There is a myth I’d like to debunk this year: bigger ring gauge cigars are more cigar for the money. Taken literally, they are heavier and contain more tobacco for the money, but is it the tobacco you need to create the best flavor? We’re very lucky at CIGAR.com to conduct vertical tastings (evaluating every size in one line) in the name of research. We all tend to agree that most blends burn and taste best in ring gauges under 50. Here’s the kicker, most of the items we stock in smaller ring gauges don’t sell worth a lick. You’re reading that right, what we consider some of the best cigars in the business are terrible sellers.
A lot of times we get fooled into adopting the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy, whether it’s buying a home, an SUV, the 24 ounce lobster tail, or cigars. We erroneously assume that size equates to value, but in the case of cigars can be misguided. When we break down value as it relates to the components of a cigar, the most costly, and flavorful, ingredient in a premium blend is the wrapper. With a smaller ring gauge cigar there is a greater wrapper to filler ratio, thus providing you with more of a taste of the wrapper and its interplay with the filler tobaccos. More often than not, a smaller ring gauge will be a little stronger and more flavorful than a larger vitola in the same blend.
Prior to cigar boom of the 1990’s, the most popular cigar size was the elegant 42-ring-gauge Lonsdale. With cigars going mainstream in the early 1990’s, it wasn’t long before the 50-ring-gauge Robusto was the most popular size in the United States replacing erstwhile favorite vitolas like the Lonsdale, Lancero, and Corona. While larger ring gauge cigars tend to burn cooler, feel more ‘manly’ in the hand, and boast a large recipe of disparate tobaccos, the fact remains they are harder to cut, harder to store, and can feel unwieldly during your enjoyment.
Now that we’ve whet your appetite for smaller ring gauge cigars, let’s delve into some of our favorites. AJ Fernandez, blender of stalwart brands like Diesel, Man O’ War, and Ave Maria, regularly enjoys the 42-ring-gauge Man O’ War Puro Authentico, a cigar that began as his personal blend. This cigar really highlights the full potential of a small ring gauge, boasting the power, flavor, and complexity often associated with a beefier handmade. Don ‘Pepín’ García Blue Exquisitos, a 46-ring-gauge knee-knocker, is a slow burning, full-flavored Corona from the hottest blender in the industry. With the familiar ‘Pepín’ spice and array of perfectly complementary flavors, this vitola really displays the delicate interplay of wrapper and filler. Tatuaje is the grandfather of boutique cigars, and owner Pete Johnson is an avowed Lancero lover. Tatuaje Black is an exquisite 38-ring-gauge Lancero that is the epitome of Cuban-esque. A limited edition release, Tatuaje Black immediately garnered a huge following and many consider it the pinnacle of Tatuaje’s portfolio. Finally, we wanted to highlight a newcomer to the American cigar industry and former all-star Cuban cigar roller Hamlet Paredes, of Rocky Patel cigars. Rocky Patel Hamlet Tabaquero Corona, with its 42-ring-gauge, is pleasing and flavorful down to the nub. The flavors explode off the bat, before progressing into a slow burning, smooth, and creamy profile that will have you reaching into the humidor for more.
The next time you’re cigar shopping, pick up some smaller ring gauge cigars and you’ll be able to discern the difference immediately. You will experience firsthand the intent of the blender and really be able to taste the influence of the costliest component, the wrapper.