I owe quite a bit to my good pal, Philip Meech. He has introduced me to some of the finer things in life, things that I only wondered about from afar, or didn’t have the budget to play around with and experiment. Fine wine, various spirits, French copper pots and even Japanese knives, but one item in particular is the appreciation of a nice cigar. I had only smoked a couple in my life prior and didn’t quite see the appeal…until now.
I now enjoy a good cigar a little more often than before and cigars have become a regular feature of the “Book Club” I host. I asked Phil if he would do a simple interview with me with just a handful of questions and what do you know, he loads the answers with lots of knowledge, spirituality, experience, and wit.
Oh and since the answers were so well put, I have decided to share this interview on cigars into two parts.
Enjoy part one.
Philosophically, what do you think draws men to cigars?
Well let’s start with definitions, since we are civilized and living in polite society…well, those of us on the Eastside, at any rate. Anyway. One of the primary definitions of philosophical is “having or showing a calm attitude toward disappointments or difficulties.” Even secular society recognizes that people need time to reflect on what is, in essence, the accumulated effect in their own lives of the Curse, the thorns and the thistles as they play out in various stages and manifestations. Sure, we may often light up the leaf in anticipation of great conversation and celebration of milestones, a few chuckles, some happy endings and the like.
But take a survey of smokers and you will find that men, either singularly or in a plurality of other men, frequently ponder how they are each affected by the effects of the fall, in each of their relational realms. Work life, family life, community life, etc. We think. We discuss. We question. We hope. All of this as the leaf surrenders it’s life and recognizes it’s own ‘ashes to ashes’ genesis and destination. Each man silently asks of himself, was I then the cause or the agent of cause, or the innocent or the guilty recipient? Was I just in my response? Why do these behaviors repeat? How to we reach higher ground to ameliorate such effects in the future? Akin to staring into a roaring fire, which man has done for a few millennia now while recalling the days’ events, we continue the long tradition of burning stuff while we ‘thunk about it.’
Playing opposite this neo-classical and remorseful agency, the hedonistic element cannot be ignored. A well-made, fine cigar is pleasurable both to the touch, smell, taste, and certainly to the eye. Even listening to the lighter send forth its’ noble arson duties, you might say that partaking in a fine cigar is a glorious exercise of the five senses, and for some, the restoration of the same, if one isn’t too hammered on the Jameson to notice, along this virtuous path of enjoying the nature of the consumptive creation. And on that note, it is wise to remember that God hath built into creation a pure function that consumption can either be horrible or heavenly, depending on the heart and mindset of the created consumer. So light up that leaf and send up a pleasing aroma to the heavenly Host.
Do you think that cigar smoking is going through a renaissance? If so, why do you think that is?
I’m not much of a cultural historian. I do know that these United States had quite the cigar boom in the late 1990s. I do not know if this pattern has been repeated in a significant way as was 20 years ago. A pedestrian investigation of the number of online selling agents of ever-increasing brands of cigars may suggest that more than ever, cigars in the USA are in great demand. I think we must take time to thank the reverend Billy Clinton for drawing (pun intended) attention to the cigar. K, you might want to edit that part out.
I don’t track the numbers of production or consumption of cigars, locally or globally. What I do know is that within my limited circles of global reach, similar to coffee, wine, and other good things, there is a Hotel California effect: You can check in anytime you like, but you can never leaf. (Ha! That was hilar!) Anyway, once you get accustomed to fine coffee, fine cigars, fine wine, and really enjoy it- everything about it – it’s not the kind of thing that you leaf behind and move on to coconut crusted quinoa and electrolyte water, or whatever the newest and latest public gimmick might be. You just go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, and the more you learn, the brain buzz supersedes the nicotine buzz (of which I have never really noticed). You begin to appreciate the culture, the people, the effort, a bit more as each day passes. Speaking for myself only, it’s hard to not notice that these rituals are rarely about trying to achieve an effect; they serve to breathe life into our understanding of place, time, people, earth husbandry, and so forth – the terroir if you will – the somewhereness of a thing – of what went into creating each consumptive experience. That’s the good stuff. I have no doubt that there exist those who run the routine of drinking coffee, smoking a cigar, pounding a shot of whiskey, sipping a glass of wine, etc, who are merely practicing by rote a sort of salve to their unspectacular Saturday. But for the observant gentleman, an entire world full of richness, high definition, 3-D and full-spectrum color exists to enjoy a fine cigar in a manner in keeping with the finest traditions of men, including renaissance periods.
What should a guy look for when picking out his first handful of cigars?
I’ll let Warren Buffett chime in on this one, when asked about spending such a great percentage of a young man’s net worth on an engagement ring: “If you don’t know jewelry, know the jeweler.” Let’s not live exclusive Amazon Prime lives here, fellas. There’s something to be said for the freedom and flexibility of turning to your local butcher, local tailor, local shoe cobbler, or even a local blacksmith, if you should be so lucky to know one. Building a network that does not exist solely (that’s a shoe joke if you’re paying attention) in a virtual sphere will again open avenues for learning and enjoying the life-long benefit from knowing a fella or a family who have spent generations mastering a trade, not some rent-a-merchant who read a roadside ad thingy about escaping the corporate grind and opening their own eBay store as the ticket to quick riches. Hey, I’m all for securing a good deal when I can find one! But I would have been a bit lost if I had not found an exceptional local bricks n mortar tobacconist to help me wade through the endless selections of cigars. The lesson here is short and simple: Find, within your 10 mile radius, masters of their trade, who prove their competency, integrity, intelligence, and energy, in serving their clientele. You’ll pay a bit more, and in one of the valuable juxtapositions, live quite a richer life.
People buy brands. If you don’t know where else to start, you can’t go wrong with Davidoff or my personal favorite, Paul Garmirian Cigars, the Gourmet Series (at one point having over 1,000 of his cigars in my home humidor). Stop by my porch some evening and I’ll give you their entire history.
Philip Meech is the CEO and founder of Caffe Lusso, an independent coffee roaster in Redmond, WA but more importantly, a good friend.