Friday, February 22, 2008

Why smoking cigars for a living isn't always fun

I'm among the lucky few who actually look forward to going to work every morning: I have a short, traffic-free commute. I can dress casually. I get to write about cigars. But best of all, I get to smoke cigars all day long and get paid for it.

Like most of the big cigar retailers, at Famous Smoke Shop we get a ton of sample cigars to smoke. For the purposes of this posting, I'm not referring to samples of new cigars we receive from the top manufacturers. Instead, I want to focus on two other sources.

The first are "house brands." Because Famous carries a lot of exclusive labels, we're always sampling cigars from the factories we've contracted. I don't think more than a day goes by without our general manager dropping a sample cigar or two on my desk for evaluation. And since he codes them, I have no idea what I'm smoking or where it's from until afterwards, so it truly is a blind tasting. Some samples are great, while others are "thumbs-down." But even if the sample doesn't pass the mustard, the upside is that we can have the factory tweak the blend to get it where we want it.

The second category is where it gets dicey. We're constantly barraged by various "boutique" manufacturers who want us to carry their cigars. So, at any given time, our buyer has at least half a dozen cigar boxes or bundles in his office for evaluation from who knows where. Since most of them are unsolicited samples, he hands them out for us to smoke lest they rot on his desk.

Admittedly there are a few winners, but there are plenty of bona fide dog rockets, too. Once I smoked an impossibly dark Maduro whose wrapper stained my fingertips and lips a dark rusty color. I looked like a clown who'd just been processed for a DUI. We now refer to such cigars as "Faux-scuro." (Props to Hayward for coining that one.)

Then just two days ago, we got some cigars that actually did have a "leathery" flavor, but more like old, worn-out shoe leather. It had a putrid aroma, too. Try to imagine a lineman's cleats with the sweaty socks left inside.

So, like any job, mine has its ups and downs. Fortunately, most of the cigars I smoke are of my own choosing, but even with a lot of the crap-ola I have to wade through, I wouldn't trade this gig for the world.

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