Officially it’s our 25th anniversary, but Cigar Aficionado’s gestation goes back much further. Before Marvin R. Shanken created the magazine, he was a cigar-smoking publisher with a penchant for fine cigars that began in his college days. In the early 1980s, roughly a decade before the first issue of the magazine, Shanken began to write about cigars in The Wine Spectator, a publication he bought in 1979.
The first cigar column, which was published in February, 1984, was entitled “I Love a Good Smoke.” In the piece, Shanken told the world about his affinity for cigars, which was a big deal given that cigar smoking in the 1980s was not as accepted as it would become a decade later.
“I smoke two to three cigars each working day,” Shanken wrote in a piece that spanned two columns of Spectator. “Why? It relaxes me and I like the taste.” The article also covered a New York City auction at which Shanken acquired a large number of pre-Castro Cuban cigars.
Shanken wrote “three or four” cigar-related pieces for Wine Spectator in the 1980s, and while he enjoyed them his editors felt they were out of place. “They suggested that I shouldn’t be writing about cigars in a wine magazine,” Shanken says. Several years later, during an editorial meeting at the Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California, Shanken was pressing his editors for new cover ideas for Wine Spectator, more lifestyle features that covered more than wine. One of the editors suggested cigars, and a cover story on the subject written by Shanken himself. Shanken originally was against the idea.
“They started pounding the table and chanting ‘cover!’ ‘cover,’ ” Shanken says. That led to a trip to Cuba in September of 1991 to research a cover story for Wine Spectator called “The Allure of Cuban Cigars.” The visit would have far-reaching repercussions.
“The trip... was a cigar lover’s dream. For most of my adult life, I have been a serious cigar smoker,” Shanken wrote in his Editor’s Note from that issue, dated February 15, 1992. “Visiting Cuba was a fascinating experience—every day brought new highs.”
On his return Shanken decided that the cover story would not be enough. On the way back, while still in the air, he made a vow. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to die without having a cigar magazine.’ ”
Back at his office in New York, Shanken gathered his senior executives to reveal his plan to create a cigar magazine. “Every single one of them told me it was a bad idea. Not to do it,” Shanken said in 2012.
He ignored the advice. Stitched inside that February 1992 issue of Wine Spectator was a card that read: “Announcing a new magazine for cigar lovers.” It had a photo of a stately walnut burl humidor filled with gorgeous unbanded cigars. The requests poured in. In September 1992, the first Cigar Aficionado was released.
Shanken’s goal was a circulation of 20,000. The first issue far surpassed that, going out to an audience of more than 100,000 and was a hit from the start. “The magazine actually turned a profit in the first year, which is unheard of in publishing,” says Shanken.
And 25 years later, Cigar Aficionado magazine is still going strong.