It was a great weekend. By the time I arrived at Rob’s on Friday at noon, the cigar smoking was well underway. Already there were the stalwart Lil’ Smokers: Paul, Isaiah, the two Mikes, Rob, and Tony, all puffing away on what was probably their second cigar before noon. (Wanting to maximize the fun, they had arrived the day before.) I hurriedly put down my bags, unpacked the cigars I brought to share, and unloaded the martini fixin’s for later. I was excited to join my friends in Rob’s man cave and to light my first cigar of the 6th annual Lil’ Smoke weekend.
To set the scene it’s important to mention that Rob has an awesome beach house near Oxnard California, and a smoking room that would be the envy of many an aficionado. Loaded with cigar related artwork and strewn with cigar toys, Rob is obviously obsessed with all things cigar. But the jewel in the crown is his walk-in humidor (see video below). He has collected hundreds of boxes, some of which remain unopened, even years after being purchased. These boxes are the true collectables; like the Pete Johnson (Tatuaje) Monster boxes dating back to 2010, or cigars he’d purchased for the unusual packaging. He may never smoke these cigars, but when you are a true collector, simple possession is often the goal. Besides, he’s got lots of other great cigars to smoke…no need to violate those “special” boxes of rare cigars.
The annual Lil’ Smoke is a jam-packed weekend full of cigars, spirits, beer, food, and camaraderie. But the main event happens on Saturday. That’s when the great cigar swap takes place. Each member of the group brings a different box of cigars, and we pool them together to then divide them equally amongst ourselves. This year there were 13 participants, so we each got 13 cigars, all different, to smoke together and compare. We generally try to smoke the same cigar at the same time, but after the first stick we tend to drift into our own smoking rhythms. Thankfully, Rob was told in advance what we were bringing, and had put together a cigar program. This listed all the cigars and included pertinent cigar specs, i.e. wrapper, binder, and filler info, as well as the name of the blender/manufacturer, and a short history of the cigar.
After dividing and displaying the cigars on a table, Rob handed out a special added bonus: a wristwatch cigar lighter! This is one of the most unusual cigar accessories I have ever seen. And the crazy thing is, it works really well. But you do have to be careful not to burn your nose if the cigar is short.
Soon it was time for what I call “Milky Martinis”. That is a martini made with Black Cow vodka and blue cheese olives. Black Cow vodka is made from milk and it actually tastes creamy. I know it sounds a little weird, but it is absolutely the best vodka I’ve ever tasted. It has supplanted gin as my go-to martini spirit. For beer lovers, Rob had a Maduro Brown Ale in his kegerator. Needless to say, it paired very well with a Maduro cigar.
Earlier that day, Will arrived with three tri-tips he had been marinating since the day before. They went directly into the smoker where they cooked at low temp for eight hours. With baked potatoes, sautéed spinach, and some fine red wine, the dinner menu was complete, and that evening the tender smoked tri-tip was a good complement to our long day of cigar smoking.
Among the folks in attendance were Larry and Debbie Palombo. They come from Tampa Florida every year and are a great addition to the group. Larry was in the cigar tobacco business for years, and always has great info regarding the cigars we smoke. He told us about desflorado tobacco. It is the process of de-flowering the tobacco plant in the later priming stages. This increases the size and potency of the top leaves. One of the cigars we smoked during the weekend had a desflorado wrapper and none of us had heard of it.
At the end of the weekend, it was a bit sad to bid everyone farewell. It is always a fun time, with lots of fine cigars smoked, and great stories told. But it’s comforting to know I will see many of my cigar friends next Wednesday at our Virtual Cigar Lounge.
Cigar smokers are a community of like-minded people who get together to share a common passion. These gatherings make us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. We human beings need rituals in our lives; they comfort us and give us purpose. I appreciate how cigar smoking has afforded me many new friends and adventures, and the Lil’ Smoke is something I cherish and look forward to each year. Thank you, Rob, for starting this six years ago, and keeping this great traditional alive. See you Wednesday my friend.