Something fascinating about mankind… We have the capacity to make things. Of course we also have the capacity to destroy or cause problems, but we hope to strive for the good. When we see craftsmanship or creativity many of us are drawn to it like a moth to a flame. In our past, creativity was a kind of survival skill. We had to create new things like shelter and tools in order to survive or improve quality of life. Since civilization emerged, our creativity has morphed into the aesthetic and the artistic. In some cases, it can even take on a competitive facet. We want to know if we can do it better than the other guy, or we want to know if we can do it at all, thereby competing with ourselves. We want to experiment with our own creative nature. We want to know if we can make what we see others make. We want to know if we can make it better. This has always been a part of our nature, and this trait is responsible for some of the most wonderful things that we still enjoy today.It is this same creative drive that has brought about a boom in homemade products. All over the United States, and many other parts of the world, people are making things for themselves. From brewing beer, to making candles, to aromatherapy home remedies, to roasting and blending coffee, to home wine-making, the spirit to create is still alive and well.
One of the most interesting trends in this resurgence of creativity and craftsmanship is home-rolled cigars. To get a better idea of the process that goes into making these cigars and the materials used to make them, I posed some questions to some of the home-rollers at botl.org and also a vendor who specializes in supplying the leaf and supplies for rolling at home.
Jonathan O’Clair lives southeast of Phoenix. He has been bitten by the home crafting bug in many ways. He has been brewing his own beer since late 2010 and his brewing efforts have garnered multiple awards. Jonathan decided to start rolling his own cigars back in early 2015 after learning about a fellow home-brewer who was also rolling his own cigars. Being a crafter, Jonathan decided it was worth it to try it for himself, partially as a challenge and as a way to possibly save some money with the ever-increasing taxation and unreasonable regulations in the US cigar market.
Jonathan started with a kit from wholeleaftobacco.com. The kit included everything he needed to get started including the tobaccos for wrapper, binder, and filler. Surprisingly enough to Jonathan, the cigars looked pretty good for his first attempt, especially considering the fact that Jonathan did not use a cigar mold. The day after applying the wrapper and cap, Jonathan smoked one of his freshly rolled creations. He was pleasantly surprised to see that the cigar burned pretty well and was “creamy and woody, with a decent spice”.Now after 2 years of improving his skills and experimenting with tobacco blends, Jonathan is rolling about 120 of his own cigars every month. This is in addition to still being active as a brewer, and roasting his own coffee. He is hopeful that this craft hobby may lead to a career in the cigar industry one day. For now, he is excited to try new blends and always looks forward to trying a new cigar that he has made.
Don Carey is the managing partner at wholeleaftobacco.com (WLT). His business supplies tobacco products for the home-cigar roller, as well as tobaccos for pipe blends, cigarette blends, and just about anything else you imagine that is related to tobacco. WLT started supplying tobacco in 2008. The company supplies to home crafters, boutique manufacturers, and even television, film, and stage in the form of prop tobaccos.
WLT only deals in what are known as Unmanufactured Tobacco which is an agricultural commodity, rather than a manufactured tobacco product. WLT does not sell and ready to smoke tobacco products, but they have everything you could ever need to craft your own blends. On average, Don said “About half of the business comes on the retail side and half on the wholesale side” so they have a lot of retail customers who rely on WLT for the tobaccos to make cigars at home or even blend pipe tobacco at home. In recent years, Don has seen the retail sales of cigar tobaccos increase. One reason for this might be the resurgence of craft, but Don notes that it is probably also due to the wide variety of tobaccos that WLT has available.
When it comes to sourcing the tobaccos available at WLT, Don knows that the business is all about relationships. Although he used to travel quite a bit to source tobacco, after taking years to build strong relationships with suppliers Don knows that he will get the best that his suppliers have to offer. Keep in mind, most of these farms and suppliers that source tobacco to WLT also source tobacco to some of the largest and best known cigar brands in the world, and some special tobaccos are hand-picked and set aside just for Don and WLT. So a home-roller who gets tobacco from WLT will be using the same tobaccos that the big boys use. Don enjoys a cigar and a nice bourbon when he has the time. He may be smoking one of his own creations, or one of his favorite commercial brands. He also manages an online community of tobacco enthusiasts called fairtradetobacco.com.
In Seattle, Nic Templeton started brewing his own beer around 1999. He now consults multiple breweries on brewing practices and actively continues to brew his own creations. As Nic put it, “I build, rather than buy, whenever possible.” – so he is certainly of a mind to craft his own. For cigars, Nic also started with a kit from WLT to begin his cigar crafting journey. The first cigars were rolled freehand and mostly had a spicy flavor, as Nic remembers. He recalled that “they were gigantic and ugly, with a draw like a bubble tea straw”. Cost savings is a big plus for Nic, and other home-rollers, as a reason for rolling their own cigars.
Once a roller is established with basic hardware and a little experience, they can roll their own smokes for less than half the cost of the brands found on shelves at a local cigar shop. And since Nic rolls 40-50 cigars per month, that should give him plenty to smoke in case the FDA has their way in destroying the premium cigar industry. The incredible complexity in the world of cigar tobacco has been a real surprise for Nic as he journeys through his home-rolling experience. “I thought, after 20ish years of smoking higher end, handmade cigars that I knew a bit about what I’d been smoking. I was wrong.”
One of the best aspects of crafting something yourself is the unmatched sense of satisfaction that comes with enjoying or consuming a product that you made with your own hands. You know that the creative process was all you. The worry, the sweat, the frustrations, and inevitable joy was all you. That feeling of accomplishment and pride is hard to describe and near impossible to beat. If you are interested in trying your hand at crafting your own cigars you can find everything you need at wholeleaftobacco.com. You can also find a fantastic online community, with an extensive section on home-rolled cigars at botl.org.
So, as a part of this home-rolled cigar series, some of the review panelists here at Blind Man’s Puff will be doing blind reviews of the cigars submitted by home-rollers at botl.org. After all of the reviews are in, the creators of the top 3 home-rolled cigars will win some nice prizes courtesy of wholeleaftobacco.com, but most importantly win some friendly bragging rights among their peers. Be sure to go to blindmanspuff.com every day for updates.