Mild, Medium, or Bold: Which Cigar Strength to Choose?

The strength of a cigar is classified as mild, medium, or bold. This grouping has nothing to do with taste or flavor, but simply how much nicotine the cigar holds.

You’re inevitably making a choice between these three that will make the smoking experience enjoyable or sickening. The setting and mood can also dictate which expression pairs best with the moment, and unlike what some smokers will lead you to believe, smoking a mild doesn’t make you a “phoney” cigar smoker. So, how do you choose the right expression?

Chris Gwalteney
Chris Gwalteney

We enlisted the help of Senior Tobacconist Chris Gwaltney of The Humidor to learn everything we need to know about mild, medium, and bold cigars. Gwaltney travels the world to find the highest quality ingredients and cigars for the national online retailer, which has one of the most extensive humidor stocks, extending from the most popular brands to cigars from obscure farms in South America.

First things first: What’s it like smoking a mild, medium, and bold cigar?

The Experience

Gwaltney says “mild cigars are light and can be enjoyed early in the day or with a refreshing beverage and food. They’re also great starter cigars.”

Medium cigars are a notch above and should be only enjoyed by those who aren’t new to cigars. (Read that again and don’t let your ego get the best of you.)

Bold cigars, also known as “full-bodied” cigars, are above medium. Similarly, these should only be enjoyed by serious cigar smokers. No, having a bold cigar doesn’t automatically make you a badass. Gwaltney says “many longtime cigar smokers shy away from these power sticks. They are best when smoked after a meal and only by those who are prepared for its kick.”

Choosing a cigar based on strength level does not mean you’re a “fake” or “real” cigar smoker. Gwaltney says many smokers are wrong in believing “you aren’t a true connoisseur unless you smoke the strongest cigars.”

Ironically, it’s the medium or mild cigars that hold the most complexity. “Strong cigars tend to be single dimension smokes,” he adds.

cigar strength guide lighting a mark de jong unsplash

How can you tell the strength from the box? Trick question. There’s no way to tell the strength of a cigar from simply looking at it. “Yes, some of the stronger cigars are darker but being a maduro (dark cigar) doesn’t necessarily equate to strength,” Gwaltney says. “The only way to truly know is to ask the tobacconist. They will know either based on the manufacturer’s word or their knowledge of the tobaccos used in the cigars.”

To embody the spirit of each cigar, we asked Gwaltney to liken them to fictional guys we know and dig.

The mild cigar would be Napoleon Dynamite, says Gwaltney. “Though he talks a big game about his bow staff skills and killing wolverines, deep down he just a nice guy with smooth dance moves.”

The medium? James Bond. “He’s not a super-strong guy but does an excellent job of using his head, along with a great collection of gadgets, to get the job done,” Gwaltney says.

Bold? “Thanos is the embodiment of a full-bodied cigar. He is primarily concerned with only strength and destruction and has zero time for the weak.”

The Price

It’s not so much the expression as the types of tobacco used and how difficult it was to produce that determines the price. “The strength of the cigar has very little to do with the price,” Gwaltney says, adding that rare tobacco or difficult shape can up the cost the most.

Most cigar manufacturers try and make offerings that cover all three spectrums. Gwaltney says this broadens their appeal and allows them to reach more cigar smokers. That being said, “there are a few that are known for making bold cigars. Padrón is one manufacturer famous for making strong cigars.”

Pairings

Food and Drink

Does a preference for strong coffee mean you’ll enjoy a bold cigar? Does a soft spot for blanco tequila mean a mild is up your alley? Not really. Gwaltney suggests always starting by smoking mild flavors, then inching your way to stronger cigars. The more experienced you are, the more you’ll appreciate and enjoy a bold.

For mild and medium cigars, Gwaltney recommends pairing with a cheese or dessert course. As for bold, order the big, bad Tomahawk steak with grilled asparagus.

Occasions

If you’re trying to find the right expression to fit with poker night or the birth of your first child, revert to the cigar smoker instead. “If you are giving out cigars for the birth of a child, go mild. This is because many novice or non-smokers will get one and want to enjoy it. You don’t want to make them sick,” says Gwaltney. “If you are having a poker party or cigar bar at a wedding and don’t know what the group prefers, then get a mixture of cigars. Enough to accommodate every palate and experience level.”

Cigar Recommendations

Gwaltney took a gander through the humidor and found three perfect cigars that embody each expression:

  • Mild: Macanudo Café. “This series has long been the standard for beginner cigar smokers. They are mild in strength and produce a creamy, rich smoke that doesn’t linger long on the palate.”
  • Medium: Arturo Fuente Short Story. “With its Cameroon wrapper, it’s the perfect embodiment of a medium strength cigar.”
  • Bold: Padron 1964 Anniversary Series. “This is an excellent example of a cigar that packs a punch.”

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