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Rusty Humphries is a conservative talk radio host who holds the #20 spot on the TALKERS magazine “Heavy Hundred” list for 2012. But attracting 3 million listeners every week and being considered a bigger deal than radio giants Mancow Muller, Don Imus and Jim Bohannon apparently wasn’t enough.
“I’ve been a cigar aficionado for a long time,” Humphries told me last week over cigars and steaks at Morton’s in downtown Washington. “And I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have your own cigar?’”
He’s not big on t-shirts or bumper stickers.
“If you go to cigar shops, guys are usually there talking politics all the time, and they’re usually conservative. So I thought, ‘What a great product that would go with talk radio.’”
Humphries managed to get it done after more than 18 months of learning and experimenting — seven of them working with Don Lino creator Nestor Miranda and master blender José “Pepin” Garcia. Together the two Cuban legends, both Floridians now, created a 7-inch, 56-ring-gauge showpiece of a cigar called “El Presidente.”
Another famous Floridian — Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio — was among the first to taste it. The potential GOP vice-presidential pick “pronounced it bueno,” Humphries told me.
The El Presidente is a mild-to-medium-bodied all-Nicaraguan smoke that’s far more seco (the aromatic leaves from the middle of the tobacco plant) than ligero (the more complex spice-bomb leaves at the top). It’s the kind of cigar non-aficionados can enjoy — not too spicy, not too plain — and the presentation is beautiful. (RELATED: Burning the midnight maduro)
“The idea was that it was something regal,” Humphries explained. “Something you would give to a president. Something that would make you feel special.”
He only made 300 boxes. Just 5,400 cigars in all.
“It’s not made to be an everyday smoke. There’s not that many of ‘em,” he added.
“I only wanted to do a limited amount. I wanted to honor a president each time. When they’re gone, they’re gone. So each cigar is a collector’s item in its own right.”
I’m not sure I’d want to collect this cigar as much as I’d want to smoke it. It’s wrapped tightly in a Nicaraguan leaf that’s on the light end of maduro color, moderately veiny, with only one soft spot that I could feel. And it’s capped off with a tiny pigtail. Not big enough to twist off like a Kristoff, but an unusual touch. (RELATED: A cheap Brazilian that doesn’t involve your girlfriend)
The first El Presidente is dedicated to George Washington, whose portrait appears on the lower of the cigar’s two bands. Future editions, he said, will feature other presidents. (I forgot to ask him if there will be a Bill Clinton cigar — but of course, there already is.)
The label itself is an explosion of printed colors. Humphries told me they took far more time to produce than he expected.
“They can’t make these in the U.S. It has something to do with the gold dust,” he said. “They have laws against this in the U.S. — it’s hysterical. They have to be made in Switzerland, or someplace in South America.”
The upper label, which will remain constant from president to president, features images of the White House, the Capitol dome, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“One of the little things that I did for myself — I put the Vietnam wall on here,” Humphries explained, his voice suddenly lower. “My father was killed in Vietnam when I was three years old, in 1969. And so I wanted a little honor for my father.”
With that, the next table — occupied by National Review editors — seemed to join in our spontaneous moment of sympathetic silence. While the outdoor patio at Morton’s held its collective breath, I struck a match.
“Here’s to your dad.”
The first taste was a good hint of what was to come. The El Presidente started on the mild side, almost comparable to a Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne cigar. The first third was creamy with a hint of coffee and toasted cedar. But most of the flavor profile was a very pleasant, mild leather. (RELATED: Havana comes to Northern Africa)
It’s the kind of cigar you’ll enjoy smelling, even if you’re not the one smoking it.
Humphries smoked with me, but he wasn’t too interested in talking about whether his cigar would win any blind taste-tests. My talk of leather and the lack of a cocoa note suddenly made me feel decidedly geeky.
“That’s not my specialty. I know what I like, and I know what my market is,” he told me. “This is for the guy who enjoys going to the cigar lounge and talking about politics. A guy who enjoys it but is not obsessed by it. I didn’t want it too strong.”
True to his prediction, the El Presidente never spiced up past medium. The second third introduced a hint of pepper to the back of my soft palate, but overall the cigar became more creamy and more leathery.
By the end, though, that trend reversed. I smoked the cigar down to the nub, and found the creaminess swapped for a medium-bodied pepper, again all on the back end. It never needed a single re-light or touch-up, and the burn was even from beginning to end. (RELATED: Partagas in Paris)
As we crushed out our cigars, I wondered aloud how on earth this amiable human trumpet of a radio host managed to hook up with Nestor Miranda and Pepin Garcia. Humphries had an answer.
“I learned a great lesson one time from Ross Perot when he was running for president,” he told me. “He gave me some of the best advice of my life.”
“There was a rumor at the time that he used to go to this diner in Dallas, and I went to the diner one day, and there he is just sitting by himself. … I had lunch with Ross Perot and at the end I asked him, ‘Mr. Perot, what’s your advice for the dumb kids growing up?’”
Perot, as Humphries remembers it, told a childhood story about how he once dared to call a newspaper’s publisher to help him resolve a problem with his paper route. The problem, he told a younger Humphries, “got solved, lickety-split.”
Humphries, a natural impressionist, put on his best Perot voice: “Ya see? My advice is to go to the top man. The top man!”
The El Presidente cigar is priced starting at $56.25 for a 5-pack. It’s sold only through Tobacco World in Marietta, Georgia. (They take phone orders.) Rusty Humphries can be heard weeknights from 9 p.m. to midnight EDT (6-9 p.m. PDT) on more than 250 radio stations nationwide via the Talk Radio Network.