The Plunge sat down for a Q&A with Michael Herklots, Vice President of Retail and Brand Development for Nat Sherman. Michael discussed the best cigar-related gifts for grooms and groomsmen, how to cut and smoke a cigar, and some of his all-time favorite Nat Sherman flavors.
I want to give cigar-related gifts to my groomsmen but am new to smoking. Is there a right cigar for each individual palate, or is there a happy medium? What do I start?
First, don’t over-think it. A great cigar is a great gift, period. Don’t get too wrapped up in trying to find something to suit one person’s specific taste. Opt for something mellower over something very full bodied, as these tend to be more “crowd pleasing.” Look for a cigar with a lighter colored wrapper; more times than not these will indicate a slightly milder experience. My recommendation: Nat Sherman Metropolitan University (Natural). If you know these guys are already cigar enthusiasts, opt for a great cigar cutter or lighter. Chances are they already have one, but my wife already has shoes and she doesn’t mind when she gets another pair. Look for cigar cutters by Xikar and lighters by Colibri for great value.
What defines or makes for a great cigar for the novice? Do you have to spend a lot to get a great cigar?
The first mistake most novices make is they opt for a smaller cigar because they think it will be a nice way to ease into the experience. The problem is, the smaller and thinner cigar is the stronger and hotter it has the potential to be. So, the general rule is no shorter than 5” in length and no thinner than a 46 ring gauge. A 6” x 50 “Toro” size is perfect. It may seem a little intimidating, but you don’t have to smoke it down to your fingers… just enjoy the flavor as long as you wish.
What is the perfect way to cut and light a cigar?
A cigar must be cut in order to draw smoke through it and onto your palate. To ensure the smoothest draw, coolest smoke, and best combustion, cut the cigar using a double guillotine cutter at the “shoulder.” The shoulder can be found at the closed end of the cigar just as it rounds out to the body of the cigar. Here’s a foolproof cutting method:
Place your double guillotine cutter flat on a table in the open position. Place the closed end of the cigar into the open hole of the cutter with the cap of the cigar touching the table’s surface. Then, without picking up the cutter, simply bring the blades together. This will slice off the cap without removing too much and ensure the cigar remains intact.
For the best man, what’s a reasonable budget to outfit the bachelor party with cigars?
Budgets are different for each party. What’s important to remember is you can find a great gift within any budget range but to do so you will want to ask your tobacconist for help. Great premium cigars can often be had for $5 each, though there are very special cigars that seek far higher prices. Cutters, lighters, and other accessories can also range from $20 to thousands of dollars per item, so have a target budget in mind, and then work with a tobacconist to create the best gift that works within your budget. I’ve put together wonderful matching sets of a cutter, lighter, and cufflinks with a few cigars and a leather carrying case for less than $300.
Assuming you don’t have your own humidor and you don’t know the best local shop, is there a trick for transporting cigars to the bachelor party without drying them out?
Keeping cigars humid is paramount to a quality smoking experience. Today, almost every tobacconist, whether brick-and-mortar or online, has either “Humi-Pouches” or “Humidipaks.” These are very inexpensive short-term solutions. Boveda offers small humidification “pillows” that resemble a tea bag. Simply place this little pillow into a sealable plastic bag and you are generally fine for up to 30 days.
Nat Sherman says the best cigar is the one you like best. If you had to pick your favorite cigar for these moments, what would it be?
First, I have to say it’s unfortunate that the three scenarios outlined below – of course very popular cigar smoking events – are all outdoors, making it difficult to really appreciate the subtle complexities of an elegant cigar’s aroma. For smoking outdoors, I typically recommend something medium bodied or stronger. On to the list.
Tailgate Party: You’re most likely away from home with a lot of different people, so if you’re the guy with a cigar in your hand, you better be willing to share. A Nat Sherman Timeless Hermoso is perfect. It’s a little larger than a typical Robusto, with a full body and medium strength. And at $7.50 per cigar, it’s affordable enough to bring a box and be a hero.
Golfing with the Guys: For Golfing, cigars are often broken up into the front nine and back nine, and large cigars are generally preferred. They stay cooler longer, and they’re easy to spot on the ground after you place it down to tee off. A Nat Sherman Host Hampton remains our most popular golfer’s cigar. It’s 7” x 50, with a smooth, creamy, and slightly sweet character that is a no-brainer for a morning tee time. For the back nine, fire up a Nat Sherman Metropolitan Maduro “Metropolitan”. It’s a dark cigar, but smooth and rich to help finish your game and bring you back to the clubhouse ready for a whiskey and steak. Keep the cigar in your mouth as you lie about how well you played – it’s very convincing.
Grilling Out: Now that you’re home with friends, it’s a great time to break out something a little more special. The Nat Sherman 1930 is a full-bodied cigar with great spice and earth notes that will no doubt perform great outdoors and stand up to the meat on the grill. Since you’re home, don’t be afraid to break out a few great bottles of “Big Red” wines to accompany the steaks and cigars.
Lots of venues offer cigar bars as premium add-ons for the reception. Can I do just as much for less by buying my own assortment? What sort of spread would you recommend?
I believe in working with a local tobacconist. See if they have a member of their staff who can help work your reception. Cigar rollers can be entertaining but they can also be distracting. A “fresh cigar” right off the table is really not intended to be smoked, as it hasn’t been aged properly. However, having a tobacconist on hand to cut and light cigars for your guests is sophisticated and appropriate. Plus, it’s a great opportunity for the tobacconist to not only share knowledge, but also help raise awareness of their local business. Four options are perfect. My ideal wedding reception cigar bar would feature:
1. Nat Sherman Host Hobart – Mild, smooth, and slightly sweet
2. Nat Sherman Timeless No. 2 – A beautiful torpedo-shaped cigar that will be appreciated by the aficionados at your party
3. Nat Sherman 1930 Corona Grande – Spicy but elegant in a classic format that’s comfortable for everyone
4. Nat Sherman Sterling Mareva – A traditional corona shape, full in body, but mild in strength and profound complexity
Do people smoke when toasting or is it really meant for the after party?
Smoking cigars is a time commitment, and once you start a cigar it should be finished more or less in the same sitting. If the toast is outdoors, then fire up. The toast is such an important part of the evening, though, that I recommend offering the cigars at a time when you’re ready to lose some of the attention of your guests. Make sure the father-daughter and mother-son dances are complete, too!
Where would you send a cigar aficionado for his bachelor party or honeymoon?
Listen, bachelor parties and honeymoons are two completely different things. While I appreciate knockdown blowouts in Las Vegas that wind up with tigers in the bathroom and friends MIA (I think they made a movie like that), personally I used my bachelor party as a night to really just hang with my dearest friends, have an amazing dinner with great wines and great cigars, and let them know that this would likely be the very last time we’d ever be doing this! Just kidding, but you get my drift. We enjoyed a great meal at one of my favorite steakhouses and then arranged to go back to a local tobacconist where we rented the space and held a small private party.
For the honeymoon, the last thing you want to do is disrupt the new bond of your marriage. But, assuming you have a supportive spouse who appreciates your affection for cigars (second only to your affection for her), finding an evening or two during the honeymoon where you can enjoy a cigar – perhaps outdoors on a terrace, and perhaps even share the cigar with your spouse – I find is wonderfully romantic. On a personal note, we went to the Amalfi coast, where I enjoyed a Petit Corona and an Amaro every evening.
What are your top five cigars from 2014 and why?
Wow, we are too early in 2014 to come up with this! If I look back over the last 12 months or so, I’m very excited about our Nat Sherman offerings, in particular the trio of Super Lanceros we recently launched. At 8” x 38 they are an unconventional vitola, but they smoke with such finesse and focus. They’re available in three blends and each is uniquely perfect for a different moment. We also have some very exciting new products in the works for 2014 set to launch this spring and summer – perfect for wedding season, so stay tuned!
Michael Herklots is the Vice President of Retail and Brand Development for Nat Sherman, Inc, a New York tobacco institution since 1930. He works extensively developing new products for the brand, working with manufacturers throughout the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras, as well as oversees the company’s retail operations including their iconic flagship store on 42nd Street in Manhattan. He is a Certified Master Tobacconist by Tobacconist University, a teacher for the American Sommelier Association and a contributing writer for many publications. In the retail tobacco business since 1998, Herklots moved to New York City in 2002 and began working for the Swiss Tobacco firm Davidoff of Geneva in their flagship Madison Avenue store in New York City. In 2006 he was promoted to General Manager of Davidoff’s Columbus Circle location, and in 2008 was appointed as General Manager of both New York City Retail Operations.