Cuban Cigar Website: Q&A with Co-Founder Alex Groom
There is no doubt that Cuban Cigar Website is, and has been for many years now, the reference point for most cigar aficionados around the globe. Never has a website been more helpful when trying to remember the name of a vitola, the specific ring gauge of a specific cigar, the year of release, the year of discontinuation, and the countless details each and every cigar has been meticulously catalogued with. Even our own website has drawn a great deal of information from CubanCigarWebsite.com. Its contribution to our industry is invaluable.
As a nod of recognition to his work, our blog today wishes to introduce our readers to Mr. Alexander Groom, co-founder and proprietor of Cuban Cigar Website, who has kindly accepted to be interviewed.
Could you tell us how this all started? How did this passion for Cuban Cigars drive you to create your website?
Actually, I am not the original creator of CubanCigarWebsite. The site was created in 2006 by Trevor Leask. He was a collector, and had found that many of the resources at the time were either out of date or contradictory, and so he set out to make a single definitive reference for Cuban cigar collectors.
In 2008 I was doing a blind tasting competition, and I wanted a list of every vitola in a single size, which was impossible to get at that time without manually collating a spreadsheet. I emailed Trevor suggesting that he should add a database to Cuban Cigar Website to make it searchable in that way. He replied saying that if I wanted it then I should do it. I have a background as a computer programmer, and so I did.
Trevor and I worked on the website together for the next few years, until 2012 when Trevor decided to retire, and I took it over and have run it on my own ever since.
There are a lot of technical features in CCW that I think most users are probably unaware of. There is a system built in where you can track your collection, record a diary of your smokes, have a wish list and so on, and you can link your account with your friends so you can see each other’s collections and organize trades. The search engine for CCW is very powerful, and you can generate whatever very specific lists you like; for example thin cigars in 50 cabs that were in production during the 1980s. Fairly recently I added an excise calculator, where you can select boxes and have it multiply the weights to figure out your tax bill when importing.
I also like the mysteries. Almost every day, people from all over the world email me with different questions about packaging quirks, identifying fakes, unusual releases, pre-revolution stuff and so on. When you get into the history, it’s a fascinating hobby with so much that is not widely known. I have my own collection of books and old catalogues and so on, and CCW has put me in contact with many great aficionados that help me to research different things that come up.
One of my favourites was years ago a vintage typewriter collector contacted me. He had acquired one of Ernest Hemingway’s old typewriters. The label had come off one of the keys, and Hemingway had replaced it with what he thought was a cigar band. With the help of some others, we were able to track it down as a Cuban stamp, and actually find some originals for him.
Alexander smoking a cigar in front of a wall of cigar boxes.
You represent a point of reference for both experts and novices alike. What are the elements that have contributed, even emotionally, to your professional growth?
I suppose there are a lot of technical skills that I have gained over the years from working on CCW that I never would have otherwise: it took me a few years of iteration to perfect my product photography for the cigars, and I have done a lot of Photoshop and this year InDesign and things of that nature. Plus of course my research and study of Cuban cigars, where almost every day I learn something new.
CCW also opens a lot of doors. Wherever I travel I will reach out to aficionados who I have been in contact with for a smoke, and I have made many great friends all over the world that way.
It’s an interesting point you make about the place CCW has in the industry, as it is one of the only sources that isn’t tied to a retailer, or supported by advertising or anything like that, so there is no incentive to push anything to drive sales. I try to keep it as objective as possible, and only print facts.
Which Habano do you smoke most often, and why?
Because of my site, I think my buying habits are unusual for a cigar collector. I try and obtain at least a single of everything new that is released so I can photograph them. When I do buy boxes, I first and foremost look for things I haven’t had before. My cigar budget is not unlimited, so my collection is not very large compared to some out there, but it is very broad, with a wide range of Regional and Limited Editions cigars and things like that. It is very rare though that I will ever have two boxes of the same thing.
As such, there is no single cigar that I smoke very often. Of the major brands my favorites are H. Upmann and Cohiba. I particularly like the Magnum line, the 46 and 50, the Siglo IV, and the Coronas Especiales. As I say though, I only rarely smoke any of them. The most recent cigar I had was a Fonseca No.1, and before that an El Rey del Mundo Choix Suprême.
Could you name the 10 Habanos whose knowledge is essential for an enthusiast? And which one would you recommend to a neophyte?
To me, the four quintessential Habano sizes are the Marevas, the Pirámides, the Robustos, and the Julieta No.2.
The first cigar I recommend to anybody who is new to cigars is the Montecristo No.4. To me it is the perfect cigar for a beginner; not to long or fat, but with plenty of flavour. If you have a Monte 4 and don’t like it then cigars probably aren’t for you. If you do like it, then the whole hobby opens up from there.
Of the production Pirámides, the Upmann No.2 is my personal favourite. The Montecristo though is by far the most famous and is an excellent cigar. And the Diplomatico also is a great.
The Partagas Serie D No.4 is of course the most popular Robusto, although it has never been a favourite of mine. The Cohiba Robusto is a classic cigar, but the price point of that brand is too high for the beginner. Personally, I would probably recommend Ramon Allones Specially Selected for this size.
For the Julieta No.2, the only real choice can be the Romeo y Julieta Chuchills as this is such a famous, iconic vitola. It is a shame that the quality of these cigars has been mediocre for many years now, although I have heard it has gotten better recently. For the aficionado, the Sir Winston is a must try. I also used to love the Upmann Monarcas, however, they are long gone now.
At one time I probably would have said the fifth essential Habano size was a Lonsdale, like the Cervantes or the Dalias, but unfortunately they are almost all gone. If you can find a La Gloria Medaille d’Or No.2, they are a fantastic cigar. Of the few remaining production cigars, the Partagás 8-9-8 is perhaps the best.
For the aficionado, the Cohiba Lanceros is the quintessential connoisseur’s cigar. Personally, I prefer the Coronas Especiales, but the Lanceros is the classic, elegant cigar, so I think every true aficionado needs to try one of those at some point – preferably with 10+ years of age on it.
I frequently recommend the Quintero Favoritos to people, although really any Quintero cigar will do. They are not the best cigars out of Cuba by a long way, but to me they are probably the best value. A cheap punchy little smoke.
Everyone should also smoke a giant cigar at some point – as there are no more Diademas in standard production, I suppose the Montecristo A is the default choice for this. To my taste these are not the best cigars, but I think the provide an interesting insight into the art of blending. They are blended quite lightly at the foot, so that the tar buildup is not overpowering by the end. It is a great way to learn about the evolution of a cigar.
The Grand Reserva cigars are probably the most certain way to get a cigar that is as good as it can be. They are very pricey, and it will never make sense in terms of ‘value’ to spend ten times as much just to have a perfect version of a cigar. If cigars are your hobby though, and a Grand Reserve version of one of your favourite cigars is released, I think you should try one just to see how good they can be when perfect.
Finally, of course, nobody can truly call themselves a cigar aficionado until they have smoked a Culebra lighting all three cigars at once.
The world of the Habano has changed deeply over the past 15 years. With the change in size of the product, has the attitude of smokers changed too? Which cigar, in your opinion, experienced aficionados miss the most?
On the cigar forums aficionados always complain about the discontinuation of the long and skinny cigars. At one time there were so many classics of 42 ring gauge and below that are all gone now. I produce a graph every year when the new releases are announced that shows the average ring gauge of production cigars and each year it grows larger and larger as more fat cigars are released and skinny cigars are discontinued.
I am not as against the large ring gauge as some – I love the Upmann Mag 54, and I recently smoked the 2014 Cohiba Limited Edition which had a 58 ring gauge, and was an absolutely stunning cigar. It would be nicer if the portfolio was more diverse though.
Plus of course, the other thing that enthusiasts miss is the 50 cabinet, which are almost all gone now. Back in the pre-revolution era, cigars also came in units of 100 and higher, often un-banded in simple packaging, for serious smokers who don’t need the fancy presentation. It is a shame these aren’t still produced, even in very small volumes I’m sure some serious collectors would buy them.
Credit where credit is due, both skinny cigars are 50 cabs are being kept alive by some distributors via the regional edition programme.
The website was born and developed in Australia; how do you perceive the attention for Cuban Cigars in your country?
I’m sorry to say, but I think Australia is one of the worst countries in the world for cigar smokers. We have taxes that increase the cost by 300%, and plain packaging removes all the beautiful bands and boxes and takes away much of the character of cigars. Indoor smoking is only allowed in private homes, and even outdoor is restricted to only a few places. Fifteen years ago there were six specialist cigar stores in my city, most of them with some kind of smoking lounge. Today there are two.
With all the restrictions, the cigar culture has really died off too. There used to be various groups who would organise cigar dinners, and different clubs, regular monthly meet-ups, and so on. Now I have my small group of friends that I smoke with in our homes, but that is all.
I suppose it is quite ironic that both CCW and Friends of Habanos, which is probably the biggest English language Cuban cigar forum, both come out of Australia.
Any future projects you would like to share?
I am currently working on a book. It will be an encyclopaedic reference for collectors. All going to plan, it will be release sometime in 2021.