Smoke: Ringleaders

<< Back to Robb Report, November 2002

Cigar makers and car designers share a dilemma: Every few years, they face the challenge of coming up with something new, yet not too different, to attract and excite consumers. With cigars, however, it is difficult to continue varying a product that is more than 500 years old. Also, cigar smokers are generally a conservative lot who do not appreciate gimmicks, such as the two-tone wrappers that were introduced in the late 1990s. Indeed, the cigar movement now afoot is not another novelty-inspired fad. These cigars address smokers’ cravings for thicker-bodied flavor, in addition to being practical.

Evolving tastes have created a growing demand for fuller-flavored cigars, which for cigar makers translates into bigger ring gauges, the unit used to measure a cigar’s diameter. One ring equals 1/64 th of an inch, thus a 34-ring cigar (the smallest size commonly found today, excluding cigarillos) is slightly larger than 1/2 inch in diameter. The length of a cigar, on the other hand, is measured in inches, so a cigar that is 5 inches long and 34/64 inch in diameter is called a 5 x 34. (In Europe, the dimensions are measured in millimeters, and the length is noted first. For example, a 5 x 34 cigar would be a 127 x 131/2.)

Aside from using stronger tobaccos—which is not always possible because of leaf characteristics, growing conditions, and availability—the only other practical way to increase the flavor’s fullness is to expand the ring gauge. For years, a 50-ring Churchill was the epitome of a full-flavored smoke; then, during the cigar boom of the 1990s, the 54-ring became popular. The Cuesta-Rey Diamond Crown was the most prominent, since every length in the six-cigar series was a 54-ring.

Fifty-four rings may seem passé within months, however, because some new cigars are fatter than ever, most notably the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 Gran Consul, a 43/4-inch-long Nicaraguan puro with a 60 ring size. Other premium cigars have hit the 60-ring mark, including the Ashton VSG 43/4 x 60 Enchantment, the Cohiba XV 6 x 60, and the C.A.O. 6 x 60 Amazon. The winner of the bigger-is-better contest is Tabacalera Perdomo’s Cuban Parejo Galaxia, which is rolled into a mouth-filling 100-ring, or more than 11/2 inches around. This is a cigar you can light at kickoff and still be smoking well past halftime—it is 10 inches long.

Although cigar makers continue to increase ring sizes, the race may already be out of hand. Witness that no cigar case is big enough to handle anything larger than a 54-ring. As for cutters, these over-54 sizes (narrow-headed pyramids excepted) are too large for anything other than a round-holed punch cut. Furthermore, simply lighting a big-ringed cigar is an exercise in skill and patience. The width of their fillers will outlast the burning time of most wooden matches, so only a butane lighter can adequately paint the entire area with fire.

Obviously, super-cigars bursting with flavor are not for everyone. The Ashton and Joya de Nicaragua deliver some of the heaviest tastes available; the creamy Cohiba XV becomes even creamier. Also, while not everyone has time to smoke a smaller-ringed Churchill, the shorter 60-ringers provide an intense smoking experience in a relatively condensed period. Most of these fat cigars will be available soon, if they are not already in your tobacconist’s shop. We merely suggest you refrain from asking to “supersize it.”

Photo by Mark French
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