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The Power Train

Strong Cigars Fuel the Industry's Hottest Trend.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

(continued from page 1)

And despite Fuente Jr.'s reputation for making powerful cigars, he's no fan of the word "strong."

"Honestly, I prefer not to use the word 'strong,' because when I think of something strong, I think of something that intimidates you, or is overaggressive. And I think ideally, a cigar should be intense, complex with a lot of flavor," he says. "The sense that I get is that there's a lot of cigars out there now that are taking advantage of people who want more flavor. It's something that's a fad now, that's fashionable."

"There's a big difference between strength and complexity. Anybody can make a cigar that can blow your head off, but can you smoke it?" asks Jose Orlando Padrón, patriarch of the Padrón family. Like many cigarmakers, his company is introducing a stronger blend, the Padrón Serie 1926 cigar, but he wants the cigar to still have the finesse and complexity for which his brand is known. Padrón believes that some brands sacrifice flavor and balance to achieve strength.

"I have gotten sick from smoking tobacco that's not fermented," says the 75-year-old Padrón, a lifelong smoker who still puffs around 10 Padróns every day. His son Jorge agrees. "The challenge is not to make a strong cigar, it's to make it balanced," he says. "What's the point of making a cigar you can't smoke to the end?"

But makers of strong cigars feel there is a place for their powerhouses, even if they can't be smoked one after the other. Frank Llaneza, a pioneer of the strong-cigar business, can't smoke his strongest blends back-to-back. "The heavy cigar is a good cigar, but you can't smoke too many," he says. The former co-owner of Villazon & Co. is still involved in the production of Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey cigars from Honduras. Llaneza went to Central America after the United States imposed its embargo on Cuba, seeking to duplicate the strength of Cuban tobacco with Cuban seeds cultivated in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Llaneza has been in the cigar business for decades, and he's not easily swayed by new events. He thinks the strong-cigar trend is faddish and will not last.

"One time it was green wrappers, then it was real light wrappers -- these trends come and go," he says. "I think a lot of people that are buying a cigar because it's strong will go back to smoking their normal blend."

Rich is the perfect example. He lived to tell the tale of his first power-cigar experience, and he still enjoys smoking the occasional cigar. But today, his favored cigar is one that is mild.


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