On numerous occasions Michael has asked me to write about ring gauges. I put it off for a long time because I just didn’t think there was much to say about them. Smaller numbers mean a smaller cigar, while larger numbers mean a larger cigar. What else is there to say?
Ring gauges are basically fractions of an inch, where the inch is broken up into 64 parts. The first number in a cigar’s size is the length in inches. So, a 6×60 cigar is 6 inches long and 60/64 inch in diameter. Cigar manufacturers make cigars in all different sizes, and even product lines within a given manufacturer will come in numerous sizes. I really thought that is all there was to it- until I talked to Jose Blanco.
Jose Blanco is the Senior Vice President at Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Cigars currently, though he’s been in the business for decades, having been born into a multi-generational cigar family. I reached out to Blanco to see whether he had any insights into why cigars over the traditional max of 60 ring gauge have become so popular in recent years.
“I did a study about a year and a half ago. I asked about 140 people. When I tabulated the results I found it was value, the macho factor, and American- because everything in this country is big,” he told me. But what he said after that is what caught my attention.
“Keeping the blend consistent within a line is a challenge.” I have to admit I had never thought of that before, but it totally makes sense. Blanco explained that when you have cigars within traditional size parameters keeping the consistency of flavor profile throughout the entire line is challenging but not impossible. When you get into the larger ring gauges, however, blending becomes much more of a challenge. You have to adjust the blend for the fact there is going to be more tobacco burning, and keeping it within the same flavor profile as the rest of the line is not a simple task.
“Flavor should always be a 10.” Keeping the flavor and strength in balance is the key, says Blanco. It’s easy to get too much strength when you are blending something with a really large ring gauge, but balance is what blenders are after.
Ring gauges have been creeping up since the last cigar boom in the 1990s, and they just keep getting bigger. Cigar Aficionado first reported on this trend back in 2002:
“Today, fat cigars are becoming even more popular. Every month another new cigar smashes through the 54-ring-gauge barrier, and some lines of cigars consist entirely of sizes approaching or even exceeding a 60 ring gauge — or nearly one inch in diameter. La Gloria Cubana Serie R. Indian Tabac Cameroon Legend Gorilla. Perdomo Cuban Parejo. Partagas Black Label. León Jimenes Sumo. Several brands have been launched without corona or lonsdale sizes, something that was unthinkable only 10 years ago. Some of these monsters are too big for guillotine cutters, don’t fit easily inside cigar cases and make packing a humidor quite the challenge.”
No matter what ring gauge you choose and why, cigars are all about personal preference. And as Blanco put it to me during our phone call, “The only thing that can ruin a cigar is smoking it next to an asshole.”
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl