Stoked About Stogies
A Vermont vendor puts a hand-rolled twist on classic wedding favors
Elizabeth Herrick says her presence at wedding receptions comes as a surprise to guests — especially when they discover she’s the one hand rolling their cigars.
“It’s funny, because they’re usually not expecting me,” says Herrick, owner of the Vermont Cigar Factory. “They’re expecting someone in a fedora with a mustache … But they still expect me to know what I’m doing.”
That she does. Despite her company’s brick-and-mortar-sounding name, Herrick is the Vermont Cigar Factory’s sole torcedora, or cigar roller. Since 2004, she’s been hiring herself out for weddings and other special events where the hosts want to add an element of panache to the affair. And what better symbol of the good life than a premium, hand-rolled cigar?
“It adds that extra something,” Herrick explains. “There are only a few places where the nonsmoker will smoke a cigar: a business deal, on the golf course, a birth announcement and at a wedding.”
Herrick doesn’t seem like a stereotypical cigar aficionado — the 39-year-old account manager for Burlington’s Dealer.com looks outdoorsy and athletic — but she learned her craft from a true master. For years her parents vacationed in Key West, where her father befriended a Cuban man named Angel Garcia who always rolled his own stogies.
Fascinated by the process, Herrick asked Garcia to teach her the skill of cigar making, as well as the history and traditions that surround it. Today, she still uses the 100-year-old cigar cutter and wooden cigar board that Garcia gave her. The latter features an image of the Virgin Mary and is “like a shrine,” she says, a testament to the Cuban’s reverence for his craft.
Herrick explains how she typically works a wedding: First, she meets with the bride and groom in advance to find out how many guests they’re expecting, so she can estimate how many cigars they’ll need. For example, for a 100-person affair, Herrick may recommend preparing up to 60 cigars in advance.
“You’d be surprised how many people actually want a cigar,” she says, “whether they want to smoke it right there or keep it as a souvenir.”
Herrick also asks the couple for their wedding colors so she can create personalized cigar labels. These can include the newlyweds’ names, the date of the affair and its location.
On the big day, Herrick sets up her equipment at a predetermined time and place. She might roll cigars during the cocktail hour, or as an after-dinner treat. Herrick then offers a one- to two-hour demonstration in which she explains the cigar-rolling process, the history of cigar making, and the different characteristics of the tobaccos she uses. She always has some prerolled cigars on hand for guests who want to fire up while they watch.
Herrick uses Cuban-seed, broadleaf tobacco that’s grown in the Connecticut Valley and cured in the Dominican Republic. She’s very particular about the cuts of tobacco she uses, both for the filler and wrapper. Since most of the cigar’s flavor derives from the wrapper, she says, sometimes she cures it beforehand with Cognac or Bailey’s Irish Cream.
Herrick keeps more than one variety of tobacco on hand, too, to ensure that she can please the cigar neophyte and the connoisseur alike.
“In every wedding, there’s a handful of people who know exactly what they like, but they’re not entirely sure why they like it,” she says. “Other people are open to whatever you’re presenting. They want to know what they’re tasting and how it all works.”
Herrick rolls her cigars in different lengths and thicknesses. In recent years, as cigars have grown in popularity — especially among women — she tends to roll smaller cigars, such as robustos and toros, which are shorter and feature a full-flavored but mild tobacco. She rolls other types as well, including the Cubano Rose, the Chukka Torpedo, the Pony Boy and the Clara Corona.
For more seasoned cigar smokers, Herrick chooses a darker, shade-grown broadleaf tobacco with more dominant veins, which, she says, creates a “more rugged cigar.”
Like a wine connoisseur, Herrick enjoys explaining to her guests the various flavors and textures of the tobacco they’re experiencing as they smoke, pointing out which ones are “leathery” or “earthy.” Also, she makes sure her guests don’t commit a grievous cigar-smoker faux pas: lighting the cigar with a lighter, which can contaminate its flavor with butane. Wood matches only, she insists.
Herrick doesn’t just work weddings. Over the years she’s been hired for a variety of gigs all over the country, including celebrity golf tournaments, fundraisers, corporate parties, even an Irish wake. She’s met members of the New England Patriots at a golf tournament, where she set up on the 10th hole and had cigars ready to smoke when the players rolled up in their carts.
Herrick was even hired to work the June 2009 wedding reception of Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, which was held in the outfield at Fenway Park.
“That was great!” says Herrick, herself a Boston native. “I got to run the bases, something I wanted to do since I was 2.”
For couples-to-be who are interested in offering their guests a Vermont Cigar Factory experience, Herrick recommends they contact her well in advance of the big day. Though winter is her quiet season, she can be booked every weekend during the summer.
Herrick’s price depends on how many cigars she rolls and how long she stays. Typically, she charges a flat “rolling fee” to cover her demonstration. Additionally, the cigars themselves range from $6 to $8, depending on the wrappers and type of tobacco used. As any experienced cigar smoker knows, that’s a bargain for a premium, hand-rolled cigar, especially since the federal tax increased dramatically in 2009.
Vermont’s stringent smoking laws generally require that stogies be smoked outdoors if employees are present. Herrick advises her couples and other event planners to check with the venue manager beforehand to ensure there’s a suitable place for guests to light up.
Despite such restrictions, Herrick says that having a cigar bar at a wedding offers guests another place to congregate, chat and feel catered to. She notes with amusement how people’s personalities change when they’re holding a lit cigar. With men, the “chests come out,” she observes; women seem to gain an air of confidence.
Regardless of who’s smoking it, there’s something about puffing on a cigar, or just holding it and watching the smoke waft into the air, that suggests, This is a special moment to be savored.
Just don’t inhale.