Alex Svenson: How was La Palina started?
Bill Paley: My grandfather Samuel Paley created the first La Palina cigar. He emigrated from the Ukraine to Chicago in the late 1800s and obtained work as a lector in a cigar factory. His interest in tobacco grew as he graduated to sorter, roller, and then blender at the factory. In 1896, my grandfather opened a cigar factory called Congress Cigar Company and La Palina was his first product, named after my grandmother Goldie Paley. Congress Cigar Company moved from Chicago to Philadelphia in 1910 and my father joined the company as VP of advertising. While advertising for La Palina with a show called "The La Palina Hour," my father fell in love with radio. He purchased 5 stations in Philadelphia and named them Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). When my grandfather retired in the 1930s, La Palina was sold and my family invested in CBS with my father.
AS: What made you decide to relaunch La Palina?
BP: Since I was in my 40s, I have had great passion for cigars. The first cigars I made were for a high-end luxury resort villa that I owned in the Bahamas. It was called the Lightbourne House Cigar. My guests loved it. The pride I felt reminded me of my grandfather, Sam, and how he must’ve felt having built his cigar empire from scratch. That inspired me to follow in his footsteps and revive the La Palina brand. It was a big gamble but I love to roll the dice.
AS: What sparked your passion for cigars?
BP: I grew up being exposed to all the finest things in life. My father was a great gourmet and had an appetite for excellence. His sense of taste was renowned. He taught me that quality could be found not only in an haute-cuisine restaurant in Paris, but also in the hand chopped corned beef hash at the Stage Delicatessen on Seventh Avenue in New York. Consequently, when I started smoking cigars seriously, I was drawn to fine Cubans, which were easy to acquire in the Bahamas where I lived. My palate was formed on these. I found that cigars were the perfect companion for just about any experience. That belief hasn’t changed.
AS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of owning La Palina?
BP: The opportunity to be part of the creation of something real, something you can hold in your hand and be proud of, is terrifically rewarding for me. The premium cigar is one of the last truly handmade products left in the world today. Beyond that, bringing enjoyment to people is priceless.
AS: What is your favorite cigar size?
BP: The size of the one that I’m smoking at any given moment. I am, however, a sucker for a Lancero.
AS: El Diario was your second release. What was the idea behind that cigar?
BP: El Diario means "the daily" in Spanish, and it was intended to broaden La Palina’s customer base by shaking the notion that La Palina only made $20 cigars. The El Diario really took off after the addition of the KB, a petit corona that earned a spot on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 list. We make the El Diario at the Raices Cubana factory in Honduras and the line has been a staple of the La Palina brand.
AS: Tell us about the new Maduro 40.
BP: The El Diario KBII was extremely successful, as was the initial Goldie Laguito No.2 release. I enjoy petit lanceros, so the Maduro 40 seemed a natural addition. The 6.0”x40 size highlights the Maduro blend. The San Andres Mexican maduro wrapper is dark and the blend is sweet and spicy. The Maduro 40 has been my go-to cigar the last few months.
AS: What is the concept behind the La Palina Collection?
BP: The La Palina Collection is an opportunity for us to release small batch productions that are tied to the history of La Palina. The first release was the 1896 in honor of the year my grandfather started La Palina. The Goldie is named after my grandmother, and the Mr. Sam is the name the workers called my grandfather in his cigar factory. We are proud to have partnered with an American factory, El Titan de Bronze, for our recent releases within the collection. Working with an American factory further honors La Palina’s heritage as an American cigar brand.
AS: There has been a lot of buzz about the La Palina Classic. You added 3 new sizes this year; would you say this has become your most popular line?
BP: With each release we reach a wider audience and the Classic’s price point has broadened our customer base and visibility. We make the Classic in the Dominican Republic at PDR. With the blend of a Brazilian wrapper, Ecuadorian binder, and Dominican and Nicaraguan filler, we were able to capture a flavor profile previously untapped by La Palina. Receiving a ‘93’ and ‘92’ on the Classic by Cigar Aficionado confirmed La Palina’s ability to produce quality cigars at any price point. I am very proud of the Classic’s success.
AS: In just 3 years you have received several top ratings from Cigar Aficionado, a Cigar Aficionado Top 25 cigar, and Top American Cigar honors from Cigar Journal. To what do you attribute this rapid success?
BP: I believe that quality without compromise will always lead to success. This is a cornerstone of the Paley family philosophy.