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Las Vegas Big Smoke: Part Two

Anniversary Cigar Tasting

The Saturday morning cigar tasting is one of the highlights each year at the Las Vegas Big Smoke. Smokers from all over the world are given a selection of cigars to enjoy and discuss alongside the industry celebrities who make them -- and the panelists who taste for Cigar Aficionado. This year was extra special. The theme was anniversary cigars, and eager aficionados lined up early for a trio of commemorative smokes from Padrón, La Aurora and La Flor Dominicana.

The first cigar of the morning was the Padrón Serie 1926 40th Anniversary and it was an obvious leadoff home run. Manufactured at the Padrón factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, using all-Nicaraguan tobacco grown by the Padrón family, the beautiful box-pressed torpedo gave off a rich, toasty aroma that quickly wafted through the room. It was loaded with leather, cedar and elegant spice, and attendees knew they were smoking something special. As it turned out, the cigar was even more unique than they thought.

Guests spark a Padrón at the start of the event.
"This cigar marks 40 years since my father founded Padrón," said Jorge Padrón, the company's president, as he introduced his cigar. "And you are the first to try the natural version of the 40th Anniversary." In October, Padrón released a maduro version of the cigar, which is an extension of the Padrón Serie 1926 line. It scored 90 points in Cigar Insider, and the natural version will likely find the same success.

"The 40th Anniversary is not about strength," Padrón added, regarding the cigar's flavor profile. "It's about complexity and balance. These are two things that are most important to us at Padrón. Complexity and balance."

Padrón went on to relate the history of the company and the brand, describing how his father, Jose Orlando, was exiled to Miami after the Cuban revolution, and founded his cigar company with $64 he saved up from mowing lawns and doing carpentry jobs. Jorge Padrón described how the company survived and persevered through hurricanes, fires and even bombings to become a successful family business based on hard work, tradition and attention to quality. "We don't want to be a company that makes the most cigars," Padrón said. "We want to be the family that makes the best cigars."

Next in line was the Aurora 100 Años from La Aurora S.A., and after a solid ribbing from Gordon Mott, the Red Sox-loving executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, Jose Blanco, the Yankees-loving sales director of Aurora, spoke to the crowd about the cigar. "As Frank Sinatra might say, 1903 was a very good year. Henry Ford was building cars, the Wright Brothers were flying and in the Dominican Republic, Eduardo León Jimenes started La Aurora with three rollers."

An audience member sports a long ash while listening to the speakers.
As the name suggests, the 100 Años celebrates the 100 years of La Aurora cigars and the rich history that the company has forged during that time. The idea for the cigar came in 1995 from Fernando Leon Asensio, one of Eduardo's sons. He and Guillermo León, Fernando's son, began to brainstorm and one of the first things they decided was that the cigar needed to be unique.

A Dominican puro was the choice and in 1997 the company began evaluating Cuban seeds that could be used for the project. Experimentation continued through the next year and in 1999, they decided on a corojo-seed wrapper. By 2001, the Leóns were blending tobacco, but, according to Blanco, it took more than a year and more than 40 different blends to finally get the flavor they wanted.

The patience and dedication paid off and Big Smoke guests received a dark, oily cigar that just screamed to be smoked. It measured 5 1/2 inches by 50 ring gauge (a size that was rolled specially for the Big Smoke and is unavailable anywhere else) and was strong and flavorful. "To make an exceptional cigar, it is a long process and lots of things need to happen," said Blanco. "This is an exceptional cigar and I think it is the best cigar we have ever made."

Jorge Padrón (left) stands with Litto Gomez.
Closing out the trifecta of anniversary cigars in the morning tasting was the Litto Gomez Diez Cubano. Created by Litto Gomez, the president of La Flor Dominicana, the cigar marks the company's 10-year anniversary. It measures 5 inches by 50 ring gauge and feature a Domincan-grown filler and binder, plus a Dominican-grown wrapper that was harvested in 2000. The full-bodied cigar is woody and spicy, and has a long, complex finish. "We have given all we got," said Gomez.

"I have a lot of pride in what we've blended," he added. "It has been amazing to see the final product."

Gomez may be proud of his work, but he's also a very humble man. "I am still learning as much today as I was learning 10 years ago," he told the audience. "It is not about money, but about the heart, and I have a tremendous admiration for all cigarmakers."

Gomez began rolling cigars in 1994, but his breakthrough came in 1997 when he decided to start farming his own tobacco in the Dominican Republic. Gomez acknowledges that there were major challenges in the beginning, and that many of those challenges he continues to face from year to year and crop to crop. Even so, Gomez has solidified his brand as one of the best on the market. "I just hope we can continue to build the brand," he said. "In 30 or 40 years I hope we'll be able to still talk about the brand."

There was a surprise during the morning session that accompanied the anniversary theme. During his personal cigar history speech, Theo Folz, the president and CEO of Altadis U.S.A. Inc., concluded by announcing that his company had created a three pack of anniversary cigars rolled specially for the 2004 Las Vegas Big Smoke. The unexpected announcement drew enormous applause from the crowd. The cigars, robustos packaged in a special box commemorating the 2004 Big Smoke, included a Romeo y Julieta 1875 Aniversario, an H. Upmann 1844 Anniversary and a Don Diego Anniversario Lord Rothchilde.

Click here to go to the next Saturday seminar, Personal Histories.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin and Jeff Scheid

The 2004 Las Vegas Big Smoke: Part One and Part Three

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