Remember when you were a child and one of your old aunts or uncles would produce a silver dollar for you if you hung around them long enough? Well, that's exactly what happens when you hang around Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr., only it isn't silver dollars or buffalo nickels that he presses into your palm. Rather, it's a rare OpusX cigar, and it's usually an exotic shape that you've never heard of. Or if you've heard of it, you've never actually seen one. It is indeed a delightful treat, but not one that made me lose sight of the reason I was with Carlito in the first place.
About eight years ago, a cigar retailer just outside of Indianapolis asked me to try some little perfectos from a brand I had never heard of called Falto. They kind of reminded me of Fuente Short Stories, only they were a little longer and a little thinner. That December, I get a newsletter from a shop announcing that they were carrying this same small brand. The Falto cigar brand is owned by La Garrita Cigar Company out of Puerto Rico, but it's not a Puerto Rican cigar. It's a Dominican cigar and it is has been quietly manufactured at La Aurora for 20 years.
The cigars certainly pile up here at the ProCigar Festival. Everywhere you turn a cigar manufacturer is either handing you a smoke, or a beautiful young lady is giving you a gift pack of cigars with a smile that you'll probably remember on the plane ride home. The first box, for example, is a strikingly minted case courtesy of Vrijdag Printing, the Dutch lithographers that turned 110 this year. It comes with a Xikar cutter (the X875 to be exact) and lighter as well as 11 cigars ranging from a Fuente Fuente OpusX Angel's Share and Davidoff Colorado Claro to a Quesada Selección España and Saga Blend No. 7.
If you're looking for a draw-testing machine at Ernesto Perez-Carrillo's Tabacalera La Alianza factory in the Dominican Republic, you're wasting your time. "If you need a draw tester, than you shouldn't be making cigars," he said succinctly. He didn't just say it to me, but to an entire group of attendees at the ProCigar Festival. The tour of his factory was one of many being offered at this week's Dominican Cigar fest.
A curious delivery came to me in the mail the other day. Cigars. Nothing strange in that respect, but when I opened it, I was struck by the packaging. To be honest, I was more than struck. I was impressed.
Now, anytime you talk about packaging in the cigar world, you often get a knee-jerk uproar of dismissive barking from the righteous and the skeptical: "I don't care about packaging, I just care about the cigar," or "You don't smoke the box, you smoke the tobacco," or "You're just paying for the packaging. It's all—" Let me stop you right there.
I have mixed feelings about this blog. Part of me wonders what the point is in talking about a Scotch that so few people in the entire world are ever going to taste? Another concern is overall tone. People tend to have immediate emotional reactions when they read about something they'll never be able to have. How do you write about your experiences with a $25,000 Scotch without coming off as though you are gloating? When I ran this concern by executive editor David Savona, he told me I had it all wrong. According to Savona, the scarcity of the Scotch in question is the very reason to report on it. He told me that because so few people will ever try it, I have a duty to our readers to report my findings. He's right. Here it is.
The last time I wrote a blog that included oysters, the story ended with me running out of John Besh's August restaurant in New Orleans and beelining it to a toilet in the Windsor Court Hotel across the street. Not that I got sick off of Besh's food. The oysters actually came from another place a few hours prior. It was the summer of the infamous BP oil spill in the gulf. No matter.
Cigar dinners are rare. I remember there was a time in the not-too-distant past where restaurants had no problem renting out their private rooms for exclusive cigar affairs. If a bit of smoke occasionally wafted out into the main dining room when a door opened, people generally shrugged it off. Now, that same bit of smoke causes tirades of public indignation, not to mention fines, lawsuits and, worst of all, the threat of being closed down.
I think there might be some confusion between the terms box-pressing and trunk-pressing. You hear the word box-pressed used to describe any cigar that's taken on a flattened, rectangular shape, but it's not totally accurate. One happens in the box, the other outside the box.
I berate myself every year for not visiting the Davidoff factory during the ProCigar festival. I've been to their field tour in Jicomé plenty of times, but the factory has always escaped me. Not this time. People may not be aware that the facility is broken up into three sections: Cigars Davidoff, where White Label, Davidoff Nicaragua (aka. Black Label) and Puro D'Oro are made. That's on the top floor. Then there's OK Cigars where they produce brands like Avo Uvezian and Zino. It's on the ground floor. And in an adjacent building is another factory altogether. That's where they make Cusano, Hammer + Sickle, Corazon and other ancillary or third-party brands. All, of course under the watchful eye of Davidoff's master blender and primary operations manager Hendrik "Henke" Kelner.
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