The Love of Lanceros
The long, thin cigars are making a comeback among true connoisseurs
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, July/August 2008
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That's a shame, because thin cigars such as lanceros can be outstanding smokes. As with all thin-gauge cigars, the flavor of the wrapper leaf is far more prominent in the lancero, because there is less filler to counterbalance the characteristics of the wrapper. Some conventional cigar wisdom dictates that the only way to really taste the vega, or plantation, where the cigar's tobacco comes from is to experience the wrapper in as unadulterated a form as possible. So the tobacco's terroir, whether it be Pinar del Río in Cuba or the Bonao region in the Dominican Republic, speaks most profoundly through a thin size such as a lancero.
"We were very excited about the wrapper, and what better way is there to show it off?" asks Alan Rubin, owner of Alec Bradley Cigar Co., who just recently released his very first lancero, the Alec Bradley Tempus Creo. He was referring to the Nicaraguan Criollo '98 leaf that enrobes the new brand. Some cigarmakers will roll up a piece of wrapper and smoke it to assess the leaf's character and burn quality in its purest form. Rubin believes that the lancero best approximates this practice.
"A lancero should be made only if the wrapper can carry the cigar," says Jose Oliva, vice president of Oliva Cigar Co., which has also rolled its first long, thin cigar for the market, the Serie V Lancero. "The wrapper-to-filler ratio is so much in favor of the wrapper that it really has to be able to stand on its own, which is why we made one for the Serie V. The wrapper is so unique and rich that we created a lancero so that people had a chance to really taste it."
Cigarmakers say they believe in the lancero size, even if they are not big sellers. "We made it for connoisseurs and for ourselves," says Oliva. "We are not worried about the numbers." Says Johnson of his Tatuaje lancero: "Not the best seller, but I would never discontinue the size, because I smoke it myself."
Johnson's lanceros are made by Jose "Pepin" Garcia, who has a knack for the size. The Tatuaje Especiale, a 7 1/2 inch by 38 ring vitola, was one of Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 cigars of the year in 2004. Another smoke that was made by Garcia, the Padilla Signature 1932 Lancero, is the current No. 23 cigar of the year.
While Davidoff has been producing lancero sizes for several decades, the company has been slow to add to its portfolio of lancero shapes. This past spring, Davidoff released the Millennium Blend Lancero, the first new regular-production lancero from the company in more than 20 years.
"While so many cigar manufacturers are going bigger and bigger [with their sizes], we're paying homage to our roots," says Herklots. "The Davidoff brand was literally built on the lancero format." According to Herklots, the new Millennium Blend Lancero is the best expression of the power and character inherent in the 151 wrapper, an Ecuadoran hybrid of Corojo and Connecticut strains. "There's definitely a renewed popularity to the size, thanks to some of the more recent lanceros available."
Despite the history and newfound appreciation for the lancero, it is not without its problems. Performance, price or perception issues continue to keep it out of so many cigar smokers' humidors.
"It can be expensive, for a number of reasons," says Oliva. "It's a difficult size to roll and needs a lot of quality control in the factory because it is easy to under-fill but it is easy to overfill. There is a high rejection rate."
Construction is a large factor. If a roller does not put in enough tobacco, the lancero can burn hot, resulting in unpleasant, bitter flavors. Too much tobacco, and the cigar won't draw at all.
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