Over the last 15-years or so, cigars that were once thought to be comic props have become one of the most popular sizes sold. Did we watch too many cartoons when we were young or are there actually benefits to smoking large ring gauge cigars?
Big ring cigars do offer some real benefits. They naturally burn longer and they burn much cooler than their more slender brothers. On top of those benefits, larger ring gauge cigars pump out volumes of thick smoke. Because of the physics involved in maintaining the ember that produces the smoke you experience, you can puff on a 60-ring plus cigar until your heart’s content, and it probably won’t burn hot or harsh.
All those physical benefits aside, there’s the whole “best bang for your buck” thing. Pound for pound, or weight vs. cost, big ring cigars are usually the best buy in the humidor. Filler tobaccos cost much less per leaf than wrapper leaves, which is why smaller-ring and bigger-ring cigars, despite their significant size difference, maintain a somewhat similar price.
Large and slender cigars use a comparable amount of wrapper leaf, which is typically the largest expense of all the tobacco in a cigar. However, smaller ring cigars have a much more favorable wrapper-to-filler ratio. These ratio differences can produce largely different experiences.
HOW CIGARS WORK
When you cut and light the typical premium cigar, you expect smoke. Puffing captures the billowing smoke and causes it to pass through the body of tobacco and into your mouth. But, there’s a difference between billowing smoke and the smoke you receive when you take a puff.
The ember (cherry) at the end of your cigar smolders as air is drawn across it as you puff. As the tobacco is consumed, ash forms at the foot of the cigar progressively. On the other side of that ember, closer to the head of the cigar, which is in your mouth, unburnt tobacco continues to fuel the ember, first heating the leaves (wrapper, binder and filler) and then, consuming the leaves, leaving ash.
Where the magic happens is when the ember heats the tobacco. Because we keep cigars humidified, there are robust oils maintained in the unburnt leaves. As they’re heated, but before they are burnt, the various leaves from which the cigar is built release vaporized oils. By drawing air and smoke through the cigar, the vapors are whisked away and into your mouth with each puff. The smoke isn’t really required, but it’s a necessary evil when you’re puffing on something that’s burning and is factored into the smoking experience that the master blender has created nonetheless.
If you want to test this process without lighting-up a cigar (or pipe for that matter, take a small amount to barbeque sauce from the fridge or fresh from a new bottle and taste it. Give it a second and lean into it while taking in its aroma.
Now, take that same barbeque sauce and heat it (microwave is fine). Now taste and smell it. The oils in the various ingredients are released with heat. What tastes and smells good cold, tastes and smells fantastically complex when hot. Cigars and pipes (yes, even “those” pipes) work the exact same way.
SLENDER VS FAT
With all this physics in mind, there’s a major difference in the ember temperatures of smaller ring and larger ring cigars. You need to keep this in mind — the larger the diameter of the cigar, the lower the ember temperature, given the same relative draw force. If you get the ember too hot, you’re just burning dead leaves — the oil vapor is incinerated before it has a chance to latch onto the smoke that’s passing through it. If the ember is too cool, there’s not enough heat to get the full experience that the blender targeted (and, you’ll probably need to “puff it up” or relight).
NOTE: These are the exact same principles that affect pipe tobacco smoking experiences. The larger the diameter of the bowl, the lower the relative ember temperature.
Now that you know what’s happening in your cigar, you’ve got something to ponder as you sit back, relax and take that next puff. Are you a slender cigar smoker or a large ring cigar smoker. How fast do you smoke, which affects the burning temperature of your cigar. And the biggest question — can you enjoy your cigar more by keeping these facts in mind?