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Photographs: Pushpesh Dhingra; Location Courtesy: Rubicon Cigar Lounge at the Leela Ambience Gurgaon

Where the rich are investing 2015

A Class Apart
The Smoke Company brings the joy of cigars to aficionados and novices alike

Shveta Bhagat

"Cigars are like pieces of art, they have a bespoke, handcrafted value to them, which machine-rolled cigarettes can never deliver" — Ashish Bhasin, The Smoke Company

Cigars, unlike cigarettes, exude a certain sophistication, a way of life that speaks of an embedded love for all things luxury. They spell class, represent a lineage, and carry on a tradition.

New Delhi-based entrepreneur Ashish Bhasin, an ardent cigar collector has taken his passion to a new level with his company, The Smoke Company. He is determined to spread awareness and love, for this until-now exclusive indulgence.

Cigars form the four Cs that exude sophistication — good cologne, chocolate, coffee and of course cigars. As for the latter, Ashish says, “Cigars are like pieces of art. They have a bespoke, handcrafted value to them which machine-rolled cigarettes can never deliver; the organic aroma of a good cigar fills up your senses, which the burning paper can never do; once your palate has acquired the taste and fallen under its spell — cigarettes will never catch your fancy.” Reflecting on how he first discovered his love, he says, “I was introduced to cigars by a Spanish friend way back at a conference in Singapore. I had never even touched a cigarette in my life, but a cigar had a certain appeal that continues to hold my fascination.” And what makes for a true connoisseur? “A true connoisseur for me, is someone who has taste but is also educated on his acquisitions,” he says. “They indulge in their passion, by reading about them, talking about them, and sharing their experiences with fellow smokers and educating beginners.”

Cigars tend to be patronised by connoisseurs who’re not looking for instant gratification. Ashish explains, “Unlike cigarette smoke that, when inhaled, creates a nicotine rush in the blood that leaves one craving for more, cigars are potent, pure tobacco which one does not inhale. So it doesn’t get into your bloodstream, and thus you don’t crave it. That’s also why, unlike cigarettes where one is usually stuck to a particular brand, with cigars there’s a natural progression towards experiencing various blends and brands. Over a period of time, your tastes and preferences only evolve.” Cigar smokers are known to write notes on cigars with a complete chronology of events, and with whom and where they smoked them, and so on. Ashish has been smoking his cigars for over 14 years, while living outside the country; it is only upon returning, that his own need for a good cigar drove him to set up The Smoke Company. Since then, his collection, and his clients have grown by the day.

Cigars are judged based on a few parameters, such as taste notes, ease of draw — which in cigar parlance is literally taking a puff — and construction. These are simple facts that a new convert may not be familiar with. Which is why Ashish is on a mission to inculcate, first and foremost. His company has set up workshops for individuals, corporates, finishing schools, embassies, and the hospitality industry to educate and open doors to the fascinating world of cigars.

And there are positive signs that show a tilt towards this nascent trend. Take for example, the addition of swanky cigar lounges to five-star hotels. “I am happy that cigar lounges are being opened for people to spend leisurely evenings with friends and colleagues over malts, cigars, and conversations. The Leela Ambience Gurgaon (where we meet Ashish today) offers great cigar lounging services where you will see corporate executives taking their business meetings to a new level,” says Ashish.

Ashish is a non-conformist in every way, and his collection reflects just that. “I don’t do any Cubans; the world is gravitating to non-Cubans. Cigars from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Spain, and Italy have fabulous offerings. It’s like a majority of people knew of only French wines in India until 2004 when someone opened the doors to a new world wines, such as Chilean, Greek, and Californian,” he says. The selection at The Smoke Company consists mainly of boutique cigars. But with a growing demand for brand launches, corporate dos, weddings, and sports tournaments such as golf and polo, they are tuning to the customer’s needs and budgets.

His company imports and retails cigars that most have not even heard of: from 24-carat gold leaf and Swarovski-studded ones to celebrated brands and boutique blends, the Smoke Company does it all. Its collection boasts of 80 brands — to name a few — Liga Privada, Padron, Toscano, Gurkha, Tatuaje, Acid, Arturo Fuente, CR, Compessino, Kafie, Brick House, La Matilde, Saladin, Balmore, PDR, Macanudo, LFD, Costa and many more.  And out of these, which are the most luxe brands? “A good cigar can easily smoke out your thousand bucks up in a cloud,” says Ashish, “But an average, good cigar starts at ₹1,000 and goes up to ₹3,500 a piece. The prices of the gold-leaf and Swarovski-studded cigars can go up to US$150 a pop, and then there are cigars which are aged like wine, and these can go up multiple times their original value.”

What’s next on Ashish’s agenda is setting up an über cigar club. He is also toying with the idea of opening a cigar lounge in Lutyens Delhi, but the anti-smoking laws have been a dampener thus far. “We have spotted the venue, our drawings are ready, but there’s a spanner somewhere in our plans! Why can’t we have a dedicated lounge where smokers can meet, smoke out their life blues over jazz, swishing around wines and malts?” he laments. The Smoke Company is flooded with inquiries by big developers in metro cities to help open cigar lounges in luxury condominiums. The world of cigar lovers is only set to grow. 

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