But still...

Fortunately, there's a third and better way. 

Nip into the Decent Cigar Emporium, flash your credentials (cigar/s and/or empty cigar case, cutter, lighter/matches). 

And be prepared to step up for the ritual and password in which you prove you are a dedicated nicotine companion:

'Hands on humidor, hands on heart, I prefer the smell of a fine cigar to a twat non-smoker's fart.'

All being well and ship-shape the boys will welcome you with open ashtrays.  And pass on The Knowledge of where to smoke in Dublin without being rudely interrupted by ignorant eejits.

So there you are, happy as Larry (they named a brand of cigarettes after him – Olivier) and dropping ash with friends. When your cigar has reached the end of its warm and wonderful life you may be considering which one to try next.

Yes, I know you already have your favourites.

The thing is, which cigars have ripened for your immediate delectation, and which are better for investing and storing and ageing?

For fine, hand-rolled tubes of premium tobacco are rather like the finest wines, which improve with age and are best sipped at the height of their power.

Just don't ask me for detailed advice, for I don't live with all the cigars available. 

But the boys at The DCE do, especially Mr Guy Hancock.  They have been taking very good care of their nicotine babies and can give you all the know-how you need to lead you to a very pleasant smoke indeed.

There are also other places you can fall back on, when the DCE is closed for the night: Ireland's prisons (which are still smoker-friendly), lunatic asylums (whatever the politically-correct anal retentives call them, these days), monasteries (is that really incense they're waving in the censer?) and hotel rooms designated for smokers.

The first option requires getting arrested.  This is very easy, just try lighting up inside a health shop.

The second requires proof of madness, such as deciding after all those years to give up smoking.

The third is really down to an act of faith.

And the fourth is sometimes hard to come by but well worth pursuing.  For, like the other three options I suggested, the law allows you to smoke in your own home or its equivalent. 

And in the privacy of your hotel room or suite you can throw a part, orgy or hoolie for your cigar companions. Just as long as you open the window and don't set fire to the bed.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Future of Cigar Smoking is in Safe Hands

Hey Guy! Just a few words to say thanks for the superb service last week. I don't know a huge amount about the finer details on cigars with all that hint of almonds and a whisper of chocolate rubbish, I just know what I like and Paul really helped me choose from the hundreds of fine cigars on display. The welcoming and fun approach you have to selling cigars and the distinct lack of condescension was very refreshing and made me feel very confident in my purchases. I bought a few of those beautiful Zino Barrel cigars, lovely big smoke for a special occasion with its easy draw and super smooth taste they are hard to beat when I have an hour to chill out. I also took a few of your special hand rolled Cubans which have to be my number one go-to-cigar now, a superb taste and easy to enjoy smoke especially in the robusto and flying pig sizes.

So thanks again for bringing cigars to people like me that don't like risking our hard earned cash on the chance of a cigar that does not suit. I'll be back next month to get something special to put away for my newborn son's 21st (rolled on his birth month hopefully). As you can see from the photo he is keen to see what all the fuss is about!

by Alex Tucker (Adventure Branding)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Ireland's The Wild Geese fly by James Leavey

Mr Guy Hancock, Ireland's tobacco ambassador, and I were enjoying a hoolie with a few nicotine companions in my favourite smokers' den in Dublin.

In between the reeling and whooping and renditions of 'Up Went Nelson', we considered, loudly, the best beverages to gargle while inhaling a fine cigar.

'As you know, Mr H,' I yelled, to the accompaniment of The Dubliners' lively version of  Whiskey in the Jar, 'it all depends on the cigar you're smoking.  What works well with a light Havana would probably be wasted on a medium-bodied Nicaraguan tube of premium hand-rolled tobacco, such as The Grafton corona.  And, of course, a full-bodied cigar requires a full-bodied drink, preferably a single malt, cognac, or very fine aged rum, to keep the balance and not get lost in the process.

'Now, can somebody turn that fucking noise down so we can enjoy the craic in peace!'

The music was lowered, Mr H nodded agreement, sipped a dram, and fell off his stool.

'That's grand, James,' he muttered, from the safety of the smokeasy floor.

Lifting him up, in every sense of the word, I added, 'But there are some whiskies that I choose before I decide which cigar to smoke with them.'

'Jaysus,' said Mr H, now ensconced in his proper chair, 'that's the highest praise a man can give to any drink.'

We all raised our eyes and glasses to Heaven and clinked glasses: 'Slainte! May you get to Heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you're dead.'

Then I got back to the remembering. 'One of the best presents I ever received flattened the cat on the Fuck Off Non-Smokers mat just before last Christmas,' I said, wiping a tear from my eyes.

'It was a box containing the four bottles that comprises The Wild Geese Irish whiskey collection,

'You know me, I'm a lover of Scotland's single malt whisky and although I have tried many other whiskies around the world, I've rarely found one to match the finest Scottish malt – until now.'

Mr H sat up, reached for his lighter and reignited his Nicaraguan robusto then uttered one of those words guaranteed to tick a box in the minds of cognoscenti and anyone else brought, rather than dragged, up: 'Really!' 

He then sipped another drop from his half empty glass, and sat back, ears and eyes ready for the off.

'The first bottle I tried was the Classic Blend, which lived up to its name. It was sweet and light and delicate and not over-honeyed, somewhat like lying in a field of wild flowers and clover on a hot summer's day, enjoying the heady scent and listening the bees.

'I then gave the Rare Irish  a twirl round my tonsils and it was so smooth and perfectly balanced, with a touch of citrus and the teeniest taste of honey and lasted so long and so lovely, I almost died with delight. It was a beautiful rare whiskey, indeed, and worth waiting a lifetime for.'

'God save us,' muttered Mr H, his mouth watering. The rest of our companions were also drooling and licking their lips.

'The third bottle's description, Single Malt, set the old bullshit-alarm tingling, until I took my first luscious sip.  Clean, smooth, subtle, summery, rich, well balanced and a body that is whisky's equivalent to Elle Macpherson – who, I must admit, I wouldn't mind sampling, given the opportunity (please, God,  just the once and I'll be a good boy for the rest of my unnatural life).

'Finally came the turn of the Limited Edition, which like its three siblings was one of the nicest and most perfectly balanced Irish whiskies I have ever tasted,  but, like them, with its own distinct character.  Smooth, sweet then spicy, light and stunning.  The problem I had was not to drink all four bottles in one mad go.  But then, if I had, I would have missed so many delightful hours of pleasure.'

Mr H rose, staggered to the whisky cabinet and grabbed all four bottles of The Wild Geese, which he had  hidden away, and said, ashamedly, 'I can't stand it any more. Help me open and pour these, James.'

'Righto, Mr H,' I replied, grabbing a tray-load of virgin glasses, rapidly distributing them to all the cigar companions present before yer man changed his mind and disappeared into the night with his treasure trove.  'Happy days.'

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Talk to the ashtray by James Leavey

I was twiddling my Nicaraguan corona over a cup of Gold Blend tea in Bewley's Grafton Street, thinking of this, that,  but mostly the other, when the first anti-smoking idiot of the day rolled up.

'Stop that, immediately!' he cried.  'You cannot smoke here.'

'If you used your eyes and what's left of your underdeveloped brain before you opened your ignorant gob you'd remember there's no law against unlit tobacco, even in this famous tea-room,' I growled. 

'Besides, it's nice thoughtful smokers like me who keep puritanical twats like you in clover with our taxes.'

The idiot's ugly mug boiled over and he muttered, 'Just wait until 2015, when we ban the whole lot of you in Ireland.'

'Yeah, well, we shall see what we shall see. Until then, talk to the ashtray.  Now fuck off, you pompous uneducated prick.'

I know, I was much too subtle. 

So I underlined my perfectly reasonable point of view with a suggestive vertical jolt of my cigar and resisted the temptation to shove it up the idiot's arse. In the grand old days I would have offered to put sand in his Vaseline to help the stogie on it's way. For that's what the likes of him deserved.

Bored of bumping into beastly bastards, I decided to take a break from Dublin's unfair city (for smokers, that is) for the literary and seaside delights of Sandycove,  topping up my travel humidor at the Decent Cigar Emporium, en route.

The James Joyce Museum & Tower was open. I stepped inside and asked the friendly curator if I could take another sniff of the great writer's favourite leather cigar case.  

He'd first allowed me to do this a few years ago when I was filming BBC2 Horizon's documentary, 'We Love Cigarettes'.

The curator nodded and even let me slide my cigar inside Joyce's cigar case again.

Then I took myself and the anointed tube of fine tobacco outside and lit up, hoping Joyce's genius would rub off on my scribblings.

Fat chance.

'Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, the Great Man and all the other genius Irish writers and dramatists must be twirling in their graves at the very idea of the Elf & Safety boggarts taking over the world and turning it into an unused ashtray,' I thought.

Then  I took another reflective puff on my premium stick of fine Nicaraguan tobacco, 'It's not over till it's over. And while there are people like Mr Guy Hancock selling excellent cigars like this, there's hope.'

Friday, 17 August 2012

Mr Blake steps up to the ashtray by James Leavey

There I was, swapping tales of old smoker-friendly Dublin with some eminent cigar comrades in an Irish smokeasy tucked away somewhere, the whereabouts of which I will tell you not.

Some of you unsainted sinners will, no doubt, know of similar havens.

This is a place where alternatively oxygenated persons step up to an anonymous door a nicotine companion has recommended, and knock three times.

Then the little hatch in the door opens and a voice deepened by decades of smoking intones, 'Yes?'

While this little bit of play acting is going on you get the first sniff of fine cigars gently wafting through the aperture.

'I'm a dedicated friend of St Nicotine and promise, hand on humidor, to ignite the brain of every anti-smoking pillock I meet who tells me I cannot enjoy something that I can still buy, legally, in Eire, and elsewheir.'

A moment passes and the door creaks open.  'Enter, friend of St Nicotine,' says the Galway giant whose eyes are carefully checking left and right in case some anti-smoking nutter decides to break in and berate all the sinners safely ensconced inside, where they're happily sipping fine booze, enjoying the craic, and dropping premium ash in the ashtrays.

By the way, if you're one of those anti-smoking puritanical zealots given to raging against the light of a cigar smoker's match, may I suggest that you never ever try to enter a smokeasy or any other smokers' refuge, for you risk your life and limbs – especially your balls, which we'll toast over the ashtray.

Getting back to the comrade's conversation, we were talking about great writers, most of whom, we all agreed, were either Irish or of Irish descent.  Naturally, most of them were also smokers for the spark of the fire that lit their tobacco often served to ignite their genius.

'But,' I exhaled through of a cloud of smoke from my The Grafton robusto, which was burning and smoking well, 'I suppose we should allow, with our arms twisted up our back perhaps, that merit has also been shown by the occasional English writer, such as William Blake.'

There was a universal gasp and quick reigniting and inhaling of several cigars.

'Jaysus!' exhaled one comrade.

'For God's sake, man!' exhaled another.

'Come, come, comrades,' I said gently and reassuringly, 'any man who can write “The Goddess Fortune is the devil's servant, ready to kiss anyone's arse” has got to be worth including in our pantheon of prime particularists.'

'Ah go on with you, Seamus, you mad bugger,” came a voice beyond the third ashtray.

'Now look here, comrades, I'm being serious, for once.' I replied.

'There's always a first time...' said a fourth comrade, a cigar-totin' Yank who had recently moved to Dublin from across the water - London.

'That may be,' I said, 'but we are talking about a visionary poet, social critic of his time, one of the key people responsible for the birth of Romantic Poetry, and prophet of things to come.

'Blake was born in England in 1757 and by the time he died in 1827, was considered one of the greatest and most influential contributors to the English language.

'This is the man who wrote “Without contraries there is no progression.  Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.”

'Can't you see?  Blake summed up the need for smokers and, I hate to say it, non-smokers to co-exist. We're two necessary halves of the same coin – mankind. This is something the fanatical anti's should consider, even if I have to beat it into them with a pickaxe handle.  The same goes for the rest of you.'

I took a long slow drag on the robusto and then very slowly exhaled, 'And, despite his protestations to the contrary, I believe William Blake may have been a secret smoker.'

The room went silent.  Several glasses of The Wild Geese whisky were emptied and the smoke from fine Nicaraguan and Cuban cigars exhaled.  Then the comrades sat up and cried, in unison, 'Well, why didn't you fucking say so in the first fucking place!'


Saturday, 11 August 2012

I can't leave those Ramon Alone

Greetings my fellow cigar connoisseurs,

To many people, working in a cigar shop seems like a dream come true. The best coffee in town on tap, surrounded by the world's finest cigars and getting to mingle with all friendly people that pass through our doors.

While this may be true, people tend to forget about the torture that we merchants of quality tobacco go through on a daily basis. Being immersed in those intoxicating aromas is not easy especially since the vile smoking ban forbids us from quenching our cigar lust when necessary.

Every now and then I open a box of cigars and it brings me to the point of saying fuck the fascists I'm firing up one of these bad boys, now! 

At the moment I cannot leave the Ramon Allones Specially Selected alone. A few weeks ago, I opened a box (dated August '09) to show a client, but from the moment I broke the seal, I knew I had to keep this box for myself. When the sweet scent swept up my nostrils I made a noble effort to convince the guy to take a box of something else- this box was mine, all mine. However, this client knew a good thing when he saw it and laughed at the thought of leaving the shop with anything other than this box.

After he left I went straight into the humidor to check the rest of this batch, stamped underneath with FEB AGO 09. The next box I opened looked good; that same aroma, same oily sheen to the wrappers, Nice one.. Roll on 6 o' clock!.

After work, the gang and I made a quick stop off at The Bailey. So with a pint of Guinness on the table I set alight the longing that had lingered over me all day. Ramon Allones have always been a favourite of mine and from the moment the flame hit the cigar I was awash in an ambient oasis of cigar smoke. I wish I could say the conversation flowed but this cigar had my full attention, to hell with my friends at the table. 

I've never been one to waffle on with extensive tasting notes, what goes on between me and my cigar stays with me and my cigar, if I wanted to taste a leather couch I would go lick one, but what I will say is that this cigar drew perfectly and the rich deep tobacco flavours brought me right back to Cuba. Get them before I smoke them all and trust me I will.

Happy Smokin'
Paul 'that's not a cloud of smoke that's my hair' Murphy

Friday, 3 August 2012

Lighten Up with James Leavey

Taking the air in Dublin
by James Leavey

Hold on there.  Whoa. 

Before you start reading, let me explain the rules.

If you're an ardent blinkered born-again anti-smoking puritan you can stop right now.  Twats like you are banned here.

So fuck off.

Now.  Where were we?

Oh yes.

I was sauntering along the streets of the old town the other day, as you do when you're a dedicated aficionado of fine hand-rolled additive-free cigars and treated like a leper, when my old friend Guy Hancock strolled up, nonchalantly puffing on what he described as The Grafton Torpedo.

'It's one of my new hand-rolled Nicaraguan cigars,' he said.  'I named the brand after Grafton Street.'

'How come?'

'Because, like Dublin's famous street, it's long, very interesting, satisfying to all the senses – and full of fumes.'

At this point, a rude eejit leaned out of a passing taxi (most days you can never find one in the rain, and then, like the buses, when the sun comes out several come along at once) and shouted, 'People like you should be banned from smoking in the streets of Dublin's fair city!'

It sounded like the beginnings of a song.  A badly-written one I've heard before.

I paused, took a long puff on my Montecristo No.2, exhaled and replied, 'Tell you what, you hackneyed fuckwit, I'll suck the smoke from this Cuban beauty, and you can suck the exhaust of your car.  I know which one I prefer.'

Mr Hancock, Dublin's Tobacco Ambassador to the world of cigar lovers, grinned and joined me in waving off the spluttering gobshite with the middle fingers of our right hands.

Then he leaned in, and said, 'I think this calls for a celebration.  Would you care to join me in a safe haven, my specialist Decent Cigar Emporium nearby for cigar connoisseurs such as yourself, where we can imbibe a glass or two of some of the finest whisky ever produced in Ireland - The Wild Geese, and allow me to replenish your cigar with one of my own?'

It was a thoughtful offer that brought tears of joy to this old smoker's eyes.

I gave Guy my usual password to paradise, 'Is the Pope a Catholic?'