Rolling cigars is a skill that takes years to master. During the Sunday Big Smoke seminars, the attendees get to try their hand at rolling with only an hour of training. So this year Cigar Aficionado added a Saturday tutorial, which not only gave the audience an extra dose of knowledge, it also furthered their enlightenment about the difficult task of turning cigar tobacco into smokeable cigars.
"It is truly one of the art forms," said executive editor Gordon Mott, introducing the stars from La Gloria Cubana as they took to the stage. The seminar was led by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, the man who made La Gloria all that it is, and he was joined by General Cigar's Michael Giannini and "The Pope," Leo Peraza, a master cigar roller from the El Credito Cigar Factory in Miami.
"Pope Leo has been making cigars for more than 50 years," said Carrillo. "He is going to show you how to make a cigar."
Leo showed off the difficult entubado cigar bunching method, which Perez-Carrillo aid came from the H. Upmann factory in Cuba, prior to the Revolution. The method involves rolling each component leaf into a tube, then putting them together in the rough form of a triangle. "You use less tobacco and you get a more consistent draw," said Perez-Carrillo.
The seminar was enlightening—Perez-Carrillo showed how tiny details, such as ensuring the veiny side of the leaves were placed on the inside, helped minimize the appearance of veins on the outer wrapper; how the thick ligero tobacco needed to be placed deep within the filler blend to ensure it will burn; and how wooden molds (which he uses exclusively in Miami) absorb more moisture than plastic molds.
Executive editor Gordon Mott stood up, midway through the seminar, and held out his hands. "How hard can that be? I want to try."
Perez-Carrillo was not impressed. "Let me forewarn you, Gordon—this is not like writing for Cigar Aficionado. You need some talent."
With the gauntlet thrown down, Mott took off his suit jacket and climbed to the podium, sitting down next to a somewhat skeptical Pope Leo. He looked over the leaves in front of him. "Postpone lunch until two o'clock," deadpanned Perez—Carrillo.
Executive editor Gordon Mott rolling a cigar.
Mott looked a bit out of his element at first, working a Nicaraguan wrapper leaf around the finished bunch. Pope Leo helped a bit. As Mott made a slight fumble with one of the leaves, Giannini dove in for the attack. "Boy," he said. "We just lost money."
Despite the pressure of working in front of a sold-out crowd, Mott rallied to do a respectable job stretching the wrapper leaf. The final product wouldn't have scored a perfect 15 for appearance in a Cigar Aficionado taste test, but it didn't look bad at all. The experiment left the crowd with a newfound respect for the unsung workers who diligently roll the cigars they love entirely by hand.
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