Frank Llaneza is a lion of the cigar industry who has been described by the Wall Street Journal as “the last grand old man of the cigar business as it was carried over from Cuba.”
He is best known as the former president of Villazon & Co., which was started by his father and his partners in Tampa in 1920. Young Frank was conscripted into the cigar industry, starting out with janitorial duties in his father’s factory, a job that he would have gladly forsaken to spend more time in school instead. But this was the during the Depression, and his choices were limited. As part of his education in the business he soon left for Cuba, where he learned how to select wrapper leaf under the legendary Angel Oliva, Sr., a man who would become first his mentor and later his collaborator.
Llaneza was on the ground in Cuba “when Fidel Castro came down from the mountains into Havana.” He saw changes on the horizon, but initially he didn’t see the extent of them. The Castro regime gained strength and finally fomented a revolution, leading eventually to the confiscation of the entire Cuban tobacco industry. Fortunately, Llaneza, along with Angel Oliva, had wisely already begun their first experiments with Cuban-seed tobacco in Central America.
Llaneza took over the reins of Villazon in 1953 and continued the company’s tradition of making clear Havana cigars. That changed over the following decade as his continued success with growing excellent cuban-seed tobaccos in Honduras provided Villazon the opportunity to fill the full-bodied cigar niche left open by the embargo.
Two of those of those cigars would become mainstays on the American cigar scene for the next fifty-plus years: Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey.
In 1996 General Cigar purchased Villazon and with it those famous brands. Theo Folz, recently retired from Altadis USA, saw this as a missed opportunity for his company:
“We’ve always been a net buyer of businesses,” says Folz. He regrets missing one, Villazon & Co., and its renowned cigarmaker, Frank Llaneza. The maker of Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey was acquired by General Cigar in 1997. “The one acquisition that I should have made, that slipped through my fingers, was Villazon. Because not only would you get a great business, but you would get one of the greatest cigarmakers in my lifetime.” Cigar Aficionado, 3/09/2004
Ironically, Llaneza recently retired from General Cigar and is now blending cigars — for Altadis USA. The Siglo Limited Reserve was his first, and the Frank Llaneza 1961 is his most recent creation.
The 1961 is made in Nicaragua and features a Criollo 98 wrapper from Ecuador. The binder is Nicaraguan, and the filler is a Nicaraguan-Dominican blend. Cigar Insider picked the Cuban Corona size as the pick of the litter, rating it 92 and bestowing upon it “Humidor Selection” status.
Six sizes are available:
- Corona Grande – 6 1/2 x 44
- Cuban Corona – 5 5/8 x 46
- Double Corona – 6 3/4 x 48
- Double Magnum – 6 1/2 x 54
- Magnum – 4 3/4 x 54
- Pyramid – 6 1/4 x 54
The 1961 Cuban Corona is an unassuming stick with its simple band and dark leathery wrapper. This outer leaf is actually maduro in color; with its leathery appearance and slight sheen of oil, it could pass for a maduro cigar. The head of the cigar is well made and one of my specimens exhibited a quadruple cap. The roll is solid, though one cigar had a very minor dent in one side. The draw is just right and the ash is firm, but it does flake just a little. The burn is very slow. I expected to get 45 minutes to an hour from this stick but it smoldered for almost twice that long.
Overall excellent construction.
The Cuban Corona is an assertive cigar that announces itself with a leathery bite. There are a lot of flavors here, but they seem to be blended together so well that it’s hard to distinguish between them. In the first third I was a little overwhelmed by the leather and spice, but I was still able to detect a sweet edge to the smoke. The lengthy finish is impressive.
I learned quickly not to retrohale this cigar at all. Unless you enjoy the sting of rich peppery tobacco and the sneezes and sniffles that accompany it, you won’t either. But simply puffing on this cigar releases clouds of rich woody spice. There’s some salt here too, which had my palate begging for a Islay malt companion. I was happy to oblige with a glass of Lagavulin.
The Cuban Corona comes out of the corner swinging and never lets up for a breather. The last round is not much different than the first, but by this point my palate has taken so many blows that it’s a little bit numb. Pepper, leather, and some cinnamon spice are the main contenders, with the ghost of grilled meat hovering over it all.
This cigar carries all the characteristics of the Honduran style, despite the fact that it has no Honduran leaf. It reminds me of a Camacho more than any other cigar, minus Camacho’s signature Corojo overtones. But this should come as no surprise, since Frank Llaneza has been making this style of cigar for most of his life. The 1961 blend is much bolder, I think, than any Punch or Hoyo I have tasted, but it shares the same leathery, meaty quality of those cigars.
I hesitate to use the verboten term “strong,” but there is certainly an edge to this smoke. The nicotine content is not overpowering, but retrohaling left my mucosal passages crying for Mama. I love the flavors of this cigar, but I am really hoping that some aging will sand down the edges a bit. If that happens, this cigar will truly be worthy of being called a “humidor selection.”
The 1961 is a limited release (see the Stogie Guys review for details) and is retailing for around 7 USD per stick.
Final Score: 87