Guns and Gear

Cigar Hunter: Big guns visit Washington ‘Little Puff’ to talk Third World jobs, FDA, freedom

Last call for this Friday’s Cigar Hunter prize giveaway. Register today for the Cigar Hunter email list and you could win a box of House Resolution by JC Newman cigars from Corona Cigar Co., and a dual-guillotine cutter from Cigar Cutters By Jim featuring the SEAL Team VI insignia. (The winner must be 18 years old by Oct. 5, 2012.)

Today’s photographic guest smoker: Don King. I give you my word King will be the only race-baiting convicted killer to be honored in this space, unless another boxing promoter has his murder rap erased by an Ohio governor and later aspires to host sanctioned slug-fests in North Korea. I’m funny that way.


So, Mr. Fuente goes to Washington. So does Mr. Gomez, Mr. Padrón, Mr. Patel, Mr. Eiroa, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Paley, Mr. Samel — well, you get the idea. Los jefes from Arturo Fuente, La Flor Dominicana, Padrón, Rocky Patel, CLE, Tatuaje, La Palina, Drew Estate and other brands were all under one rooftop tent in the nation’s capital last Friday night.

For a cigar geek like me, it was like meeting royalty.

And these kings and princes spoke freely about politics and what they’ll be bringing to market in the coming months. Maybe it was the open bar.

You may have heard of “Big Smokes,” the Cigar Aficionado charity fundraisers that can cater to “thousands and thousands of cigar lovers” at a time. This event was the corresponding “Little Puff” hosted by W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist, a legendary cigar shop whose retail space has been just steps from the White House since Grover Cleveland was president (the first time around) in 1887.

Ticket sales benefited scholarship funds, including  one named for a Navy SEAL killed in action. They capped the tickets at fewer than than 300 guests, most of whom paid $200 each to get in. (A few VIPs paid more.)

Of course, $200 is a lot of money to smoke cigars and schmooze for four hours, but every attendee also collected 27 — yes, 27 — premium cigars, one from each of the manufacturers who came to promote their brands. Plus a giant humi-bag from Boveda and a can of butane from XIKAR. (Here’s the inventory if you’re interested. And since I smoked some of these, it’s possible a few details are wrong. Feel free to correct me if you were there.)

Being a cigar geek and a notoriously cheap guy, I had to know if I was getting a good deal. So I totaled it up, using an average of three online prices for each cigar. And guess what? Blowing $200 at the Little Puff saved me money. It would cost $227 to buy everything I walked away with, or smoked, Friday night.

Yes, yes, it was for the children. Scholarships. I know. Now step aside: Free brisket, pulled pork and roasted goat (no joke) await. There’s a topless girl named Rachel wearing body paint over there. And I need to find the sultans of Cigaristan to continue my education.

I learned that Carlito Fuente has held back the introduction of his anniversary cigars until next year. “We have several brands that we were prepared to release this year for our 100th anniversary, and unfortunately we had huge fires, lost two huge buildings, we’re out some 8,000 [tobacco] bales.”

Jorge Padrón said that in addition to the Padrón Anniversary No. 4 vitola for his 1964 Anniversario that’s already available, he’s busy testing blends for a 50th anniversary stogie due out in 2014.

Why so few new cigars from Padrón, compared to, say, Drew Estate or Rocky Patel? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Jorge replied.

Litto Gomez told me about his “Oro” line — “Oro, for gold” — that’s due out in a few weeks. He also promised to send me a few.

“We’ve got a totally new wrapper that we’ve never used before,” he said, “a Habano from Nicaragua. It’s spectacular. Lots of flavor.” It took “almost four years” for La Flor Dominicana to age the wrappers and ensure there would be enough continuous supply.

Nobody who understands cigars should be surprised that absolutely every big name I approached was happy to speak with me. These guys are all passionate about cigars. But most of them have also been lobbying their ashes off this year, and the threat of devastating new regulations from the Food and Drug Administration had them in a talkative mood.

To recap: The FDA has announced a plan, which could reach its final stage any day now, to apply to premium cigars most of the regulations that already apply to cigarettes. In response, the industry is lobbying a bill that would put stogies out of the FDA’s reach. (DETAILS: FDA stogie politics update, and some free cigars)

Washington is where business come to stay in business, of course. But when I asked a half-dozen cigar titans why they’re so worried, not one of them talked about keeping his own job. Most cited their employees, a majority of whom work in Third World countries.