I’m always happy when Ernesto Perez-Carrillo comes to New York. I’ve known him since my early days at Cigar Aficionado , and El Credito Cigars in Miami was the first cigar factory I ever visited. On that first meeting, he welcomed me with a baggie of unbanded lonsdales that blew me away with power, spice and flavor.
Being in Little Havana just isn’t complete without a visit to Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, the maker of La Gloria Cubana cigars. I stopped by El Credito Cigars, his cigar factory and shop on Calle Ocho, near the corner of 11th Avenue, earlier this week for some lunch and a chat about cigars.
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.
I spent Monday afternoon in Santiago, Dominican Republic, with one of the true masters of the cigar business, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo. You know him from his years at La Gloria Cubana, first in Miami, later in the Dominican Republic.
This has been a short but busy work week, especially Monday: I spent the early afternoon with the Perez-Carrillo family, and the early evening with the Quesada family. There are some similarities here beyond the obvious—each family is among the elite of cigarmakers.
Wednesday morning in New York City’s LaGuardia Airport had the elements of a mini Big Smoke, minus the cigars. Sitting in a lounge, waiting on a delayed flight to Milwaukee were Jorge Padrón, Jonathan Drew, Litto Gomez, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Robert Levin, Peter Banninger, Charlie Toraño and Eric Newman, along with myself.
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo came by the office the other day. Ernesto, who I call Ernie, has been making cigars almost as long as I've been alive. He made La Gloria Cubanas before opening EPC Cigar Co. with his children, and he has a track record of making superb cigars on a consistent, longterm basis. While I've known the man for 20 years, I always seem to learn something from him, and I look forward to each one of his visits.
I took the early flight yesterday morning with Gordon Mott to New Orleans, taking off at 7 a.m. from JFK and landing in NOLA at 9. We were able to get to the convention center just after 10, right at the time the show floor opened for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers show.
I just landed in Santiago, Dominican Republic, where more premium cigars are made than any other place on earth. I’m here for the annual ProCigar Festival, a gathering of some of the country’s biggest names in cigars, for a week of immersion in cigar country.
Those who say "it's not the heat, it's the humidity," have never sat outside in Las Vegas in 105 degree heat. Trust me, it's the heat. But I'm not here in Las Vegas to enjoy the (all too copious) sunshine and blazing temperatures, I'm here to attend the biggest trade show in the premium cigar industry.
Jon Huber made a visit to the Cigar Aficionado offices the other day. It had been far too long. Jon had been a principal at C.A.O. International Inc., and he left that company to form Crowned Heads LLC. Jon has been busy working with the rest of the Crowned Heads crew on Four Kicks, their first brand, which debuted late last year.
I’m smoking something right now that you’ve never smoked. Nobody has. It’s a combination of Dominican and Nicaraguan ligero with a Brazilian Oscuro wrapper, but it’s all blended around a particularly mouth-coating bunch of Connecticut Broadleaf. I put it together myself. Or, more truthfully, I told Abe Flores of PDR Cigars what I wanted in terms of flavor and he chose the tobaccos during my visit to his factory. This was at last week’s ProCigar Fest. Though not officially part of the ProCigar tour, it was one of my many stops during this annual Caribbean celebration of the Dominican Republic’s cigar industry. More on my blend later. It’s difficult to figure out a way to write about the ProCigar Festival without sounding like some kind of brochure from the Dominican Republic’s tourist commission. I say this because the trip really is as fun and enlightening as all the promotional literature tells you. Especially when the trip happens to fall in the dead of winter. I go from freezing temperatures straight to a summer-like climate in a matter of three hours. As soon as you step out of the airport terminal you’re handed a President beer and a cigar. Literally. I’m not exaggerating. I don’t think people are aware of just how generous the industry is during the time of the festival and just how many cigars each company is willing to hand out. You land in Santiago, get your bag, clear customs, and there is a ProCigar stand outside full of beer and smokes for you to enjoy while you’re waiting for your cab. And yes, you are allowed to smoke and drink right there at the airport. The sky is blue, palm trees rustle in the warm breeze and you don’t need a jacket anymore. This pretty much sets the tone for the entire festival—my fourth one so far, and this little touch still gives me a thrill. Tuesday afternoon. I register at the hotel and am handed a military grade canvas goodie bag loaded with merchandise: an ashtray, coffee mug, coffee, magazines, polo shirt, hat, Xikar cutter, Xikar torch lighter and, of course, a sampler box of cigars. Great cigars. And I’d be lying if I told you that my eyes didn’t go right to the Fuente Fuente OpusX The Angel’s Share. Now before I’m accused of favoritism or political incorrectness, I just want to be clear about something. I’m not saying that the Opus is any better or worse than any other cigar in that box. But you have to understand that Fuente only rejoined the ProCigar consortium last year, so I’m not exactly used to seeing OpusX, let alone any Fuente products at all, in the swag bag. Considering that Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. couldn’t be present for the festival, I took this as a gesture of good will from the Fuente family. They also included a Churchill sized Don Arturo Aniversario Destino al Siglo. I’ve never even seen one of these, period.
We're in the middle of our IPCPR wrap-up coverage. By "we" I mean the Cigar Insider, and by wrap-up coverage, I mean an A to Z recap of everything we saw at the trade show in as much detail as possible. Or as much detail as we deem to be relevant. We released our first Insider installment a week ago and made it to the letter "D." In recalling the show, I can't help but remember some of the odd or different or annoying things that happened. While it's great to see so much of the industry all together in one place, some things just keep popping back into my head.
I walked into the lobby at the Gran Almirante last night and ran smack into Avo Uvezian, creator of the Avo brand. He was holding court, surrounded by six cigar fans that were tapping his brain about making cigars.
This weekend I’m flying to Houston to hang out with most of the U.S. cigar industry at the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show. It’s the time every year when cigarmakers show off their new creations, and our team of Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider editors will be there to smoke away and try to figure out what’s worth your attention.
I landed yesterday in Las Vegas for our Big Smoke, and I wasted no time getting started Vegas style. After a long flight, I was hungry and ready for a cigar, so I dumped my bags at the Venetian Hotel and went straight to the Forums Shops at Caesars’ Palace.
I had just had one of the best weekends on the year. The Las Vegas Big Smoke. I know. I know. How can anyone take a comment like that seriously when it comes from the Executive Editor of Cigar Aficionado ? After all, it is our event, and I work for the company that puts it on.
Last weekend’s Big Smoke was awesome. Just think about it: More than 6,000 people, mostly dudes, invading Vegas and smoking and partying for one unforgettable weekend. We should do it once a month! What impresses me the most is the camaraderie of everyone who enjoys the leaf.
The office is closing early, so I’m packing up some cigars and getting ready to head home. Tomorrow is one of my favorite holidays, Independence Day, and I plan on celebrating in smoky style. It’s a day for family and for cookouts.
I remember when Ernesto Perez-Carrillo first told me about his La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Miami. I’m pretty sure it was in New York at Cigar Aficionado’s Night to Remember dinner two years ago. I was sitting at the General Cigar table, we got to chatting, and he handed me a prototype and told me it was a new project he was working on.
Back in my college days I was the lead singer in a rock band. My hair was a lot longer, I was a lot thinner, and I certainly was a lot braver because I howled my brains out in front of packed houses all the time.
Chicago: It’s one of my favorite places in the entire world. Now that we no longer can do a Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke, I don’t travel here very often, so I was happy to get back to the Windy City.
I’m back in my chair Monday morning after a great Big Smoke Weekend in Las Vegas. Even though we didn’t top last year’s numbers, there was a huge turnout. Like always, there was a sea of happy faces, and everyone was drinking and smoking and generally having a great time.
You don’t normally see a retail store’s entire network of loyal consumers inside the shop all at once. Think about your local grocery store if everybody showed up at the same time; there wouldn’t be any parking spaces, and the lines at check-out would be snaking back down the aisles.
There was sad news to report as the trade show began this morning. I found out that Jean Clement, the cigarmaker who was better known by the name of his cigars, Juan Clemente, died here at the trade show. But, as with all things in this world, life must go on, and so did the trade show.
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