2011 Big Smoke Sunday Seminars: Roll Your Own

Most cigar enthusiasts smoke their cigars much better than they can roll them. And they’re perfectly satisfied with this arrangement. But some smokers want total immersion and participation in their beloved hobby, so they try their hands at actually rolling a cigar. A Big Smoke Las Vegas tradition, the Roll Your Own seminar gives attendees a chance to try to assemble a cigar as though they were in a factory. It is hosted by Mike Giannini, General Cigar Co.’s director of Team La Gloria.

On Sunday morning, some 500 well-fed cigar enthusiasts had just finished a hearty breakfast hosted by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer. But when they entered the ballroom, they found that it had been transformed into a cigar rolling gallery. Each seat had a place setting consisting of a hard plastic mat, a razor blade, a wrapperless cigar, and a small cup of vegetable glue, or gomma.

As they walked in, they were handed  a La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Obelisco to smoke. This is a rare, special-edition cigar conceptualized by Giannini and Team La Gloria to look like an Obelisk, one that was mentioned during Saturday’s Size Matters seminar, on which Giannini served as a panelist.

Big Smoke Roll your own seminar.
A participant carefully applies wrapper to his cigar.

"Good morning and welcome to the Big Smoke Roll your Own seminar. You know, it’s always funny watching you guys roll a cigar,” joked Giannini. The constant ribbing and playful jabs are part of the seminar and always have been. “Every year people ask me ‘What’s the key to rolling a good cigar?’" said Giannini. "And every year I tell them, ‘Pay attention to Leo.’”

Giannini was of course referring to master roller Leo “The Pope” Peraza, an inveterate cigarmaker who constructs his cigars up on stage. His deft hands are projected onto large video screens as he works in order for the crowd to follow along. The crowd is shown how to stretch, cut and roll the wrapper leaf onto a cigar. Every roller is handed a piece of perfectly pliable, fermented Ecuadoran Sumatra leaf, the type used to wrap many La Gloria Cubana cigars. They then apply it to the bunch—the combination of filler and binder leaves that awaits a cigar wrapper—pre-bound tobacco bunch already in the shape of a cigar.

Peraza effortlessly cut, stretched and rolled in nearly one motion. Then he did it again, and then again, though he slowed his fluid pace for the audience to observe and follow.

Host Michael Giannini at Big Smoke roll your own seminar.
Michael Giannini holds up one of the more creative cigars rolled during the event.

While it is a hands-on tutorial on how to apply a wrapper leaf to a cigar, it is also a competition. At the end of the seminar, the one who has rolled the best cigar would win two 2006 La Gloria Cubana Serie R Limitada Humidors (one natural, one maduro) each filled with 30 cigars.

Giannini had served as co-host of this event for years with former La Gloria brand owner Ernesto Perez-Carrillo. This was the third year Team La Gloria has hosted the event. He paced the room, giving directions and referring to Leo as to cutting and applying the wrapper properly.

“You’re not paying attention,” Giannini said as he singled out a competitor.

He circulated the room with a microphone, and was joined by Yuri Guillen, production manager for General Cigar and an integral part of Team La Gloria.

“These people are really good cigar smokers,” said Guillen, “But rollers? Terrible. There’s no one here I can hire.”

The playful, good-natured ribbing of poorly rolled cigars has always been a signature of the Roll Your Own seminar. As Leo showed how to cut the wrapper into neat sickle-shaped pieces, some attendees were following his instructions attentively, while others were absolutely ruining their piece of wrapper leaf. Then Leo showed exactly how to apply the wrapper and how to finish it off with a neat, pigtail cap.

"Remember,” added Giannini “Roll with the veins up. If your cigars look like you do when you’re wearing your pants inside out, you did it wrong. Finesse the wrapper, lightly stretch it so it is wrinkle-free when applied to the cigar. Man, some of you are rolling like you’re still drunk."

Laughter erupted in the room. Everyone seemed comfortable with the unwritten rules of the competition: If you roll well, you are complimented, if you roll poorly you get a good zing from the hosts.

As the session came to a close, Giannini got off the floor and went back to the stage where cigars were collected for review.

“If you think you have a great cigar, bring it up. If you think you have a god-awful cigar, we want to see that too.” Additional prizes are actually awarded to the ugliest cigar, as well as to the most creative.

Big Smoke Roll John 
“Bones” Malone.
John “Bones” Malone took home two La Gloria Serie R Limitada Humidors for rolling the best cigar.

Giannini paused for a moment and held up a cigar that one of the audience members presented to him. It was the size of an overgrown cucumber.

“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen,” he said with a smile, “but I think I have to go wash my hands after touching this.”

But the insults paid off. The roller of that tobacco cucumber won the Ugliest Cigar prize and went home with a box of La Gloria Cubana Reserva Figurados.

Some of the more creative cigars included one wrapped in a dollar bill, one fashioned into a tree, one made to look like a robot and one full of razor blades (“I’m going to call this one ‘I Can’t Take it Anymore,’” said Giannini). A group of participants teamed up, brought in 100 cigars and made a little tobacco barn completely out of cigars. Rollers of these entertaining (though unsmokable) cigars walked off with boxes of La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Miami and Serie R.

But after the laughter subsided, the judges began to seriously evaluate all the submitted cigars and held up a near perfect smoke rolled by John “Bones” Malone. He was presented with two La Gloria Serie R Limitada Humidors (filled with cigars) made of Ebony Macassar wood.

As Giannini handed Malone his prize boxes of cigars he asked "So how did you roll such a great cigar?” Malone answered, “Like you said, I just watched The Pope. I’m also a surgeon, so I’m good with sharp stuff.”

The audience applauded and the event was over. Some of the participants rolled cigars very competently, others, despite their noblest of efforts, just couldn’t get past the first step. Either way, they were now focused on the series of glasses passed out at every setting. In a few moments, those glasses would be full of Cognac, the subject of the final seminar—a toast, perhaps, to those who rolled a great cigar, and a salve for those who couldn’t.

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