|How to judge a cigar
Say, what's the deal with those cigar ratings you read in magazines like Cigar Aficionado, Smoke and others? How do their "judges" determine whether a cigar is a "70" or a "90?" As subjective as rating cigars may be, especially when it comes to taste, they all use pretty much the same criteria. Here are some guidelines to help you determine whether you would buy a box of a given cigar or whether it would be better used as fertilizer.
When judging cigars there are the primary categories to take into consideration:
Construction - Construction is always the most essential factor. The cigars appearance is an important indicator of care and craftsmanship. The cigar should look good and feel smooth when you roll in your fingers. How well is the cigar made? How does it feel to the touch? With a firm, but soft grip feel it from end to end. Does it feel consistent all the way through? Are there any hard or soft spots? A cigar that is too hard, too soft, or inconsistent will not draw properly.
If a cigar is under-filled, constructed by skimping on the number of leaves in the filler, it will draw easily. Now that's often considered a benefit, but the ultra-easy draw will be offset by hot burning and harshness, because, in an under-filled cigar, there are too many air pockets causing a fast burn, thus a hot smoke.
If a cigar is overfilled, it will be hard to draw, sometimes impossible (plugged). This is the cause of the greatest number of complaints by premium cigar smokers. A hard-to-draw cigar gives a much lower volume of smoke, thus much less taste and aroma, and a lot of frustration to the smoker.
Therefore, good construction is essential to achieving good taste and aroma. You can use the best, most expensive tobacco in the world, put together by the most creative and knowledgeable blenders, but if the cigar is not constructed properly, none of the intrinsic quality of that tobacco can be brought home to the smoker.
Degree of conditioning - All cigars should be conditioned prior to smoking. Conditioning takes from 10 months to several years. When obtaining cigars from a local tobacconist, the cigars are usually dry. Even though they may be in a humidified room. A dry cigar will bum rapidly, taste hot or harsh and not be able offer the smoker any idea of what that same cigar could offer, if properly conditioned.
Conditioning is performed by placing cigars in a humidor that is maintained between 68ºF - 75ºF, at a constant relative humidity (RH) of 70%-74%. 70% RH is the absolute lowest to keep cigars. 74% RH is the highest. Properly conditioned cigars will display an oily or silky wrapper. They will have an even feel throughout the entire body. There will be no hard places that restrict the draw.
Properly conditioning your cigars is an absolute MUST. Allow your cigars to deliver all their potential. A rich and rewarding smoking experience.
The Taste or flavor - This is directly related to the leaves employed that make the cigar, and the level or degree of conditioning the finished cigar receives. When properly conditioned, the leaves that make up the entire cigar will marry. Like fine wines, cigars must be conditioned prior to consumption. The "complexity" of a cigar would also be part of the Taste criteria. Some cigars have a rich, complex taste from start to finish; others build in complexity as they smoke.
The Effect - What effect does cigar have on the smoker? During the smoke, does the cigar build in taste, flavor, complexity and effect? Or does it simply give the same taste all the way through, and go nowhere? Does the cigar relax you? Or, after smoking, are you ready for another cigar? Some cigars offer a mild experience. While others present a dramatic effect of near physical debilitation.
The finish - "Finish" is another. This is determined by the flavors left on the palate after taking a puff. Lighter cigars tend to have very little finish, whereas maduros and cigars made with stronger-tasting fillers have a very distinct finish.
The ash - The ash should be relatively firm and get to an inch long without difficulty (except in small ring gauges). A falling ash is not necessarily a sign of a poorly constructed cigar, but, if your cigars develop a firm, even ash while you're smoking, it is an indication that they are well made. And if it happens consistently, your impression will be reinforced. Anyway, it's really annoying to find a cigar ash in your lap, and a consistently flaky, loose ash is a sign of a poorly constructed cigar.
The mouth feel - The cigar should have good mouth feel. While it is not recommended to chew the end, the cigar should feel firm and resilient in the mouth. If it does not, if the cigar is soft and mushy, that's another sign of poor construction. It won't feel good either, thus affecting your overall pleasure.
Tobacco quality - Tobacco is of great importance. When inferior quality filler is used, the cigar will produce a harsh, rough, musty taste with an unpleasant, penetrating aroma. To deliver a good taste and aroma, a producer must be able to ensure a constant supply of the same tobaccos that make up his distinctive blends from year to year. Not only must the tobacco be superior, it's imperative that it be properly processed. All the elements, filler, binder and wrapper-must complete the entire fermentation process before they are ready to be rolled. Whenever you smoke cigars from one box, see if you can determine any significant variation in taste and aroma. But remember, a cigar will taste different depending on when its smoked: morning or evening, after a meal, with coffee or cognac, indoor or outdoors.
The cigar appearance - The cigar should look good and feel good to the touch. It should have some life in it. This appearance does not mean the color itself so much, although it should not show too many blemishes, but the color of the cigars in the box should be consistent from one to the other. If they are not, then the manufacturer did not do his color selecting properly. What we see when we look at the cigars in a given box is the wrapper, and wrappers, even from the same crop, can vary over twenty or thirty shades of color. So a variance in color is not bad in itself. It's just that a manufacturer who pays attention to detail makes sure that in a given box all the color shades are the same. Also, the cigars should look and feel smooth when you roll them in your fingers. This is just another indication of good construction and reassurance of quality.
Can Quality Be Judged By Testing Only One Cigar?
Since consistency is an integral part of the quality of a cigar, reason dictates that you cannot judge the quality of any type by sampling only one cigar. But how many cigars should be tested? Statistically, the greater the number, the greater the accuracy. A true test would be like the skeet shooter example: 100 cigars, which would naturally take a period of time. However, to be practical, since cigars traditionally come in boxes of 25, it would seem that one box of 25 would enable one to adequately judge. Besides, acquiring 100 cigars of a given size could get too expensive and, if they do not smoke very well, rather frustrating.
Is the price of a cigar indicative of its quality or its consistency?
Regardless of the price, you still have to smoke those 25 cigars in order to determine consistency. High prices do not guarantee a good cigar. The highest priced cigars are still hand made products, subject to the same construction idiosyncrasies as their less expensive brethren.
Generally, the biggest element of cost in the make up of a fine cigar is the tobacco, assuming they're packed in the common type of box. Fancy packaging can add greatly to the overall cost. Individual aluminum or glass tubes, polished or beveled cedar or mahogany boxes, gift selections of 5 or 10 cigars, etc. are very expensive and significantly increase the price of the individual cigar.
So, we find prices varying greatly. Some cigars cost 8 or 10 times more than others of the same size and it's the smoker's dilemma to judge their relative worth. And we all know how the price of an object can affect our psyche and thus our attitude towards it. So, as far as how much you're prepared to pay for a cigar is concerned, practice a bit of caveat emptor and you'll be all right. Whatever you pay, you'll still have to go through the same analysis to determine just how good the cigars are.