WINSTON CHURCHILL … would love them
Text: Reinhold C. Widmayer / Photos: Corbis, Davidoff
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others”, Sir Winston Churchill once said. And even an established business force like Davidoff needs all the courage it can muster when it decides to christen a new cigar brand the “Winston Churchill”. Especially since, Churchill has always been considered the poster man for Cuban cigars – until now.
Without a doubt, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was in public life one of history’s most courageous politicians, and in his personal life he was no less determined and energetic. In 1895, aged 21 and fresh out of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he traveled to Cuba to take in the War of Independence as a military observer. It may be providence that sent him to Cuba, because the fact is that he became a serious cigar smoker there. The trip was rife with cigarophilic connections … One of the major forces behind the Cuban rebellion against Spanish colonial power was José Martí, a poet and writer who later also lent his name to a fine cigar brand. During exile in West Tampa, Florida he rallied the Cuban tobacco workers to found the Partido Revolucionario Cubano, the Cuban revolutionary party. After many years’ preparation Martí set the date for February 24, 1895. According to one story, the starting sign for the uprising was sent to Cuba by way of a secret message hidden in a cigar, sent direct from Tampa, which would later become center of the cigar industry. The cigar has since been the red thread running through Churchill’s exciting life. In those days, the public was unaware that this penchant for tobacco had the potential to be used by his enemies against him.
Threat of a Cigar
Churchill’s preference for cigars and fine beverages had become world-famous by 1940, when he became prime minister for the first time. The beloved statesman often received gifts of alcohol and cigars, which his security advisors naturally perceived as a potential threat. They feared a similar attack on their prime minister to the British intelligence’s recent, foiled assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler. Presents from around the world were therefore regularly tested for poisonous substances – much to their intended recipient’s dismay. In January 1941 the British Legation in Havana received two boxes of cigars from the Maceo Society of Camaguey. The foreign office immediately sent them on to Scotland Yard. How-ever, since there were no experts available there, the Cuban gifts were sent on to the Ministry of the Interior, where a certain Roche Lynch, toxicity expert in chemical pathology at St. Mary’s Hospital, performed the examination. Lynch was not able to detect any poisons, but admitted in his report that the cigars could possibly have been tainted with tropical substances unknown in Europe. He noted that as a further precaution, he had smoked a cigar from each box himself “with no untoward effects”. After this, Scotland Yard as a result deemed the risk minimal, but the advice to Downing Street No. 10 was firm: the prime minister could still not afford to take the risk. Without further ado, Scotland Yard confiscated the goods. Churchill was furious, but surprisingly allowed the officials to have their way – he was not nearly as yielding in other matters.
How Churchill Tricked His Security
That very year, two large shipments of cigars arrived – again, gifts, and even better yet housed in handsome humidors. This led to a frantic back-and-forth of memorandums within the home office. On the one hand, some of the officials had every intention – but were more than a little afraid to do so – to confiscate the gifts for security reasons. Others were terrified of the notion of delivering the cigars to their boss, but recommending he not consume them: it would have been an unimaginable impertinence. Back and forth raged the debate until they almost called in Mrs. Churchill, but that was finally deemed going a bit too far. In-stead, the bureaucrats turned to Lord Rothschild from the security service MI5. Rothschild conceded that security precautions were indeed necessary and offered to make some inquires so discreet that Churchill would never catch wind of the plan. “This is the sort of thing that the Prime Minster would not like very much if he knew about it”, he noted. Advisory committees formed, and secret meetings took place at the highest levels until, in the spirit of cooperation, one of Churchill’s pri-vate secretaries asked Lord Rothschild whether it would be possible in the future that MI5 rather than Scotland Yard could test cigars, chocolates, and the like. “We might stand a better chance of getting them back if they were innocuous”, he wrote wryly in a memo to Rothschild. In the reply Rothschild came to the defense of his colleagues at Scotland Yard, suggesting that he would not de-prive Scotland Yard of chocolates since they probably ate them or fed them to dogs, but testing cigars would be much trickier and they would best be sent to the MI5’s bacteriological expert. While MI5 subjected the cigars to a whole battery of obscure tests, including injecting mice with an extract of cigar broth and applying tobacco sublingually to volunteer test subjects, private secretary John Col-ville wrote three precautionary memos to his boss, stressing the potential danger that gifts of cigars might pose. Months passed, only to prove that the test cigars had been completely harmless. But it turns out that only a few had been inspected after all. Churchill’s bodyguard, Inspector Thompson, agreed to further check all cigars that had passed the test for puncture points and questionable marks. The irony in the whole story: Winston Churchill had already commandeered a whole portion of the cigars long before the MI5 ever got to them! At the September 19, 1941 assembly of the British Defense Committee, the Prime Minister offered everyone a sample from his “hidden treasure” and presented them proudly with the wonderful humidor: “Gentlemen”, he addressed the round, “I am now going to try an experiment. Maybe it will result in joy. Maybe it will end in grief. I am about to give each one of you one of these magnificent cigars …” After a short pause he went on, in typically Churchillian flair and nearly bursting with glee, “… it may well be that these each contain some deadly poison!”
The Winston Churchill Brand
There is no other public persona who has been more closely associated with the cigar than Wins-ton Churchill. But his legendary affection was first and foremost reserved for Cuban puros. In Havana in the fall of 2002 Celia Sandys opened an exhibition in honor of her grandfather that focused on his heroic consumption of Havanas. How, then, did the remarkable alliance between Davidoff and the Churchills come about?
Winston S. Churchill, who bears the same name as his grandfather and father, shares many biographical similarities with both – he was also a journalist, a wartime reporter, a writer and parliamentarian – took the initiative in 2005. “It was high time to come up with a line of cigars named after the most famous aficionado in history. I carefully considered which manufacturer had the best reputation, which produces the best cigars, and my search led to Davidoff. Luckily, my idea was met with great interest there.” Hanspeter Hagmann, head of international sales at the Oettinger Davidoff Group in Basel, reacted just as enthusiastically. “We naturally feel deeply validated to have been chosen and are devoting much attention, and our full energy, to this concept. We also want to communicate very clearly – directly on the pack-aging – that we developed the Winston Churchill brand and that it will be the only additional brand to be produced in our Davidoff factory.”
René Hollenstein, chief creator of new cigars at Davidoff, emphasizes the company’s commitment: “The Winston Churchill is not just an-other Davidoff cigar, but represents a whole new path for cigar production. All seven tobaccos, from five different countries, are raised from Havana seed.” The wrapper is made from specially cultivated Ecuador tobacco; the wrapper-quality binder comes from the company’s own Dominican plantations. The filler’s complex taste represents five tobaccos grown in three countries: Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua.
This blend is an intriguing departure from everything that is expected of the Davidoff brand – it’s not an Olor, nor a San Vicente … the enormously long, broad finish defines the new cigar, asserts its self-confidence. Winston Churchill is a consistent creation that looks to tradition with its classic, elegant design. As the name of its patron suggests, it will appeal to the aficionado who has style, Havana smokers included. At the brand’s debut in Switzerland, Dr. Reto Cina, CEO of the Oettinger Davidoff Group, remarked, “We have made big promises to stay true to the brand concept and the Cubans watching it like hawks. These cigars have already created a lot of excitement in the USA.”
After an extensive tasting with our own panel, I feel confident that I can conclude these lines by hereby declaring: Sir Winston Churchill would love them.