By Tommy Zarzecki
If you are a lover of the leaf, you just may remember a time when all the world actually praised the cigar, smoking stogies was all the rage, and people couldn’t get enough of their premium aged hand-rolled happy sticks.
It was the mid-1990’s and this phenomenon was dubbed the "Cigar Boom", a time that brought new cigar smokers into this world at a frantic clip. I myself started smoking fine cigars in 1994 – a relative’s wedding was the occasion, and from that day on I was smitten by the aromatic scent and luscious taste of the Latin American leaf.

Looking back, I can flat out say that the Boom was an absolutely insane time in American history. Cigar stores were cropping up in towns more than McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts, and every bodega, deli, and gas station had countertop humidors displaying everything from total cigarbage, to premium blends, and all types of tobacco in between.

Cigar clubs were forming in every community and stogie dinners were being held weekly. I was in my glory, finding any excuse to cram a stick in my face and I’m pretty sure I stunk like Carlito Fuente’s ashtray on a regular basis. My wife and kids couldn’t stand the continual stench of smoldering leaves that came from far away places, but I didn’t really care. Selfish you say? Nah, I was deeply in love and nothing was going to stand between me, and my Montes.

While a lot of great new cigars and companies were born in the Boom, a lot of neophytes and shysters tried to peddle some of the most foul and heinous excrement ever rolled. People who were selling shoes and insurance no more than six months earlier were making claims that "their" cigar was the tastiest, the creamiest, 100-year aged tobacco, grown from Cuban seed, made by Cuban hands, and blessed by the baby Jesus, himself, just two Christmas’s earlier. These people were not only completely full of Shinola in every sense of the word, they truly knew NOTHING about cigars or the business they were now in. It seemed for every legitimate good guy in the biz, there were ten morons weaseling their way into cigar stores with inferior crap that would vary in quality from box to box. The problem was that the demand for cigar tobacco became so great that only the established manufacturers could obtain grade ‘A’ premium leaf, while most of the newcomers could only buy thirds and fourths and rarely the same leaf twice. The inconsistency in these brands was awful, and it wasn’t too long before the cigar buying public started to catch on.

In places like the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua, parking lots, ball fields, and school yards were being turned into makeshift vegas as the American public demanded their cigars at a breakneck pace. One of the biggest fouls that the fledgling brands committed was rushing their cigars to market, aging them maybe a quarter of the time required, and you would have been better off smoking a celery stalk. One of the things that comes from under aging and not fermenting properly is that ammonia, the natural byproduct normally sweated out of the cigar leaf, well, it’s still in there. So many times I remember cracking open a fresh box where the stench of ammonia was enough to revive a K.O’d heavy weight boxer. Then there were the distinct flavors of freshly mowed lawn and ragweed that really added to its dubious profile.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I do believe the Cigar Boom was a very important time for the growth of the industry, and while I enjoyed the hell out of it, there definitely were a lot of posers and wannabees at the cigar clubs and dinners. So many of these jack wagons were puffing on their Faux-hibas while gulping hundred dollar belts of Louis the Xlll, acting as if they owned the world. I distinctly remember one dumb-ass in an Armani suit savoring his cigar at an upscale steakhouse, as he was dying for me to ask him what he was smoking, So I humored the metrosexual-moron, inquiring about the brand he was making love to at the moment. The guy turned his cigar to me and actually said – I swear… "I’ve got a Hecho a Mano… gotta be my favorite smoke in the world!" Dudes, you just can’t make this kind of shit up.

 



I’d say right around the turn of the millennium that the Cigar Boom came to a grinding halt. And while some wonderful brands made their mark, ie; CAO, La Flor Dominicana, and Rocky Patel’s Indian Tabac, all of the bullshit brands slipped into oblivion, eventually creating a stronger industry with the emphasis being on quality over quantity.

I’m often asked if I think there could ever possibly be another Cigar Boom. One would think with the current situation of oppressive taxes, Smoke Nazi rhetoric, second hand smoke propaganda, and the FDA breathing their gloom and doom speak, another Boom would be pretty damned near impossible. But mark my words oh brothers and sisters of leafiness, if the Cuban embargo is ever lifted in our lifetime, I guarantee we WILL witness another craze take place for robustos, figurados, and all shapes and sizes of hand rolled tobacco. The clamor for Cubanos will be insane as the world will see Habana leaf blended with those of other countries for the very first time. And without question, the anti-smoking psychos will burst a hell-sized aneurysm like never seen before. I’m not actually sure if that’s good or bad, but I can assure you of this: my love affair for cigars will never, ever stop.

Smoke ’em cuz ya gottem,
Tommy Z.

Tommy Zman. is truly an obsessive enjoyer of life. Growing up in the bowels of northern New Jersey, parented by an eccentric Polish father and a neurotic Italian mother, what else could this man possibly be other than a humorist? Zman’s a "real" guy – someone who considers himself a throwback to a time when men were kings of the castle, and smoking a cigar in public didn’t label you an outcast and a pariah. He’s totally old-school, a down to earth guy with traditional values. Visit Zman’s Blog: Rants From a Social Cromag, and see his work @ www.tommyzman.com Wanna reach the Zman? —> zmanmediagroup@optimum.net Find Tommy Zman on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

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