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Cigar Tip: Why (Cigar) Size Matters

14 Jun 2012

No, the title of this article isn’t a reference to some Freudian concept. After all, Freud also said that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Instead, I want to explore the way ring gauge size (in other words, a cigar’s thickness) impacts a cigar’s flavors.

The size of a cigar affects many things for sure, and not just the time it takes a cigar to burn. There are two main reasons why, as a general rule of thumb, smaller sized cigars (of the same blend) are more flavorful than their larger counterparts, even though many people seem to believe that a larger cigar will produce more and stronger flavors.

Wrapper/Filler Ratio

The most obvious difference between a smaller ring gauge cigar and a larger one is the amount of filler. Even though the smaller cigar will also use slightly less wrapper, as a little math shows, when the cigar gets fatter, the amount of filler gets (literally) exponentially larger.

Take a 60 ring gauge cigar versus a 40 ring gauge smoke. Using some basic middle school geometry, you can see that while about 50% more wrapper is required to go around the 60 ring gauge cigar, it will also use roughly 125% more filler. (I’ve posted the full table of wrapper and filler for common ring gauges in the comments of this article.)

Because wrapper tobacco is generally the most flavorful (and always the most expensive) component, the smaller cigar will impart more wrapper flavor.

Higher Burn Temperature

The second, possibly more important, and certainly more often overlooked reason that smaller ring gauge cigars are fuller flavored is that they tend to burn hotter and more quickly. If you think about a cigar as a straw through which air is pulled, this makes plenty of sense.

Cigar smokers generally take similarly sized draws no matter the thickness of the cigar. This means that air is drawn through the foot of a smaller cigar at a faster rate than through a larger cigar, creating more air flow, more oxygen, and a higher combustion temperature.

Drew Estate President, and encyclopedia of cigar knowledge, Steve Saka estimates the difference in temperature can be 10 degrees or possibly more between a smaller (40 or 42 ring gauge) cigar and a larger one. That’s a significant difference that effects the flavor and creates a stronger and fuller smoke.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

22 Responses to “Cigar Tip: Why (Cigar) Size Matters”

  1. Patrick Semmens Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    R.G. = Ring Gauge
    W.C. = Wrapper Circumference (in inches)
    F.S.A. = Filler (Foot) Surface Area (in square inches)

    R.G. —— W.C. —- F.S.A.
    60.00 —– 2.95 —– 0.69
    58.00 —– 2.85 —– 0.64
    56.00 —– 2.75 —– 0.60
    54.00 —– 2.65 —– 0.56
    52.00 —– 2.55 —– 0.52
    50.00 —– 2.45 —– 0.48
    48.00 —– 2.36 —– 0.44
    46.00 —– 2.26 —– 0.41
    44.00 —– 2.16 —– 0.37
    42.00 —– 2.06 —– 0.34
    40.00 —– 1.96 —– 0.31
    38.00 —– 1.87 —– 0.28

    • Cigar Seeker Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      Don't mean to be a stickler, but in the interest of accuracy, let me point out that the wrapper/filler rato does not go up expoenetially, but rather goes up hyperbolically. Assuming cigars of the same length, and the same wrapper thickness, the wrapper content goes up as the radius of the cigar, while the filler content goes up as the square of the radius. Thus, the ratio is inversely proportional to the radius. The plot of such a "1/r" function is a hyperbola, not an exponential. 🙂

      But hey, let me thank you for this very informative post! I have always been skeptical that ring guage affected flavor, since the same tobaccos are present regardless of cigar size. But the fact that the wrapper/filler ratio depends on ring gauge, as you have shown, certainly provides a very believeable explanation!

      • Patrick Semmens Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

        Thanks for the comment and for the math lesson. My memory of math classes I took well over a decade ago is very fuzzy (so I reserve the right to be wrong), but I actually think we're both right.

        I was only saying that as ring gauge increase (ring gauge being a measure of diameter), the amount of filler (which is the surface area of the foot) increases exponentially. You correctly make a different point that the ratio between wrapper (circumference) and filler (surface area) is not in fact exponential.

      • Cigar Seeker Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

        Well, if you don't mind another math lesson, the filler content, which goes up as the square of the radius, actually increases parabolically. Exponential changes usually involve rates, such as the rate of decay of a radioactive sample. Showing that though would involve some calculus, which is well beyond middle school math! 🙂

      • Patrick Semmens Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

        Thanks for the clarification. I took calculus, but apparently it didn't stick.

      • Patrick Ashby Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

        I plan to smoke a cigar and drink some rum tonight to rid my brain of this thread. 🙂

      • Cigar Seeker Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

        Didn't mean to offend. And I think I'll have a rum and cigar too!

  2. Robert Samberg Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    Thanks for the info on this subject. I have always enjoyed a robusto or corona more than a toro or larger RG smoke. Good chart Patrick.

  3. JStage Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    This is an interesting aspect to our hobby. This information explains the difference in flavor between cigars with a significant difference in ring gauge, but what about the tremendous difference one sometimes finds between a robusto (5 x 50) and say a corona gorda (5-1/2 x 46)? Although it is not always true, there are some blends that seem to taste significantly different with such a seemingly small difference in wrapper/filler ratio. Perhaps even more interesting is the difference in taste between cigars whose only difference is the length
    (5 x 50 ; 6 x 50 ; 7 x 50). I realize there is more filler in the longer cigars, but the wrapper/filler ratio and burn temperature would be the same at any given point of the cigar smoking experience, wouldn't it?

    • Patrick Semmens Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 10:05 am #

      Certainly the length of a cigar can also impact flavors. Here are some reasons why I think this is the case:
      -Tar builds up more in a longer cigar
      -Longer cigars require more back-filling (the addition of partial leaves to keep the cigar firm and drawing well) when bunched which makes it more likely that the blend is different in different parts of the cigar. Sometimes this is done on purpose too.
      -You get used to certain flavors and it changes your perception. (For example, after 30 minutes of the same smoke you may think the cigar is becoming less full-bodied, but really you just might be getting used to it.)

  4. Bill Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    So the million dollar question is,why do so many makers and smokers prefer the larger ring sizes? On the auction sites you can generally buy 48 and smaller ring sizes cheaper due to the lessor demand. Don' t tell anybody.

    • Patrick Semmens Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

      That's easy: they sell best.

      I seem to remember hearing that 6×60 is the third most popular size, behind robusto and toro (both 50 RG).

  5. splattttttt Friday, June 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    Nobody mentioned "personal preference" ) :

  6. NMM Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    I generally agree with Freud's comment on cigars. But if you're smoking a 6×60, it's a cock. Great post Patrick.

  7. Rick Ardito Monday, July 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    I have smoked more cigars than I care to imagine at this point to include hundreds of prototypes from not only DE but many friends' companies..I was never one to become size-obsessed nor compelled to hyper analyze and define particular flavor notes. One thing I picked up on very early in my career as I was toting cigar rollers around in the 90's or hangin out with torcedors in the factory is how the vast majority were smoking coronas or smaller…I would say at least 75% of the sticks i've smoked (for enjoyment) over the years have been exactly that as well…why? who cares, thats what I like..

  8. Shisha Hookahs Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 2:03 am #

    There are still others that prefer smaller cigars though. Anyway, a very detailed, informative and interesting article for those who smoke. Perfect for those who smoke that doesn't know any background or any info about it.

  9. at7000 Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    I don't care for the super ring gauges, yet they seem to be currently trendy and are more and more popular. Coronas and lonsdales are often overlooked these days. I have even had great panatellas and petit-coronas. Large ring gauge is ok up to a point, then it just starts getting stupid. The don't burn well and are usually fairly bland tasting smokes, due to the large amounts of filler leaf.

  10. Colin Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    The first sentence of your article (Freud quote) contradicts a statement made in another article. The second "fact" also runs afoul with the common desire for a cool smoke, as opposed to a hot burning cigar.

    • @stogieguys Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

      You're right about the Freud quote, it's commonly attributed to him, but he likely never actually said it (although there's no way to know for sure).

      As for the second point, perhaps that's why novice smokers (who seem to be more likely to smoke too quickly) tend too prefer larger ring gauges. But it doesn't make it less of a "fact".

  11. toolted Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    Great article, but I will take issue with the second point. I think that Saka's ten degree difference in temperature is the exact reason why so many people prefer the larger rings. The higher the temperature of the burn the more the molecules break up into simpler compounds and all those wonderful complex flavors we seek are lost. The larger rings are easier to smoke. The smaller rings offer the promise of better flavor (due to point #1) but are more difficult to achieve (due to point #2.) Sometimes to get the proper burn temperature one must give up some volume of smoke and pay much more attention to the burn, but the pay-off can be marvelous. I am a lancero, corona, petite corona guy for these reasons.

    Keep up the great work!

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