At 9 a.m sharp, the doors of the Mirage conference room swung open and the line of more than 500 enthusiastic cigar devotees, which began to form nearly an hour earlier, filed in, marking the start of Cigar Aficionado's sold-out Big Smoke Las Vegas Saturday Seminars.
Considering the early start and the fact that many had attended the previous night's opening Evening Session of the Big Smoke, the audience was surprisingly chipper. Perhaps the crowd's enthusiasm was due to the fact that they were about to listen to some of the cigar industry's most notable minds speak in depth about their trade, or maybe the smiles were a result of the Boveda bag each guest received as they walked into the conference room.
In that bag? The top three legal-to-purchase cigars available in the United States as they appeared on Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 Best Cigars of 2013 list. Each humidified bag contained the No. 4 cigar, a Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Diplomatico Maduro (94-point rating); the No. 3 cigar, a Davidoff Nicaragua Toro (95 points); and the No. 2 cigar, an Aging Room Quattro F55 Concerto (95 points, classic on Cigar Aficionado's 100-point-scale). The audience would have the opportunity to light up these prized smokes throughout the day.
Taking to the stage to greet the audience was master of ceremonies David Savona, the newly appointed executive editor of Cigar Aficionado. After a short greeting, he introduced one of the most recognizable faces of the cigar industry, Jorge Padrón, president of Padrón Cigars Inc., to speak about the Diplomatico Maduro. The audience members were eagerly lighting up the smoke to pair with their morning cups of coffee.
Padrón began his speech not with a joke, but by thanking the audience for supporting his family's business. "Without you," he said, "there would be no Padrón Cigars."
Padrón then lit up his Diplomatico, a 7 inch by 50 ring gauge box-pressed beauty that actually debuted in 1994 to celebrate the company's first 30 years of business. After taking a few puffs, he reflected on when he first joined his father, José Orlando Padrón, in the cigarmaking business the elder Padrón had worked so hard to create.
"I had just earned a MBA and thought I could conquer the world," Padrón said. "But I quickly realized I had to earn my father's trust before anything else could happen."
Earlier this year, he continued, his family celebrated the company's 50th anniversary with a gala party in Miami Beach. According to Jorge, his father insisted that his son be the one to give the closing speech at that party. Jorge reluctantly accepted, believing his father, the company chairman and founder, should really be the one to end the historic celebration. He brought a copy of that same speech and read it at the podium.
In that speech, Jorge spoke about the importance that his company has always placed on family as well as three other tenets that help form the Padrón philosophy. "Humility, honesty and integrity," Padrón said. "Not a day goes by that we don't honor these principles." These values, he said, have helped the company garner Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year award three times, the most of any cigarmaker in the world.
It was then that emotions began to overwhelm Padrón, as he delivered the conclusion of his talk while trying to hold back a few tears.
"Three days after I gave that speech at our celebration," Padrón said, "I was sitting with my father and asked him what he thought about the speech. My father said to me ‘What did you say?'" It turns out the elder Padrón never heard the speech, as Jorge had delivered much of it in English. The crowd erupted in laughter.
"It was then that I realized he completely trusted me now," he said with a laugh, "And didn't have to hear the speech because he knew I'd say the right things." With that, Padrón took some questions from the audience.
Later in the morning, after the "Fat Cigar Trend" seminar ended, it was time for the audience to light up the second cigar of the day, the Davidoff Nicaragua Toro. Gordon Mott took the stage and relayed his story about the first time he tried the Davidoff Nicaragua, Cigar Aficionado's No. 3 cigar of 2013, after playing a round of golf with Davidoff U.S. president James Young. He then introduced Jeff Stone, a brand ambassador from Houston who has been in the cigar industry for four decades and the person slated to walk the audience through the cigar.
Stone started the speech off by talking about the importance of time, "our most precious commodity," he said. It's this understanding of time that drives Davidoff to produce quality cigars that customers will want to sit down with for an hour or so of their free time.
The Nicaragua line, Stone said, is Davidoff's first foray into using tobaccos from the Central American country. While all the tobacco is sourced from Nicaragua, the cigar is actually constructed in the company's Dominican Republic factory under the watchful eye of master blender Henke Kelner.
As Stone spoke, he lit up his 5 1/2 inch by 54 Toro and took a minute to speak about the white pepper notes that emerge as soon as the cigar is lit. He also noted the cigar's distinctly sweet and woody aroma. "At Davidoff, smoke for us is a lot like aroma in a whiskey. It gives the smoker an idea of what to expect in the cigar," Stone said.
According to Stone, the idea to create a Nicaraguan Davidoff has been in the works for nearly 20 years. It was Nestor Plasencia, Stone said, who inspired Kelner to create a cigar with Nicaraguan tobaccos.
"Unlike many Nicaraguan cigars, though," Stone said, "the Davidoff Nicaragua doesn't load the palate with its strength." This is due in part to the fact that the blend uses only a smidgen of ligero tobacco from Estelí.
Stone then left the stage and the audience continued to puff the Davidoff Nicaragua as the panelists for the Different Tobacco Varietals took to the stage.
Once that seminar was completed, the audience turned its attention to the top legal cigar available in the U.S., the No. 2 cigar of 2013: Aging Room F55 Quattro Concerto. As the audience lit up the 7 inch by 50 ring gauge box-pressed cigar, brand owner Rafael Nodal of Boutique Blends Cigars took to the podium. Joining him was his partner, Hank Bischoff, and two sons.
Nodal started off by talking about the moment when he got the news that the F55 Quattro was named the No. 2 cigar of 2013. "First of all, it made us incredibly proud," he said, "as we stood out while being measured up against the industry giants. But also, it was very humbling."
The idea for the F55, as Nodal explained, came about when he and Bischoff met a German distributor with a supply of wrapper-quality Sumatra tobacco that was actually grown in Indonesia, extremely rare in the industry, and had been aging since 2003.
"He was going to use the tobacco for machine-made cigars," said Nodal, with a chuckle. "We immediately told him ‘No!' and bought 50 percent of his inventory."
He and Bischoff then brought the Sumatra tobacco to Jochi Blanco of Tabacalera La Palma, a cigar factory located in the Dominican Republic. They got to work on a blend, but rather than focus on quantity, Nodal said they opted to stick with the Aging Room ethos and release the cigar as a small batch.
"We were looking for a way to stick out on the market," said Nodal, "and so we started to think differently. We asked ourselves ‘What do bigger companies have that we don't?' " This idea, Nodal said, was a continuation of the thought behind the Aging Room brand itself. "We decided to focus on making cigars only with blends that are complex and flavorful," he added.
While other Aging Room blends received plenty of praise (the M356 Presto was Cigar Aficionado's No. 16 cigar of 2011), it was nowhere near the attention that the F55 Quattro's 95-point rating garnered.
"Just before Cigar Aficionado came out with the rating, we contacted the same German distributor and bought the other 50 percent of his inventory," said Nodal. "And thank god we bought the rest of that leaf."
As Nodal concluded his speech, the audience responded with a standing ovation. Everyone continued to enjoy their F55's as the stage was reset for the next seminar.