What Was Your First Cigar?
Cigar Advisor Asks Around: what was your first premium handmade cigar?
By Gary Korb
If someone were to ask, “Do you remember your first kiss?” odds are you’d say, “Yes.” The same is true for cigar smokers, most of whom do remember their first premium cigar. The keyword here is “premium” – not Garcia y Vega little cigars, Swisher Sweets, Phillies Blunts, Dutch Masters Panatelas, or other machine-made cigars, which, admittedly, are often gateway cigars to the premium cigar realm. I’m referring to cigars made entirely by hand somewhere in beautiful, downtown Central America.
Back in the 1980’s, I was smoking some now-defunct dry-cured cigars, but I had my first premium cigar in the early 1990’s, just prior to the cigar boom. My then wife and I had gone to one of the local clubs to see my friend’s band play. Behind the bar, I spotted a large desktop humidor, and after expressing my interest in its contents the bartender offered me a cigar menu. I chose a Don Tomás Special Edition Connecticut #200 mostly because at $7 it was the cheapest cigar in the list. To my surprise, it was wonderful; mild, nutty, creamy and aromatic. After that night, I was off to the races.
Having worked at Famous Smoke Shop for nearly 15 years, as you might imagine, many of my coworkers also enjoy relaxing with a good cigar. Being the naturally curious person I am, I asked some of my colleagues, plus a few cigar business friends, if they remember their first premium cigar, and what follows are their stories. I also took the liberty of adding some good suggestions that may interest you while searching for your first premium cigar.
“My first premium was a Don Diego. Before that I was smoking Bering, which was machine-made. In college I had a friend – Mike – whose friend’s family owned a tobacco store in State College, PA. When he saw what I was smoking, he handed me the Don Diego and said, ‘Try one of these.’ We smoked our cigars on the steps of the music hall at the University of Scranton, which used to be a church; so in a way, you could say I got religion that day.” – John Pullo, Managing Copywriter (FSS)
In the 1960’s and 70’s, when most premium cigars were mild, Don Diego was the popular option to Macanudo cigars, and still enjoy a fair amount of popularity today. John’s buddy most likely offered the Diego for its mild Dominican tobaccos and smooth, well-rounded flavor. If you’re interested in trying a Don Diego and some other good mild cigars, this Dominican 6 Pack is a good place to start (It’s also got a couple of Macanudos).
“My first premium cigar was a La Palma Petit Corona, made at my uncle’s Tabacalera Palma factory in the Dominican Republic. I smoked it right there in the factory, and I remember many people saying, ‘He’s going to like cigars as his father.’ It was a bit strong for me, but as I reflect back on that time, I was getting to smoke what I saw my father doing everyday as I was growing up.” – José Blanco, Owner/Founder Las Cumbres Tabaco-Señorial Cigars
“My first premium was a Padrón 1964 Aniversario. My brother bought it for me on my 21st birthday. Actually, I did try a Toraño Signature my brother was smoking prior to smoking the Padrón, but I had only shared a few puffs, and it was way too strong for me. But the Padrón was fantastic. It’s a hard cigar to forget.” – Jonathan Detore, Copywriter, Marketing (FSS)
The Padrón 1964 Aniversario is not usually a cigar one would choose as a first premium for its full body, complex flavors, and higher price point. But if you’re interested in starting out with a Padrón, you may want to sample their mainline “Thousands” series that are medium in body and mighty-mighty tasty.
“My first premium cigar was a Romeo y Julieta Vintage #1. I bought it at Famous Smoke Shop in 2001 [before I worked here] and smoked it at a local bar. It was the first really good, mild-bodied cigar I ever smoked. I not only totally enjoyed the experience, but I stayed with that cigar for a few years. Once I began working at Famous my choices naturally expanded to other brands.” – Ed Bearby, Lead Sales, Customer Engagement (FSS)
“In the early 90’s my college buddies and I went on a cruise during Spring Break. In Barbados, I stopped into a cigar shop to check things out and I picked out a Romeo y Julieta Churchill Tubo. I lit it on the beach with a gin & tonic, surrounded by incredibly hot Bohemian women in thongs. It must’ve been the combination of atmosphere, gin, and women; but it all culminated in an amazing smoking experience. I instantly regretted only purchasing one single cigar. I went back to the cigar shop and purchased a 10 count box. That was the beginning of a very expensive lifestyle.” – Khuong Pham, Manager, Cigar Monster.com/CigarAuctioneer.com
Most Romeo’s average medium in body, but all are well made in a variety of well-balanced blends and wrapper choices. Interested? You’ll find the Best of Julieta sampler offers a great selection at a nice price.
“My first experience with a premium handmade cigar was the ‘Gold Series’ by Flor De Gonzalez given to me by my Dad. At the time [the mid 1990’s], the cigar boom was on, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to share a stogie with my friends from college during a get-together at one of their houses. The experience was fun and will always be cherished. For one, I was smoking a cigar that had just received an excellent rating by Cigar Aficionado, and to top it off, my dad was producing them! The taste of toasty nuts and creamy chocolate was so enchanting I got carried away with my puffing and made myself a little sick. Other than that, it was extremely pleasant, and the best part was that my friends and I had a great time shooting the breeze and comparing notes about our grand cigar smoking experience.” – Yadi Gonzalez-Vargas – President, Flor De Gonzalez Cigars
“My first premium was an El Rey Del Mundo that I bought on my own and smoked back at my house. Beside the great flavors, the best part about it was taking the time to sit back with a fine cigar and escaping from the day-to-day hustle. It was the start of many hours of relaxing times to come.” – Erol Ata, Buyer, Purchasing Dept. (FSS)
Since El Rey Del Mundo are an exclusive brand, you won’t find them at most cigar retailers, but they’re made in the same factory as the classic Hoyo De Monterrey and Punch brands. That said, they may be a little too full for some newer smokers, so I suggest starting with Excalibur Cigars. They’re a little milder, yet still have plenty of rich Honduran flavor.
“I smoked my first premium cigar about 20 years ago at my brother in-law’s wedding at a time when you could actually celebrate indoors with a tasty stick. The best man picked up a bunch of Partagas #10’s for the guys, and that’s a pretty big stick for anybody’s first time. We lit up at the head table, and I can honestly say that I fell in love with cigars from the very first puff. I remember sitting there in my tux feeling like royalty as we drank scotch, while a cloud of fragrant blue smoke wafted above our heads. 20 years later, and yeah, I’m still in love.” – Tommy Zman, Founder, Cromag Nation Community
Partagas cigars are another classic brand that’s kept up with the surge in complex, full-bodied cigars over the years by releasing a number of excellent line extensions. But if you want to share Tommy’s experience from their core line, you’ll find the Partagas #10 and all the other sizes here.
“In the late 1970’s, I was working at a supermarket. We were setting up some displays and the manager asked me to run over to the smoke shop across the street and get him a pack of Te-Amo cigars. I brought them back and he said I bought the wrong wrapper. I don’t remember if he wanted natural and I bought maduro, or vice versa, but in any event, I went back and exchanged them. When I returned, he offered me one, and that was it. – Hal Odzic, Catalog Manager (FSS)
“My first premium was also my first cigar, a Perdomo Champagne. I chose it myself, because I knew the brand had a great reputation, and since I like Champagne, I imagined that a cigar named “Champagne” would be very enjoyable, which it was. – Jennifer Ryan, Merchandiser, Purchasing (FSS)
Jennifer made a good call by choosing the Perdomo Champagne, but Perdomo makes so many excellent cigars, you might be interested in this Best of Perdomo sampler, which includes the Champagne and several more savory Perdomo selections.
“My very first handmade cigar was given to me by a Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate while serving as an enlisted “squid” about the USS Connole (FF-1056) in 1995. We were on an extended deployment in the Mediterranean Sea and it was smoked above deck while the ship was searching for Russian Akula-class subs. I do not recall the brand, I just remembered it being extremely dark and powerful, too strong actually as he berated me for looking ‘green around the gills’ and ‘to grow a pair.’ Gotta’ love the abuse… Thankfully my Ops Officer, Lt. Walter S. Laird, took pity on me and started sharing his selection of much better quality premium handmades with me soon after. It was unusual for a Line Officer to associate with a young Petty Officer socially and it was then I realized that handmade cigars were much more than just smoke.” – Steve Saka, Owner/Founder, Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust
Now it’s your turn! Please leave a comment telling us about your first premium handmade cigar experience.