Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog gets a sense pretty quick of the things that I dig. My lovely wife, my family and friends, the cold side of the pillow, tying copius amounts of flies....and, of course, let's not forget fishing and cigars. At some point I went from casual enjoyment of cigars to them being a fixture in my fishing gear...seemingly as common as tippet spools and necessary as a fly rod. My theory is that a successful day on the water is better enjoyed with a great stick.
On a weekly basis, or sometimes more frequently, I head to my local Karric Square Tinder Box and hang out with my cigar mentor Mike. He has helped to expand my palette from a steady diet of Connecticut wrapped sticks to the current wide varying, and far stronger, selections I partake of these days. Smoking cigars with Mike is like drinking a fine wine with the vintner...the man knows his stuff. Mike freely passes his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, cigars on to people that walk throgh his door. When you walk in to the shop there is always some amazing jazz on the radio and a good conversation to be had, along with an awesome stick of course!
One thing we have talked about is the art of making a good cigar. There are a lot of steps in the process, from field to shelf, and any one step gone bad can lessen the end product. With all the discussion though I have never actually seen a cigar wrapped by hand...until today.
Today Mike had a special event at the shop. Darrin Hildebrand, owner of Great Lakes Cigar Company, was in shop rolling cigars! Darrin and his associate Gary came down from Milan Ohio to and spent the day at the shop talking to customers and rolling cigars on ths spot. When I first heard about GLCC my internal dialogue was pretty much "really...cigars rolled in Ohio. hmmmm..." That thought went away after the first few minutes of the first stick I had, the Nor'Easter. Darrin really knows his stuff. The man owned a tobacco shop in Sandusy for a decade, and during that time started taking interest in making his own product. Darrin trained under the watchful eye of expert Cuban rollers, and has now been doing his thing for 17 years. They import leaf from seven countries and also incorporate local PA leaf, so you get a great blend of flavors.
Watching Darrin at the table knocking out each step and setting the presses actually reminded me very much of production fly tying. Each thing has it's place and each step of the rolling process is part os a well thought out end game. It is evident in watching the man that he enjoys what he is doing...and is VERY good at it.
In order of decreasing strength the Great Lakes Cigar Company's line up currently consists of the Pirate, the Monster, and the Ghost Ship...and each has interesting points as they burn. My favotite is still the last in the line, the Nor'Easter. The Nor'Easter is a fantastic blend with a barberpole finish. It subtly alternates pepper and cream throughout, and is a top notch smoke. The Great Lakes Cigar Company has only Darrin rolling it's sticks so the volume is still low, but if you can get your hands on one I would say definitely do it!