One of the most frequent questions I get from new viewers and readers is how did I get into cigars? Well, the short answer is that I grew up in a large latino family where cooking, music, cigars, and plenty of spirits were always a part of every celebration. However, what many of you don't know is that my older brother Ari, was probably the biggest influence to my appreciation of cigars. When I was in high school, my brother worked at a cigar lounge in San Diego, located in one of the hottest spots in all of downtown. Naturally I was intrigued by the aroma and unique display of the cigar lifestyle, so whenever possible, I would find ways to sneak into the lounge to observe and soak up the atmosphere.
After reaching the proper age, I finally had my first cigar, but to my regret it wasn't planned, and it wasn't with my brother. Instead, embarrassingly enough, it was at a family party with my cousins. We were celebrating someone's birthday which of course commenced with Tecate beer and lime, then onto tequila shots (because what Mexican b-day party would be complete without shots of tequila?). Finally the evening ended with my uncles outside offering me scotch and some type of liquor store cigar. Needless to say, after the room started spinning, I lost the contents of my stomach and decided I would call it a night. My first rodeo.
Being of the competitive nature that I am, I could not let that experience and constant teasing be the end of my cigar experience. The smell hooked me! It was then that I shared my humiliating story with Ari who laughed, scolded me for drinking too much, and handed me my first real cigar: a Padron 1964. Thus my love affair with cigars began.
I would like to introduce to you all my big brother Ari, who will be contributing periodic stories of the leaf for us all to enjoy. Here is the first of more to come...
When I smoke a stogie, before even cutting it, I remove the label. I do this to remind myself of the beauty of the cigar itself, before the branding wars begin. This is not done out of caprice or a feigned quasi-rebelliousness, but rather out of wanting to rid myself of obstruction in the label catching fire (I am old school, I smoke it down until my fingers are burning). With label removal--for me--I eradicate any sign of pretentiousness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with smoking an incredible cigar. I will die with the philosophy that a good cigar is quite simply the one you like, damn those who sample only a few, and praise only those they “know” about. For years we’ve heard various people brag about their weekends with friends who smoked “Cuban Cohibas,” and we winced and smiled, silently shaking our heads inside. (You know exactly what I’m talking about.) There is not one cigar smoker on the planet that can deny the fact that good cigars come out of a multitude of regions, climates, countries, and factories. The complexity in flavors, draw, burn, ash, and taste is simply mind numbing. The best cigar is the one you like. End of story.
My journey began in a cigar shop in downtown San Diego. My best friend would sneak off during lunch, grab a cup of coffee, and sit at a cigar bar to indulge in smoking an Excalibur. Eventually, he let me in on his secret as he got me hired in the same location. During my lunch breaks, in which a cigar had more impact than a healthy meal, I met a successful attorney whose comment on why he removed his label before lighting his cigar would influence me to do the same to this very day. He wanted to always remain humble, and told me of a tale, that in older times--royalty--would keep the labels on to make sure others knew of how expensive and high-end their cigars were. I was immediately converted into the world of label-removal. My friend still makes fun of my label obsession. I then joined him in weekly cigar smoking, and the rest was history. Not only did I feel extremely masculine and in control of my time to unwind, but I felt relaxed. I felt like no matter what was going on in the world, I would be able to stop time, and simply enjoy the moment. For me, it’s like those old guys who are constantly smiling and happy. There are cranky old men, and old men who love life. I would wager that smoking stogies will help me become the latter. On coming back from lunch one day, I will never forget what my boss told me:
“You smell like a cigar,” she said in an irritated tone, ruining my relaxed happiness.
“You smell like cigarettes,” I retorted, not realizing I was offending the woman who was paying me an incredible amount of money to concierge a posh downtown condominium. Not smart, but I realized I immediately aligned myself with those brave few who embrace the tobacco leaf.
After “finding” another job, (I still kick myself, the money was great, and I was in downtown San Diego!) the habit was innate. I didn’t crave cigars, but rather enjoyed them when possible. I found myself enjoying setting up when, where, and what I was going to smoke at home. Great stuff. Good days, bad days, times of joy, times of sadness: my stogie was nothing more than an incredible way to be in whatever mood I felt I needed to be in at the time. For me, there was a responsibility in smoking cigars, there was a badge of honor. I unintentionally became a part of a small group of people, that are there for you in every state, and every country. We are ostracized, made fun of, but never, never pretentious. We smoke to stop time, never to be who we are not. Cigar smokers are some of the most down to earth people you will ever meet. The economic variance is absolutely incredible. From hourly workers, to financial powerhouses, cigar smoking represents the zeitgeist for the calm, cool, and regular people who want to take a much needed break from a hectic world.
With my stogie raised,