2014 Big Smoke Sunday Seminars—Roll Your Own, Seminar No. 17

Winding down off the high of a gigantic breakfast, Big Smoke attendees stepped back into their beloved conference room for the penultimate session before the weekend's close, a hands-on exercise that allowed cigar fans to create that which they loved to smoke. Rolling cigars, how hard could it be?

A lighthearted tradition and a staple of the Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend, many cigar enthusiasts learned for the first time that it's much easier smoking a cigar than it is to roll one.

Hosted by Michael Giannini and Leo Peraza of General Cigar Co., the seminar took the form of an interactive workshop, with each attendee being given a set of rudimentary tools for creating their cigar—a razor blade, a cigar wrapper leaf, a cup of vegetable glue (called gomma), and of course, a pre-constructed tobacco binder and filler combination known as a bunch.

"Let me give you a little tip," said Giannini. "Leo has been doing this for 54 years. Watch Leo."

All eyes focused on the stage. Projected up on the dual video screens at the head of the conference room, the hands of the master roller Leo "The Pope" Peraza started moving.

"Step one...stretch out the wrapper. Botox the wrinkles out," Giannini explained. "It's important to know the elasticity of the wrapper...because if you stretch it too far—it's going to rip."

So far, so good. The crowd followed along, nervous heads craning to get a better look at the screens.

But now for the tricky part. Peraza's hand leapt out of sight. When it returned to the screen, it was wielding a giant blade. A traditional cigar-cutting tool known as a chaveta.

Starting at the top of the cigar leaf, Peraza trimmed the edge of the wrapper, cutting a straight line. Then, returning to the top, he sliced the wrapper down the middle into a graceful, half-moon shape.


Razorblades in hand, the audience took to their own wrappers. Thick, hesitant fingers attempted to match the ease and grace of Peraza's delicate movements.

One frustrated man whipped out his Swiss Army knife for increased slicing maneuverability. An amused Giannini came over to him, made a joke about his flight. "How did you get that thing through TSA?"

The audience was then tasked with taking their freshly cut leaf, wrapping it around the bunch, and securing it in place with the gomma.

"A really great cigar has three wraps, three turns. If you have five—it's not going to work," said Giannini. "Now, with a little bit of glue on the edge, roll forward towards the index finger, twist the head and you've got yourself a pigtail cigar."

Giannini and his assistants walked the room, offering tips and advice to the crowd, and of course, a few friendly jabs at the creators of some of the more disappointing cigars.

"Here's my concern," Giannini said to one red-faced attendee. "You used three of our wrappers. Do you know how much that cost us?"

Some of the braver amateur rollers called Giannini over to inspect their work.

"If you think you rolled a great cigar, you can submit it for review," he said.

An amusing judging ceremony followed, with prizes given to the rollers of the worst, best and most creative cigars. Entries included a mustache, a log cabin, a fighter plane, and a sort of Giannini voodoo doll that wore a small cut-out picture of Giannini's face. Through the smoke-filled laughter and the jokes, competitors were called up on stage to collect their prizes: boxes of Foundry and La Gloria Cubana cigars.

The winner for best-rolled cigar went to an attendee named Fletcher Wells from Maryland Heights, Missouri. Using a simple metal fitting he brought along to the event, Wells was able to create a perfect cap for his cigar.

Asked how he created such a flawless smoke he revealed his secret was, "Well, lucking out...being one with the leaf." His masterpiece earned him five boxes of cigars, a limited-edition La Gloria Cubana Serie R numbered humidor, and a place in Big Smoke "Roll your Own" history.

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