During the same day out in Paris where I checked out Guerlain’s Champs-Elysées flagship store, I also visited the renowned cigar shop, A La Civette. Founded in 1716, A La Civette is tucked just behind the Hôtel de Louvre on the Rue Saint Honoré.
Despite being over 300 years old and mentioned in one of Balzac’s masterpieces, it was only in the beginning of 2018 that the boutique was awarded the title of Habanos Specialist. Therefore, it was the perfect place to seek out a new cigar experience.
I was greeted by Emmanuel, a passionate and extremely knowledgeable young man who recounted even the most obscure details of every vitola in their walk-in humidor.
There were many well-preserved masterpieces in the shelves that were very tempting indeed. Nevertheless, having being spoiled rotten by Bespoke Unit founder, Paul Anthony, with a supply of fine cigars, I wanted something more affordable to protect the stash from over-consumption.
Therefore, I somewhat bashfully asked for the cheapest cigar that offered the best value as a daily smoke. However, Emmanuel wasn’t shocked by this at all but presented me with a Por Larrañaga Panetela. Not only did he recommend it, but it was also his cigar of choice for a cheeky and cheerfully cheap smoke.
- Brand: Por Larrañaga
- Range: Panetelas
- Length: 5″ (127 mm)
- Gauge: 36 (14.3 mm)
- Filler: Vuelta Abajo, Cuba
- Binder: Vuelta Abajo, Cuba
- Wrapper: Vuelta Abajo, Cuba
- Handmade? Yes
- Body: Mild
- Estimated Smoking Time: 40 Minutes
- Pricing: 3.40 € Single MRRP [4 USD]
Hailing from the historical tobacco producing Pinar del Rio Provence of Cuba, the Por Larrañaga certainly piqued my curiosity. On the extreme Western tip of the island, Pinar del Rio hosts the Vuelta Abajo region, which is said to offer the best cigar tobacco in the world.
Given the price, I wasn’t convinced that it was from Veulta Abajo specifically but perhaps Pinar del Rio in general despite the label. Nevertheless, they were quite small cigars that are a blend of long and short filler, which is often affectionately known as a Cuban sandwich.
Although long filler is the most desirable tobacco type, using scraps is a way of keeping costs to a minimum whilst still providing a decent smoke. However, I was curious to see how this would affect the overall burn and combustion of the cigar itself.
Por Larrañaga Panatela Look & Feel
- Wrapper Hue: Milk Chocolate, Terracotta
- Rolling Consistency: Bumpy
- Spring: Spongy & Firm
- Aromas: Clay, Cedar, Sea Salt
Even for a Panatela vitola, the Por Larrañaga are quite small. They’re just right in terms of ring gauge but slightly on the short side.
The pale Colorado Claro wrapper isn’t particularly shiny but quite oily to the touch. Meanwhile, the wrapper gives off a distinctive milk chocolate colour with a hint of terracotta. Although the colour was generally quite consistent, there was the occasional chlorophyll green spot due to rushed maturation.
Overall, the cigar has a toothy texture with a few visible veins. Furthermore, the body is remarkably bumpy with a few uneven rolling consistency. Running the fingers up the body, you can feel the difference between the long and short filler with some areas that are quite spongy and others that are very hard.
Interestingly, some of the cigars have a slight square shape to them after having being tightly pushed into the box. Although I don’t imagine that they’re intentionally box pressed cigars, they certainly had a slight angular shape to them. I don’t actually find this bothersome and I imagine that it might even help with the flavour.
Of course, it is important to remember that this is a $4 cigar so I wasn’t expecting a presentation worthy of Davidoff’s The Late Hour series. Nevertheless, it’s important to take note of this whilst keeping it in context.
Finally, the tobacco’s aromas are wonderfully alluring. There are overt notes of clay, which are reminiscent of dry, limey soil under the baking sun. Meanwhile, hints of cedar add an alluring aromatic note whilst sea salt gives a toothy finish.
Por Larrañaga Smoking Experience
We often point out here that cigars are handmade products. As such, each experience should be somewhat different despite a certain level of consistency. In order to provide an accurate portrayal of a cigar, we smoke several to look out for anomalies.
As I’ll explain later in this article, I think I smoked sufficiently in order to provide a balanced perspective…
- Draw: Mild Resistance Overall [Some Plugged]
- Aromas: Dry Earth, Thyme, Sea Salt
Cuban cigars already have something of a reputation of tight draws due to lax quality control. Therefore, I wasn’t particularly surprised to experience some tight or plugged cigars here. Nevertheless, most were surprisingly loose for Cubans and offered just the right amount of resistance to my taste.
I imagine that this was because of the shorter filler that would provide large gaps for the air to pass. Again, it’ll be interesting to see how it affects the burn.
In terms of aromas, they echoed those smelled on the wrapper except that it was a touch more aromatic. The first flavours were evocative of dry clay and earth with a hint of straw. There was also a bit of thyme whilst the cigar provided a tasteful salty note.
1st Third Smoking Experience
- Notes: Straw, Thyme, Earth
Por Larrañaga opens as a very mild cigar with a distinctively Cuban flavour. This consists of relatively sweet yet salty flavours of straw, thyme and the same dry clay experienced in the initial aromas. Overall, the first third was very aromatic with these pleasant notes that left traces of flavour on the lips and tongue.
In terms of the burn, it was surprisingly even throughout all the cigars I tested. I was also surprised by the ash resistance that seemed quite robust. Despite the short filler, it didn’t drop off until approaching the second third.
2nd Third Smoking Experience
- Notes: Straw, Cedar, Salted Caramel, Earth
Progressing into the second third, the aromatics faded in favour of more woody notes. Whilst there was some oak in there, the most prevalent note was cedar that was particularly overt during the retro hale.
The saltiness also brought out a wonderfully appetising note of salted caramel, which was very enjoyable indeed.
Similarly, the earth notes seemed to be growing in presence and left a clay-like film over the tongue. The cigar’s evolution is generally quite linear without much complexity. However, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable.
As for the burn, it seemed consistent with the first third.
Final Third Smoking Experience
- Notes: Cedar, Clay, Pine
Closing into the final third, the cigar’s earthy tones developed into a clear clay note as experienced initially. It was quite thick in comparison with the other notes and the smoke had a toothy texture to it.
Whilst the cedar notes were indeed still present, they were overshadowed by a musty pine note that reminded me of a dry forest during the summer. This was particularly pleasant and with its peppery retro-hale, there were hints evocative of an old spice cabinet.
Although not very complex, you could see the cigar’s evolution of flavours from the opening notes.
- Ash Backbone: Somewhat Loose
- Burn Angle: Even
- Temperature: Warm
- Draw: Mild Resistance
- Final Smoking Time: 35 Minutes
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Por Larañaga’s burn. Initially, I expected severe runners and canoeing all over the place. However, I have yet to experience this with these cigars. Whilst the ash was slightly loose due to the short filler, it wasn’t to the extent that it distributed ash all over the floor.
In fact, you could easily get a decent stack of about a centimetre whilst carefully smoking provided an inch. Since the cigar burned relatively warm, the ash certainly helped keep it cool, which was a welcome characteristic. Similarly, the mildly box pressed shape helped keep the cigar cool too.
Nevertheless, being a relatively thin cigar, the smoking time was quite short. Very slow and careful smoking could push it to about 45 minutes but it generally fell to just over half an hour.
Finally, there were some cigars that had a knot near the head, which gave a hard resistance. However, they were surprisingly few in number compared to what I expected. Otherwise, they tended to offer only a mild resistance with some on the looser side.
Ideal Pairings With A Por Larrañaga Panatela
Being a mild sun-kissed cigar from Cuba’s westerly region, the Por Larrañaga is a versatile smoke. Being a cigar that I’d smoke on a daily basis, I’d often find myself pairing it with a number of beverages and snakes.
I usually enjoyed it alongside ginger ale in the afternoon but found that it went better with a peaty Laphroaig whisky that I had cut with water. Alternatively, a well-aged dark rum helped really bring out those salted caramel aromas. Sometimes, I’d have one in the late morning with a mild espresso too, which was very pleasant.
In fact, anything that was relatively salty such as peanuts, crisps or other nibbles tend to go quite well given its notes of brine.
Being an affordable Cuban cigar, I didn’t expect a particularly lavish box. Made from laminated wood, it was particularly lightweight and not very sturdy with no real seal. This was hidden by a layer of classically Cuban ornamentation with old-fashioned paintings and medallions.
Unfortunately, the box was plastered in smoking warnings as is the custom in the EU. Carefully peeling them off revealed the brand name surrounded by laurels. Meanwhile, the cigars were covered with a sheet of glossy paper featuring exotic, presumably Cuban ladies canoodling by the sea.
However, it was perfectly fine for transportation so I could store them in a seasoned humidor for proper storage.
Finally, the band is quite subtle and understated. Made from a gold-coloured metallic paper, it’s quite attractive with some traditional vibes. Interestingly, it has a tendency to oxidise when left in high humidity, which makes it handy as a sort of gauge in your humidor.
Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to remove and the paper can tear rather than detaching. However, I’ve noticed it’s much easier if you remove it at the last minute as the heat will reduce the glue’s strength.
When To Smoke A Por Larrañaga
Whether it’s to smoke alone or with a few buddies, the Por Larrañaga isn’t a very elegant cigar but it isn’t disappointing either. I found it very enjoyable for when out and about rather than wasting something a more premium cigar that I wouldn’t get to properly appreciate.
Being on the thin side, it’s a short smoke too. Personally, I find these to be the ideal late-morning or mid-afternoon smoke when on a work break. However, this wouldn’t be something that I’d reserve for a special occasion when in a cigar lounge or after a hearty meal with friends.
Searching For A Cheap Cuban Cigar In France
Before wrapping up, allow me to highlight the market differences between the USA and Europe in order to provide some context. Due to the embargo, Cuban cigars are prised rarities in the USA, which makes New World cigars a considerably cheaper option. Furthermore, the market is much more inclusive with a plethora of brands from many different countries.
Conversely, Europe never experienced the hardships of the Cuban embargo. As such, Cuban cigars are considered the norm whilst New World sticks are extremely expensive save for a few examples from the Dominican Republic.
For instance, Nub Cigars, a favourite brand of mine, retails at about $3 – 6 per stick in the USA. Meanwhile, they’re at least 15 € in France!
Moreover, the distribution of tobacco products in France is controlled and monitored by SEITA who holds the State monopoly. Due to this, sales and promotion of cigar products are non-existant whilst the online purchase of tobacco products is illegal in order to protect the firm.
I had all but lost hope to find a cheap handmade cigar to enjoy on a daily basis. My only option was to search the cigar shops in Paris for a cheap brand but since prices are regulated, I’d never find a particularly good deal. Nevertheless, I persevered and hoped for the best when I paid A La Civette a visit.
When Emmanuel introduced me to the Por Larrañaga Panatellas, I was delighted as it presented itself as a potential solution to my predicament. Since then, I’m well into my second box and I’m thoroughly enjoying them as a brief yet pleasant casual smoke.
If you have access to Cubans and you’re looking for a cheap option as either or beginner or regular cigar smoker, then I’d highly recommend the Por Larrañaga Panatellas. Whilst they’re not the most elegant or refined choice, they exude the flavours you’d expect from a Cuban cigar and fail to disappoint given the price point.
"A great little Cuban. Although lacking in refinement, you'll struggle to find a more pleasant handmade Cuban smoke at this price."Rating: 4.0 ★★★★