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The Smoking Jacket: The Ballad of El Gordo

By Marc Phillips

“It looks like you’re smoking a big sausage!”

For years I’ve been fond of the 6 x 60 cigar size, long before the nickname gordo became the acknowledged nomenclature. There’s something about a fat, meaty cigar and all those wonderful, dense and complex flavors that make me search out that specific size—especially if I’m trying a line of cigars for the first time and I want to be absolutely wowed.

It all goes back to the first gordo that I used to smoke on a regular basis, the Don Pepin Garcia Cuban Classic 2001. If you’ve been following my cigar adventures so far, you’ll know that I favor cigars that have wonderful, rich notes of cocoa and coffee, and the Classic was the standard-bearer for such a desired flavor profile. It got to the point where if I couldn’t make a decision at the local cigar shop, I’d go with a couple of the Cuban Classics just to be safe. But there was always something about the size of that cigar that went far beyond the mere complexity of the blend. The Cuban Classic burned cooler, a noted advantage of large ring cigars, and it burned evenly as if it was on auto-pilot. I’ve smoked a few dozen of these gordos from Don Pepin over the years, and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Smoking big fat cigars, however, certainly has its drawbacks. First of all, these “big sausages” are not for the novice smoker. Paired with a bold and spicy tobacco blend, a gordo can, by the end, make you quite green if you are not accustomed to such a big dose of flavor. Some of these 6 x 60 beauties can take more than an hour—in some cases more closer to two—and if you’re not willing to hunker down and enjoy it to the very end you should probably consider a smaller cigar. But if you have plenty of time to kill, or if you want to participate in a long and languorous herf with your buddies at the local cigar lounge, nothing beats one of these hefty logs.

Lately I’ve been noticing that some of the cigar scribes are leading a backlash against the current trend for thicker ring sizes. Remember in the last column, when I mentioned that smaller ring-size cigars don’t get very much love because they’re perceived to be lacking in complexity? Well, the latest trend seems to argue that these bigger monsters can’t be taken seriously either, and that people who choose these big boys are just trying to look impressive in front of their buddies.

There’s something to this. First of all, the 6 x 60 size didn’t start to appear until about twenty years ago, back when I started smoking cigars. Back then, it was rare to see a cigar that exceeded a 54 ring. In fact, calling these cigars gordos is a relatively recent occurrence as well—for a long time most of us just called them 6 x 60s. So when you consider the great classic smokes of all time, even gargantuan sticks like the Montecristo A (which can take as long as three hours to smoke), they really don’t seem that big anymore, or even as special. In the cigar industry, many experts believe that gordos are a passing fad. They’re just not classic enough to endure.

In addition, we’ve seen a trend of even bigger cigars over the last couple of years with ring sizes or 66, 70 or even 80. While I have to say that smoking something that large does make you want to wedge a monocle under your brow and deliver harsh, authoritarian edicts to the masses, almost every time I’ve tried one of these behemoths they started to fall apart about the halfway point. For the most part, I think it’s foolish to smoke a cigar with a ring size of larger than 60 or 66, tops. After that it’s just sort of a messy novelty, and nothing more.

But I think gordos are here to stay. 60 ring cigars do combine that aforementioned complexity with an effortless draw and even burn—as long as you take the time to light them correctly. If you don’t toast your foot and light your cigar evenly and carefully at the outset, your cigar will probably canoe and start to unravel by the time you’ve arrived at the last couple of inches. If you’re unsure of the proper way to light a large ring cigar, here are some tips:

  • After you’ve delivered your cut to the head, stick the unlit cigar in your mouth and taste the wrapper on your lips. This won’t do anything to ensure a better light, but it will give you a firm impression of what this cigar should taste like after you’ve lit it.
  • Toast the foot of your cigar by taking it out of your mouth and lighting the end. You want to merely singe and blacken the exposed surfaces at the foot, and you want to singe it as evenly as possible. NOTE: you’re not actually lighting your cigar yet, you’re just ensuring that your cigar will start off with as even as a burn as possible.
  • Once the foot is evenly charred, let it rest for a few moments to prevent the cigar from “taking off” and starting to burn on its own. You don’t want that to happen YET.
  • Finally, once the cigar has cooled, light it again. Rotate the cigar constantly while applying the flame. You don’t want the tobacco to ever actually touch the flame, by the way—that will give the stogie a charred flavor right out of the gate. Hold the foot just barely out of the flame’s reach and puff until the cherry glows red over the entire exposed surface. If there are cold spots, touch them up before you start to puff. Blowing lightly on the cherry can also assist in evening things out for you.
  • As you’re smoking the cigar, constantly rotate it with every puff.

cigar28Follow these basic rules, and the auto-pilot mode should engage after a few minutes. My all-purpose rule of slowing down the pace whenever your stogie becomes recalcitrant certainly holds here as well. You can avoid a canoe by simply setting the gordo down for a minute or two and allow it to burn more naturally. In most cases that will get you back on the right track, especially when you consider that these large ring cigars tend to burn on their own for much, much longer than their smaller counterparts.

I contacted Cory Grover at Famous Smoke Shop concerning some of his favorite gordos, and within a few days I had three different “sausages” to evaluate. Once I received them, I was reminded of my telecommunication days when they used to send me to places like Scottsdale in the middle of August, or Lake Tahoe in the middle of January. “Doesn’t anyone match the project location to the season?” I often complained. Well, we’ve been having a fairly cold and snowy winter here in Western Colorado this year, and since most of my smoking is done on my back patio I’ve been braving the elements in order to enjoy a decent cigar. Sure, I bundle up and put on multiple layers and all that, but when a cigar lasts for up to two hours, you can get pretty cold by the time you’re done. So, a simple caveat for gordos—they’re best enjoyed when the weather is nice. Brrrrrr.

Romeo y Julieta House of Montague Magnum

rym-labelFor me, Romeo y Julieta is one of those old-school cigar brands like Macanudo and H. Upmann and Punch and Partagas that have been making stogies from the same blends for decades and decades. Usually that means a more classic flavor profile, one that tends to favor purity over a more modern blend. Many of these brands have introduced lines with bolder and more distinctive flavors—Macanudo has its Cru Royale line, for example, and I really like the award-winning ROMEO line from RyJ—but the everyday sticks from these venerable companies are sometimes lacking in, well, excitement.

When I received the RyJ House of Montague Magnum from Famous Smoke Shop, I was a little disappointed because the style of the band was more reflective of those classic lines. Cory informed me, however, that the Magnum was not only an exclusive for them, but it was one of the best-selling exclusive deals they’ve ever offered. After lighting up, I found out why. Suffice it to say that this is the finest non-Cuban Romeo y Julieta I’ve ever experienced, better than the ROMEOs, which have already become a personal favorite.

cigar27Everything about this massive, beautifully constructed gordo is majestic. With a properly toasted foot, the Magnum burns more steadily and evenly than any other big cigar I’ve smoked. I could place a straight-edge ruler along the burn line at any point during the herf and it would line up perfectly along the circumference. It’s the kind of perfect burn that commercial photographers yearn for when they’re shooting a cigar ad. As you can see from my photo, the Magnum also held onto its ash for a very long time—almost all the way to the band on all three I tried. You may wonder why this trait is so prized by cigar smokers—it’s because it implies flawless construction, and maintaining a large amount of ash at the foot guarantees a cooler burn as well.

With its Brazilian maduro wrapper, Dominican binder and fillers from Nicaragua, the DR and Brazil, this cigar has plenty of complex flavors, but it’s also smooth and creamy and rich. It also burns very slowly, which means that all three I smoked lasted the better part of two hours. From now on when I think of a great gordo, I will think of this. Oh yes, one more thing—this epic fit-for-a-king cigar costs just a little over $6 a piece when you buy a box. That’s perhaps the most surprising thing about this very surprising cigar.

Room 101 El Mas Chingon No. 2

1em-labelI let Cory send me this one because, well, I speak Spanish and I just had to try a cigar called El Mas Chingon. Usually I shy away from cigars with goofy names because they’re marketing to younger smokers, which opens the door to some very gimmicky tobacco blends. But I’ve smoked a handful of Room 101 cigars before, and I was impressed.

The Room 101 El Mas Chingon isn’t quite a full gordo because it’s only five-and-a-half inches long instead of six, but you won’t notice. This stogie is as visually impressive as the House of Montague Magnum, albeit with a slightly lighter Habano wrapper. Smoking this chingon was a measurably different experience however—after the first couple of puffs I noted that this was a bolder, spicier cigar than the RyJ, with plenty of peppery notes that lingered on my lips and the tip of my tongue.

cigar25At first I was concerned about this. It’s one thing to smoke a bold, spicy and powerful cigar, but it’s quite another thing to hang in there with such a smoke for more than ninety minutes. (That reminds me of a 7 by 58 maduro that nearly killed me—I had to lie on the ground for twenty minutes after I finished before I could manage to crawl back inside.) But here’s the saving grace—the Room 101 was lighter in hand than the Magnum, which meant it smoked more rapidly. It wasn’t overpowering at all, in fact. Even for its size and potency, it is lithe and balanced and memorable. It’s also roughly the same price as the RyJ, which just seems crazy to me.

 

Nub Cameroon 358

ncm-labelI haven’t really talked about shorties yet in this column. Shorties, in most cases, are big ring cigars that are only around four inches long. Nub, which is one of the most popular lines from Oliva, was a pioneer when it came to introducing the shorty as a legitimate cigar size. The idea behind the shorty was that cigars often change flavor during the course of the smoke, with the middle section being the so-called “sweet spot.” The 4 x 60 and 4 x 66 sizes for the Nub were designed so that the entire cigar would be one big sweet spot from beginning to end.

This always made my head hurt a little—couldn’t you hack two inches off a traditional gordo and have pretty much the same thing? And wouldn’t the ends of this shortened cigar still taste different than the middle? But here’s the thing: in my experience Nubs have always been one of the most consistent smokes from beginning to end so there must be something real behind this that I don’t quite understand. They are doing something special in the roll.

cigar26The Nub line is pretty straightforward. You can choose between a 60 and a 66 ring, and you can choose between wrappers such as Connecticut, Habano, Maduro and Cameroon. My favorite nub has always been the Habano 466 (which indicates the size, 4 by 66). But I chose this one for two reasons—one, I’ve never tried a Nub with this wrapper before and two, the Cameroon 358 (which is a 3.75 x 58, slightly smaller than the others in the line) was #23 on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 Cigar list for 2015. To my knowledge, a Nub has never made the list so far, even though Oliva usually manages to place at least one of their cigars on the list each year.

African wrappers, such as the Cameroon, remind me somewhat of African coffee—they’re nutty and earthy with just a touch of exotic spice. It’s easy to taste the difference between a Cameroon wrapper and more familiar tobaccos from the Americas. The 358 captured this unique flavor profile in a cool-burning shorty with an even burn and solid, almost flawless construction. Despite its small size, this Nub will still last well over a half-hour, which gives you all the complexity of a true gordo without the marathon running time.

Best of all, Nubs are traditionally affordable—along with most of the excellent cigars from Oliva. Most of them run about $5 each. Don’t be afraid to try one of the 66 Nubs either—they are remarkably composed and solid.

But don’t be surprised if someone tells you it looks like a giant sausage. It does.

 

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