Cigars & Whisky

Cigars & Whisky

Is bigger always better?

Cigars & Whisky | 26 Jan 2018 | Issue 149 | By Christopher Coates

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During the past 30 years cigar sizes have been creeping ever upward as consumer preferences (especially those in the United States) seem to have shifted toward the girthy.

The cigar smoking public’s decision to ‘go large’ has seen a slew of releases seeking to be crowned as the fattest of them all, with larger sizes becoming the norm for many producers.

But first the basics. The width of a cigar is usually described as the ring gauge, which is traditionally measured in 64ths of an inch. In general, ring gauges higher than 50 are considered to be large but expressions with RGs of 60 or more have become a common sight over the past 20 years – especially from producers outside of Cuba.

So why the popularity of fatter cigars? Well, it could have something to do with burn and draw. Thinner cigars must be smoked more slowly as they are liable to overheat if drawn on hard and fast, which spoils the flavour. Larger cigars tend to be more forgiving in this regard and generally offer a cooler smoke that requires less smoking discipline to enjoy. So in that regard, perhaps fatter cigars are more accessible to newcomers.

What's more, some industry figures have gone so far as to claim that bigger cigars allow for more complex blends, on account of quite literally being able to cram more leaves in. While perhaps passing the layman’s common-sense check, furious debate has raged among cigar aficionados as to whether there is anything to this ‘bigger means better’ mentality or if the perceived value of thicker cigars really lies only in the ostentatious glamour attached to ‘he who has the bigger stick’.

But what about that dubious blending claim? Let's play the devil's advocate. It is well known that the wrapper leaf contributes a significant proportion of a cigar’s overall flavour, so the greater the ratio of filler to wrapper, the less impact the latter will have on overall flavour of the smoke and the more difficulty a blender will have in creating a true balance between the two.

Meanwhile, fatter cigars are more likely to throw up burn problems, which means a higher proportion of lighter, less flavoursome leaves may be required to help with combustion – which could further restrict a blender’s options and thus impact the profile.

But lovers of big sticks shouldn’t despair. What can be said for certain is that, regardless of ring gauge, flavour is impacted most of all by the overall quality of the tobacco used. Seed variety, terroir and the degree of care taken during leaf processing will first and foremost determine the potential of a blend. After that, it’s up to the blender to create a cigar that will suit the tastes of his customers, whatever they may be.

Tom recommends

Take the dog for a walk

Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso and Joya de Nicaragua Rosalones Reserva 444

The Rosalones Reserva 444 is a four-inch stick with a short smoking time that makes it perfectly suited for a enjoying over a lunch hour. Pre-light notes of dark chocolate (think Green & Black’s 90%) and mahogany hint at the impressive smoke to come.

It starts off with a bit of a bang, with an initial high strength that gradually tapers off before building back up again toward the final third. The first third is quite woody in character, developing notes of sweet cocoa and balsa in the more moderate middle third. The climax is earthy, with autumnal leaf mulch and barnyard notes present.

As this deceptively small package packs a bit of a punch, a robust whisky is required for pairing. The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso is a high ABV dram, by virtue of being bottled at natural batch strength, it’s unfiltered and free from colouring too. Expect characteristic rich sherry notes of Christmas cake and chocolate fondant, with a hint of leather and tobacco leaf.

Complimentary notes from both whisky and cigar offer a bold yet well-balanced experience. It must be said, however, that it's rather too strong to follow brunch, but is an ideal after-lunch pairing that’s well suited to walking the dog on a chill winter’s day.

Alison recommends

Do you want a whisky with your coffee?

Romeo y Julieta Cazadores and Aberlour a’Bunadh Batch 58

Previously released un-banded, but now adorned, this cigar is presented in the classic Lonsdale size of 43 ring gauge and 6 3/8” length. Cazadores is the Spanish word for ‘hunters’ and as a result I expected this cigar to be full bodied and a little rustic. However, in truth this cigar is far more multifaceted.

Pre-light notes of well-worn leather and coffee beans lead to initial white pepper upon lighting. In time the smoke is characterised by a sweet, nutty, ‘con leche’ component and a lighter body than anticipated.

The second third saw the development of more savoury, woody, and earthy notes with a growing fruity coffee element, leaning toward Arabica, with nice acidity but no bitterness. The latter part of the cigar showed dark chocolate with sweet, smoky and meaty notes, think well aged roast beef.

Although not as intense as its name might suggest, this smoke nevertheless commands enough presence to require pairing with a bold dram. I find it well suited to pair with the multi-layered and intense Oloroso cask Aberlour a’Bunadh, with its characteristic spicy sherry character and high ABV. The resulting flavour is a delightful blend of coffee and whisky.
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