Think you know a lot about cigars and stogie history? OK. Which iconic baseball player loved cigars, hot dogs and hit 714 home runs? Right. Babe Ruth. That was a softball question. How about this: The La Aurora ADN Dominicano has a very specific tobacco inside that’s fermented in logs—what is it? The answer is andullo, and if you knew that one too, you may have had a chance at the quiz show contest held during the Big Smoke lunch seminar, which was sponsored by La Aurora Cigars.
It was a morning of fantastic cigars, fine rum and industry heavyweights telling the stories behind their cigars, but by noon, the crowd of nearly 600 was ready to eat. And third-generation La Aurora owner Guillermo León addressed the crowd via video. He couldn’t attend the Big Smoke, but had a greeting to all who made it out to Las Vegas, and sent Craig Schwartz as his emissary to talk a little bit about La Aurora and how, as the oldest producer of handmade cigars in the Dominican Republic, the company makes the quintessential Dominican cigar.
Upon entry to the dining room, each person received a humidified sampler packet containing a La Aurora Connecticut, La Aurora 115th Anniversary, La Aurora 107 and a La Aurora Preferidos Broadleaf from the company’s Parejo Edition, so it was rolled in a thick toro size rather than a perfecto.
Lunch took its inspiration from La Aurora’s Dominican background and was prepared with Caribbean flair. An avocado salad with mesclun greens, bacon, charred sweet corn, cherry tomatoes and a cilantro apple cider vinaigrette was the perfect appetizer before the Adobo-marinated ribeye with chimichurri mashed potatoes, vegetable skewers and a mamajuana spiced rum glaze. Waiters and waitresses circled the room pouring Rodney Strong Cabernet Knights Valley 2017, a sturdy wine that could not only stand up to the steak, but show itself even after an entire morning of smoking fairly bold cigars. Dessert also evoked the Caribbean as the Mirage staff served the hotel’s rendition of Bizcocho Dominicano, a traditional celebratory Dominican cake.
After lunch, it was time for the trivia gameshow to begin. Hosted by Cigar Aficionado executive editor David Savona, the game was a series of questions, some easy, some more difficult. And unlike the inaugural gameshow of 2019, there were three rounds with three sets of contestants rather than only one. Some did better than others. Questions like “Who said, ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar?’” were answered easily. But the questions grew increasingly difficult. When contestants were asked to name the year when more than 400 million premium cigars were shipped to the United States—the end of the last cigar boom—nobody could do it. (It was 1997.) There were questions specific to La Aurora. Do you know who founded the company? The answer is Eduardo León Jimenes. Subjects ranged from geography to tobacco terminology, and while some of the harder questions left all the contestants onstage a bit dumbfounded, they all knew enough “Cigar 101” to make the game competitive, and most importantly, fun.
There were three rounds, with three contestants each, all chosen by lottery, and the winner of each round went home with more La Aurora cigars. Some walked off the stage feeling like a cigar expert, while others, perhaps, didn’t know as much about the smoky pastime as they thought. The contestant who scored the most points—northern California native Rick Ianniello—left the lunchroom loaded down with La Aurora goodies, a big smile on his face.
Lunch wrapped up and attendees filed out of the room. In a few hours, the evening session of the Big Smoke would start in the grand ballroom. The people behind the biggest brands in the cigar world would be there waiting for them to chat and hand them a fine smoke. There, you get a cigar no matter what you say because there are no wrong answers. During the evening celebration, everyone might not be an expert, but every cigar fan is certainly a winner.