Last month we interviewed our Cigar Guide at About.com, Gary Maneliski. Moving right along, this month, we bring you a wonderful and entertaining interview with David Diaz.
Who is David Diaz you ask? If you don’t know who David Diaz is you probably know him better as Dr. Stogie Fresh or simply as “The Doc”! Now, if you still don’t know who I’m talking about, you definitely need to visit the links on the sidebar. You’re truly missing out on tons of information and an overall true brother of the leaf doing great things for all of us. From his podcast, storage info, cigar band gallery and stogie reviews, there is truly something for everyone on his site.
“The Doc” was kind enough to give us more than 5 minutes and entertain a little over a dozen questions from the Stogie Review. Read on and I’m sure you will enjoy “The Doc” as much as I did. And once you’re done reading, check out his site and his “Stogie Fresh 5” podcast by clicking on the link on the sidebar:
Q. Doc your site has a ton of information on it. From tips on cutting, lighting and storage to your own reviews; what is it about your site that sets it apart from other sites that offer similar information?
When I started the site, I wanted to focus on storing and aging cigars. I just didn’t see any other sites that were wholly devoted to preserving a cigar collection over time. While other sites have some information on humidors and principles of aging, it is not their core purpose. Even our reviews, which follow a single cigar batch over time, are focused on the benefits of aging.I did a lot of research to bring the most accurate information to the site and to also make it irreverent and fun; and lot’s of photos appeal to the visual learners in the crowd, of which I am one. After researching and writing up the Stogie Fresh site, and taking photos to add to the pages and finally posting the site, I thought I was finished. However, I found that, with the exception of some minor updates, the information that I had on storing and aging was static and unchanging. It was good information, but it wasn’t likely to change much and there was no real reason for people to keep coming back to the site. So, I wanted to add dynamic aspects to the site, reasons for people to keep coming back. That is why I created the Stogie Fresh 5 cigar podcasts, which are brief 5-minute educational spots on basic topics of storing, aging and smoking cigars. I also created the Stogie Fresh Cigar Journal, which is essentially a cigar publication devoted to reviewing cigars, humidors, and accessories, and more recently I have added interviews with cigar personalities, do-it-yourself information and a section on cigars and libation. Whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Q. How long have you been enjoying the leaf and what got you into the cigar hobby? Do you share this passion with anyone else in your family?
I’ve been tokin’ stogies for about 12-14 years, thanks to my brothers-in-law. Each of them has smoked cigars forever and whenever we would all get together, I was the only one not smoking. So, one day, in anticipation of one of their visits (this was back in the early 90’s), I went down to a local B & M and bought each of them a cigar and also asked the tobacconist to pick out one for me, the newbie. We all sat down that weekend with our stogies and I thought to myself: “Wow, this is great! What a relaxing (almost meditative) and enjoyable pastime.” So, my new hobby was born at that time.
Q. Unless you’re as old as Bob from the DWSC (we love you Bob), no one ever forgets their very first cigar. What was yours?
I forgot… just kidding. My first was a Macanudo. I loved it. For an inexperienced palate, it was, and still is, an exceptionally smooth and enjoyable smoke and is perfect for anyone with an inexperienced palate, or who prefers a lighter-bodied smoke.
Q. We all know of your love for cigar boxes. How many boxes do you think you own? Do you have a favorite box? If so, which one and why?
I have difficulty getting rid of any box, but since there is a finite storage at my home, my wife periodically makes me get rid of some of my boxes and I have the unhappy task of deciding which ones to part with. I often salvage some of them at the last minute. I run down to the trash can at the same time as the trash men are absconding with my boxes and wrest a few out of their hands. After a brief struggle, I assure them that they will get these boxes from me only if they can pry them out of my dead, lifeless fingers.
So, what was the question? Oh yes, how many boxes do I have? Not many, I’d say about 100 of my favorites. Some are old, some are new, some are expensive and some cost nothing. Most are in good condition, but some not so good. Some are very meaningful to me (sentimental) and some just look great.
One of my favorite boxes is a humidor, an Elie Bleu humidor that is just so perfect and beautiful. Plus, it has sentimental value because my wife bought it for me. You have to understand, my wife is very frugal and Elie’s are some of the most expensive humidors. She paid a lot for that humi, and I just love it.
Q. With regards to storing cigars, what do you think is the biggest mistake cigar smokers make when it comes to storage?
I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is to be too anal over the specific conditions of the storage of their cigars. I include myself in this category. Cigars are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. They survive and even thrive in temperatures and humidities that we might consider less than optimal. Granted, we do need to reproduce a “tropical” climate to keep our stogies fresh, but there is really no need to lose sleep over a change of a few degrees temperature or humidity.Further, and as a consequence of being too anal, we probably open our humidors way too often. We must think that every time we lose sight of our humi’s for more than 10 minutes, aunt Bertha will come in and pilfer our smokes. Or maybe we want to assure ourselves that cigar beetles haven’t turned our cigars into dust… since last night, or that the cigars haven’t spawned a shock of mold or fungus that threatens to destroy our cigars and engulf small children in the process. Or maybe we just want to fondle them. Whatever the reason, we probably don’t need to fret as much as we do. The stogies, invariably, are in better shape than our own children.
Q. I love the format of your “Stogie Fresh 5” podcast. It’s quick, informative and straight to the point. Do you have a favorite or must listen to episode?
The first 5 episodes I didn’t really have a long-term direction. I did them at the request of Bob and Dale of the Dogwatch Social Club. They asked me if I would be willing to talk about a few subjects and then send them the audio files. I did 5 episodes for the DWSC. During the time I was making those, I sat down and created a game plan for where I wanted to take the podcasts and, Stogie Fresh 5 was born.I don’t really have a favorite; I research each episode and really get into each topic. I have put the series together in some order. The first 5 episodes are all about humidors: from large to small, to travel humi’s, to the construction of humi’s. Episodes 6 – 22 are about how to successfully age cigars and also on the tools necessary to better age cigars. Episodes 23 – 28 are about smoking stogies: trimming, lighting, techniques for smoking, etc. Now I am getting ready to introduce a new theme for the upcoming episodes. I am going to do mini cigar reviews on cigars that are very expensive, very rare, or very hard to find; or all of the above.
Q. You’ve recently started interviewing popular figures of the cigar industry and I’m sure it took a lot of legwork. How many interview invitations did you send out? Any upcoming interviews we should keep an eye out for?
I was lucky to have made some contacts in the industry during the last couple of years. I had had several correspondences with Christian Eiroa of Camacho Cigars and, since we were acquainted, I went to him first when I knew I wanted to do an interview. He was very gracious to accept my invitation. In fact, I went four-for-four in my first four at bats. Each of the first four people I asked accepted my invitation for an interview. The “real” cigar people tend to be very approachable and genuinely care about people and especially about cigars. It has been great working with the likes of Eiroa, Charlie Torano, Kiki Bergher and John Vogel. All of whom are industry giants, in my opinion.I don’t really know who will be next. I have put out a few requests for interviews recently but have not yet heard back. I wish I could say whom the next interview will include, but as of this time, I am not sure.
Q. Lets say I was a guest in your house and opened up your humidors, what cigars would I find?
I have stashes of cigars throughout my house. I experiment with humidors in various locations. You would find mostly medium to full-bodied cigars, since I tend to like those best. You would also find more maduro than natural wrappers. I do enjoy all types of cigars, but I favor dark, oily wrappers and medium to full-bodied cigars.You might also find some Cuban Monte’s, Diplomaticos, Boli’s, RASS, Cuaba’s, and Partagas. I say, “might” because we all know that Cuban cigars are illegal in the U.S., and as a result, I would not purchase any contraband. So, when I say you might find some Cuban cigars, I am speaking only in hypothetical terms…
I have an eclectic collection of stogies. I described above what I tend to like best, but as a collector, I really enjoy seeking out and purchasing cigars that are hard to find and have a unique story behind the cigar. I really don’t mind paying more for a cigar that is a rarity.
Q. We’ve all read the reports about Castro and Cuba. When Castro kisses his ash goodbye, how long before the embargo is lifted and what effect will Cuban cigars have on the US market?
I doubt there will be an immediate effect until our two governments can come to some long-term trade agreements. Who knows how long that will take? However, when the embargo is finally lifted, I think the prices of Cuban cigars will go up and the quality initially will go down. Prices will go up because of the market demand and quality will go down as Cuba struggles to keep pace with the demand.Eventually, some of the great cigar manufacturers of non-Cuban brands, will enter into the Cuban market and will either negotiate rights to acquire and start using Cuban leaf in their cigars and/or broker deals with existing Cuban companies to help them with manufacture and quality control for a slice of the business.
Q. Any opinion on the current trend in so many localities imposing smoking bans? What do you think is the driving force behind it?
America loves to legislate personal freedoms, which is probably why we find so many “threats to our national interest” throughout the world and why we have an inherent distrust of, and animosity towards, Big Macs and Joe Camel. Of course, it’s ironic that a country that is so willing to legislate smoking and anything else unhealthy also can’t get enough of the unhealthy things. Perhaps we are just trying to salve our guilty consciences by voting on legislation that requires a food label on everything from cheesecake to beer, and that will forbid smoking except within 3 million light years of Jupiter.America is also a very litigious and health conscious nation. Remember the lawsuit against MacDonald’s by a person who scalded herself from coffee that was too hot?! (I rest my case). But for the life of me, I can’t seem to figure out how someone can blame tobacco companies for their own personal behavior. I’ve rambled way too much on this question, perhaps we should move on.
Q. You’re a regular on Club Stogie, every day we see more and more folks joining the CS family. Why does it feel like the hobby is growing despite so many bans are being imposed to hinder our love of the legal leaf?
I think it’s exactly because cigar smoking is now a “hobby” for more people as opposed to just a practice or activity. As with any hobby, the hobbyist will spend time, money, effort and whatever, in order to progress their hobby. When you are involved in a hobby, you become more knowledgeable about it and you purchase various accouterments having to do with that hobby.Today’s cigar smokers are more knowledgeable and, though they smoke fewer cigars, they tend to smoke more expensive cigars. Many types of cigars and accessories will have interest to the hobbyist because of their rarity or because their existence denotes something special in the industry as a whole or in a particular cigar company. Club Stogie, and other cigar forums are great places for cigar hobbyists to exchange ideas and information.
Q. There are so many new cigars on the market that are already aged, like the Partagas 160 where the wrapper is supposedly close to 30 years old. Can you age a cigar too long or what is the optimum time to age a cigar?
Different tobaccos have different potential for aging. Tobacco needs to have a combination of strength and complexity to be able to last for years. I believe there is a point past which a cigar will begin to go downhill and even turn. Since tobacco is a fermentable product, the tobacco continues to oxidize over time creating subtle, or not so subtle, changes depending on how quickly it is fermenting.That’s why, at Stogie Fresh, we review cigars over time. We are the only website that I know of that attempts to rate the potential for aging of different cigars by reviewing them over the period of about a year and a half and then assigning them a “rating potential” score. We are trying to provide some pertinent information to other cigar hobbyists on the aging potential of different cigar lines.
Q. Currently, what cigar do you have that has been aging the longest?
There are two types of aged cigars, those that we age ourselves in our own humidors, and those that have been aged by the manufacturer prior to distribution. Having become a cigar hobbyist relatively recently, my own cigars have not aged that long. I think I have some cigars that I laid down in 2000. However, I have many cigars whose tobacco has been aged for considerable length of time, from 3-4 years like the Padron Anniversary series, to Cusano 18’s, which have some filler tobacco that has aged for 18 years, and many others of various ages. Also, I have enjoyed some cigars that used pre-Embargo tobacco that’s over 50 years old (though, since the “cigar boom”, I am very skeptical of how much, if any, true pre-Embargo tobacco is still available). By the way, I also have some of the Partagas 160’s that you mentioned in the previous question (with a 28 year old Cameroon wrapper), but I haven’t smoked one yet.
Q. Are you a “cellophane on” or “cellophane off” kind of guy?
Both. I always keep some cello’d cigars because they travel better. The cello helps keep them humidified and also protects them better when I toss them in my travel humidor. Also, I am experimenting with aging cigars side-by-side in the same box, some with cello and some without. I find that the cello restricts (not prevents) airflow and as a result, the cigars tend to have a better aroma when left in the cello. The oil on the surface of the cigar doesn’t seem to dry and evaporate as readily. Of course, if we removed the cello and left the cigars in their original boxes without opening the boxes all the time (we’re anal, remember?), then we wouldn’t have this type of problem. Cigars age well when stacked together with other cigars of the same batch. The essential oils tend to blend across cigars and the cigars take on a consistency of flavor and aroma.
Q. You must have the patience of a saint. Most of us don’t have the patience to age cigars. How do you do it? How do you resist the temptation to just throw caution to the wind and start smoking your aged sticks?
I really hate to spoil this for you, but I DON’T have patience and I DO smoke my sticks. Or, at least my intention is to smoke most of my sticks within 5 years of purchase. While I am a firm believer in the value of aging, I think that most of the benefits of aging will accrue during the first few years. There is no reason that a cigar should not be perfectly ready to smoke after a few months of aging. However, because of a higher demand for cigars these days, many cigar manufacturers age their cigars for less time prior to distribution. Further, the cigars will not normally sit in the humidors of the B & M as long as they did prior to the boom years, gaining further age prior to being purchased. Thus, it behooves us to lay our cigars down for a few weeks if not months after purchase and prior to smoking them.I do have cigars that have aged longer than 5 years, but that’s only because I buy enough cigars that I get backlogged and then forget about them in the back of one of my humi’s. I suppose I’m not a typical collector: I want to enjoy my cigars eventually.
Q. It’s the end of the world and you only have time to smoke one last stogie. What do you pull out of your humidor and why?
I would pull out the LONGEST one I could find.