Punch cigars are one of the few premiums in the bunch whose name actually tells you what to expect when you smoke it. Renowned as the world’s second oldest cigar brand that’s still in production, it is the third oldest Cuban cigar trademark in Havana, preceded only by Por Larrañaga and Ramon Allones, founded in 1834 and 1837 respectively. But Punch’s history isn’t just measured by how long it’s been around…
A potent new blend was born in 1840, using tobaccos grown in Cuba’s fertile Vuelta Abajo region. Don Manuel López intended this Havana Punch for the British market, where a cartoon called “Punch“ was wildly popular. Its mascot, “Mr. Punch,“ was the male half of the famed Punch & Judy puppet shows. The brand continued on its own until 1930, when the trademark was acquired by Fernández, Palicio y Cía where 400 rollers were making Belinda, Hoyo de Monterrey and La Escepción. But when the Castro regime came to power with the 1959 Revolution — Fernando Palicio fled the island for America.
In 1964, Palicio sold his brands to the Villazon family, who produced them in Tampa using tobacco imported from Honduras. Villazon was still making cigars out of Cuban leaf, as were most of the factories in Tampa until president John F. Kennedy signed-off on the sanctions. Fortunately for the Villazons, however, their buyers had snatched up thousands of bales of Cuban tobacco prior to the embargo going into effect — enough to include Cuban tobacco in their cigars well past 1965. Meanwhile, the government of Honduras began actively promoting the expansion of the country’s tobacco-growing industry — paving the way for the formation of HATSA, or Honduras-American Tobacco S.A., in Danlí.
Back in the U.S., rising labor costs, a difficulty in finding Americans who could roll cigars, plus the fact that HATSA already had the tobacco they needed, Villazon moved all but a fraction of their hand rolled cigar production to Honduras. It was there that master blender Frank Llaneza rebuilt Punch with a dynamic blend of powerhouse Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Dominican tobaccos rolled in Ecuadoran Sumatra wrappers, maintaining the bold, full-flavored taste with which Cuban Punch cigars made their bones.
To this day, Punch still delivers an “authentic“ full-bodied profile, blended with the richest tasting Honduran, Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos wrapped in oily Ecuadorian Sumatra. Long considered one of the original tough guys, Mr. Punch has come out swinging with even more blends, ranging from the slightly milder, Connecticut-wrapped Grand Cru to the hair-on-fire full body of the Deluxe, Punch Rare Corojo and the Gran Puro, the last being born and raised 100% Honduran and called a “best buy“ by Cigar Insider. The brand switched gears in 2009 and stood firmly in Camp Nicaragua’s corner with its full-bodied Upper Cut blend, one that includes a healthy dose of potent and juicy Ometepe tobacco.
But it isn’t just Punch’s strength that has inspired hero-worship among full-bodied cigar enthusiasts — those in-the-know know a good smoke, and many celebrities have appeared in magazine ads for the brand including NFL Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Terry Bradshaw; Smokin’ Joe Frasier, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Knight (Newman of “Seinfeld“ fame), and E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg.
So no matter how you slice it, and even though some of their selections pack more or less of a punch than others, it’s their motto that speaks volumes — Punch is “the cigar that lives up to its name.“