Is it possible to learn how to roll a cigar in an hour? The Roll Your Own seminar at Cigar Aficionado’s Big Smoke Las Vegas proves the answer is yes—but don’t expect the finished product to look like the well-crafted smokes on your local humidor shelves. Much to the enjoyment of the audience, the results of a first-time cigar roller are usually eye-catching for all the wrong reasons.
This year, the theme of the Roll Your Own seminar revolved around Montecristo, and the seminar crowd was tasked with crafting a special version of the famous brand. A tall order, to be sure, but every audience member was given a set of tools, tobacco leaves and first-class instructors to help accomplish the feat.
Rafael Nodal, owner of Boutique Blends Cigars and head of product capability U.S.A., Tabacalera U.S.A., led the instructional seminar. He was joined onstage by a team of high-ranking Altadis employees, including Lucrecia Valdez, master roller at Tabacalera de Garcia in the Dominican Republic, Travis Pappenheim, national education manager, and Pedro Ventura and Nestor Rodriguez, two members of the Grupo de Maestros—esteemed master rollers for the company.
“We’re not paying you,” Nodal joked with the crowd. “If you roll the cigar and it’s no good—it’s your fault, not mine.”
Each seat in the Mirage Events Center was transformed into a rolling station, and audience members were given a rolling mat, a razor blade, a cup of vegetable glue (gomma), two pre-constructed filler and binder tobaccos combinations (known as the bunch), and two soft, slightly damp tobacco wrapper leaves. Why two sets? The first was for practice. The second was for rolling the real deal.
“This is a special blend we made just for you,” Pappenheim said from the stage. “Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers, a Dominican binder and Ecuadoran Connecticut wrapper leaf.”
For inspiration each audience member was given two Montecristo cigars to smoke as they worked: a Montecristo Platinum Habana No. 2 and a Montecristo White Toro.
“We’re giving away prizes for the best rolled cigar, runner up and ugliest cigar,” Nodal said as the crowd responded with cheers and laughter. The atmosphere of the Roll Your own seminar is always convivial, and playful ribbing of attendees and their cigar creations is expected.
Altadis team members walked through the rows of tables assisting the audience by hand, and Nodal and Pappenheim offered verbal instruction on how to cut, glue and roll the tobacco leaves. Projected on two giant screens at the front of the room, the experienced hands of Valdez moved swiftly with wrapper leaf and cutter in hand.
After producing their best efforts, audience members put their finished cigar in a labeled bag and brought it to the front of the room for judging. The Altadis team conferred to discuss the submissions.
“For the guy that put the 100 dollar bill inside the bag—thank you,” Nodal joked. “For the guy that put the La Palina label on their cigar—you’re disqualified. You’re in the wrong room.”
Alan Boyd from New Orleans, Louisiana, won the prize for worst-rolled cigar, a title he accepted gracefully and in good humor. For his effort he won a box of Montecristo Artisan Series Batch II. Dominic Dunsmore, from San Bernardino, California won second-best cigar, receiving a Montecristo desktop humidor stocked full of 100 Montecristo Classic Toros.
The grand prize for best-rolled cigar went to John Melvin, from Pensacola, Florida. For showcasing his cigar-rolling talent, Melvin took home two tickets to next year’s Big Smoke Las Vegas (which will take place November 9 through 11, 2018) along with a pair of round-trip plane tickets to and from the event.