By Gregory L. Pease, Associate Editor
What fate befalls thee, Lonsadale?
As I begin this, I’m thoroughly enjoying an Alec Bradley American Classic in the portly (6×60) Gordo configuration. Those who know me at all well will recognize, immediately, the import of what I have just written. Yes. It’s true. A big, fat cigar and I are making nice with each other. A year or so ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead smoking something this big, let alone admitting to it in such a public way. But, it seems I’m not quite as narrow-minded about cigar sizes as I once was, and this is a really good smoke, so I can admit, with relative impunity, to expanding my horizons a little.
However, despite having smoked, and even very positively reviewed, some very fine, larger ring cigars, I’m still devoted to the classic Corona, the graceful Lonsdale, and, sometimes, even the often maligned, but frequently delightful Panatela. Clearly, I buck the trend. I think the tendency towards bigger, fatter, Super-Sized cigars is bordering on the ludicrous, and can sometimes be downright laughable. Cigars in shapes that I would have once expected to find only in a joke shopmade of plastic, and often encasing an erstwhile water gun, ready to spray an unsuspecting passerby with a comical stream of waterare finding themselves between the lips of otherwise apparently normal smokers. And, truthfully, even though this 60 ring monster I’m currently puffing is exquisite, I still can’t bring myself to wrap my brain about the evolution or the appeal of these ever larger cigars that could equally be pressed into service as a gendarme’s cudgel. Where will it end? (I have a feeling we won’t see the end of it for a while, even with the relatively recent cavalcade of 70-ring monsters. How long before some brilliant marketeer will design a cigar to be sold with its own trailer?)
This trend of increasing girth is far from a new phenomenon. Even back in 2006, more than a half-decade ago, the tendency towards the tobacco leviathan was well under way. Several makers introduced 60 ring sticks, and CAO went so far as to create a limited edition, trumpet shaped figurado with a 96 ring foot that, had it been introduced a few years later, would surely have been nicknamed the Vuvuzuela. But, where 50-54 ring cigars were once considered large, an increased number of 60+ rings have left those looking like petit coronas in comparison. What appeared to be a fad a few short years ago, a phase that we would outgrow, has anchored itself firmly in the industry, and it appears that escalation has triumphed over restraint in this arms race.
Personally, I’ve always been a Corona or Lonsdale smoker, mostly, with the occasional dalliances with Robustos and Panatelas, and the infrequent tryst with a Double Corona, almost diminutive by today’s standards, when the occasion called for something to truly linger over. These preferences have served me well over the years, but since assuming my mantle of AE of a cigar ‘zine, I’ve found myself smoking quite a few samples that, because of their size, would previously have been outside of my admittedly narrow range. Many of them, I’ve enjoyed enough that they’ve earned quite high marks in my notes. But, more often than not, I’ve found myself wondering how much more I’d have liked the larger examples had they been presented in a shape with less elephantine proportion.
I had an opportunity, recently, to put that question to the test. I was discussing this phenomenon with the agent of a particular manufacturer. I’d smoked and enjoyed the cigars in one of their lines, a range that contains only larger ring shapes, though not ridiculously big, and questioned why they didn’t offer the same blend in a smaller gauge. It turned out they’d test marketed the cigar in smaller sizes as well, and their audience preferred the big ones by a sufficient margin to prevent them from commencing manufacture of the smaller ones. He graciously sent me some of the prototypes to try, and, as much as I liked the bigger sizes (a lot), the Coronas and Lonsdales were even more stunningly delicious. (Truly, a bittersweet moment it can be to smoke an absolutely fantastic cigar, with the knowledge that you won’t be able to get another.)
The Corona, for those who may have forgotten, which would be entirely understandable considering how few there are in American shops these days, is a traditional parejo measuring in at about 5.5" x 42-43, an ideal size from many perspectives. It presents an excellent balance of wrapper, binder and filler components of the cigar. It’s an elegant cigar, slim to hold, easy to light, and since it doesn’t make your jaws ache to clench it between your teeth, it offers a comfortable smoke; if your tendency is to clench your smokes, you won’t have to bite on them with the ferocity of a rabid terrier in order to resist the considerable force of gravity rolled into some of the giants. If a Corona is well constructed, and you don’t puff like a locomotive, it’ll last a good 40-45 minutes, which is well suited to our harried times. And, when a Corona isn’t quite long enough, there’s always the Lonsdale.
The Corona may be, in my eyes, the perfect cigar, but it’s not without potential for fault. It does not reward the hurried smoker. In fact, quite the the contrary; pull furiously on a Corona, and your palate will be pummeled by the sharp, acrid harshness of overheated tobacco. Larger ring smokes are far more forgiving in this regard, sometimes burning so cool that they present the opposite problem, and can be difficult to keep alight, or prone to tunneling if not puffed fairly steadily. With the thinner vitolas, though, patience is truly a virtue, and the gentle smoker can be rewarded with wonderful flavors and aromas. It does require greater care to bunch and roll cigars of smaller diameter consistently, but after over three centuries of cigar history, that certainly should be sorted by now.
In other words, I want to see more Coronas, not fewer. I understand the industry’s need to deliver what buyers will buy; it’s what allows them to remain in business. But, as more and more cigars become available only in larger ring sizes, we’re losing out on some spectacularly wonderful smoking experiences. It’s increasingly difficult to walk into even a well stocked humidor, and find much selection in anything smaller than a Toro. It’s not the manufacturers’ fault; it’s ours for not buying them. We, collectively, are actually doing ourselves a disservice by forsaking the smaller, more sophisticated smokes in favor of boastful, trendy baseball bats.
And yet, despite my apparent prejudice, against my nature to eschew the bigger-is-better meme that has become so commonplace in our culture, and my unwillingness to embrace the resulting giant sticks with anything resembling enthusiasm, here I am, enjoying the hell out of a big fat Gordo, not quite a burrito of a cigar, but close, and certainly one of the fattest I’ve smoked. But, I’m holding strong. I’m not about to give up my Coronas and Lonsdales, unless the industry forces me, kicking and screaming, to do so by simply not supplying them. I am, however, reluctantly willing to admit that, just maybe, I could find some room in my humidor for a few larger cigars. Just let’s not let the Corona to go the way of the Dodo. If you haven’t done so recently, be bold, and give one or two a try.
|Gregory L. Pease Associate Editor.
Greg joins us for regular cigar reviews, his monthly editorial column, "Up in Smoke," and the occasional feature article, bringing over 30 years of deep passion for the leaf to our team. Prior to becoming the founder and principal alchemist behind the pipe blends of G.L. Pease Artisanal Tobaccos (est. 1999), he’d been a pipe and cigar aficionado since his college days, and spent time working at the legendary Drucquer & Sons Tobacconist in Berkeley, California to support his affliction. He is widely educated on tobacco and all things epicurean, is an experienced writer, and has quite a refined palate. He is also a wine and spirits geek, and a gourmet cook.