Brand Spotlight - The Elder Statesmen of Cuban Cigars
One of the most appealing characteristics of Cuban cigars, one that sets them apart from and above all other tobacco producing regions, is the sense of history and romance that surround the brands. Whenever we light one we are joining in a tradition that spans hundreds of years, enjoying a product whose name may have been built in Victorian times. The marcas which leave Havana to satisfy aficionados across the globe, both young and old, each carry with them a unique story; tales of passion, artisanal craft and the determination to leave a legacy befitting Cuba’s most famous export.
The history of Cuba in the last 200 or so years is littered with upheaval and no small amount of strife, making it even more impressive for a brand to have survived. Brands have come and gone at a remarkable rate, hundreds falling victim to changes in tastes, fashions and politics, to leave the 27 we know today. That some are approaching their 200th anniversary is an achievement to be celebrated and revered.
The Por Larrañaga Gran Robusto, a regional edition cigar for The Netherlands.
Por Larrañaga were founded in 1834 by a Spanish immigrant named Ignacio Larrañaga. Their 187 years of continuous production is the longest run in the Habanos portfolio, but those years have not all been easy. In the early 20th century the brand flirted with innovation, importing rolling and wrapping machines from the USA and becoming the first Cuban brand to be completely machine-made. These new machines were quicker than traditional torcerdors and the operator took only weeks to train, as opposed to the years of experience needed to be an efficient hand-roller. The workers, however, were not happy with this new arrangement and after a series of strikes and boycotts the brand returned the machines and the age-old tradition of producing cigars completely by hand.
Save for a brief period in the 1990s Por Larrañaga have been made totalmente a mano ever since, remaining a firm favourite particularly among European smokers. The four vitolas in the regular line, with their distinctive golden bands, can be found in humidors the world over and the brand is often used for Regional Edition cigars. The perfect mid-afternoon smoke, one suspects Por Larrañaga will continue to serve cigar lovers for many more years to come.
The Regios de Punch 2017 Limited Edition cigar.
Punch have been a fixture in the Cuban cigar pantheon almost as long as Por Larrañaga, having been founded in 1840, and shares a heritage with H. Upmann in that it was a German, named Stockmann, who created the brand. Mr Stockmann named his brand for a character from a popular English puppet show and as a result the brand saw great success early on in the British market. Tastes for entertainment have since changed, and Mr Punch’s violent antics are no longer considered amusing, but his image still graces the logo of the Habanos brand, contentedly puffing his cigar at his desk. In 1874 Mr Stockmann passed custody of his invention to Manuel Lopez, whose name still graces each band today.
The medium strength blend and flavour profile of Punch has been popular throughout its history, remaining an important part of the portfolio after nationalisation by Castro and revered in particular for the regal, imposing Double Corona. These exquisite cigars will provide around 2 hours of smoking pleasure, perfect for after a good meal, and have helped Punch stay at the forefront of aficionado’s tastes for over 170 years. The brand has been granted 2 Limited Edition releases in recent years and selected regularly for regional releases, including the now legendary Diademas Extra, brought to the Italian market in 2008. These were a reproduction of a previous regular production vitola, spectacularly adorned in gold foil and produced in extremely limited numbers – a true testament to the heritage and prestige of the brand.
The Ramon Allones Nuevo Mundo, a regional edition for Costa Rica.
The Allones brothers, Ramon and Antonio, launched their brand to the world in 1845 and immediately developed a reputation for innovation. They are credited as the first to use lithographs to add colourful decoration to their boxes, rumoured to have pioneered the practice of adding cigar bands to each stick to leave their factory and the first to use the 8-9-8 format for cabinets of 25 cigars. It is another brand that enjoyed particular success in the UK and was owned for a period between 1911 and 1927 by Hunter’s, the company who today, as part of Hunter’s & Frankau, are solely responsible for bringing Habanos to Britain. In 1927 the brand was sold to Partagas and their cigars are made in the legendary Partagas factory to this day.
From a portfolio that at one time offered 62 vitolas, Ramon Allones have only 4 regular production cigars today, including the Superiores LCDH Edition. It is by far the most popular brand when distributors request regional editions and in 2015 was the brand chosen by Hunter’s & Frankau for a spectacular humidor created to celebrate their 225th anniversary. The blend is full strength, the flavours are spicy and intense and the cigars the perfect accompaniment to a sherried whisky or dark, aged rum to round off a special evening.
These three Elders of the Cuban cigar world are excellent examples of how tradition and history inform and enhance the modern offering. Their longevity is evidence of the quality that they offer; this quality will no doubt carry them on for another 200 years, or more.