“Cigars bring people together,” smiles Alberto Lucchelli, cigar sommelier at The Arts Club Dubai. On 23rd February the experienced and knowledgeable Master of Habanos will welcome members at Oscuro on the Rooftop for an evening of friendship and cigars to coincide with the prestigious Festival of Habanos that takes place in Havana, Cuba.
“When people puff cigars together there are no issues, you forget about politics and talk about about life and family – you become best friends,” says Alberto. “Cigars are not a moment for yourself, they create an opportunity for people to meet people and enjoy new conversations – I love that feeling of community.” Cigars can also encourage creativity, he grins. “There’s a saying, ‘Cigars help you to transform dreams into reality’,” says Alberto.
At Oscuro, one of the club’s elegant and intimate cigar lounges (there are two lounges and an abundance of terraces on which to enjoy a cigar or two), Alberto has 14 brands of cigar housed in four humidors that are kept between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius, and at around 74 per cent humidity. Light, medium or full bodied smokes carry flavours that he says range from coffee, chocolate, leather and nutty to creamy, floral, herbaceous, peppery and even minty.
Alberto subtely sports a small pin on his lapel, denoting his Master of Habanos status, a prestigious qualification held by only a few, the result of passing a gruelling series of cigar-related exams. Ask him about any cigar on display and he’ll be able to tell you the length, gauge (thickness) and year of production. “It’s a nice game, choosing cigars for beginners to true aficionados,” he says. “However, with cigars, there is always something new to learn so I have to stay on top of things.”
Alberto is fascinated by the rich history surrounding cigars and has twice visited tobacco plantations in Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Rio. “You watch the people working there and their hands are like iron,” he says, “you can feel the history”.
He tells an anecdote about the decorative band that wraps around a cigar, something that was invented by Don Gustavo Bock, a European who came to Havana in the 1860s to establish a cigar company. The paper band, Alberto explains, prevented the cigar from staining the white gloves people wore when smoking. He opens one of the attractive wooden cigar boxes, “Guests sometimes ask to take the empty boxes home, they keep jewellery in them,” he says.
Favourite cigars requested by members visiting Oscuro include Cohiba, Partagás, Hoyo de Monterrey and Montecristo. Around 1,000 cigars are smoked at the club every month, with men aged between 40 and 60 making up approximately 80 per cent of smokers. “I’m seeing more women smoking cigars today,” says Alberto. “Women are very picky about what they smoke and have a greater sense of smell than men.” The club has even established a womens only cigar event called The George Sand Cigar Circle to cater to this growing movement. The younger generation is also showing an interest in cigars, he feels. “I think younger men see older men smoking cigars and they want to join them as a way of networking and connecting to that age group.”
While some guests prefer a cigar with a slender gauge such as a corona or petit corona, some, many heiling from the Middle East generally go a little larger, explains Alberto. “They like a robusto, something longer that they can smoke, pause, and relight. I’ve seen members smoke two or three cigars over eight hours. They say that when you puff a cigar you should remove your watch,” he laughs.
For Alberto, what he chooses to smoke depends on the time of day, what he’s doing, and how he’s feeling. In the morning he enjoys a Hoyo De Monterrey Epicure No. 2 with a cappuccino and a brioche, but he’s also partial to a longer Partagás Lusitania or a Cohiba Robusto.
Only Cuban cigars are available at the club. “They’re the best,” says Alberto simply. “Cuba is a tropical island that’s the perfect microclimate for growing tobacco; the soil contains no chemicals or pollution. There are 500 manual steps in the production of tobacco leaves and they still use cows to pull the ploughs because if the soil is compressed the tobacco plant cannot grow.”
Oscuro’s cigar prices are special for the club’s members and range from AED 35 for a Montecristo Short to AED 2,700 for a Cohiba Behike 56. The longest is the Partagás Lusitania at 194mm while the shortest is the 82mm Montecristo Short. Looking at the gauge measurement, the club carries a Cohiba Short at 26, up to the Partagás Salomones at 57.
Alberto looks forward to showing members these and many other notable cigars from Oscuro’s humidors on 23rd Februaryat the annual Festival of Habanos. “It’s a way for different cultures to mix,” he says. “Cigar smokers are the friendliest, most polite people in the world.”