I’ve known Doc for many years now due to another of my favorite events here in Paso Robles, Crush & Roll West. He is a popular blogger and podcaster at Stogie Fresh …and honestly, all around great guy. He and I have always had cool conversations and the vibe is always fun.
Doc has been part of Crush & Roll since its inception 6 years ago and I thought, rather than simply talk about the event, it would be cool to do a little interview with Doc. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to his podcast or hang out with him in person (at Crush & Roll for example) seize that moment. He really is an enjoyable person to talk to.
Crush & Roll is coming up September 5 and 6 so get on it and grab your tickets.
Let’s dive right in with the interview and please, if you are at all into cigars, be sure to follow the guy on his website, Facebook, and Twitter. Cheers!
Matt: How did cigars become such a big part of your life? How did you get into this lifestyle?
Doc: When I met my brothers-in-law (on my wife’s side) they had been smoking cigars for many years. At family gatherings they would ask me if I wanted a cigar and I routinely refused. Then, I was in Las Vegas and picked up a cigar at a small shop. I liked it. It seemed to put me in a festive and relaxed mood. When I returned home, I sought out a local tobacconist, who has been in the business for nearly 40 years. I asked him if he would recommend a cigar for me as a newbie and also asked him to pick out some cigars for my brothers-in-law that I could offer them at our next gathering. Although I don’t remember the name of the brand that I smoked in Vegas, I do remember the cigar the tobacconist picked out for me. It was a Romeo y Julieta 1875 Churchill. It turned out to be a good choice for me. It was light–medium in body and with enough flavor to excite the senses of my newbie palate.
As with any other hobby that I get interested in, the cigar hobby consumed me and I gave it my full attention. That was the start of a long ride for me that has taken me to many countries and has blessed me with many great friends.
Matt: How long have you been blogging or podcasting about cigars?
Doc: I started my cigar website in late 2004 to early 2005. Within 5 months I was inundated with requests from cigar manufacturers and retailers, asking me how much I charged for advertising. I had no clue. I never thought I would need a business plan for something that was more a passion than a business. After 6 months of publishing what I considered to be well-written and informative articles about cigars, I was asked to do a 5-minute segment for a couple of friends of mine who had started a new cigar podcast. Podcasting was still in its infancy at that time and I knew next to nothing about it. Undaunted, I rigged up a mic to my Mac and crafted three 5-minute segments that I called: Stogie Fresh 5. Today, the episodes are no longer 5-minutes, but I still call it Stogie Fresh 5. To date, I have recorded 415 weekly episodes and am still going. I guess somebody out there still likes what I do.
Besides my web site and podcasting, I have my own Stogie Fresh Tv video channel on Youtube with over 3,200 subscribers. As with my articles and podcasts, my focus is not on quantity, but instead is on quality. I don’t put out articles or videos that often or just to satisfy some arbitrary quota. Instead, I believe that each product that I publish should the best it can possibly be. I am a perfectionist in many respects and perfection is not an accident. I believe the web and social media is already overfull of mediocre content. So, I want mine to stand out above the rest, or at least, to be as good as I can possibly make it.
Matt: Do you find that people are intimidated when they get into the cigar lifestyle, kind of like some folks get when they try to get into wine?
Doc: Yes, absolutely. Any hobby can be intimidating, but wine and spirits and cigar making are truly artisanal crafts and each one can be explored to its very depths, but not without a significant amount of time and effort. I am a hobbyist and enthusiast. I am a collector. When I become interested in something new, I also want to know everything I can know about it. That is what makes a hobby fun and turns it into a lifestyle with new friends to meet, new events to attend and new things to learn. It is all about peeling back the layers and learning what makes each industry and product so unique. You might notice that I refer to my interest in premium cigars and cigar smoking as a hobby. I would never say that about cigarette smoking, but cigars are truly a hobby; one that is to be enjoyed in moderation and with a full appreciation of the many complex steps that it takes to bring this hand made product to the market and with a full respect of others whose lifestyle choices may not agree with mine.
Because the cigar lifestyle is so complex, I believe there is a need for quality education to simplify the complexities so that new cigar smokers can really appreciate the nuances of premium cigars. From the time the tobacco is harvested, it will take 3-4 years to bring that tobacco to the market in the form of a finished cigar. There will be 200-300 people who have handled that tobacco from the seed to the finished cigar. This is not an automated, flash in the pan process. This is an artisanal craft that is very similar to winemaking. Wine and cigars are both harvestable products, they are both hand harvested, fermented and aged, and they are hand crafted through blending. They can both be improved through aging, but, as with wine, only the best premium tobacco with have the capacity to age successfully.
Matt: Do you have 2 or 3 tips or pieces of advice for newbies getting into cigars?
Doc: I guess I would say, first, don’t buy your first cigar at a cigarette store, liquor store or gas station. Go to a professional tobacconist and tell them you are new to cigars and ask them what they recommend and why. Most professional tobacconists have spent a good portion of their life in the cigar industry. They have educated themselves and they know their way around the different cigars and can tell you about their strength, body and flavor profiles. Second, I would say don’t get stuck in a rut. There are so many great cigars in the market right now and you should keep trying different ones to hone your palate. As with wines, your palate will change the longer you smoke cigars and you will also appreciate different cigars at different times of the day and with different libations. Keep trying new cigars and expand your palate.
Matt: How do you feel about cigars being lumped in with cigarette category?
Doc: The health effects of cigar smoking has been of particular concern to me because of my background in the health education and health science fields. I have done a lot of reading on the topic and have written my share of articles about it. In a nutshell: nobody that understands the complexity of the premium cigar industry and the differences between a typical tobacco cigarette and a hand made premium cigar would ever lump premium cigars together with cigarettes. And yet, there are too many people who DON’T understand the differences.
I have written and published two articles that have specifically focused on the health differences between cigarettes and premium cigars. One article is probably the most downloaded and trafficked article on my site. It is titled: The Critical Difference: Premium Cigars versus Cigarettes. In this article I traced the origins of premium cigars and the advent of cigarettes, including the health differences between each. I wrote a second article to address the differences between premium cigars and cigarettes with respect to their potential for nicotine dependence and addiction. That article is titled: Premium Cigars and their Potential for Nicotine Dependence and Addiction. It is always possible that, if you smoke enough cigars often enough and over a long enough time, you could suffer from dependence, addiction and other health maladies. And although there are numerous factors that could be discussed regarding the processing of the tobacco, the construction of the product and the typical practices of consumption, I have concluded that there are substantive reasons to believe that there is a much lower risk for dependence, addiction and tobacco-related diseases in the cigar smoking public. Obviously, that is an oversimplification of a complex topic and I would recommend that each person educate themselves enough to make their own intelligent decisions. However, when I have written to legislators regarding the differences between cigarette and premium cigar smoking, they have taken what I consider to be the low road and have suggested things like, “Well, scientists have told us that tobacco is bad for our health and tobacco is tobacco, therefore it’s all bad.” That is, unfortunately, a narrow and sweeping belief that is unsubstantiated, in my opinion.
Matt: How long have you been involved with Crush & Roll?
Doc: Crush & Roll West is the only event of this kind and magnitude on the Central Coast. I have been with the Crush & Roll West cigar/wine event since its inception 6 years ago. At that time, I had just returned from the first annual ProCigar Festival, a cigar festival in the very heart of cigar country, Dominican Republic. I enjoyed several days of learning about premium cigars and how they are made. I walked through the fields and through the factories. I saw how the tobacco is picked, cured, fermented, aged and then how it is rolled into the finished cigar. I was impressed by how many similarities existed between the premium cigar industry and other artisanal crafts like winemaking, beer brewing and the manufacture of distilled spirits like scotch, bourbon, etc. And, in fact, we not only experienced some of the best cigars in the world, we paired them with wonderful examples of wine, beer, spirits and food.
So when I returned, I discussed with a friend how we might be able to bring cigars from their countries of origin to the Central Coast to put on a festival right here in our back yard. I figured we had the wine and beer industries already established here and we would be able to get some of the great examples of premium wines and craft beers that are made in our area. In the beginning, it turned out to be a bit harder than expected to get the cigar companies to support our event. The reason is because cigar tobacco is grown and the cigars are made, for the most part, in Central America and the Caribbean. And the cigars that are exported from those countries must come through customs in Miami and that means the U.S. headquarters for cigar companies is typically back East. It is a big commitment for companies to send product, booth setup materials, and representatives to the West Coast for a few days to participate in our event. Nevertheless, we did pull it off and we have been successful for the past 5 years in providing some of the best cigars in the world to our Crush & Roll West attendees. This year we expect close to 20 cigar providers, 20-25 wineries, half dozen breweries and 10-15 lifestyle vendors. This is truly an event for everyone. If you enjoy premium cigars, this is the “Best of the West.” If you don’t like cigars, but want to come with friends or family that does, you can purchase a “Social Ticket,” which will provide you with everything except the cigars, and for a much lower price.
Matt: What is your favorite aspect of the Crush & Roll event?
Doc: I love meeting new people with whom I share a passion. At Crush & Roll West I find people, like me, who love premium hand made cigars, premium wines, exemplary craft beers, music and a festive atmosphere in which to enjoy them. We have so many great vendors whose products also overlap with these other great industries. We also have an annual poker tourney, raffles and auctions throughout Friday and Saturday and we have the great weather that we have come to expect in September on the Central Coast. It’s the perfect recipe for great times.