At the top of the tobacco plant you’ll find a section of leaves known as Ligero (pronounced Lee-Hare-Oh).

Ligero leaves are thick, coarse leaves that receive the most exposure to the sun, and are the richest and fullest in body. They are known to add notes of pepper and spice to a cigar, as well as added complexity.

They also exhibit the highest amount of nicotine, and as a result are traditionally added in relatively small quantities to the filler blend to provide strength.

They do not combust as well as other primings.

Surprisingly, the word Ligero means “light” in Spanish.

Go figure. 

For well over a decade, the cigar industry has been witnessing a rise in cigars that are being increasingly rolled with higher than normal amounts of Ligero, in an attempt to dramatically increase strength and provide the smoker with – for lack of a better term – a serious kick in the ass.

The Man-O-War Ruination is made with 100% Ligero filler

While the practice of adding extra Ligero to a cigar’s blend is not necessarily the wrong thing to do, adding too much does run the risk of throwing off a cigar’s balance and making it potentially too strong for certain enthusiasts. This can lead to an undesirable smoking experience.

Like any well made cocktail, balance is achieved when the sensory elements present are in relatively equal or balanced proportions.

Of course, a little extra strength here and there isn’t necessarily a bad thing either…

So how much strength in a cigar is too much?

Body vs Strength

First, a clear distinction must be made between body and strength; two elements that are frequently mistaken for one another.

Body refers to the depth of flavor and how thick or dense its smoke is on the palate. In terms of body, cigars are generally classified as either mild, mild plus, medium, medium plus, full, or full plus.

Though strength is designated using the same classifications, it simply refers to the level of a cigar’s nicotine content. Full bodied cigars are often also strong – but not exclusively so.

For me, a full bodied cigar that is medium plus in strength really hits the sweet spot.

But hey, that’s just me.

A Proliferation Of Strong Cigars

Though choosing flavor as a starting point in which to build a good cigar is traditionally the best strategy, a growing number of cigar makers are opting to choose strength as their raison d’être for creating a certain cigar.

This can be a slippery slope.

While cigars that are constructed with higher than normal amounts of Ligero do have the ability to create a very robust and complex smoking experience, they also pack quite a punch in the nicotine department – which can be a very fine line to tow between resulting in either an enjoyable experience – or an unsavory one.

For the novice or unprepared smoker, an overly strong cigar can potentially provide a wallop of nicotine that can lead to a form of nausea that produces a sensation akin to sea sickness.

Nicotine nausea is no fun.

The likelihood of nicotine nausea from a strong cigar can be drastically reduced by employing the following strategies:

  • Not smoking on an empty stomach
  • Being well hydrated
  • Using a straight cut instead of a punch cut
  • Smoking a smaller sized cigar or stopping before the bottom 1/3rd
  • Reducing the frequency of cigar puffs.

Personally, I like to aim for a puff every minute to a minute and a half when smoking a strong cigar.

Of course, personal tolerance will vary from smoker to smoker. This means that what may be too strong for one, may be perfectly fine for another, and as with anything, there’s always a variety of possible factors at play.

In the event of the onset of nicotine nausea, a having either a teaspoon of sugar, some candy, or a high sugar liquid can effectively quell the uneasy sensation after a few minutes.

“Though all 6 requirements must be given proper consideration, ultimately having a cigar taste good is paramount and should be the main impetus for creating a new cigar”.

A Balancing Act

According to former cigar blender and industry legend José Blanco, to arrive at an ideal blend, there are essentially 6 requirements that must be given proper consideration. They are as follows:

  • Flavor 
  • Strength
  • Aroma
  • Balance
  • Complexity
  • Finish

Notice that flavor sits on top of the heap, and that’s no coincidence.

Despite producing strong cigars at times, cigar makers who prioritize flavor profile first and foremost are most likely to create the most well received cigars. Though all 6 requirements must be given proper consideration, ultimately having a cigar taste good is paramount and should be the main impetus for creating a new cigar.

Among the many excellent strong cigars with full body to be found today are My Father le Bijou 1922, La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero, Oliva Melanio Maduro, Joya de Nicaragua Dark Corojo, Punch Gran Puro and more.

The aforementioned are all critically acclaimed cigars that can provide the complexity and strength that an experienced cigar smoker may be looking for, while also providing a satisfying flavor, aroma, and finish as to boot.

Le Bijou is a rich, full-bodied treat. Featuring a Habano Oscuro wrapper and a healthy mix of Nicaraguan long-fillers, Le Bijou 1922 exudes a robust array of flavors delivered in a remarkably smooth fashion. Complex, unique and satisfying.

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The process of making a good cigar is quite a balancing act.

Today, stronger cigars are more widely available than ever before. Similar to coffee, providing a good ‘kick’ certainly has its time and place, but should not come at the expense of flavor and your overall experience.

Be wary of cigars that have ‘strength’ marketed as their primary selling feature. Generally, these cigars don’t stand the test of time.

When approaching a strong cigar, make sure you’ve done your homework so that you can enjoy the ride that a strong cigar delivers to the fullest.