Zeb Hopper takes matters into his own hands
The rich, earthy aroma of tobacco smoke provides a clue about the Main Street location of Weston Tobacco, a retail shop located on the lower level of a corrugated metal building. At the end of a long, wide hallway, owner Zeb Hopper sits in a chair and leans over a table topped with a batch of loose, whole tobacco leaves and implements. He proceeds to carefully wrap the body of a cigar with a light tan-colored tobacco leaf to finish hand-rolling it.
Outside, a plaque identifies the historic building as the Weston Burley House. Burley refers to light air-cured tobacco used primarily for cigarette production. A tobacco warehouse first operated on this site when the Weston Loose Leaf Tobacco Company opened in 1911. After it was destroyed by fire in 1936, the Weston Burley House was established a year later and has served five generations of tobacco farmers. In 2002, the last tobacco auction was held in the building.
For generations, Weston farmers grew and cured burley tobacco in the area. They continue to produce much smaller quantities now. Most of the tobacco crop for cigarette production is grown in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and other southern states.
Meanwhile, Weston Tobacco sources its premium, Grade A tobacco leaves from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The leaves have been aged for five years. While honoring the history and tradition of local tobacco farming in the area, the shop has cultivated its own market for cigars made from fine tobacco.
Corey Frisbee and Colton Frisbee, respectively the father and brother of Zeb Hopper, established Weston Tobacco in 2010 as a place to produce and sell premium hand-rolled cigars. Corey learned cigar-rolling techniques in Austin, Texas, from a Cuban woman who was one of the key cigar rollers at premium cigar maker Romeo y Julieta. When Colton died, Hopper sold his construction company and took over ownership and daily operations of the family-run cigar shop. He learned how to hand-roll cigars from his father, who still helps roll cigars by hand in-house.
“We also roll fresh cigars for the public at events,” says Hopper.
The Weston shop has a large humidor that carries a selection of about 700 facings, or brands in boxes, with varying styles and sizes of cigars.
Each hand-rolled cigar is made from three parts – a filler, binder, and wrapper – with different tobacco used for each layer. The filler is encased in a tobacco leaf as a binder. This step takes roughly ninety seconds. Next, the cigar is pressed for three to four hours in a metal form with tube-shaped slots for the cigars. After pressing, Hopper wraps each cigar with a hand-trimmed tobacco leaf as a finishing step that also takes about ninety seconds. He points out that it doesn’t take long to hand-roll cigars, but it is difficult to do well.
“We hand-roll whole cigars from start to finish for consistency of quality,” says Hopper. “Some people buy pre-made fillers and then wrap them.”
Weston Tobacco buys direct from a vendor that sources tobacco from the same farms in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua so there’s no variation in overall quality. Once the tobacco leaves arrive, Hopper sorts the leaves to confirm Grade A quality and then conditions them.
“I let the leaves sit in a humidor for one to two weeks, and check them until they reach the right humidity,” explains Hopper.
Hopper produces four blends: Maduro is full and rich with a smooth finish, Sumatra is medium-bodied with a spicy flavor, Connecticut Shade is smooth and mellow with a creamy finish, and Sweet Connecticut builds on that smoothness with a mild, honey-scented sweetness.
Following industry standards, the cigars are made in four sizes – Robusto, 6×60, Corona, and the longest, Churchill, topping out at 7.5 inches long.
A well-made cigar that is properly stored may last for years. In fact, aging helps the various tobaccos used in the cigar to blend and the flavors to mellow.
Weston Tobacco’s hand-rolled cigars run $6 to $10. The on-site humidor carries a wide selection of price, size, flavor profile, and style. The shop also sells tobacco pipes.
The lounge is open daily, 10 am to 8 pm, where customers may shop in the humidor, smoke in the private lounge, and observe the hand-rolling process. Weston Tobacco also hosts poker nights at Wednesdays at 7 pm and Sundays at 4 pm.
Weston Tobacco, 357 Main St., Weston, 816.386.4086, WestonTobacco.com