It is a warm spring day in Florida, a gentle breeze is flowing, and the sun is just past its noon crest. While my wife is perched at her corner desk working from home, I am doing my best to not interrupt her work or succumb to Cabin Fever. I begin taking stock of what is in my humidor in an attempt to pass the time and work on a planned project for a new humidor when I come across a gem I forgot was in my boxes, The Hiram & Solomon Master Mason. I had heard many great things about these cigars and bought a few months back to be stashed and apparently forgotten about. Itching to try one, I decide that the best way to avoid cabin fever, and my wife’s frustration at how much I can distract her while attempting not to, is to pour a glass of rye and leave the house to smoke a cigar. The back porch may not technically be out of the house...but at least it is outside.
Hiram & Solomon Master Mason Toro
Wrapper: Habano Maduro Oscuro
Binder: Indonesian Sumatra
Filler: Habano Jalapa,
Habano Ometepe, Ligero
Average Price: 12 USD
Paired with Bulleit Rye
Pairing Goals: With this pairing I am hoping the spice from a nice clean Rye Whiskey accents the creamy sweetness commonly found in a Maduro
Visual / Pre-light Draw
I have always been drawn to the Master Mason Cigar. I have a fondness for the bold flavors of a Maduro, and the dark wrapper pressed against the almost royal blue band just oozes confidence in the flavors held within. Looking over the cigar, the wrapper seems to have some variations in color, it is not the consistent dark hue I am used to seeing. The construction is as solid as they come, and the smell is heavy in cedar. This is looking as though it will be a great smoke. I snip the back and take a cold draw, it requires a little effort, possibly due to the size of this cigar, but it promises all the earthy joy that I have come to love from a Maduro.
As I light the cigar my mouth is filled with flavors of cedar and leather, the draws are clean and easy, and I am immediately impressed. There is an oily finish to the cigar that hangs on to the tongue, but otherwise the flavors are surprisingly light, nowhere near as overpowering as I expected. A few puffs in and I take a sip of my rye and really begin to see this cigar in all its glory. The earthy and leathery flavors make the sip of whiskey almost creamy. The spice on the back end of the rye cuts through the oil and makes for a nice clean cut off from the slight lingering flavors you do get from the cigar.
Second / Final Third
As I move to the back 2/3 of the cigar, small cocoa notes begin to pop in. When pairing with the Bulleit Rye, it leaves a peppery chocolatey taste that is rather delightful; it immediately brings memories of dark chocolate bars infused with Cayenne Pepper that I used to buy for my wife. The further I progress into this cigar, the more the leathery flavor breaks and gives way to more and more cocoa bits, almost as if to present a desert after the main course.
Talking to the Maker
In a series of events that can only be explained as “right place, right time,” someone who is close with him offers me a chance to Interview Fouad Kashouty, owner of Hiram and Solomon Cigars. Considering that I am being offered this opportunity as I complete only my second in depth review of a cigar, I am understandably nervous.
After spending the morning writing questions for Fouad about the state of the Cigar Industry, I am waiting on a phone call to go over the interview. The phone starts to ring, my nerves calm slightly, and our conversation begins:
Dane: Just to start off, what inspired you to get into cigar making?
Fouad: Myself and my partner both are cigars smokers for 25+ years, but, mostly about 7-8 years ago we wanted to raise some money for a scholarship for the Masonic Lodge that I belong to and...are you familiar with the Masonic Symbol, or are you a Mason yourself?
D: I am not, but my wife actually was for some time, but she had to leave the lodge due to the toll it was taking on her, it was over an hour away and it just started to get a little hard to visit every month.
F: So I belong to a masonic lodge and we wanted to raise money for a scholarship and uh, we suggested let’s make a thousand cigars to sell to raise money, and we totally sold out, so we just made another thousand, and another thousand, and so I heard of this program that could help us, so then we made another lot, and it grew from one thousand, to ten thousand the first year, and then to over six hundred thousand this year and we are in six hundred plus lounges and about forty two countries.
F: But that’s how it started, and then we get the names from all of the Masonic order they participate and with the Master Mason you have the full body, some people take it as a medium body, but it is a medium to full body, and then you have the Fellow Craft and we progressed from there. But it all started with a charity function.
D: That is interesting, what do you feel from the Masonic teachings do you feel helped you in the management of Hiram and Solomon?
F: It took us about four or five years to get the rights, I mean nobody owns the rights for the Square and Compass for a cigar, but we needed their support behind us, one of the most important requirements for them was to make a cigar with our symbol on it was that it had to be a great cigar, no just an ok or low grade cigar, it has to be a premium cigar. Finally after a few years spent going back and forth with the lab and convincing the more conservative members that it is ok to do this and working with all the masonic charities, and with the Shriner Hospital and the scholarship program, so finally we got it, and the support from all of the brothers, so we began going to cigar lounges and convincing them to carry
our brand. That's primarily how we grew, we grew faster than other companies because of the help and support of the brothers in the market.
D: Good to hear, I’m actually glad you guys grew as fast as you did, I mean your Master Mason was the first of yours I tried, I think i have a couple of Apprentices and maybe a Traveling Man sitting in my humidor aging right now that I am anxious to try, but I had to start with the Master Mason, I am a huge fan of Maduros so that one had to be my first.
F: Yes it’s a nice sweet cigar that we blended in one of the factories that is actually responsible for more than 60% of the non-cuban cigars for most of the major companies.
At this point we have some connection issues that caused us to end the call and resume later. I have to say at this point I am happy to be doing this interview. I am shocked by a head of a cigar company with as much growth and sales that Hiram and Solomon has is so humble. He attributes almost all of his success to his brothers and the lodge. Approximately a half an hour later he calls back and we are able resume the interview.
D: Considering that this interview is for a Whiskey Bourbon and Scotch Enthusiast magazine, do you do any alcohol pairing with your cigars commonly?
F: Yes we do, we advertise in Cigar Estate magazine and periodically do pairings with a couple of our cigars.
D: What are some of your favorite pairings, or what do you commonly drink when you enjoy a cigar?
F: The full body cigar like the Maduro or something my favorite is a single malt, Highland Single Malt mostly, if I smoke something less than a full body I usually go for a smoky drink, like Laphroaig or something like that, but it’s a very personal thing, some people pair with wine, some prefer with champagne, some with coffee.
D: Yeah, i did your Master Mason with a rye whiskey yesterday and it complimented it very well, the little spice on the back end of the rye was great and it just created this nice almost creamy smoothness in the beginning, so I was very impressed. So, when you are creating a new cigar, do you look at the possible pairings, or do you prefer to look at cigars as stand alone and look into the pairings on the back end?
F: No you really worry about the cigar flavors themselves, the aroma, the body, then afterwards we look for something to try to pair it with after everything is done.
D: In your opinion what seperates a good cigar from a great cigar?
F: If you are enjoying the cigar it doesn't matter if it’s a $5 or $100 cigarm as long as you are enjoying it, and in a good mood when smoking it, that's what makes a great cigar.
D: It's hard to be in a bad mood smoking a cigar.
F: I am a firm believer that moods affect the flavor in cigars or drinks. If you are in a bad mood when drinking or smoking the cigar it actually changes the way it tastes. And yes, you are right, you have to be in a good mood to smoke and enjoy a good cigar.
D: Obviously, other than Hiram and Solomon, what are some of your favorite cigar makers on the market?
F: The last ten years really all the cigar companies have been upping their game and releasing some great cigars with some amazing flavors. And I will name a couple, but my personal favorite or go to is a Padron 1926 or Anniversary on the brand name cigars, on the boutiques mostly the tatuajes and blanco cigars. But my favorite brand name is easily the Padrons.
D: I have to agree with you, the Padron box pressed are some of the most consistent and easy cigars to find, I know almost every shop has them and they are all fantastic. So, personally I have always viewed cigars in a ritualistic way, do you have any personal rituals that you perform when smoking a cigar?
F: Believe it or not since I have been smoking cigars in the beginning I have never smoked by myself, i always enjoy it with the company of other people, secondly, I have to be complete with all work, and finally I have to be happy, so if I am not in a good mood, and not around people that I can enjoy a cigar with, I will not smoke.
D: To me, I have noticed the cigar industry has experienced a bit of a resurgence in the last few years. Have you noticed this from a manufacturer’s standpoint?
F: There has definitely been a surge with the cycle growing right now and we expect it to last a few more years at least.
D: Has it changed anything within the manufacturing or in the advertising you do?
F: Of course, we have focused our advertising on social media right now instead of traditional advertising within cigar magazines only, it's more a social media driven market at this time. Along with the traditional, but prior to this, the process was to put an ad in a magazine and that is all, but with the new surge we are definitely more social media focused. Now we need to make sure to put cigars in front of a social media influencer.
D: Do you feel the alcohol market has aided this resurgence at all?
F: Yes, with the pairing reviews, especially the experienced ones. In the market there are people who understand and people who don't understand what they are doing, and especially on social media you get all kinds of people who know what they're doing, and especially the ones that know what they are doing with the single malts and wines are definitely aiding in the resurgence.
D: What do you hope is the take away for someone trying Hiram and Solomon cigars for the first time?
F: The primary take away I want is “I enjoyed the cigar, so I am willing to look into the other lines they have.”
D: I definitely experienced that, I am actually a member of a group called the Distinguished Ruffians cigar enthusiast group and we are a large group of cigar enthusiasts that get together three or four times a year.
F: Yeah, I am actually a member of the Florida chapter, I don't know if you are familiar with Mitch, but I know him pretty well, I believe he was the one that started the first Ruffian group.
D: Really?! That is fantastic, I had no idea you were a Ruffian. I know Mitch pretty well, I run into him at every meet up, he actually just got married recently.
F: Oh, I didn't realize that, I will need to reach out to him.
D: Is there anything that we haven’t touched on in this interview that you want the people who may be reading to know?
F: Well, don't get stuck on one cigar or just one brand, go out and try everything. Not just my brand or my cigars, try everything and make your judgment based on that. We commonly see people get stuck on a single brand or single cigar, and I usually ask them “Do you usually eat just chicken, or just beef, or vegetarian, or whatever?” and when they say no, I tell them they should apply the same logic to cigars.
D: I actually experienced that, my father, who is one of the primary reasons I smoke cigars, for years and years only smoked cuban Monte Cristo #2s and finally I branched him out and gave him his first Fuente Opus X. It finally got him to branch out to a few new cigars. I actually think if he is up for smoking, he recently gave it up for the most part after a cancer battle, I want to get together and smoke the Master and Apprentice together as a fun little tongue in cheek thing.
F: Thank you, I appreciate that and my thoughts are with him, I hope he has a speedy recovery.
D: Thank you, I appreciate that, he has mostly recovered, but it's still in the back of his head, but I will pass the message on. Finally, do you have any words of wisdom you want to impart on new smokers or start ups?
F: Mainly, don't be afraid or ashamed to ask questions. Say to people “these are my flavors, this is what I like, what do you think would be a good cigar for me?” A lot of people are ashamed and don't ask questions. Most of the lounges have very experienced staff and are more than willing to help. IF you like lighter flavors and start with a triple maduro, or something like that, all of a sudden you will be completely turned off from cigar smoking.
D: Alright, thank you, and I really appreciate the time you took to speak with me. Hands down I have to say that is one of the best Maduros I have smoked in a long time since it was bold flavors and incredibly light. I will definitely be experimenting with some more of your flavors.