I used to cover Kentucky and I found a shop hidden in the back of a mall in Lexington called Martin’s Cigars. The first time I went in I was intimidated but determined. So I introduced myself to Charlie and he said, “Hello.” From that day forward I became friends with Charlie Martin and had a great working relationship with him.
It’s a small store, and if you aren’t looking for it, you won’t find it. So over the years Charlie would go into his Lilliputian humidor and show me various things he had been given and I marveled at what he had stored away. One day he showed me a bag with a Roi-Tan cigar in it. “You won’t find these anymore,” he said. He put the bag back on the shelf and we went back outside. That cigar fascinated me.S
So the months and years went by, and I’m not at all sure he had any idea that I would soon be dropping Kentucky but one visit, as usual he put in an order, and proceeded to take down that bag with the Roi-Tan in it. “Here,” he said. “You take this. I’ll never smoke it.” I was shocked. “Really?” He gave it to me. No fanfare. He just headed out of the humidor and we talked a bit more and I left. Me? I was thrilled. I had an original Roi-Tan cigar. Sure, machine made but a classic in its day. It wasn’t long after that meeting that I called Charlie and told him I wasn’t covering his state anymore, but I sure enjoyed getting to know him over the years. He wished me well.
Today I smoked that cigar. And I have to tell you I didn’t know what to expect. The cello had browned and the label was on the outside of the cello not wrapped around the actual leaf. But the cigar was in good shape once I slipped it from its tomb of I don’t know how many years. It looked like a cheroot of today. It was a machine-made cigar but I think the wrapper was leaf not homogenized. The rest of the cigar, save for a small crack near the top, was in pretty good shape and ready for smoking. It took a while for the cigar to fire up but once it warmed it smoked like a fresh cigar.
The cigar itself? Well, I have mixed emotions about it. It had to be at least from the 40s or 50s, maybe earlier. I couldn’t tell since there was so very little information about the brand on the internet. So I have no cross reference. I do know that it was made by the American Tobacco Company that was founded way back in 1890 by J.B. Duke. Lots of events happened throughout the course of the company’s history, but Roi-Tan was a cigar that became a staple in cigar shops throughout the US. It was made here in the states, and my guess is Pittsburgh. But I have no way of knowing.
As far as taste – it was tobacco. I had a challenge pulling any definitive flavors other than dried tobacco from the smoke. There was a faint taste of bitters and what stumped me for the longest time was the tang of oil of wintergreen that finally came through. Yep. And when you mix that concoction with the dominant spice of reground black pepper that’s blown up your nose, it’s not something you look forward to again.
The smoke was smooth and plentiful but dissipated too quickly to fill the room with an essence of anything agreeable. I smoke a pipe now and then and if you pull through a dry pipe that has been smoked for some years, that’s the dominant flavor I tasted throughout. What would that be considered charred tobacco? I was spitting like a geyser, but I was determined to smoke it to the end to see if any changes appeared and they did, the wintergreen mixed with the charred tobacco and ended up in the sour caviar category
The burn was rough, the ash was gray and flakey, and the cigar wrapper began to unravel as I pushed the antique cigar to its lighted limits. At the very, very end, I detected the essence of old red wine on cork, the edginess of tannic acid became a bit too harsh for me to deal with and I had to toss the butt away.
I don’t know what these cigars tasted like when the commercials were produced but I think – nope, I know – the one I had was completely antithetical to the days of old. Obviously The Roi-Tan I smoked didn’t age well, but I’m glad I tried it. I smoked a piece of history – and now I’d like to turn the page.