Justin Harris / www.cigahr.com

Cigar enthusiasts from around the country and the world descended upon Nashville, TN the week of May 7th, 2017 for the Nashville Boutique Cigar Week. Centered around the Steeplechase horse races every year, organizer Darren Cioffi of Principle Cigars brought together dozens of his closest friends from around the pond to not only experience the boom that is Nashville, but to compete in the week’s main event, the Nashville qualifier for the Cigar Smoking World Championship (CSWC).

The CSWC was created in 2010 by the team at Club Minerva Cigar Club in Split, Croatia. Dreamt into fruition by club owner Marko Bilić, the CSWC has spread far beyond his European club and sparked the interest of aficionados stateside as well. From Las Vegas, Chicago, Nashville and New York, competitors intensely do what they love…enjoying cigars, but with a twist (I’ll explain the rules in a second), in hopes of qualifying for the main event in Croatia.

Having heard of the event a few years ago, I’ve been especially curious to see how it all worked and to experience it for myself. The object of the competition is simple yet complex, to see who can make a corona-sized cigar last the longest without burning through the band. While this sounds easy enough, especially for someone like me that can make any cigar last well over an hour, I finally had the opportunity to give it a shot for all the marbles. Hosted in Nashville at Primings Cigar Lounge and Bar, I entered the competition with many who had participated in several of these events over the years. Feeling a bit intimidated, I competed alongside participants that traveled to the Music City from countries such as England, Germany, Finland, Cuba and France.

Receiving my instructions from CSWC founder himself, Marco Bilić, and a pep talk from then world record holder Darren Cioffi, I selected my weapon on choice, my European-exclusive vitola Macanudo Inspirado cigar from a silver platter. For the remainder of the night I’d be referred to #26, as we locked in and began to focus on the task at hand. The rules were:

  • Each contestant is allowed 1 minute to cut the cigar with the provided cutter
  • Each contestant is allowed 1 minute to light their cigar, using only the 2 provided long strike matches
  • Once lit, no one is allowed to speak for 5 minutes…which proved to be the most difficult task for some
  • For the first 40 minutes, participants were not allowed to ash the cigar; ashing before the 40-minute mark would incur a time penalty
  • Participants are at no point allowed to relight their cigar
  • Participants cannot shield their cigar from any breezes that may enter the room
  • Participants cannot smoke the cigar beyond the band; doing so results in a disqualification
  • Other than that, enjoy your cigar for as long as you can!

As I stated earlier, Cioffi held the world record of 2 hours and 50 minutes. Sounds crazy, right? Well it is, as any cigar enthusiast knows that a small corona is typically a 45-minute smoke. So the pressure of trying to place in the top 3 was intense. But by taking slow and deliberate puffs, all while watching the burn intently, I managed to tie for third place at 2:25. In second place was Patricia Benden of Cigar World by Benden from Dusseldorf, Germany (2:33) and in 1st place for the Nashville qualifier was Primings owner Chase Lyle (2:45) who was only 5 minutes away from breaking the record held by Cioffi. The following week contestants travelled to Chicago; and the week after that to Club Macanudo in New York City where Igor Kovacic broke Cioffi’s record by lasting 2:55.

I caught the bug and will definitely participate again. Something that I thought would be so simple was indeed a challenge, and I gained a whole new level of respect for those that have participated and placed in the past.

Additional details about the CSWC, it’s history and founder can be found at http://www.cswcworld.com. If a qualifier is in your town, it’s definitely worth checking out and participating. Qualifiers are taking place in Europe up until the World Championship at Club Minerva September 1st – 3rd, 2017. While it’s not the traditional way of enjoying the world of cigars, it most certainly provides a new and exciting way to celebrate them…and meet great people in the process.