A battlefield taste of la dolce vita
VAIL -Some show their support of troops overseas by displaying flags at their homes Others affix bumper stickers to their vehicles or miniature flags to their lapels. Still others write letters to the editor of the local newspaper.But Clay Carlton has taken a decidedly different route. He makes robustas, torpedos and coronas – premium cigars – and ships them overseas. Cigars are his “lifelong love,” he says.Over the snipping of scissors, the practiced small talk of barbers and the buzz of hair clippers at Timberline Barbers in West Vail, Carlton, 55 – who owns the shop – describes his smoky mission that he hopes is helping support the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I felt it was the least I could do to give the guys in the war a break and some relaxation,” he says.He got the idea two months ago while reading the letters section of Cigar Aficionado magazine. A retired military officer wrote in about a special cigar smokers bunker in Baghdad, and that it would be nice to send the troops some cigars. After reading that letter, Carlton has been sending a box of 25 premium cigars a month to Iraq.
Torpedos and coronasThis tobacco-tinged patriotism actually had its start more than 25 years ago, shortly after Carlton completed barber school and opened a shop in Granby, Colo. He liked cigars and bought a fancy humidor at a yard sale that he filled with premium cigars he sold at his shop. It was but a partial success, he says.”There weren’t many premium cigar smokers in Granby 25 years ago – imagine that,” he chuckles, adding that he smoked most of them.Several years later he opened barber shops in Dillon and his present shop in the West Vail mall, and sold cigars at each location. He now owns and operates the West Vail shop and is there three days a week. In November he moved to Denver and opened a barber and cigar shop in lower downtown not far from Coors Field.He decided to take his hobby to the next level a few years ago when he learned how to hand-roll cigars during a 10-day course at a cigar factory in Austin, Texas. He rolled hundreds of cigars under the watchful eye of a master cigar-maker who used Honduran, Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos made from Cuban seed.
“It takes a certain feel for how much (tobacco) you need,” he says. “You learn by repetition.”At his home, also near Coors Field, Carlton has a walk-in humidor where the raw materials for his hobby and a rolling table nearby. It’s the combination of the expensive outer wrapping leaves and the filler tobacco that give his cigars their distinctive mild taste and flavor, he says. He makes up to 50 cigars a day, and admits, with a broad smile, to enjoying a cigar a day – to make sure quality standards are being met.Martini and cigar crowdHe’s hoping the jazz, martini and cigar crowd will find his Palmo Cigar shop and discover his cigars, he says. But there’s another crowd – the more than 175,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan – that gets his special attention.When he sent his first batch of cigars to Iraq via the post office and then by military courier, Carlton did not include any contact information, so he has not heard the fate of his cigars or if the troops received them. In the last batch he included his contact information and also a request for a mailing address of troops in Afghanistan so he could send a monthly box there, too.
He sends six different blends of cigars in each box, he says. Each is humidified to 70 percent and wrapped tightly to retain the moisture content, then each box is blister-packed to further protect the contents and to ensure freshness. It’s not without expense. In his shops he sells cigars for $6.50 apiece. Add in the time spent rolling and postage – $6.85 a box – and he’s spending some real cash to make sure his cigars will be enjoyed in a place where enjoyment is not easy to find.He does get a tingle of satisfaction from spreading the fruits of his hobby abroad.”I take pride in that,” he says.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or email@example.comVail, Colorado