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Building Your Palate: An Interview with Kaizad Hansotia of Gurkha Cigars

By: John Moralis

Gurkha Cigar Co. President Kaizad Hansotia is a larger-than-life figure who is boisterous, unapologetic, inventive, and sometimes polarizing...but he's had a clear influence on the cigar industry over the past two decades. Hansotia's approach to making cigars is anything but orthodox, as evidence of his eye-catching packaging and lavish branding, and his entrance into the industry matches this approach. He bought Gurkha Cigars during a rum-soaked weekend while vacationing in Goa, India for a mere $149—and as Hansotia recalls—it was some really cheap rum. "In those days, we drank to get toasted. When you're drinking Cuba Libres, you're not drinking for taste."

Like the Gurkha brand, Hansotia has changed over the years, as have his tastes. He says, "I've recently gotten into sipping rums. It's a different experience and the flavors are more complex. You look for tasting notes like caramel, cashew, and almonds."

Hansotia also has an affinity for champagne, bourbon, and scotch, which he particularly enjoys while relaxing in his living room at home. He recommends adding some water or ice to open up a scotch's natural flavor and aromas and says, "If you're going to have a cigar, be sure the profiles match." His recommendation: "If you are smoking a mellow cigar, it should be paired with a mellow scotch; and a strong cigar should accompany a strong or peaty scotch. They complement each other best."

On the whole, Kaizad is opposed to 'one size fits all' pairing guides, and believes every person should have their own preferences. He says, "Everybody is different. An older person is going to like stronger flavors, because your taste buds weaken as you age. Someone younger might like mellow flavors. The best part about pairing is it's self-taught."

Kaizad also admits there is a learning curve when discovering personal preferences, and says preconceived notions can quickly fly out the window. "One time I was pairing Gurkha Heritage with a strong bourbon. I was very disappointed because I thought the two would complement each other perfectly, but the flavors just clashed for me. So, I switched to champagne and everything just opened up. It was amazing." Another pairing that surprised Kaizad was when he enjoyed a Gurkha Grand Reserve along with the Dutch-made Grolsch beer. "Grand Reserve was blended to pair with cognac," he says, "but it just tastes amazing with Grolsch, and I just found that out by chance."

Another chance pairing came during a trip to Vietnam. Kaizad recalls sampling some of the best French pastries he's ever tasted, along with Vietnamese coffee mixed with spirits, all of which coincidentally married perfectly with Connecticut-wrapped cigars like Gurkha Elegance and Legend. "I was so surprised how well these things paired," he said. "The flavors played off of each other perfectly."

As a frequent world traveler, Kaizad has sampled food and spirits from nearly every continent, and recommends trying local flavors when traveling abroad. He says anyone looking for the perfect pairing should get creative and not listen to the so-called experts, and instead listen to your palate. "Do not be intimidated," he says. "Experiment with everything, and you will find what you like. Try a mellow cigar with a strong drink. Try a strong cigar with a mellow drink. See how the flavors marry each other. Find what you like."