Friday, January 14, 2022

The Problem with the Cigar Aficionado Top 25 Cigars of the Year List

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The Problem with the Cigar Aficionado Top 25 Cigars of the Year List

First, some parameters if you will. I say the Top 25 but I say that only because that is its name. A good reason for sure but what I'll be referring to herein is the list's Top 10 selections. For those less than adept, Cigar Aficionado Magazine has been in print since 1992, making it 30 years old as I write this article. In 2004, they named their first Cigar of the Year, a Padron Serie 1926 40th Anniversary. Splendid cigar.

The method employed in unveiling the selection is via incremental installments which last over a few days. It begins with 10 then culminates in number one. Only then are 11-25 named, the day ofter. No offense and nothing personal to those who fall outside of the Top Ten, but no one really cares about you or your feeble accomplishments. I kid because I LOVE. To be clear, I am writing this on the day of number one being named--we'll get to that in a bit. 

Cigar Aficionado magazine is given much credit, and rightly-so, for its large contribution to the previous cigar boom of the early-mid 1990s. I'd daresay that boom well might not have happened sans Marvin Shanken's glossy guidances cutting through swaths of cigar smokers and directly into the mainstream vein. We all know the A-List celebrities who have graced its luxurious pages--really it's a who's who of exactly who you would expect.

Of note is that (taking nothing away from Mr. Shanken) timing means a lot. As I like to mention, about a decade earlier Al Goldstein, dirtbag pornographer, began his own publication named CIGAR. What a different world it might have been if that is what helped grow and steer the boom. I consider it on-par with how we'd all be speaking German if WWII went the other way. At that horrid and perhaps problematic analogy, we now get to the task at hand. L'chaim!

"Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains." Chalk that quote up to anyone, really. Winston Churchill, Victor Hugo, and I'm sure others have had it attributed to them. Regardless, the sentiment behind it is obvious. As we grow older, we also tend to grow more conservative. Is this ripe old bit of wisdom true though? I'd say so if becoming more conservative is clearly differentiated from becoming a Conservative, per se.

To be clear, I'm not being political. I'm referring instead to the word's entry in the Oxford Dictionary that runs: "1. averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values." With people, all things are political. With publications--well--those are run by people but I refuse to wholly believe the issues at Cigar Aficionado are 'political.' Sure it plays a part but I've already addressed that in saying 'all things are...' Suffice to say I'm not speaking in terms of red or blue neckties. I'm more of an ascot fancier.

Today, thirty years into its vaulted existence, the newly-appointed 2021 Cigar Aficionado Cigar of the Year is the Padron 1964 Anniversary Series Torpedo Natural. Splendid cigar. And if it's true you can never dip your toe into the same waters twice, it is equally true to metaphorically acknowledge the snake eating its own tail. The growth of a man from the quote above, and quite on-time (30). I'M A CIGAR GUY. As such I talk to other cigar smokers and we all watched the process of finding out the Cigar of the Year, as we yawned and yawned.

Some claim pay-to-play in the form of them thanking their advertisers but I refuse, as earlier stated, to see it that way. Unfortunately, the problem I do see is far worse. They've become conservative--again not politically--but far too conventional in their approach. Let's now step off Padron's #1 and throw shade on two through 10 as well. After stating the obvious that they are all fine cigars and correctly acknowledged as such, for the most, even as much as 30 years ago. But then, Cigar Aficionado brought them on their coat-tails into the waiting public eye.

& they have continued for the ::: very ::: most part to do just that each and every more and more humdrum year. It scans as regurgitation. For a little bit now, the cigar industry is in another newer boom, distinct from the past one both in years and ethos. The talk of the cigar smoker town is not, predominantly speaking, the cigars on these lists. The talk is of 'boutique' brands who look to push the envelope in terms of both show and go. In terms of both presentation and performance... yet this once cutting-edge magazine refuses to leave the dullness of its traditionalism. The worst thing is it can do both, but won't.

"A rising tide lifts all boats." These words came from the mouth of famed Cuban cigar smoker JFK, courtesy (apparently) of the New England Council Chamber of Commerce slogan. Or so Wikipedia assures speechwriter Ted Sorensen once acknowledged. Its meaning is clear and yet lost completely on Cigar Aficionado. It would cost them nothing in no way, to include a small upstart brand on the (1-10) list. Say in the eight-10 area. It would make them appear hip to the scene, give them a shot of street cred, and said brand a nice shot in the arm--something which not much of this top 10 needs.

I'm not talking about charity. I'm talking about some 'craft' blends no one would balk at to see at number nine, say. I'm also talking bout honoring their core readers' experiences. Mainly, I'm talking about CA offering the illusion that their editorial heads aren't stuck up their editorial asses. I mean no one there can deny the boutique guys exist; particularly since they live online and Aficionado in recent years has seemingly paid more and more attention to their own e-presence. It becomes an egregious slight at some point, and again, why? The magazine has nothing to lose via inclusion and everything to lose through continued exclusion.

At some point the legacy brands will begin to move on and what then? A publication forced to either fold or to finally do business with entities they've scorned, again and again, year in and year out? The truth is this: there are too many best cigar lists and none really count. Except for Cigar Aficionado's... that one still counts. It still moves the proverbial needle. So why not give one-tenth of it to the future and secure everyone's growth in the process? Why not be relevant to this boom, as well as the previous? I daresay the two need each other. 

Because I'll tell ya why because. Complacency. Finally, let it be known that I posit all this as a traditionalist myself. Do I love everything about the new ways of these boutique brands? Hell no. It's sometimes loud, abrasive, disrespectful of even itself, and threatens toward hipster culture which is ever-just a hair's breadth from PC cancel culture. Then again, I'm also over 30 by more than I'd like to admit. Don't worry though, I can still do things. 
"Cause it takes me all night to do 
What I used to do all night long."
- It Takes Me All Night Long, recorded by Cal Smith, written by Bozo Darnell & Dave Pittman

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