Over 500 Cigar Heads Converge On Florida For First Ever PrivadaCon

The anticipation was admittedly high for this trip: the first ever PrivadaCon. Throughout the three years that I have been a Privada member, I have made so many joyful connections with other like-minded cigar heads, reviewers, retailers, and blenders.  This weekend was going to be my first opportunity to meet many of them in person. 

Click the image to be taken to the #PrivadaCon feed on Instagram!

Fellow Cigar Public reviewer Steven Pingolt, and his lovely wife, graciously offered to be my ride for the evening to the first planned stop of the weekend – the Privada Warehouse Trunk Sale.  Privada Cigar Clubs founder, Brian Desind, had announced this extra event just a few days prior, and potential attendees were promised access to an allotment of unreleased exclusives.  When Steven and I arrived at the warehouse, the line of enthusiasts there ahead of us was well over 200 people deep!  While I am not typically one to enjoy waiting in line, this line was different. 

We are soon greeted by two more Cigar Public reviewers, John Cardenas (aka Jonny’s Havana) and Seth Sacco. While it is already easy enough to hit it off quickly with other cigar lovers, it was doubly so with these dudes since we are all reviewers for the same platform.  I spent much of my time in Orlando that weekend with this crew.  We just clicked and I felt at home and at peace with these guys.  Thus, our time spent in line passed rather pleasurably.  Johnny Taquitos was of course on hand to take footage of the turnout, along with Desind – who was apparently surprised by the large turnout. As he put it, “I seriously only expected maybe 40-50 people to come to this!”  

After scoring a healthy batch of sticks from the lot, we then made our way over to destination #2 for the evening, Historic Cigars in Longwood.  There we get to kick back for a good bit, have a few drinks, a few cigars, and meet some more great folks: Cigar blender Chico Rivas, Cigar Public reviewers Cody Monks and Bryan Swenson, and a particular thrill for me, cigar maker Paul Stulac.  I excitedly extend my hand to this gentleman and express quickly how much I appreciate his work.  He looks me in the eye, humility and gratitude emanating from his face, and simply says very quietly “you just made my night, thank you!”  This moment hit me deep.  I will concede that I am a touch of a fanboy for Stulac, but his response was so genuine, so emotional and humble, that my respect for Paul was instantly intensified. 

Right around 8:30, my stomach reminded me that I had not been paying much attention to it since that morning.  So, the crew of CP moved on with me to procure some much need sustenance.  We eventually found our way to Zaza’s for some outstanding Cubanos.  Thanks to one John Cardenas, we were able to sweet talk the Spanish speaking staff there to take our orders just before closing time!  Well fed, and fully recharged, it was onto to the next stop!  In the line of the lot sale earlier, we were happily invited by the Midwest Misfits – a PCC regional group who quickly sold out their first run of over 700 cigars – to their group’s party.  There we were greeted with enthusiastic warmth, whiskey, more cigars, and even some homemade peach cobbler.  We spent the next several hours with these fine people, conversing poolside and enjoying the overall hospitality.  Just before Midnight, everyone went their separate ways to prepare for the next day’s itinerary.

Saturday, for me, started at 11:30 in the morning.  Hey, I was exhausted from Friday!  I had some time to burn before the PrivadaCon main event that evening, so I spent that first breakfast of the trip at Reyes Mezcaleria in downtown Orlando having excellent pork tamales, Red Snapper tacos, and a Margarita at Reyes Mezcaleria. From there I walked on further down Orange Avenue to Corona Cigar co for a light smoke and espresso.  The place was hopping that day!  I got to meet some more great people, most notably another Cigar Public reviewer Frankie Caraballo, and the one and only Lee Mack.  I am also graced with a few ego boosts courtesy of several fans of my YouTube channel who picked me out of the crowd.  I gotta admit, that felt nice!  The rest of the afternoon I spend casually strolling through downtown Orlando taking in the palm tree lined streets, the mild November warmth, and just reflecting on my time thus far on this trip. No one here is a stranger somehow, and everyone seems so happy to be there.

Brian had requested that we all “dress to impress” for this event and I was happy to oblige.  After getting ready I headed over to the the Ivanhoe Avenue Brewing Co. for the PrivadaCon main event and once again found myself in another massive line of people awaiting entry – this time into an outdoor courtyard for the planned festivities. Just like before, the time was not spent unpleasantly!  I get to meet up with more fine friends and enthusiasts, all eager to see what was in store for the night.  Brian and co truly went above and beyond to orchestrate something special for all 500 of us attending. Rows of cloth covered tables were set for everyone in the spacious courtyard, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin filled the air, and before long the entire crowd was presented with the first of three food, cigar and beverage pairings.  

From L to R: Privada's Brian Desind and the Author.

First course is an authentic custard-filled donut that is light, fluffy, and creamy.  I initially thought it strange to be starting with a “dessert” sort of item, but with the cigar and beverage pairing it absolutely made sense.  The cigar was an original offering from Santana D’Crossier made specifically for this event.  The beverage was a cold brew coffee that complimented the smoke and the pastry elegantly.  The cigar was mild-medium in body, delicately nuanced in flavor with fragrant cedar, sugar cane sweetness, cream, baking spices, light almond, and vanilla. Not a bad start top put it lightly.

Second course was smoked pulled pork with slaw and fries, paired with a special edition full proof bourbon by Penelope Distillery, made in collaboration with the PCC.  The cigar for this main course was provided by none other than Erik Espinosa of Espinosa Cigars, and of course prepared specifically for this event.  This cigar was quite a departure from the previous smoke, delivering a much heavier smoke texture and a robust flavor strength.  Deep notes of spicy oak, black pepper, mesquite, and a touch of dark caramel are the driving notes of this guy, and wow, oh wow, is this Penelope Bourbon outstanding with this course!  The caramel and oak from the whiskey coats the palate while boosting the smoky flavors of the pork and lending an added level of sweetness to the Espinosa cigar.  Now we are all feeling pretty good!

Rounding out the evening’s culinary delights is a frosted chocolate cupcake, paired with D’usse VSOP Cognac, and much to my delight, the cigar is a special robusto vitola of the Red Screaming Sun by the great Paul Stulac!  This final course was to me the climax of the tasting experience.  The cupcake was dense, moist, and rich delivering an immediate chocolate fix with each bite.  Sipping the cognac right after gives the palate a burst of fruitiness and balanced acidity that cuts through the chocolate while also building on the flavor of the cupcake.  Lastly, the Red Screaming Sun reintroduces a chocolate character, but with a darker quality, more like a cocoa nibs emphasis along with pepper, earth and leather, with touches of candied cherries. 

After each course I made a point to find my way to each of the attending cigar makers to offer my thanks and congratulations for such an amazing experience. Yet I would be remiss if I did not also offer the same sentiments to the main orchestrator of this unique and beautiful event. I have often noted that Privada is markedly superior in the cigar industry at two particular qualities. One, they have made it their business to shine a light on the cigar blenders themselves in this industry and truly do it better than anyone. Second, they harbor a community spirit unlike any other in the cigar world.  Both of these attributes were on full display this weekend. 

Erik Espinosa and The Deacon Board.

Having the cigar makers present at the event was a truly special touch, but the instant camaraderie that took place between all the attendees was especially doubly remarkable.  The cigar world is best distinguished as one that values skill and craftmanship, but also companionship and community. Privada has shown itself at numerous junctures to be a beacon of all of these values, but this weekend may be the best example of their strength yet.  Here’s to the next PrivadaCon!

From L to R: Joe Kenney, Philip Murphy, Eric Drazin, John Cardenas, Bryan Swenson, Guy Wasko, Steven Pingolt, Frankie Caraballo, & Cody Monks - all part of the Cigar Public Review Team.

Have you visited Cigar City? What does your dream cigar trip look like? Let everyone know the comments below!