Cigar Vitola: What You Need To Know

Most people don’t know why cigars come in different shapes and sizes. Even then, they don’t recognize the shape of a cigar on sight. These different varieties, also known as vitolas, are an expression of the master roller’s vision for the final product. A cigar vitola can change the flavor, the burn profile, and even the time to smoke a cigar. This, just through minor tweaks to the shape and length of the cigar. With so many cigar vitola options out there, it can be difficult for beginners to choose the best cigar. I hope to give you some pointers to follow to help you make an informed purchase.

The fact is, cigar shapes can vary with the manufacturer, the brand, and even the series of a cigar. Hell, sometimes there are several cigar vitolas with the same blend. In a big brand, like Davidoff, some of their cigars can come in many different cigar vitola options. At a high level, cigars describe their size in two ways: length and ring gauge. The length of the cigar is usually given in the form of inches. Ring gauge, however, is the diameter of the cigar broken into the 64ths of an inch. Typically, brands do not follow the ‘one sizes fits all’ rule; people choose products based on their experience and preferences.

What do you need to know about cigar shapes

Although the size and shape of the cigar matter a lot, we’ve spoken before in the podcast on how the blend of tobaccos is more of an influence on the strength of flavor. That’s not to say the cigar vitola is unimportant; if anything, it’s a close second in overall impact, but it still holds sway. Chris discussed, in episode one, how the thinner the cigar, the hotter the burn. It’s simple physics: the same air pressure forced through a narrower tube will increase the amount of oxygen pulled over the tobacco and cause the flame to burn hotter. A 70-ring-gauge will pull almost half the amount of oxygen over the tobacco as a 35-ring-gauge cigar; that LaFlor Dominicana Digger will burn colder than the pencil-thin Lancero.

There is also the matter of the wrapper-to-filler ratio in a cigar, and how that influences flavor. In that same episode, we discussed how most of the flavor of a cigar comes from the wrapper; now imagine a cigar where the wrapper is 30% of the tobacco versus a cigar where it is 5% of the tobacco? You can see where having a very thin cigar might impart a vastly different flavor profile to the smoker than a thick cigar because of the lack of filler.

Where Does Cigar Vitola Factor In?

As more and more people begin to smoke cigars, we see the market has a wide range of cigar shapes. Despite the wide variety, the two most dominant shapes remain the Pajero and the Figurado. In the cigar lexicon, a Pajero has straight sides with an open foot and a closed head, which the smoker must cut before lighting up the cigar. They can be round or box-pressed, but usually take the classic form of a cigar: a cylinder, rectangle, or other traditional shape elongated in a tube. The Figurado cigars are not always or exactly a cylinder, usually made with a tapered head, tapered foot, or both!

Varieties of Pajero Cigars

Pajero cigars represent the most common type of cigar shapes that can have a slightly domed or exactly flat head. There are two common types of Pajero cigars: box pressed and Culebra. Below we have highlighted a few essential details about both of them:

Box Pressed Cigars

These cigars have a square shape; around the world, people love their shape and style. They are believed to have a money-saving design for the manufacturer, distributor, retailer, and buyer. Instead of putting them inside a box with the rounded bodies leaving air space between cigars, the box-shaped cigars are crammed and pressed into a geometric shape that cuts air from around the sticks. These cigars gain a square shape due to the applied pressure after or during rolling, and they ensure longer burning time with more consistent flavor.

A stack of box pressed cigars.
A Partagas Culebra with ribbon and label.

Culebra Cigars

Another exotic and classic form of Pajero cigars is Culebra, a very distinctive and unique cigar vitola. The cigar roller braids three different panatela Pajero cigars together after rolling. A well-rolled Culebra is a mark of a master cigar roller, however, as it is challenging to pull off the braid. As the tobacco is under pressure, the braid can tear or destroy the individual cigars in unskilled hands. Once braided, the cigars are traditionally tied together with ribbon at the head and the foot. Sometimes, rollers will also put a label around the full width of the Culebra in the traditional spot near the head.

Varieties of Figurado Cigars

There is a wide range of Figurado cigars, and each one of them finished with a unique shape. Some of the most popular ones are Perfecto, Piramide, Belicoso, and Torpedo. I’ve included a few essential details about all these categories below to help your hunt for cigars:

A bundle of torpedo cigars rolled together

Torpedo Cigars

This term is mostly used to define all types of Figurado cigars; however, they too have a specific shape that makes them stand out in the market. Generally, they are identified from their tapered and sloping head that curves to a point. Because of the curve, they have a tighter draw that pulls less air through the shaft and makes the cigar burn more coolly. This shape can bring a consistent flavor and taste through the entire length of the cigar.

Belicoso Cigars

Many buyers confuse them with Torpedoes, but these cigars have a sharper shape at the head that makes them appear the same as a bullet. Where the torpedo looks like the ones dropped from airplanes or shot from submarines, the Belicoso resembles a bomb or a bullet shape. While the name brings images of fighting and war, by definition, some manufacturers will mislabel a Parejo as a Belicoso because of the short taper.

A lit Belicoso cigar by Joya De Nicaragua
A single Piramide cigar by Macanudo

Piramide Cigars

As the name implies, it is Spanish for Pyramid; and as the structures of old, there is typically a taper from the foot to the head, which ends in a sharp point. Unlike the Torpedo which tapers just the length of the head, a Piramide will usually narrow along the full length of the cigar. Some will start with a broader gauge, like 55-60, at the foot and close to 40-45 by the head. Like others, sometimes manufacturers will label a Piramide as a Torpedo, so be careful when comparing cigars.

Perfecto Cigars

Perfecto cigars are generally observed to have two tapered, usually closed ends. Where the other Figurados will taper at the head, the Perfecto also tapers at the foot to either a closed point or a very narrow-width opening of 10-15 gauge. While a Perfecto may be perfectly symmetrical, there will be a clear head and a clear foot usually delineated by the position of the label. Others, such as the sub-vitola of Salomon, can have a Piramide head and a Belicoso foot.

A Davidoff Perfecto

While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, you can hopefully navigate the wide variety of cigars available online and in stores after reviewing these definitions. There can be hundreds of different variants in length, width, and end caps, but keep in mind that often the choice of a cigar vitola is a deeply personal preference. Find what you like, try out a lot of different shapes and sizes, and learn what you enjoy. While I have occasions where I crave the length and depth of a LaFlor Dominicana Double Ligero Digger at 8.5″ x 60 with a Pajero cap, there are others when I want a good Plasencia Alma Fuerte Sixto II box pressed at 6″ x 60 or an Opus X Belicoso XXX 4 5/8″ x 49.

As always, enjoy your smoke and live your best life. ¡Salud!

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