Walt switched it up a bit this week by reviewing a couple of ashtrays and a candela wrapped cigar. I wanted to offer our readers something a little different (sorry for screwing up the schedule Walt). I was able to have a great discussion with Gary Manelski your guide to stogies at About.Com. Gary is one of more than 500 topical guides at About.Com and does a great job reviewing stogies and covering the latest issues in the stogie community. I hope you enjoy the interview:
Jerry – How long have you been a guide for About.Com? How did your blog come to be?
Gary – After going through a training program where I competed against other people for the position, I was selected by the editorial staff to be the Guide for cigars and the site went live on March 17, 2006.
Jerry – How long have you been enjoying cigars? Do you remember your first cigar? Do you come from a family of cigar smokers? How did you get introduced?
Gary – I occasionally smoked machine made cigars back in the early-to-mid 1970’s, while in college. It wasn’t until the early-to-mid 1990’s that I began smoking hand made cigars. I used to enjoy socializing in the Cleveland Flats after work on Fridays. One evening, someone bought a round of hand made cigars for the group, and I’ve been smoking ever since. I do not come from a family of cigar smokers, but there are a few cigar connoisseurs in my wife’s family, who have “assisted” me in developing my interest in cigars.
Jerry – What is your favorite cigar? Least favorite? What kind of humidor do you own?
Gary – I no longer smoke machine made cigars. I do enjoy Arturo Fuente, Punch, Flor de Oliva, Gurkha, and many others. I like to sample different cigars. I thought that I had found my perfect cigar a couple of times, but was disappointed when subsequent purchases did not delight me as much as the first smoke. I own two humidors, the first is a Decatur, and was a gift from my wife. The second is a larger humidor with a glass top that I bought from Thompson Cigar about five years ago.
Jerry – Any cigars you haven’t tried that you are looking forward to?
Gary – The next box or bundle that I intend to buy is Flor de Oliva Gold. Flor de Oliva is a very good cigar at a great price, and I’m anxious to try them in gold.
Jerry – What are your personal thoughts on the current trend in states with regards to enacting smoking bans?
Gary – Smoking regulations are a good thing, but some are too restrictive. With few exceptions, such as stadiums and school playgrounds, smoking should not be banned outdoors. And why should smoking be banned in cigar bars?
Jerry – Do you do most of your cigar buying online or do you mainly visit local shops? Any suggestions for those who find themselves in your neck of the woods to pick up a good stick?
Gary – When I started out, I liked to purchase single sticks from various local tobacconists. Now, most of my purchases are made online, by the box, bundle or sampler pack. The best way to sample a variety of different cigars at below market prices is to purchase sampler packs on sale, and I like sharing this information with my readers in the blog and in our Cigar Bargain Hunter forum. I have not been in Florida long enough to recommend any particular tobacconist, but I’d like to give a plug to Lone Star Tobacco in northwest Houston.
Jerry – What would you do for a Klondike Bar but substitute Klondike Bar with your all time favorite cigar. Now what would you do for your favorite cigar?
Gary – Good question. I’d burn my last issue of Cigar Aficionado in a nonsmoking area.
Jerry – Considering so many states and localities enacting smoking bans and increased taxation on tobacco products, what do you think is behind the surge in popularity of cigars? Don’t you think that the bans and excessive taxation would stunt growth in the hobby?
Gary – Cigarette smokers are switching to cigars, which are taxed at lower rates and have less marketing restrictions. There is a category of cigars known as “Little Cigars”, some of which even have filters. Cigarette smokers inhale these just like cigarettes, but they are less expensive because of the cigarette tax. The legal definitions of cigarettes and cigars may be changing soon, but that is a different subject. Eventually, smoking bans will have a negative impact on cigars. If it gets to the point where you cannot even smoke outside on your own patio if your neighbor might smell the smoke, then where can a large percentage of cigar smokers enjoy their hobby?
Jerry – I’m a big baseball fan. Your biography shows you being born in Cleveland, moving to Houston and now reside in Florida. Where are your loyalties? Indians? Astros? Marlins?
Gary – I still follow the Indians in the AL and the Astros in the NL. Last year, they could have faced each other in the World Series, but the Indians choked during the last week of the regular season. This year, I don’t know what’s the matter with the Tribe, but the ‘Stros still have a shot. I was living in Cleveland when Jacobs Field opened, and in Houston when Enron Field opened and was later renamed to Minute Maid Park. I enjoyed watching games at both of those ball parks. I’m not following any Florida teams, yet.
Jerry – What do you think is the biggest myth that new cigar smokers buy into? What advice would you give to someone new to cigars? Best advice ever given to you?
Gary – The biggest myths are that Cuban cigars are the best in the world, and that you have to pay big bucks for any decent cigar. Advice for new smokers, sample many different single cigars that are mild to medium in flavor, and work your way up to the medium to full flavored cigars after your palate develops. Ask your local tobacconist for specific suggestions. Do not be discouraged if your first few cigars do not taste as good as you imagined. Best advice given to me, don’t smoke around your mother-in-law.
Jerry – Cuban cigars, are they over hyped? When Castro finally bites the dust and when Cuban cigars are available in the US, how do you think they will affect the cigar market? Will it be like the cigar boom of the 1990’s where manufacturers were more concerned with quantity than quality?
Gary – Cuban cigars are the forbidden fruit, which makes them more desirable, especially if you never had one. They are overpriced, and in most cases, not better than a good Dominican, Honduran, or Nicaraguan cigar. When the embargo is finally lifted, there will be a great demand in the U.S., which will taper off after a year or so. I think that most smokers are looking for a particular taste, and it will not matter where the cigar is manufactured. In the future, the best cigars could very well be made with a blend of tobacco from several countries, including Cuba. The country where the cigars are actually manufactured will be the one where the best cigar makers in the world decide to locate, which will be based on politics, economics, climate, soil, and many other factors.
I want to thank Gary for taking the time to answer my questions. Gary is truly passionate about stogies and I can see why he was chosen over so many others to be our guide to the world of stogies at About.Com. Visit Gary’s blog and sign up for the RSS feed by visiting http://cigars.about.com/