Dave Imber (DI): Um, it’s funny because like we’ve talked about earlier in this, like, I fall down these rabbit holes and my wife always jokes with me. ‘Cause she’s like, “You always find a way to make your vices your job,” and …
Rob Gagner (RG): That’s the best.
DI:… and I’m like, “That’s the greatest compliment of all time.”
DI: “Thanks babe.”
VOICE OVER (VO): There’s a story inside every smoke shop with every cigar and with every person. Come be a part of the cigar lifestyle of Boveda. This is Box Press.
RG: Welcome to another episode Box Press. I’m your host, Rob Gagner. And I have a very special guest today, all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio, Dave Imber from CigarClub.com.
DI: Great to be here, Mr. Rob.
RG: Thank you so much for joining me, dude. He’s only here for a short period of time. So we have, oh, it’s seven hours, something like that.
DI: It is all done.
RG: Yeah, yeah.
DI: Yeah, it’s a quick turn, you know.
RG: It’s kind of fun and-
DI: It is.
RG: … we’re gonna go taste some coffee after this.
DI: Because we have a new shared passion.
RG: Yeah. Before the whole episode, I had no idea. Just getting into coffee and really liking the, the AeroPress, my new fellow burr grinder, everything. And you are a placeholder, third place holder, at the Florida championship—
DI: county, his county, before.
RG: … championship for AeroPress, right?
DI: Yes. A bronze AeroPress trophy sits in my office.
RG: You have a bronze AeroPress.
RG: I was totally—
DI: I do.
RG: … star struck by this, because I’m—
RG: … like I see these people give out these recipes, you know, online for first, second, and, and third place. I’m sure it’s the World AeroPress—
DI: Yeah, yep.
RG: … cup. And you were, you were competing nationally.
DI: Competing to go—
RG: To nationals.
DI: … be the, be the U.S.—
RG: Got it.
DI: … representation, yeah.
RG: Got it. So you are competing regionally—
RG: … to go to nationals basically and compete, then on the world level.
RG: Nice. But hey, if I got a bronze trophy from AeroPress, I’d be like, “Yeah, I did. I brewed some sick coffee.”
DI: Exactly. And bronze looks closer to gold—
DI: … and silver, right? So in a lot of ways, I’m like, “I’ll take the bronze.”
DI: You know what I mean? Like people walk in, you see that, one, you’re probably wondering why I have that, but two, kind of looks like gold, you know.
DI: So, uh, you know.
Pairing Coffee and Cigars
RG: Coffee is a whole new world to me. Absolutely love it with cigars.
DI: Yeah, totally. I think like we were, like we’ve discussed, you know, in the past the parallels between industries like coffee and like tobacco, the sourcing, the people behind it, the hands that touch it, you take-
DI: … a look back once you’ve seen this like lifespan that gets to like your brewed cup and your, and your brewed cup of coffee. And you’re like, “How did this cost $3? I don’t understand.”
DI: How is this cigar $8? And it’s the, the amount of work and trial and error that it takes to get to the place these coffee farmers are at, and these tobacco growers are at, wherever that is, with like equipment that, I don’t know, predates probably 1900. I like—
DI: … I don’t even know
RG: They’re picking it by hand.
DI: everything’s picked by hand.
RG: My gosh.
DI: Tobacco, coffee, so it’s just thrilling to see those kinds of parallels.
RG: And that’s the world that you came from before, it was this kind of—
RG: … coffee world. So for you, you’ve been to South America for coffee.
DI: I haven’t.
RG: You haven’t.
DI: I have not.
RG: Okay. So, but you … Okay. When did you start at CigarClub.com?
DI: So I started here around this time last year. I think it was like September of 2019.
RG: Got it. So you’re a year in—
RG: … but right when you get on the job, three months in, they’re like, “Yo, let’s go to South America to make a blended cigar?”
DI: Yeah. Like I kind of forced that upon the company, right? Because—
RG: Nice move.
DI: “… I wanna do that,” right?
RG: We all, we all—
DI: Who doesn’t wanna do that?
RG: … wanna do that. Who doesn’t wanna know how to blend one of these beautiful cigars? What goes into it? How hard is it—
RG: It is so hard to … Like this wrapper is super seamless. Not an easy feat to do my friends. It is—
RG: … super hard.
DI: No, just the sorting process alone of it is, is an art in and of itself. And it was one of those things where it’s like, I was a cigar geek before I got into the actual industry. And for me, I’m like, “I wanna go to origin. I wanna see the process. I wanna learn how to blend cigars. Great. I’m not the one sitting on the rolling table making them. Uh, I’m hardly…”
DI: “… the one literally blending it. But I’m, you know, being able to work alongside and, and begin that process of learning and education, you know, I’m one of those people that like falls down the rabbit hole fast in—
DI: … any industry I’ve dipped my toe in.
RG: Hence the third place trophy for AeroPress. I’m—
RG: … I’m just on the slippery slope.
RG: And I, I’m going.
DI: You’re going down fast.
RG: I’m going.
DI: And I’m not helping you—
DI: … try to get out.
RG: It’s so much fun now.
DI: I’m just gonna keep watching you fall down it and throwing more cool things.
RG: You can do the same thing in cigars. Of course, in anything—
RG: … you can just, you get more and more into and how do they do that? So how did you—
Learning How to Blend Cigars in Nicaragua
RG: … get the opportunity to go to South America to learn how to blend cigars and sit down with an actual blender? Who did you meet? How did this all happen?
DI: Yeah, it’s funny. Cigars is … I mean, so many things in life is, you know, connections and who you know, and what you know, and the relationships you’ve built. And for me, that’s, that’s been my story in my time in this industry is the relationships and the people that have said, “Yeah, Dave, I’ll show you. Yeah, I’ll take you under my wing. Yeah. You wanna learn? Let’s go. Let’s do it.” And you know, it, it goes back to late, uh, or early 2019. I was not in the cigar industry.
DI: I was working at creative agencies, doing branding and strategy and photography, and, and, and doing it for a lot of craft companies too, which was still a really cool outlet. Um, but we happened to be in Key West on a—
DI: … on a job, right? Working for a hotel, doing their branding and stuff like that, man.
RG: It’s tough job, man.
DI: I know.
Visiting Rodriguez Cigars in Key West, Florida
DI: And of course, like, you know, we finish up for the day and I’m like, “I’ve always wanted to go to Rodriguez Cigars.” They’re the, they’re the cigar place of Key West, right? Of the original cigar city of Florida, w- you know—
DI: … 90 miles from Cuba. And so I’m like, “I’ve got to go see what all, see what this is all about.” And I’ve always had watched, I think it was Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern, was in Key West and interviewed Danny, the owner of Rodriguez Cigars. And ever since that like episode I watched that’s like, like back in 2012 or 2013, whenever it was—
DI: … I was like, “I’m going to Rodriguez Cigars.”
RG: He’s from here.
RG: Yeah. He’s from here.
DI: No way.
RG: Yeah, yeah. Fun fact.
Meeting Danny Difabio of Rodriguez Cigars
DI: Okay. Major fun fact. So that was then planted in my head and then I’m like, “Cool. I’m in Key West now.” And I’m born and raised in South Florida, but never really went all the way down to the Keys. And um, so I mosey on over to Rodriguez Cigars five minutes before they close, and Da—
RG: Nice timing.
DI: … and Danny Difabio, the owner, is in there closing up shop. And I’m like, “Aw man, dang it.” But—
DI: … I walk in and he’s like, “Hey, what’s up, man? How can I help you?” And I’m like, “Oh, I was just looking to get some cigars.” And he’s like, “All right.” And he just starts, I mean, literally five minutes ’til he closes. Okay. Like this guy is wrapping stuff up and he just goes into it. He’s like, “What are you looking for, man? What do you like to smoke? And, and just starts, “Oh, let me show you this. Oh yeah. So my grandfather started this you know, in 1984 and this is his original blend. And, and, and this is something I’ve been working on.”
DI: And he just starts telling me everything. He’s got tobacco plants in there. He starts diving in, “Viso, Ligero, Seco. These are the different—”
DI: “… pieces of the plant,” and I’m like, “Oh, okay.”
RG: He can’t…he’s just like, “Go. Go. Go.”
DI: Right. He’s, he’s la- I’m like, “It’s like 9:10, 9:15 or 8:10, 8:10, 8:15.” And, and at this point I was like pretty geeky about cigars. Right? So I knew like some seed lines and like tobaccos that I loved and growing regions. So I started throwing it back at him. Right? ‘Cause I’m in the process of falling down that rabbit hole in that kind of time period of my life. And he’s just lighting up. He’s like, “How do you know that? Do you work with cigars?”
Talking Tobacco with a Real Cigar Blender
DI: And I’m like, “No, I don’t. I just, I just love them.” And boom, next thing you know, he’s like, “Go sit over there.” He sits me down at the roller’s table. He goes to the back, grabs a bottle of Zacapa 23, goes upstairs, grab cigars, throws them on the table. He’s like, “These are new blends I’m working on. Let’s talk about them.” We sit down, we smoke through two—
RG: Blender asked—
RG: … you for your opinion?
DI: No- not even asking me for my opinion. But he just wanted me to experience it. Right? Like—
DI: Like if I’m Danny, right? And he’s like, “Oh, let me … Yeah, kid. You tell me what you think about this.” I think it was more one of those moments where, “I see your desire to want to learn. I’ll tell you everything you wanna know. And I don’t want anything from you.”
RG: Oh, that’s so cool.
DI: And literally fast-forward, two, three hours later, you know, we were drinking rum. We’re smoking all these cigars. I’m like, “Are you closed?”
DI: Like, like, “When I walked in, were you closed?”
RG: And he like gets up and shuts off the— oh, but is, “Oh yeah, yeah. We’re closing, closing, clo—”
DI: (laughs), yeah. Uh, no. He, he just conti— … He’s like, “No, man.” He’s like, “I’m having fun. I’m having fun. I’m glad you came by today.” And I was like, “Who is this guy?” ‘Cause I grew up—
DI: … you know, uh, my dad smokes cigars occasionally, and, and with friends and he smoke in the backyard, and I always thought it was so cool. But every time I get into cigars or start looking into ’em, there’s all these like roadblocks you come to with knowledge where you really—
DI: … you stop learning, because there’s just not all … There’s not videos there. There’s not articles on people telling you like how to layer Viso and Seco in a blend, right? They’re not giving that away. And so that like little bit of mystery, I had all these questions. And Danny sat there for two and a half hours and answered every one of my questions.
Revealing a Special Moment in the Tobacco Industry
DI: And it’s one of those moments I’ll never forget. It’s still, to me, the most special moment in, in the tobacco industry for me and I wasn’t even working in it. And so, okay, fast-forward from that like epic moment to a year and a half later, I’m working at Cigarclub.com. And day one, I’m like, “We need to bring in Rodriguez Cigars, because one, I love the guy’s cigars. I absolutely—”
DI: “… love ’em. And two, there’s been no one like that for me in this industry.” And I, for me, it was like a way to pay respect to what he showed me is like, “I wanna champion this guy’s cigars in a box. I want everyone to know about them.”
DI: “I want people to know that you don’t just get these when you go to Key West, you need to be banging down your brick and mortar shops, begging for Rodriguez to be in there. You need to be DM-ing Danny fe- you know, all these different ways you can access him—
DI: I want people to understand and feel what I felt. And so that started this whole, you know, relationship, if you will. I call Danny back, I’m like, “Hey man, I don’t know if you’ll remember me. Uh, I spent time at your shop like little over a year ago. And we talked cigars and tobacco plants and whatever.” He’s like, “Dave. Yeah. I remember you, man. Of course.” And I’m like, “So I’m working for this company now, Cigarclub.com. I wanna get you in the boxes. Can we have that conversation?” He’s like, “What? Absolutely.”
RG: He’s not … The cigar’s not being sold anywhere other than his shop, right?
DI: For the most part. He has, he has a handful of retail accounts that he like very specifically chooses.
RG: Yeah, but it’s not his goal, right? He’s like-
DI: Right, he primarily—
RG: “Okay. I’ll send you my cigar.”
DI: … primarily, you’re either going to Danny’s website—
DI: … or you’re coming in the shop. You’re seeing him and you’re buying cigars from him. And you’re watching the three old ladies that sit there that—
DI: … have rolled cigars for him for, I don’t know how many years. Okay?
RG: ‘Cause his dad started the b—
DI: His grandpa started the business.
RG: His grandpa?
DI: Yeah. His grandpa started in 1984, had one blend. And those, they still roll that same blend. They’re done in like Lanceros and different traditional, real thin ring gauge sizes. They’re really like rustic, look really cool, like—
DI: … um, traditional cigars.
DI: And so they still make those there. And then I came to find out Danny works with a factory in Estelí, uh, with a really good friend of his, Guillermo Pena at Tabacalera La Perla.
Visiting Cigar Mecca, Estelí, Nicaragua
DI: So we started having that conversation and I’m like, “Oh, you don’t make everything in Key West.” He’s like, “Yeah, I make a lot in Key West. But I also, you know, I’ve got this really good friend,” the whole thing, “he’s in Esteli.” And then he pauses, “Dave, have you ever been to Estelí?” And I was like, “Oh man.”
RG: This is it.
DI: “This is it.” And—
RG: Let’s go.
DI: … I’m like, “No, Danny. I haven’t, you know, driven by Estelí in a while. I could use a refresher.” And um, he’s like, “Oh, we got to go.” He’s like, “It’s the best.” He’s like, “But we have to go in like the next two months, because I want you to see the tobacco at its height before they chop it down to start fermenting it.” He’s like, he’s like, “We’re gonna be on horseback. We’re gonna have the hats on. We’re gonna be smoking cigars. I’m gonna, you’re gonna be in there, blending cigars with me and Guillermo. You’re gonna be at the fields. You’re gonna be in the sorting facility. You’re gonna see how everything’s packaged. You need to see from start to finish—”
DI: “… what this is all about.” And what do you even say to that?
RG: Ne- you say yes, and you shut up and you—
RG: … go pack your bags.
DI: Ex- and exactly.
DI: So I’m like, “Okay.” So literally a week later, uh, we’re starting to lock things in and I’m on the phone with Jeff, our founder of Cigarclub.com. And I’m like, Jeff, this is, this is what we’re doing. We’re going to Estelí. We’re gonna blend—
RG: Get the checkbook out. We’re going. We’re going.
DI: I need the credit card.
DI: We need to book flights tomorrow. And um, and, and so he’s like, “Okay, let’s do it.”
RG: You don’t pass that up.
DI: I know.
RG: Yeah, you got to go.
DI: You don’t pass it up at all. And the… . We’re not talking like, you know, a tour of tobacco—
DI: … lands with a hundred other people. We’re talking—
RG: You’re rolling with the kingpin. You need to go.
DI: Me and Danny and Jeff in a truck, right?
DI: … truck, driving two hours into the mountains of Estelí and hunkering down there for about four or five days to learn—
RG: To learn, yeah.
DI: … and just become like part of this process.
DI: And so I was like beside myself and I had all these ideas just in like my journals, right? Of cigars I wanted to make and make them a part of the club. You know, our core business is subscription model and, and catering cigars to people’s palates, using regular production cigars or boutique cigars—
RG: Right, pre-made cigars.
DI: Right. Getting people excited about cigars that will fit their palate and, and giving them something new every month and, and helping them along their cigar journey. I wanted to bring this level of customization and our expression of tobacco. And it’s something that it was like a dream of mine. I mean, I remember when I was 18 and I was like, “Yo, dad, we should make a cigar together one day.” He was like, “I don’t even know how the hell we’d go about doing that.”
DI: And I’m like, “Yeah, me either. But wouldn’t it be cool?” He’s like, “I mean, yeah, it’d be cool, but—”
RG: Everybody wants to do that.
RG: You wanna make your own cigar—
RG: …’cause you have no idea how to do it, but you know, like if you got your hands on the raw materials, you could start doing it and just like—
RG: … taste it. “Okay. Try this. Do that, put these things together. Yeah. Let’s see what happens.”
DI: Right. And so I’m like, of course, for the past, like five or six years prior, I had like written down like cigars I wanted to make, interesting tobaccos I thought will go well together without knowing how to blend, of course.
DI: So I’d, you know, you get down there and be like, “Yeah, no way you can make that. But I had all—”
DI: “… these ideas.”
RG: But that’s wh— you have to dream, you have to get there.
RG: ‘Cause if you’re not, then this kind of like just a lost cause. But like, if you’re dreaming about it and you’re trying to put it together, even out of your ignorance—
RG: … you’re gonna get steered in the right direction by these guys—
RG: … and make something great.
DI: And sometimes out of your ignorance, you end up pushing things, right?
DI: That wouldn’t have been done because that’s not how you do it—
DI: … until somebody goes, “Just try it.” They’re like, “It doesn’t work like that. Just try it. Roll up—”
DI: ” … roll up the cigar and let’s just smoke it.” “Oh yeah, you’re right. It was terrible.”
DI: (laughing). You know what I mean? It’s—
DI: Or sometimes … Yeah, exactly. Gringo. But sometimes you hit gold. Uh, so anyway, I have this, I’m like, “I wanna do this thing around Cuban custom cigars, this whole idea that these European and Saudi businessmen and princes would, would fly to Cuba back in the day. Right? And, and Cuba’s like heyday, when Havana city was like the Paris of the Caribbean.
What Are Cuban Custom Wheels of Cigars?
DI: And they’d be staying at Hotel Nacional and there’d be one roller there making cigars. And they’d go to another hotel, and they tried that person’s cigars. They’d been called, “Oh, this guy, this guy.” And they’d be like, “Hey, can you make me 50 bundles of these? I’m gonna bring him back home for my friends, for my clients, for my family.” And they, you know, they were known as Cuban custom wheels of cigars. And that was always so fascinating to me, because it gives you that ability to try things, right?
DI: You don’t need all these pilónes of tobacco, ’cause you’re doing a 20,000 cigar production. It’s like, “Let’s make 700.”
DI: “Let’s make a thousand of them, if that’s all we can make. But wouldn’t it be fun? Wouldn’t that be—”
Creating a Wishlist of Tobaccos
DI: “… really cool. Wouldn’t that be an experienced that people would enjoy?” And so that’s what I wanted to do. And I’m like, “Danny’s telling me he can, he’ll make cigars for us. He’s gonna bring us down there. Now is the time, or we’re never doing this.” And so full-steam head, we’re like, “All right, let’s go.” Danny’s like, “All right, month before we go, I want you to send me your wishlist of tobaccos you wanna use, of the types of blends you wanna make.”
RG: You’ve already got it figured out a little bit.
DI: Sizes, everything. He’s like, “I’m gonna have them prep a bunch of stuff. And then we’re also gonna blend, but I want you to be able to smoke cigars that are month off, so that you can start to see the differences when you’re smoking fresh. What you’re looking for once they’ve aged a little, what you should be looking for that whole thing.”
RG: ‘Cause like, talk about that a little bit, because obviously—
RG: … if your roll a cigar, fresh, right away—
RG: … and you’re like, not all the flavors have married together. You’re really kind of probably what? Tasting pretty raw flavors?
RG: And so you have to figure out, “Are these flavors gonna morph into this or that? Like which way is it gonna go? Right or left, good or bad?”
DI: Totally. That, that might be the trickiest part, because it’s all, it’s also time. It’s patience.
RG: And it probably comes with experience, right?
DI: Oh, totally. Right.
RG: So Danny could probably go, “Mmh, probably not.”
DI: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Or I can go, “Oh, this is it.” And he’s, “No, it’s not.” (laughs).
RG: Yeah, right, right, right.
DI: He is like, “Trust me, you smoke that in three months and come back to me.” But I have no idea. Never, I mean, a couple of times growing up in South Florida, there’s local rollers and stuff. Right? Smoke fresh cigars. But I wasn’t like looking for anything. I was just kind of enjoying the cigar, drinking coffee with it, whatever. So he goes, “Prep me a list of your wishlist.” And I had all these lines I wanted to do, right? And these different types of customs. And so I’m like, “Here it is. Here’s everything.”
DI: And I’m kind of expecting like, all right, they’ll prep a couple cigars for us. They’re gonna give us a tour. Like this is gonna be really cool experience. I’m gonna take a ton of really cool photos. I’m really excited. But we get there and you know, we land in Nicaragua. Danny, Danny had already landed, um, there. So they had a driver from the factory come pick us up. Um, and we’re like, “All right. I hope we can find like the right …” You know, like our names were spelled wrong on the thing. It was hilarious.
RG: Right, yeah.
DI: But we like sit in the car and the guy like hands us a couple of Danny’s cigars. He’s like, “Oh, Danny wanted you to smoke these on the way up.” And I’m like, “All right, cool. And we just—”
RG: So Danny was already there.
DI: Danny had just landed like—
DI: … five hours before us.
RG: Got it.
DI: So, uh, Christian was his name, came, picked us up, handed us two sticks. And we, I’m like, “We’re really starting off with a bang. Like this is Estelí.”
RG: Yes, here we go.
DI: “… this is what it must be like, all right, cool.” So—
RG: You come, you smoke and you go.
DI: Right. And we started lighting up. We’re driving up like these like kind of roads for like two hours into Estelí. And we get there and it was also happened to be Danny’s birthday. And, uh, we show up to Guillermo Pena’s house, he runs the factory there in Nicaragua and there’s this massive pig roast. And there’s all this—
DI: … food and people and everyone’s smoking cigars and hanging out. And I’ll never forget that picture, like walking into the courtyard, seeing all that. And Danny’s like, “Dave, Jeff, welcome.” And everyone’s like hugging us, bringing us in, pouring us drinks. And I’m like, “What is going on here?”
RG: Yeah. This is not for us. Is it?
DI: Yeah. (laughing). Right, yeah. Exactly. So I found out it was partially for Danny, ’cause it was his birthday, but I felt like it was for me too, you know.
In Nicaragua Every Hour, They’re Handing You a Cigar
DI: Um, and so we, we kind of kicked things off that way. And, and then the next day, you know, we wake up 7:00 AM, the Guillermo, uh, at his house, they cook us breakfast. They make us coffee. Of course, we’re smoking a cigar. This is the thing with Nicaragua. Right? It’s like every like hour, they’re like handing you a cigar. And it’s like, “Let me just catch my breath. Let me catch some quick oxygen—”
RG: I know.
DI: “… and then I’ll grab that. No disrespect here.”
DI: Um, so we’re eating breakfast and then we get in the truck to go to the factory. So it’s like a five-minute drive down the road. We get in there, and uh, that door opens, man, and it’s just the coolest thing. Everyone’s … There’s like a hustle and bustle to it—
DI: … People are sorting tobacco— … Like you’re just trying to take it all in. I’m like, “I don’t even know where to begin.”
RG: ‘Cause there’s bunch of rolling tables.
RG: There’s people bringing them tobacco to keep rolling. There’s people moving rolled sticks over to another part to get wrappers put on them. Right?
DI: Yeah…band them, package ’em, like everything’s going on there. And so Danny just, he’s like, “All right, you ready?” And I’m like, “I’m ready, I think.”
RG: For what? Yeah. I don’t know what I’m ready for it, but I’m ready.
DI: Yeah. I, I hope so.
RG: I’m amped up.
DI: Um, exa—
RG: Coffee, nicotine, here we go.
What Is an Entubar Style Cigar?
DI: Exactly. Um, and he’s like, “All right, bunchers, they’re over here.” He starts grabbing stuff from them. Open it up. Fillers laid here because of this. Visos laid here because of this. This is gonna be probably they’re looking to do more of like a medium to full bodied cigar that’s gonna have like a pretty simple profile the whole way through no big changes. You see like the way they’re layering it. Then he goes to the next roller and the next buncher. Tell me about how they work in Paris at this factory specifically, how they’re doing it entubar style, right? Where they bend the leaves in a certain way to let more air flow in—
Why Women Are Better Tobacco Sorters
DI: … which is kind of a traditional Cuban method. And we just start going up and down where they’re putting the wrappers on. He’s like, “Oh yeah, you’ve got to see the sorting room. You’ve got to see the sorting room.” And this was my light bulb moment was the sorting room. I, we turned the corner and they’re sorting wrapper leaf only. There’s probably 10 people in here. And the women sort wrapper leaves, because they have better eyes—
RG: Yeah. They have more rods and cones.
DI: Yeah. And they also just have, they don’t rip the leaves like probably—
DI: … the guys do, but they … Yeah, their eyesight is better. So they’re in there sorting all of these sleeves, rolling them into bundles of 20 and signing their name on every single one. We’re talking a factory that could probably make thousands of cigars a day. They’re, they’re re-signing a name every 20 just on the wrapper leaf sorting. They didn’t make cigars yet.
DI: But that’s the pride that these people are taking. And I’m like, “Danny, what, why is she writing her name on it?” He’s like, “It’s pride, pappy.” He’s like, “She’s, she picked those wrappers. Out of everything you see here, those are the best. Why wouldn’t she put her name on it?” And I was like, “Pfff,” right?
DI: And I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” It was one of those … The cigars can be seven bucks, 10 bucks—
DI: … 15. Like, and this, this is what just happened for just the wrapper leaves? We haven’t even gotten to the filler or the—
DI: … pilónes or the aging rooms—
DI: … of the fields yet. And so I’m like blown away at this point.
RG: Thing of that though. Everyone’s working towards one goal—
RG: … and she takes her job, not seriously, but passionately.
DI: With pride.
RG: Yeah. How cool is that?
DI: I’m gonna write that down, with, with pride. That’s a good name.
RG: Yeah. Da- T-t-t-t-t.
RG: Next Instagram post, “Chelsea, with pride?” (laughs).
DI: You heard it here first.
DI: Um, yeah, it, it was, there was just, there was something—
RG: I would have never thought that though, about—
DI: … about that moment. There’s something about that moment.
RG: … sorting like that.
RG: And then her putting her name on that meant more than just accountability.
DI: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
RG: It meant, “This is it. This is where … This is the level that we’re at.”
DI: Right. And a lot of them don’t even smoke cigars. She’s never gonna smoke that cigar. She’s not even gonna know where that wrapper ends up.
DI: But her name’s on it, because—
RG: She knows—
DI: … “This is my best. I’m putting it forward. I believe in this product I just pushed out.”
RG: Right. She knows it’s gonna end up on great cigars—
RG: … that we smoke.
DI: And it happened to be a specific wrapper that I was really excited about. I put ’em on like my email to Danny or, you know, the pre email where he wanted like—
Creating a Cigar with Desflorado Wrapper
DI: … my list of ideas. I wanted to use a wrapper, um, Ecuadorian Connecticut Desflorado, which—
RG: What does the desflorado mean? ‘Cause the other part meant Ecuador—
RG: … like that’s where it’s grown.
DI: Yep. Connecticut shade.
RG: Connecticut seed. Right? And then—
DI: Yes, yes. And shade. It’s kind of like two-fold.
RG: But Ecuador doesn’t need shade. Right? They—
DI: They don’t.
RG: Because they already have a ton of cloud cover.
DI: Which is why people grow wrapper there.
RG: Right. So it’s a great area to grow wrapper.
RG: Particularly shade type wrapper.
DI: Yep. Like Connecti— … Yeah.
DI: Like a lighter Connecticut—
DI: … instead of a broad leaf. Exactly.
RG: What is the … Desflorado?
DI: Yeah, desflorado, deflorado, I think there’s a couple ways to say it. My Spanish isn’t great.
RG: I said it perfectly.
DI: Ah, you did, you did. You nailed it.
RG: (laughs). Just kidding, just kidding.
DI: Desflorado refers to the process of like deflowering the top of a leaf—
RG: Okay, that will make sense.
DI: … where all the mineral content is building, because it gets the most sun exposure.
RG: So now, I’ve seen, I’ve seen them say that they pick it off.
RG: So the nutrients doesn’t go there anymore. I’ve seen paper bags put over it.
RG: Don’t know what that’s for. That’s interesting.
DI: I, I haven’t heard the paper bags. The, I know they pick these ones off on this, on the specific wrapper we were looking at.
DI: They remove those, so that the nutrients can flow—
RG: To the leaves.
DI: … directly to the leaf.
RG: Right, okay.
DI: So what you end up getting is a Connecticut cigar that has some body to it. It’s got some spice, it’s got some nuance. Even before you start talking about filler and binder, the desflorado carry some heaviness, which I always thought was really cool. I hated the stigma that Connecticut cigars get. And I’m like—
DI: That, that was one of the like top projects in my mind. I was like, I wanted to blend or work on a cigar with a blender that could kind of change the status quo of Connecticut cigars.
DI: Right? Like you still can have this Cuban influences with the Connecticut, cause it’s still mild to medium, but let’s like kick it up a notch. Like let’s bring some flavor here.
DI: So I saw the wrapper and I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s the one I want.” It was like butter on it. I can’t even … I have a photo of it. I still remember taking it to, um, of that perfect bunch of the desflorado. And I was like, “Oh, this is gonna be awesome, because we’re gonna—”
Getting Hundreds of Cigar Samples
DI: “… were gonna use that. I just know it.” And um, so then we head over to the, uh, aging room. So once cigars were made, they put them in this massive aging room where there’s just wheels and wheels of cigars. And we, we get in there and I’m like, “Wow, this is a lot of cigars,” and beautiful smell in there. And uh, we walk, we turn the corner and there’s just this row of, I don’t know, 300 sticks, probably all in bundles. He’s like, “All right, Dave, these are all the samples that you had talked about.” And I was like, “What?”
RG: There’s a hundred samples?
DI: He’s like, “Yeah,” like, “you sent me like 13 prototype concepts that you wanted to do. So we made a bundle of each one.” And I was like, “What (laughing) did you do? What?”
DI: Right? Like I’m expecting there to be like three cigars on the table. And then they’re like, “Oh, you like it? A, B or C?” Like, right? Like—.
RG: Right, let’s not complicate this.
DI: … like how you would think of a white label project.
RG: Yeah. Don’t complicate this. Give them three choices. He’s a gringo. Yeah.
DI: And so he’s like, he’s like, “This is blend, uh, for …” You know, the way I had laid out, “This is blend 6A, B, C, D, D with a different filler, this, this, this. He’s like, “I want you to be … We’re gonna do all these on the table, but I want you to be able to see what they’re like a month after, so that you can really get the full education process—”
DI: “… while you’re here.” And I was like, “This is unbelievable.”
RG: How come you didn’t call me to go on this trip? Dude.
DI: (laughs). That’s wh- I didn’t … Well, first of all, I didn’t even know—
RG: Yeah, I know.
DI: … if I should be. I’m like, “Are we gonna make it there?”
DI: “What’s going on?” So everything was just hitting me, like … Well, me and Jeff were looking at each other, like, “Is, are they for real? Like, they—”
DI: “… went to all this trouble for us? Like this is our first time working with them.” And again, it, it kept … You know, my head is like, this has been Danny this whole time. Right? It’s always a step ahead, going before wanting anything from me as a client, as a customer, as a friend, just always going the extra mile to really, he’s so passionate about tobacco and cigars and sharing the information. So all that’s happening and we’re on our way back. And, and I had grabbed this one specific cigar that had the desflorado wrapper on it, which I put on there.
DI: So I was on the email. I’m like, “If you have desflorado, let’s use it because I really wanna try cigar with it.” So I grabbed the ones that had all that on there and we were like smoking it in the truck on the way back. And Danny started telling me more about, uh, another area of the sorting process when it’s going into the pilónes, as we’re pulling up to the other part of the factory. And he’s getting like really amped up. And if, and if you know Danny, or like, I’m sure some, somebody listening knows Danny knows what I’m talking about. He just gets like, fired up about this stuff.
DI: He’s like, “Dave, it’s Algo ’cause, Algo Sincero, brother.” And I was like, “What?” He’s like, “This is, it’s Algo Sincero. It’s how these people treat this.” I’m like, “What does that mean?”
DI: And he’s like, you know, like, “It’s something sincere.” And I was like, “Duh,” again, right? Like, “Pfff,” chills running down my spine. I’m sitting here smoking this cigar. And I’m like, “This cigar to me is Algo Sincero. This cigar is the one that I watched the lady sort the wrapper on.” And I’m like, “I’m sure there might be some tweaks needed, and we’re gonna really dig into this blend, but this cigar is it.” And—
Smoking First Production Algo Sincero
DI: … I mean this is the cigar we’re smoking right now, right? This is—
RG: Algo Sincero.
DI: … Algo Sincero, and this is—
DI: … this is the original production. This was, this was literally put into production like two weeks after we left Nicaragua. And this is two of four that I have left ever that will ever be the first production.
RG: Thank you.
DI: And it’s the most special cigar to me. And, you know, I … Do I think it’s the greatest cigar that’s ever graced the Earth? No, but to me it is.
RG: It’s got cool story—
RG: … and super passionate for you.
DI: Exactly, and, and—
RG: This is great.
DI: So to me, there’s like, I’m, I smoked a cigar every time and it, and I just think about kind of what I outlined there, which is a lot, but I, it, it’s an experience of a trip. It’s an experience of a friendship. It’s learning a trade. It’s people with passion. I- it’s people … I mean, these rollers aren’t millionaires. Far, far from it.
DI: They’re barely squeaking by, but they take so much pride in what they do. And, and so that like sparked this really massive, uh, rest of the week where I spent time with this blend that we made some tweaks to it. And it had this really cool thing where it was like really spicy up front, and then at the halfway point, it would just die into like cream. And I was like, “This is the coolest thing ever.” And I’m like, “Can we get the spice to come back at the very end?” And like, “Dave, no, you can’t do that.” I’m like, “Why not?” Then they’re like, “You just can’t. You, that’s not how it works.” And it ended up being one of those things, “That’s not how it works-“
RG: Yeah, okay.
RG: So, yeah
DI: … but there wasn’t any nuance to it, ’cause it was so fresh. But Danny sat there and explained to me, he’s like, “All right, what are you getting?” I’m like, “I’m just getting that it’s like spicy. Like I’m not picking anything. I’m just, I can tell you it’s spicy right now. And then all of a sudden it stopped being spicy. And now it’s like smoking half and half cream.” And he’s like, “Yes.”
DI: He’s like, “When you’re blending at the factory from the rolling table, two weeks off, whatever the case is, you’re not looking for the red apple and the licorice and the dash of Espresso Flake. Right? That-
DI: … that we kind of romanticize when we’re critiquing cigars and smoking them.
Critiquing Cigars? Look for These 3 Things
DI: You’re looking for balance, complexity and construction. If they check—
DI: … those three boxes, keep them, wait a month, smoke them, wait another month, smoke them and then wait that final month, smoke it. And then let’s talk about more of the details. He’s like, “But those are the first three things you look for.” And I was like, “I feel like somebody would pay a lot of money for that kind of quick 30-second education on—”
DI: “… blending a cigar.” Like, and, and just the fact that he wa- we’re sitting there like smoking that together and we’re kind of tasting the same thing. I, I no ways felt the validation of like, “Oh yeah, I got the pallet like Danny,” but I felt the validation of like, “I can, I can learn more. I can do this. Like, I can figure out how to make this cigar that is an experience for somebody that’s changing and changes your perception. You know that it starts off with that kind of white pepperiness and evolves into more things. And, um …”
DI: So anyway, that sparked an entire trip of, into the tobacco fields and—
DI: … we blended like five or six more cigars. And, uh, since then we’ve released this one.
DI: Yes. We blend it—
RG: How do you get this one? You just go to Cigarclub.com and you can buy it?
DI: Yeah. Well, right now … So we’re out of these now, but—
RG: Yeah, cause we’re smoking ’em. (laughs).
What is Cigarclub.com Customs?
DI: It, it sparked, um, Cigarclub.com Customs. So when I talked about the Cuban Customs and I found this cigar and I was like, “This is the perfect launch for this idea we’ve had in our head for CigarClub.com Customs.” So we launched it in May … oh no, we did, started taking pre-orders in March to kind of gauge if people were interested in it.
DI: Told the story of it and, um, made a small production. It was like right around a thousand cigars. And we sold them in five packs. And, uh, we sold out of ’em … Once it went live, uh, with the periods and everything, we sold out of them in like a couple of weeks. And we’ve gotten like incredible feedback from it that we were like, “We should do this again.”
DI: Like, because also we have all these blends to play with.
DI: And so now we’re, you can go online and buy CigarClub.com Customs Volume 2, which has made at Danny’s factory in Key West. And then in January of this year … Well, we’ll launch it in November, but live in January is gonna be the CigarClub.com Customs subscription, which will be an every other month subscription of a blend, like Algo Sincero that we worked on with a brand. Some of them are gonna come from Danny in that factory. And some are gonna come from other factories that we’ve built relationships with as well, exploring tobacco, exploring what we wanna do with it.
DI: And, um, and, and it’s not in a way of like, we’re just trying to get like the house cigar going and throw ’em out there. Like they have a premium, you know, they’re a nine, $10 stick, but we’re investing the money and time into ’em and letting them age, like we’re coming out with an exclusive with Danny that we blended in February, went into production in March and we’ll release February 2021.
RG: So a whole year.
DI: A whole year.
RG: I got to sit on that.
DI: Yeah. And that’s part of Danny’s like rule, like he, like most of the cigars you smoke from him or at a minimum a year old from the table. Like he doesn’t sell anything other.
DI: So I’m like, “Dude, let’s do an exclusive together.” And he’s like, “Cool. You have to wait a year though—”
DI: “… from the day you tell me that you wanna do it.”
RG: I’ll see you next year. (laughs).
DI: So that’s gonna happen in February. But CigarClub.com Customs is like just one of those things that was an idea. It was the dream of the kid outside of the cigar world that just was a geek about it and loved it.
RG: We all sit there though.
Learning How to Roll Cigars
DI: Yeah, and then it was the dream of somebody that realized that I had this kind of inkling passion for it and was like, “Okay, cool. Yes. To everything you say.” “What?” Now, now I’m in Nicaragua. I’m in the mountains. I have 300 sample blends. We’re blending more on the table. I’m sitting there learning how to roll from Danny. He’s one of the few brand owners I know that like rolls. Like he can make cigars.
DI: And, and then all of a sudden we get into this idea of Customs and we release this into the world and I’m like, “You like, it’s, okay, it’s a thousand cigars, right? Like—”
DI: Guys are selling 300,000 cigars in a month. It’s a thousand sticks, but it was the start of what now is gonna, I think, become one of the cornerstones of what we do in addition to our classic subscription is bringing experiences, people, stories from, from us and from our manufacturers and partners that wanna work together with us. And specifically from people like me that two years ago knew nothing about any of this. It was just, “I love it. And I wanna do more with it.”
RG: Right. So what were the three things that he said? You have to have complexity, construction and what?
DI: … complexity and construction.
Gauging the Balance of a Cigar
RG: So on the balance side, when it’s brand new and fresh like that, you’re just looking for, there’s nothing way left, way right. It’s not like, “Whoa, this is all pepper and nothing else.”
DI: Totally. Like—
DI: It’s pepper and it has never changed pepper. And I’ve been smoking it for an hour and now I’m gonna go throw up. Like—
DI: That’s, there’s no balance there.
DI: You know, but is it changing? Even if it’s only two major notes you taste, is it at least changing? Is it nuanced? It not overpowering pepper? Maybe there is a little pepper. And even if it’s the whole time, it’s not all you taste.
Gauging Complexity of a Cigar
DI: So that’s what you’re looking for with balance. Complexity would take it into what we would talk about is transitions three months later, or as consumers, once we’ve, once they’ve aged and sat and developed, the complexity is the little nuances, but when you’re smoking it fresh, it’s more, it was pepper, and now there’s zero pepper. Now there’s pepper again. And now there’s something else. I have no idea what it is, but it’s not any of the other two things before-
DI: That’s complexity.
RG: Got it.
RG: And those start to come out more as you let it age.
DI: Right. Totally. Exactly. And some cigars need just the three months. Some cigars need six, nine, 12. This one needed right around like two and a half, three months was like one of my favorite times to smoke the cigar. And I haven’t smoked it this old, which is kind of cool. Right?
RG: It’s interesting.
DI: Every time I smoke it from now on, I’ve never smoked it at this age.
DI: So when I f- first fell in love with it, it was like a month old. And then when I really fell in love with it, it was like two and a half. And so that’s when we released it.
DI: ‘Cause I had smoked the blunt, the samples at two and a half. So I’m like, “Cool. When we do the production, let’s release it at two and a half,” because that’s been like my favorite kind of—”
DI: … time period of it. And it’s just changed every time.
RG: That’s so cool.
DI: So I’m like, “I’m still learning this cigar—”
DI: “… and which is kind of cool.” I’m like, “I don’t know, maybe in a year it’s not gonna taste good anymore, but I won’t have any left to know.”
RG: Right, (laughing).
DI: ” … There we go. We’ll just make some more and I’ll smoke them in two and a half months again.”
Checking the Construction of a Cigar
RG: Yeah, Exactly. And then obviously, the third one construction is, you know, is it burning evenly? No canoeing? No …
RG: You know, it’s not going out every three puffs-
DI: Which, which the, the going out is tricky when they’re still so wet, right? From-
DI: … from being fresh. But the canoeing is huge. Right? Is the Ligero placement correct? Is the Ligero dry enough?
DI: Is it, was it aged well in the pilónes? Like all of like the process of the sorting of the tobacco kind of comes into play when you bring up construction too.
RG: I’m getting into that creamy part, man.
RG: At first it was very much … Not too much pepper, ’cause I don’t like a ton of it, but almost like tangy.
DI: It’s like a bright pepper.
RG: Yeah, bright.
RG: Bright is a good … I’m horrible at descriptions as people now, but I try my best to just, it’s kind of like, “What is my palate doing?”
DI: Totally. Yeah.
RG: Very difficult, but very enjoyable. Thank you for bringing this.
RG: What a cool story too. I mean, we all sit in that spot. We all, if you are at all cigar head, cigar geek, whatever you call yourself, cigar aficionado, you are in that spot of, you wanna know what’s inside here. You wanna know how it’s done. You wanna know, how did it get like this? How did it get so good to the point—
How Do Cigar Companies Make Cigars Consistent?
RG: … where I can enjoy it so much? And the consistency too, you got to make … You get, you only had to make a thousand of these.
RG: … if you, like you said, some people make 300,000, some people make three million.
RG: It’s a lot.
DI: Right. And, and that’s the other thing I asked Danny. I’m like, “All right, this was fun. Like blending all these new cigars.” I’m like, “But I feel like this is kind of easy to blend a bunch of new one-off cigars.” I’m like, “How …” He’s got four core lines. I’m like, “How do you get these to taste the same every time?”
DI: And he’s like, “Work or time-“
DI: “… I’m here.” He’s like, “I don’t come out with a new cigar for a year.” He’s like, “Hardly—”
DI: “… every other year.” He’s like, “I, I need, you know, Series 84 Maduro to tastes like Series eight, 84 Maduro every single time, whether you pick it up in Seattle, Washington, at my shop in the Keys, in Europe three years ago, tomorrow. It needs to taste the same.”
RG: Crop changes.
DI: Man. Oh, I mean—
DI: … that’s the biggest thing too. That’s why he’s gotta be out there. Right? And then he’s smoking the Puritos of the new, of the new crop and figuring out, “Okay, now, I know this is the tobacco use last time, but it’s not tasting the same. We need to switch to this one to get the same profile.”
DI: So that part to me, and that’s something that we always talk about as a team at Cigarclub.com is, you know, when we’re buying cigars for other people, uh, or for our boxes and our members, we really stick with brands that consistency is the number one thing. Like people are like, “Oh, how do you choose what cigars go in a box.” It’s yeah, I want to like it, obviously.
DI: I’m not gonna like every single cigar that goes in there, because I don’t have the same palette as everybody in our membership. That’s why we have a panel of people that do that. But my number one thing with a new brand that comes in is like, can I smoke every single one of your lines and multiples of them?
DI: And then they g— we go through that and it’s like, “Yeah, this kind of tastes the same every time.” And we start to see … You know, now I’ve been there for a year and we start to bring back some cigars we maybe were shipping last year. I love it when we get them in, and they’re like, “All right, Dave, yeah, this just got in from Estelí. So we’re letting it sit for a little bit and then we’ll send it up to you.” And I, I love when new productions of the same line comes in, because I’m like, “Oh, this is epic,” because—
DI: … this is the true test.
DI: And when you smoke them and you’re like, “I wouldn’t even know it’s a new production.” I like, I love calling them and being … And just, “I don’t know what all goes into this—”
DI: “… but I appreciate it. And—”
DI: “… and I think it’s super cool that you can give me this cigar.” I think Nick Melillo from Foundation is a genius at it.
DI: Like Foundation El Güegüense is one of those ones I love. Whenever they get a new production in, like Nate over there, I’ll be like, “Dude, can you send me like a fiver of them? I just, I got to taste them.” ‘Cause I know they’re gonna be the same, and it’s fascinating to me. And they are every time. I’m like, “How does he do it?”
RG: How does he do it?
DI: And there’s tons of brands that do that. But Nick—
DI: … that one just stands out, because we’ve done that kind of test with them before. Uh, but yeah, it’s, it’s totally fascinating.
RG: That is awesome. So with all that experience firsthand, you know, you’re there, you’re seeing it, you’re watching the whole cigar making process and you even touched on it probably. Um, but since we already know that you were shocked by that lady writing her name—
What About Cigar Making Shocked Cigarclub.com’s Dave Imber
RG: … on there, what else about the cigar making process really shocked you? And you were like, “Wow, I can’t believe this is a part of this process?”
DI: Shooo, that’s a great question. The first thing that popped in my head was 300 hands, because that’s what they kept telling me. 300 hands before it gets to your humidor. That’s how many people are gonna touch this. And it was like, “What do you mean?” Like, I, I couldn’t think of 300 jobs that it would take to make this cigar. I couldn’t think of it. So it’s really not even one thing. It’s the fact that there’s so many things—
DI: Like the guy that plants the seeds, then they pick the seeds, then they hang the seeds in the ba- … then they hang the leaves in the barn, you know, once they’ve all grown—
RG: But even when they plant the seed to bring it up and like making sure all the seedlings are at the same height—
DI: Same height.
RG: So that one is, and so the multiples of touching just the seedling and then replanting it into the soil, out in the field.
DI: Ye- yeah.
DI: You, you drive by, you’re in Esteli, you drive by, uh, Don Pepín García’s farm, and My Father, everything’s the same height, acres and acres and acre. I’m like, “Can we take a ruler out here? Because this is insane.”
DI: It’s like a, you know, the perfect hedge when somebody—
DI: … just comes into … It’s like that across just as far as your eye can see, of perfectly equal tobacco plants.
DI: And it’s like, “Wha—” And then there are guys out there tending to makes sure there’s no bugs on it. Taking the flowers off the top of them. Like all that stuff. Those are all hands. And we haven’t even gotten to the color that it is right now.
RG: You haven’t even started fermenting it.
RG: ‘Cause then you got to turn it and air it out and put it—
DI: Right, in the pilónes and the-
How Big is a Pilóne of Tobacco?
RG: And how big is a pilóne? Just so p— if you don’t know, it’s astonishing. It’s like 2,000 pounds of—
RG: … tobacco in a pile that they—
DI: Yeah, in a big square—
RG: … hand-lay—
RG: … on top of each other until it gets about, what? Five feet high, four feet high?
DI: Yeah, just about that.
RG: Then it cooks, it heats up—
RG: And they put thermometer in there—
DI: With no, with no, with no heaters or—
DI: … fans or any … We’re in—
RG: It’s just hot.
DI: … we’re in Estelí, Nicaragua, okay?
RG: And the tobacco is-
DI: … In the barn looking thing.
RG: … fermenting, and it’s building off its own.
DI: And they’re rotating it. Yeah, like you say, with temperature…
RG: And then they pull the stick out and they go, “Oh, it’s time,” and “Whoa. Let’s … All right. Three guys. All right, here we go. Let’s start moving it.” Brand new palette, break it down, put it all back together again, inside out. Unbelievable.
DI: It’s truly unbelievable. Yeah. So I can’t even think of one thing.
RG: That’s a good one.
DI: I can just think of all of the things.
DI: Right? (laughing).
RG: I can’t think of one thing.
DI: It’s all the things.
RG: It’s, it’s everything that shocks me that this is what we’re smoking right now. That’s why I think it’s so important to cherish this.
Smoking a Cigar is Like a Vacation
RG: And I worked for a retailer and he said this is a two-hour, one-hour, whatever it is, this is a two-hour vacation. You’re gonna sit down. You’re gonna smoke this. You’re not gonna look at your watch. You’re not gonna rush this. You’re just gonna enjoy.
RG: ‘Cause it, like you said, it took over 300 hands to get this to you. And it’s kind of sacrilege if you don’t.
DI: Right, yeah.
DI: It’s true. It’s like you think about, uh, especially like once you’re in the industry, like, “What a great way to start off my time in the industry,” because it’s so easy to be like, “This is for work. I have to smoke these. I have to do these. I just need to smoke out for this one to know X, Y, Z. I’m just checking construction on this one—”
DI: You get burnt out and you’re like, cigars aren’t, they can become not the thing you were doing when you were a consumer where it’s like, “I’m going to smoke a cigar. I’m going to sit outside.” Everybody knows in the house. Dave’s outside, enjoying a cigar. Right? Maybe I call someone. Maybe I just sit there. Maybe I’m reading. Whatever the case is, it was special. And then it’s easy to get into that like, “All right. I gotta get through these.”
DI: “I gotta do this. I gotta do that.” Um, but having cigars like this one and like the other projects that we’re working on, that to me is what keeps it really exciting. And it keeps it really genuine. And it brings me back to being like, “This is something that’s meant to be enjoyed. Like I’m not gonna rush through it, because our, our customer’s not gonna rush through it.” Like we don’t train our customers, but we, we teach them like in the little pieces we put in their booklet or the stories we tell them, or the blogs we do, the videos we do, like, “Enjoy it.” Like, “You paid for this thing that’s so many people had a hand in—”
DI: “… enjoy the cigar. If it cracks a little bit, smoke through it. We’ll send you another one, but don’t just throw the cigar out, like—”
DI: “… I promise you, it’s still gonna taste great.”
RG: It’s, yeah, it’s never perfect, right?
RG: But you, you darn know well that it’s probably gonna be as best as it can with a handmade product. And yeah, you’re so true on that. I love the fact that you touched on a part that’s not a lot of people, especially people maybe that are listening really think about, you know, if you’re really working to build something, a cigar, you do have to put in that hard work of like, “Okay, jobs a job. I got to test all these blends.”
RG: And it moves away from enjoyment as a consumer, but you know you’re gonna get back there—
RG: … at the end. So it’s really cool that you talked about, “Yeah. That can kind of be daunting, but at the end of it, I know what the end goal is in mind.”
DI: Right, right.
DI: And it’s sometimes hard to say that to people where it’s like, “Oh yeah, it must be tough having to smoke cigars all the time and do this.” And I’m like, “No, I know. This is a blast. What I get to do every day—”
DI: “… is a dream,” but you can lose sight of what the cigar culture should and was like, kind of started with, right? Which is time and quality and something that came from a hand, a human, you know?
RG: That had like a unique sweetness, that puff that I just had, had like a unique sweetness that I think I’ve only tasted in like either like really, almost like hand-crafted root beer, a little—
DI: Yes, yes.
RG: … like a little bit of like that creaminess that comes like, when you use real vanilla—
RG: … in root beer or when you use real root, uh, whatever it is, ginger root or whatever
RG: … like that kind of just came into my palate real quick. Like this is like really interesting.
DI: Yeah. This is, um, one I love to retrohale, like—
DI: … five or six times. I don’t do it every time, but like as every like intro, so I’ll like drop out of retrohale and it’s like, kind of fascinating. Like sometimes I get cinnamon candy as like that—
DI: … maybe like a little licorichy, which I think is kind of like the root beer like tastes. But then a lot of times it’s like sweet. Sometimes like milk duds. It’s like, it’s different all the time. That’s why it was such a pain putting tasting notes on this, because I’m like notes on this, ’cause I’m like, “I don’t …” I mean—
DI: … every time I’ve smoked this, I’ve gotten something different. Like it evolves, it has the pepper, it has cream. You fill in the blank with whatever you think it is—
DI: … but there’s something else sprinkled throughout this entire cigar. Yeah.
RG: And it’s just mental triggers, right? Stuff that you’ve had before that kind of tastes like it.
DI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
RG: That’s why it’s probably not easy to pinpoint, but—
RG: … it’s enjoyable is the key.
DI: Good. I’m glad.
RG: It’s enjoyable, love it. Good stuff. So three months in, you’re already going to Nicaragua, getting fully immersed inside how, how to blend cigars.
RG: You have this epic opportunity and experience. Now you’re back. You’ve been with CigarClub.com now for almost two—
DI: Just over a year.
RG: Yeah, just over a year.
RG: So 12 months and some. What else have you now then just, poof, mind blown. You’re going to the next thing? ‘Cause it sounds like it’s, this is the trend, right? It’s like, “Okay, we’re going down this. Now let’s go this way.”
DI: Right, right. Um, it’s funny, because like we’ve talked about earlier in this, like I fall down these rabbit holes—
RG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
DI: … and my wife always jokes with me, ’cause she’s like, “You always find a way to make your vices your job,” and—
RG: That’s the best.
DI: … and I’m like, “That’s the greatest compliment of all time.”
DI: Thanks babe.
DI: Um, but it’s like, you know, if I, for instance, if I came home with one more bottle of bourbon, I think I was gonna get kicked out of the house.
Pairing Cigars with Bourbon
DI: Right? So I’m like, “New strategy. Partner with a bourbon brand and let’s do something epic I’ve always wanted to, and it would be a blast ’cause I love bourbon.” So—
DI: … literally, we literally have this discussion, me and my wife. She’s like, “You, you are really into bourbon right now.” She’s like, “Do you still like cigars and coffee?” And I’m like, “Absolutely.”
DI: I had to make more room for vices.
RG: Yeah, right.
DI: Uh, we be- we were doing these Zoom lounges with our members like every other week and we’d have like different brand owners on like Danny came on and um, a few just … We probably did five or six at this point. And then I sent an email out as an invite saying, “Hey, next week we’re doing a Zoom lounge with so-and-so,” and I get this email back from this guy named Paul Hletko, and he’s the founder and master distiller of FEW Spirits. And he goes, “Hey Dave, wouldn’t it be really cool to, uh, do like a bourbon tasting on one of these Zoom lounges?”
DI: “Call me.” And I was like, “Okay. Who’s listening to my conversations with me and my wife?” And um—
DI: So I call him and that call turns into a FaceTime, which turns into a two-hour FaceTime, which turns into me booking a flight to Chicago—
DI: Which turns into me being in Chicago, learning how to distill bourbon. And it turns into a sampling way too many barrels of bourbon—
DI: … and smoking tons of cigars and starting to talk about the relationship that tobacco and spirits can have in a really cool way. Again, not in a, “How fast can I smoke this?” And “Let’s do shots of bourbon,” in a “I’m going outside. I’m sitting down. My friend’s coming over. We’re gonna sip on this glass of bourbon. We’re gonna smoke the cigar and something unrelated to the two is gonna come out of it.” Like that’s where my mind always goes. I’m like, “How is our consumer gonna actually consume this?”
DI: And I’m like, “This is how I kind of want them to, ’cause this is how I would.” So me and Paul and then their other distiller, Ryan, we’re sitting outside in the alleyway in Chicago, uh, right outside of their distillery there. And um, he’s like, “Dave, try this, Dave, try this.” And then he hands me this one. He’s like, “I’m not gonna tell you what it is. Try it.” I’m like, “All right, cool.” So I try it, we’re s- I forget what cigar I was smoking. And I’m like, “Damn, this like goes really well together.” Normally, I don’t like pairing whisky and cigars all the time, because sometimes I find they overpower each other.
DI: And I’d rather just drink the whiskey or I’d rather just smoke the cigar.
Pairing a Cigar with Cold Cut Bourbon, FEW Spirits
DI: And I’m like, “No, no, no, no. This is like, it compliments.” So then we grabbed like another cigar just to like, “Okay. Yeah, no, it still tastes really good with this.” I’m like, “What is it?” He’s like, “It’s our cold cut bourbon that just one, um, flavored whiskey of the year internationally. Instead of …” So when you, when you take bourbon out of a barrel … I’m new to this.
DI: But when you take bourbon out of a barrel, that’s coming out at barrel proof. So like 120 proof, call it.
DI: Then you decide what you want it to proof out when it’s in the bottle. In his case, he proofs most of his stuff at 94. So you cut it with water—
DI: … to bring it down to the right proof, and then to you, that’s what it tastes best in. You get the most flavors out of it, whatever. Instead of using water, they use cold brew coffee.
RG: Th— yeah—
RG: Two worlds right now, boom.
DI: Right, right. So I’m, he knows about my coffee addiction, my coffee life, my coffee geekiness—
RG: Yeah, your bronze trophy, he knew about it?
DI: Which is why he wouldn’t tell me what it was too, because we’d have the conversation of how I can’t stand coffee and fizz things about how I can’t stand … Uh, a lot of times, I don’t like cold brew. A lot of times I don’t like this. And it just goes into my really annoying coffee geekiness of why I don’t—
DI: … but that’s, that’s enough time for a podcast. Um—
RG: We’ve hit the time limit.
DI: So, so he didn’t want to just lead with, “This is cut with cold brew,” ’cause he knew I’d be like, “Oh, okay. Like coffee and fizz products.”
RG: You’d be judgy.
DI: Right, exactly. So he hands it to me. I’m like, “What the heck is this? This is—”
DI: … Exactly, “absolutely unbelievable. He’s like, “Yeah, it’s cold cut. It’s cut with cold brew instead of water.” And I was like, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” So that—
RG: What did it do to the flavor that made it so pairable with cigars?
DI: It made it like … A lot of times when you drink some bourbons with maybe a higher rye content or whatever the case is, it’s spicier, it’s brighter. You get, um, it’s alcohol on the front and then you kind of, once you swallow it, you get the actual flavor. There was no like … Bite kind of a cliché word, but there was no bite. There was no brightness.
DI: It was all like chocolate, caramel, coco, like powdered co— like just dark and warm and like a sweater.
DI: And (laughs).
RG: Put that sweater on.
DI: I needed that sweater too at the airport.
RG: Yeah, (laughing).
DI: Um, but I was like, “Are you k-” Like it made sense. And to me, coffee plus mixed with other liquids never made sense. But then I, right? I just combined three worlds that I’m now in, uh—
DI: … addicted to.
DI: And they all work together.
DI: Is where are we?
Suggesting Pairing with the Featured Cigar for the Month
DI: And so we launched that, ma— I’m like, “Okay, cool. Sweet. We’re doing feature pairings every month, because there’s stuff that I’ve been ignorant to or that I haven’t known, because I don’t want to know. ‘Cause I say I don’t like coffee and cigars together. I don’t like that and this together. And you just blew my mind. So I’m wrong. You’re right.” Now, every month we release a kind of a full page in our, in our box every month with a featured pairing that pairs with the featured cigar for the month. And we talk about the relationship of it, how we sampled it and it came to be, where they can get it.
DI: Like, it’s just this cool thing of like supporting craft distillers while also like, “Try, you guys should try this, like—”
DI: “… it’s really good.”
RG: A suggestion from your friend.
Members Helped Choose CigarClub.com FEW Spirits Barrel Pick
DI: Right. So that all happened. And then, uh, towards the end of the day, Paul looked at me and he was like, (laughs), he’s like, “Dave, you want to do like a single barrel together?” And I was like, “Uh, what?” And I’m like, “Hold on, let me like pull out my bucket list here.”
DI: “Uh, the answer is yes, ’cause it’s like number two.”
DI: “Uh, I do want to like pick a single barrel of bourbon and do it as like a CigarClub.com, FEW Spirits barrel pick. Like the answer is yes. And we can figure out the details tomorrow.” So Paul was extremely gracious and just made it happen. Like forced it, like said, “We will make this happen, whatever needs to happen to make it work.” And together we were like, we want our CigarClub.com, like family to be a part of it. So we started this thing where, you know, if somebody bought a shirt, they were entered into this raffle and we picked 10 guys or, or gals.
DI: So they happened to all, all be guys, ’cause that’s majority of our membership. Uh, I wish there was a gal in that though. Uh, we picked 10 guys that joined us literally last night on a Zoom lounge. I sent them all like—
DI: I, they somehow got three sample bottles of bourbon.
DI: And they were all different barrels. And Paul walked us through the whole process. We all tasted them and made a unanimous decision across. It was actually 14 guys, because our team was in it too.
DI: We made an unanimous decision on our favorite one and it’s bottling today.
DI: And I’m like, “How did I, how do [crosstalk]? How did we get here?”
DI: “Like, how did Paul come into this?” And, and you know, Jeff’s over here, uh, just being like, “Yeah, Dave, what … Let’s do it, let’s do it. Like, this is awesome. We’re having so much fun.” And uh, and together, like as a team between me, Jeff and Griff, we like pick this barrel and, uh, and our CigarClub.com family. And, and it’s just another layer of the experience. Like—
What Whisky Pairs with a Dark Cigar?
DI: I tried whiskeys that day that didn’t taste like whiskey and I never would have picked them up, right? They’re like these single malt scotch, Brenne Whisky. Big shout out to Allison Parc. Tastes like—
DI: … blueberries and champagne. It’s a whiskey.
DI: And it goes beautifully well with a dark oily cigar.
DI: It’s the paradox, I guess, or they’re like—
RG: The opposite.
DI: … bright and juicy and floral, dark oily and rich, match made in heaven. And so we’re in the process of like planning out the next like seven months of pairings. We’re gonna release a single barrel pick. And um, I don’t know if this is gonna cut into maybe one of your questions or something we’ve talked about in the past, but from my finding my love of bourbon, I got connected through to Alec Rubin from Alec Bradley, who’s a massive like bourbon geek.
DI: And uh, with him and, and, and Chris over there at Alec Bradley, we just, we started just like hanging out, talking on the phone. Like before, we weren’t even like buying a lot of Alec Bradley at the time in our boxes. But we, we really bonded on like the love of like bourbon and pairings and like hunting them down and going to find them. And, and all, and he’s from South Florida. My, I’m from South Florida. And next thing you know, it’s like, uh, “Oh, Dave, you got to try this.” He sends me samples and we’re talking all this stuff.
DI: And, and then we’re on the phone one day. And um, I hear him like yell out to somebody else in the office, “Hey, what are, what are we doing with, uh, with blend 16?” And they’re like, “Oh, nothing, nothing.” And I’m like, “What, what’s, what’s blend 16.” He’s like—
Releasing a Cigar Together—Alec Bradley and CigarClub.com
DI: He’s like, “It’s gonna be our cigar.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” He’s like, “I’m gonna send you several. I’m gonna bet you take blend 16, because we have the same palate, and we’re gonna do a cigar together.” And I was like, “What?” He’s like, “It’s made in Plasencia.” And I was like, “Okay—”
DI: “… okay, like Alec, I’m gonna do a cigar with Alec Bradley?”
RG: Take it.
DI: “Okay, cool.” And, uh, sends the samples, smoke through them all, pick blend 16. And, uh, I don’t know that we are releasing the name yet, but—
RG: It’s coming.
DI: … it pays a little bit of a nudge, a little homage to our relationship that was formed through like the same, the vices that we enjoy—
DI: … and the location that we’re from. And, uh, it’s gonna be really cool. So that’s gonna release in December. Um, but again, it, it just keeps like pointing back to … And this is actually something Alec always says. He’s like, you know, “Relationship dictates in our business. Like it … And if we’re gonna do something or …” You know, it could be something as simple as like you own whatever business and you sell this product. And you’ve got a great relationship with this vendor. And they need these payment terms, but you don’t normally do those payment terms, but relationship dictates. And “I know that guy, and we have a bond together and I trust him.” “Cool.”
DI: Or, “This guy hasn’t cared about cigars in 11 months, but I’ve got the cigar that I know he’ll love and it’s legendary. And instead of doing a national release where I can make a six-figure amount of cigars, I want CigarClub.com to have it. And I want to do this brand around it and release it on a way smaller scale than we probably would have, but we’re gonna have a ton of fun doing it together.”
DI: … eh, because relationship dictates. And, you know, it’s just, it’s that like common theme that I’ve found in this industry. And I’m sure you have too, Rob. Like you have to craziest conversations over a cigar with people in the cigar industry. Like—
DI: … we could, this could be a five-hour one where I could tell you every weird, every cool time I’ve ended up on someone’s backyard. They made me breakfast. We’re smoking cigars and we me- and we decided to do an exclusive together or—
DI: … we’re carrying our new release or, or I just hear their story about their granddad and why they came into the industry. And it’s like, “Wow, this is, this is an incredible—”
Joining CigarClub.com Members
DI: “… like time of like my life, of our company.” The way that, you know, Jeff has like really pushed us as a team to just let the relationship dictate and like own your section of the business and have fun and think about our end consumer. Because at the end of the day, I want them to feel a relationship with me, with Griff, with Jeff, with Phil, with everyone on our team. I want them to feel like, “I can email Dave. I can email Griff. I can email Jeff. I didn’t like the cigar. I love the cigar. I wonder, how do I season my humidor?” Like, I want all those questions, because-
DI: … I want people to feel the same way I felt coming into this industry, which is just, “What do you want to do? The answer is yes, and I’ll show you how.”
RG: Awesome. Well said. I don’t-
RG: … think there’s any better way to say it, ho- honestly. I mean-
RG: … anytime I think about a relationship that has actually made me learn, grow, um, get more involved, it’s that. Somebody needs to help, take you underneath their wing, or like you said, “Yes, and here’s how we do it.”
RG: So cool. Wow. So many stories. We could be here all day.
RG: Since … I mean, obviously what I see right now too, is like … And it’s not, it’s not for every company and it’s not for every single, um … It, this isn’t a, “This is the end all be all,” statement, but it is in any industry a time for the younger generation—
RG: … to step into some shoes. With your experience now, and you’re kind of going all over. You’re seeing the whiskey side, the coffee side, the, the, the cigar side. How much of that are you super excited about to see that young generation step in? Not necessarily from a standpoint of like, it needs to change, but how cool is it to pass it on and see it grow?
DI: Yeah, it’s, it’s amazing, because it’s … For me, I looked at the industry pre being in the industry, closed door. I don’t know how to any of this. I don’t really understand it. I guess only certain people understand it and nobody else can, or whatever the case is. I fell into the boutique world, learned of all of these really cool brands that will show you and take you behind the scenes. And then, yeah, it, now it leads to now.
Tapping Into New Generation of Cigar Makers
DI: And so many of the brands that we work with, um, that we’ve built these relationships with our young people in the industry, it’s Carson Serino, it’s Danny Difabio, it’s Alec Rubin. Like all of these guys that are, whether it’s their company or they’re, they’re starting to take over a legacy company or legacy brand … Matt Hunt at FQ Cigars, um, it’s, you’re starting to see this, um … It’s more collaborative.
Diversifying Your Humidor
DI: That’s my biggest answer is like, people are excited to do things together that push boundaries of what the cigar industry has done before for the end goal of wowing a consumer every time. Because like, like we talked about earlier, uh, repeatability is king. Like being able to consistently create the same cigar every time is king, which is something that I’ll never say, “I blended this cigar,” because guess what?
DI: I was there. I like maybe through some ideas on the table, but I’m not gonna be the one that makes sure it tastes the same when we release Algo Sincero in 2021. Don’t thank me. Thank Danny, thank Guillermo Pena, thank the lady rolling, like—
DI: … sorting the leaves. Like—
DI: … that’s not me. So the, it kind of opens up the ability to explore more industries and don’t have to worry about like, “All right, I have to, we have to recreate that cigar perfectly.” Like no, like that’s why we’re working with these people. And we’re not saying it’s all us, but we’re, we’re able to kind of do that. But the biggest thing is this, the younger generation coming up is taking chances, opening doors and just being open for collaboration in cigars, outside of cigars—
DI: … in media. Like that’s so huge. Like people are open to just sit down and talk about it. Um—
More Younger Cigar Brands Coming Out
DI: … so to me, I think that’s what’s exciting. I don’t see that slowing down at all. I see younger … There’s way more younger brands coming out now than ever. Like I’m on a call with them probably once a week, like a new brand or new this, and new that. And, and I’m like, “This is so exciting.” Um—
DI: … I don’t know if you have Black Star Line Cigars, but Eric over there, like we were on the phone last week and I’m like, “Dude, I love your story. I love the cigars you’re putting out. Like, I love the factories you’re making them in, like—”
RG: So cool.
DI: “… let’s do cool stuff together. Like I wanna, I wanna showcase your product.”
DI: You know, that comes first before we ever do an exclusive with anybody, ’cause that’s not why the relationship is there. They’re, we’re, you know, promoting really cool brands that maybe you haven’t heard of. Maybe you have, but that deserve a space, you know, in your humidor.
RG: Absolutely. Well said. I like it. I’m speechless. Thank you for just letting us in on that, because I think that’s a unique experience.
DI: Yeah, totally.
Boveda Promo Code for CigarClub.com
RG: And I mean, obviously if you’re out there and at all interested in gaining more experiences and trying to figure out what you want to do, you can head over to CigarClub.com. See all the different offerings they have, whether it be subscription, these limited release cigars, exclusive cigars.
DI: And use code Boveda.
RG: Use code Boveda?
DI: I think it’s 30% off.
DI: Yea. Use Boveda. That’s our highest percent off discount that we give, because the Boveda fam—
DI: … is our family.
RG: Wow. I didn’t even know that.
RG: So, good plug—
RG: … and good for you guys to use it, ’cause 30% off is a big deal.
RG: So, so again, thank you. Dave.
DI: Yeah, totally.
RG: … so much for coming out and just opening up our eyes to the whole Cigarçlub.com family, and the whole process that you guys are doing. Thank you so much for being a part of this whole … I hate the word industry, but thank you for being a part of the cigar culture, so that we can all be better scar smokers.
DI: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to be here. Seriously.
RG: Thank you all for watching another episode of Box Press. You know what to do. Subscribe. Hit that ringing bell button, so that you guys can get cool, new podcasts like this every day. We’re dropping two of these every month, and we’re going live every Friday. We call it Unboxed. Enjoy the content, enjoy more cigars, and thank you all for watching.
Get some of those custom blends in your cigar humidor! Enter discount code BOVEDA to receive 30% off CigarClub.com subscriptions and free shipping on all other CigarClub.com purchases.
“People say, ‘Oh yeah, it must be tough having to smoke cigars all the time and do this.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I know. This is a blast. What I get to do every day is a dream,’ but you can lose sight of what the cigar culture should and was like, kind of started with, right? Which is time and quality and something that came from a hand, a human, you know?”
– Dave Imber, Vice President, CigarClub.com
Closing time at the smoke shop. Maybe not the best time to stop in to pick up some souvenir cigars, and then ask some questions. But in Dave Imber’s case, that type of visit to Rodriguez Cigars in Key West, Florida, was life changing.
The after-hours (several hour) late-night cigar schooling by Part-owner of the shop, Danny Difabio, led to an invitation to Nicaragua to see cigars making in action. Fast-forward, and the student is now Vice President of CigarClub.com, the award-winning monthly cigar subscription.
As Harvey Mackay, businessman, author and syndicated columnist, says, “In networking, you’re only as good as what you give away.” So after Dave got his gig, he circled back to Danny.
Dave was launching the Cigar Club Customs Subscription where some of the most respected cigar factories and manufacturers would custom make sticks for this cigar membership. First subscription cigar blend? The Algo Sincero from Rodriguez Cigars. Other cigar makers contributing custom cigars to CigarClub.com, include Aganorsa, Kelner Boutique Factory (KBF), La Corona, La Perla and Bello.
Join Box Press Host Rob Gagner and Dave Imber
CigarClub.com’s Dave Imber reveals how he turned a vice—cigar smokers would call it a passion—into a career in the cigar business. Listen and learn:
- How a trip to Key West led to a cigar trip to Nicaragua (3:50)
- How hand-rolled cigars are constructed—the sorters, bunchers, fillers and rollers behind that cigar in your hand (21:08)
- What to look for in a premium cigar—balance, complexity and construction (30:19)
- How a cigar’s flavor notes evolve while you smoke it (hand-crafted root beer, anyone?) (47:03)
- How to pair spirits and cigars (50:56)
Just for Listening to Box Press: Get 30% Off at CigarClub.com
Get some of those custom blends in your cigar humidor! Enter discount code BOVEDA to receive 30% off CigarClub.com subscriptions and free shipping on all other CigarClub.com purchases.