Cigar 101 – Choosing a Cigar


At last we spoke, I’d posed an important question: “Which cigar do you pick from all of those beautiful boxes with the amazing-looking cigars of all shapes and sizes?”  Well, let’s talk about those shapes, sizes and different colors and flavors.

Shapes and Sizes

First, cigars basically come in two main shapes. (There are variations but this is “basic,” remember?) The main shapes are “parejos” (pronounced, “pahr-eh-hohs”) and figurados.  In a nutshell, parejos are “straight sided” with no taper.  Among them are specific sizes based on modern tradition as well as the cigar makers’ marketing.  You’ll see names like “Churchill,” “Robusto,” and “Corona” for the different parejo shapes.  Example: Churchills are long (7 inches) and kind of big around (47-50 ring gauge – a measure of cigar “thickness”), while a more common size (the Corona) is typically 6 x 42 (inches by ring gauge).

Figurados are “tapered” or “shaped” and come in many different shapes and sizes.  Examples include “Belicosos,” which are a pyramid-shaped cigar with a tapered head (the end you smoke from), “Torpedos” (traditionally but not universally pronounced “tohr-peh-dohz”), which are tapered on both ends (and a personal favorite of mine), and the strangely attractive “Culebra,” which is actually a small braid of several parejo-shaped cigars (known as “Panetelas,” a thin (6 x 38) cigar).

Color

As for color… simple rule (though not 100%): the darker the wrapper (from green to a brown-black), the stronger or more robust the cigar.  Compare it to wine: the darker the wine (whites or reds), the fuller the wine.  Also like wines, you can have tobaccos that are TOO light or dark for the palate and less enjoyable; this is an individual thing.  From dark to light, the common and accepted colors are:

Candela: A green-wrappered cigar.  The color comes from the locking in of the chlorophyll – you know, the plant food that you learned about in grade school?
Claro: A light brown
Colorado Claro: Light reddish brown
Colorado: More brown and about the middle of the scale.  Think of this as where the “medium bodied” cigars start.
Colorado Maduro: Between the Colorado and the fuller “Maduro.”
Maduro: More often than not, full-bodied.  Very dark brown and “leathery” in appearance.  The word “maduro” in Spanish means “mature,” and that is what these cigars are. Because of the growing process, leaves from the tobacco plant are sometimes left in the sun longer, or for cigars like Colorados, shade-grown – a topic for another time.  Maduros are both in the sun a little longer and aged significantly longer, allowing for the marrying of flavors and a “maturity” to be reached in the cigars.
Oscuro: The darkest-wrapped cigars.  Only the leaves that have seen the sun the longest are used and these cigars are aged for much longer than the rest.  Not for the faint of heart, Oscuros can still be very good smokes but are NOT for the beginner – even the heartiest of you.

Flavor

Let’s talk about flavor now.  Cigar magazines and websites are great for using terms like, “notes of nutmeg with a hint of hay.”  Though there is significant truth to such a comment, all but the most sensitive-palated beginners will notice sweetness, grassiness, leatheriness, woodsiness, pepperiness and maybe cocoa – unless you’re smoking an infused (flavored) cigar like the Acid Blondie (a popular choice for beginners because of its mild profile and botanical flavor) or the “Java,” a “box-pressed cigar” from Drew Estate, that comes in mint, latte or mocha.  For the beginner, a good set of “first cigars” I’d recommend that are typically available are:

Arturo Fuente “8-5-8″ with the Natural wrapper (the lighter one)
Cuesta Rey “Centenario”
Macanudo “Gold Label”
Baccarat “Rothschild” Robusto

If I’m choosing a mild-medium cigar for myself out of that list, I go for the Cuesta Rey.  It has a mild flavor, some sweetness and is mellow and consistent throughout.  Its only flaw is a sometimes so-so aftertaste if I’ve eaten something spicy beforehand.  Still love them.

That’s all for now.  Next time, we’ll talk about cutting and lighting.