Today, I’m interviewing Craig Vanderslice of www.cigarcraig.com. Cigar Craig is one of the first blogs that I started reading when I started smoking cigars in the late 2000’s, and it’s a website that takes a down-to-earth approach to cigars.
In my interview with Craig, we discussed how he first fell in love with cigars, how he keeps up with the work of running a cigar blog, some of his favorite posts ever, his favorite cigar bloggers, and more.
MC: Let’s kick it off with some standard background. When did you start smoking cigars, and why did you start your blog?
CV: I started smoking premium cigars around 1995. I had been enjoying cheap cigars every Friday at lunch with a coworker and it was the cigar boom of the 90s so we decided to see what the big deal was with a premium cigar. We bought some Macanudo Hyde Parks and smoked them and got the bug. I don’t think I went back to the Garcia Vegas and Backwoods after that. Around the same time I was getting into the whole internet fad, and did some cigar research and found a cigar newsgroup on usenet, which was the ancestor of forums and Facebook basically. I ended up participating in that for ten years, travelling all over the country to attend herfs (the term “herf” was coined by that group, it’s taken on a life of it’s own) and met a lot of great people. Steve Saka and Christian Eiroa were contributors at the time. I got tired of the demeanor of the usenet group around 2006 and stopped contributing.
In 2009 my wife bought me the cigarcraig.com domain and I decided to start a blog as my creative outlet. It started very rough, but after taking my first trip to cigar country in 2011 it started getting visits and I settled into a regular schedule. I’m proud to say that if you search for “cigar blog”, “cigar bloggers” or just about any permutation of that in any major search engine, CigarCraig.com places very high in the results, in many cases the first result. I believe this was just a result of consistency and using appropriate keywords.
MC: Writing a blog takes a lot of work on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis. What’s kept you motivated to keep your blog up to date all these years?
CV: I spend much more time on research than actual writing! I like to think my site is a blog in the purest sense, it’s a web log of my cigar journey. This can be a recap of the cigars I’ve smoked, store visits, events either at stores or festivals, interviews with industry people and celebrity cigar smokers (it’s been a while since I’ve done a celebrity interview, working on that), and accessory reviews. Lately I’ve been sharing more press releases verbatim, while I have the time on my hands to do it. I should actually write an article based on the press release, but I’ve been taking the lazy route. I think it’s the variety that keeps it from getting boring, both in the industry and with my personal style. Also knowing I have a faithful readership that, for some reason I can’t fathom, looks forward to reading my nonsense! I deeply appreciate all those who choose to waste their valuable time reading, so I often have contests to reward the loyalty, or just send random stuff to people, it’s fun to share.
So what keeps me going is the interactions with the readers, having the opportunity to smoke new cigars and play with new accessories, and having sponsors who believe enough in what my site does to support me.
MC: What’s your favorite post on CigarCraig. Either one you feel the most proud of or that you’ve gotten the best response from readers on?
CV: Oddly, a post I wrote on my travel to Reykjavik, Iceland (linked here) about cigars there has been getting daily visits for the last year and a half. It comes up first in Google searches for cigars in Iceland, I guess the fact that there’s one shop in Reykjavik and no discernible cigar culture so there haven’t been a lot of articles written on the subject.
Probably the post I’m most proud of for the writing and the comments and discussion it produced goes back to 2012. I was frustrated (and remain so, not too much has changed!) with the IPCPR and wrote what I think was a well reasoned rant on the subject of “new media” being members and attending the trade show. The comments were from a who’s who of media, manufacturers and retailers. It was some of my best work, I think and it did lead to some changes for the better with the trade organization, although, six years later there are still IPCPR members who would rather not see bloggers at the show. It’s mystifying, and I’ve chosen no to be a member any longer as a result.
MC: Are there any other cigar blogs that you read or find worthwhile?
CV: I have had the good fortune of meeting many fellow bloggers and cigar media types, and consider them friends, so this is a loaded question! Certainly Halfwheel and Cigar-Coop are outstanding resources and come up in a lot of searches when researching specific cigars. While I don’t regularly visit a lot of other blogs, I check in to a bunch from time to time. Most of them offer a unique perspective. Some do a great job of reviewing cigars, others excel at presenting news items and everyone has their place. There are some that go off the rails a little I think, but overall there’s something for everyone out there.
MC: “Off the rails a little.” I love it. I’ve certainly seen some of that firsthand and far from being frustrating it’s mostly just entertaining to watch.
Let’s talk about the brands. In your time writing about cigars and meeting industry reps, you’ve likely had a chance to see a lot of companies fail and succeed. What in your mind is the ingredient that makes a successful brand in the cigar world?
CV: Great question! Today I think the brand owner or ambassador or manufacturer has to be personally involved at the retail level. Rocky Patel set the standard and has had pretty good success. Omar de Frias followed Rocky’s model and his Fratello brand enjoys a lot of success. Perhaps just being engaged with the consumer via social media is enough as long as the product is spectacular, in the case of RoMaCraft. Cromagnon started out being available largely through Skip Martin’s Twitter engagement. When Ernesto Carrillo launched EPC cigars his website was basically a map with tweets mentioning the brand popping up from wherever in the world they originated.
We have an unprecedented level of interaction with the principles in the cigar industry, and I think that reinforces a lot of brand recognition. I know, whether it makes sense or not, I enjoy cigars more when I have a personal relationship with the people who make the cigar, or are responsible for the blend.
MC: Man, that’s so true. I had a similar experience recently with Sans Pareil / La Instructora cigars. For a while I had been pretty skeptical, even after reviewing the La Instructora Box Pressed No 2 and enjoying it. But after meeting Aaron Saide at one of my private tastings and enjoying two hours of conversation with him, I experience his cigars in a completely different way (I’m still sitting on four or five unreleased La Instructora blends).
In any case, we’re at that point in the interview where I’ll go ahead and ask that most important and most hated question: what are your top two or three cigars? You know, the cigars that continue to blow your mind year after year, even after smoking dozens or more?
CV: There are a handful of cigars that I never tire of and pick up when I need a “sure thing”. Padron 1964 Anniversary Exclusivo, Fuente Hemingway Classic come to mind as cigars which are as tasty and satisfying today as they were 20 years ago. Drew Estate’s Nica Rustica is a go-to also, I love the no nonsense, straightforward flavor of this, and similarly the CAO Flathead. Over the last years or so I’ve defaulted to the Cornelius and Anthony Cornelius Toro for a special occasion smoke. It’s a refined and complex medium bodied cigar.
MC: Ah man. I’m so with you on Cornelius and Anthony. They make phenomenal cigars. The Daddy Mac is in my top 25 of all time for sure. Let’s send our readers off with something fun. What’s a fun fact about cigars or the industry you have in your back pocket that you think my readers would be surprised to learn?
CV: Fun fact? Sheesh. That’s a tough one. One thing that I find interesting that many may not know is that is costs about the same to make a Corona as it does to make a Churchill. Because the consumer equates size with value, most manufacturers can’t sell the small sizes at the same margins as larger sizes. So, if you think about it, when you buy a Corona, technically you are getting a better value. Maybe that’s not real interesting…
MC: that’s definitely a fun fact! For all of my readers here – you’ll get many more fun, quirky insights on www.cigarcraig.com so don’t forget to visit the site and subscribe via email.
Craig, thanks for taking the time to share about yourself and your work on www.cigarcraig.com.