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The Good Life

Countdown to Ecstasy

How one Texas Man turned his annual Big Smoke sojourn into a journey through Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 cigars of 2018
Jul 10, 2020 | By Thomas Pappalardo
Countdown to Ecstasy
Photo/Jacob Kepler
Doug Halcomb (center, with the Cigar Raiders) arrived in Las Vegas with a mission: smoke the 2018 Top 25.

Packing the essentials for a Big Smoke is ordinarily straightforward: toothbrush, lighter, cutter. But for this past November’s event in Las Vegas, Doug Halcomb stowed an extra-special item in his luggage: a travel humidor containing 22 cigars from the Top 25 Cigars of 2018.

The pastor of the Living Oak Community Church of Lubbock, Texas, intended to smoke every one of them while in Las Vegas—and he tweeted so before he left. Halcomb began his countdown when he arrived on Wednesday, November 13. By the time the first Big Smoke evening opened on Friday, he had smoked all 22 (the missing three were Cubans that he was unable to obtain) and had room in his humidor for the cigars he would receive that night. But his three-day smoke-a-thon was not yet over. That evening, Halcomb resmoked the No. 1 Cigar (the E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic) as well as having three others.

“It wasn’t that hard,” says Halcomb, downplaying the feat. “My taste buds heal up well, but I was afraid they would be fried . . . I usually go big on The Men’s Retreat during the Big Smoke.”

The Men’s Retreat is the name given to the yearly pilgrimage he makes with his smoking club, the Cigar Raiders. Halcomb recalls that it was in 2003 “when three of us went to the first one and decided within 15 minutes of being there that we would come back again.” They did return—and return. The group, big fans of the Texas Tech Red Raiders basketball team, has since doubled in size. It has also been represented in some form at Big Smoke Las Vegas every year. However, Halcomb is the only member to keep the date 17 consecutive times.

This was not his first flirtation with the Top 25 list. In 2018, he endeavored to purchase and smoke as many of the 2017 Top 25 cigars as he could acquire over the course of the year. While condensing the smoking time frame to three days this year, he also posted a photo of each cigar on Twitter as he smoked it. Halcomb performed his countdown from No. 25 to the No. 1 Cigar of the Year, but found one of his favorites with the first cigar he smoked: No. 25, the Ramon Allones by AJ Fernandez Churchill.

The February Cigar Aficionado, which contains the annual Top 25 list, is Halcomb’s favorite issue. “It becomes my Christmas list and my To-Do list,” Halcomb says. “Everyone has their own palate and taste, but I like the diversity that [the list offers]. It’s been a fun experiment—it’s made me try different cigars.”

The Cigar Raiders hit plenty of cigar bars while in Las Vegas, making excursions to such venues as Casa Fuente at Caesar’s Palace, Rhumbar at the Mirage, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse and The Cigar Box off the Las Vegas Strip.

By November, the intrepid cigar lover aspires to collect all the Top 25 cigars of 2019. Until then he’ll smoke mere mortal cigars. But Halcomb does not despair: “There are so many great cigars out there! What a great time to be alive as cigar smokers!”

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