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Frank Llaneza 1961 Cigars – The Forgotten Treasure

June 30, 2015 · By · No Comments

Frank LlanezaHighly regarded as one of the most famous cigar makers in our lifetime, Frank Llaneza began working in the cigar industry at the age of 15. One of the first cigar manufacturers to set up shop in Honduras following the Cuban embargo, Frank played an instrumental role in getting Cuban seeds to Central America after the Cuban Revolution, and helped shape the non-Cuban cigar industry into what it is today.  For many years, Frank was President of Villazon & Co, and  produced some of the most well-known brands in the world, including PunchEl Rey del MundoJR Ultimate, and Hoyo de Monterrey just to name a few. For his hard work, milestone accomplishments, and dedication to the industry, Cigar Aficionado magazine inducted Mr.Llaneza into its Cigar Hall of fame in 1997, which had only six members at the time.

Thanks to his wonderful working relationship with JR, I was fortunate enough to meet Frank on many occasions when he would visit our office. He was a very humble man who almost seemed embarrassed when I complimented him on his wonderful smokes. Instead, he would simply shake my hand, and give me a specially aged beauty from his own private collection. The freebie was never my intention for the much-deserved compliment, but he always insisted that I take it.

Legendary in quality construction and flavor, I have always loved smoking every famous brand that Frank created - and I still do, but one in particular, the Frank Llaneza 1961, really stands out as one of the best cigars that I ever tasted regardless of the manufacturer.

I would never have the opportunity to compliment Frank on his very last work-of-art. Sadly, Frank passed away at age 90, shortly after its release, and would not get see the success of the very cigar named after him.

Featuring a hearty looking, smooth and firm, Ecuadorian Criollo 98’ wrapper and the finest blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican filler tobaccos, this final piece of the Llaneza legacy embodies everything one would expect from a premium cigar … and more.

I’ll never forget the first time I lit up the Frank Llaneza 1961  Double Magnum (6 1/2 x 54); I was immediately in stogy heaven! A few million puffs later, I still feel the same elation when I pluck one out of my trusty humidor. Every size in the line offers the same mouthwatering goodness.

Upon lighting, , the 1961 opens  up with a  blast  of dark pepper and cedar that quickly gives  way to deep rich notes of zesty spice, dark chocolate, cocoa and cinnamon. At the midway point, a symphony of complex flavors that include leather, warm bread, nutmeg and coffee join the mix.

The final third of the cigar remained full-flavored, but was much creamier with pronounced notes of caramel, sweet spice and espresso.

Although highly regarded by serious cigar enthusiasts, it never quite achieved the fame it deserved. More high profile brands, with fancier packaging and high cost advertising has made the Frank Llaneza 1961 a forgotten (and now very affordable) treasure that you simply must experience.


No CommentsTags: cigars · cigar industry · Frank Llaneza

The Return of the Long Forgotten Jamaican Cigar

June 25, 2015 · By · No Comments

The Jamaican tobacco industry owes its growth and fame to the Second World War and all of the cigar-loving smokers from Great Britain, including Sir Winston himself.  With the United Kingdom mired in war, currency was at a premium and had to remain within the commonwealth for essential industry, not spent overseas on cigars. Furthermore, most shipping, and trading routes were blocked, so buying cigars from Cuba was no longer an option.  Realizing there was a ton of money to be made; many famous Cuban cigar makers moved to the British colony with their tobacco crops, and seeds, and opened many factories. Soon Jamaican versions of Cuban brands appeared--many made entirely with Cuban tobacco, others with Jamaican filler and Cuban wrappers. While the original Havana’s were absent, these fine Jamaican counterparts were the sole source for stogies in the U.K. market.

After the war, Cuban cigars became readily available worldwide, but by now, Jamaica had already developed a reputation as a country that produced outstanding cigars. In addition, these refugee cigar makers moved back to their country, and the Jamaican market quadrupled in production.

Then when the embargo hit, and Cuban cigars were banned in the United States, Jamaican cigars were considered a high quality alternative, soon followed by the Dominican Republic. In the following decades, smokes from Honduras and Nicaragua began filling the void.

Famous brands like Royal Jamaica, and Macanudo, along with other brands such as Crème de Jamaica, Flor de Jamaica, Temple Hall, Palamino, and Jamaican Heritage were very highly regarded. In the 1980’s JR had some great house brands from this country. Many of our JR Alternatives were made in Jamaica, along with one of our oldest and most popular bundled brands now made in the Dominican, the Special Jamaicans Cigars.

This industry continued to thrive until tragedy struck.  In September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert slammed into Jamaica at full strength, crippling the nation's cigar industry. The storm destroyed many factories; most notably those of the most popular brands, Royal Jamaica and Macanudo, who both switched production to the Dominican Republic.

Macanudo Estate Reserve Jamaica

The storm left the Country financially crippled, so they chose the quickest path to recovery by rebuilding the tourist industry. It takes many years and a lot of hard work to rebuild a single plantation, let alone fifty or sixty. Therefore, for many years, aside from a handful of growers outside of Kingston, the Jamaican cigar manufacturing remained dormant.

Today, while still rebuilding, Jamaica is making a steady comeback. In the last few years some great brands, most notably Macanudo, has returned to its roots with the Macanudo Estate Reserve Jamaica

This much-anticipated release captures all of the silky smooth, sweet spice flavor, and tantalizing aroma of the original blend. This may just be the beginning of a new renaissance for Jamaica, as many notable manufacturers have plans to release new products from this legendary growing region.


No CommentsTags: cigar industry · Jamaica · Macanudo

Cigars 102: The Criollo Wrapper

June 11, 2015 · By · 1 Comment

Every now and then, you will find a unique wrapper sitting on top of a premium cigar. It is the Criollo (pronounced cree-oy-yo) wrapper. Criollo means "native seed,” and may also be described as "Havana-seed.” In Cuba, the word means a Cuban leaf grown on Cuban soil. By historical accounts, it is considered one of the original Cuban tobaccos that emerged around the time of Columbus. Rumor has it that old Chris was so impressed with this seed, that he asked the native chef (Gary) to stuff it inside the very first turkey  served on Thanksgiving. Thankfully, he didn’t listen!

Criollo seeds have made their way to a number of other countries where they take on unique flavor profiles depending on the chemical composition of the soil where they are grown. Going on that assumption, a Criollo seed grown in Bayonne, New Jersey, may be deemed less than desirable by most smokers.

But I digress …

When a wrapper, or occasionally a filler tobacco, is Nicaraguan, Mexican, or Honduran Criollo, it usually has nothing to do with the original Cuban Criollo plant—it is just native to that country. The strain used today as wrapper leaf, are most often grown in Honduras and Nicaragua. There are two main regions in Nicaragua where Criollo is grown: Estelí, and Jalapa. The Jalapa Criollo plant has a very distinct sweetness and the Estelí’ strain has more of an earthy and nutty flavor profile. Once again, this flavor difference is due to chemical composition of the soil and the climate of each region. Nicaraguan Criollo is featured on the Te-Amo World Selection Series Cigars Nicaragua; Created by A. Turrent, a world-renowned cigar maker, this gem is handcrafted in the heart of San Andres, Mexico and offers bold, earthy notes of leather, spice, and charred wood. And the Joya de Nicaragua Antano is a potent blend of Nicaraguan black tobaccos and bold spicy flavors.

Honduran Criollo is smoother and creamier in flavor and is usually aged at least 7-10 years. The most popular strain is the Criollo ‘98, found on a handful of top-quality smokes, including an old-time robust fan favorite, Don Tomas Clasico Cigars, and the Camacho Criollo, the medium-bodied smoke widely regarded as being "as close to Cuba as you can get”. The band also looks like it belongs on a pair of boxing trunks, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this article!

San Andres Criollo has a very earthy and spicy flavor that also adds quite a bit of strength to the blend. One of the few brands utilizing this powerful wrapper is the TTT Trinidad Paradox Cigars—a full-bodied gem that offers great balance, with notes of molasses, light coffee, leather, and sweet cedar.

Although not the biggest player in the wrapper game, the Criollo is appearing more often these days, especially with boutique brand manufacturers looking to encompass the distinctive qualities this leaf has to offer to a blend.


1 CommentTags: cigars · Mexico · cigar industry · Honduras · Nicaragua

A Great Old Cigar Brand Has Returned!

April 21, 2015 · By · No Comments

So while sitting back with an astounding maduro Robusto, that was rich, sweet and loaded with zesty notes of sweet spice and cocoa, (more about that later), I began thinking about how many new  premium cigars crafted by up and coming stogy rock stars have hit the scene in just this past year alone. That would be a bad thing if all these new sticks were crap, but these new young guns are cranking out some real quality products. Some might say that we are in the midst of a new Renaissance in the tobacco industry. Skeptics would disagree, claiming that the market is over-saturated. Just follow any internet cigar group and watch this endless battle rage on. At one point, Padron was a new company, and so was Arturo Fuente and Drew Estate, just to name a few. New brands provide energy into the market, a breath of fresh air, and they keep things new and exciting. In addition, it keeps the older established companies on their toes so they can never rest on their Laurels, (Or Hardy’s for that matter)! Best of all, it boosts the economy, both in the countries of origin, and right here in the States.

Therefore, I say, (for what it’s worth) keep bringing on the goodies; you just can’t have too many great cigars to choose from!

Speaking of new cigars, we have a real top-quality gem that is making a lot of (good) noise in the industry.

The Beginning:

The Congress Cigar Company and its leading brand, La Palina, had its beginnings when Samuel Paley emigrated from Ukraine in the late 1800s.

Arriving in Chicago, Sam started his career in a local cigar factory as a lector. That person reads either fiction or popular current event stories to the rollers to break up the monotony, and to keep them from slapping a moist wrapper leaf on a co-worker's head for sipping his espresso too loudly.

His interest in the tobacco industry steadily grew, and Sam devoted his personal time to studying cigars, the nuances of their blending and the tradition of their manufacture.  His employer eventually recognized his diligence, and Sam was promoted to roller and then blender.

In 1896, Sam opened a cigar shop of his own in Chicago with an adjacent factory that he named Congress Cigar Company.  Their first product was La Palina, in honor of his wife Goldie Drell Paley.  Sam was a turn-of-the-century master artisan and would sit in the window every day rolling cigars.

His dedication and skill made the brand a household name and it shared a spot among the best smokes of the day. Sadly, when Sam retired in 1926, his beloved La Palina retired with him.


Bill Paley, a third generation cigar maker, learned an important lesson about quality from his grandfather’s proud history with La Palina and Congress Cigar.  Those values would guide the Paley’s for the next three generations and would take Bill Paley back to his roots, and the resurrection of this once famous brand.

This iteration isn’t just some run-of-the-mill remake of an old brand looking to make a quick buck, Paley set out to create some edgy modern nuances to super-charge the classic original recipe.

La Palina cigars are available in two incredibly tasty varieties!

La Palina Classic

La Palina Classic cigars are medium-to-full-bodied, earthy, smooth, and brimming with a perfectly balanced combination of sweet and spicy goodness, thanks to its mouthwatering blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan long fillers, a silky Ecuadorian binder, and a deep and oily Brazilian Habano seed wrapper.

La Palina Black Label

This amazing premium handmade is wearing a lovely seamless Brazilian Habano wrapper that is black as coal, and glistening with oil. Underneath reside some of the finest aged Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers held together by a bold and zesty Ecuadorian binder.

Being a huge maduro maven, I chose the La Palina Black Label Robusto to smoke while writing this blog. If you will kindly revert to the very beginning of this story, I believe I suitably described its magnificent flavor… I’ll bet you guys were going crazy trying to figure out what I was smoking!   No? … Oh, well!

Anyway, whether you smoke the Classic, Black Label, or both, rest assured, you are in for a very special treat!


No CommentsTags: cigar industry · cigar news · La Palina · new cigars


March 04, 2015 · By · No Comments

The Habanos festival is over in Havana…it is not like Pro Cigar, instead it is the Habanos version of the IPCPR trade show.  They roll out new products and show off their stuff to the worldwide wholesalers and retailers.  With all the talk about the possible normalization of relations with Cuba (personally I am not sure it will happen) Habanos S.A.—the maker of Cuban cigars—predicted that once the embargo is lifted, it will immediately take 25-30 percent of the U.S. premium cigar market.  Eventually it says it would end up with 70 percent of the U.S. premium market.  No doubt the inclusion of Cuban cigars after being a forbidden fruit would increase cigar popularity.

“It would add to the mystique of the cigars that we’re making,” said Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., one of the largest American cigar companies.

Of greater concern to many American cigar companies are smoking regulations proposed by the Food and Drug Administration. Under the rules, cigar companies would be required to receive government approval before introducing new product lines and issue new health warnings.

Newman suggested the smoking regulations could shutter his company.

“We can deal with smoking bans, we can deal with the Cuban embargo, we can deal with high taxes — but we’re really concerned about the regulations from the FDA that could wipe us out of business,” Newman said.

But the interesting thing is while the Administration wants to open up Cuba and its biggest import is cigars, at the same time the FDA is trying to crack down on cigars and that would include the Cubans as well.   But there could be time to stop the FDA.  Last week, cigar makers were walking the halls of Congress to try to get support for HB 662 and S.441 which would keep the FDA out of our humidors.  There was some success in that the Senate bill now has 12 sponsors and the House version is up to 52.  We need more.  You need to write to your Congressional delegation and get them to pay attention before it is too late.  It’s easy to do it…just go here.

Then there is the whole issue of trademarks. Altadis owns Montecristo, H. Upmann and Romeo y Julieta, among others both in the U.S. and the Habanos versions.  No problem there.  But General Cigar owns Partagas, La Gloria Cubana, Punch and maybe Cohiba for the U.S. but not overseas.  I say maybe for Cohiba because just recently the Supreme Court declined to hear a case on the Cohiba trademark.  Cubatabaco was suing General for the rights over the Cohiba name and the last court ruling gave Cuba the win.  General was hoping for SCOTUS intervention but that will not happen. The case now goes to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trial and appeal board.


No CommentsTags: cigar industry · cigar news · cigar shows · Cuban cigars · FDA

Davidoff Moves

March 03, 2015 · By · No Comments

In talking with Davidoff CEO Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard at Pro Cigar, he noted the success of the Davidoff Nicaragua, saying it has been the company’s biggest success since its Cuban days.  He said that the interesting thing about the Davidoff Nicaragua is that it is not cannibalizing other Davidoffs in that 70 percent of the smokers are new to the brand.

Perhaps because of this success, the company announced it is buying over 370 acres of farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua. The land is in Condega, Nicaragua and the Jamastran Valley of Honduras.  The company says it will allow them to continue to get top quality tobacco while allowing it the opportunity to experiment with new and existing seeds.

Davidoff also bought land by its box factory in Danli in order to build a new cigar factory there.  The plot is about 450,000 square feet for the new factory and the factory itself in the first phase will have 185,000 square feet, allowing for a 60 percent increase in production for Camacho, Room 101 and Baccarat.

And on the retail side, Davidoff continues to make moves opening flagship stores… the latest one comes in the company’s U.S. hometown of Tampa.  It will be a 5,000 square foot store that includes a nice lounge and the biggest Davidoff store in the world.  According to CEO Hans-Kristian every Davidoff store will have a lounge because he foresees a time when the only place you will be able to smoke a cigar is in a cigar store.


No CommentsTags: cigar industry · Davidoff

Reserva Privada

February 25, 2015 · By · No Comments

At Quesada Cigars, they showed off their newest blend made by Manuel Quesada called the Quesada Reserva Privada.

Last year at Pro Cigar, the company marked its 40th anniversary with new cigars and this year it was something special. (The box is even special with a smooth almost glassy finish –it was so smooth I thought it was plastic but no it is wood-- and a hologram on both the band and box.) The key to this new blend is tobacco from the 1997 crop.  At the time, Manolo noted that the weather was perfect that year and the leaves all looked great.   He thought that crop could be something special and working with his father at the time, the Quesadas put some away in special palm leaf bundles to let the tobacco age slowly. Now they are using that 18 year old crop in this special release.  Manolo says this is the best blend he has ever made.  It uses an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over Dominican San Vicente binder from 1997 and fillers of Dominican San Vicente from 1997 along with Pennsylvania ligero.  There will be only three sizes and initially only a few accounts will get them.  As for the cigars themselves, they were rolled in April of last year and are going to be aged one full year…which means no one outside of the Quesadas have tasted one yet.  We were told the cigars will be available in April.  The cost will be $13-$15.

Puro Vintage

Speaking of vintages…La Aurora released its newest Puro Vintage 2006 (this is the fourth edition and limited to 1500 boxes of 18.).  The Salomon uses a maduro HVA wrapper grown in Ecuador over Brazilian binder and fillers from Nicaragua, Brazil and two different Dominican tobaccos from the Cibao valley. The cigar was featured as part of the Pro Cigar auction where one of two special humidors with the cigars was auctioned off.  The special humidor contained the Puro Vintage Salomon which will be available, along with a Doble Figurado (the classic preferido No. 2 size) and a robusto gordo which were made just for the auction. 

In addition La Aurora has finished building a new replica of the company’s original factory.  Another version of the factory exists in Centro Leon a cultural museum complex donated by the Leon family and adjacent to former site of the La Aurora factory.  The new replica located in Tamboril is part of La Aurora’s educational tour of the factory.  The company has brought in real tobacco plants to give visitors a tobacco field experience without trekking through the dirt.  Another addition to the factory is Cigar World which will be an educational facility.  Plans call for seminars on tobacco to be given by former General Cigar president Daniel Nuñez and cigar legend Benji Menendez along with La Aurora’s master blender Manuel Inoa.  That would be one seminar I wouldn’t miss.

Earlier, I mentioned the Pro Cigar Auction…that is another main purpose of the organization…to raise money for charities in the Dominican Republic.  The auction on Friday night raised a record  of just over $100,000 for Voluntariado de Jesus con los Niños and Hospicio San Vicente de Paul—non profit organizations that help sick children and poor elderly.  


No CommentsTags: cigar industry · cigar shows · La Aurora · Pro Cigar · Quesada

Pro Cigar

February 24, 2015 · By · No Comments

While most of the country was shivering in the arctic cold, about 300 lucky souls spent their time in the sunny Dominican Republic last week for Pro Cigar.  This is the annual event put on by the Dominican cigar makers to showcase their products and to help educate retailers and consumers alike.

The Pro Cigar festival began in La Romana—home to Altadis USA’s huge Tabacalera de Garcia—the world’s largest cigar factory.  Most of the first day was spent relaxing at Casa de Campo, the 7,000 acre resort in La Romana.  Tuesday was the tour of Altadis where the visitors got a chance to taste the newest Romeo y Julieta..Anejo. Anejo is going to hit the shelves soon.  From La Romana, the group made the 5 hour trek to Santiago, the capital of cigar country.

Santiago is home to literally dozens of factories ranging from large to tiny, but all are devoted to making the best Dominican cigars.  Guests at the Pro Cigar Festival had to pick from the events, which made it impossible to visit everyone.

One of the new additions to the tour was Jochy Blanco’s Tabacalera Palma in Tamboril.  Jochy has been growing tobacco and making great cigars for years and just last year he was voted into Pro Cigar.  At his factory we got to see brands like Black Abyss,  the highly rated Aging Room series and the new Señorial by Jose Blanco—Jochy’s cousin.  At the factory Jose conducted his tasting seminar, having the participants try to determine which wrappers were being used  on one cigar.  There were a total of 5 different wrappers to taste—each one in a separate band.

More Tobacco

General Cigar got the participants a bit more involved.  There, attendees got the chance to make their own cigars.  Everything from actually bunching the tobacco to make the cigar, to putting a wrapper on it.  In the end, each box was a Macanudo—but most likely one that no one would ever recognize for the construction nor taste…but it looked nice.  General also rolled out a bunch of tobacco for tasting.

In addition to seeing the different tobacco leaves, the company made up little puros—small cigars rolled from the single leaf of each tobacco.  This way, you could taste the characteristics of each leaf.  There was Maduro, Nicaraguan Viso, Ligero and Seco, Pennsylvania and Broadleaf tobaccos along with leaves from Peru, Nicaraguan Ometepe, Paraguay, Dominican Olor Ligero and Colombian..all in all 24 different leaves to try.  One thing I did learn from Benji Menendez was that Paraguayan tobacco is good filler for certain blends because it has no discernable flavors so you can use it to make, say, a 60 ring gauge without messing up your blend.


No CommentsTags: cigar industry · cigar shows · General Cigar · Jose Blanco · Pro Cigar

Pro Cigar is Underway

February 18, 2015 · By · No Comments

This is the time of year when the Dominican Republic celebrates its cigar heritage with Pro Cigar.  The week-long event is limited to about 300 people so there are no huge lines, nor congestion as participants get to interact on a personal level with the nation’s leading cigar makers.

The festival began at La Romana, home to the world’s largest cigar factory, Tabacalera de Garcia—home to Altadis USA’s brands.  On Tuesday night the festival moves to Santiago--home to most of the Dominican’s cigar factories.  We will be visiting La Aurora, Quesada, Davidoff, Jochy Blanco’s Tabacalera Palma, Ernie Carrillo’s Tabacalera Alianza among others.  Gonna be a busy week and I’ll report back next week.


No CommentsTags: cigar industry · cigar shows

First Convention

February 05, 2015 · By · No Comments

The Tobacco Plus Expo was held in Vegas last week.  There were about 400 plus vendors including Rocky Patel, Altadis, General Cigar, Drew Estate, Oliva, and CLE, but the biggest thrust of the show was Vapes. Over 80 vendors came from China, where most of the products for vaping are made. The show was attended by about 1400 considering the “blizzard” on the east coast (yes some areas were hit hard but others just got a dusting and one mayor overreacted) that wasn’t bad.   Most were pretty optimistic. I admit I know little about vapes, although I do have a few friends who use them as a means of quitting cigarettes.  What I can tell you is some of the vapers at the show were almost as bad as non smokers.  I saw several walking by cigar booths and waving the smoke from the cigars away as they puffed on their electronic device.   Then there is this:

These women were in a booth and demonstrating what I found out is called Cloud Chasing. Apparently the idea is to get as much vapor as you can into your lungs and the blow out the biggest possible cloud.  In the picture I think they were only getting started.  I first saw this when I was outside the show waiting to go in and wanted to get a photo of people going in.  Two guys were behind me and they were able to basically obscure the entrance with their clouds.  I was enveloped in vapor.  Oh and it does have a scent.  While I liked the optimism of the show, I am not certain if it is born from true optimism or ignorance.  I do believe that the FDA will come down hard on the vape products, and with  vapor “enthusiasts” making nuisances of themselves with clouds, cities and states will crack down too—not to mention the taxes on them.  Alas I see the vape revolution going on now as much the same was as the cigar boom.  Ours ended naturally, I believe theirs will end by fiat.


No CommentsTags: cigar industry · vapes