Last year I heard a lot of good stuff about the Por Larrañaga Petit Coronas; a great mild smoke, one of Cuba’s best cheap smokes…etc. I had never really heard much about this brand apart the name, but it sounded tempting. I almost went for a box, but since these only come in cabs of 50 I really wanted to try a few, so I grabbed a couple on-line and smoked them about a month apart from each other. I will spoil the review for you probably, but at this moment it is enough to say that while one definitely made me want to go for a whole cab, the other had serious issues with staying alight… and it made me think of the consistency of Cuban cigars.
You probably are thinking… just get on with it, we have heard it all before.. yadda, yadda, yad. Maybe… but while a lot of people see things only in black and white I tend to steer away from extreme statements. Cigar Inspector ran two interesting polls a few months back on cigar construction and taste. In both, about 50% of the people answered that a) non Cubans are constructed better but b) Cubans taste better. In principle I agree with that, but it is a simplistic view ( that is the limit of polls – still no quarrel with Cigar Inspector for running them). I see things in a slightly more complex way.
To me cigars (wine and food work too) are like music. In the same way you can have a simple tune rotating around one or two chords and other times complex compositions with changes of rhythm, melody and key, in cigars you can have simple flavours and extremely complex ones. At the same time both a simple tune and a complex one might be put well together and be a hit… or not; for every new musician breaking through (and I don’t mean the pre-packaged Simon Cowell crap) there are hundreds who fail. Likewise in a cigar, the blend has to work to impress smokers otherwise its off to the discounted deals bin. Some people might enjoy something simple but loud like the Sex Pistols while others wouldn’t listen to that racket even if forced and would much prefer Rachmaninov: that is your personal taste. Finally even if you have a great pice of music… you need to play it right and that is where construction comes into cigars. When it comes to cigars, for me many Cuban cigars are like a good sometimes even great orchestra playing complex and refined classical music or jazz, but who on one day give you the performance of your lifetime and the next… don’t even bother tuning their instruments. And while I haven’t found the same complexity in Nicaraguan, Honduran or Dominican smokes (if you think I am wrong, feel free to suggest something to try), most of these cigars are like reliable entertainers: it might not be earth shaking stuff they’re giving me but gosh do they know how to play that tune night in night out! Would you prefer potential greatness at the risk of bitter disappointment or a reliable, trusted and pleasing experience? I haven’t made my mind up yet, but what about you?
Enough of the rant… let’s get to the cigar, or better cigars, as I am going to review both Petit Coronas side by side.
Por Larrañaga Petit Corona
Length: 5 1/8″
Price: You can find these from some Internet Cuban cigar sources for 250-220$ for 50, in the UK I have seen them for 370£ or more
Smoking time: Cigar 1, 70 minutes, Cigar 2, 50.
Body: starts mild and slowly builds to medium bodied.
Por Larrañaga is one of the oldest Cuban brands, established 1834, and the cigars in this range are probably the oldest continuously produced Havana cigar still made. The brand used to produce a large number of different cigars, both hand and machine-made, but today only three handmade vitolas survive; apart the PC there is a Pantela and the Montecarlos. On top of that there have been a few Por Larrañaga Regional Editions in the last years, which has helped generate more interest in the standard production too. All the cigars are easily recognizable for the all gold band which in some RE is downright bling.
Given that age is something that always comes into discussion with Cuban smokes, I am not sure what year these cigars were made in, but given that the band still carries the “Marca Indipendente” text, I suppose they are from 2005 or earlier judging from the info on Trevor’s Cuban Cigar Website.
Appearance and pre-smoke
Both Cigar 1 and 2 look very similar, reddish colorado wrapper with some oily sheen, a decent triple cap, no veins really sticking out but a bit wrinkly and rustic looking. Both have a very nice Cuban tobacco smell with notes of sweet spices and cedar. The differences when you hold them are more evident: even if this are petit coronas, cigar 1 feels nicely packed while 2 feels really light. Inspecting the foot I see that the filler is tightly packed in some places and quite loose in others… not a good sign. Maybe not surprisingly one has a slightly tight draw while the other is free… not hard to guess which is which.
… and guess what? The filler differences on the foot result in a very different smoking experience. Cigar 1 starts a bit tight but slowly opens up, the ash is nice and solid getting to almost 2 inches and while the burn isn’t perfect and the smoke is not a lot (yet still creamy) it doesn’t require my constant attention. Cigar 2 in comparison is a serious attention seeking whore: if left for anything longer then 30 seconds it goes off, the burnline is all over the place and I don’t even know how the ash is as I have to keep knocking it off to correct the burn. Oh sure, it gives plenty of smoke… if it stays on that is.
It is slightly mind boggling how different these 2 cigars are to start. Cigar 1 starts with light notes of creamy latte and nuts and a hint of spice. Very subdued but equally smooth.
Cigar 2 explodes from the go: noticable pepper, earthy and toasted flavours and a really intriguing and unique rose petal note on the finish, I wonder if someone switched bands on these and I am actually smoking two completely different cigars.
Here Cigar 1 hits a real sweet spot, it has rich nutty and Cuban earthy flavours, a touch of spice and a mellow herbal tea and honey finish. More please!
Cigar 2 continues to go off, so with relighting and all it’s mainly Cuban earthyness and toasted notes though a hint of honey comes through.
The last section of cigar 1 keeps pretty much the same with wood and more spice on top and remains smooth till the very end.
I am so fed up with cigar 2 on the other hand that I just smoke a bit to get nice woody and earthy notes with clear honey aftertaste. Nice, but at this point I have almost emptied my lighter with all the burn corrections and I am too frustrated to really enjoy it.
Good question. I rated the two Petit Corona 87 and 77 (only because of the nice taste) respectively. If I had only smoked the first cigar I would be raving about a great 5$ Cuban, while cigar 2 felt like someone had forgotten part of the filler and makes me want to scream “steer clear!”. One thing to keep in mind is that in the last years Habanos has introduced more stringent QC procedures so I would certainly want to try a more recent box of these. For the time being, I won’t be buying a cab of 50 just yet.
One interesting consideration for me is that apart the burn problems these mild aged cigars tasted great. With at least 4 years on them, these definitely didn’t taste flat and it makes me wonder how mild Cubans evolve which might give you a hint about my next Aging Project entry.