I was a lot less hungover than I should have been, but Thursday morning came far too quick for my body, which as you might recall ending the night with a lot of red wine.
Still, when I got on the bus to head to Tamboril, I felt pretty good all things considered. But when we arrived at PDR Cigars, I quickly heard loud music and saw dancers. Whatever positive takes of my hangover quickly evaporated and I began to quickly wonder when it would be over.
The dancing was cool, even if my head was hurting. One thing I also really liked is that PDR Cigars let a fair number of employees watch the dancers, something that rarely happens at other factories and the employees seemed to enjoy themselves.
Once inside, two things became very apparent: a. someone had given the factory employees loud whistles; b. our group was very big for what is at many points a cramped factory.
I tried my best to get as close to Abe Flores as I could for much of the tour, but our group was too big. In full disclosure, that meant I didn’t hear much of what Flores said about his factory. The only suggestion I have for this is to divide the groups into smaller ones once they arrive. This wasn’t in previous years, but it seems like a consistent theme, not just for me.
Heavy rains came and went throughout our tour, something that is evidenced by an increased in humidity. It’s been wetter than normal in the Domincian this year.
The size of the operation was something that caught me off guard. I’d driven by the PDR factory a couple times, but I never imagined there would be this many rollers, or more importantly, this much tobacco.
Like many factories in the Dominican, scales were prominently placed at each rolling station. This seems to be something that Procigar members have adapted more than most Nicaraguan manufacturers for whatever reason. For those wondering about the scales, it’s to weigh each individual cigar.
Abe Flores stands in his newly-built rolling room for flavored cigars. It’s sealed off from the rest of the factory to avoid cross-contamination.
I had to ask Flores what the machine was. It’s what is used to seal the Devil’s Weed packs, a line of raw tobacco leaves packed with a Boveda that is used for marijuana. Devil’s Weed is different than most other products in the segment as the tobacco goes through the more rigorous sorting and is then packed with a Boveda.
Throughout the tour, Flores stressed the importance of using a limited amount of specific growers to help ensure consistency. Jochy Blanco of Tabacalera La Palma fame is one of those growers.
Because of the season, the tobacco processing rooms weren’t as full as they would typically be. Still, it’s nice to see all the different types laid out to understand just how complex cigar blending is.
Tobacco hands, waiting to be rolled.
The PDR Aging Room seems like it might need to expand. Flores told us he has some lines—like the A. Flores Series Privada Capa Habano—aging for nine months to one year, a relatively long time for a regular production cigar.
Two workers sort tobacco leaves.
After our tour, Flores let Carlos Llaca-Toraño and Juan López from Gurkha, which makes some cigars at PDR, talk about their thoughts. It was interesting to me and must have been fascinating for consumers to hear the thoughts of a client of a factory speak about the process. And I’ll give the pair credit: they were honest, brutally honest.
Llaca-Toraño talked about the balance between having inventory and letting cigars have the proper rest, while López talked about Gurkha’s transformation from a company focused on internet sales and packaging to one where brick-and-mortar sales outpace internet sales over two to one.
After that, Flores returned to the mic to talk about his story and how he blends cigars. The bass player says he looks at blending like composing music: the filler is the percussion, the bass is the binder and the wrapper is the lead guitar and keyboards. His point: the wrapper can help or hurt a filler blend, but it cannot make bad filler into a good cigar.
28 cigars, a hat, a t-shirt, an ashtray and some tobacco wrapper. Needless to say @pdrcigars took care of its #procigar2018 guests. pic.twitter.com/Kmy6ar6Xha
— Charlie Minato (@charlieminato) February 23, 2018
There are certainly some people who want to know where to go to get the best goodie bag. PDR Cigars might be at the top of the list. It certainly was the most cigars I’ve left a factory with and it wasn’t low-end product. Each and every guest on the tour left with a $300+ jar of Flores y Rodriguez Connecticut Valley Reserve—and that was just the start. It truly was an impressive amount of cigars and one thing I appreciated is the diversity of what was included. Of note, we were offered even more cigars than this, this was what simply was in the standard goody bag.
PDR then hosted lunch, which once again included roasted pork, which I once again enjoyed.
I then headed back to the hotel and got a bit of work done before heading downstairs to a qualifying round of the Cigar Smoking World Championship. The event, which is a slow smoking event, started in 2010 and has gotten bigger and bigger each year.
In short, participants smoke the same cigar—in this case Macanudo Inspirado Marevas—to see who can smoke the cigar the longest without it going out. There are a ton of rules, such as no talking or drinking for the first five minutes, you cannot put your cigar in an ashtray and your time is stopped once your burn line hits the band.
For those thinking this was all done on the honor system, you would be mistaken. Five judges roamed the room deducting points and making sure competitors weren’t in violation of the rules.
The winner—Wadih El-Ghoussoubi—won a watch and a place in the finale, which will be held in Split, Croatia later this year.
From there it was time to get ready for Procigar’s white party, once again held at the Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración. From what we are told, this is the only time a party is held at the city landmark and because of demand, ticket prices were raised this year.
As always, the white party is a ton of fun. I enjoyed it as much as I can, so enjoy the one thing I captured with a camera: Hendrik “Henke” Kelner dancing to Cardi B.
Disclosure: Procigar paid for my registration, which included access to events and lodging.