Cigar of the Month Clubs

When I think about “clubs” it always takes me back to the early 90s of getting suckered in by claims of the mail-order icon, Columbia House. If you don’t remember them, or have no clue what I’m talking about, Columbia House was a self-described mail-order music club that offered the latest and hottest music CDs for “pennies”. I can remember the Columbia House ads in the back of Parade magazine proclaiming ‘…get 8 CDs for a penny!’ or ‘…buy one CD at full price and get 7 free’ or something like that. It was a shell game. The deceptive advertising and wickedly brilliant club scheme worked to perfection for many years. Of course, broke boneheads like me thought they could out smart their system. Ok, you got your CDs, but now you had to pay shipping and ‘fees’ which amounted to around ten to twenty bucks. In addition, every month they would send you a CD, a ‘Selection of the Month’, if you will. Well, if you didn’t want it, you had to detach a portion of your bill, check a box indicating you weren’t interested and send it in the mail and hope they got it within their allotted 10 day deadline. If you didn’t, you were on the hook for a $20 CD you didn’t want and exorbitant shipping charges. God forbid you get stuck with a double CD – you’d be staring down the barrel of a >$50 bill! Sure, you could return it, but what if they didn’t get it (yes, it happened a lot)? Now you’re still on the hook for the charges, no longer have the damn CD and now you get hit with a late charge. But wait there’s more! By signing up, you also agreed to buy a certain number of CDs during a 12 month span, at nefarious prices. At the end of the day, the average schmuck probably ended up shelling out $200+ for around 10-12 CDs before finally throwing up their hands in frustration and letting their accounts go to collections – like me.

 

COlhouse

2-page ad for Columbia House

 

Well, in 2015, the venerable con artists finally tossed in the towel and filed for bankruptcy. Good riddance. As the saying goes, to be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid. Ever since then, I’ve been reluctant to join any “clubs”. Now wiser, deliberate and conscientious I still love a great deal and who doesn’t and fortunately, the business practices that put Columbia House out to pasture are moderately policed, but it doesn’t mean that some of the more “smash and grab” outfits don’t exist. They’re out there, so caveat emptor.

There are lots of clubs out there today and many of them offer savings on a wide range of goods and services. Some of the most recognizable are Costco and Sam’s Club. Pay a nominal annual fee and get instant savings on TVs and toilet paper. Buy tires, book travel, sign-up for car insurance or even get yourself that one-of-kind KISS-branded coffin you always wanted. Its all available, but only to members of the club. Of course, these are big box stores so what about those who focus on only a few products or services. There’s plenty of them out there and add online shopping convenience and you’ve got a veritable cornucopia of club options including food, beverages, pool supplies, furniture, auto repair and sexy underwear. Well, fortunately there are some out there that offer, you guessed it – cigars!

Many of the online cigar and tobacco retailers offer a cigar of the month club as do some of your local humidors. There are also specialty retailers, mostly online, who also offer cigar clubs, but the primary difference is they also offer other product clubs like wine, beer, fruit and pizza. Since my days with Columbia House, I’ve always eschewed clubs and memberships, except for maybe the occasional and equally wonky fitness memberships. For a while.  Then I was done with all of them. If there was something interesting, I researched it to the nth degree and in most cases I would end up turning up my nose and move on. I watched friends dive into these wine and beer clubs and the selections, at least for beer, while interesting often competed with the flavor of mule piss. Don’t get me wrong, I love to try new things, but after a month or two of 10-12 stinkers, I’ve seen enough. Maybe its just not for me. Maybe my palate is too picky. Maybe I’m simply more comfortable with what I know, so in that case, let me at least select the category. Yep, I need a little control in what is being sent to me. I mean, its not called the shitty surprise of the month club, right? No, I’m not down with that Double Donkey Crap Ale or that quad malt chocolate stout that looks, feels and tastes like railcar grease. I already knew that which is why I don’t buy the shit. Now, some club is sending it to me anyway. Hey, I know a lot of folks who swear by these clubs and love them. Good for you. Opa!

So, as a cigar maven it was the natural progression of things that I would discover cigar clubs. The one thing that bothered me the most, again, was simply that I didn’t get to make the selections. Not the brand, blend, the vitola, the size…nada. I didn’t mind the cost, and many of the online retailers had incredible selections. So, while the wording varies, it would appear that all these clubs would send a surprise booty of “premium handmades”. Love it. Look around a bit and you’ll see brands no one has ever heard of. Some online retailers have deals with major tobacco companies and cigar makers to brand their own cigars – yep, those are fair game. I’m not suggesting this is a bad idea, but I’m into cigars for a lot of different reasons, and getting my fix of the monthly mystery smoke is not one of them. I don’t have a universal palate, so I don’t want something to show up, that I’ve paid money for that’s going to be a huge disappointment. Aw, sorry you didn’t like that one, too strong for ya? Its not like you can get your money back, although many offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Hmmm, how does that work I wonder?

Okay, so I’m loving cigar life and its early January. I check the mail and there’s a package addressed to me. Great, I love getting packages. Only problem is, I didn’t order anything. Then it hit me. Since it was just after Christmas, I guessed it was simply a late gift from my wife that hadn’t arrived in time. We do a lot of last minute shopping online and sometimes our gifts just don’t make it. It happens. So, I open the package and there’s a clear, plastic zip top baggy with something in it. I pull out the bag and inside are 5 cigars. My first reaction is awe-some, ci-GARS! Then I pull the rest of the stuff out – a black plastic guillotine-style cutter, what appears to be some kind of newsletter, and some odds and ends marketing crap. After ogling the cigars for a few minutes, I have a look at the newsletter. On the front page it says “Clubs of America” and “Publication of the Worldwide Cigar Club”. Oh, how…uh…er…great!

I shared my newly arrived booty with my wife and her eyes sparkled and she said, “oh great, they came. I hope you like them. It was a last minute gift and I thought you’d think it was cool. It’s a club you know and they’ll send you 5 cigars every month.” I kissed and thanked her, thinking oh shit, here we go. She later told me she only signed up for 3 months and that if I liked it, I could continue. Thoughtful and smart. Two of the reasons I married her. I took my quintet of cigars to my humidors. I took the cigars out of the bag and reviewed each one like a jeweler looking at diamonds through a loupe. This was quite the menagerie of cigars – box pressed, robusto, toro, Churchill, maduro, Connecticut, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Dominican…quite the selection. Some I’d heard of, some I hadn’t. They smelled wonderful. Okay, pop ‘em in the humi and let ‘em sit for a few weeks.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I pulled one by one out of the humi for a testdrive. Before I could finish one or two, another 5 would arrive. Same drill. Plop ’em in the humi and let ‘em simmer. Finish one or two of the new lot and another 5 arrived. So, by the end of March I had received 15 cigars from my club. Most, if not all, I’d never smoked before. Many brands I knew and others I didn’t – and that’s ok. I’d do a little research and learn a little bit about each one. I’d read some reviews on each, get to know them a bit better which kind of enriched the whole experience. All told, a really nice mix of wrappers, blends, brands, sizes and vitolas. Not bad. Not bad at all.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 11.24.50 PM

Great Clubs site  – note recent selections on left

 

So, the good news is that I discovered some really great sticks. One selection became a favorite and I’ve already purchased a box of them. There are several others that made an equal impression on me and I plan to keep some of each in my humis. Most of the cigars were from major brands, boutiques and Cuban-seeded classics. I also liked the fact that I didn’t just get a bag full of robustos or coronas. I got gordos, toros, torpedos and churchills. The newsletter gave brief write-ups on each which was a nice starting point in getting to know them. It also featured general cigar info, how-tos, and shameless promotion of the club’s other products. It also featured membership information and even a space for me to rate the cigars I received. As of the writing of this post, I’ve smoked 14 of the 15 sticks I received. I’m reviewing some of them here so keep your eye out.

The not so good can be considered minor depending on your perspective, but in this cigar guy’s mind, these are kind of nitpicky things. Multiple sticks were very dry when received, a couple with a damaged foot or peeling wrappers. I revived most of them without issue. Some smokes were just bad – appearance, smell and taste. Just bad. Some burned very unevenly or began to unravel as I smoked them. But hey, the way I look at it is that for every bad one, I got 2 really freakin’ good ones. Just so you know, I didn’t try to challenge the 100% satisfaction guarantee the club offers.

Considering my wife spent somewhere around $90 for 15 sticks, which works out to approximately $6 per stogie, theres no question there’s some value here. Some of these cigars were easily $8-10 at most online retails shops. Granted, there were certainly a handful I wouldn’t have given a dime for. Nonetheless it was still a learning experience as to what I didn’t like and therefore what NOT to buy. Like the purpose of this blog, trying new things is the essence of discovery. This wasn’t just learning about new smokes that I ended up enjoying. Doing some research on brands I received opened new doors to fascinating aspects of this industry. This has been a very positive experience and I would recommend this particular club to anyone who wants to reach into the darkness looking for the light switch. There are very few places where you can get a nice sampling of cigars at $6 a pop, and this is one of them. There are other clubs that are a bit cheaper (<$5 per cigar).

 

IMG_1467

Cigar of the Month Club Selection – Hoyo De Monterey’s Excalibur

So, you’re probably asking yourself, okay, if you liked it so much and you learned so much, blah, blah, blah…why didn’t you continue with it? Fair question, and it goes back to my original hedge on clubs in general. Control. The club cigars encouraged me to learn more, and not just the what but who, how, where and why. I’ll admit that it did give me a bit of a push to step outside my comfort zone, but I prefer to sample on my own terms. In other words, there’s a whole planet of cigars I have yet to try and trust me, my “to smoke” list is LONG! The list simply represents my level of priority to try any particular stick. That doesn’t mean I’m against trying something out of the blue, not at all. In fact, one of my best friends, Raff, often slides me a new stick every once in a while, and its usually something unheralded or not in the mainstream (I’m reviewing some of them here as well). This manner of diving into the unknown is more suitable to my style. If I want a sampler, I can go to any number of brick and mortar shops around me or when I travel or simply get a sampler pack online. For example, I’ve only tried a couple of Ghurkas and I’d been meaning to try more. So, when I got an email from an online vender for a 15-stick sampler of Ghurkas at a ridiculous price, I pounced. This simply fits my preference and purpose better than randomly trying new cigars. So, while its not a long-term option for me, personally, I would certainly recommend it to others as long as it fits your plan. And until some company offers 8 top-notch cigars for a penny, this will have to do – 99.


Below, check out some of the online Cigar of the month clubs, what you get and what they charge. All offer free shipping.

 

Site

Number of Cigars Monthly 3 Months 12 Months

$ per Cigar

(annual)

Great Clubs

5 $30.95 $92.85 $346.40 $5.77

Cigar of the Month Club

Original – 5
Rare – 5

$29.95
$44.95
$89.85
$134.85
$359.40
$539.40
$5.99
$8.99

Cigars International

Original – 4
Dbl Decker – 8

$19.95*
$29.95*
$59.85
$89.85
$239.40
$359.40

$4.99
$5.99

JR Cigars

Standard – 5
Members – 6

$24.95
$24.95¥
$148.95
$148.95¥
$297.95
$297.95¥

$4.97
$4.14

Thompson Cigar

5
10
$29.95
$53.95
$88.50
$161.85
$354.00
$647.40

$5.90
$5.40

* One-time $5 set-up charge
¥ Member dues are $30 per year
§ 6 month offer (no 3 month available)

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