Rolling Cigars with Clay Carlton
Becoming a master cigar roller isn’t a common career goal. Clay Carlton didn’t anticipate choosing it, but here he is, and he’s the only one around.
“I began as a barber in a small mountain town,” says Carlton. “Even though I was the only barber in the county, I still needed some extra income. So, I decided to sell quality cigars. After many years of selling, I decided to pursue the art of cigar-making.”
While selling cigars on the side was an opportunity for extra income, he found learning to roll his own cigars to be intriguing. Some years later, he has become the only cigar roller in all of Colorado.
“…I had intentions of partial retirement, which included cigar rolling somewhere on a beach,” says Carlton. “But before I relocated, I thought I would see if there was a need for a cigar roller in the Denver area. There was, so I stayed on in Denver.”
Originally thought to be an opportunity to help preserve the art of cigar making, Carlton’s apprenticeship taught him about creating his own tobacco blends and how to cater to a person’s taste. Today he can curate a custom tobacco blend in one of his hand-rolled cigars for just about any customer.
“As an apprentice, you learn about all the different tobaccos,” says Carlton. “Which ones are used for burning qualities, flavors, etc. Once you understand this, you are able to start combining them to achieve certain tastes.”
Carlton’s work at Palma Cigars stands alone. Despite a healthy amount of competition from other Denver cigar stores, rolling his custom cigars is unique.
“Denver has several very good cigar stores, but I’m the only hand-roller in the state,” says Carlton.
“So the special events I do keep me busy year-round.”
While Palma Cigars is Carlton’s main place of operation, he also works several events during the year throughout Colorado and the surrounding area. The events, which happen to be some of his favorite parts of the job, range from private gatherings to parties thrown by Bentley.
“I roll cigars for events in Denver and all around the state and in several other states,” says Carlton. “Everywhere I work this art form is very well-received. I roll cigars for about 80 events a year, and I find everyone has questions about cigars, but many people simply don’t know who to ask.
“So I’m the guy that demonstrates cigar rolling and answers questions. It’s very satisfying watching someone enjoy a cigar that I hand-built for them.”
Carlton’s enthusiasm for introducing newcomers to his unique cigar offerings is evident in his confidence. To him, the pitch is simple: The quality of the product sells itself.
“That’s easy—every cigar smoker wants to try a fresh, hand-rolled cigar,” says Carlton. “Most people have never seen one rolled in person, and once you have a cigar hand-built for you—the freshness for the wrapper, still moist—well, there’s nothing like it.”