If you've followed Fuente's elusive lines of exotic smokes, you've probably seen a Fuente Fuente OpusX in the BBMF shape. And if you've been to Las Vegas, you've seen a ForbiddenX in the BBMF shape. But have you ever seen an Ashton VSG in the signature Fuente BBMF shape? I'll explain all these acronyms momentarily.
For most of you, the answer to my question is no. Unless you were at the 20th Annual Smoker fund raiser for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, you've never seen such a specimen of cigar, but let me assure you: an Ashton VSG BBMF does indeed exist. It was one of the cigars offered at the St. Jude charitable cigar dinner on June 7, an event that is spearheaded by Dr. Jude Barbera and heavily supported by Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr. as well as Ashton Distributors Inc. It was held in New York at the Grand Havana Room, which sits on the 39th floor atop the 666 Fifth Avenue building.
This year, Barbera wanted something unique to his event. Something that you could only get if you attended, and so, with the cooperation and generosity of Ashton and Fuente, the Ashton VSG BBMF was born. And yes, I have one.
Getting back to those acronyms: the VSG in Ashton stands for Virgin Sun Grown, and is a fairly full-bodied cigar made by the Fuentes in the Dominican Republic for Ashton. The BBMF? That was a creation of Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr., who was in attendance. It's basically an OpusX rolled in a double-tapered perfecto shape with a twisted mop-top cap and high-octane blend. The letters BBMF stand for Big Bad Mother...you get the idea. But Fuente is not in the habit of making the BBMF shape in anything outside of the OpusX brand. As far as I know, this is the first time he's done this. The first time I've ever seen it, anyway.
Not that there weren't plenty of other interesting smokes throughout the night. During cocktail hour, the first cigar handed out was an advanced sample of the new Ashton ESG (Estate Sun Grown) 24 Year Salute. It's a beautiful double perfecto that measures 6 5/8 inches by 47 ring. I asked Ashton vice president Sathya Levin if these cigars will make it to the IPCPR trade show coming up this summer. He wasn't sure, but told me that it's the same blend as the rest of the line, which surprised me a bit. They seemed a bit milder than I had remembered the ESG line to be. This isn't a knock on it. It smoked great and was still full of flavor but I guess I just expect every new cigar I light up to rip my head off with strength.
At dinner, Barbera started his mystery wine auction. Essentially, you're bidding on wines whose identities are secret until the winning bid is finalized. Then the wine is unveiled, and the winner has to open the bottle and share it with the table. Sound familiar? Marvin R. Shanken does this same bit at his Night To Remember charity dinner each year. Barbera is a frequent guest to Shanken's event so obviously the "mystery wine" format was an inspiration. But something funny happened.
In all my years going to the Night To Remember I've never been fortunate enough to be at a table where a winning wine was opened. Some pretty heavyweight Italian Magnums came to the auction block at the St. Jude dinner—Gaja Sperss, Solaia, Sassicaia—and they each raised around $2,000 to $3,000 each. I was lucky enough to share the table with Michael Bulnes. He's the president of Selecta Magazine and won the bid for a 1997 Magnum of Roberto Voerzio Riserva Pozzo dell'Annunziata Barbera d'Alba. It was nice to get a glass and it paired well with the second cigar of the evening—an OpusX Lancero.
Did I mention that I was sitting with Carlito?He unwrapped one of his Lanceros and smelled the foot. "Oh man," he said. "You smell that? It's like smelling a bakery with all those baking spices." He lit up the cigar and nodded approvingly. "You like that?" he asked. "It will smoke differently in a few weeks. Here's another one. You'll see." He pulled out another Lancero from his inside pocket. Who was I to say no?
After dinner, out came the Ashton VSG BBMF. How can I describe it? It's like seeing a Kodiak bear—beautiful and majestic, but at the same time scary. I smoked a BBMF once or twice. This isn't a smoke for the weak hearted. Even if it's the Ashton blend and not the OpusX blend, the shape alone is enough to make an impression. We also got a perfecto shaped OpusX Angel's Share. Like the BBMF, it was flawlessly constructed.
As for the auction, there were plenty of interesting lots, like a complete vertical of OpusX cigars; a box of OpusX Angel's Share presented by Prometheus; $10,000 worth of cosmetic dentistry; and a private dinner for 12 right in the Grand Havana Room. Between the 12 lots and the wine auction, I'm not exactly sure how much the Smoker raised for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. It hasn't been announced on their website yet, and don't know that it will be. Sometimes, hospitals believe that having a fundraiser involving tobacco sends a contradictory message, and there's usually someone on the board who vociferously objects. I personally don't believe that it's particularly paradoxical, and I'm not sure what St. Jude's official stance on the issue is. Either way, I'm confident that all who were involved with this annual Smoker didn't do it for recognition or adulation. And they didn't do it solely for the rare cigars, but I suspect that the prospect of rare smokes didn't exactly discourage them either.