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There’s more to cigars than their Cuban roots; here’s how Jay Walia and his crew at Cigar Bar KL are fanning the flame for novices and aficionados alike.
What do Nicaragua, Honduras, and Dominican Republic have in common with Cuba? The answer: Each produces cigars that are imported all over the world. Like wine, the flavour of a cigar depends greatly on its terroir. Like wine, the condition of a cigar is affected not merely by temperature, but the fluctuation of it. This is why they are stored in humidors.
Sitting in Cigar Bar KL enjoying our first Nicaraguan, founder Jay Walia explains that cigars from this South American nation are often fuller in flavour as the tobacco leaves are grown in volcanic soil. “That fire and brimstone forces character out of the plants that want to survive there. That’s why your ash is really white,” he points out.
Cigars are intricately associated to Cuba – and rightly so, since this is where it all began. Cubans had been smoking cohiba (tobacco) long before Colombus landed on the island in 1492. He brought tobacco back to Spain, which sparked a robust trade that spread the cigar throughout the Old World. This is how the first cigar factories came to be set up in Spain in 1676.
Today, Cuban cigars are produced under strict regulatory standards recognised globally. You’ll find several Cuban brands in Jay’s humidor at Cigar Bar KL, but he’ll happily guide you through the world of options. “What makes non-Cuban cigars interesting is the innovation behind them,” he muses. “Most non-Cuban cigars are aged even before rolling. Cuban cigars, on the other hand, are aged in the box after they’re rolled.”
Exploration for curation
Designed by co-founder and architect Juraj Kralj, Cigar Bar KL is tucked away at a corner of Naza Tower’s ground floor. It’s sleek style and ‘privacy without partitions’ concept creates an intriguing east-meets-west effect, with plush furniture and low, warm lighting ready to welcome you after a long day. A state-of-the-art ventilation system ensures that smoke never gets obstructive. Then there’s the bar, which displays a growing collection of whisky, rum, cognac, and wine – all of which Jay explores in curating his pairing experiences.
For as long as he can remember, Jay’s curiosity has been ignited by his senses. He attributes his love for experimentation to his childhood, when he would sit in the kitchen and sample every ingredient his mother used in her cooking. Cultivating this appreciation for food, drink, and culture from a young age led him to a career in television and events, which taught him to condense complex matters for the public palate.
A decade on from his first cigar, that’s just what Jay is doing at Cigar Bar KL – repackaging all he knows and learns for the enjoyment of others. He’s confident that Malaysia has the most mature cigar market in Southeast Asia because we are willing to experiment, which is incidentally the bedrock of the bar’s Curated Pairing Experience. This is where a chosen cigar is paired with a spirit, chocolate, even salt – elements that draw out certain flavours for shared enjoyment. Here, the sky is the limit. Single-origin coffee and masala chai are among the beverages Jay has paired with cigars.
“The Curated Pairing Experience has been a huge success for us,” Jay tells, recalling how the launch of this series on opening night wiped the humidor clean. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel – it’s about giving people a 360° experience.”
Whether you’re heading over for a night out with the guys or clinching your next business deal, this bar offers an intimate experience that quickly adjusts to your demands and expectations. Balance is an important part of the offering – instead of judgment you’ll find open minds that are equally curious, and instead of rules, honest suggestions to suit your palate and occasion.
How to heighten your experience at Cigar Bar KL
If you’re interested in exploring the world of cigars, here are some tips that could prepare you for a memorable experience.
- Set the mood. Cigar-time can’t be forced. Cigars can be perfect for meetings or parties, but at all times, a smoker must be cognizant of the condition his body and mind is in. When you enter Cigar Bar, expect to be asked what sort of day you’ve had, when your last meal was, and what your favourite flavours are. All those factors set the scene for your smoke.
- Carve out time & pace yourself. Cigars earned their badge of luxury not just for the exclusivity of product, but the idea that a man smoking a cigar has time on his hands. Setting a comfortable pace can heighten your enjoyment – like Jay says, “You don’t dictate the time limit, your cigar decides that for you.”
- Start with strong body & light potency. If you’re new to cigars, opt for strong flavours (body) that aren’t too nicotine-heavy. This will allow you to explore a more diverse range of flavours and learn to isolate them as you go along.
- Choose an ideal cut. The main types of cuts are straight, punch, crown and V-cut. Straight cuts are the most common and straightforward way to enjoy a cigar, while a V-cut creates a ridge in the middle that minimizes damage to the cigar shoulder. If the draw is too tight with a V-cut, go for a crown cut instead. Conversely, a punch cut is for those who prefer the harsh undertones of a cigar. When you punch a cigar, you’re confining the flavours to a tiny hole, which traps the oils in its shoulder to build up a bitter profile.
- Light with the tip of the flame. Toast the outer edges gently and let the middle ignite by itself. The aim is to light the wrapper leaf, which is the thickest part of the cigar. Be careful not to re-light it too often as this can compromise the flavour.
- Have some sugar handy. “If you ever feel light-headed while smoking a cigar, rip open a sachet of sugar and chew on it,” Jay advises. Light-headedness and cold sweats are symptoms that the nicotine is constricting the absorption of oxygen in your blood; a shot of glucose could ease that.
- Rest your cigar. If you’re getting your cigar delivered from an online order, it’s best to let it acclimatize after the journey. The fluctuation of humidity and temperature cause a ‘jet-lag’ effect on cigars, which can be overcome by letting them rest a while.
- Not all cigars age the same. Here’s where cigars differ from wine: they don’t necessarily get better with age. Nicaraguan cigars don’t need to be aged because its leaves have already been aged, but Cuban cigars improve in the box because its leaves have not been aged that long. Milder, lighter cigars reach their peak faster. If you’re storing, ensure your humidor is equipped with a dehumidifier for Malaysian climate.
Cigar Bar Selects presents Oliva Cigars’ only event in Malaysia this Saturday, November 8 at 8 p.m, with special guest Emmanuel Claerbout. You will enjoy an Oliva Masterblend ‘MB’ 3 with a dram of Angostura 1787 15 Years Old (RM 90) or cup of Nutella Hot Chocolate (RM 75). Reserve your spot now at firstname.lastname@example.org,+60323866148 or Instagram @cigarbarkl.
Visit the official website for more.
Photography: Anson Siau