Big Smoke = Big Names in the Cigar Business
Written by Kevin Godbee

Thursday, 20 November 2008

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the big smoke


Carlos Toraño, told us of how he started as a tobacco grower and later transitioned into becoming a cigar manufacturer. He spoke of his Cuban ancestry as in relation to the cigar they handed out: the Carlos Toraño Exodus 1959 Double Corona. At first they just named it the Exodus without the year, 1959. He explained how some people didn't know which exodus they were referring to, some thinking it was when Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt. They later added the date 1959 referring to the year Cubans began to leave Cuba after the Castro Revolution.

"A little bit of our history is in each one of the cigars that you are smoking, which is made from a blend of tobacco from five countries: Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic."

Toraño expressed his opinion that the Cuban Embargo would soon end and Cuban cigars would start entering the U.S. market legally. "I am not afraid," he said, noting the marked improvements in non-Cuban cigars in recent years and that they are making the best cigars that the industry has made in 40 years. "I would welcome the Cubans as we have better product and better quality control."

He told a great story of visiting a cigar store in Puerto Rico. Some customers came in looking for Cuban cigars. The store had none, but Toraño said he could accommodate them if they came back later. He then sold them "10 unbanded Montecristo No. 2s," for $25 each. They came back later, wanting more and saying that they were the best Cubans they had ever had. Carlos returned to the humidor and came back with a box of his own Carlos Toraño Nicaraguan Selection, with 10 cigars missing. These were the cigars he had given the customers to begin with! He offered them the rest of the box at no additional charge to the $250 they had already paid. Their humbled reaction was interesting. "They said they were so happy because otherwise they never would have tried them."


Carlos Fuente

Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr. honored his absent father by saying, "I can't speak about cigars without speaking about my father. When they made that mold they broke it."

He said he cherished bonding with his hardworking grandfather and father. "My father still works around the clock and lives breathes and dreams cigars."

Carlos supplied the crowd with two cigars; the Fuente Don Carlos Gran Reserva Robusto, the preferred smoke of his father, and the Fuente Fuente OpusX Lancero, one of the hardest cigar shapes and sizes to roll. Just one cigar roller rolls the entire production of the shape, rolling 50 cigars a day. The cigar isn't available in general distribution. Sales from it's limited release are donated to the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, the company's charity for children in the Dominican Republic.

He also talked about the ongoing challenges in the cigar business posed by weather and climate. "Every year there is a new challenge. Last year the fields at Chateau Fuente were flooded twice, resulting in a loss of 50 percent of the crop." "You can't replace it. It's our greatest resource."

Cigar Rolling, Cuban Cigars and Cigar Blending

The rest of the day Saturday included a Cigar Rolling seminar, talks on Cuban Cigars, and a Cigar Blending panel with José Seijas from Altadis, Rocky Patel, Mike Chiusano of Cusano Cigars and Tim Ozgener of C.A.O.

This was one of my favorite panels as we got to do a cigar tasting, similar to a wine tasting. Each attendee was given a small wooden cabinet four-pack sampler containing a flight of cigars: three petit coronas, and one robusto. The small cigars were puros, made up of only one type of tobacco. They were supplied in this small size just like a flight of wine to be used for a sample tasting only. The larger cigar, the CAO Lx2, was a combination of all three tobaccos. We smoked each small cigar one at a time to taste it's flavor profile. Then we smoked the large cigar, which was a blend of all three.

The Commemorative Big Smoke Wooden Cabinet The goodies inside The first tasting was of Dominican Piloto

Lunch With The Experts

Saturday's lunch was a starter course of baby field greens salad and mild herb vinaigrette dressing paved the way for a Wagyu beef filet topped with wild mushroom fricassee and porcini jus, followed by an artfully presented dome-shaped cheesecake for desert. Lunch was complemented by ample pours of Rodney Strong Meritage red wine from California.

Representatives from the cigar industry sat at every table, each giving out samples of their cigars for later.

After lunch, The Big Smoke recessed until Sunday, (there was a Saturday night event, but we did Friday's instead, as you choose one) but the crew and I went to Casa Fuente inside the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. The bar features tropical cocktails, wine and cognac served by hot babes in scantily clad outfits.

Casa Fuente's rich, Cuban-influenced interior is inviting - all warm browns, reds and mustards. Mosaic tile graces the floors, and picture murals of the Fuente family surround the bar. The massive walk-in humidor features some of the world's finest cigars, and all sorts of accessories - from lighters to books - are available in the store. A patio outside the store offers additional seating and a respite from the fast pace of the mall as well. I smoked a delicious Casa Fuente, available only at this location.


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