Saturday night, Mashantucket, Connecticut, about 8 pm. I’m standing next to the Quesada Cigars booth at the Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, puffing on a Coronado by La Flor Double Corona and talking to Hostos Fernandez Quesada. A guy walks up to me and says hello. We chat for a bit, and I ask him where he’s from.
“Canada,” he says. “Cornwall, Ontario. All four of us.”
His name is Paul Desnoyers Jr., and he and three friends drove 400 miles, or more than seven hours without traffic, to make it to Cigar Aficionado's Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. That’s dedication to the craft. Paul wrote me last night on Twitter and attached a copy of the photo (see below) we took together with buddies Matthew Clarke, Scott Lafave and Bernie Bougie. “The trip from Canada was worth every penny!” Paul wrote. “What a great night!”
I felt the same way. It was a great night, with a beautiful room filled with cigar lovers—most of them from places a little closer than Canada. There were plenty of people from around Boston and Providence, lots of aficionados from Connecticut and plenty from New York and New Jersey who made their way to our first Big Smoke of the year.
I smoked more than my share of great cigars, starting off with a corona-sized Room 101 (the 213) made by Camacho before lighting up the Coronado, which lasted quite awhile. My final cigar of the night was a Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial by My Father Cigars.
The cigar stars were impressive: Carlos Fuente Jr. of Arturo Fuente cigars, Rocky and Nish Patel, Orlando Padrón, Tim Ozgener and Jon Huber from C.A.O., the Newman brothers (Eric and Bobby) from J.C. Newman, Te-Amo’s Alejandro Turrent, Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley, Sam Leccia of NUb, Joe Chiusano of Cusano, Mike Giannini of La Gloria Cubana, Pete Johnson of Tatuaje; Hostos Fernandez-Quesada of Matasa; Eric Hanson of Hammer + Sickle, Matt Booth and Dylan Austin from Camacho; Andrew Brennan of La Flor Dominicana cigars; Frank Santos for Reyes Family Cigars; Carlos Llaca of Toraño Cigars and Roberto Pelayo of Dunhill; Dave Wagner of Oliva; Andrew Brennan of La Flor Dominicana cigars; Michael Walter and Andy Green of Ashton; Les Mann of Colibri and Sean Knutsen of Humidipak. I know I’m forgetting somebody.
The Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods is only a week away. On Saturday, May 22, I’m going to be smoking cigars with my colleagues from Cigar Aficionado, a host of magazine readers and some of the best-known cigarmakers on the planet. Looking to meet executive editor Gordon Mott, maybe ask him a question about how we rate cigars? Want to share a smoke with associate editor Greg Mottola, or tap my brain about tobacco in Nicaragua? Here’s your chance.
The crowd is going to receive an A list of cigars. Alec Bradley Family Blend, Arturo Fuente, Ashton, C.A.O., Camacho, Carlos Toraño, Casa Magna (a former Cigar Aficionado Cigar of the Year), Cuba Aliados, Cusano, Diamond Crown, Flavours by C.A.O., Hammer + Sickle, La Aroma de Cuba, La Flor Dominicana, La Gloria Cubana Serie R, Macanudo 1968, NUb Habano, Oliva Serie G, Padrón, Panter, Rocky Patel, Tabacos Baez Serie H, Tatuaje, Te-Amo World Selection, Uppercut by Punch and Villiger 1888. Plus there will be free-flowing drinks from some of the top names in spirits, from Dewars, Glenmorangie, Remy, Macallan, Sheep Dip Scotch, Wild Geese Irish, Hammer & Sickle Vodka, Ron Matusalem, Classic Malt Collection, Oban, Singleton, Zacapa, Appleton Estate Rum, Don Q, Woodford Reserve, Tullamore Dew and icy Pilsner Urquell beer.
This is our second time at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. It’s a cool, boutique hotel and casino on the grounds of the much larger Foxwoods casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Last year I saw readers who hadn’t been to a Big Smoke in some time, people from Boston, Providence, Rhode Island, as well as from the New York City area. Smoking laws have kept us out of Boston for years—the Bostonians were happy to see us back in their area, and we were happy to have them there.
If you’re in the area and you’re ready to have a smoke, join us. For more info or to pick up tickets, click here.
I went to the launch of Davidoff’s newest cigar, the Davidoff Puro d’Oro, this week in New York City. It’s the first new Davidoff cigar brand (not counting limited editions) in a decade, and it’s a big deal because it has a wrapper grown in a new area of the Dominican Republic.
The launch, a quiet affair with a small crowd at Davidoff’s Madison Avenue store, featured a posh Davidoff humidor full of the new cigars, and an explanation of the line by Davidoff maker Hendrik “Henke” Kelner.
The cigars are much darker and stronger than traditional Davidoffs. They also don’t have Davidoff bands. Puro d’Oros are adorned only with slim, golden footbands, each bearing the name of the frontmark, but not the word Davidoff, giving the cigars a bit of a European look.
I spent most of the night chatting with Henke, a veritable scientist who can talk about tobacco for hours. Back in the early days of Cigar Aficionado, Henke thought you couldn’t grow high-quality wrappers in the Dominican Republic (and to be fair, he certainly wasn't alone in his opinion.) Now, several companies, most notably Fuente, as well as La Flor Dominicana and La Aurora, have proven how great a Dominican wrapper can be, and Henke's opinion has clearly changed.
Growing this wrapper and working with this tobacco certainly wasn’t easy. The project began when Kelner purchased a farm in an area where tobacco normally isn’t grown in the Dominican Republic, Yamasá, located a few hours from Santiago. There the soil is reddish and the weather, he said, is “perfect.” Idyllic weather aside, the soil in Yamasá proved tricky. “The sand was small,” Henke told me, squinting as he pinched his fingers together in front of my face. That caused the nutrients he added to the soil to leach out quickly. “It was too different,” he said. “Lots of iron, and aluminum.” Yamasá proved tough to master, one reason why the Puro d’Oro is one year delayed coming to market.
Tim Ozgener came by the Cigar Aficionado offices the other day with a few new C.A.O. La Traviata cigars in tow. Tim is the president of C.A.O. International Inc., headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and La Traviata is his company’s latest brand.
C.A.O. released La Traviata late last year, with a trio of sizes. The brand came on the cigar scene with a bang when the robusto size (called the Divino) scored 93 points in a blind taste test in a November Cigar Insider. That was one of the higher scores of 2009, but the cigar came out too late to be considered for last year’s Top 25 ranking. (It will be a candidate for the 2010 list.) The Divino is a great smoke, meaty and spicy, with notes of nuts and dark chocolate. And the suggested retail price is only $4.95. What’s not to like?
Tim and the C.A.O. team have added two sizes to brand. The first, which just came to market, is a corona gorda (or Cuban corona) called the Animado, which measures 5 5/8 inches long by 46 ring gauge, and has a suggested retail price of $4.95. The second is a petit belicoso called the Favorito, measuring 5 1/2 by 52, which will be out in May with a $5.65 pricetag. Here’s Tim on video explaining the new sizes and the philosophy behind the La Traviata brand.