It's perfectly understandable for you to be a bit intimidated by all the information out there about cigars. You might even be a little anxious if you're trying to figure out which cigar is best for you.
But consider this: do you have to be an expert in the nuances and eccentricities of baseball in order to enjoy a game? Do you have to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of whiskey in order to enjoy a nice after dinner drink? Do you have to know the ins and outs of hops, barley, and wheat just to enjoy a cold beer?
You see the point: an in-depth familiarity with cigars is not necessary to enjoy them. All you need to know are a few basic attributes about cigars, and you'll soon be smoking them like a true connoisseur.
Time of Day
The first thing you should know is that certain cigars generally go better with specific times of day. Conventional wisdom maintains that if you are planning to smoke in the morning, then smaller, milder cigars are the most appropriate. Cigars of medium flavor and size are usually preferred during the afternoon hours. And if you are lighting up a stogie at night, you should choose the longest and boldest-flavored cigars in your collection.
It's easy to assume that the more expensive the cigar is, the better its quality will be. But you should know that this is not necessarily the case. As with wine or cars, you can certainly find high-quality cigars in any price range. When you are at a smoke shop, don't be afraid to reveal your budget to the sales associate. He can probably pick out a few cigars which would meet your needs without sacrificing quality.
If you do any cigar browsing at all, you will see that there are dozens of possible different colors associated with cigars. But they all generally fall somewhere within this scale:
Double Claro: light green wrapper, very mild flavor
Claro: light tan wrapper, smooth and mild flavor
Natural: light brown wrapper, full bodied flavor
Colorado: reddish dark brown wrapper, robust and rich flavor
Colorado Maduro: dark brown wrapper, aromatic and rich flavor
Maduro: very dark brown wrapper, sweet and strong flavor
Oscuro: nearly black wrapper, very strong flavor
If you see a wrapper shade with a hue is slightly between the colors mentioned above, you can extrapolate what the flavor will be accordingly.
Does cigar size really matter? The answer is: it depends. Different-sized cigars lend themselves to different cigar-smoking experiences. As you might expect, longer cigars take more time to smoke which could translate into more enjoyment while you smoke them. But the length of the stogie is not related to the cigar's actual quality.
That being said, you should know how cigars are measured. The length of cigars is recorded in inches. But the width of the cigar is denoted in what is called ring gauge. The ring gauge is shown in increments of 64th of an inch. So for instance, a ring gauge of 56 would mean that the cigar is 7/8 (56/64) of an inch wide.
Both of these measurements will be denoted on the cigar's packaging, usually in this format: Length X Ring Gauge.
So if you see a cigar with the denotation of 6X64, you know that the cigar is six inches long and 1 (64/64) inch wide.
Country of Origin
You've probably heard about the mystique of 'a great Cuban cigar.' While Cuba is home to a long tradition of fine cigars, the nation does not have a corner on the market. Many other fantastic cigars are produced in places like Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. And unlike Cuba, these countries have trade agreements with the U.S. which means they can legally be purchased in America.
You may hear other people bandy about specific cigar brands, such as Cohiba or Montecristo. While those are names of top-quality products, there are many lesser-known brands which are just as flavorful and enjoyable. Some of these brands include Davidoff, Macanudo, Ashton, Dunhill, or Arturo Fuente.
One major advantage to these lower-profile brands is that they are all legal for purchase in the United States, while Cohiba and Montecristo cigars are not. So if you happen to see a Cohiba or Montecristo cigar in an American cigar shop, be warned: they are probably fakes or knockoffs.
This one is easy: choose hand-rolled over machine-rolled. Every time. You'll be able to tell the difference.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when making your cigar selection is this: you decide what you like. Don't automatically choose what some cigar magazine or website tells you is the best cigar. Do some experimenting with different brands, colors, and flavors. Develop your tastes and preferences. Then smoke the cigars that taste the best to you.
The biggest part of smoking cigars like a connoisseur? Knowing what you like and being able to pick out a cigar that lets you enjoy it to its fullest!