Charlie Minato and I are back in the Dominican Republic for the Procigar Festival, the annual celebration of the country’s cigar industry, and which this year is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
We are starting our trip in Punta Cana, the easternmost point in the Dominican Republic and the home to a number of hotels and resorts, including the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which is the host hotel for the first few days of the festival. As you might imagine, it’s a property that is full of music memorabilia, but it’s also an expansive hotel that is home to more than 1,700 guest rooms, multiple restaurants, a casino, shopping and a number of daily activities. Unfortunately the rains were coming through when we arrived, so it was off to find cover to enjoy some cigars, first at one of the outdoor bars and then to the sports book in the casino.
Upon arrival, participants are given a duffle bag filled with goodies, which includes the first box of cigars, as well as a custom printed Stinky ashtray, polo shirt, ball cap, lighter, cutter, and a travel humidor and humidification supplies from HumidifGroup. While I’ve always been impressed with these gifts, this year’s definitely raises the bar.
For the most part, Sunday is designed to be a fairly quiet day, almost a scheduled relaxation day before things really get going on Monday night and Tuesday, when the group will travel to La Romana to see Altadis’ Tabacalera de Garcia, the largest cigar factory in the world, currently producing around 120,000 cigars per day and in the process of increasing that to 160,000 cigars.
As far as the cigar companies go, Altadis is the focus of the first days of the trip, as they sponsored the cocktail hour and provided a number of cigars to accompany drinks and hors d’oeuvres, including the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez and several other Montecristo lines.
Several members of the company’s Grupo de Maestros were in attendance and talked cigars with attendees, and the company invited Miguel Garcia in for a live rolling demonstration featuring the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez. Garcia is one of a very small handful of rollers at Tabacalera de García to have earned the title of Maestro en Cigarros, an honor that only two rollers are awarded in a calendar year. It’s a prestigious honor, and comes with this snazzy suit that bears the honor.
After cocktails, Charlie, myself and some attendees decided to hit up the Japanese restaurant at the Hard Rock, and in particular the teppanyaki portion. If you’re familiar with Benihana, you get the idea of this place, and it certainly hit the spot.
From there it was onto Coco Bongo, a disco and showclub that is hard to put into a tidy description. Part musical revue, part acrobatics, part dancing, part nightclub, it’s a high-energy show that starts at 11 pm and runs into the early hours. Parts of it can be a bit cheesy, but the talent of the performers is quite impressive and I think it’s certainly worth a visit.
Monday is another quiet day until dinner, though Altadis is sponsoring a rolling seminar on the beach that should be interesting as Charlie and I see if we’ve gotten any closer to being competent in making cigars. As I mentioned earlier, on Tuesday morning we’ll head about a little over an hour southwest to La Romana and Tabacalera de García, then make the roughly four-hour drive to Santiago for the second and much larger portion of the festival. If you’ve followed our coverage of previous Procigar festivals you have an idea of what’s in store, but we’d certainly love to hear ideas as to what you’d like to see covered, or if you have questions for specific people that we might be able to get them to answer. Leave them in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get to them.