If you’ve shopped for cigars or read cigar reviews before, you’ve probably seen a similar little chart to the one I have at the bottom of each of my reviews. The chart breaks down the manufacturer, where the tobacco used for the filler, binder and wrapper are from, the shape, and also a little chart or couple words describing the “Strength” of a cigar. So what exactly do all these things mean and why do people care about knowing all this before buying a cigar? Let’s cross a bunch of obvious ones off the list.
-Manufacturer is the company that actually produces the cigars.
-Product is the specific product line the cigar is released under.
-Length is how long the cigar is, measured in inches.
-Gauge/Ring is how wide the cigar is, measured in ring sizes, like how you
would measure your finger for a ring.
Cigars come in a variety of shapes, with the common standards being Parejo, Chisel, Torpedo, Presidente, Prefecto and Pyramid as shown below:
Some standard cigar combinations of specific shapes, length and gauges also have names. For example a Corona Cigar is a Parejo shape that is 5.5 inches long with a gauge of 42 and a Campana is a Torpedo Shape that is 5.5 inches long with a 52 gauge.
To start, the filler is the center tobacco leaves of the cigar, the binder is the tobacco leaves used to hold the filler together, and the wrapper is the outermost leaves that give the cigar it’s individual appearance. These categories are usually described by the country (or US State) the tobacco leaves come from (Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, etc), and sometimes will go into the specific leaves used (Connecticut Broadleaf, Brazilian Arapiraca, etc). There are different types of wrappers, each with a general flavor profile, with the four main wrappers being Connecticut, Corojo, Habano and Maduro.
-Connecticut wrappers are made from tobacco leaves usually grown in the state of Connecticut in the USA, but also the same seed is sometimes grown in Ecuador. The Connecticut wrapper usually has a more mild flavor and low nicotine content, and has a woody, spicy and/or cedar taste.
-Corojo wrappers are made from tobacco leaves used to be grown in Cuba, but have since moved to Honduras due to the trade embargo. These wrappers are a little darker than Connecticut, and usually have a very spicy, peppery, and robust flavor. However, because the seed has been genetically modified to grow in the different Honduran environment, the wrapper can occasionally be tougher and may be difficult to get good draws on.
-Habano wrappers are similarly colored as the Corojo, and also were originally from Cuba but are now grown in Nicaragua. The wrapper produces a heavy, spicy flavor and often has a higher nicotine content than the Connecticut and Corojo.
-Maduro wrappers are the darkest wrappers and go through a very lengthy process to get to the proper color and flavors that cigar makers are looking for. Many Maduro wrappers start as Connecticut or Mexican tobacco leaves that are aged to the dark and oily looking Maduro wrapper. Because the fermentation process can convert starches in the tobacco into sugars, Maduro wrapped cigars will commonly have a sweeter taste and many are considered “dessert” cigars.
-Other wrappers include the Candela (green in color and mild in flavor due to the short fermentation process), Sumatra (from Indonesia, usually has cinnamon notes, is sweet and mild), Oscuro (darker than Maduro and aged even longer, and have intense colors and flavors), and Cameroon (from Cameroon Africa, delicate and usually a sweeter flavor).
The chart usually consists of terms like “mild”, “medium”, “full”, and in between ratings like “medium-full” or “mild-medium”. A lot of people would expect it to mean the strength of the flavors, so a really flavorful cigar would be full, but in fact it really just means the nicotine content of the cigar. A full strength cigar will give you a little buzz from the high nicotine content, while a mild strength cigar will barely even register on your senses. There’s no hard and fast rule for measuring the specific nicotine content and each individual cigar can vary which is why the vague chart is used. What’s important to remember, is that if you are a new cigar smoker, it’s best to start with mild and work your way up to full as even some very experienced smokers do not enjoy the sensation of a strong full bodied cigar. Also there is a general consensus that a lot of the most enjoyable and complex cigars usually fall between the mild-medium and medium-full ranges, as the full bodied can be limited in the different blends of tobaccos they can use.
This is actually another easy one, as it just means if the cigar or cap is infused with a sweet flavor. A cigar that is naturally sweet gets their sweetness from the tobacco leaves themselves are not considered “sweet”, however flavor infused cigars like ACID and Java by Drew Estate are considered “sweet” as they are infused with herbs, spices and flavors that do not come naturally from the tobacco leaves.
So why do all of these matter?
For the most part, the length, gauge and shape are simply personal preferences or will give you an idea how long the cigar will burn for. A wider, longer cigar will usually take longer to burn than a shorter, smaller cigar. As for the Manufacturer and Product Label, that’s basically just used like any name brand shopping. Sometimes really good companies make poor products, sometimes no name companies can make excellent products, but for the most part the brand name just gives you some guidance on overall quality. Finally the sweet taste is pretty straightforward. Sweet infused cigars are usually a good intro cigar for new smokers as the strong sugary flavors are easy to enjoy and give off a pleasant aroma.
Where things get interesting is the binder, wrapper, filler and strength. Unfortunately, there’s no easy rules to follow, as all these choices are personal preference. There’s no common truths like Honduran fillers are better than Dominican or anything like that, it all depends on where your tastes lie. You can narrow your search down searching for keywords that interest you such as “sweet”, “pepper”, “cedar”, “creamy”, “coffee” etc. I would encourage new smokers to start with sweet or mild cigars as these are usually more popular and enjoyable by the general public, and then work up to more complex and stronger cigars. But really, there’s literally thousands of choices of cigars you can smoke, and the best advice I can give is start buying a few, trying them, tracking what you like and don’t like, and making new choices based on your likes and dislikes.