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Marvin R. Shanken

Speak Up

Posted: Apr 30, 2014 12:00am ET

This is a critical time for cigar smokers.

The Food and Drug Administration recently published rules to extend its strict control over all tobacco products—not just cigarettes—but it may yet exempt premium, hand-rolled cigars. That seems like good news for cigar smokers.

But there are some big storm clouds out there. Here at Cigar Aficionado, we define premium cigars—the ones we write about—as being made by hand, from 100 percent tobacco leaves and without any flavorings or filters. Period. No machine-made cigars—at all. The FDA largely agrees with that definition. But they put some limits on them: A true premium cigar must weigh more than six pounds per thousand, and cost more than $10. What!?

We rated 608 non-Cuban cigars in 2013. The majority of them—416 to be exact—cost less than $10, and only about 32 percent cost more than $10. In other words, under the FDA's new rule, about 70 percent of the cigars we rated last year wouldn't be considered premium cigars. That's just wrong. Even in our top 25 cigars of 2013, a list of the best cigars in the world that we rated, 12 of them came in less than $10.

We are the first to say that Cigar Aficionado focuses on the finer things in life. We do appeal to an educated, sophisticated and upscale audience. But a cigar doesn't have to break the bank. We've always called a cigar one of life's great, affordable luxuries. It doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, a cigar shouldn't be priced out of the reach of a dedicated cigar aficionado. And, $10 is simply not a good gauge.

The really good news is that you, every smoker and every reader of Cigar Aficionado, can make a difference. The FDA is inviting comments from the public. It is imperative that the cigar-smoking community speaks out to argue for a realistic definition of a premium cigar. The FDA, thanks to intense efforts by the cigar industry and this magazine, has already gotten it mostly right. But now they need to hear from you—the people on the ground who walk into tobacco shops to buy cigars—about what constitutes a reasonable policy toward this product enjoyed in moderation by adults.

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A Return to El Laguito

Posted: Feb 28, 2011 12:00am ET

September, 1991. The world was a very different place. The world was still in the midst of the Cold War as the Soviet Union was in its death throes, its member nations breaking off. Soviet troops, some 11,000, were to be withdrawn from Cuba, along with the Soviet aid that had kept that nation afloat.

It was far from an ideal time for a person to make their first trip to Cuba, but there I was, ready to spend a week touring Cuba's cigar factories and tobacco fields for a cover story for Wine Spectator.

Cigar Aficionado did not exist.

I write this only days after returning from my most recent trip to Cuba, a homecoming of sorts. It had been about ten years since my last visit, too long a time to spend away from the birthplace of the premium cigar industry. I most recently spent a few days on the island, smoking its wonderful cigars, speaking to its beautiful people, and returning to El Laguito, the mother factory for Cohiba cigars.

That visit to El Laguito, a majestic former school where cigars are made slowly, carefully, was emotional for me. For it brought back memories to that day nearly 20 years ago when I first stepped inside, smoking Cuba's most famous cigars. For it was on that visit, when I walked inside those tiny rooms where cigars are made, that I felt inspired to create a cigar magazine. To create Cigar Aficionado. That was the trip when I decided that before I died, I wanted to have a cigar magazine.

We shot a short video while we were there. You can watch it by clicking here.

Cuba, and in particular El Laguito, will always hold a special place in my heart. I can't tell you how glad I am that I returned, and I can guarantee you that it will not be ten years before I visit again.

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Welcome to the New Cigar Aficionado Online

Posted: Sep 23, 2010 12:00am ET

I'd like to welcome you to the all-new Cigar Aficionado Online, the most cigar-friendly corner of the Internet. It's your online home for everything there is to know about cigars, fine drinks, and all aspects of living the good life.

It was more than 13 years ago when we launched the original Cigar Aficionado Online. To say the Web site has been a success would be a dramatic understatement. We won the National Magazine Award in 1999 for General Excellence in New Media (beating out such competition as, and, not bad for a cigar magazine Web site!), but our greatest pride comes from the reception that we receive from readers such as you. Millions of people have visited over the years. This year, nearly two million people have come to our site, with more than 12 million page views.

The site has changed quite a bit. Today we have wonderful videos, blogs by our editors, an immensely popular countdown for our Top 25 cigars of the year, and so much more. Our Web site has always been about cigars and the good life. Now, it's all greatly improved. More about cigars, the people who make them and the celebrities who enjoy smoking them. There's more about the good life, from drinks to gambling to golf and more. And in today's world, where finding a place to enjoy your cigars is a challenge, we have a section called Where to Smoke that showcases the best spots around the globe that cater to cigar lovers. We've also improved our vast database (more than 13,000 and growing) of cigar ratings, and expanded our Personal Humidor, and better organized our vast archives of stories from Cigar Aficionado going back to our debut issue. You can read my editor's note from 1997 about the launch of the original Cigar Aficionado Online by clicking here. And if you're really curious, you can even read my editor's note from the very first issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine, from Autumn 1992.

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A Special Day With Ernie Els

Posted: Mar 27, 2009 11:07am ET
When I watched Ernie Els win the Honda Classic last year, I was extremely happy for my friend. When he revealed during a post-tournament interview that his son, Ben, who was five at the time, was autistic, I was touched.

Since I have a nephew who has a form of autism, I knew exactly what he was now sharing with the world. It was a most courageous act.

I thought about what Ernie said for a while, and decided I needed to help. I came up with the idea of a pro-am charity golf tournament, and the name “Els For Autism” clicked in my mind.

I went to Ernie and his wife, Liezl, with my idea. Ernie’s eyes lit up—and he said, “Let’s do it.”

We then took a few months to decide on when to hold the tournament, where it would be played, and how it would be arranged. Last fall we agreed it would take place at PGA National, the home of the Honda Classic. After all, it was where Ernie and I had played in a pro-am the year before, where Ernie had won his trophy and where he told the world about Ben. We decided the Els for Autism pro-am would take place on Monday, March 23. The rest, as they say, is history.

We split the responsibilities. Ernie would get the PGA pros, and I would set up the teams. We agreed to keep the event small the first year, and use it as a learning experience to build our future plans for pro-ams to come.

Ernie assembled a stunning group of some of the biggest names in golf: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd, Tim Clark, Luke Donald, Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, and Justin Rose.

I was able to get 21 teams, basically comprised of my good golfing buddies. You can view pictures from the day here on this site, and you’ll read all about the details of the tournament in the June Cigar Aficionado.

Everyone had great fun and the weather was fantastic (but playing in a three-club wind is very challenging.) We raised well over half a million dollars for charity, and all the players said to me after the tournament, “count me in for next year.”
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Tasting the Very Best of 2007

Posted: Oct 30, 2007 3:45pm ET
This is a very serious and most rewarding time of year. I’m sitting down with my Cigar Aficionado team to select the best cigar of 2007.

Yesterday I lit up with executive editor Gordon Mott, European editor James Suckling and senior editor David Savona. We had already smoked dozens of cigars, rating each on our 100-point quality scale, but now we had to choose a winner.

After reviewing the top scores of the year from Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider, we selected the best of the bunch, coming up with about 45 cigars. Each had scored 90 points or higher. Our tasting coordinator, Greg Mottola, then went shopping, and bought all 45 at retail—we want the cigars we rate to be as close to what you can buy as possible—and he re-banded them to disguise their identities, then passed them out to six members of our tasting panel, including myself, for another round of analysis. At the conclusion of that blind test, we selected the very best of that bunch, they were re-banded yet again with a new code, and Mott, Suckling, Savona and myself sat down together to figure out which one was the very best.

Let me tell you, it was an amazing group of cigars, and there were some very strong contenders. We all enjoyed our work thoroughly. I brought along my new video flip phone, to give you an inside look at the process. Take a peek:

We’ve chosen a winner, but we’re not ready to tell you yet. Cigar Aficionado’s No. 1 Cigar of the Year will be unveiled in January—and for the first time ever you’ll be able to follow the countdown online. Stay tuned for more details.

What cigar do you think will win?
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