When first introduced to cigars most cigar smokers are overwhelmed by the wide range brands and variety of sizes. One could guess the whole scene was designed to confuse cigar smokers. That is truly not the case, if there is one group that enjoys the company of new friends with common interests- namely cigars- its cigar smokers and retailers.
The nomenclature of cigars can be confusing. Keep in mind a simple four pronged approach to cigars that occurs in three steps.Take your time on each and you’ll begin at a comfortable pace to enjoy this hobby.
The basic criteria for the choosing of any hand-rolled cigar choice are
3)size and shape.
Step one is the brand name. Each manufacturer designates a cigar line with a brand name. You’ll find it displayed prominently (they don’t want you to forget it!) on the top lid and usually inside the top lid to be viewed when the box is opened. The brand name is also located on the band of each cigar. There are thousands of cigar brands; some well-known names are synonymous with fine cigars. For example, Arturo Fuente, Montecristo, and Romeo y Julieta are famous cigar brands.
Step two is the cigar’s color. The cigar color refers to the shade of the wrapper- or exterior leaf, a thin flavorful tobacco leaf used to finish the cigar. The wrapper gives the cigar plenty of flavor (that’s another lesson) and all its color. Wrapper leaf color is influenced by the tobacco variety, the country or soil it is grown in, and even the aging and fermentation. To distinguish between the various colors today we use six major color grades. The extremes of this grading system are easy to spot. The others can be very subtle in difference. The six grades from lightest to darkest are:
Candela: light green and often called “Claro Claro”. The leaves are heat-cured to fix the green chlorophyll in the leaf producing a slightly sweet taste., At one time a majority of American cigars smokers preferred Candela cigars although the “Claro Claro” is not as popular with today’s smoker.
Maduro: From the Spanish word for “ripe,” it refers to the extra aging of the leaf to produce a rich, dark-brown wrapper. Good maduro will offer up a silky and oilyfeel , and a rich, tobacco flavor and mild aroma.
Oscuro: Meaning dark, it is the darkest shade. The darkness comes from the extended time taken before this leaf actually wrapped on a cigar. Oscuro is usually left on the plant the longest, and it is matured, or fermented the longest.
Step three is the evaluating a cigar’s combination of size and shape. “Vitola” is a Spanish word commonly used in cigars that describes both size and shape. Typically in the US size and shape are described in terms of length and ring size (or width). The industry name for a particular shape is called the “front mark”. Some front marks are more commonly used than others. Cigar smokers will find these common front marks repeated among cigar lines. We will outline the standard front marks below.
Let’s clear up how we measure a cigar’s size in the US. We measure our cigars by length and ring size. The length is from the head (the end you cut and put in your mouth) to foot (the open end that you light) and is measured in inches. The length is simple enough, 4″ or 7″, 6 7/8″, 5 ¾” etc.
Ring size, or width, is measured in 64ths of an inch. So, a classic Churchill size is 7 by 48, which means it is seven inches long and 48/64ths of an inch in diameter. A ring gauge of 48 would be a 3/4″ inch thick cigar (48/64). Most cigars have a ring gauge of 64 or less.
Now we are ready to elaborate on shape.
Cigars shapes are divided into two camps. Those with straight sides and those that aren’t. Straight cigars are also known as “Parejos” (parallel in Spanish).
All others are Figurados; you’ll notice them by their less than ordinary shape.
Classic “Parejos” are listed below by length and ring, here we list them alphabetically. Look closely at them in terms of largest to smallest to get a feel for the sizes. You’ll notice we included a range of an inch or two on the length of some Vitolas.
Churchill: 7″ x 48
Corona: 5 ½” – 6″ x 42 – 44
Double Corona: 7 ½” – 8″ x 49 – 52
Lonsdale: 6 ¼” – 7″ x 42 – 44
Panatela: 5″ – 6″ x 38
Petite Corona: 4 ½” x 40 – 42
Robusto: 4 ½” – 5 ½” x 50
Toro/Corona Gorda: 5″ – 6″ x 46 – 50
When you become more comfortable with the popular front marks above you will realize a quirky truth about cigars…much license is taken with the naming of a cigar. So every so often one company’s Churchill is another company’s Double Corona, one Corona is another’s Toro. This is a small hurdle to overcome, but the cigar brand knowledge you gain will be well worth it.
Figurados are produced in a variety of lengths and rings so we list and describe the most popular ones as examples. Note the range for length on some Vitolas.
Pyramid: 6″ – 7″ x 40/52 – 54 sharply tapered head and larger foot
Torpedo: 6″ – 7″ x 40/52 – 54 A shape with a pointed head, a closed foot and a bulge in the middle.
Belicoso: A small pyramid-shaped cigar with a rounded head rather than a point.
Perfecto: 4 ½” – 9″ x 38 – 48 closed foot, a round head, and a bulge in the middle
Culebra: 3 twisted together panatelas, harder to find these days, but a sight to see.
Just as with the classic front marks, these “classic irregular” shapes come variations among cigar makers. Some cigars called Belicoso look more like Pyramids, and some Perfectos look more like Pyramids. Again the fun is in sampling the cigars as you acquire this knowledge.
Armed with the basics of brand, color, size and shape you’ll begin asking all the right questions in your local cigar shop. And it may make you more open to trying out different wrapper colors, different sizes and even different shapes.
We like to say “Enjoy the variety… how else can you find your next favorite cigar?”