The Best Cigars for Beginners and How to Choose One for You
Maybe you’ve smoked a random cigar that your golf buddy handed you, or someone at a bachelor party broke out, or a new father gifted you. You enjoyed it, and now you want to explore the world of cigars further—and get the scoop on the best cigars for beginners. But where to start? The most important first step, says cigar expert Jorge Luis Armenteros, is to be curious and have an open mind.
“First of all, you have to admire anyone who wants to smoke a cigar these days,” Armenteros tells Men’s Journal.
Since 1996, he has run Tobacconist University, which trains cigar industry professionals and certifies Master Tobacconists—essentially the master sommeliers of the cigar world.
Just like wine or whiskey, the cigar world rolls deep, and it’s full of nuance. Cigar aficionados debate where the best tobacco is grown (Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Honduras), whether the best wrapper is from Connecticut, or whether they prefer it maduro (dark) or natural. Cigars can be round or box cut, and every aficionado has a vitola (a cigar’s size and shape) they prefer—corona, double corona, robusta, Churchill, lancero, panatela. There’s even discussion over how to snip off the end (straight with a guillotine, punch a hole, or dig out a “v-cut”).
It’s enough to make your head spin. That’s why Armenteros implores newbies to find a reputable cigar shop with knowledgeable tobacconists (Tobacconist University lists 700 retailers nationwide). He also suggests trying several different cigar styles, sizes, and shapes to find what you like best.
“There are no hard and fast rules,” says Armenteros. “A good tobacconist asks: What restaurants do you like? What food do you cook? What do you drink? Do you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Do you like jambalaya or gumbo? Do you use hot sauce? Is your palate a little more adventurous? What’s the smoking occasion?”
Cigar Sizing: Vitola
A cigar’s vitola—which determines its size both in length and girth—is a key consideration. The longer or thicker a cigar is, the longer it will take to smoke. A Churchill (seven inches) or double corona (7.5 inches) will smoke for an hour and a half or longer. Inexperienced cigar smokers often light a huge cigar with no idea of how long they’ll be smoking it.
Choose your cigar based on the situation, keeping in mind how long you’ll want to smoke. It’s not a comment on your manhood to smoke a shorter Petite Corona (4.5 inches) or a thinner shape like a panatela or lancero.
Cigar Sizing: Ring Gauge
One term you hear a lot with cigars is “ring gauge,” which is a cigar’s diameter measured in 64ths of an inch. A cigar with a 64 ring gauge is an inch in diameter—which would be a very fat cigar. Twenty years ago, a typical cigar had a ring gauge of 46. Now they’re usually 52.
“In the past several years, cigars have grown in width and ring gauge,” Armenteros says. “I don’t like it, but it’s what people like. Maybe they have bigger hands and mouths now, who knows?”
In the end, Armenteros says choosing a cigar is about finding what’s comfortable, both in your hand and in your mouth.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for the camaraderie of other cigar smokers, because you think it looks cool, or because you like the smell and taste,” he says. “The best cigars in the world make you stop everything and pay attention to them. The best cigar in the world is the one that’s your favorite.”
The Best Cigars for Beginners