By AL BAKER
People often ask me about my resemblance to Winston Churchill, both of us being outstanding war-time leaders, orators and cigar aficionados. There is more to this story than just coincidence of talent and passion. Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 just before I was born. My father, being a great admirer of the PM, gave me the middle name of Winston in Churchill’s honor. Thus we are sort of kin, if not by blood, certainly by name.
It was probably through this name line that I inherited my love of cigars.
There is a story told of Churchill’s first dining with King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. Churchill’s handlers told him that because the King was an abstinent that it would be an insult for the Prime Minister to either drink alcohol or smoke during the meal. Undeterred, my namesake convinced Saud that his religion required him to consume alcohol and smoke cigars with his meal …
The King being tolerant of other religions insisted that Sir Winston follow the dictates of the religion Churchill had described.
We not only have the same name, but I inherited his religion. All this from a man I never met in person.
Unfortunately there is not a size of cigars called the Winston. The Romeo y Julieta, Julieta Number Twos which were renamed Churchills after a photo of the Prime Minister making his famous V (victory sign), with a Romeo perched inside the V, appeared around the world.
Jose “Pepin” Rodriguez Fernandez, whose firm, Rodriguez, Argüelles y Cia , owned the brand, sent Churchill 1000 of the newly named cigars. Joseph Stalin ordered a thousand for his own use. While I served outside of the United States, it was my cigar of choice.
Many cigar brands now make a size they call the Churchill. There is no standard for size names in the industry, and sizes of the same name vary considerably.
Because of the embargo of all Cuban goods, the Cuban Romeo y Julieta is not allowed to be sold in the United States. Fortunately, after Castro’s Cuba nationalized the tobacco industry, the brand was moved to La Romana in the Dominican Republic, where production of a Romeo y Julieta cigar for the American market continues. The brand is owned by Altadis.
The Cuban government nationalized the brand and still produces and distributes it world-wide (except the USA) as one of its top-selling global brands. Altadis handles the distribution of the Cuban product as well.
The good news is that blending has made the Dominican Romeo Churchill as good as its Cuban counterpart, and it is a top-selling cigar in the United States. It is still one of my favorites.
I smoke the Churchill en Tubo. This cigar uses an Indonesian TBN wrapper that surrounds a classic Dominican binder and filler. It burns with a characteristic white ash, providing a smooth, mellow taste with medium body. The same blend of tobaccos is used for the cellophane-wrapped Romeo Churchills. But the tube is lined in cedar which, at least for my palate, enhances the extraordinary taste of the cigar.