2023 Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest Evening
After a day of seminars, pairings and presentations, the third annual Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest was capped off this past Saturday with a lively evening where cigar industry luminaries and passionate aficionados gathered in the same room for a convivial night of fine spirits and premium cigars. In a ballroom at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, a live band grooved in the background as guests talked to their favorite cigarmakers, sampled whiskies at one of the many drinks stations or simply mingled with like-minded fans of the good life. Plenty of cigar and spirits vendors filled the room, some with eye-catching displays like J.C. Newman’s replica of its El Reloj factory, or D'USSÉ cognac’s quick-handed bartender who pulled from his bag of drink-making tricks as he theatrically made cocktails with branded blocks of ice.
The Big Smoke crowd is always an exceptionally punctual bunch—they’re the living embodiment of that old saying: If you’re not five minutes early, you’re 10 minutes late. So it was no surprise that many of the VIP guests who attended the seminars, which concluded around 4:30 pm, opted for no break and headed straight to the line for the evening portion, which wouldn’t start letting people in until 5:30, the early VIP start time. General admission guests were no different as they started lining the halls well before their slotted entry time.
Once the theoretical gates opened, the crowd entered the ballroom less like a Black Friday rush and more like a systematic special-ops team. The Big Smoke veterans stayed focused on the mission they planned well in advance, targeting which cigarmakers they wanted to visit first and strategizing who they’d hit next. By the time the general admission crowd rolled in, this seasoned crew had their tote bags filled with premium cigars. Some were even well into the bartering process, laying their smokes out on a table and fully engaged in high-stakes negotiation with their fellow aficionados.
As is usually the case, individuals of all backgrounds, ages and demographics were in attendance at Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest. Some were there alone. Others came with their significant other, with a friend or as part of a large group. There were certainly individuals who were dressed to the nines in fine suits, while others came casual in full, South Florida vacation mode. No matter the outfit, guests easily bonded over exceptional cigars and whisky. This year, however, there was a notable difference in that more women seemed to be in attendance than ever before. Many were on their own, some were in a group and plenty could be seen walking around with cigars in their mouths. Women have always attended Cigar Aficionado Big Smokes, but the visible increase this year is a clear reflection of the industry’s continued evolution.
Maria Tobia from Pompano Beach, Florida was in attendance for her first-ever Big Smoke. She works on Bacardi’s Innovation team and has been a long-time fan. “I just love your magazine so much, everything about it is so cool,” she said.
Bob Gillette from Boston was just as enthusiastic. Though a long-time smoker and reader of the publication, this was his first time attending a Big Smoke as well. He actually won the tickets in an auction at the World Famous Cigar Bar in Cape Coral, Florida, where he often visits when in town for work. It was certainly a lucky win, but Bob expects he’ll be back on his own accord.
There were also, of course, some veterans in attendance. For Eugene Nordin, this was his fourth Big Smoke, but his first one in South Florida. The Las Vegas resident loves attending the home-town event each fall, but when given an opportunity for vacation this year, he figured: Why not head to Florida and check out Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest? “Those seminars really opened me up to whisky and pairing them with cigars,” he said, particularly noting the seminar with whisky tastings, as he admitted he usually doesn’t love the bite of whisky but was surprised by the smoothness of the selections. He finally found the right pairing.
Josh Cox, an active Navy member from Jacksonville, was attending his fifth Big Smoke, his third in Florida. The visit was part leisure, part work-related, as Josh also works part-time at the Island Girl Cigar Bar in Jacksonville. Josh admitted his role at the cigar bar can be challenging since he’s part-time and it’s a knowledge-heavy industry, but he loves to learn and is passionate about educating customers, which is part of why he enjoys coming to Big Smokes.
Luckily for each of these guests, there were more than plenty of cigar brands on the ballroom floor: Alec Bradley, Altadis U.S.A., Arturo Fuente, Ashton Distributors, Inc., Drew Estate, E.P. Carrillo Cigar Co., Espinosa Cigars, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., La Aurora Cigars, La Flor Dominicana, La Palina Cigars, Luciano Cigars, My Father Cigars, Oliva Cigar Co., Ozgener Family Cigars, Padrón Cigars, Plasencia Cigars, Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, Scandinavian Tobacco Group, Serino Cigar Co., Tatuaje Cigars Inc., Toscano and Warped were all there.
Many cigar industry stars were present as well, posing for photos, shaking hands and handing out cigars, including Carlos Fuente Jr., Jorge Padrón, Rocky Patel, Alan and Bradley Rubin, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Rafael Nodal, Sammy Phillips, Clay Roberts, Litto Gomez with his sons Tony and Litto Jr., Bobby Newman, Tim Ozgener, Luciano Meirelles and Kyle Gellis.
The high-quality selection of spirits is what differentiates Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest from regular Big Smoke events, and the offerings were numerous. The whiskymakers who participated poured some of their higher-end spirits and every cigar handed out had an appropriate whisky pairing that was being poured somewhere in the room from one of the following companies: Bacardi, Bardstown Bourbon, Blackened Whiskey, Brown-Forman, Diageo, Gordon & MacPhail, Heaven Hill, Heaven’s Door, Keeper’s Heart, Middle West Spirits, Sagamore Spirit Samson & Surrey, Stoli Group, Sugarlands Distilling Co., Total Beverage Solution, Uncle Nearest, Virginia Distillery Co., 375 Park Ave Spirits, Western Spirits and Westward Whiskey.
There were also cigar accessory and other industry vendors present, such as Rabbit Air, Boveda, Cigar Rights of America and Casa de Campo Resort & Villas.
Stay tuned for more information on Big Smoke Las Vegas to come soon, which readers can expect to take place this fall at Resorts World in Sin City. Click here for more information.
See The Complete 2023 Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest Coverage Below
2023 Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest Seminars: Marvin Shanken Makes Surprise Appearance
2023 Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest Seminars: The Fuente And Padrón Cigar Project
2023 Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest Seminars: Rocky Patel And Jack Daniel’s