Some call it the “slowest race in the world”: The Cigar Smoking World Championship is a test of how slowly and delicately one can burn through a cigar and, for the uninitiated, is quite a sight to behold.
While not strictly an Asian story, the CSWC is a definite thing in the Far East, with four of the 35 qualifier competitions held in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand annually.
For the past three years, the Thailand qualifier has been hosted by Whisgars, Bangkok’s leading cigar and whiskey lounge on Sukhumvit Soi 23. On March 27, Swede Mikael Petersson smoked 21 Thai and foreign competitors to win for the second consecutive year with a time of 1 hour, 47 minutes and 49 seconds – seven seconds longer than runner-up Paul Poole.
On paper, winning a cigar-smoking contest looks simple: Smoke slower than everyone else without letting your stogie go out. In practice, it’s infinitely harder.
Contestants are all armed with the same competition cigar – in this case the Macanudo Inspirado Marevas – and four matches.
Once a cigar is selected, the smoker has one minute to cut the cigar. Don’t cut enough and it will go out quickly. Cut too much and you cut your chances. It’s also a quick way to see how well, or not, your Macanudo is rolled. Cigars can be swapped out in that one minute, but the replacement must be cut in that time.
Smokers then light up, but have just four matches to get their tobie going. In Bangkok, no one had issues with that.
For the next five minutes, it’s complete silence. Puffers cannot talk. They cannot drink. In fact, they don’t even puff that much. The goal here is to get the cheroot fully engaged, but smoldering, not burning.
Marko Bilic, who created the CSWC, repeatedly told the smokers they needed to see the “fire” in their cigars. Where’s no fire, there’s no smoke. And you’re out. Managing the fire, however, is the entire point of the exercise.
Then there is the matter of the ash. Here, you can’t just simply tap off the burnt tobacco. You keep it, and grow it. Lose it and you’re penalized minutes, as many as 15 depending on how early or late in the contest you lose it.
A prize actually is awarded for the biggest ash, this year going to Poole.
Despite the historic image of a cigar, it’s not simply a man’s tobacco. Of the 22 seated for the Whisgars contest. Five were women. Last year, a woman finished third. This year, one finished fourth.
In fact, through much of nearly two hours, two women led the pack, but their inexperience hurt them as the belvederes burned down near the ring. Both burned out, but not before one made it to the Top 4.
The Final 3 was a frenetic rush to be the slowest. Once it got down to three, all the men were smoking “under the ring” with the fire actually burning under the paper. Once you torch the ring, you’re out.
It happened quickly. Amid a chorus of shouts and applause, Juan Sotolongo’s quest ended at 1:46:28. Poole’s cigar died out 1 minute, 14 seconds later.
Petersson, who often looked as though he was sleeping through much of the contest, cigar at his waist and rarely on his lips, crushed out his stogie seven seconds later. He was nowhere near the world record – more than 3 hours, 40 minutes – and had already won, so no need to continue.
The Swede said afterward that he could have gotten another 20 minutes out of the cigar, but there was no point. No records would be smashed that night, although Thailand’s average time beat out Kuala Lumpur and Macedonia.
Petersson, who won a luxury watch for his work, now heads to Split, Croatia in September to compete in the CSWC Grand Final.