Gary reviews 10 “Top Shelf” Maduro cigars: If you love the natural sweetness and savory aroma of Maduro wrapper, these dark discoveries are sure to please cigar smokers at every level of experience.
Ashes-to-Ashes: An interview with The Smoking Hot Cigar Chick
How did you get into smoking premium cigars?
SHCC: I have always been very intrigued by the palate; from the experience and memories it brings to the science and history of how they came to be. It first began with food, then went into wine and finally cigars. When you are in a room with someone smoking a cigar the aroma is delicious. Once I had the time to really enjoy cigars and smoke them on a regular basis I took advantage of the time I had to fall into the culture. In my family, we have always believed that when something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I believe that in all that I do, however simple it may be.
Tell us a little about your background, where you grew up, etc.
SHCC: I grew up in Houston, TX and was raised primarily by my mother, father, and aunt. My mother was ill and so my aunt was always there to take care of me, too. I thought I would lose my mother when I was very young, but fortunately had her for many years past the doctor’s expectations. Each day was a blessing and I enjoyed all my time with her, so she had a very big influence on me. All of our meals were made from scratch at home, and my mother and aunt would tell me the stories that inspired the meals they prepared- even how they learned the recipes and techniques. I would participate when appropriate, or watch and absorb it all into my memory.
My father would always encourage me to find out more and ask questions involving science and history. It was a wonderful combination of reading and practicing. We would host these fabulous parties in our home and prepare all the food ourselves and had a beautiful bar to serve our guests from. I would help by setting the table, greeting guests, and being an assistant so to speak. I loved it. I think that is why I love social gatherings so much. The conversations, the dressing for the occasion, the food, the wine, and getting lost into the moment. It always brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.
In my mid-teens the house caught fire while we were asleep inside and I lost everything, including my aunt. Fortunately my father was at work at the time and my mother was safe. I would have her for a bit longer. It was a great lesson in appreciation, and also made me realize how even though you can lose everything, you can be happy and move forward as you create new successes. Life is filled with opportunities, and your passions are what keep you motivated. The memories never go away, but that’s a good thing. It is a part of my story and part of what has brought me to where I am.
Because you’re attractive, do a lot of male cigar smokers assume that you’re not a “serious” cigar smoker? If so, how do you handle that?
SHCC: Ha, you’re sweet. But yes, I have gotten that response, as have a few girlfriends of mine. My favorite is the “Oh, sweetie, now that’s a strong cigar, you need to be careful. I think that cigar is too big for you.” Ugh! I won’t deny some of my appeal is “the pretty girl who likes cigars” but I am a serious smoker and people find that out pretty quickly after talking to me or watching some of my videos.
People thinking they know what is best for others irritates me, but I move past it and focus on what’s important. As far as handling the situation, it depends on what happened. If someone is being insulting for the sake of being insulting, then it isn’t worth my time and truly doesn’t involve me anyway, that’s their own thing. Usually I’ll respond with an introduction and then begin a conversation. Funny how most of those who come up to say something do so without even knowing who you are or having said hello first. As long as I can enjoy myself I am happy.
How have some of your girlfriends and fellow models reacted to you smoking cigars?
SHCC: Some of my friends will go for a taste here and there, and some have really gotten into it. Fellow models I usually only see at bookings or shows and it’s business-focused there. We’ll have conversations and they usually find it very interesting. The best was a designer I was working with who saw my cigar case in my bag and told me how she loved cigars, too. That was awesome.
I remember after a big cigar event I came home, washed my hair, and headed off to the studio to get my hair ready for a hair show. The stylist is working with my hair and suddenly says to me, “Your hair smells a hint of……cigars.” There was a pause as I waited for his next response- “I love it!” You tend to see a lot more cigarettes in the fashion world than cigars, which never made sense to me. You see a handmade, beautiful, well thought out design – and for me, I think a hand rolled premium cigar would be a better fit for a match.
When did you decide to go into Smoking Hot Cigar Chick T-shirts and other swag?
SHCC: It was born out of requests as my site grew, so I decided to set up a store on cafepress.com to be able to offer some fun swag. I am not in the business of shirts or mugs, but it is nice to be able to make them available which is what made cafepress.com a great match for me. It also allows me to send a percentage of the profits to the Wounded Warrior Project which has been a great opportunity to support their cause.
Are you active in organizations such as Cigar Rights of America and similar associations? If so, tell us about your involvement.
SHCC: I am a member of Cigar Rights of America and highly recommend everyone become a part of it as well. Anything we can do to bring our community together and defend our freedoms is something that is worth doing, especially now. I think just as important as defending our rights would be strengthening the places we currently are able to have a cigar. CigarFriendly.us does a great job of bringing awareness to the businesses that welcome cigar smokers. We have to keep them alive and prosperous so we can hope to bring more in the future.
What are your most important criteria for judging cigars?
SHCC: Taste is the most important to me, as well as the quality in that taste. Construction is very important as well since you could have something that tastes wonderful but if it falls apart, then you can no longer enjoy it. I like a comfortable draw, consistency, a nice aroma, and a nice burn- I don’t like to fight a cigar. The finish is the part I look forward to, and if it has that quality that you just don’t want to let go of, then it is a fabulous smoke. Overall I would say balance is what I look for. I prefer to have the flavor profile overpower the strength, have a smooth consistency in the smoke, and have a finish that makes you salivate.
What flavor profile gives you the most satisfaction?
SHCC: I like all styles, but tend to go for the medium to full bodied and complex blends. I don’t like obvious hit you in the teeth strong, there have to be some curiosity factors and a balance in the profile to keep things enjoyable. Some favorite notes are earth, black pepper, chocolate, coffee, and woody notes. Though it will depend on my mood and the time of day what I will smoke. Sometimes it is something mild to medium with espresso (a colada if you want to be specific), or maybe a pepper bomb following a steak or burger. I appreciate both the delicate nuances and rich complexities there are to indulge in.
Does size matter? (I’m talking about cigar sizes.)
SHCC: (Of course we are, ha!) It does to a lot of people, and to a certain degree it does to the blend. Is there one size that is better over another? No. You have to find what you like and also see how it treats the blend. A smaller ring gauge gives you a higher ratio of wrapper to filler whereas a larger ring gauge gives you a more filler to wrapper ratio. I know I will have favorites in certain blends, but overall I do my best to try everything. It keeps things interesting and in perspective.
How do you balance your modeling schedule with your cigar smoking venture?
SHCC: What is the old saying, when it rains it pours? It usually seems that way but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like being busy and running around from one thing to the next. There are still moments in between which are great, too. Usually my model bookings will be in the earlier hours of the day, which gives me enough time to go to cigar events in the evening. If there is a fashion show they can be in the evening though, so it is just a matter of what is going on. Recently there was an interesting one with cognac tastings, cigar events, and photo shoots all overlapping to where it was a matter of choosing one event over the other, or leaving early to make it to the next. I prefer one or two things a day at most, but it’s funny…once you are at an event or a booking, you fall into the moment. I think that is what I enjoy of it all so much.
Aside from smoking cigars, what do you like to do for fun?
SHCC: Going out to social events! I love getting together with old friends, meeting new people, and enjoying the simple luxuries over great conversations. One of my favorite things to do is go out with a small group of friends for an early dinner, go to the ballet, and then enjoy some libations afterward. I find the whole thing so relaxing and exciting. The same goes for getting a group of friends together to taste new foods- it becomes an adventure. My favorite foods are Japanese and French, and I enjoy going out (with a group or even on my own) and having the chef be in charge of my evening. You may laugh, but another thing I enjoy doing involves a very dear friend of mine. It’s a rare treat, but there are times where we like to escape and spend a day getting our nails done, having lunch, do some shopping, and then…finish off with a cupcake! I don’t know why the cupcake makes the day but it just does.
What bands are you into?
SHCC: Like cigar bands? Hard to choose, there are some great ones out there. As far as music, I’m really into industrial/electronic. Well, that and classical, I love the piano and violin. Bands I am into would be Front Line Assembly, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Underworld, Fluke, Skinny Puppy, The Prodigy, Meat Beat Manifesto, and DJ Hyper to name a few. I’ll even admit a guilty pleasure of liking Lady Gaga lately. Her songs are catchy and pretty great for shoots.
A lot of girls find cigars a turnoff. What advice can you give to guys who enjoy smoking cigars, but don’t want it to ruin their love life?
SHCC: I find it interesting that most girls who say cigars turn them off are really into wine. At least that has been my experience. I’ve found myself at bars where a woman will give my friends a dirty look and then look confused when she sees me enjoying myself with a cigar in hand. I’ve had many women approach me in such scenarios and ask me questions out of curiosity of learning, not of offending. In such cases, they have found the whole thing very interesting- a perspective they had not considered before. I think many people oversimplify and put cigarettes and cigars in the same group, which they are not.
Explaining and understanding the culture, art, and taste involved in a cigar is what I think is important. It isn’t a habit but a hobby. I try to keep the conversation based off something they can connect to, otherwise it may feel like they are being forced into something they don’t believe they are a part of. I also let them know that a single experience does not represent everything that is out there. One less than satisfactory burger wouldn’t keep you from having a different one in the future. The same goes with wine, you just have to taste and see what you like. I do think what matters first is the strength of the relationship. You don’t need to eat, drink, or smoke to have a great time with friends, but understanding what is going on and making yourself a part of the conversations makes for a good evening. Involvement enhances the experience since you are all a part of it, but as long as there is some form of connection then you are good.
Is there anything else you’d like to say before we sign-off?
SHCC: My real aim is to help the industry and try to abolish some of the ridiculous myths about smoking cigars and combat the negative press and anti-smoking hysteria. And also to show people who may not smoke the culture and history behind cigar smoking, so even if they choose not to smoke they at least understand and appreciate it a bit more.
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