Unless a restaurant is especially busy, most chefs are willing to accommodate a patron’s special request. One dish, however, is often craved but seldom provided: an ashtray. As he steps outside a London restaurant on a blustery night to light a Partagas Serie D, Italian importer Enzo Natali says he is becoming accustomed to the proliferating smoking bans. About 20 minutes later, Natali, reluctantly giving in to the evening’s acute chill and eager to rejoin his party, abandons the acclaimed Cuban, a No. 4 robusto (50 x 47¼8) that requires at least 45 minutes to finish, let alone enjoy. “Oh well,” he says in Italian with a shrug. “What are you going to do? Friends are more important.”
Like sipping an aged Scotch, smoking a cigar is not an activity that should be rushed, but occasionally (between courses, for example) one has no other option, save abstinence. Such a situation is not the time for a Churchill or even a robusto. “With no smoking at bars and restaurants, smaller cigars seem to be [preferred], especially by people who are pressed for time,” says Roberta Garzaroli, whose family owns Graycliff Cigar Co. in Nassau, the Bahamas. Premium miniature cigars and cigarillos—those rolled by hand, with long filler rather than scrap tobacco—are not intended as substitutes for traditional-size smokes, but they can be a preferable alternative to discarding a half-finished cigar.
One of the first companies to recognize the need for an abbreviated smoking experience was Davidoff, which introduced the Ambassadrice (26 x 41¼2) in 1991. Last August, Davidoff released the Exquisito (22 x 35¼8), a mild, precut cigarillo with an aroma similar to that of the full-size Classic No. 2, but requiring just 10 minutes to finish. Smokers need only 20 minutes to enjoy a Perdomo Moments (32 x 41¼2), says Albert J. Argenti, chief marketing officer of Tabacalera Perdomo. “It is perfect for commuting to and from work, or to enjoy during lunch or a break,” he says.
Although more practical than ever because of the prevalence of smoking bans, small cigars still have an image problem, one that is perhaps open to Freudian analysis. Naturally, cigar makers producing the diminutive smokes dispute the notion that enjoying a cigar with a ring gauge of less than 36 (slightly larger than one-half inch in diameter) indicates a testosterone deficiency. “I think the stigma [of being seen smoking a small cigar or cigarillo] has disappeared—almost,” says Garzaroli, adding that as many men as women purchase Graycliff cigarillos. Whit Beebe, a director of marketing at General Cigar, agrees that smaller fare is gaining acceptance. “Excalibur Miniatures [22 x 3] and Cigarillos [24 x 4] are the two best-selling cigars, in units, in the Excalibur line,” he says. They are also the line’s fastest-growing sizes. Nevertheless, for those who are uncomfortable smoking cigarillos, General Cigar offers short, 36-ring cigars based on blends of its Macanudo, Partagas, and Cohiba brands.
Perceptions—misguided or otherwise—are not the only reason why some smokers shun the small rings. If the tobaccos are not blended carefully, they can taste bitter; if they are not rolled correctly, they may not draw well. “Smaller cigars, by design, are stronger because a smaller ring burns hotter,” says Janelle Rosenfeld, a vice president at Altadis, the parent company of such brands as Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta. The intensity of Altadis’ Onyx Impulse (30 x 4), however, is no accident. The filler contains Cuban-seed Peruvian leaf harvested from the top half of the tobacco plant, which yields the strongest tobacco. A smooth, sweet, blackened Connecticut broadleaf wrapper tempers the taste.
As for ensuring a proper draw, size is a factor, says General Cigar’s master blender Daniel Nuñez. “It’s a real challenge because there is much less tobacco in the hand of the buncher,” he explains. “Since they go by touch, it’s more difficult to gauge.”
Small cigars may not be big enough, smooth enough, or crafted well enough for some smokers, but they can only grow in popularity. “They are not a trend, but rather a response to a true need,” says Perdomo’s Argenti, adding that they deserve a place in every smoker’s humidor—or pocket, if dinnertime is approaching.
Little by Little
Cigar lovers may be forced out-of-doors, but they are not out of luck when it comes to enjoying a quick premium smoke, such as those listed here.
Ashton Aged Maduro #5 (30 x 5): Naturally sweet Connecticut broadleaf wrapper
Ashton Classic Esquire (32 x 41¼2): Medium-bodied with 3- and 4-year-old tobaccos
Cohiba Pequeños (36 x 43¼16): Smooth Piloto Cubano filler tames strong Cameroon wrapper
Graycliff Roberta (26 x 5): Available in original Emerald and Red Label blends
La Gloria Cubana Petit (32 x 45¼16): Maduro wrapper now available in addition to natural Ecuadoran wrapper
Macanudo Vintage Demi 97s (36 x 43¼16): Mild-bodied new release with acclaimed 1997 vintage Connecticut shade wrapper
Montecristo Memories (30 x 4): Mild- to medium-bodied with light Connecticut shade wrapper
Onyx Reserve Mini (232¼3 x 35¼8): Same Connecticut broadleaf maduro wrapper as larger sizes
Partagas Black Label Pronto (36 x 43¼16): Strong, full-bodied, with Cuban-seed Medio Tempo wrapper
Partagas Puritos (32 x 43¼16): Retains medium-bodied flavor of larger sizes