Cigar Aficionado's 10th annual Las Vegas Big Smoke rolled into Sin City November 4 through 6. The event hammered home its reputation as the world's biggest cigar party and the premier celebration of all that encompasses the good life.
More than 6,000 cigar lovers from around the United States and as far away as England, Iceland and Russia descended on the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino to attend the festivities, which included Big Smokes on Friday and Saturday nights and seminars on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It was a weekend full of revelry, camaraderie and the appreciation of fine cigars, and one of the biggest Big Smokes in Cigar Aficionado's history.
The highlight of the Las Vegas Big Smoke weekend was the cigar seminars. This year, some 400 hard-core cigar enthusiasts attended. "You're what makes this happen," said Gordon Mott, Cigar Aficionado's executive editor, addressing the crowd, "what makes it really special and keeps it going."
The Saturday seminars included "How to Blend A Cigar," moderated by David Savona, a senior editor at Cigar Aficionado, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, president of El Credito Cigars Inc. and the maker of La Gloria Cubana, and José Seijas, a master blender for Altadis U.S.A. Inc.; "How to Collect Rare and Aged Cigars" with James Suckling, Cigar Aficionado's European editor, Thomas Böhrer of Habanos Wine and Cigars in Hong Kong, and Frank Nisenboim, a private cigar collector from Chicago; and an "Ask the Experts" session featuring Mott, Savona, Suckling and Jack Bettridge, Cigar Aficionado's senior features editor and spirits writer.
While each seminar was a great way for aficionados to listen to and ask questions of some of the industry's top cigarmakers, it was also a chance to smoke their cigars. A unique treat for the morning sessions was the Anniversary Cigar Tasting. Before the seminars began, each attendee was given a trio of special cigars rolled in the Dominican Republic. The cigars were the José Seijas Signature Series, a limited-edition corona gorda; the Daniel Núñez Selección Especial, a dark figurado created by Núñez, president and chief operating officer of General Cigar Co.; and the Fuente Fuente OpusX The Rising X, a masterpiece that Carlos Fuente Jr. made in tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The cigars were introduced by their makers, with Benjamin Menendez filling in for Núñez, who had been called to business in Europe. Each cigarmaker discussed the blend of his cigar and what inspired its creation. Each also stressed the rarity of his smoke. Both the OpusX and the Daniel Núñez cigars were rolled exclusively for the Las Vegas Big Smoke's 10th anniversary and are commercially unavailable, while the Seijas cigars, which were fitted with special bands and cedar sleeves specifically for the event, are available only in a handful of tobacco shops around the country.
The morning sessions ended with a "Lunch With the Experts." Those who attended the seminars were seated at a table with the likes of Tim Ozgener from C.A.O. International Inc., Cynthia Fuente-Suarez from Tabacalera A. Fuente, Litto Gomez from La Flor Dominicana, Orlando Padrón from Padrón Cigars, Rocky Patel from Indian Tabac, and many others. Each cigarmaker brought cigars for the table and talked shop with the guests while everyone enjoyed a full spread of food. Other diners were seated at tables hosted by Cigar Aficionado editors, and while there was some disappointment that they weren't paired with a cigarmaker, any frowns quickly turned to smiles when they were given pre-embargo Cuban cigars dating from the early 1960s. The smokes, Los Statos Brevas, were provided by Böhrer, who brought them over from his shop in Hong Kong.
The seminars continued on Sunday morning with "Breakfast With Charlie Palmer." Palmer, a celebrity chef who owns such restaurants as Aureole and Charlie Palmer Steak House, served Bloody Marys and Bull Shots and poached eggs and grilled ham to hungry and slightly hungover guests who were also given a Padrón Serie 1926 40th Anniversary cigar to puff on.
Following breakfast was the "Roll Your Own" cigar contest, hosted by Carrillo and Michael Giannini of El Credito. The grand prize, an all-expense-paid trip to the El Credito factory in Miami, went to Gerry Curry, who rolled the best cigar. The seminars ended with a "Rum and Cigars" pairing hosted by Bettridge. A typically saucy affair, the tasting was kicked off with a Daiquiri featuring 10 Cane rum, followed by quaffs of Appleton Estate VX, Bacardi 8 and Ron Zacapa Centenario. The rums were paired with cigars from La Flor Dominicana and La Aurora.
While the cigar seminars were truly special, the Friday and Saturday Big Smokes were events in their own right. Some 3,000 people filled the 85,000-square-foot ballroom each night to collect an array of premium cigars: Arturo Fuente, Ashton, Bolivar, Brazil Cigars & Tobacco, C.A.O., Flavours by C.A.O., Carlos Toraño, Cuesta-Rey, Cusano, Don Tomás, Felipe Gregorio, Helix, H. Upmann, Kahlua, La Aroma de Cuba, La Aurora, La Carolina, La Flor Dominicana, La Gloria Cubana, Maria Guerrero, Montecristo, Oliva, Padrón, Puros Indios, Romeo y Julieta, Rocky Patel, Saint Luis Rey, The Griffin's and Zino Platinum.
Cigar lovers were also treated to a wide variety of beer, wine and spirits, and gourmet food from such Vegas restaurants as Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Emeril's New Orleans Fish House and Piero Selvaggio's Valentino Las Vegas. There were automobiles on the floor as well, including Bentleys, Hummers and Corvettes, as well as Triumph motorcycles. Thumping music and beautiful women added to the festive atmosphere.