If you’re a regular cigar smoker chances are that you’ve been to at least one cigar event. Regular readers of Blind Man’s Puff have probably been to quite a few. If you’re uninitiated to the world of the Cigar Event, here’s a basic rundown.
A cigar manufacturer or brand works with the owner of a B&M cigar store to host an evening with special deals on their specific brand of cigars. You’ll typically see a notice on the cigar shop’s website or Facebook page, and you’ll also get an email if you’re on the mailing list. When you arrive at the event you may be greeted by the shop owner and then a sales rep from the cigar company who sponsored the event. The rep tells you about the special deals they have running just for the event and maybe hands you a couple of drink tickets. The deals are pretty good. Maybe if you buy a box you get entered in a raffle for an ashtray or a T-shirt. They might be grilling free hot dogs and hamburgers from the local Costco.
Maybe a box purchase gets you 5 free cigars, but those cigars aren’t buyer’s choice, they are pre-selected sticks and usually from one of the budget lines from the brand. You drink your drinks, maybe buy some cigars, and maybe go home with a shiny new lighter. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to plenty of this kind of event, and I enjoy it. But these are just snapshots in time. A few hours to get a quick deal, a bite to eat, and maybe meet a few new people.
Another type of gathering for cigar lovers is the Cigar Festival. These are usually multi-day gatherings with seminars, meals, and parties all on the schedule. If you’ve been to something like Puro Sabor or Pro Cigar, you know that these festivals can be very informative and fun, but they can also be rigorous with the schedule.
Then there’s something called Ristefari. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it. By the end of this article you will probably want to go. Ristefari is the brainchild of Riste Ristevski, owner and founder of Jas Sum Kral Cigars (JSK). In a nutshell Ristefari is like a cigar event, a cigar festival and a family reunion combined into a weekend. In early March of 2018 I was fortunate enough to attend Ristefari 2018. Here’s a rundown of some of the best points of Ristefari.
The fact is, most brand-sponsored events are 4-5 hours long. Ristefari is more like a festival because it spans multiple days. Many of the attendees actually arrived on Thursday afternoon to say hi to Riste and maybe hit a couple of favorite Chicago area cigar shops. The event officially started late Friday morning at the 1101 Cigar Lounge in Schererville, Indiana. I was very impressed by this shop. There was plenty of seating and the shop also has a nice selection in the humidor.
Although the schedule officially kicked off at about noon, I did not arrive until about 2 PM since I drove down from Minneapolis that morning. I greeted Riste and he directed me to a nice family buffet of hand-crafted food and fantastic smoked brisket, along with the ridiculously fantastic mustard sauce from MouthHole BBQ (Thanks, Ray!). Having heard stories about the food that would be at Ristefari, I purposely skipped breakfast and lunch on the drive down.
I filled my belly with delicious food, then picked up a fiver of the JSK Red Knight Robusto. This is a blend and size that I have really enjoyed since I first heard of JSK a few years ago. I also sipped on a wonderful aged vanilla bean porter that was supplied by a local hobbyist brewer and friend of Riste. No BS, the beer was phenomenal. At this point I just smoked my cigar and then stood back in awe to observe the raffle giveaways.
Now, when you think of raffle giveaways at an average cigar event, what comes to mind? You probably picture a couple of 5-packs of the new release as prizes. Maybe an ashtray with the brand logo is one of the prizes, or a couple t-shirts. The “grand prize” might be a box of cigars signed by the brand owner. That’s cute. Yes, there were still hats and signs and other JSK branded swag, but that was just the beginning. Riste pulled entire boxes of vintage Cuban cigars from his own humidor. I mean Cuban cigars from the 1960’s through the 1990’s were given away as prizes. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that at any other event.
We spent the rest of the time, late into the evening, talking and laughing and smoking JSK cigars. I smoked one of the Zlatno Sonce Soloman’s given to me by Riste to try out. This was a limited vitola made specifically for Ristefari 2018. In all honesty, it is a great size for the blend. It actually gets smoother as the burn line progresses and has some really nice floral and wood noted toward the end. I liked it so much I bought a box. Like I said, we joked, drank, smoked, drank, swapped stories, drank, and we may have also had a few drinks. When the evening concluded we went our separate ways to rest up for day 2. That’s right, this was just the beginning.
Day 2 started a little slow, but we eventually rallied. After a quick stop at Dunkin, we were on the way to day 2 of Ristefari 2018. Day 2 was hosted at the Golden Leaf Cigar Lounge in Hobart, Indiana. This location was really great because the lounge in huge. It had plenty of seating and space for all of the food. Warmer temps and big heaters also made the tent that was set up outside a nice overflow space.
Riste and his family arrived with more food. That’s right, way more food. This time, it was a pig… A whole pig. I tell you what, that pig was so tasty. I know I’ve already mentioned it, but the variety of food was incredible. Riste even care around with a container of smoke artisanal smoked and cured meats made by another friend of the family. Honestly, the pork belly melted like smokey butter from heaven.
Then it was more great conversation, great cigars, and great drinks. Honestly, most people brought beer or liquor to share so there was no shortage of libation. I was finally able to try some of the Bourbon County Stout from Goose Island, which was just as delicious as I thought it could be. There was pretty much every variety of beer and whiskey going around the room at any given time, and the think in highest abundance was generosity.
Riste’s family brought in some homemade Macedonian moonshine that I think was called Rakija. It was like drinking the most delicious lighter fluid I could imagine, but with a finish that was as smooth as an Indiana pothole. Jokes aside, it was strong as an ox but very flavorful. Some of us had just enough, some of us had too much. More on that later.
As the day continued, the shop continued on with the great pricing on JSK cigars, and Riste brought out another box filled with more raffle prizes. More hats, more swag, more vintage cigars, more bottles of BBQ sauce, or booze. Even people who won multiple items in a single prize sometimes split up the prize and gave items to be raffled again, so more people would have a chance to win something. The generosity was on full display, and it all seemed to come from a place of true camaraderie.
Strange as it may seem, many who attend Ristefari come from Minnesota, and I just so happen to also call Minnesota my home. I am a part of a very active Facebook group known as Minnesota Herf Connection (MHC). Although I don’t really know the origin story, it seems that JSK has been the unofficial cigar brand for MHC for a while now.
Riste even comes up to Minnesota from time to time to join some of the larger MHC gatherings throughout the year. There is also the small yet elite group known as the OG9. They are the 9 people (including Riste) who attended the very first Ristefari in 2016. A dedicated group who were the earliest mega-fans of the JSK brand. They’re kind of a big deal.
Just like day one, day two of Ristefari went late into the evening. Not only that, it went seriously next level. Bottles were flowing, cigars were being passed around by the handful, and people just laughed and goofed off. Did we have some people go too far and drink themselves to sickness? Maybe. Are there some embarrassing Ristefari videos floating around Facebook that some people might like to delete? Yup. Did Riste hit the Rakija a little too hard one night? No comment.
The fact is, sometimes it’s fun to just let loose and go a little crazy. Ristefari was a chance to do that, and make some awesome friends in the process. I guess that brings me back to the title of the article, What Should a Cigar Event Be? Honestly, that’s up to the person who creates the event, and now I know how Riste would answer that question.
A cigar event should be like a carnival, a party, a mega sale, a barbecue, a festival, a meet and greet, and a family reunion all in one. Do some other companies have some fun events? Sure. Will I still go to some basic local cigar shop events? Sure. But Ristefari will now be the event that I look forward to all year. Out of all the attributes mentioned, family reunion is the most fitting. Even though I met many of the people at Ristefari for the first time, it took little time for us to become friends, and well on the way to becoming family. I never tire of saying, cigar people are the best people. (Cover photo provided by Joe Guzman)