What did I experience at Big Alpine Smoke?
After landing at Zurich Airport in Switzerland on Friday, July 3, I arrive in Bad Ragaz approximately one and a half hours later by train. As soon as I get off the plane, an incredibly hot weather greets me, 36 degrees. Yes, Switzerland was 36 degrees while Istanbul was struggling with wind and rain. Neither during my long years of living here, nor in my previous and subsequent visits, I do not remember that there was such a warmth in this country. To be honest, the weather didn't change during my stay. I was sweating as soon as I moved my finger, but still, I could not complain much, since Istanbul has not had summer yet, neither shall I lie.
I arrive in Bad Ragaz and after a 10-minute taxi ride I arrive at the Schloss Hotel Bad Ragaz. After doing a few odd jobs, of course, I immediately throw myself into the pool. The pool is completely between the trees and gives the air of you entering the lake in the forest. After a little refreshment until the afternoon, the call I have been waiting for from Big Alpine Smoke's organizer is coming; "We are at the hotel with a few guests, where are you?".
I leave the pool and immediately after getting ready, I come to the terrace of the hotel. Everyone sitting has already lit cigars and the conversation has deepened. After the introductory chapter, both CEO of Principle Cigar and last year's champion and world record, Darren Cioffi shares a cigar with me on a panatelas vitola of their brand, Accomplice. The purple fabric band is very interesting to me. I get involved in the conversation and start smoking. Over time, other participants and other sponsors start to come. Let alone the conversation, we decide to go to dinner with the symptoms of hunger and we hit the road. Lattmanns AVO Cigar Lounge is at the destination.
We reach Lattmanns AVO Cigar Lounge in 10 minutes. While heading towards the lounge from the parking lot, we walk among the interesting sculptures located all over the tiny city within the framework of the arts festival called Badragartz. As soon as they sit down, new contributors, including one of the Cigar Journal's reporters, start to appear one by one. It creates a very warm meeting environment, everyone is very close to each other and nobody leaves anyone alone in a corner. Just as it should be. Of course, cigars continue to smoke during this time. Then the food is eaten and the crowd, which is now warm to each other, continues to smoke and chat until the late hours of the night. Although the next day is a competition day, nobody cares much to go to bed late at night.
On Saturday, July 4, after having breakfast with the people I met from the previous day, we cannot stand the heat any longer and we head to the pool for a short refreshment before the wine tour that will start at noon. In order not to be late, we get ready after the short pool pleasure and get on the tour van. Also participating in the tour are the world champion, Darren Cioffi, the founder of Club Mareva and the creator of this competition, Marko Bilic, and the CEO of Bespoke Cigars, Jeremy Casdagli. Jeremy's family is half Greek, even his family lived in Egypt during the Ottoman period and later immigrated to England. You may have noticed while reading his surname, he is actually from Kaşdağ, but he is Casdagli after immigration to England. Jeremy is an incredible history lover and Atatürk admirer. He was already reading a book on the Gallipoli War when we met.
We start our wine tour by first visiting the region and its vineyards. Gian Carlo Casparis, our tour guide and one of the Big Alpine Smoke organizers, shares with us very detailed information about vineyards, wines, their production. The productions are made entirely by family companies and the experience of many years is used. Except for a company, all production is put on the domestic market and sales are made only through restaurants and markets. Limited number of wines are not sold in any way during the tasting or sightseeing. After smoking our cigars in the winery, which is our final destination and again a family company, we are heading to the hotel again to get ready for the competition for the evening.
... and eventually it is evening , but unfortunately even at this hour the temperature has not decreased. In the competition, where tie and jacket are mandatory, mandatory changes are made and they are free to come with comfortable clothes. Otherwise, it would probably be a matter of time before those who had already sweated like sausage evaporated. One of the reasons why this heat cannot be coped with is that there is no air conditioning system in most indoor places and only simple ventilation systems are used because such a hot temperature is not normal in the country. This makes everything more difficult in such a hot weather of course.
After meeting in front of the hotel, after about half an hour drive, we arrive at the neighboring town of Buchs, opposite Liechtenstein, where the competition will take place. It surprises me to have a cigar lounge even in such a simple and small town. When I ask, I learn that the lounge was built by the gentleman who enjoyed cigars and who also owns the modern office building (Atrium Buchs) where we went for the competition. In short, we come to the lounge for the competition. We register and buy our champagne and everyone is starting to mingle with newcomers once again. When the clock shows 7, everyone is gradually taking their places for the competition. First, the rules are read, then a guillotine cutter and two long matches are distributed to each person and Montecristo No.4s are selected in turn, starting with the world champion. Because of my chance to sit and compete at the same table with Cigar Journal Editor-in-Chief Reinhold Widmayer and world record holder Darren, I am waiting for the third instruction to cut and burn the cigar from the tray.
Everyone chooses their cigars and starts cutting / burning processes with instructions. For these two processes, you have a total of two minutes, from one minute each. You have cut, cut or burned, burned ... otherwise you will be out of the competition.
I'm starting to smoke with 8 line numbers (my high school number :)) with great enthusiasm. My goal is the 40th minute when the first ash shake will be allowed. At that point, I didn't do it so that the excitement of the work would not go away, but I wished I had some training before. Considering that the record is just under 2.5 hours, it is a very good target. Minutes pass and the announcements of those who are out of the race as a result of the cigars going out one after another begin. Natasha Nicolazzi, who will open a new lounge in Montreux and I guess she will obviously make a good result, is among those announced shortly after. My eye, right in front of me, on the red LED stopwatch, when I say my mind and hand are burning my cigars, at the 29th minute, unfortunately, my cigar goes out because I can't keep it hot enough, and I take my place among those who are out of the race.
With the sadness of being out of the race, I take another sip of my whiskey, but with the comfort it gives, I continue to burn and smoke my cigars again. At the same time, I start watching those who continue to compete. As the minutes pass, those who lose their cigars are out of the race one by one. Finally, Rico Casparis, who entered the competition with the world champion for the first time, and father of organizer Gian Carlo, goes head-to-head. Eventually, although his cigar continues to burn as canoe, Rico, interestingly enough, becomes the champion of the night when Darren, whose cigar is lit up to his band, is forced to quit the race. Darren, who won 7 of the 9 qualifying rounds he entered, is unfortunately returning empty-handed from this 10th qualifying round, but by staying in the last two, it shows that it is not by chance that he once again won.
After the announcement of the champion, the hungry crowd now goes to dinner and dives into deep conversations with the smoking at the tables. But the night doesn't end there. There is a lottery ahead of us that everyone is eagerly awaiting, including a CFBucherer watch with different gifts. After dinner, everyone writes their name on a piece of paper and throws them into a bucket of champagne. As the gifts find their owners, suddenly Gian Carlo announces my name as "Senor el Lector". Although my high school and lucky number 8 didn't win me the cigar contest, I end the night by winning a wine tour from the lottery.
Of course, it would be nice to win the cigar contest as well, but by counting this amazing experience, what I just learned and the people I met as the main gain and putting it in my pocket, I make my way to the hotel with others in the dark and smoky darkness of the night.
With all my heart, I recommend everyone who loves cigars to experience this experience at least once ..
If you do not want to miss out on more detailed information about the competition and next year's qualifier, I recommend you to follow the Big Alpine Smoke or Club Mareva website.