The Brotherhood of the Cigar
New Jersey cigar brand Hiram & Solomon was founded by two Freemasons. Its products feature the symbols of Freemasonry and proceeds from sales go to Lodge charities.
Guillaume Renouard, our correspondent in the USA
You cannot tell that someone is a Freemason at first glance – the order is known for its discretion and emphasis on secrecy. Or at least, that’s the way it works in France. In the USA, Freemasons are far less averse to publicity, and it is not unusual to see the Square and Compasses on public buildings. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to spot this famous symbol on a cigar band. “One day, I was smoking a cigar with George Dakrat, who is also a Freemason, and we realized that we had all sorts of merchandise bearing our symbol: pens, t-shirts, hats, the works. Everything but cigars, in fact!” said Fouad Kashouty, co-founder of Hiram & Solomon Cigars. “So, when the Lodge needed to raise funds for charity, that’s what we decided to launch!”
Initially, a thousand cigars were rolled by William Ventura in the Dominican Republic and marked with the Square and Compasses. They sold like hot cakes, and Dakrat and Kashouty quickly placed a second order, which was snapped up just as fast. One thing led to another, and what had begun as a one-off project based on a hobby developed into a full-scale business that occupied the two Freemasons full-time.
A window on the world of Freemasonry
Today, Hiram & Solomon has eight lines, most of which are available in five formats. Just five years after the brand was launched, the two founders have set themselves a target of rolling a million cigars. Production is now based at the Plasencia factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. Hiram & Solomon cigars are sold through more than 600 tobacconists in the USA and in 23 countries including France, their first European destination. The brand’s commitment to Masonic charities has not faltered: a proportion of the profits is used to support a network of schools for dyslexic children and hospitals offering free treatment provided by the Masonic Lodge.
But the sale of Hiram & Solomon cigars has had an additional consequence, and one that the founders did not anticipate: it has sparked wider interest in Freemasonry, and even inspired some people to join. “This really wasn’t something we’d thought about in the beginning, but scores of people wanted to know more about the Masonic symbols they saw on our cigars,” said Mr. Kashouty. People who had been interested in Freemasonry for a while and had questions, or who wanted to join the organization but didn’t know how, started to get in touch via our website. So our cigars became a communication channel and a recruitment tool, although that was absolutely not our intention in the beginning!” Joining the order is a lengthy process which generally takes several years. The first step is to apply: “We never invite someone to become a Freemason. Anyone interested in joining us has to make the first move.”
George Dakrat and Fouad Kashouty, founders of Hiram & Solomon Cigars
The Square and Compasses
Cigars and Freemasonry may seem like strange bedfellows. However, the links between the two actually go back several centuries, as Mr. Kashouty explained: “Originally, Freemasons were mainly members of the economic elite, and they liked to get together over a cigar and a glass of brandy to talk business or just relax. There are records dating back three hundred years that talk about American Freemasons meeting to smoke cigars.”
The Masonic Square and Compasses feature on the band of course, but the Lodge’s influence on Hiram & Solomon cigars is visible in various other ways too. The brand itself is named after two characters from the Bible, King Solomon, who built the temple in Jerusalem, and Hiram I, who assisted in its construction. Freemasonry uses these two figures allegorically to teach wisdom and the importance of keeping your word. The names of their cigars owe nothing to chance either: “We named our first cigars after Freemasonry’s first three degrees: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. The first is the mildest, the second is a little stronger, and the third stronger still. This echoes the initiation process that new members pass through.” The brand also applies certain moral standards in its advertising. “We avoid associating cigars with sexuality by using nudity or suggestive positions in our advertising. Sensual, yes. Sexual, no.”
Last but not least, each year Kashouty and Dakrat organize events and presentations with various Masonic Lodges, to explain how the brand can help project a caring and welcoming image of the organization. “Our watchword is, ‘Discover our secrets!’ We want everyone to enjoy our cigars, and in doing so learn more about Freemasons,” Mr. Kashouty concluded.