Roll Your Own
It doesn't take much to transform a ballroom into a cigar-rolling gallery. All you really need are a few tables, some tobacco and about 500 enthusiastic Big Smoke attendees ready to learn the art of cigar making.
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo of El Credito Cigars, the maker of La Gloria Cubana brand, has been turning hotel ballrooms into makeshift cigar-rolling factories for years by orchestrating the Big Smoke Roll Your Own seminar. Participants learn how to roll a cigar, gain greater appreciation for the craft and have fun doing so, but there is an added incentive. Prizes awarded to those who roll the best cigar, the grand prize being an all-expense-paid trip to Miami for a tour of the El Credito factory.
This year's seminar started late Sunday morning, as always, Big Smoke aficionados finished a well-needed gourmet breakfast put together by renowned chef Charlie Palmer. Most of the people filing into the room were operating on wild boar meat, coffee, cigars and the notoriously spicy Bloody Bull, a very potent mixed drink served with breakfast. Now that they had the essentials in their system, they were ready to roll a cigar like a professional. Each participant was handed a finished La Gloria Cubana Wavell cigar to smoke, a wrapper-less cigar for the rolling and a piece of wrapper leaf. Each mini rolling station was outfitted with a razor blade serving as a chavetta, a plastic board on which to work, a cup of water to moisten the leaf and a tiny cup of gomma, which is a natural gum used as an adhesive.
"Outside of the birth of your first child, this will be the best experience of your life," said Tim Black, last year's winner.
At center stage was guest roller Leo Peraza, whose inveterate hands were projected on two large screens showing the audience step-by-step how a cigar should be rolled. While the session is called Roll Your Own, the seminar really teaches you how to cut and apply the cover leaf. The bunch of long-filler tobacco has already been clinched with a binder and set in a mold, so putting on the wrapper is all that's left to do. But, as many of the prospective rollers found out, that one step was not so easy.
This man rolled a cigar dog.
The audience laughed. Many remembered from previous Big Smoke Weekends that this was part of his hosting style: sarcastic humor. Although the seminar was hosted by Perez-Carrillo, it was El Credito marketing director Mike Giannini who served as master of ceremonies. Giannini always adds a droll, game-show-style energy to the session.
All attention, however, was directed to the screens, where everyone could see how Leo cut the wrapper leaf, moistened and finessed the tobacco, positioned the cigar, and rolled. Leo made it look easy, rolling and finishing a cigar in a seemingly single motion. How many years of experience does it take before producing such perfect cigars becomes second nature?
The audience was instructed to first prepare the Ecuadoran Sumatra leaf by stretching it out, rendering it as wrinkle-free as possible without tearing it. Intermittent dabs of water made the leaf more pliable. The next step was to cut the perimeter of the leaf in order to smooth out the edges, then cut it into a sickle shape. After that, it was time to place the bunch on the wrapper leaf for rolling; to slightly stretch the leaf the apprentices were instructed to keep it taut. This produces a tighter seam around the cigar and a better-looking stick in general.
Perez-Carrillo paced the room, encouraging the amateur cigarmakers, but at the same time taking friendly shots at some of the sloppier rolled cigars.
"This cigar reminds me of something," said Perez-Carrillo, holding up someone's work. "It reminds me of when I go out to take my dog for a walk."
Ken Schnide, winner of the best-rolled cigar competition.
Among the eclectic group of cigars presented were many that turned out impressive. Runner-up contestants were awarded boxes of La Gloria Cubana Serie R and Reserva Figurado cigars. The best-rolled cigar was judged to be crafted by Ken Schnide. He walked away with two humidors filled with La Gloria Cubana 2006 Serie R Limitadas, and will be flown down to Florida for an extensive tour of the El Credito cigar factory with Perez-Carrillo as his guide, and ultimately immersed in the cigar culture of Miami.
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