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The Love of Lanceros

The long, thin cigars are making a comeback among true connoisseurs
Gregory Mottola
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, July/August 2008

A paradox exists in the cigar world right now. Retailers are reporting the immense popularity of hefty cigars, some of which are nearly one inch thick. The robusto remains the most popular size on the market, and cigarmakers continue to release fat sizes. But despite the consumer clamor for heft, an increasing number of non-Cuban cigar manufacturers are adding slim, elegant lanceros to their size portfolios. Recently, new lanceros from Coronado by La Flor, Oliva, Davidoff, Joya de Nicaragua, Alec Bradley, Illusione, Padilla, Toraño, Cuvée, Gran Habano, Nestor Miranda and 601 have either hit the market or have been announced as new sizes. The lancero may be one of the slower sellers in the American market, but it's taking on a cult following. True cigar aficionados are choosing them as exciting, different smokes.

"It's the best size that I make," says Carlos (Carlito) Fuente Jr., who is sometimes seen smoking the long, thin versions of his Fuente Fuente OpusX or Arturo Fuente Don Carlos cigars.

"Love lanceros," says Pete Johnson, creator of the Tatuaje brand. "They were part of my original six brown-label sizes five years ago. I was making this in early 2003 when everyone was running from them, except maybe Carlito."

When asked what kind of customer buys a lancero, Michael Herklots, general manager of the Davidoff shop in Columbus Circle in New York City, answered, "An educated one. A confident one. A lancero smoker is the same type of customer who buys a Schrader RBS Cabernet—he doesn't need a trophy that other people recognize as great. He or she knows it's great, and that's enough."

The standard Cuban measurement for a lancero is 7 1/2 inches long by 38 ring gauge, but those made outside of Cuba can be a bit shorter and somewhat fatter. Most cigars with the name are finished with a signature flag cap, the pigtail that can be anything from a mere stub to a strip of leaf approaching an inch in length. When rated by Cigar Aficionado, lanceros fall under the panetela category, which comprises thin cigars. All lanceros are panetelas, but only gran (or long) panetelas are lanceros.

Thin cigars have always been part of the Cuban cigar portfolio, but the lancero is a relatively new size. It was first rolled at El Laguito in the 1960s with the creation of the Cohiba brand. "The lancero came out of Cuba—before Cohiba there were no lanceros," said General Cigar's Benjamin Menendez, whose father, Alonso, co-owned the H. Upmann factory in Havana. Fidel Castro is "the father of the size," says Cigar Aficionado European editor James Suckling, an avowed lover of lanceros and an expert on the cigars of Cuba.

The lancero, known as an El Laguito No. 1 in a Cuban cigar factory, is visually striking, its length exacerbated by the cigar's unusual lack of girth. Lancero means lancer in Spanish, and the size is evocative of the long weapons wielded by horse-mounted knights of the Middle Ages. More specifically, one might even recall the lance held by Don Quixote in the Cervantes novel.

Many lanceros have traditionally been difficult finds—or impossible to buy through normal retail channels. The first, the Cohiba Lancero, was only for Castro when it was first created, and when the Cohiba brand became commercially available, Castro cast another cigar mystique with the diplomatic Trinidad, a cigar the same size as a Cohiba Lancero, and available only as a gift of the Cuban government. (In 1998, the Trinidad Fundadore made its ceremonious commercial debut, at a slightly thicker girth, 40 ring gauge, and was instantly recognized as the new gold standard for lanceros.)

After Cohiba, the Cuban Davidoff was the first cigar brand to adopt the lancero size into its portfolio with the introduction of the Davidoff No. 1. When the Davidoff brand left Cuba for the Dominican Republic, it continued offering lancero shapes, and for years was one of the few non-Cuban cigars with a lancero as part of the brand.

Ironically, as American consumers are presented with an increasing number of lancero choices, the Cuban cigar industry is cutting back its thin-cigar selection. Suckling says that the Cubans are rolling mostly Montecristo Especiales, Cohiba Lanceros and Trinidad Fundadores, while El Rey del Mundo Grandes de España, Bolivar Especiales No. 2, Diplomaticos No. 6, Montecristo No. 7 and many other forgotten thin sizes have all been among Cuba's cigar casualties over the last few decades.

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