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StogieFest 2018

March 23-25, 2018
Published April 9

Another year gone, and another STOGIEFEST!

This has been a very hard article for me to pen in 2018. For the past 2 years, I had attended the festival with stogiefest 2018 attendee goodiesmy good friend Gary ‘Doc’ Laden, creator of (and, honestly, the soul of) the Smooth Draws Radio Show. Frequent readers of the Cigar Weekly Magazine know that we did all we could to help spread the word. I was a regular guest on the show, and was also honored to be a frequent co-host.

Gary passed on the 26th of January, 2018, just one day before I was to see him and co-host what I think would have been episode 147 of the show. I was shattered by his passing. His wife Susan (who he affectionately called Wee Wee) messaged me on Thursday, and told me he was in intensive care. I broke down, and started praying. Yet God still chose that time to take him home.

In honor of his commitment and contributions to cigar life, it was decided to wrap up the show with a final episode at the festival he loved most. So, for one last time, we did a live remote from StogieFest in Jacksonville, FL. It was great to be with Chad ‘The Hangman’ Potier (the show’s producer and engineer) and Nick Syris (regular co-host and a colleague of ‘Doc’) for the memorial show. But that's enough background and commiseration for the moment. Thank you for allowing me to share that moment

Now on to StogieFest!

For the last 7 years, this particular event has been the most hospitable, friendly and welcoming cigar event in the southeastern United States. Notice you didn't see the word ‘Biggest’. It might be, but it doesn’t feel like it. The staff – a quick shout out to Marshall, 6'8", David, Shawn, the service staff and too many others to name – ALL put a 150% effort into the event. Nothing about this event feels ‘HUGE’, except that you might have to wait a few minutes longer than normal for a beer. Oh, and there are a LOT of people.

hector villiiger and bigjohnIf you spring for the VIP ticket, you get access to the ‘Club Robusto’ lounge, starting on Friday night – 8PM is the first VIP event. This year, it was sponsored by Villiger Cigars. And the company’s newest release was the cigar of the evening – La Vencedora!

The Southeast Director of Sales, Hector, was present, sharing pours of Gentleman Jack (from Jack Daniel’s) and cigars with all the guests. Great conversations and stories were had, and new friends made.

The morning of the second day - actually noon - 2pm eastern - was the final SmoothDraws radio show. The brain-child of 'Doc', it was his full time job. And I do mean full time. Like anyone passionate about their company and creation, 'Doc' worked tirelessly to bring his humor, intensity and love of cigars to the #SmoothOperators, as he referred to the fans of the show around the world. I'm proud to have been able to share a little part of that with him. I was his first live caller, and probably most frequent co-host. As I said, he'll be sorely missed. You can see a little video of a part of the last show HERE, and listen to the full broadcast and all the previous episodes here.

Night number 2’s VIP event was special too. Rick Rodriguez, blender and brand guardian of CAO cigars,

rick cao and bigjohn was present (along with a few of his colleagues), sharing the Pilon in a 6x60 vitola. Personally, I love the Pilon. It's a fantastic smoke. But I’m judging that by my experience with the 5x50 Robusto. The 6x60 format presented a few burn problems for some of the guests. And I personally thought the flavor balance was a little off. The Pilon has such a great wrapper that I feel the Robusto is the ideal size to represent what the blenders were shooting for in this line.

The main event of StogieFest is always scheduled for Sunday. The day started off with a great morning for us. Chad and I got together with some folks ‘Doc’ and I had met during our first visit 3 years back, and we settled in for a tasty breakfast at Metro Diner – a landmark of a restaurant in Jacksonville. Immediately following breakfast, we headed over to the event. Being press, we had a behind-the-scenes look at the setup, and everything the staff was doing to make this portion of the festivities a success.

vips lineup for stogiefest2018During the event itself, we got to visit all of the vendors, sample all of the spirits and beers and, of course, the cigars. The picture I post here shows MOST of the cigars we were gifted by the vendors. A great group of people showed up, including our sponsors, GTO cigars and AJ Fernandez!

As the Sunday event unfolded, we sent out live tweets with some of the vendors (including a new entrant, Balmoral cigars). And those videos are linked at the bottom of this article.

A few highlights...

From the first evening, Atlantic Beach Brewing and sampling of their Two-Minute IPA. This drinks like a pale ale, with a tasty hop nose. I had several pints of this tasty beer until the keg blew out on Saturday. And it paired well with the cigar from Villiger.

On to that - the Viliger Vencedorar. This is not your father’s Villiger cigar. It's a full-flavor cigar, and definitely more than medium strength. I think our editor, Jeff Slatton, could have one for breakfast. He loves the full strength/full body cigars. For me, it was a wonderful experience until that strength snuck up on me in the final third. A very tasty cigar (and a review of it coming too).

Night two was indeed all about the Pilon. It was exciting to chat with Rick about the intro of the tasty Brazilian tobaccos, the Amazon Basin and the Anaconda, and the smaller fuma. One interesting piece of info... The Anaconda is what it is. There will be no more. The yield on the tobacco is simply not good enough to continue producing the cigar economically. So, Cigar Weekly readers, be forewarned – if you like them, get some while you can!

Sunday – Wow, too much to mention but I'll give it a try! Please have a look at the photos and live tweet videos! If you don’t follow us on twitter (@cigarweekly), you have to type it all in, because someone has the handle cigarWEEK, which keeps us from showing in the search list for some reason. Twitter failure (though some of the FOGs on the forums will tell you ALL social media is a failure!).

People’s tastes vary. But I was struck by the Balvenie Double Wood Scotch, the Woodford Reserve Rye and the Jack Daniel's products (I chose the Single Barrel!) that were given as samples. And the tasty ales (and porter!) from Swamp Head brewery in Gainesville, FL! Daria was a sweatheart, talking us through the offerings in a live tweet you can stream here.

A new GTO cigar! Oscar is a friend and fan of Cigar Weekly, and a personal friend as well.  A few of us were gifted pre-release samples of the Bueno, new from GTO. Chad 'The Hangman' Potier (producer of the Smooth Draws Radio Show and an all around great guy) has a review of this one coming up right here on the Cigar Weekly Home Page April 12th!

I got to judge the Miss StogieFest contest this year. And a lovely group of ladies they were. A busy afternoon it was, as I also announced the winners in the annual prize raffle. Dozens in attendance won some great cigar swag!

And I can't conclude this article wihtout talking about the hospitality extended to us by the amazing staff and patrons of Aromas. They took care of us like family, once again. Hats off to Marshal, Erin, CJ and everyone on the crew who worked tirelessly to set up, host and tear down this event.  This won't be my last time! It's like a home away from home!

Live tweet video streams:

At #stogiefest his first appearance it's Oscar! @GTOCigars #CigarWeekly #cigarlife

Another #stogiefest live stream with hamlet @RockyPatelCigar #CigarWeekly #cigarlife #cigarherf #

Another #stogiefest live tweet! With swamp head brewery! #CigarWeekly #cigarlife #cigars @stogiefest

Live tweeting @stogiefest! @balmoralcigars #CigarWeekly #stogiefest

radio show viller cigars
under the tents VIPs going through
under the tents dalmore and jura
stogie mike and victoria  miss stogiefest girls
lady long ash jack daniels girls
Great AJ rep Miss Stogiefest 2018 and bigjohn
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