cigarpassionista – Spirited Smoke
#2

Sister of the Leaf and Avid Motorcyclist Cigarpassionista Nikki

By Gene Kizhnerman, Tastethedram.com

Photos by Phil Hawkins 

 

As an often-ignored segment, women are taking on a male-dominated industry and letting their opinions on the world of premium cigars be heard. They are the backbone of the cigar industry, working at retail stores and cigar factories, in positions with some of your favorite brands and as influencers on various social media platforms.

Today we spoke to Nikki or as she’s better known as @cigarpassionista on Instagram. We have done many interviews over the years, but few from many were with cigar folks who knew so much about the industry. It was a breath of fresh air speaking with Nikki and learning more about this lifestyle.

Nikki, do the folks a favor and tell them a little about yourself. 

N: I’m a Southern California girl in my early 30s, now a Southern belle in Savannah, Georgia.  I’m an avid motorcyclist who has been passionately exploring the world of motorcycles for the past 11 years and a published journalist in the motorcycle industry and has been contributing to the cigar community on Spirited Smoke.  I’ve been a freelance model since 2014 and love helping bring artists visions to life.  I’m an admirer of fine cuisine and I love cooking and growing my own vegetables and herbs in my garden especially hot peppers.  I’m a lover of fine wine, craft brews, artisanal spirits, and cocktails especially pairing with premium cigars.

Tell me about your Instagram CigarPassionista? Is there a story behind the name.

N: When I was deciding on a name for my cigar page I wanted a name that invoked emotion and female empowerment.  I was brainstorming and “passionista” popped into my head and I thought to myself, “Is that a word?”  Sure enough, I looked it up and found that the Urban Dictionary defines passionista as “a woman who pursues her passions as a career with a thirst for continuous growth and a desire to serve others.” And I thought, “Perfect!”

Everyone remembers their first cigar. Some people actually try to forget. Tell us about your first experience. What was it about the setting or the smell, maybe even the decor that made the experience either memorable or something you wish to forget.

N: I’ll be honest with you, I smoked cherry flavored cigarillos for years before I had my first real cigar.  A close friend of mine who has been smoking cigars for over 20 years kept offering me a real cigar because we’d smoke together and I’d go through half a pack of my cigarillos while he was still enjoying his cigar.  The thing that kept holding me back was the ring gauge…then one day I finally decided to try it and I smoked a Rocky Patel Mulligan and took it instantly!  After my research, I was enamored with the process that goes into making the cigars.  I immediately found myself questioning why I waited so long to try a cigar and all I had been missing out on!

What is it about the cigar/tobacco culture that keeps you so drawn in? 

N: To me, the beauty of a cigar is that the tobacco is a living breathing thing with its own unique characteristics that are inherently present as the result of the region and growing conditions in which it originated.  From the early stages of growing the tobacco is nurtured and meticulously cared for and dried so then it may be rolled by hand to become the cigar- no two are alike.  Then it can be placed in a humidor to age so that it may reach its full potential.  I love the journey of each cigar in and of itself.  As it burns through the first, second, and then the final third of the blend it takes on different notes and aromas awakening the senses through the process.

Then there is the cigar community and I’ve never seen anything like the camaraderie of the cigar world.  Everyone is so kind, welcoming and supportive.  I’ve yet to meet a cigar smoker I didn’t like!

As you may know, Instagram has created a double-edged sword for the tobacco industry. Too many folks are all about just showing off their high-end Cuban sticks or the more rare Fuente Opus ones. Let’s put the folklore and the myth to bed once and for all. Do you have to smoke super rare or high-end cigars to enjoy the smoke? Have you been surprised by some of the newer less known brands? if so which one?

N: I whole-heartedly believe you do not have to smoke super high-end premium cigars to enjoy the experience.  Actually, I have yet to try those high dollar Cuban cigars or the Fuente Opus X series, although I do have my eye on one for the very near future. Smoking fine cigars are not about how much they cost but what you enjoy.  Don’t fall prey to the energy surrounding the most expensive limited editions.  There is a great value in some of the lesser known and less popular cigars, seek them out and start your own journey or make them part of your existing experience, you might be surprised.  I’m really impressed with Southern Draw, a highly underrated company, Agnorsa leaf is putting out some amazing cigars, Steve Saka at Dumbarton, Matt Booth at Room 101, Nick Melillo at Foundation Cigars and El Titan de Bronze Redemption series are exquisite to name a few, I could go on but we would be here for a while, I’m being exposed to new brands and new blends daily, there is so much out there to explore

You’re a prominent and well-respected woman in the cigar industry. As was said before, the tobacco industry is still very much male-dominated, but women are beginning to make a push. What do you think is responsible for this movement?

N: I’m flattered you said that but I’m really just a woman who enjoys smoking cigars and for some reason people like what I’ve started posting and sharing. It’s a natural evolution like everything else and the tobacco industry is breaking out of the old paradigm and overcoming stereotypes.  Thus, becoming more appealing to the younger generation, working class, and women.  It has become accessible to those who may have been intimidated previously, I know I was in my endeavor at exploring the cigar world.

As a woman in this industry, what do you want to see change?

N: Male or female, I want what everyone else in the industry wants to see happen, the release of the stranglehold or the attempted stranglehold that the FDA has or is trying to put on the industry. It has become burdensome and hinders growth especially in the small batch or boutique portion of the market. You can’t regulate the cigar industry like you would cigarettes.

Let’s talk cigars. What is your go-to everyday cigar? 

N: It really depends on the time of day, I usually have a Connecticut shade with my morning coffee and if I had it my way I’d smoke a Foundation Charter Oak every morning.  I tend to be partial to Arturo Fuente’s Don Carlos and Hemmingway series, the Don Carlos No.3 as a consistent classic smoke.

Top 5 cigars you’ve ever smoked and what is it about them, that made them stand out.

N: I’ll preface this by saying cigar smoking and the appreciation of fine tobacco is a fairly recent passion of mine comparatively and there are so many cigars still aging in my humidor and others I want to experience. In no particular order:

-Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Sin Compromiso from the first puff the nuances of this cigar dazzle the palate especially the “oregano” note that I love.

-Oliva Serie V Melanio Gran Reserva Limitada It’s the perfect marriage of lively flavors with a “pop rocks” dynamic that I described as a “magic carpet ride.”

-Foundation Tabernacle Havana Seed No.142 The special Connecticut U.S.A. Grown Habano seed and extended fermentation process translate into an exquisite experience.

-My Father Flor De Las Antillies buttery smooth smoke with botanicals I call this the “this is why I smoke cigars” cigar.

-Foundation Highclere Castle the subtleties of this cigar stand on their own a friend of mine who recommended it said to enjoy it with water so you can fully experience it.

There are so many brands and products available currently in the market, and many more brands are coming out daily. If I am a novice to cigars, where should I start?

N: In my opinion, I think a great start is to go to your local Tobacconist or B &M and ask for advice.  A good tobacconist will ask the right questions to guide you to a selection that will suit your taste.  As with anything else, just jump in!  take note of your likes and preferences and of course, you can do some research and start watching cigar reviews and see if anything appeals to you and seek it out.

Where do you see your IG account 5 years from now?

N: Wow, I haven’t even thought of how I see my life 5 years from now, let alone my Instagram account!  The Cigar Passionista account is less than 6 months old so 5 years from now is a relative eternity!  I’m not projecting that far in the future, I like to focus on the now.  Obviously, I’d like to see continued growth.  I feel fortunate and humbled as of today to have almost 7,500 followers in a short period of time.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

N: The cigar world is an exciting amalgamation of new tastes, flavors, and intriguing people in which I have fully immersed myself on my continuing journey.  I truly appreciate everyone who has been on this trip with me and as I like to say, “Do it with passion or don’t do it at all.”