“I’ve never smoked a cigarette,” says cigar sommelier Giuseppe Ruo. Ruo, who was raised on the eastern coast of Italy in Apulia, began his career as a barista in his family’s coffee shop. It wasn’t until 2001, after he had moved to the U.K., that he was first introduced to cigars.
“I was at a bar exhibition where I met a Cuban roller at the H&F stand,” he recalls. “He gave me a freshly rolled cigar and after I smoked it, I understood the passion people have for the Cuban cigar business.” This understanding only deepened further when Ruo began working at Hilton Park Lane, where he built the first walk-in cigar humidor in London. “One of my guests was cigar expert Edward Sahakian. He gave me a cigar—a Davidoff Number 1 Cuban Edition—told me to smoke it and come back to him in two weeks and tell him how I felt about it,” he says. “That’s when I truly fell in love with cigars.” Ruo later went on to open the first cigar terrace in Lanesborough after the smoking ban was put into place.
Today, Ruo mans the largest cigar humidor in Europe at London’s The Wellesley. As the hotel’s official cigar aficionado, Ruo is responsible for checking the cigar humidor conditions every day. His phone is even programmed to receive an hourly update on the humidity and temperature from anywhere in the world. This comes in handy often, as Ruo frequently jets around the globe to meet with private collectors and bring back the finest, most exclusive cigars to the hotel. His passport stamps span from Singapore, Cuba and Italy to France, Hong Kong and Spain, to name a few.
Beyond being the keeper of the humidor, Ruo is also on site advising guests on everything from cigar recommendations and smoking tips to suggestions on cocktail and cigar pairings from the hotel’s Crystal bar. “My ‘office’ is the bar,” he says. And while his day-to-day varies, he usually caps off the night with a meeting with The Wellesley owner Khalid Affara—and a cigar, of course.
Referred to as the “Louis Vuitton of humidors,” The Wellesley is the place to puff. Stocked with one of the best collections in the world, the hotel’s humidor houses varieties like the 2005 Cohiba Behika 40thanniversary, which 100 humidors made, and the popular 2000 Partagas 155th anniversary, which 155 humidors produced. And there’s no shortage of shapes, sizes and flavors. A thinner cigar is aromatic and light, while a thicker one is more intense on the smoke. So what makes one better than another? “In my opinion, it must be Cuban, made with high-quality tobacco and stored properly,” he says. A few of his personal favorites include the Cohiba Behike 56, rolled with tobacco that comes from the best Cuban plantations, and the rare Partagas 165th Anniversary.
Complex as it may seem, Ruo helps everyone from newbies to seasoned smokers feel at ease with a few simple, straightforward tips. “Don’t inhale. It’s best to take a puff and hold it in your mouth for a few seconds to let the flavor settle,” he says. To look the part, hold the cigar between your pointer and middle fingers, don’t tap off the ash and don’t forget to remove the band and snip the cigar using a cutter. For beginners, Ruo recommends the Cohiba Siglo H. Upmann Half Corona or Montecristo No. 5. Looking for something more adventurous? Go for the non-Cuban cigars from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Indonesia.
Cigars lose their strength over time and gain different aromas. According to Ruo, it’s best smoked for a second time within two hours, as it loses about 10 percent of its aroma after one day. “A young Cohiba is powerful and full of smoke. With age, it becomes blander in the body with a more delicate aroma and lighter smoke,” he says. “I prefer smoking younger cigars, not more than 15 years old.” And if you’re wondering about pairings, matches are aplenty, including Champagne, coffee and tea. You can never go wrong complementing a Cohiba Siglo 6 with Remy Martin XO.
When asked what the biggest misconception about cigars he’s encountered, though, Ruo explains it’s not a man’s world. “Some people think that cigar smoking is a masculine hobby, but there are a lot of women who love it,” he says. Light up, ladies.