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.
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
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.
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
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.
Nub Cameroon 358
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.
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.