“To plan an event is artless; to create an experience is timeless.”
As Drew Estate’s Kentucky Barn Smoker came to a close, I spent some time chatting with Danilo Faulin of Drew Estate. During the course of our conversation I asked him, “so, you’re the event coordinator then?” to which he replied, “close, I’m the Experiential Event Planner.” Initially, I passed it off as some sort of title that the marketing team came up with, but after looking back on the event, I realized that there was a difference that almost demanded a singular title; for it was not simply an event, but an experience.
Saturday, October 3rd at 9am in Hopkinsville, KY – It’s a cold overcast morning at a West Kentucky tobacco farm as cigar smokers from all around the country gather together for Drew Estate’s second annual “Kentucky Barn Smoker.”
Upon signing in, we are given gift packs including a Barn Smoker hat, cigars, (including the full Kentucky Fire Cured lineup), and other “swag.” We then proceed into one of the center barns where fire cured tobacco hangs from the ceiling and the tobacco aroma fills the barn; this is the meeting place where we will smoke, eat, drink, and spend most of the day together.
As guests are arriving, a good number of us find our way out back around a fire as we wait for the day’s events to begin. There is a great sense of comradery as we are all there for a common interest as well as an intrigue as we explore the various tobacco barns; some where tobacco was being air cured and others where tobacco would be fire cured.
The Kentucky Barn Smoker officially kicked off around 11am with a welcome speech given by Jonathan Drew. The topic of his speech was “fellowship;” fellowship among cigar smokers, retailers, manufacturer’s and within the cigar and tobacco industries altogether. Jonathan then went on to discuss the event itself and that the goal is to bring the Cigar Safari experience to the states where it is more accessible for many. He continued on to share with us that this event in particular is where they will demonstrate a “paradigm” in the premium cigar industry: fire curing tobacco. Although fire curing tobacco is a rather old practice, it had primarily been used in pipe and smokeless tobacco; only recently had the industry seen the use of fire cured tobacco in premium cigars.
After the welcome speech, we were led back outside by the fire where Robert Gray, of Garnett Farms, explained the process of preparing for the fire curing process in which a bed of wood, (typically hickory or maple), is laid down and covered in 12-18 inches of damp sawdust with large “pockets” throughout, exposing the wood beneath; this setup process is called “bedding.” Once the barn has been bedded, embers from the fire are placed in the bed “pockets” and begin to slowly burn the wood beneath and smoke the barn.
The barn will smoke for 7-10 days and reach temperatures exceeding 130 degrees Fahrenheit. After the first smoke, the tobacco will be damped via sprinkler system so as to remain pliable and not burn. Once the tobacco has been damped and cooled, they are smoked once more, “it is like marinating the tobacco” said Gray. As we were all gathered inside the barn to view this demonstration and listen to Jonathan Drew and Robert Gray explain the process of fire curing tobacco, there was a great sense of wonderment among us as many of us had never witnessed this process. Photos were taken, questions were asked, and eventually some trigger happy jerk with an air horn signaled that we had to move on to the next barn.
At the next barn, we were introduced to Pedro Gomez and Willy Herrera of Drew Estate as well as Lee Crawford of Hail & Cotton International who were going to discuss the process of blending fire cured tobacco as well as demonstrate how they strip the tobacco. An interesting thing about this particular tobacco is that it is cured while still on the stalk as opposed to stripping the tobacco prior to curing, which is the traditional method. This process allows for the tobacco to continue to receive nutrients as it cures. Another difference in the tobacco grown in Kentucky versus tobacco grown in Nicaragua or Dominican Republic, is that the growing season begins in May, as opposed to November and is ready to be harvested around August. These tobacco plants will yield approximately 14-16 leaves per plant and 3,200-4,000 pounds of tobacco per acre. After we learned about the growing and stripping process, Willy Herrera, Master Blender for Drew Estate, began discussing blending the tobacco. Because Kentucky Fire Cured tobacco is so potent in flavor, it can easily overwhelm the other tobaccos in a cigar, so only very little of it is used in premium cigars. It is incredible to think that tobacco being cured by such an old method has gained such prominence so quickly due to its use in a single line of cigars from one company; it simply goes to show how much we crave innovation.
Now, the final barn: something a little different.
As we proceeded to the third and final barn of our tour, we were greeted by Grant Branson, Drew Estate’s Pipe Division Manager, who gave us each a bag which included a corncob pipe and a dime bag of Tsuge pipe tobacco along with a KFC Yard Bird cigar. Grant began to discuss pipes, pipe tobacco and how Drew Estate was incorporating new tobaccos, not only in premium cigars, but also in pipe tobaccos. After a short while, we were all given instructions on how to properly load, pack, light, and smoke a tobacco pipe; so we did. For some, it was easy, for others frustrating, but in all, it was a fun experience for everyone to light up a pipe together, even if it did only stay lit for a few moments.
Well, what is there to do after a morning of smoking and learning? Eating and drinking, of course!
Once we all made it back to the first barn where we had met in the morning, there was some great barbecue and bourbon to enjoy before the final events took place: the raffle & the auction.
There was an abundance of cigars, accessories, hand crafted art pieces, and a number of other items donated by Drew Estate that were part of the raffle, with all proceeds going to Op:CFW (Operation: Cigars for Warriors), a non-profit that send cigars to active military members. In addition to the raffle, Julian P. Van Winkle III presented a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20yr Family Reserve to be auctioned off for Op:CFW. Although there was some very aggressive bidding, Jonathan Drew managed to win the auction to take the bottle home and the event raised over $20,000 for Op:CFW in one day.
As Drew Estate’s second annual Kentucky Barn Smoker came to a close, a farewell speech was given by Jonathan Drew while we finished our cigars, drinks, and conversations and headed home.
It is difficult to summarize such a unique event; but I believe the best I could do is simply to say that it truly was an experience; and an incredible one at that.