I am one with my vices. I really am. Yes, the drinking and smoking and general tendencies toward inebriation and enjoyment of psychoactive substances is probably bad for me long term, but what the hell?
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to engage my love of nicotine in the company of many (upwards of 2000, says organizer Joe Ligget) fine folks at the 3rd Annual Rocky Mountain Cigar Festival. It was held at Millenium Hotel in Boulder.
It was a great place for some of the more famous cigar houses to show off their products and get them directly into the hands of consumers. The scale of products was fun. There were the basics: cigars, cutters, and beautiful torch lighters all on the high end. Mid-level and machine-made cigar manufacturers were also present, highlighting new spins on the old classics, like White Owl. There were also some fun products like energy drinks (no nicotine) and other tobacco products. Also represented were your products that are not traditionally used for tobacco. LighterMate is a company that makes grinders that are paired with a magnetically attached lighter. Pretty good idea, I would guess. There were also a few very shiny pipes and other devices best suited for weed, and hey, I am not one to split hairs. Smokers of all sorts!
Snus, a traditionally European smokeless tobacco seems to be hitting local markets pretty hard. I guess with the stigma on smoking around here, it makes sense. At another booth, it was all I could do not to buy a tin of snuff. A few beers suggested it might be a good idea, then the memory of waking up hungover after a night at Mario’s Keller Bar choking on nicotine-laden post nasal drip quickly changed my mind. Nostalgic but too disgusting to repeat without being in Nordeast Minneapolis.
So my experience is in beerfests. This felt like more of a trade show. I will say it was way more friendly and social than a trade show but it was hard to talk to some of the vendors without getting a hard press to buy some smokes. This was not the standard but it was a bit surprising. Once I got over that, I lit up a selection from the swag bag and cashed in a few drink tickets. Oskar Blues was pouring Dale’s and Old Chub. Bristol Brewing was showing well with their Imperial IPA. I drank a bit of Evan Williams Bourbon and a few snorts of whiskey from Black Canyon up in Longmont and the festival settled over me. As I wandered around, I met some really nice people who were really into cigars. I did notice though, that the people were very different than a beerfest crowd. There was a level of affluence that was pretty apparent. That probably shows in the ticket cost which was $100 for general admission. VIP tickets scaled up to $400 for other levels of access.
There was nothing wrong with that difference and people were having a hell of a time. The level of cigar knowledge was impressive. It made me wish that I knew more, for sure. It was also hard to gauge trends from one brief afternoon but I did notice that large ring-gauge (diameter – wider makes for a generally smoother smoke) is definitely the big seller. This has been an industry trend for a long time. What was surprising is that I saw a lot more light-colored wrappers than I had expected. Darker tobaccos have strong, bold flavors while a lighter one provides a more subtle nuanced smoke. Both are good and have their place but I like to make the comparison that a person who really enjoys a dark wrapper is similar to a hophead in the beer world. Personally, I like a nice Connecticut Valley shade-grown wrapper giving a nice creamy puff. It was great to have my pick of so many. My favorite of the day had to be the Nat Sherman Metropolitan that the fellows at their booth offered me. Yum.
As I think back on it, this was a pretty laid back day out in the sun in a lovely spot. Simply, if you are a cigar lover or looking to learn a bit about the culture, do not miss this event. The cigars you get with admission are worth the price alone and access to a group of friendly smokers like this is really rare. Go and enjoy a reviled vice and have a few laughs.
Pro tip: After a few drinks it is really fun to talk to vendors with peach and grape cigars who are trying to avoid the fact that their whole market is essentially being purchased to be used as blunt wraps. This is better if you have a two-minute conversation without cracking a disbelieving smile.