Ammo & Gear Reviews

Cigar Hunter: Paul Garmirian the calm contrarian, part 2

David Martosko Executive Editor
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Part two of a two-part series

P.G. Cigars mogul Paul Garmirian did something Tuesday that’s unusual in the twenty-first century, a day after part 1 of this interview appeared online: He wrote a heartfelt apology, in this case for offending his younger, brasher peers in the cigar industry.

“There are different schools of thought and I was emphasizing my traditional old school approach,” Garmirian wrote in a statement.

“I should have never mentioned other manufacturers (even off the record). To all who have been offended by my interview in a moment of sincere and honest chat, expressing my opinions, I hereby express my sincere apologies,” he added.

“It really pains me that my comments have offended many hard working cigar makers who, although have a different marketing style than mine, need to be commended for their success.”

To be clear, nothing I reported Monday was said “off the record.” Other things Garmirian said certainly were, but I didn’t write them down. (RELATED: Paul Garmirian the calm contrarian, part 1)

While Paul’s comments have stirred up a lot of emotions, he’s at heart a classy guy — and classy guys seek reconciliation. If only our political leaders and their henchmen would do that now and again! (I’m lookin’ at you, Axelrod.)

That interview, a four-hour-long visit at P.G. Cigars in McLean, Virginia, covered more than just Garmirian’s culture clash with the young guns of the tobacco world. We talked about nuts-and-bolts things too, and much of the discussion surprised me.

First he showed me $750 exotic leather cigar pouches. Uh-oh.

And $3,000 humidors. Definitely not my speed. I’m still breaking in the one Tampa Humidor graciously sent me last month. (RELATED: Cigar Hunter: What to do with that humidor you got for Father’s Day)

Then Garmirian showed me an affordable cigar cutter, a smallish tool with a single diagonal blade. The plastic version sells for $20, and the anodized aluminum one? He hasn’t made them since 1999. The original retail price was $200. I saw one on eBay last month for $950.

“It’s completely hand-made,” he told me. “The blade is fixed to within one-quarter of 1/1,000th of an inch. Aircraft aluminum, anodized in Holland, build in England by hand, only 100 at a time. I only produced 2,000 cutters over an eight-year period. And of course the same blade is on the plastic cutter, which is like the Rolls Royce of cheap cutters. … Its blade is fixed to within 1/1000th of an inch.”

Boasting? Maybe. But I have to say his cutter gave me the cleanest slice of any I’ve ever tried. I took one home and now I won’t use anything else.

You know that disgusting thing that happens when a dull blade leaves a rough, pebbly surface on your cigar, and little bits of tobacco fall out in your mouth or catch on your teeth?

Yeah. That doesn’t happen with this cutter. The opening is narrow and concave, so just the faintest tip of the cigar head enters the blade chamber. And the blade itself is so sharp that you can cut slo-o-o-o-owly without tearing anything.

“The cut is going to reflect the movement” of your hand, Garmirian explained “Even a surgeon is going to have a hand that moves around.” When the cigar is firmly pressed up against the opening instead of hovering around inside it — well, you get the point. It just works better. The only negative is that I’ll probably lose this cutter because it’s so small.

Garmirian and I sat down next to his desk. I looked around for a torch lighter — my default — and I came up empty.

“Butane,” he said, handing me a small wood-encased tabletop lighter like the one my chain-smoking grandfather used to have on his TV table. “It’s the only way to do it.”

I’m used to being offered torch lighters in cigar shops. Uh-oh.

“The torch lighter is designed for only one thing, in my opinion: It’s for re-lighting,” Garmirian explained.

“The torch … is coming [out] at 2,000 degrees. Basically, it shocks the wrapper. It shocks the cigar. It’s not intended to light a cigar. You need a gentle flame.”

But doesn’t liquid fuel change the flavor of tobacco, I asked, in some subtle but undesirable way?

“When people are talking about not using a lighter, that’s the old Zippo, with petrol,” he replied. “The butane is [flavor-]neutral.”

Given how much I write, edit and read while I smoke, I’m constantly having to re-light cigars. So I suppose I can keep my torch lighter — at least until the next time I fly. (Be warned: TSA confiscates those things like they’re switchblades.)

Garmirian, as I’m sure you’ll agree by now, is full of surprises. When the topic turned to wine pairings, I got another one.

“I drive people crazy with the statement I’m going to make,” he said: “There is no such thing as pairing cigars with wine.”


“The presence of tannins in the wine, and the absence of acidity in a good cigar? They clash.”

I suppose this is his way of saying you can pair wine with inferior cigars all day long — but who would want an acrid cigar in the first place?

The grand loophole in this formulation is what normally goes with wine: food.

“Now, not to contradict myself, [but] if you’re sitting down a la Lebanese style and doing a Mezze with Arak and smoking a cigar,” he allowed, “if you have intake of food and wine and a cigar, that’s perfect.”

“But I can’t pair the wine with the cigar. To me, they clash. I don’t know how people can do it.”

We didn’t discuss Arak, since I don’t drink. But when I started talking about cigar flavor notes — nutmeg, leather, cherry — that might actually complement certain wines from my pre-sobriety memory bank, he put up his hand and smiled.

Garmirian said, in what I began to recognize as playful exaggeration, that he was “completely revolted” by the idea of classifying cigars by what the smoke tastes like.

“There are four [flavor] elements. Period. Period. Period,” he insisted. “Salt, acidity, sweetness, acridity — bitterness — those are the attributes.”

No sweet cedar with subtle undertones of orange peel and grass clippings? Uh-oh. What am I going to write about?

“Now you get into cinnamon, chocolate, leather, I mean they have described my cigars as shaved pencils. Shaved pencils!”

I do share his amusement about online reviewers who all seem to taste the same flavor notes in the same cigar, despite the differences in body chemistry from one palate to the next — to say nothing of the different things we all eat, drink and brush our teeth with.

“It’s ‘monkey see, monkey do,’” Garmirian said.

“Somebody mentions cinnamon, [and then] everybody starts to mention cinnamon. Leather? I mean, I’m a classical traditionalist. I don’t know anything about cinnamon or any flavors or anything like that.”

He has a point: How could we all be tasting hints of espresso and goat’s milk with a Parmesan-bubblegum chaser in cigars that share a label but were probably rolled months apart? Did we all eat the same lunch beforehand?

Perhaps someone is cribbing from the first adventuresome soul to stake his taste buds on a review. It’s possible.

It’s also possible, I thought, that Garmirian is experiencing taste and smell at a level that’s simply more ingrained and less dependent on language.

When I was in my 20s I studied music with world-class violinists and pianists who were also some of the least articulate and the most linguistically challenged people I have ever known.

They thought it was silly for concertgoers and reviewers to describe their playing with language like “shimmery,” “gossamer,” “soaring,” “tremulous,” “querulous” or any number of other ten-dollar words. But to an audience of non-musicians, words were the only descriptive tools available.

These musicians, after all, communicated with their instruments in a more visceral, less intellectual fashion. And after five decades of this, I bet some of them will be able to make people weep without saying a word.

Maybe Garmirian’s nose and palate are like that. I don’t know. Maybe he’s misunderstood, like so many self-assured virtuosi. But he certainly seems to reject plain English as a poor substitute for intuition.

How does he describe cigars, then — beyond “smooth” and “not smooth” — if not with words?

“The only thing that I can say is the strength of the cigar, from 1 to 10,” he replied, “and that’s based on the following: If the cigar is made principally with the ligero tobacco, which is on top of the plant, which has been exposed to the sun longer, then obviously it’s going to be a thicker leaf, it’s going to have more exposure, it’s going to be stronger. If it has seco or viso, which is the lower part –”

“Now, when it comes to describing the cigar, you can only describe it as far as strength and you have to be knowledgeable about the content.”

Ultimately, Garmirian conceded that his cigar “is not for everybody. Not everybody has the palate, and/or the pocketbook, to enjoy the nuances and the subtleties and the finesse.”

“I talk about the subjectivity of it. It is so bloody personal.”

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David Martosko