Cigar Aficionado

Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

Anniversary Cigar Tasting

The Saturday morning seminars at the Las Vegas Big Smoke are always a highlight for the cigar lovers who attend, not just for the insight and expertise offered by the panelists, but also for the Humidipaks stuffed with premium cigars they receive upon entering. In past years, the bags have been stuffed with rare and collectible smokes specially rolled for the event and others that were yet to hit cigar shelves.

This year was no different. The theme was anniversary cigars and eyes popped upon seeing the lineup: a Padrón 80th Anniversary, Avo 80th Limited Edition and Ashton Estate Sun Grown 20-Year Salute.

The all-star lineup of cigars for the Saturday seminars.
Cigar Aficionado executive editor Gordon Mott, the master of ceremonies for the day, introduced the first speaker, Jorge Padrón, as the crowd eagerly lit up the first cigar of the day. It had been rolled to celebrate the 80th birthday of José Orlando Padrón, the company's patriarch. The perfecto-shaped cigar -- a large Nicaraguan puro with a dark, lush wrapper that calls to mind the Serie 1926 and the maduro version of the Padrón Anniversary -- is the first perfecto ever rolled by Padrón.

"If it weren't for the Big Smoke," said Padrón, the company's president, introducing his cigar to the audience, "I'm not sure this cigar would have been made." Padrón noted that the cigar is only a prototype -- only about 500 were rolled -- and that "the Big Smoke is a great forum to introduce it" because feedback from the consumer is so important to any cigarmaker.

Jorge Padrón
According to Padrón, he had always been interested in rolling a perfecto and once it was decided to commemorate his father's birthday with a cigar, the idea was brought to fruition. The cigar, which is pressed and measures 6 3/4 inches by 54 ring gauge, features tobacco that has been aged for five years at the Padrón factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. "We had the tobacco," Padrón told the audience, "but we don't often introduce new product, so we wanted to do something different. It is an honor to share it with you."

Currently, there are no definite plans to release the cigar, though Padrón says there is a chance it will be available in 2007. Already Padrón is confident the 80th Anniversary will be a success. "This cigar is consistent with our philosophy," he told the audience. "Quality, not quantity."

Henke Kelner
The second cigar introduced at the seminar was the Avo 80th, which also honors the 80th birthday of its namesake, Avo Uvezian. It was released earlier this year by Davidoff of Geneva, which owns the Avo brand, and is manufactured in the Dominican Republic by master blender and roller Hendrik "Henke" Kelner and Occidental Kelner Cigars.

"A cigar is your friend," said Kelner, addressing the crowded room that was quickly filling with cigar smoke. "And what do you expect from a friend? Loyalty, consistency and balance."

For Kelner, the Avo 80th is that friend. Made with Dominican filler and binder and featuring an Ecuadoran wrapper, the torpedo-shaped cigar measures 6 by 52 and, according to Kelner, was in the making for more than seven years. "We wanted the same consistency as the regular line of Avos," he told the audience, "but we also wanted something that tasted different. That is the passion of the limited edition Avo."

After introducing the cigar, Kelner spoke in depth about blending tobacco. "Blending is not a formula, it is an art," he said, "and maintaining consistency is a science." Kelner went on to discuss the many factors, such as soil and weather conditions, that make it difficult for a blender to consistently achieve the taste he is looking for from harvest to harvest. He also discussed the importance of creating a company that is involved in all aspects of the cigar-making process -- from the seed to the retailer's shelves -- and the need to build a large inventory of quality tobacco.

"It's truly amazing," said Mott after Kelner had finished. "You can spend months with Henke and yet you can always learn something more."

Robert Levin
Rounding out the trio of cigars was the Ashton Estate Sun Grown 20-year Salute, which was created to mark the 20th anniversary of Ashton cigars. And like other cigars with the Ashton label, the ESG is made by Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. in the Dominican Republic. "Quality and consistency are the main reasons why Ashton has grown over the years," said Robert Levin, the president of Ashton Cigars and the creator of the brand. "It starts with the Fuentes."

Even so, Levin called it a "tremendous task" to get the Fuentes to make the ESG. Levin spent two years pleading with Carlos Fuente Jr. to make the cigar, but there was not enough wrapper tobacco to do it. Finally, after "many Scotches and Martinis," Fuente told Levin that if he wanted, he could use the sun-grown wrapper from the same farm used to grow Fuente's OpusX wrapper leaf. "That was all I needed to hear," said Levin.

An attendee listens as panelists explain the development of their cigars.
The Ashton ESG 20-Year Salute measures 6 3/4 by 49 and is a cigar that Levin says should be smoked "when you have time to enjoy the whole cigar." According to Levin, this is because the cigar kicks in about halfway through with what he likes to describe as the "velvet hammer." It is a balanced cigar, he says, but it is also strong and complex. "This cigar will get better as it ages," Levin said, "and I hope we can produce more of them in the coming years."

It looks as if that will happen. Ashton is releasing 50,000 ESGs this year and Levin says the company plans to release a new size each year until Ashton's 25th anniversary in 2011.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin