From the type of tobaccos in the blend to the color of the band, behind every cigar there is a story. After all, cigars just don't appear spontaneously on the shelves of cigar shops, but are rather the end product of scores of people working in tandem to bring new experiences to those who enjoy a fine premium cigar.
At the entrance of The Mirage Hotel & Casino conference room in Las Vegas last Saturday, more than 500 premium cigar lovers were queued up, anxiously awaiting for the doors to open. These men and women were ready to not only learn about cigars, but to listen to the stories of some of the most influential luminaries of the cigar industry as part of Cigar Aficionado's Big Smoke Las Vegas Saturday Seminars cigar education program.
The doors swung open about 10 minutes to 9 a.m. and the people began to enter, each receiving a Boveda humidity-controlled bag. Inside the bags? The top three cigars that can legally be purchased in the United States, as they appeared on Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 list of 2015. Included was the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Belicoso, the No. 4 cigar of 2015; the CAO Flathead V660 Carb, which was awarded No. 3; and the reigning Cigar of the Year, the My Father Le Bijou 1922 Torpedo Box Pressed.
David Savona, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, acted as moderator for the Saturday Seminars. In honor of Veteran's Day, which was the day before, Savona started off by telling the story of Richard Overton, the oldest surviving veteran of World War II. Even at 110 years old, Overton enjoys several cigars a day along with a few nips of whiskey.
It was then time to move on to the first seminar of the day: Top Three Legal Cigars of 2015. However, this isn't a traditional seminar that occurs in one half-hour block, but instead is broken up into three parts, interspersed throughout the morning seminars.
Attendees were invited to light up each of the fine cigars in their bags as the very cigarmaker who made the smoke tells the story of the cigar from the podium. This year, perseverance, dedication and teamwork were the shared themes for each of the Top Three Legal Cigars of 2015.
First up to present and speak was Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr., president of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia, the company behind the Don Carlos Belicoso. Fuente recalled his legendary father, Carlos, who died earlier this year, and how the Don Carlos brand is named in his honor.
"This cigar," said Fuente about the Don Carlos Belicoso, "is my connection to my father." Fuente went on to talk about how the cigar, which debuted more than 30 years ago and features Cameroon wrapper, was blended for his late father's personal taste.
"When you light up a Fuente, you're not just lighting up a cigar. You're opening a book."
After Fuente left the stage to a standing ovation, Savona took to the podium to say a few kind words about the late Carlos Fuente Sr.
About 35 minutes later, it was time for the eager audience to light up and smoke the No. 3 Cigar of 2015, the CAO Flathead V660 Carb. To tell its story, CAO brand ambassador Rick Rodriguez rose to the stage, accompanied by Jhonys Diaz, the vice president of operations at General Cigar Dominicana.
Rodriguez recalled how the Flathead blend was conceived a year before it went to market in 2013, but was tabled because the company wanted to focus on a different premium product. Rodriguez, who admitted to being a touch disappointed, remembered what his mentor Ernest Gocaj, General Cigar's director of tobacco procurement, told him once.
"Ernest taught me everything about tobacco," said Roderiguez. "He always preached to blend the cigar only when the tobacco is ready. Don't shortchange it."
Then, about six weeks before the 2013 International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers trade show, Rodriguez said he got a call to move forward with the Flathead concept, which is based on the engine blocks found in American muscle cars.
"So we decide to steal this idea from Ford and create a line based on engine blocks. The whole thing—from sizes, tweaking of final blend and packaging—came together in just six weeks," said Rodriguez.
Diaz then took to the podium to speak more about the blend, which he said underwent several last-minute iterations to get it "just right." Diaz said the company tried two other varietals before deciding on using Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper.
"No shortcuts. It takes time and costs more, but the end product shows," said Diaz.
Shortly before 11:30, it was time for the audience to light up the 2015 Cigar of the Year, the Le Bijou 1922 Torpedo Box Pressed, which scored an impressive 97 points, classic on the Cigar Aficionado scale.
Taking the stage to speak about the Le Bijou was father-and-son team José "Pepin" Garcia and Jaime Garcia. José Ortega, vice president of sales for My Father, took the podium to translate and speak, as well.
Ortega recalled how My Father started in 2003 in Little Havana, Miami, with only five rollers. At that time, it was only a small family operation, as Pepin, his wife, daughter Janny and son Jaime all rolled cigars, mostly Don Pepin Garcia and Tatuaje brand smokes.
"With these," said Ortega, "the wheels started rolling and the factory became too small in Miami." As a result, the growing operation moved to a larger facility in Nicaragua in 2006. Today, My Father now employs anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 employees and is 100 percent vertical from seed to shelf, only purchasing wrapper from Mexico and Ecuador."
Jaime Garcia then took to the podium and spoke in Spanish as Ortega translated.
"I owe the man I am today to my father," said Jaime Garcia.
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