Cigar Aficionado

Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

Cigars for the Decade
Even after a long evening of boozing and blowing smoke, hundreds of anxious seminar attendees were up bright and early on Saturday morning for the next leg of the Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend. Whiskey glasses had been replaced by cups of steaming coffee, but cigars were still in hand as people milled about outside the ballroom where the seminars where about to commence. Those who attended were in for an even better treat: the chance to taste three very rare cigars.

Gordon Mott, Cigar Aficionado's executive editor, opened the morning by addressing the crowd of 400, thanking them for their patronage and support over the last 10 years.

"You're what makes this happen, what makes it really special and keeps it going."

Mott polled the audience for an attendance record over the last decade. A few familiar faces sat in on seminars each year, a surprisingly large number of first-time guests also came. All were in for a treat with this year's lineup of cigars.

The Saturday cigar tasting is always one of the Big Smoke weekend's highlights. Goody-bag Humidipaks filled with cigars are typically filled with smokes that follow a particular theme specific to the weekend. The industry celebrities who make each cigar explain the time and effort invested in creating, blending and rolling the smoke.

This year, those cigars were rare Dominican smokes, two of which were commercially unavailable, made especially for the Las Vegas Big Smoke's 10th anniversary. This year's trio of smokes were from three industry heavyweights: José Seijas, Daniel Núñez and Carlos Fuente Jr.

José Seijas
The first cigar lit was from Seijas, the Altadis U.S.A. Inc. cigar authority who heads the world's largest premium cigar factory. As he made his way to the center stage, audience members lit up the dark corona gorda called the José Seijas Signature Series, which is available on only 11 retailer shelves and was outfitted with special bands and cedar spills for the seminar.

Seijas broke it down for the crowd in a straightforward manner as they let the smoke trail from their mouths. "I want to talk about the components of the cigar," said Seijas. "That's what makes it special and gives it its character."

Seijas Signature Series cigars were the first to be lit.
All the components in the Signature have been aged for three years and reserved for the best rollers in the factory to assemble. Once rolled, the cigars are kept for three months in order to marry the various flavors of the tobaccos, which hail from various regions and countries. The wrapper is an Ecuadoran Sumatra paired with an olor binder from the Dominican Republic and filler tobacco from the Dominican, Peru and Nicaragua. The cigar, a parejo, measured 6 1/2 inches by 52-ring gauge.

He described it as being full flavored, but not strong. He smelled the unburned wrapper and noted a peppery quality. "The burn," he said, "is very regular and the ash is white against a dark wrapper. There are no traces of harshness or bitterness." The crowd seemed satisfied with this explanation. No one complained.

Benjamin Menendez
Benjamin Menendez was next up to the microphone to discuss the Daniel Núñez Selección Especial, which was created just for the Big Smoke by Núñez, who was slated to speak but was pulled away for business at the last minute, so Menendez spoke in his place. As Mott said before the presentation began, "This is like having Randy Johnson as your starting pitcher, but having Roger Clemens to take his place." Menendez hails from a long line of cigarmakers and is one of the key players in General Cigar's operations.

"The Daniel Núñez Selección Especial," said Menendez, "is a cigar that a master blender has put together -- it's Daniel's cigar."

Núñez Selección Especials were soon reduced to a nub.
The cigar was made with proprietary tobaccos, said Menendez. The wrapper was a Cuban seed grown in the San Augustín Valley of Honduras, the binder is a Connecticut medio tiempo, and the fillers consist of tobacco from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan filler is especially interesting in that is comes from a volcanic island in the center of Lake Nicaragua called Ometepe.

Menendez delved into the process of preparing the tobacco, which began three years ago like that of the Seijas cigar. The tobacco, said Menendez, was harvested and aged in palm bark called terico for three years, then stripped and put in barrels formerly used to store brandy. The fruits of these labors are the cigars' oily wrappers, medium to full body and very sweet flavor. The dark figurado measures 6 inches with a 60-ring gauge.

Carlos Fuente Jr.
The last man to take the stage was Carlos Fuente Jr., creator of the Fuente Fuente OpusX cigar and head of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. He introduced his latest creation to the crowd, the Fuente Fuente OpusX Rising X.

The inspiration for this smoke came from Hurricane Katrina and the damage it did to New Orleans.

"It was much more difficult to develop this cigar than I imagined," said Fuente. "This cigar that you're smoking is the third of three cigars that we made [for the event]. After Hurricane Katrina and after already making the second cigar, I thought I would make a cigar in tribute instead."

Fuente said that he had a special place in his heart for New Orleans, where he would often vacation with his wife. When the hurricane destroyed much of the city, he wanted to do something commemorative. The song "House of the Rising Sun" had always been a favorite of his, so he used it as the guiding theme for the cigar.

The Fuente Fuente OpusX was the final special-edition cigar smoked.
It's a Dominican puro measuring 6 1/4 inches by 53-ring gauge. This unique cigar was also produced exclusively for the Big Smoke and never before seen by the public, with a shape never before used by Fuente. The shape is the guiding theme of the smoke, and very unusual for a cigar. Rising from a pressed foot, the cigar opens up midway through into a rounded perfecto head that is tied off so that the protruding tobacco leaf looks like an "X" resting atop the cap.

Because of when the cigar was made, it is the youngest OpusX to ever be shipped, said Fuente.

"These cigars will be better in 100 years," said Fuente, "but don't wait 100 years to smoke them."

They didn't.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin Hadowanetz