Yesterday was the annual NJ Cigar Festival organized by Barrister Cigars at the Metropolitan Cigar Society in Fairfield, NJ. In past years, the NJ Cigar Festival has been a multi-vendor event. Originally, it was held at Riverfront Stadium in Newark, NJ before several years at the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park, NJ with the event typically taking place in early May. This year, for a variety of reasons, event organizers chose to do a dinner in July and focus solely on Drew Estate and Joya de Nicaragua with Jonathan Drew and Willy Herrera being the special guests.
I started my night early with a UF-13 to kick things off right, and drove to the Metropolitan Cigar Society. I had never been there previously and actually drove past it once before I found it. It is in an industrial park and is pretty nondescript from the outside. Luckily, several attendees were standing outside smoking. I parked and stepped out to say, "Hello!" to some of the other attendees. As I'm standing there, Willy Herrera arrived with Linda Giang of Sky Tobacco and I spoke to them for a few minutes. At 5pm sharp, doors opened and I was the first through the door.
The building is actually pretty cool and not what I expected. You walk in and event organizers were there in the "TV Room" and collecting your ticket and giving you a humidor filled with several cigars. The special event cigar was the debut of the Verdict Lancero. The Verdict is a Barrister Cigars house blend made by Phil Zanghi of Debonaire Cigars. Also included were the Barrister Cigars Justice (another house blend), an original Tienda Exclusiva, a Liga No9, KFC, MUWAT, Undercrown and some Joyas. They then instructed us to head to the "Pool Table" room to get an Antano from KMack from Drew Estate. We were then told that JD would have a special cigar to light for us when he arrived which ended up being a Manifesto.
Luckily, being the first person into the event, I was also the first person to see KMack at the pool table and see what was available for sale. There was 1 box of L40s available which I just missed out on, but I did manage to snag some Dirty Rats. There were also Feral Flying Pigs, UF-13s as well as lots of Liga, Undercrown, Joya, Balmoral, Herrera Esteli, etc. I then sat down and watched some golf (and, man, is Speith on fire) while smoking a Dirty Rat. JD showed up, and after a quick hello, he set up shop and started handing out Manifestos as a long line formed to talk to him.
As I sat there, I was informed that there was a seat reserved for me at JD's table for dinner which delightfully surprised me and I moved into the banquet room in the back for dinner. The room was pretty full, but still comfortable for the 100 people in attendance.
At my table were JD, Ricky Crawford of Glenlivet, Walkin Chin, George Morales, Linda Giang of Sky Tobacco, Willy Herrera and some of the event organizers. Dinner was an amazing antipasto platter followed up by some fantastic pasta and beefsteak from The Brownstone (doesn't look fancy, but is amazing - beef, dripping in butter, on top of toasty bread) and french fries. Everything was fantastic and there was some great convo at the table.
After dinner was served, David Mallow introduced Jonathan Drew to say a few words, and, in typical JD fashion, JD spent the next 30+ minutes dropping knowledge. I can't possibly cover everything he covered from getting his start 20 years ago to viso, seco and ligero to samurai swords made by Tsuge, but there were a couple of items that sparked my interest. One was concerning the KFC cigars and how JD sees them as "game changers" and a cigar that will be HUGE for Drew Estate going forward. The other, possibly more interesting, was about the sale to Swisher and how Drew Estate "sold, didn't sell out". JD detailed how DE still operates as it has and will continue to, but now they can focus on making great cigars instead of being run "like the Bad News Bears". JD also said how the major item he learned was when there was such a negative response from the online community in the first 48 hours, and he realized it was because we, as fans of Drew Estate, felt that "our company" was sold. Really enlightening stuff.
After dinner, I lit up a Manifesto (and took "cool guy" pictures with George Morales), and the raffle took place. The Grand Prize was two boxes of cigars - one of the Tienda Exclusiva for Barrister Cigars and one of the Tienda Exclusiva for Riverside Cigars (that just debuted on Saturday). Unfortunately, I didn't win! Slowly, the crowd started dying down and it was time to head home. All in all, it was another successful NJ Cigar Festival and a legit good time was had by all. A big "thank you" to the NJ Cigar Festival, Barrister Cigars, Jonathan Drew and Willy Herrera for another great event. Until next year...