The Penn State tale of the El Politico Stogie aka Dan Hartman.
Dan, I know you used to be in politics and now you’re living the cool life of cigars, food, wine and spirits on your own time. How did that transition happen?
DH: Gene, thank you for the opportunity to share my story and thoughts on such an amazing topic. My journey into all of this actually started prior to my career in politics and government. I had my first cigar at age 12 with my grandfather. He was a World War II veteran and smoked everyday, my grandmother even rolled cigars for a part of her life. One day, he thought I was old enough to try an Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story. Everything else kind of came along the way, but it wasn’t until I spent 12 years of my life traveling the country working in politics that things really developed. In politics, its an unwritten rule amongst staff that you are expected to work roughly seven days a week, from sun up until the late night, this leads to a lot of crazy stuff on the road. Stories of insane hijinks and happenings, smokes, food, empty bottles, many of those nights could easily come from a never before read Hunter S. Thompson book.
While I have worked for a number of really interesting individuals, there are some whose generosity exceeded their notoriety. I have been blessed to have had the chance to eat at some of the best restaurants, sip some of the best drams of whisky and glasses of wine, and light the finest cigars. Because one of my roles was to gather information, remember and fill in my bosses on the individuals they were about to see, I just began to remember and think about what they were pouring us, feeding us and letting us smoke. It was an awesome life experience and something I recommend every recent college graduate, regardless of party, to try for a year, the friends, values and experience you gain is priceless.
Once I decided that I wanted to leave the game, I needed to find something to fill my restless, non-work hours up, hence cigars, food, wine and spirits.
Over the years I would imagine you have smoked your share of cigars. Is there a certain stick that keeps rearing its ugly head, almost like a bad habit that you can’t kick?
DH: Because it holds a special place in my heart, I make sure I smoke the Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story a couple times a year, no instagram post, just sit in private and remember my grandfather a little bit. It is definitely that bad habit stick, mostly because the flavor profile doesn’t necessarily match what I mostly smoke, but its just my way to remember my grandfather, the smoke brings back a feeling that everything is gonna be alright.
Why did you decide to launch a cigar forward instagram account?
DH: Well, I started it as a way to remember the cigars I smoked and when. It has grown from there, but it started as a way to help catalog moments enjoyed.
In what single way has social media most changed your life?
DH: Getting the opportunity to connect with people interested in similar things which led meeting some of the greatest people on earth. The best thing about a lot of these hobbies revolve around a brotherhood and sisterhood. I have a number of individuals, across the world, whom I talk to regularly and they have become near family, you all know who you are and I’m sparing you a sappy shout out.
Without social media, the sphere you operate in is confined to your own playground, whether its your home, work or network of friends.
When it comes to the actual cigars, is there a preference you lean towards. Cubans or Non-Cubans and why?
DH: While I do have my favorites, different tobacco reacts different ways. I have my favorite Cubans based off profile and situation, and the same can be said for Dominicans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans.
What two pieces of advise would you give someone who is looking to start a cigar influenced social media account?
DH: Interact with people and don’t feel like you have to post everything. A brilliant person once told me, “sometime’s its best to put the phone down and let your memory take the picture for you”, this is good advice for parents and people on Instagram.
As you know there is now a rapid rise of female cigar smokers, and the lack of brand awareness targeting them. If you had to give advise to the tobacco brand execs as well as brand ambassadors how to capitalize in this new emerging market, what would you tell them?
DH: It is great to see women coming out and becoming active in the hobby and industry, its an industry that doesn’t discriminate walking in the door. For brands, if they want to capitalize on this emerging market, they have to rethink their ad ideas that go back a century. Tobacco has always been a male-dominated business and hobby, women were seen as a very small segment, look no further than current ads, where women are seen as eye candy for the men that they are selling their product to.
With the growing female cigar smoker demographic, companies are going to have to do a better job changing their marketing efforts to targeting women as a market segment rather than what is currently happening. In no way is this the feminization of cigars or saying should companies re-brand and package to attract the demographic. They have to do a better job telling the story of “why our product”, that cuts across gender, age and other demographics. There aren’t unlimited advertising funds with these companies, so they have to spend wisely and start targeting that way. Luckily, there are a number of family run companies in the cigar world that have women taking an active role in business operations, they are probably best conditioned to speak to the burgeoning female consumer via traditional earned and paid media sources and ever growing social media platforms.
The whisky community is known for the #whiskyfabric where we all take care and look out for each other. Is there something similar in the cigar community?
DH: Yes. It is awesome, I am lucky to have a number of fantastic cigar community brothers and sisters that I have exchanged cigars with and talk to frequently. Most importantly, in my wife’s recent successful battle with breast cancer, many of my BOTL and SOTL friends stepped up in a huge way with their prayers, kind words and emotional support. In a world where people tend to be very transactional, the cigar community tends to have a very high rate of good-hearted people.
Top 5 Cigars owned/smoked and why?
DH: I’ve had my fair share of one and done unicorns, but for this exercise lets focus on some regularly produced sticks that I consider my Top 5 that the average consumer can find, even if they have to look a little.
Davidoff Colorado Claro Double R – the wrapper is always an exquisite reddish brown, its always well rolled and very complex to the senses. It is a great cigar for a veteran smoker with two hours to spend.
- Juan Lopez No. 2 – my favorite robusto and one of the most underrated, overlooked cigars coming out of Cuba. It gives you a really nice progressive flavor ride and is a fantastic full-bodied buy.
- Por Larranaga Petit Corona – buy these, sit on these Cuban petit coronas for a couple years and hand this cigar to a person dabbling in cigars, wanting to get involved or to just light up for a blissful 30-60 minutes. It is a great cigar to have with coffee or conversation. I remember my first PLPC more than most of life’s firsts.
- Padron Family Reserve No. 44 – this cigar is one that I have turned to for many years. Padron does a good job bringing flavor, construction and burn to a point on this maduro. If you like the sight and feel of an oily wrapper, this is a great cigar. A nice mix of spice, cocoa, dark chocolate and wood throughout.
- Partagas Lusitania – this is a Cuban cigar that doesn’t need much of an introduction, give yourself two hours time, smoke them in victory, smoke them in defeat. This cigar is a roller coaster of flavor and brings you a crazy combo of flavors that you rarely see together, like fruit, wood, pepper, baking spices, cream, nuts, coffee, cocoa, chocolate and so on.
How can big tobacco brands utilize social media to grow their brand awareness?
DH: Interact and be real. Don’t be afraid to like photos that might not be of your brand. Don’t be afraid to drop a message to someone. Hustle. Because, if your big brands aren’t doing it, a lot of the smaller brands are and that is how they grow a base, gain accounts and valuable shelf space.
From personal experience over the years, what is currently missing for you in the tobacco industry. What would you like to see more of and maybe less of?
DH: I think we are truly lucky to be living in the current cigar world. There are more quality product being released today than ever before. We are also the beneficiaries of the perfection of cigar blending and quality assurance. It wasn’t all that long ago that consumers didn’t have many choices; they didn’t have many places to go if something wasn’t hitting their palate the right way. So, to all the master blenders, thank you for being able to create a profile that a roller can consistently roll into a smokable piece of art. I would absolutely love to see more folks entering the fray with the fire, love and passion of a Juan Cancel from Protocol Cigars. Those non-traditional “cigar geeks” who can tell a great story, are what can bring the hobby to a better, even more mainstream place.
As for something I’d like to see less of, I’d definitely like to see less of society’s self-constructed barriers as they relate to cigar smoking, whether its a race, religion or equality issue, access to smoke (either high prices or lack of venues) or a lack of debate (or ability to even debate above cable news talking points and platitudes). The more people get to know about those that are different to the eyes and ears, the more we can draw on what brings us all together. A cigar lounge has a unique ability to bring people together, have discussions and a healthy civil discourse. There aren’t many places that can do that anymore.
Let’s talk cigar etiquette. Cutting, lighting, smoking, the whole nine yards. Walk us through the process from the part of picking out the cigar, cutting it, lighting it and getting the perfect draw. Also if you find yourself in a situation where there draw feels very tight and stuffy, are there any tips of the trade to quickly remedy the situation?
DH: I’m sitting in my favorite chair, analyzing the robusto of the day, I look at its seams, smell its foot and body, get a nice feel for it, take a nice look at the cap, then clip. Typically, I’ll use a straight cut, sometimes a V cut, if I need to, a punch. I will check the draw, if it goes well, I will light with either a regular single flame lighter, cedar strip or long match. If the draw is giving me a problem, I will gentle roll the cigar in a circular fashion with a little pressure, this will usually open it up. If the roll is just terrible, toss it and light up another. Find the cut and light that works best for your situation. If you are smoking outdoors, always have a torch lighter.
Is there anything we should be on the lookout for in the next few years?
DH: Always be on the lookout for something to try. Next year’s best new cigar might be from someone that you’ve never heard of. Don’t be stuck on a brand. This is true to the American masses when Cuban cigars will “officially” hit the US market and true to the “aficionado” whose favorite is here one day and gone the next.
Who are your role models in this particular industry?
DH: My industry role models are those who take a passion, hustle and have a good time doing it. Whether it is on Instagram, at a event, at a factory or working on the financials, cigar fans owe a debt of gratitude to the big ones like Padron and Fuente, to those innovating in the Latin America fields and factories like the Kelners, Claudio Sgroi, Jochy Blanco and AJ Fernandez, to those crushing it with their brands like Caldwell, Protocol, Crowned Heads, Foundation, the development and sales teams and so many more. We wouldn’t have what we have today if it wasn’t for your hard work and love for the art form. Anyone who is putting their heart and soul into a day, and sometimes nights work is my industry role model.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
DH: Thank you for giving me this opportunity, thank you for reading my thoughts on things, feel free to shoot me a message or questions at any point and always take the time to enjoy the things that bring you and your family happiness and pleasure.