Cultured Carrots: Lighting It Up with Tom Heissby Carrot
Carrot Creative is filled with colorful characters. Cultured Carrots is a series that shares the outside passions that inspire the very best work for our clients. This week, Engagement Manager Tom Heiss explains how he became part of the cigar community and muses on the merits of a good Cubano.
Carrot: When did you smoke your first cigar?
Tom Heiss: The first time I smoked a cigar was probably in freshman year of high school (12 years ago), albeit it was likely a Black and Mild. We used to play poker in my friend’s backyard, and before the game we would go to the local 7/11 or Krausers and pick up chips, Gatorade, or whatever. One night we picked up those things, too. My first real cigar was probably within a year of that, which is when my dad started smoking cigars more regularly.
C: How did you develop into a cigar enthusiast?
T: I developed the love for cigars from my dad. He would smoke them in the backyard occasionally in the warmer months before dinner with a cocktail back then. This is where I started to learn about what real cigars were, the different brands, the different wrappers and tobacco filling, and so on. It wasn’t really until I went to college at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida that I got really into cigars. There is one of the best cigar bars in the country down there - The World Famous Cigar Bar - and it’s located in a town center right by campus where many of the kids go out at night. My friends and I would go there all the time and that’s when I started smoking cigars frequently. The people who work at and patron that place are awesome - it’s like family now.
C: Have you ever been to a cigar factory? If so, what did you find interesting about the manufacturing process?
T: So me and 14 other guys went to Cuba in February, which was my first visit and my father’s first as well. We thought we had a cigar factory tour planned out, but it turned out the factory we were to visit (of the famous Partagás family) was closed on the day we had lined up. I will be going to the Dominican Republic for a cigar trip in January so that will be my first factory tour.
C: What do you enjoy about collecting and smoking cigars?
T: The flavors of each cigar and the environment around them. I have my favorite brands, and cigars within those brands, but being outside at cocktail hour smoking a cigar in warm weather with friends or family is one of my favorite things to do. I guess it’s like a whiskey or craft beer hobby. The aroma and the calm that cigars bring is also something I enjoy. I can sniff out someone smoking a cigar across the street.
C: What was your favorite cigar that you ever smoked? What was the context?
T: Partagás No. 2 in Cuba. There are arguments as to whether Cuban tobacco is truly better than Dominican, Honduran or Nicaraguan, or if the unattainability of Cuban cigars over the years for Americans put them on a pedestal. But the No. 2 is for me the best cigar that’s on the planet and the taste and draw those cigars had are unparalleled. I prefer my cigars in torpedo size, which is 6 inches in length with generally a 52 ring gauge (fatness). The end of the cigar that you draw from tapers off to a dull point by cigar rollers, thus the nickname torpedo.
C: How do you tell the difference between a good cigar and a bad cigar?
T: First, a good cigar needs to be stored in the right climate. That’s done in a cedar humidor box which is airtight and is maintained at 65-75% humidity at room temperature. There are humid packs and other low cost gadgets that help with this. All people have different taste, and thus cigar smokers have varying favorites. For me, a good cigar has a maduro (dark) wrapper. The maduro tobacco leaves are lower on the plant’s stalk and do not receive as much sun. When dried, they give a stronger, more robust flavor than the Connecticut wrappers, which are picked as younger leaves at the top of the plant. I like the filling tobacco to be on the strong side as well. I discovered my favorites by trying various lines of cigars and saving the bands.
C: Do you save certain cigars for special occasions?
T: Only the most expensive ones, such as the Liga Privada No. 9 or Opus X.
C: Where can you smoke cigars these days?
T: 15 years ago a law was enacted where only “grandfathered” cigar bars could remain in operation - meaning no new bars could be opened that intended to allow cigar smoking. Luckily there are still some great ones in operation, such as Soho Cigar Bar and Hudson Bar and Books. Most shops today have a lounge with couches and TVs, and are BYOB-friendly too - so long as you purchase a cigar from the shop rather than bring one in from the street. There are also public and private cigar clubs throughout the city. Outside of New York, there are laxer laws for cigar bars. There are great ones in San Francisco, Boston and Florida in particular.
C: Anything else you’d like to add?
T: Chad Johnson (Ocho Cinco) smokes multiple cigars a day and films it all on his Snapchat. I’m not saying I recommend following, but it’s there.