Cigars 101

How to Step Up to Full Bodied Cigars

Plus…Our Top 10 Strong Cigar Picks For Your First Time

Updated December 2020

So, you’ve been smoking cigars for a while now, but still haven’t decided to take the plunge and dig in to smoking stronger cigars. You know who they are: Camacho Triple Maduro, Padron 1926, Oliva Serie V, Joya de Nicaragua…maybe you even have a La Gloria Cubana Serie R or two in your humidor, but you’ve been avoiding them – because, well, you think it might just be “too much cigar.”

Fear not, my brothers and sisters: you can do it. And enjoy it.

First, however, we have to note the difference between strength and body – as they are not the same, but often confused or used interchangeably. The examples I noted earlier are strong and full-bodied cigars: higher in nicotine content, and rich with flavors from the individual leaves used in making them. But as I noted in a previous article, the term “body” is not absolute; Erik Espinosa taught us, “’body’ is the ‘stamp’ or ‘footprint’ of a cigar. It’s the end result of when flavor, strength, aroma and feel all meet and meld, with the end game being the impression and experience it gives you while you burn away at it.”

Or more simply, strength is strength – but body is the whole package.

Acquiring a Taste for Stronger Cigars

In a word: experience. While some cigar smokers take to the heavy stuff right away, it generally takes some time to appreciate the rush of forces that come together when smoking a stronger cigar. And as many of those strong cigars are also full-bodied cigars, you’ll discover some very interesting flavors as you navigate these uncharted waters.

Try, try, try: smoke a wide variety of cigars, and over time your palate will become accustomed to picking up on some of these new-to-you flavors imparted by more powerful blends. Typically, the mix is thick with leaves from higher primings of the tobacco plant – the part of the plant that has soaked up more sunlight and more nutrients, which in turn produces thicker leaves and more sugars – and more potency. As you tune your senses to these stronger tobaccos, the strength within a full-bodied cigar should smooth out for you and the smoke as a whole will actually taste more flavorful.

Related: How to choose the right cigar for you

Too Much of a Good Thing? Don’t Overdo It.

Free advice: ease into these Vitamin N-rich heavyweights. If you often smoke mild to medium cigars, you might find yourself occasionally hotboxing your smoke in an effort to pull out more flavor. Do this with a milder cigar, and you might get a little buzz; hotbox a strong or full-bodied cigar, and you’ll pay the price.

smoking a strong cigar or full-bodied cigar too fast can make you sick

Hotboxing occurs by drawing on a cigar so often that the tars and nicotine don’t have time to dissipate. This can lead too much nicotine to get into the bloodstream and may result in nausea or dizziness. It can also cause the smoke to turn harsh and create burn issues.

The symptoms can get ugly ranging from the sweats, a warm rush, shaky hands and dizziness, all the way up to a full-blown “reversal of fortune.” So how do you start smoking stronger cigars – without getting sick? Or if you do start feeling a little green from your cigar, how do you reverse the effects?

Pace Yourself. The wisdom is to let a cigar rest between puffs, about a minute or so. If they’re new to you, that one bad run-in with a strong or full-bodied cigar might turn you off to what is actually a very enjoyable experience.

Drink something with it. I usually enjoy water or coffee, especially to balance the intensity of the smoke.

Keep a sugar packet on hand. Easy to do if you’re drinking coffee with your cigar. Seriously – watch this trick and see:

Ready to Earn Your Wings?

If those hardy smokes we talked about still seem a little out of reach, Jared has 10 excellent picks to pop your full-bodied cigar cherry. Check them out and begin your journey into bigger flavors!

Jared’s Top Picks for Your First Time Full-Bodied Cigar…

Nica Rustica by Drew Estate

Lots of folks tout that Drew Estate’s Nica Rustica is on the tippy top of the strength scale, but these smokes aren’t as formidable as you’d think (or they claim). Spicy – yes. Waiver required – no. Just enjoy the coffee sweetness and spice that the Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro and Nicaraguan fillers bring to the table!

C.L.E. Azabache

One of the most under appreciated cigars on the market right here. Thanks to a Mexican San Andres wrapper and a core of Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Peruvian tobaccos, C.L.E. Azabache is sweet, smooth, and peppery without burying the needle. And that’s exactly what you’re looking for your first time.

HVC Cerro Natural

What’s medium plus to me is likely full-bodied to you, so this Cerro Natural from HVC is a great stepping stone into the stronger stuff. The Corojo wrapper means it’s sweet and the Nicaraguan core means it’s spicy, but there’re lots of little notes like cedar, citrus, and even floral notes that will taste amazing and develop your palate! It even made our Top 25 Cigars list in 2018!

Onyx Esteli

Everyone knows the burliest of cigars come from Esteli, but Onyx Esteli by AJ Fernandez lets you dip your toes to see how you like the water. First, there’s a jet-black Mexican San Andres Maduro, then a heart of spicy Nicaraguan leaves that bring notes of dark cocoa, peanuts, and a dash of rich spices. Try it as a Friday nightcap.

Headley Grange by Crowned Heads

Crowned Heads loves to make intense smokes, but Headley Grange is one of a small handful of ballads they’ve deemed worthy enough of their name. The smoke’s Sumatran wrappers and Nicaraguan center give off flavors of cedar, cashews, caramel, and salty-sweet spices. Not too bold, nor too mellow. Just right.

Oliva Master Blends 3

Truthfully, this is a stronger smoke than I’d usually recommend for a first foray. But…it’s really good. Take it slow and steady like John talked about above, and you’ll be hooked. What’s more – this Nicaraguan puro’s got all the essentials: sweet spices, coffee, nuts, and wood. And it’ll be calling your name after dinner.

Tatuaje Reserva K222

Dark chocolate. Citrus. Nuts. Earth. Mouth watering yet? If not, check your pulse and then check out Tatuaje Reserva K222. A collab between cigar rockstars Pete Johnson and Don Pepin Garcia, the Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped blend packs just enough punch to take your taste buds on a ride…without giving you the sweats.

Macanudo Inspirado Orange

Inspirado Orange is my favorite stick on Macanudo’s resume. Why? Because it’s rich, buttery, and decadent. It gets that way by marrying Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan leaves from its core to a lush Honduran wrapper. I found notes of nuts, leather, and spices, and a peppery retrohale. I wonder if you’d find the same?

Maestro del Tiempo by Warped

Warped has built itself a sizeable fan base because – simply put – they put flavor over everything else. Imagine the smooth notes of cedar and cream you get from a Connecticut. Add some spice, an extra layer of sweetness, and now you’re in Maestro del Tiempo territory. This Corojo-wrapped treat is a regular in my humidor, and I’d argue it’d be an amazing first full-bodied for yours!

Kristoff Corojo Limitada

If there ever was a sleeper brand, Kristoff is it. This is another cigar that’s heavier than I’d usually recommend for getting your feet wet, but the Corojo Limitada is just so silky smooth that you probably won’t notice the strength. If you love sweet cigars with toasty flavors, pair this with your favorite bourbon to take the edge off of both!