From victory cigars after football games to graduation parties, Americans love the tradition of smoking cigars to celebrate. You’re ready to get in on the fun, but where do you start? How do you even choose a cigar from the hundreds of cigar brands out there? What if you get one that’s too strong? Or you just plain don’t like it? And should you worry about where a cigar comes from?
Here, we want you to learn which cigars—and which cigar brands—are best for beginners. That way, you can feel confident around even the most seasoned cigar smokers. Even better, you’ll have some idea of where to start when it’s your turn to buy those celebratory cigars… and it all starts with a little intel on choosing a quality cigar.
Best Cigars for Beginners
When you see the selection of cigars out there, your head might start swimming. It’s OK. Take a breath. Then, you can narrow down your list by considering which size, shape, taste, and strength of cigar will suit you.
Remember—half the fun is exploring what you like.
Cigars are measured by the length and the ring gauge, or thickness. Premium cigars are usually between four and eight inches long and have a ring gauge between 38 and 60 (64ths of an inch).
The size of a cigar affects its taste, intensity, and how long it burns. For example:
- A thinner cigar burns hotter and faster than a thick one.
- Longer cigars taste mellow at first then intense as they burn down.
- Cigars with larger ring gauges can have more complex blends of tobacco and taste better as a result.
The main way to decide which size to buy is to think about how much time you have to smoke. If you have an hour to relax, you might choose a larger cigar. If you’re short on time, choose a shorter, slimmer cigar.
Cigar brands come in two shapes: Parejos (straight) and Figurados (tapered).
Parejos are straight cylinders with the same diameter down the entire length of the cigar. They have what is called an “open foot,” the end where you light the cigar. A smoker needs to cut the other end – the head – before lighting the cigar. You will see both round and square Parejos. (Square ones are also called box-pressed, because the cigar-maker pressed them into a square, like a box. See, this cigar stuff all makes sense, right?). Popular Parejos include Panetela, Toro, Churchill, Corona, and Gordo.
Figurados are asymmetrical cigars. In most cases, the cigar tapers at the head. Some Figurados have sharp points at both ends. Well-known Figurados include Torpedo, Pyramid, Salomon, and Belicoso cigars.
Note: You probably will see the word “vitola” associated with cigar shapes. Vitola is Spanish for “shape.”
Every cigar brand has its own flavor profile with descriptions of its flavor, balance, body, strength, aroma, and finish.
- Flavor: Cigar flavors include nutty, silky, spicy, and woody. Read a cigar’s flavor profile to decide whether to try it. If you like snacking on nuts, you might like a cigar with a nutty flavor. Also think about how the cigar’s flavor will blend with the food and beverages at your party. Order the Flying Cigar Company sampler pack to try a variety of cigar brands and flavors!
- Balance: Cigars that distribute their flavor across the smoker’s palate have good balance. Balanced cigars have both creamy and spicy notes that complement each other like dishes in a gourmet meal.
- Body: This refers to the strength of the cigar’s flavor. Beginning cigar smokers will want a mild or medium-bodied cigar. Cigars with stronger flavors usually have dark wrappers and milder ones have lighter wrappers.
- Strength: When you hear cigars referred to as mild, medium, or strong, they’re talking about how much nicotine is in the cigar. The tobacco in milder cigars is weaker than in medium, or strong, cigars and thus their nicotine level is lower. If you’re smoking a cigar and you feel like it’s too strong, put it down, then smoke it slowly by pausing in-between puffs.
- Aroma: Cigar aromas include creamy, soft, spicy, and leathery scents, but you can’t smell them unless someone near you is smoking the same cigar. Or you can retrohale; this is when you push the smoke out through your nose.
- Finish: This term refers to the taste in your mouth that lingers after you take a puff on a cigar. Mild cigars might not have much finish, but the flavor of stronger ones will linger and leave you with pleasant memories.
Choosing a Quality Cigar Brand by Its Wrapper
Ready to level-up your cigar game? Now it’s time to consider the cigar wrapper. Believe it or not, the tobacco-leaf wrapper is the most expensive part of a cigar! That’s because cigar companies want them to look perfect… and because they have a major influence on the taste of a cigar.
Wrappers are named for their colors, countries of origin, seed varieties, and other differentiating factors. As you find out which kinds of cigars you enjoy, you might realize you like cigars with the same kind of wrappers.
Two main categories of wrappers are Natural and Maduro. You can think of these as light and dark, with Natural being light. You will see cigars offered in both Natural and Maduro. The one with a Natural wrapper usually is more mild and nutty, and a Maduro cigar is sweeter and earthier.
Four Countries Make the Best Cigar Brands
Once you know cigar lingo, learn to choose a quality cigar based on where the tobacco came from. Four countries produce most of the cigar tobacco and premium cigar brands on the market.
Of these, most folks have heard of Cuban cigars. Cuban cigars have earned a reputation for being some of the world’s best cigars, largely because of the quality of its cigar tobacco: Cigar-makers use only Cuban tobacco, while cigars from other countries often have blends of tobacco from more than one country.
That said, it’s often impossible for buyers in the U.S. or UK to get a hold of these legally. (OK, yeah, we’re sure you know a guy. Still.) Even if you buy cigars online, most sellers won’t ship Cuban cigars to a U.S. address or to a U.S. citizen—even if that citizen is residing abroad!
Luckily, there are three other countries whose cigars can rival even those from Cuba:
- Honduras makes cigars with a strong flavor. Many cigar-makers migrated to Honduras from Cuba in the 1960s when cigar-marking was nationalized in their country.
- The Dominican Republic is known for smooth, light tobacco.
- Nicaragua grows spicy, robust cigar tobacco.
Many other Central and South American countries export cigar tobacco to the United States, too. Again, most cigar makers import tobacco, except in Cuba. If a label says a cigar is from Honduras, the tobacco could be from any country!
One of the best ways to try cigars from around the world is with a Flying Cigar Company sampler pack. You can sample several and then choose what suits you—and be ready to be the one who brings the cigars to your next party!