Cigar shopping? Get ready! When you embark on a journey of cigar discovery it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But now is a good time to be a cigar fan. The selection today for good, high-quality stogies is better than ever. And while the fun is in discovering that just-right-for-you smoke, you don’t want to waste your cigar budget stumbling through a bunch of duds to get to your perfect cigar.
Of course, making the right selection is, for the most part, a personal choice. But if you’re new to the world of cigars, you’ll need to begin with some guidance. To start, you’ll need to narrow down the sheer volume of available stogies based on three specific things: size, body and shape. After that, you can get into specifics that reflect quality.
Tips to Begin Your Cigar Selection
Here we break down what to look for and tell you how to hone your choice so you can determine the best quality for you. Once you understand what you like and how to find it, you’ll have the confidence it takes to make the right selection for you.
While size may matter from a personal preference, it doesn’t have anything to do with the flavor of your cigar. A bigger cigar does not equal a stronger flavored smoke, nor does size denote a better cigar.
With that in mind, allow us to explain how cigars are measured. Cigars are measured by length and width. The latter is termed a “ring gauge” or “gauge”. Gauge is listed at 64ths of an inch, so a 20 gauge would be 20/64, 49 ring gauge is 49/64, 50 is 50/64 and so on. Some listings include the gauge and the length of the cigar and display it as length in inches x ring gauge. So a cigar may measure 6 inches long and have a ring gauge of 50 and would be displayed as 6x50.
The length of your cigar really just determines how long you’ll be able to smoke it, but ring gauge does have a bearing on quality, to an extent. The smaller the ring gauge, the more high-quality leaf there is to smoke. The highest quality leaves are used for the wrapper. The filler of the cigar, though it may be exceptional, is of a lesser quality than the wrapper. So if your ring gauge is slightly smaller, you’ll end up with a better ratio of quality wrapper leaf to filler leaf.
The general span of the ring gauge is 40-50. Those experienced cigar aficionados prefer their cigar on the smaller end of that range.
Like other delicious and pleasurable pastimes like coffee and beer, there is a range of light to dark cigars. Light cigars tend toward a more mellow flavor (think blonde roast coffee or a pilsner), and darker cigars are more full-bodied, richer and more intense (much like dark roast coffee). You’ll find a range of cigars between dark and light, and you can reliably align your selection with your coffee and beer preferences. Do you enjoy Guinness over Harp? Go for the darker cigar. Not much for the dark roast coffees or a pint of stout? Look for cigars that are lighter.
Remember, if you’re new to the art of cigar smoking, you will need to experiment with the body as well as the size and, finally, shape in order to find your favorite type of cigar.
There are two main classes of shapes for cigars; figurado and parejo. And under these classifications you will find several subclasses. Here we define these classifications.
Parejo are classically-shaped cigars. One end is open (called an open foot) and the other is rounded (a capped head) and must be cut using a specialized cigar cutter before it is smoked. The majority of cigars that are straight-sided will fall into the parejo classification. Some cigars that come under the parejo heading are coronas, panetelas and lonsdales.
Figurados, for the most part, are shaped like a bullet and taper toward a sharp point at the closed end. The classification really applies to any cigar that isn’t straight sided and classically shaped. Some aficionados prefer the figurado as they claim the shape concentrates the flavor and provides a more robust smoke. Others claim there is no difference between the two. Obviously, you should try both and compare for yourself. Some subcategories of this shape are belicosos, torpedoes, perfectos, culebras and pyramids.
Fine Tuning Your Preferences and Your Selection
Size, body and shape are all a personal choice. And it doesn’t matter the size, shape or body if the cigar is of poor quality. So once you’ve determined your own personal preference in these three components of a cigar, it's time to find the best quality you can.
- Look at the wrapper. A smooth and clean wrapper that’s free from tears, cracks or gaps is a sign of excellence in craftsmanship. A quality artisan creates a quality cigar.
- Feel the cigar to assess freshness. Does it have a bit of give when you squeeze it or does it feel crinkly and dry? If the cigar seems dry or somewhat damp pass it by. This stogie was improperly stored and quality is affected.
- Ensure uniformity of the fill. Feel along the length of the cigar for obvious empty pockets or bulges which indicate a poor fill and thus poor quality smoke.
- Check the color. The wrapper should not be spotted, faded-looking, lighter or darker in some areas. Check for mold, which can occur if stored in a too-humid environment. Make sure the cigar is uniform in color. That’s a sign of a quality cigar.
- Check the aroma. Take a good smell of the cigar and you can get an idea of the taste. Does the aroma appeal to you or is it off-putting. A good smelling cigar does indicate good quality but it will also help you ensure you’re making the right selection.
Talk to An Expert
Yes, making the right selection when buying a cigar is important. But, knowing which cigar truly appeals to you on all levels comes from experience. Don’t be afraid to try something out of your comfort zone from time to time as tastes change and part of the joy of the stogie life today is the vast selection of very good cigars.
The staff at Northwoods Humidors is knowledgeable about all things cigar. Owner Kevin is a Certified Consumer Tobacconist and can answer any questions you may have regarding your newfound passion. And remember, a great cigar experience is only as good as the cigar and accessories. Contact Northwoods Humidors for all your cigar needs.