Smokey Butts, Papa Gar, and I attended Cigar Aficionado’s Big Smoke Las Vegas seminars on Saturday, November 13th and Sunday, November 14th, from approximately 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. The seminars took place in The Venetian conference center.
We purposely did not stay at The Venetian to avoid having to walk 5 miles from our rooms to the conference center. I learned this lesson a few years back when the Big Smoke took place at Mandalay Bay. At the Mandalay Bay Big Smoke, it took 30 minutes to walk from my room through the hotel and casino, and then through the conference center to get to the event. Our evil plan was to park using the valet and cut out a lot of the walking. Well, so much for my genius plan. While it did not take 30 minutes to walk through the hotel, it did take at least 15 minutes. I know that Las Vegas hotels attempt to keep you trapped so you can spend all your money, but c’mon, this was crazy.
We finally found the conference room and sat down just before 0900. There were hundreds of people in the room from all walks of life. My favorite part of being a cigar smoker is the camaraderie of our kind. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, black or white, young or old. If you are a cigar smoker you are instantly accepted as a member of the club. There were a lot of women in the room as well, which was pretty surprising and welcomed by all.
Side Note #1: It is only legal to smoke indoors in a casino in Las Vegas. Smoking is prohibited in the conference center. So, the Venetian and Cigar Aficionado came up with a brilliant solution; they put a handful of slot machines in the conference room turning the room into an instant casino. Genius!
The event started at 0900 with Gordon Mott of Cigar Aficionado kicking off the event. Then, Jorge Padron introduced us to our first cigar of the day, a Padron Family Reserve No. 45 Maduro. This cigar was Cigar Aficionado’s number one cigar of 2009. I’ll document my review in a different post at a later date. As a preview, this cigar was wonderful and I gave it an A.
At 0930, a panel of tobacco luminaries provided an insider discussion of tobacco grown in a variety of countries. This was very enlightening. The average cigar smoker has very little knowledge about how difficult it is to grow tobacco. This seminar provided an insider’s look at this difficult process. A highlight was Josh Meerapfel describing the intricate task of growing Cameroon wrapper. I will never smoke another cigar wrapped in Cameroon without thinking about the hell growers go through to plant, harvest, ferment, and then get the tobacco to a manufacturer.
At around 1000, Pepin, Jaime, and Janny Garcia introduced our second cigar of the day, the My Father No. 1 made by My Father Cigars, Inc. This cigar was rated a 94 by Cigar Aficionado. As with the prior cigar, I will post a review at a later date. Suffice it to say that the My Father No. 1 did not match the Padron Family Reserve No. 45 Maduro.
Our second seminar was focused on counterfeit cigars and was hosted by Cigar Aficionado’s Gordon Mott and David Savona. This seminar was mildly interesting and garnered the interest of those cigar smokers in the room who purchase Cuban cigars while travelling outside of the U.S. We learned about how counterfeiters make their own labels, boxes, and seals, and how to spot a fake. We also learned that counterfeiters also fake popular non-Cuban cigars like high end Padrons and Opus Xs. Bottom Line: Unless you buy a Cuban cigar from a reputable dealer, assume the cigar is a fake.
At around 1130, Bobby Newman, Executive Vice President of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., presented our third cigar of the day, a Diamond Crown Maximus Double Corona No. 1. This cigar was rated the number 4 cigar of 2009. As will all the cigars, I’ll post a separate review. This cigar was a real stunner and I gave it an A.
The best seminar of the event was next and was entitled Brand Builders. This seminar provided insight into building a cigar brand. Panelists included Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate Cigars, Jose Olivia of Olivia Cigar Co., Rocky Patel of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo of EPC Cigar Co. The illustrious panel members described their methods for creating a successful cigar brand.
Side Note #2: For those who follow my blog, you know I have a man crush on Rocky Patel as my favorite go-to cigar is the Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 . I was thrilled to learn how he built his company.
Side Note #3: After the seminar, Smokey Butts decided to personally thank Jonathan Drew for the year’s supply of cigars he won at Cigar Fest 2010. See his post entitled, Winner Winner Chicken Dinner for more details. Smokey Butts, Papa Gar, and I spoke with Jonathan Drew for about 15 minutes. He is a fantastic guy and we truly enjoyed chatting with him. We all have a man crush on Drew now. . .
After the seminars, we went to a lunch sponsored by General Cigar Co. Executives from General Cigar and Cigar Aficionado sat at the tables. At our table was Gregory Mottola, Associate Editor at Cigar Aficionado. I sat next to Gregory and he was a really nice guy. How nice? We were late to the lunch due to hanging out with Jonathan Drew and missed the free cigar giveaway. Gregory was kind enough to track down a package of the cigars for each of us. Thanks Gregory! The food was incredible and company was even better. At the end, everyone received a special box of ten cigars from General Cigar. The box commemorates the Big Smoke Las Vegas and General Cigar’s 50th Anniversary, and included the following cigar brands: Macanudo, Punch, Partagas, Hoyo de Monterrey, La Gloria Cubano, Don Tomas, Cohiba, and Sancho Panza.
On Sunday, we walked the 2.543 miles from the valet parking to The Venetian conference center. Our first event started at 0930 and was entitled, “Charlie Palmer Cooks Breakfast”. Charlie Palmer is a world-renowned chef who owns a number of restaurants throughout the U.S. For over 10 years, Palmer has been catering the Sunday breakfast at the Big Smoke. Palmer greeted everyone with a Wild Turkey Bourbon Hayride cocktail. Some attendees liked the drink but most of us took a sip and decided the provided orange juice was a better alternative. The cocktail was, well, nasty! As far as food, Palmer created a culinary masterpiece—a poached egg on a brioche, surrounded by pork belly sausage, covered with Hollandaise sauce. This was not exactly what I would call “man food” but it was tasty just the same. And, it was a big disappointment as I was pretty sure I had walked into an episode of the Girls Love Pink cooking show on the Cooking Channel. The food was something that I would eat with Mrs. C.Gar when she picks a restaurant. I wanted “man food”—meat, meat, and more meat. And, a cigar. Unfortunately, it was not in the cards.
Side Note #4: When I attended the Big Smoke a few years ago, Palmer provided the perfect “man food” breakfast—eggs Benedict and filet mignon with a big stack of fried potatoes. Damn, I miss the “man food”!
More of a letdown than the lack of “man food” was that we were not allowed to smoke a cigar with breakfast. We were in a different room than the prior day sans slot machines and sans city authorization to smoke a cigar. Gentle reader, one of the greatest things about the Big Smoke is eating a Charlie Palmer breakfast while smoking a fine cigar with 500 of my new found friends. It was an utter disappointment to have this privilege stolen from us by the Las Vegas lawmakers. Arrgh!
While we ate, Palmer continued the episode of Girls Love Pink cooking show by giving us a cooking demonstration on how to poach a variety of food. Now, I love Charlie Palmer. I’ve eaten at his Las Vegas and Washington, DC steak restaurants and they are simply wonderful escapes from the reality of a non-meat loving world. However, the last thing I expected at the Big Smoke was this. What’s next? Hookers at the Big Smoke evening? Oops. . . that happened this year. See Part II for details on this surprising turn of events.
As we left the breakfast to return to the Big Smoke conference room, we received an Oliva Serie V Churchill Extra, a Nicaraguan-made cigar that has been rated highly numerous times by Cigar Aficionado. I haven’t smoked it yet since it was supposed to be with my breakfast. I am conducting my own silent protest about the travesty of not being able to smoke at breakfast and will hold onto this cigar until I am eating breakfast at a place that allows me to smoke a cigar.
At around 1100, the next seminar, “Roll Your Own Seminar No. 13” began. At this seminar, each attendee received a wrapper, filler, a razor blade, gum glue, and a cutting board from General Cigar. Our task for the next hour was to roll the best cigar we could. Many of us tried and many of us failed miserably, including me. The cigars we buy look great and as it turns out, rolling a great looking cigar is extremely hard. I improved my rolled cigar slightly from the last time I attended the Big Smoke but I sure as hell was not going to become a successful cigar roller. After we completed the task, prior winners walked the floor and selected the best and worst looking cigars, and the most creative looking cigars. The entries were ranked, winners selected, and they each received a bounty of cigars and accessories as a prize. This was a ton of frustrating fun.
Our last seminar of the day began at around noon. The seminar, entitled, “Singular Malt Sensations” was a focus on Scottish whisky. We each received six glasses that had a small amount of a variety of Scotch—Auchentoshan Three Wood, The Glenlivet Nadurra, Glenmorangie Signet, The Macallan 18, Bowmore 15, and Ardbeg. It must be noted that C.Gar, Smokey Butts, and Papa Gar are not whisky drinkers. We tried our best to love this event but from our perspective the drinks tasted like battery acid, paint thinner, toilet water, decomposed humans, Smokey Butts underwear, and natty putty, in that order. For you Scotch lovers, I apologize but you’ll have to go elsewhere to get an adequate summary of this seminar. My stomach still hurts thinking about the Whisky I tasted.
The Big Smoke Seminar Weekend was officially closed at around 1300. This was a great event and every serious cigar smoker should attend the seminars at least once in their lives.