Underground Cigar Culture

Underground Cigar Culture

The year was two-thousand and something. The mission? Take a box truck full of high-end CCTV equipment from Fairborn, Ohio to Steubenville, Ohio. Holy shit. That was going to be a long and arduous trip across the Buckeye State with little to offer in the way of scenery. About an hour into my 3 plus hour journey I decided I wanted a cigar. I had smoked cigarettes, cigars, and/or a pipe, since I was 15 years old but I never really cared for one over the other. I mean, cigarettes were an addiction that I was (and am) a slave to but the other tobaccos were just a way to mix it up once in a while. And Lord knows, I couldn’t afford to smoke those premium cigars that you get out of that special case or that hot, moist, room that they are stored in.

Anyway, I was a third of the way into the trip when my life would be forever changed by a simple stop out of boredom. I spotted a strip mall with a tobacco shop of some sort in it and made the decision to stop and grab a nice cigar. Not a Swisher or a King Edward but one of the fancy ones in the case, one that required cutting to enjoy. A very fancy one, indeed. Having no idea what I was actually doing I grabbed 2 sticks out of the glass doored cabinet, both Olivas, a light one and a dark (no doubt a Connecticut and a Maduro but at the time I was clueless). I also grabbed a cutter since I didn’t possess the biting skills of Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name”.

That evening after making it up to Steubenville I sat in my truck and smoked the second of the 2 cigars. Then I went to the only place I could find `premium’ cigars and bought 2 more. This time they were Don Joses tubos and not near as good but good enough for my palate as it had yet to be exposed to finer tobaccos. While I smoked I watched video after video on YouTube about cigars, cigar smoking, tobacco cultivation, tobacco agriculture history, Cuban cigars, etc. I just couldn’t get enough. What I discovered was a world unto itself where cigar smokers and leaf aficionados lived and breathed. Some had great info and others…not so much. The one thing they all had in common though was a love for the leaf.

When I got home I quickly befriended my local tobacconist and started my real-world cigar education. At some point shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon the Facebook cigar communities. Some were huge, having thousands of members while others were very small with only a few hundred, each having their own unique “personality”. Today, I’m in just a few groups with as few as a couple dozen like-minded collectors swapping stories and tobaccos and just being a part of a brotherhood and it’s like nothing I’ve experienced before. I also enjoy low budget or exploitation films, golf, and boobs, but none of the other groups have the same comradery as my cigar groups. Not even close.

The world of the underground cigar culture is a non-partisan, religion free world, where we all come together with one common goal; to enjoy as many fine cigars as our time on earth will allow (and our wallets too….but that’s for another article). There are dedicated collectors (like me) and simple smokers. There are all day everyday smokers, and once a weekers. There are young people (no one under 18, calm down Jeff Sessions) and octogenarians. Truck drivers, doctors, screenwriters, drifters and grifters. Former and current military, police, fire, and EMS. Vikings, bowlers, gamers, knitters, bakers, candlestick makers, blacksmiths, green berets, brown bombers (long story), and Black Panthers. Hard rights, hard lefts, judgmental pricks, short folks (no dwarves that I’m aware of but they’re certainly welcome), long legged guitar pickers, commodities brokers, and midnight tokers. In other words, today’s cigar smoker is literally ‘everyperson’. Gone are the days of cigars being smoked only by the affluent. There are premium hand rolled cigars for every budget and walk of life, and we are all joined by one common thread, a love, a real passion, for the leaf.

There was a time, not so long ago, when a cigar smoker seemed to be someone with connections, a special person with money and influence. The thing I have found however is that anyone can be a cigar smoker. I suppose that’s always been the case but now we have a platform with which to find other like minded cigar lovers. Through Instagram and Facebook we are able to connect and build new friendships founded on the basic passion for cigar smoking. I feel blessed to be a part of this culture and at this point I’m deeply embedded in it. It’s no small part of my life. From the time I wake up until I go to bed I’m smoking cigars and chatting with my cigar loving friends. We have meets ups and plan trips together. We eat, drink, and live together in a virtual world every single day.

One of the most interesting aspects of this world is the fact that no matter what someone’s background is or their beliefs are, we all put them aside and come together for this one thing. Some of us are wildly different and would never be friends in the real world but light up a cigar and boom, instant best buds. There are also a surprising number of women who also enjoy smoking cigars and enjoy the camaraderie of online interaction without the fear of judgement. They are free to be themselves and (hopefully) feel equal and comfortable in a world that is primarily populated by men.

Interestingly the groups are as individual as the people who join them. Most of the groups on Facebook where the underground cigar culture resides are focused mainly on cigars. Some of them, like HoOchly, incorporate cigars into a lifestyle that includes bourbons, whiskeys, rums, craft beers, humor (crass or otherwise), cars, guns, girls, and other things that mostly men (and the women of Ho0chly) are fans of. HoOchly has become such a phenomenon that it can be a verb or a noun. It can be an adverb (I’mma be HoOchly this weekend) or simply a state of mind (I’m feeling pretty HoOchly right now). But above all else it’s a lifestyle fit for kings and paupers, women and children. Oh yes! They have child members too! Well not really, but they are very much a part of the day to day goings on at HoOchly’s Facebook group. You could say it’s a family affair and you would be correct!

With the prevalence of these cigar groups, cigar manufacturers have discovered that advertising to them and their members can be a very effective way for cigar manufacturers to get the word out about their latest and greatest creations. Boutique cigars aren’t so boutique anymore when they are more popular than some of the larger brands that have been around for generations. What makes a boutique cigar? Well, there’s no real definition of that. There was a time when a manufacturer could produce less than 1.5 million cigars a year and be considered boutique but now that doesn’t quite ring true. For example, Tatuaje is hands down one of the most popular boutique brands out there and while I don’t have an actual figure I can say that they are most likely producing more than 1.5 million cigars a year. Brands like Roma Craft, Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, Illusione, Warped, Crowned Heads, Caldwell and many others are all the rage. Which brand is considered the most popular at any given time fluctuates like the weather in Scotland. On top of that, a cigar that becomes popular in one of the large Facebook groups can change the fortune and future for a particular cigar brand.

A fairly common trend for groups is to have a cigar manufacturer as a monthly sponsor. In exchange for advertising their cigars to the group, these manufacturers will often offer discounts and special incentives to group members through raffles and contests. This works well for all those involved because the members get good deals and the manufacturer gets the word out.

What does all this mean? Well, nothing really but it’s a statement of how the underground community has evolved with the proliferation of social media to connect and open up a world that isn’t nearly as exclusive as it once was. Cigars are for everyone and coming together to enjoy them has become a way of life for many people, myself included. Is it really underground if everyone is doing it? I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that this shared love of the leaf and this ‘underground’ culture is a way of life for many, not just judges and lawyers and doctors and golfers and I wouldn’t trade it for the finest Fuente out there. (Well, maybe. You ever had an Opus X?)

DAVE WEHR

I’m a salesman in the water and sewer industry, full time college student, husband, ex-husband and father of two that I’m aware of. I’ve been smoking cigars since the age of 15, Swishers, Phillies, etc. Little more than a year ago I was traveling across Ohio when I stopped and bought a couple Olivas. Knowing nothing about premium cigars I smoked them and fell in love with the leaf. Now, I’m working on getting my tobacconist license as well as degrees in Psych and Business.