By Marc Phillips
I’ve been reading a few articles on the cigar websites about lanceros, panatelas and other “skinny” cigars, and how they’re suddenly becoming more and more popular over the last couple of years. In the cigar smoking world, thin and long cigars don’t always get the same respect as cigars with a ring size of oh, say, 48 and above. That’s because many cigar smokers feel that thinner sticks don’t have the same complex flavors as a nice 6 by 60 gordo, for example. In addition, a thin cigar usually means that a greater percentage of the tobacco in the roll is wrapper, and that generally creates a hotter, harsher smoke.
From my own experience, the biggest problem I have with longer, thinner cigars is that more tar seems to collect at the head, so your lips come in contact with that black, oozing paste that resembles the innards of a bong that’s been stored in the attic since the ‘80s. As smoke is pulled through the length of a cigar, black and shiny tar deposits will start to collect at the head. Most cigars do look pretty black on the puffing end by the time you’re finished, and there are plenty of ways to ameliorate this phenomenon. But for obvious reasons, lanceros and panatelas and other thin stogies often create more icky tar than usual.
So what is the advantage of smoking these cigars? First of all, and this is merely me shooting capriciously from the hip, long thin cigars are elegant. People tend to look cool when they’re smoking them. For the seasoned cigar smoker who doesn’t care about the Cool Factor, smaller ring cigars tend to light more easily and burn more evenly than the big gordos.
This is all generalization, of course. As with most cigars, the quality of a thin cigar has less to do with the size and shape and more to do with the roll and construction, not to mention the quality and flavors of the blend. Those differences in flavor due to size and shape are certainly there, but they are far more subtle. I’ve had many, many lanceros over the years that have absolutely knocked my socks off—Viaje, for instance, has a beautiful lancero that I grab whenever I see it, and some of the Illusione lanceros are downright great as well. Back at my cigar lounge in Texas, I carried a few of the thinner cigars. I found them perfect for times when I wanted a great smoke, but I had less than 30 minutes to enjoy one.
Still, if you’re one of those cigar smokers who avoid smaller ring sizes because of the tar issue, or because you’re a he-man who doesn’t like to smoke cigars that look sort of like an oversized Virginia Slim, I have a couple of tips for you to further the enjoyment.
To reduce the amount of tar that winds up on your palate while smoking a cigar, I have two sure-fire solutions. First, when you cut your cigar, take off a little less of the cap than you normally would. Generally speaking, when you cut the cap you want to remove less than half if possible. If you remove too much of the cap, your beautiful cigar will start to unravel on you and it will eventually wind up looking like a big smoldering pile of shredded poo—which it will be. (I do have a friend who cuts the cap completely away so he can enjoy a big, tremendous draw—but he’s a bit of a chomper so it winds up being a huge mess anyway.) If you remove too little, as you probably know, your draw will be difficult and you’ll wind up getting a headache from inhaling too strenuously. The idea is to remove enough of the cap for a clean draw while keeping the whole stick relatively intact to the end.
With thin cigars, however, you can probably get away with a double-cut. That means you remove about one-third of the cap upon lighting the cigar, just enough to get a decent draw. When you start to see tar accumulating on the head of your cigar, you can deliver a second, smaller cut, just enough to shave off that black goo. Then you can finish the rest of the cigar without all that residue ruining the flavor.
The second solution for reducing the amount of tar on the head of your cigar is to “purge.” Purging involves blowing the smoke back through the cigar and out the lighted end. This is said to “cleanse” some of the tar from the length of the cigar and to expel it out the burning end, away from your lips. If you “purge” once for every inch of cigar you smoke, it should work. While I know many people who swear by purging, I haven’t really applied the scientific method to discover if it really works. I do it whenever I remember to do it, but I couldn’t tell you whether or not it’s a truly worthwhile part of the ritual. But if you have problems with tar, give it a shot.
For those who think that smoking lanceros or panatelas make you look wimpy, well, get over yourself. It sounds like I’m making a joke here, but if you actually go to a real herf, or sit down and smoke a stogie in a crowded cigar lounge, you may notice that everyone is smoking great big cigars. [Insert “tiny wiener” joke here.] I’m inclined to think that the preponderance of huge cigars in smoking lounges, however, is because the smoker is probably trying to spend as much time herfing as possible. It seems kind of strange to go to a wonderful, comfortable and atmospheric cigar lounge and select a cigar than will last twenty minutes—unless you’re on your lunch break and you have to get back to work. If you’re that concerned with looking cool in front of your pals, then smoke two lanceros at the same time. I don’t care.
Quite frankly, I haven’t smoked more than one of two lanceros or panatelas in the last few years. After reading about the increasing popularity of these cigar sizes, I contacted Cory Grover at Famous Smoke Shop. I asked him about the skinny cigars that he personally enjoyed and he came up with quite the list. I chose three for very different reasons; I chose the La Palina because they use some of the tastiest tobacco I’ve ever experienced, but I’ve never tried the lancero size; I chose the Davidoff because it was a staple at my cigar lounge; I chose the El Triunfador, quite frankly, because I’ve heard a lot about the brand and had yet to try them.
La Palina El Diario KB II
When I tell you that I love the flavor of La Palina cigars, it often comes with a caveat. While most of the cigars produced by this old factory have those same unctuous chocolate and coffee notes that I crave, I’ve had difficulties with the draw on a couple of the larger sizes. Daniel Louis White, tenor saxophonist and smoking buddy, is a huge fan of La Palina and told me that I should stick to the smaller sizes—they were the best among the factory’s numerous lines. The next time I saw a selection of La Palinas at a cigar store I grabbed the smallest ones they offered and discovered that Daniel was right—they were nearly perfect stogies. So Cory’s recommendation of the Diario KB II was far too intriguing to ignore.
The KB II lancero, of course, was a gem. Remember all those nasty things I said about skinny cigars? None of them were true with this little La Palina. It smoked flawlessly, and yielded very little tar on the tip by the time I was finished. Most notably, the La Palina lasted well over half-an-hour—much longer than I would expect from a 6 by 40 cigar. (Of these three, the La Palina was the largest.) In other words, I suspect the KB II would last about as long as a traditional corona.
Did I tell you that every La Palina cigar I’ve smoked—and that includes a few from the more pricey, premium lines—seems to be marinated with these rich, dense café mocha flavors that are absolutely delicious? This flavor profile is achieved through a careful blend of Honduran Rosado wrappers, two additional Honduran binders and Dominican criollo and corojo fillers. This is a cigar that has been carefully blended by masters to taste absolutely delicious.
Best of all, the KB II, like most lanceros, is pretty affordable. Famous Smoke Shop sells them by the box, but they work out to a little more than $7 each. That’s a great price for such a rewarding, satisfying smoke.
El Triunfador No. 6
El Triunfador was the wild card among the three cigars I picked from Famous Smoke Shop. I’ve heard of the brand before, knew they received excellent reviews, but until Cory made the recommendation I’d never said to myself, “Gee, I need to grab one of those the next time I see it.”
I’ve been missing out. As Cory explained, El Triunfador is a “brainchild of Pete Johnson and Don Pepin Garcia.” Johnson and the entire Garcia clan share a cigar factory in Nicaragua and are responsible for such acclaimed cigar brands as Tatuaje, My Father’s Cigars, L’Atelier, Jaime Garcia, Flor de Antilles, El Centurion and many more. I count many of these brands among my absolute favorites—Pete Johnson’s Tatuaje La Verite 2009, for example, is perhaps my favorite non-Cuban cigar of all time, with the La Verite 2010 probably coming in second.
The No. 6 was, in fact, the real champ here. Everything about it surprised me. It’s very long and thin at 7.5 inches and a tiny 38 ring, and it looks like it might break in half if you aren’t careful. But it smoked like a big cigar, full of complex flavors that were very assertive without being overpowering. The No. 6 reminded me of another of my all-time favorites, the Curivari El Gran Rey, with its ability to offer so many pleasing flavors from the very first puff. It makes a rather memorable first impression, and those qualities are consistent all the way to the end. If I could describe the No. 6 in one word, it would be balanced. It checked off all the right boxes for me—draw, construction, taste—and did it without breaking a sweat. The only downside is that yes, this one smoked much quicker than the La Palina.
It’s a cigar that leaves you wanting more, and in a good way. So I smoked two in a row. I’d buy a box of these, no problem. Famous Smoke Shop has these in a nice 10-pack, with each stick costing about the same as the La Palina. I’m tempted to order one right now.
Davidoff Long Panatela
I wanted Cory to send me a couple of these for one reason—I used to sell these at my cigar lounge for $3 each because I wanted my mostly novice clientele to experience the greatness of Davidoff without paying the normally high prices for this legendary brand. I knew that the panatela size—five-and-a-half inches long with a mere 25 ring—would result in some compromises in flavor compared to some of the larger Davidoffs. But some of those big smokes, such as the Anniversarios, can cost $25 to $40 each and I was pretty sure I’d be the one smoking them all.
So compared to its somewhat lofty and exclusive big brothers, the Davidoff panatela gives up some complexity and winds up being a “one-note” cigar. But it’s a lovely note, somewhat mild in comparison to the La Palina and the El Triunfador, yet still chock-full of the bold and unique Davidoff flavors.
That’s somewhat unusual, considering that the Davidoff is actually made from a variety of tobacco leaves from all over the world—a Javanese binder, a Sumatran wrapper and fillers from Brazil and the Caribbean. Usually that type of aggressive blend results in several flavors competing for dominance, but in this case the overall flavors are seamless. So what first seems like “one-note” is actually more like “in harmony.” Again, it’s a great smoke if you have five or ten minutes to kill, and you can a box of 25 from Famous Cigar shop for a little more than a buck apiece.
So smoke those skinny cigars with confidence if you got ‘em. All three of these cigars were every bit as lovable as their bigger, fatter brethren. They’re stogies for those people who are very busy and very important and don’t have the time to sit down, light up and stare at the clouds outside. But I like them, too.