Remember when you were a child and one of your old aunts or uncles would produce a silver dollar for you if you hung around them long enough? Well, that's exactly what happens when you hang around Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr., only it isn't silver dollars or buffalo nickels that he presses into your palm. Rather, it's a rare OpusX cigar, and it's usually an exotic shape that you've never heard of. Or if you've heard of it, you've never actually seen one. It is indeed a delightful treat, but not one that made me lose sight of the reason I was with Carlito in the first place.
I saw Carlito a few weeks ago at a charity dinner and auction held in New York City's Grand Havana Room for the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation. CFCF is an organization started by the Fuentes and the Newmans—first families of the Dominican Republic's premium cigar industry—and its main goal is to raise money for the impoverished families of the island nation. It has also built schools and other infrastructural facilities to benefit the country's children as well. Their sense of civic duty drives the Fuentes and Newmans to hold lots of fundraisers every year, like the Toast Across America for example.
This particular evening event was hosted by Dr. Jude Barbera and centered around a cigar and wine auction. I'd be lying if I told you that the evening didn't vaguely resemble our own Night To Remember. It's structured in much the same way and Dr. Barbera has been attending the Night to Remember for many years, so he's no doubt taken some hosting cues from us. Although there is no cigar buffet table, you do get a Boveda packet of fine cigars at the door, each containing: an Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Robusto, an Ashton Estate Sun Grown 24 Year Salute, a Diamond Crown Julius Caeser Toro, and a Fuente Fuente OpusX Petit Lancero. The cigars were donated by the Fuentes and Newmans; the wine by Celani Vineyards.
"You know, I thought you were never going to talk to me again," Fuente said to me when he sat down. He was referring to an incident a few years ago when he ordered two dozen oysters in New Orleans. We both slurped them down and both got sick. He's given me a bunch of OpusX Lanceros to atone for the—er—discomfort that I went through for the next 24 hours. To this day, we laugh about it.
The evening's auction was a series of rare wines and rare cigars. At one point, there was a large box of OpusX Double Toros (or maybe they were Double Robustos) packaged in a gleaming chest that Fuente told me he had never even seen before.
"What are they making in my factory?" he asked with a laugh. "They must be making things behind my back. I've never even seen that." Carlito tried to bid on his own cigars, and with great comical effect, but was outbid by one of the evening's dedicated Fuente fans.
"Here," he said to me and reached into his pocket. It was a smallish cigar, about 4 1/2 inches long by 46 or 48 ring gauge. It had a band on it I've seen before. It isn't an OpusX band per se, but one of the secondary bands you sometimes see on special OpusX cigars, and it's emblazoned with three gilded Xs. I first saw that band 10 years ago when Fuente made a cigar called The Rising X for a Big Smoke in 2005. "It's called God's Whisper," he said, almost in a whisper himself.
Now, I looked around online for this cigar. While Fuente does have a cigar called God's Whisper in his ForbiddenX 13 line, it's a large Churchill and nothing like what Carlito handed me. "You know how my dad has the Don Carlos made for him? Well, this is my own blend," he said.
Of course, I felt like a kid again. And speaking of rare Fuentes, on my way out I was handed a case of 10 Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars. Four of them were standard sizes (two No. 2s and two PerfecXion Xs), two were from the Angel's Share line, two were ForbiddenX Toros (like the ones that used to come in the Cigar in the Bottle), and then two were BBMFs—one natural and one maduro. That's the unusual perfecto size with a strange, elongated mop-top cap that Fuente impishly calls a "Cuban tickler." By now, you probably know what BBMF stands for, and Fuente purposely blends it to be a strong cigar, even more powerful than the already full-bodied regular OpusX cigars.
I haven't smoked the cigars yet. They look so nice in their presentation box that I don't want to break the set. As for the Foundation, they raised a quarter-of-a-million dollars that night for CFCF. In the Dominican Republic, that can go enormously far.