By Gregory L. Pease, Associate Editor
Welcome to the inaugural issue of Cigar Chronicles. I’m thrilled to be a part of what promises to be a fun and exciting place for cigar lovers everywhere. The past months have been frantic, interesting, educational and, most of all, a total blast. For those who don’t know me, and for those who do, but might be surprised to find a pipe tobacco guy’s name on the masthead of a cigar magazine, here’s a little background.
My love for the cigar (we’ll ignore the semi-drunken teenage follies with plastic tipped supermarket smokes) goes back to about 1980, beginning on the same day that, as a freshman both in college and to the world of fine tobaccos, I walked into the fragrant, smoke filled shop of Drucquer and Sons, at the time, Berkeley’s premier tobacconist, to begin my schooling on pipe smoking. Little did I know that I would also simultaneously embark on what would turn out to be a lifetime (so far) relationship with fine cigars.
It was, I admit, somewhat subconscious. Once inside that wonderful shop, how could I resist the enticement of the etched glass doors leading to the rapturous aromas of their wonderful, well-stocked walk-in? The wooden shelves were covered with beautiful boxes of hand-made cigars from exotic places, opened to expose hues of brown and red and gold, textures from silky and oily to rough and rustic. The smells of rich, spicy tobacco, intermingling with the aroma of the Spanish cedar that lined the walls, led to a spontaneous understanding of what Byron was on about when he wrote:
Divine in hookas, glorious in a pipe
When tipp’d with amber, mellow, rich, and ripe;…
Yet thy true lovers more admire by far
Thy naked beauties – give me a cigar!
–Lord Byron, The Island
I was hooked. I signed on as deck hand, and the journey began.
The landscape has changed a lot over the ensuing 30 or so years. Brands have come and gone, and, perhaps more significantly, many have changed. I can effortlessly invoke memories of long lost loves: the Flor de Jamaica, that exquisite little perfecto from Royal Jamaica when the brand was still produced on the island. There were the H. Upmann and Monetcruz cigars from the Canary Islands, quite distinct from the same marques produced in the Dominican Republic, not to mention La Palma’s delightful La Regentas – I still have a few of those. An unusual supply of Brazilian bundles showed up one day, earthy, powerful, tasting of the soil and the sun and offering something unique to my, then enthusiastic but naive palate. It was easy, then, to approach the exploration of the cigar with a child’s enthusiasm, every puff, another step along the path. Today, there are more cigars than ever, and it can be hard to make sense of the sometimes dizzying choices amongst existing brands and line-extensions, let alone the seemingly constant influx of new models.
Yes, things have changed. To some of us who’ve been around for a while, it might be tempting to light candles at the altar and sing songs of sorrow for the wonderful cigars we’ve loved and lost, and it would be easy to justify the lament, but I think to do so would be to do ourselves a disservice. Certainly, there was a time when the cigar world seemed to be in the midst of upheaval, a strange sort of "decline from abundance," where old brands suffered from poor quality control coupled with being rushed to market too early in order to satisfy newfound demand, and new ones were being introduced seemingly daily, with fancy names and made-up histories that weren’t worth the flamboyant boxes they were packaged in. During the height of the boom, it seemed like everyone’s grandfather was a Cuban expat who made the finest cigars ever known, and hype was the byword of the new industry.
I smoked more than a few really bad cigars during those years, and It would have been easy to become disillusioned, but even at the peak of the troubles, there were great smokes to be found, for those willing to look. And, patience has paid off.
Over the past months, I’ve smoked some really magnificent new blends. It’s clear that today’s cigar smoker is more sophisticated, better educated, and the new industry has responded, joining with tradition, rather than working against it, to create an even more exciting world of great smokes. There will always be bad cigars and good cigars, but one thing recent experiences have demonstrated is that there is again reason for that child-like enthusiasm that brought so much joy in those early days, and it’s truly a great time to be a cigar lover.
There are some amazing cigars being produced by very talented blenders, some of whom are breaking free of tradition’s chains, taking full advantage of the availability of a wonderfully diverse palette of exceptional leaf, and blending them in exciting ways to bring out the best the tobaccos have to offer. There is a delightful array of newness constantly vying for our attention, and that’s where we come in. We’ll help with real information, consumer opinions, and knowledgeable reviews to help make sense of it all.
I’m really glad to be here, to be a part of Cigar Chronicles, and look forward to continuing this long and interesting journey together.
|Gregory L. Pease Associate Editor.
Greg joins us for regular cigar reviews, his monthly editorial column, "Up in Smoke," and the occasional feature article, bringing over 30 years of deep passion for the leaf to our team. Prior to becoming the founder and principal alchemist behind the pipe blends of G.L. Pease Artisanal Tobaccos (est. 1999), he’d been a pipe and cigar aficionado since his college days, and spent time working at the legendary Drucquer & Sons Tobacconist in Berkeley, California to support his affliction. He is widely educated on tobacco and all things epicurean, is an experienced writer, and has quite a refined palate. He is also a wine and spirits geek, and a gourmet cook.