Anticipation was in the air Saturday morning as hundreds of people eagerly lined up outside The Mirage’s Event Center for the Big Smoke Las Vegas seminars. Upon entering, guests received a Boveda bag containing a collection of excellent cigars, including the top three cigars of 2020. To add to the smoking experience, they also received an Oliva Serie O Toro, handed out to complement a continental breakfast provided by the company. The excitement was only to be expected seeing how it had been two years since anyone could enjoy a Big Smoke weekend.
“It really just feels good to all be together again, I’m glad you’re here smoking cigars with us,” Cigar Aficionado executive editor David Savona said while addressing the crowd during his welcome speech.
He then introduced star cigarmaker Jorge Padrón and Cigar Aficionado’s former executive editor and current senior contributing editor Gordon Mott to the stage to start the seminars. They were there to smoke and discuss the No. 3 cigar of 2020: the Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Hermoso. The all-Nicaraguan 1964 Anniversary line is one of the flagships of Padrón Cigars since its introduction in 1994 and, at 4 inches by 56 ring gauge, the Hermoso has the distinction of being both the shortest and among the thickest cigars in the 1964 line.
“The Hermoso was a cigar that I introduced a few years ago,” Padrón said. “As a cigar smoker myself I figured there’s a lot of times where I don’t have a lot of time to smoke but I wanted a bigger ring gauge we didn’t have in our portfolio. So that’s how this cigar came out.”
As can be expected, talk between Mott and Padrón was interspersed with humorous reminiscences of Jorge’s father José Orlando Padrón, who founded the brand and passed away in 2017. The stories ranged from hotboxing the car with cigar smoke during long drives to the Nicaraguan farms, to Mott visiting while José Orlando was ill with pneumonia only to come downstairs the next morning to see the cigar veteran diligently puffing away on the couch.
“What do you guys think of this?” Mott asked the audience, holding up the Hermoso. The audience promptly broke out into cheers and applause.
Later in the morning, after the Winner’s Circle seminar concluded, Savona and Richard Dolak, vice president of operations for Fuente-Newman went onstage to discuss the No. 2 cigar of 2020: the Fuente Fuente OpusX Double Robusto.
As guests started to reach for their OpusX cigars to smoke with the seminar, a surprise was in store: an additional OpusX cigar, and one that’s not usually available to the public: a Fuente Fuente OpusX Destino al Siglo Lancero, which Fuente representatives passed out to the seminar crowd. It was a special gift from Carlos Fuente Jr., who could not attend due to a family matter.
“Listen, don’t smoke this this morning,” Dolak warned the crowd. “This is not a coffee cigar. Save it for dinner or later. It should be pretty powerful.”
“I’m a big fan of the lancero shape—I always found the lancero really gives you a true taste of a cigar’s wrapper because there’s less filler tobacco,” Savona said. “The story of the Fuente Fuente OpusX, to me, is really the story of this wrapper.”
Dolak and Savona reflected on the scarcity of the OpusX brand, in part due to the difficult climate where the wrapper is grown. “One thing I can tell you Carlito will not, will not do is change the fricking cigar,” Dolak said emphatically. “When you carve out the time in your busy day to smoke that cigar...we know every cigar we make, we want you to have a great experience. So our motto, we won’t make cigars if we can’t stand behind it 100 percent. That's why there’s not more.”
The two then discussed how the OpusX wrapper leaves are grown not for size, but for taste. Dolak even compared the process of growing wrapper leaves to growing apples. “You can’t change it but you can farm it differently,” he said. “We don't grow for pounds, we grow for taste.” At 52 ring gauge, the OpusX Double Robusto is not what the standard market considers a thick cigar but as Dolak noted, you will not see a 6 by 60 OpusX. “This is pretty much as thick as it gets,” he said.
Before the seminar ended, Savona asked how Dolak feels working for a company that has been around for over a century. “You got to be humble,” he replied “It’s a tremendous responsibility.”
After an Ask the Editors panel with four Cigar Aficionado editors (Gordon Mott, Greg Mottola, Jack Bettridge and Savona) taking questions from the audience, it was time to discuss the No. 1 cigar of 2020, the E.P. Carrillo Pledge Prequel. Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, the man who made the cigar, thanked everyone in attendance who made this all possible.
“I want to congratulate you guys,” Perez-Carrillo said. “Right now we’re living in the golden age of the industry. I mean, I’ve been in the industry now over 50 years and we’re living it. This is the greatest time for this industry and it’s all thanks to you guys out there who support us.”
He then congratulated the Fuente and Padrón families for their awards in 2020’s Top 25, along with Rafael Nodal who won the No. 1 slot in 2019.
“Ernesto, why don’t you start by telling us a little about this cigar?” asked Savona, holding up his lit Pledge Prequel.
Perez-Carrillo said it began after his Encore was named the No. 1 cigar of 2018. “My kids came up to me and said ‘What do we do next?’” Perez-Carrillo said. He then recounted how he came up with six blends that utilized Ecuador Connecticut wrappers, but the cigars didn’t quite land when he had his kids smoke them.
Perez-Carrillo then remembered a cigar he had made in 2018 as a TAA exclusive which used a Connecticut Habano wrapper, which he had first become familiar with in the 1980s when he would walk around Miami and visit the bodegas. One brand there kept selling out, piquing his curiosity. He asked the owner about what kind of tobaccos he was using, but the man had such a small supply he couldn’t sell any. He promised to order some extra for him under the promise Perez-Carrillo wouldn’t tell anyone.
In 2017, while visiting the Dominican Republic, he found more of that Connecticut Habano wrapper for sale, which he used for the 2018 TAA exclusive. He then made some new blend samples, one of which he gave to his son Ernesto III to try, who loved it as did everyone else who tried it.
“You have to understand when you get a No. 1 cigar, forget what it does to your company, the growth, the popularity, forget all about that,” Perez-Carrillo explained. “It’s that special feeling that you get ‘I finally arrived in this industry.’”