The good news is that I got to smoke this cigar. The natural-wrapped Churchill is mild-to-medium in body and strength, and you can definitely taste the cognac. (Yes, you fellow recovering alcoholics can have these: There’s no real alcohol remaining in the tobacco.)
I smoked one outdoors at the Republican National Convention late one night last week, and the other on my deck Sunday afternoon. Both situations were about 70 percent humidity, the former owing to Hurricane Isaac.
Gurkha sources the filler tobacco for the Grand Reserve from the Dominican Republic’s Cibao valley, a fertile region in the northern part of the country between two mountain ranges. Twenty miles to the north is Christopher Columbus’ old stomping ground. The binder leaf is also Dominican, and it’s topped off with a U.S. Connecticut shade wrapper.
The construction is excellent, although the mouth-end flattened on me when I was down to the last two inches. The burn was even, although the first cigar I tried needed relighting about a half-hour in. The draw was a little loose for me, but given the length of the cigar Gurkha probably had little choice but to assemble the Churchill a bit less tightly than the robusto.
Two words came to mind after I smoked the Grand Reserve: “mellow” and “soothing.” This is a calming smoke that’s not likely to excite anyone’s palate, but that makes it a great accompaniment to office work, outdoor reading, deep-thought writing or even a midday stroll.
The cognac hits the tongue first, of course, and there’s a faint creamy chocolate taste in the first third. It opens up toward the end to a hint of pepper, but again these are subtle shadings of a subtle cigar. Almost the entire aftertaste was cognac. Whatever they’re doing to infuse the tobacco is clearly working: Five minutes after the cigar was out, I could still taste the cognac.
Cigars this mild — and flavor-infused stogies in general — always give me pause when I see people smoking them while golfing, mowing the lawn or eating dinner. There’s usually enough saliva and sweat present on your face when you move your body or eat hot food that a salty-tasting cigar is bound to result. And from what I remember about drinking, cognac is not a margarita.
Still, the Grand Reserve is a truly pleasant experience if you set the scene right, and it’s generally priced online at around $11 with the glass tube. That’s not bad considering you get to taste a nice liqueur in the bargain.
I have seen the robustos for as little as $4 in bundles of 15, however — but without the glass tubes I don’t know how much of the Cognac taste would disappear.
Something tells me Bill Clinton would appreciate the idea of getting a white-tablecloth experience at a cheeseburger price, though. And call me crazy, but I think he has a box of these Grand Reserves stashed somewhere, awaiting their next adventure.
Or maybe he brought them all to Charlotte for the Occupy groupies. Who knows?
Note: This column was updated to reflect that the Grand Reserve is infused with Rémy Martin cognac, not Louis XIII cognac. Gurkha’s “His Majesty’s Reserve” cigar, which retails for an astonishing $850, holds that distinction, although several online cigar merchants are selling the Grand Reserve with that incorrect information. It was also updated to clarify that Mr. Hyams was not 100 percent definitive on the size and shape of the Grand Reserve that President Clinton favored.