Last week, I took a little time off with my wife to visit Ireland for the first time. Every year I promise my bride a non-cigar vacation and this was the trip. I will be talking more about our adventures in future travel articles, but any visit to a place I have never been will attract me to something cigar related, and Dublin, Ireland did not disappoint. I did a little research before visiting, and there was one cigar detour we agreed to make and that was a visit to the James Fox Whiskey and Cuban Cigar Shop located across from Trinity University in the heart of Dublin.
A Trip Back in Time
James Fox is one of the oldest cigar shops in Dublin dating back to 1881 while operating from the original location. The shop is the only cigar store in Ireland to source cigars exclusively from the Habanos official agents in Ireland and the UK, and is the only cigar store in Ireland to carry the Habanos certificate of authenticity. The shop was originally built mainly for cigars but over the last decade it has transformed itself into a source for Whiskey, Gin, and Cuban Cigars,
During my visit I had the pleasure of meeting the store manager, Yiorgos Manesis and his team who gave me an introduction to the shop. Though not overly large, the shop is stocked with the most desirable Cuban cigars on the market and an incredible selection of whiskey and gin. The shop itself holds a veritable history of Ireland in its soul. In fact the shop is twice as old as the republic itself. The shop itself goes back 5 generations of the Fox family with 2 generations back to Freddy Fox.
As I was walking through the shop, I noticed the display case at the front of the store which had some peculiar items in it. When I asked what they were, it was explained to me that these are old Cuban cigars. matchbooks, and a pipe. Impressive to say the least, but even more impressive was the original store ledgers on the right side of the case. These ledgers tell some of the history of the Irish battle for Independence dating back from the day they opened in 1881 to 1922.
The shop prides itself on being open 7 days a week but the old ledger shows it was closed during the 1916 Easter uprising and through that week. It was also closed for the funeral of Michael Collins in 1922 the that started Ireland on a path to independence. You can read the story of Michael Collins here. Even though the shop was located in the heart of the city, it was amazingly spared of being hit by the shells fired in the area by the British Navy during the uprising.
The Whiskey, Gin, and Cubans
As I noted, the shop has transformed into selling whiskey and gin and there is certainly more shelf space dedicated to the spirits these days.
But of course the shop was founded on Cuban cigars and there is still plenty to choose from and they even have their own branded machine rolled Cuban leaf cigars; but you better hurry and get those house brands soon, because they will be discontinued due to the new “no box” law coming in September.
Ireland Tobacco Law
I took some time to talk about the smoking and tobacco laws in the country with the staff and they informed me that taxes are quite high and include a 23% to the consumer plus a duty of about 355 Euro/Kilogram of weight which works out to about $205.00/pound at today’s exchange rate. They also informed me that starting in September of this year, the country will implement rules similar to Canada, where they can no longer display the boxes and have to cover the bands on the cigars. As a consumer you are not allowed to buy a box of cigars. If you want 20 cigars, they have to place them in a plastic bag. You will not be able to get the box. This makes it impossible to determine the age of the cigars as they can be mixed on the shelf as they are removed from the box for display. In addition, the law prohibits any smoking in a public establishment, so unlike years ago when you could buy a cigar and sit in a nice leather chair in the shop and relax, that is now outlawed. If the government has their way, they will ban smoking outside of pubs and cafes also.
When I asked about the percentage of cigar smoker in the country, Yiorgos explained that it is quite small. Unlike in the US where it is about 2% of the population, it was more like 2% of the 30% of smokers in the country which is less than 1%. The bulk of their cigar business today is based on tourists, especially US tourists who want to experience the “forbidden fruit”.
Yiorgos did not have much time to go deeper with me on the store and we planned a time to meet the next day which turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences I have had in my 40 years of smoking cigars. When I returned, Yiorgos brought me downstairs to his office and that is when the real journey into Cuban cigars began. His office doubles as a storage facility for clients that have priceless collections of aged Cuban cigars. Follow along as I walk you through some of the amazing stash stored in this office. I only wish you could be enjoying some of the fine whiskey we were drinking and the Trinidads we were smoking, as he made the presentation.
Before we get into looking at these incredibly aged Cubans, I asked Yiorgos how he landed the position of the store manager. He explained that he used to be a cigar blogger too and he met Robert Fox, Managing Director of JJ Fox Cigar Merchants, London. Robert is a 5th generation Fox family member. The two developed a friendship back in 2010 and Yiorgos took a position at the Dublin Shop. He was instrumental in the transformation of the shop from cigars to whiskey, gin, and cigars. He explained that the whiskey business is huge and that in the next 2 years there will be over 35 different distillers in the republic When the previous manager announced he was retiring late in 2017, Yiorgos stepped into those shoes and has been the manager ever since. Based on what I have seen, it looks like the family made the right choice.
Aged Cuban Cigars
At this point Yiorgos started to reach into the lockers behind his desk to show me the prized possessions of his clients.
Jose L. Piedra Cigars
Jose L. Piedra was created in 1880 by Vicente and Jose Lamadrid – though they were a pre-revolution brand they are now marketed primarily in the local Cuban market. This box is from 1910 just 30 years after the brand was founded. Although the box has a bit of wear on it, just look at the colors on the packaging and the bands. The cigars still have oils on the wrapper and the alignment in the box is with absolute pride.
These H. Upmann cigars are 110 years old dating back to 1908. The owner of this box obviously enjoys them but I am sure it is something smoked only on very special occasions. Look at the amazing construction and velvety oily wrapper of these box pressed salomons.
Hoyo de Monterrey Dublin Horse Show (1955)
Be an innovator at heart, Freddie Fox was the first to come up with a cigar branded for a special event, in this case the 1955 Dublin Horse Show. It was explained to me that Freddie had a passion for Hoyo de Monterrey and wanted the brand to represent the show. He went one step further and convinced the brand to make a huge cigar that measured 9.2 x 55. That size today is known as diadema vitola which is shaped similar to a salomon but is longer and thinner. Because it was a special cigar it was wrapped in silver foil and encased in individual coffins. I am told they sold for about the equivalent of $250.00 USD for a box of 5.
Por Larrañaga cigars have been in continuous production in Cuba since 1834, longer than any other Cuban cigar brand. This is one of the youngest boxes in the collection, I believe mid 1970s, so post Cuban revolution. Still the box and cigars are absolutely pristine, even with over 40 years of age.
Partagas Fox Seleccion No. 1
These beauties were a special cigar made specifically for the James Fox and Co. in the 1960s. This was considered unique back then. Note the silky smooth and oily look of the cigars. Age has been a friend to these master crafted cigars.
Punch Nectares No.1 and No.2
Punch was one of my first premium cigar brand I smoked way back many years ago. It was not a Cuban punch and it was not as old as these. Besides the beauty of the cigars themselves, I was quite impressed with the packaging and box design. Look at how the ribbon crossed over the inside of the box and out the other side and then snapped on the box. Lifting the cigars out of the box, each row of 5 was separated with a cedar sleeve. These are from around the 1960s also. Just take in the impressive box press of the No. 2 and the rich oily sheen and note that these are naked cigars (no bands).
La Corona Poli Cromia
The La Corona brand was a Cuban pre-revolution brand that was once the most popular brand and smoked by dignitaries worldwide. It dates back to the 19th century and hailed from the largest factory in Cuba in the day. The Cuban government discarded the brand after the revolution, Though not Cuban any more the brand is still alive and being produced now in Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. The boxes you see here date back to the 1940s and 1960s.
I do not know much about these, I must not have taken the notes on it, but these cigars must have been pretty damn good as there is only one left in the very old box.
JJ Fox Centenary Cabinet
What does one do when they reach 100 years old, well you create a commemorative cigar of course, and that is exactly what James Fox and Co. did in 1981. The box is simply gorgeous and the 37 year old naked cigars are equally so.
1st ever regional Cuban Cigar
Way back during WWII, Ireland was a neutral country during the war. The problem was that cigars shipped to James Fox and Co. came from the UK and they would not always, if ever, make it to Ireland. So the company contacted the Cuban cigar companies and convinced them to heat stamp the boxes “For Eire” (For Ireland) so that they would be able to be shipped into Ireland. The beautiful cabinet below is one of those special boxes and of course it dates back to the 1940s. Note how it is also stamped “Made in Havana Cuba”
135 Year Anniversary
When it came to the company’s 135th anniversary in 2016, it was decided that a similar cabinet would be commissioned for the anniversary cigar that was used during WWII. They came stocked with 50 special edition Hoyo de Monterrey Epicures as that was Freddy Fox’s favorite cigar. Note the heat stamp states “For EIRE” and uses the modern term “Hecho en Cuba”
Here is a photo of the WWII version and the 135th Anniversary version cabinets
So there you have it. It was a very special visit to James Fox and Co. in Dublin, Ireland and even though my wife and I saw some amazing sites on our vacation, this visit was certainly a highlight for me. I would like to thank Yiorgos Manesis and the whole James J. Fox & Co. staff for their warm hospitality and for making the time to show me and let me handle the oldest cigars I ever came across.
If you are ever in the Dublin, Ireland area stop in to the James J. Fox & Co. Whiskey and Cigar store, forever located at 119 Grafton Street, Dublin.