A guide to buying cigars. How to choose from among the hundreds of premium cigars on the market today
Today’s novice cigar smoker faces a dizzying array of choices at his or her local tobacconist. Prior to the cigar boom of the mid-1990’s, there were fewer than a dozen major brands of imported premium cigars from which to choose. Now, there are more than 1,000 brands on the market.
But there’s no need to feel intimidated. First of all, your local tobaccanist is there to help you sort through the many brands and sizes. Secondly, despite what you may have heard from “cigar snobs” and so-called experts, there are no right and wrong selections– what’s most important is what fits YOUR preferences.
Let’s start with the matter of cigar size. In times past, conventional wisdom was that size and shape should match the smoker. In other words, a tall, slim man should smoke a long, slender cigar like a panatela. On the other hand, a short, stocky guy should smoke a thick, stubby cigar like a robusto. Today’s smokers aren’t buying into these outdated notions. Instead, it’s best to select whatever size and shape suits YOU best. Having said that, you might want to bear in mind that the thicker ring guages, perhaps 47-54, smoke cooler and tend to be more flavorful and complex, since the “torcedor” (roller) can fit several types of filler leaf into the blend. By the way, ring guage is the cigar’s diameter, expressed in 64ths of an inch.
As to length, that’s pretty much determined by how long you want your cigar to last. A robusto of about 4 1/2 to 5 inches will last about 45 minutes while a churchill of 7 inches might provide about an hour and a half of smoking pleasure.
The next factor you’ll want to consider is the cigar’s tobacco. As a general rule, cigars from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are the mildest. Honduran cigars are the most full-bodied (right up there with cigars from a certain island nation south of Key West whose cigars are not legal in the U.S.). Nicaraguan and Mexican cigars usually fall somewhere in between. As a budding aficianado, you’ll probably want to try the milder cigars first. Then, as your taste develops, you can start trying the more full-bodied Hondurans and Nicaraguans. For starters, mild Dominicans to consider would be Macanudo, Don Diego, Ashton, Davidoff, or H. Upmann.
The color of the cigar’s wrapper tells a lot about the overall flavor of the cigar. As a newcomer to cigars, you may want to steer clear of the darker “maduro” wrappers– they tend to pack a punch in the flavor department and you may find them overwhelming. You’ll be better off sticking with lighter wrappers, usually called “natural”, “claro”, or “English market selection”.
With the brands mentioned previously, construction quality won’t be a problem. But in general, look for a cigar with a smooth, shiny, oily wrapper. Reject any cigar that has a crack or tear in the wrapper. Gently roll the cigar between your fingers. It should have a little give, but avoid a cigar that is too soft– underfilled cigars will smoke too quickly and too hotly. On the other, a cigar that is rock hard may not draw well.
You can expect to pay $5-7 at your local tobaccanist for a good imported cigar. That might seem pretty steep, but bear in mind that making a hand-made cigar is a very labor-intensive art. It’s been said that from plantation to curing barn to factory, more than 100 pairs of human hands will have touched that premium cigar you’re about to enjoy. Also, the best tobaccos are quite rare. They’re the survivors of a rigorous selection process in which lesser leaves go to cheaper machine-made cigars. Lower prices are available by the box on the internet and mail-order, but your local tobacconist is a great place to buy your “single sticks” as you experiment with different brands and sizes.
These guidelines won’t make you a cigar connoisseur right off the bat, but they should make your first trip to the tobacconist a little less intimidating. And remember, the best cigar in the world is the one YOU like best!