My First IPCPR…Vegas 2016

As I talked about in my last post, I got pretty lucky this year and managed to score a spot at the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) convention and trade show in Vegas a few weeks ago.  My initial report was primarily about the fantastic food and how Vegas as a town is the absolute worst.  This post will be a loosely focused report on IPCPR and cigar smoking in Las Vegas….with less of an emphasis on how the town is a hell of horrible tourists who have no idea where in the fuck they are going.

I don’t want it to sound like I think I know what I’m talking about in the grand scheme of the cigar industry, or that I’m the right man for the job when cigar-specific media is full of really great writers and personalities.  The magazine I’ve done a couple of things for needed another writer, and I was able to make it happen at the last minute. For me it’s generally all about being in the right place at the right time, taking opportunities as they come, and being nice to the people with whom you interact….cool things tend to happen.  As someone who has been into cigars since shortly before the full-on 90’s boom, this was a bucket list event for me.  I’ll go back as many times as I’m able; I think after getting one under my belt I’ll be better equipped to process the volumes of information as it comes in…..and brother, there is no way to adequately describe the magnitude of the industry intel that is available.  When it’s over two weeks since it ended and Halfwheel is still catching up, there’s some serious shit to learn….those guys have got it together.

Again, pretty loosely organized here….I’m talking more to people like me who have always wondered what IPCPR was really like.

While Vegas is never going to be a choice destination for me, it’s the absolute perfect town for a convention like IPCPR.  It’s a convention town and there are still plenty of places where you can smoke cigars.  From all reports, New Orleans was a nightmare last year and everyone at this year’s show was in heaven in comparison.  The registration process seems kind of long and there was plenty of confusion, but once you have your badge you’re either there as a retailer or an exhibitor.  Retailer badges come with stuff like free lunch and a big cash drawing, and exhibitor badges (which I had) get you into the show a half hour before everyone else….valuable time to wander around and get the lay of the land and do some chatting with producers before the shit hits the fan.  I think there were around 170 booths this year, and there’s no way to describe exactly how gigantic this thing is.

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The view from one tiny corner of IPCPR…no way to get a good shot of how absolutely gigantic the place is.

FREEBIES:  This is the thing everyone is most curious about.  And yes, it’s pretty goddamn sweet.  There are samples to be had.  Lots of samples.  Many of which are not even going to be in stores till later this year or first quarter or 2017.  For a true cigar nerd like me, I mean, yeah.  There is a pecking order to getting the most samples, with big retailers getting more than anyone, which is how it should be. There are a handful of booths, like Fuente, where there are “No Samples” signs….but even that isn’t true depending on who you are.  We got some pretty awesome swag boxes with the not yet released Diamond Crown Black Diamonds, and I know there were folks getting samples of the upcoming mega-awaited Opus anniversaries.  As a magazine writer with no prior industry relationships and no say in what makes it to print, I was definitely towards the bottom of the list of “people who get the best shit”….but I still walked away with a grocery bag’s worth of cigars I will actually smoke, many of which are serious pre-release stuff.  My big thing is that I’m genuinely enthusiastic and I took my task as the social media guy very seriously…when I was at your booth telling you I was going to get whatever you wanted displayed on Twitter and Facebook within minutes I always made it happen.  The uber-geek drives the trends when it comes to cigars, just like most other collector-centric industries. So the goal is to know enough to dig into the shit they are waiting to hear about and getting that information in front of them as quickly as possible. Plus you have to know how to stay the hell out of people’s way when their primary goal for being there is filling orders for the entire year.  If you’re just cool, know what you’re talking about, and have a genuine interest and love for the product….you get hooked up.  So as far as samples go….if you’re a retailer or any type of “known” person in cigar media, you would be very smart to have an entirely separate, large suitcase with you solely dedicated to getting cigars back home.

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The view from my room at Harrah’s…one thing you can still find are cheap rooms with great views in this town.

Cigar people are cool….cigar smokers, manufacturers, retailers, media types….I met so many down to earth, genuinely awesome folks with whom I would be thrilled to have the time to sit down for a smoke.  And they are EVERYWHERE in Vegas during IPCPR….you basically have immediate friends as soon as you find yourself someplace where cigars are being purchased or smoked.  And everyone is at the same level of nerd as you…or higher.

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The Champagne Bar at The Palazzo; mocktail and a Punch Punch

Cigar smoking in Vegas is not a free-for-all, but there are more than enough friendly spots to kick back and have a drink and a smoke.  Some places get way over-packed due to IPCPR, the Circle Bar at The Palazzo in the casino being one of them.  It is a great place to smoke, because there isn’t high pressure for you to keep ordering drinks…part of the reason for that is kind of annoying and sad.  Basically, the worst people bring in drinks from somewhere else and just camp out, with one person in their group ordering maybe one drink.  As someone who doesn’t drink booze I ALWAYS offered to pay regular drink price for my mocktails…most places didn’t take me up on that, and charged me for a soda.  So I usually tipped 100% or more just because in that town you’re paying for real estate when your butt is in a seat.

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Cigar smoking IN the convention area is obviously a free-for-all, but I was honestly so busy running around and talking to people that all of the cigars you see me smoking in these photos are 90% of what I smoked during the entire trip.  Everyone asked about it when I came back, because I figured the amount smoked would rival herfs from back in the day…but it did not. Monday morning began with a meeting and a talk by John Taffer of Bar Rescue.  He has become a major polarizing figure of late due to comments in an interview where he said stuff like Mezcal has hallucinogenic properties due to mescaline….for-real bartenders hate that shit. So it was funny to have a whole lot of bartender friends know I was sitting in front of the man himself.  He spent the first ten minutes talking about how Bar Rescue is totally real and not scripted, and then about twenty five minutes yelling.  To be totally honest, he did share some good information on how to make retail sales more successful and including the right people in your business, it was just surreal to have Taffer yelling in person on a Monday morning.

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From my bed to home base at the rear of the convention center it was close to a 3/4 mile walk.  The Cigar and Spirits booth was particularly popular due to the fact there were plenty of premium liquors to be had all day long.  One of the bartenders actually got a little pissy when all I wanted was a soda…I guess he thought he was in the scene in It’s A Wonderful Life in the “bar that serves hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast”.  It’s a party town and they like to move booze.  If I were a drinker I would have been deep into the free Ron Zacapa 23 that was flowing freely.

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I took a travel humidor full of my own smokes with me on the trip….so I was the guy who “brought sand to the beach”.  But hey, I had no fucking clue how quickly the cigars would stack up and plus…during my downtime it was nice to kick back with something like a Trinidad Vigia that was kept at an optimum humidity and temperature since I left from Kansas City.

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If you know me at all, you know that one of my first stops absolutely, positively had to be at the Roma Craft booth to visit Skip and Mike.  They were busy as hell, wall to wall folks ordering cigars, and they are the type of guys you know it’s better to hang back from and leave alone while they’re doing business.  But man, this was cool.

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One of my main spots during my visit what RHUMBAR at The Mirage.  It’s pretty great in a lot of ways…it’s outdoors and it’s Vegas, but the way they arrange the umbrellas and mist machines keeps it bearable at all times.  I never stopped by when there wasn’t a seat available, but it does get busy.  There are a whole lot of Jersey Shore cast wannabes and their ladies hanging out in the evening, fist pumping to a dance remix of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that I didn’t know existed, but overall it’s honestly a good vibe.  Great people watching and it’s extremely cigar friendly.  Whether you’re drinking booze or not, you’re paying the same amount for your drink. Again, no big deal, it’s real estate you’re paying for when you pull out a Bolivar Libertador to enjoy at a leisurely pace.  The cost of admission is pretty crappy $13 virgin pina coladas or slightly better fauxjitos.

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Mecca for any cigar smoker who is worth a shit in Vegas…..the humidor at Casa Fuente.  They do have the regular Ashton Line, VSG’s, etc. if you’re not wanting to spend a minimum of $20 or $30 per smoke. But everyone is there for the Casa Fuente line and a really nice variety of hard to find Opus X.  I don’t know if you HAVE to buy a cigar in order to sit and drink there, but that’s just polite no matter where you go.  In my case I bought a couple Casa Fuentes and then usually smoked my own cigars….the Casas are special occasion smokes. As far as the bar itself, it’s really a nice little place. They do amazing non-alcoholic versions of their mojitos and the service is great.  For me it’s just a little too close to the “mall” that takes up that end of the Caesar’s complex, so it’s not exactly the relaxing experience I look for when I’m looking to chill out and smoke.

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Another dream stop…..I had a great time talking with the guys at the Tatuaje booth.  And they definitely know the proper way to display everything the nerds will be hunting down for the next year.

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The Champagne Bar inside the Palazzo casino was the most popular stop for a lot of the IPCPR guys. It’s very cigar friendly but was also the closest place to the trade show to have a seat and a smoke.  The service is really friendly, and my Shirley Temples were either $4 or $6….that on top of the people watching makes it a pretty priceless experience.

 

 

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Another bucket list stop at the trade show….I love Warped cigars.  There is a finesse and balance to their cigars and an aesthetic to the brand that just clicks for me. At first glance it seems a little hipster, but the proof is in the cigars….if you think of yourself as a legit cigar smoker and you can’t taste the balance in the blending when you fire up a Lirio Rojo and recognize greatness, I don’t know what to tell you. Plus, Kyle Gellis is a hell of a nice guy.  I’ve had a chance to smoke the Maestro del Tiempo as well as the Villa Sombra, and they are awesome additions to the brand.

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One may behold the power of Fuente in 2 words when visiting their gigantic booth…”No Samples”.

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My favorite spot of the trip, and one that will be my #1 hangout if I’m back next year is the Montecristo Cigar Bar at Caesar’s.  Everything about it is good…the fresh blackberry fauxjitos, the atmosphere, service, seating, food, it’s all tip top.  This is exactly what I’m looking for in a cigar lounge. Even when they are absolutely hammered with “dudes” from various conventions and trade shows all at one time, they run a tight ship.  I spent over six hours there on my last day of the trip waiting to head to the airport. After the insanity of the Vegas strip and all of the walking, it was heaven.  And one of the best $30 cheeseburgers you are likely to find anywhere…served after 5pm…it’s what you do when you’re spending six hours someplace and you don’t drink booze.

 

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And last but not least…..

A Variety of Things In No Particular Order!

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The La Palina Illumination…this is my personal pick as top cigar for IPCPR.  Their espresso service did not hurt either. 

 

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I think this was 2 days worth of free samples.

 

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The cigar travel pack was my top pick for accessories at the show…pretty perfect.

 

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The Xikar Xi3 in Damascus Steel…I think these will retail for around $500

 

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The “O” from Xikar…feels good in the hand, I’ll definitely want one of these when they make it to retailers.

 

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I’m a Mason, so I’m biased, but Hiram & Solomon make some great cigars….”The Shriner” is their newest cigar and 20 come in the Fez “box” for $150.  I’ve smoked several that they gave me, and they taste great…light start that works into some salted caramel flavors.

 

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Another one everyone is waiting for….The Tabernacle from Foundation Cigar Company.  The ones I’ve sampled are very good, for the money they’ll be a big hit.  Nick and his folks do blending right.

 

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Ezra Zion is really new to me, and I don’t know if they even had anything “new” at the show, but the Tantrum and the All My Ex’s lancero are both total box purchase candidates for me.  

 

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This is for the super collector nerds…..even the employees didn’t know about this one before the show.  The story goes…Farmer Bill didn’t smoke any of the Zombie Antidote, and the resulting cigars will hit retailers around the holidays. 

 

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So these have gotten plenty of press…..the ones I’ve sampled so far have been damn good, and I’m not even a big Diamond Crown fan.

 

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Another one that people are going crazy to find…they’re showing up in limited quantities here and there. The petite La Nox….smart move on the part of LFD to make a smaller format. Even people who aren’t LFD fans (like me) enjoy this particular cigar.

 

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Everything Dion Giolito does is good….possibly my very favorite non-Cuban brand.  These are his 10th anniversary smokes, and I was lucky enough to find some already.  They smoke like a dream…the most Illusione-y Illusione I’ve tried.

 

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You’re waiting for these to hit the Smallbatch site?  Me too.  I’ve smoked a pre-release, and am ready for some more.

 

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Padron 90th…I’m telling you, I’m not a huge Padron whore, but having Anniversarios that are not box-pressed is a big selling point for me.  

 

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And this sampler is just smart as shit…all the lines in one box.

 

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And here we have what is arguably one of THE most highly anticipated cigars of 2016…the Neanderthal OM H-Town Lancero.  As of this writing I’ve gotten a couple and shit they are fantastic.  If you are an unapologetic Roma whore like me, and love the Neanderthal line, you’re going to lose your mind.

 

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For a mere $1200 this 100 count box of ALL of the Tat Reservas can be yours!

 

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Genius marketing….the collectors will have to buy 2 of each. One to smoke and one to squirrel away in their Tatuaje shrine.

 

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T52 Flying Pigs….these will sell.

 

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I geeked out a little bit when Willy gave me some samples….this is a cigar I wanted to try as soon as I read about them.  They are winners.  If you like HE, then you will absolutely love these. 

 

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Three lines, six different sizes per sampler = GENIUS

 

So that’s that….my first IPCPR.  As much as I do not like Vegas, this was one of my favorite events of all time.  Everything you’ve heard about the greatness is true….

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One of my favorite cigars and a kickass tangerine fauxjito….

 

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Categories: Cigars, Las Vegas, New

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