After checking in to the Mandarin Oriental, which offers front-row views of the iconic Petronas Towers, I don’t have to travel far to visit my first destination. La Casa Del Habano Malaysia, located in the lobby of the hotel, was founded in 1998 by the late Allahyarham Datuk Kadar Shah, who was a consummate cigar collector, Azliza Razali, the lounge’s retail and marketing manager, tells me. We’re joined by Serena Ong, country manager for Pacific Cigar Company, distributors of Cuban cigars in Malaysia. “The market is moving from just Cohiba to exploring different Cuban brands,” says Ong. “LCDH is a small, cozy place, but with the Petronas Towers and convention center located next door, there are plenty of business deals being finalized over a cigar and drink,” states Razali.
THE RISE OF NEW WORLD CIGARS
“It’s a very vibrant scene here in Malaysia where many cigar smokers are now under 50 years old,” says Dato Indera Naresh Mohan, CEO of Trinidad Group of Companies. “They are far more adventurous and not as stereotyped as the customers of, say, the Nineties, who were staunch Cuban smokers.” Over an apéritif in Savini Ristorante’s lounge, Mohan tells me that Trinidad has been distributing and retailing cigars for over 25 years, with brands such as Roberto Duran, Rocky Patel, and Nat Sherman cigars having featured lately. “We have always approached selling cigars as being a lifestyle rather than just tobacco,” says Mohan.
Opened by Ray Ooi 12 years ago, Cigars Lounge stocks both Cuban cigars and non-Cuban brands, including Davidoff, Fuente, Padrón, Ashton, Alec Bradley, Joya de Nicaragua, and Drew Estate. “Customers are very interested in non-Cuban brands and enjoy the various flavors of these cigars,” says Ooi. “There are more players in the industry now, which is a good sign for the market, while accessible online information is driving the interest in non-Cuban cigars.”
Three international partners, who wish to remain anonymous, embraced the KL cigar scene by opening the Mayan Cigar Lounge this year. Overlooking the Tropicana golf resort, the lounge stocks Cuban and new world cigars, including Nicoya Cigars in its sizeable walk-in humidor. “We’ve created a prestige lounge that has a relaxed atmosphere with timeless appeal. We’re seeking to offer an enlightening experience in the heart of Malaysia,” the partners explain. Further evidence of the expat contribution to local cigar culture is Abdullah Seymour who, with a Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto in hand, says that he is a relative newcomer to the local cigar scene. “Upon moving to Malaysia with my family, I noticed a surge in interest in cigars and spotted an opportunity,” he says. Cigar Malaysia began online before Abdullah opened his store at Glo Damansara Mall, which carries Cuban and non-Cuban cigars, including Oliva cigars.
SOCIAL EVENTS AND SOCIAL MEDIA: INCREASING ACCESS TO CIGARS
Local cigar enthusiast Jesh Prakash is a regular at many of the city’s cigar venues. Enjoying a Hamlet Tabaquero at the Mantra Bar, he mentions there’s an increasing acceptance of non- Cuban cigars. “Of course, Cubans are some of the best, but there is demand for stronger, fullbodied cigars,” says Prakash. He adds that social media channels give local cigar fans access to more information than ever before. Facebook groups such as the Malaysia Cigar Journal share news and host events to cater to Malaysians’ appetite for cigars and camaraderie.
At Davidoff’s store in the JW Marriott lobby, Davidoff ’s brand ambassador Sa’don Sanat notes that visiting cigar rollers are a spectacle that create educational and sales opportunities. “Some enjoy cigars as a one-off experience, but many who started as occasional cigar smokers are now buying regularly and enjoying cigars as part of their lifestyle,” says Sanat. A few steps across the road, Wiza Samsudin welcomes me to Davidoff’s flagship retail store in the Pavilion shopping mall. “We have a lot of younger people coming in to learn about cigars, while there’s a growing segment of the market that is keen on pipes and pipe tobacco,” Samsudin tells me, accurately describing Kuala Lumpur’s cigar culture.