Cigar Aficionado

Cigar Tastings

Jack Bettridge and I were chatting last week after we both wrapped up the taste test for the September/October issue of Cigar Aficionado. By the way, you guys are gonna love the cover subject….I’ll say no more.

We recalled how our taste tests used to be a lot more difficult. There were some issues back in the mid to late 90s where we tasted 140 cigars or more for each issue. The tasting format was different too. We would rate one size each issue, and try to find every example of that size in the marketplace. If nothing else, the cigar boom brought a lot of brands to the marketplace that we had never seen before, and for that matter, have not heard of since the end of the boom in late 1997. But our humidors were packed to overflowing and it was a struggle almost every issue just to get through the cigars, and not suffer serious palate burnout.

Today, of course, we divide things up a bit differently by doing six sizes each issue, and having 13 to 15 cigars in each category. Our tasting coordinator keeps track of each size in each brand, so that over the course of a year, we hope we taste everything in a given size in the market. But it also means that we only have 80 or so cigars each issue to test.

The thing that struck both of us about our most recent test was just how few bad cigars there are in the market today. True, there are a lot of middle-of-the-road cigars that don’t offer a lot in way to complexity, but you can’t describe them as bad cigars. They simply are well-balanced with decent tobacco and good construction.

Back in the old days, (I won’t call them the good old days), we used to come across cigars that didn’t even really taste like cigars. We know today that tobacco was in such short supply back in that period that some less scrupulous cigar makers were buying tobacco from anyone and anywhere, including plain old burley tobacco used in cigarette manufacturing. The results were often mind-numbing and palate destroying. I remember smoking cigars that would end up being the last one of the day because they were just so bad, my mouth couldn’t recover that day.

We have talked before about now being the Golden Age of Cigars, and that observation is still true. But we see the evidence every time we sit down to go through our cigars. I’m always amazed at the general quality of the better cigars that are being produced. The tobacco is flavorful, and the blends often create truly unique tastes. We hope you’re getting to try as many of these cigars as we do; don’t just stick to your favorites, because you may be missing something great.

"I agree, there are many good Cigars out there and everyone should be open to trying to smoke many, not just their go-to smokes. " —July 22, 2009 21:20 PM
"Gordon, I'm a "rookie" in the cigar world. And I would just like to know how it is that you can taste all those different flavors that accompany cigars. I would also like to learn how I can do it on myself.I fall in the range of just smoking my favorite cigars, until last week, I decided to try the numero uno cigar of 2008. Being a Montecristo fan I was amazed at how great this cigar tasted, and I just had to wonder how it is you get all those flavor. Thanks." —July 28, 2009 11:59 AM
"How much of the cigars do you smoke? Is it the whole cigar ( all 3 parts)? How many cigars a day on average? How many tasters?" —July 23, 2009 00:24 AM
"Bruce,We smoke at least one-inch of the cigar; that gets you into the heart of the cigar. Some people have criticized us for not smoking an entire cigar; I've even had cigarmakers tell me you have to smoke at least half of it before you get to the good part. I disagree. I can't think of another consumer product where the maker says, gee, suffer through the first half to get to the good part. Ninety-nine out of a 100 times, if a cigar has not gotten "running" after that first inch, it isn't going to change dramatically after that. If I get a really good cigar, sometimes I'll keep smoking it for awhile...but by that point, I've already determined my score.There are a total of six qualified tasters on our staff. In any given test now, we have three to four people giving scores. I would say most tasters average three to four cigars a day. For the record, (I'm anticipating the question), we smoke all the taste test cigars with their primary trademark band removed; it is replaced with a white numbered band and only the tasting coordinator has the key, and he receives our numbered scoring sheets and compiles the final list." —July 23, 2009 09:31 AM
"In your opinion what is the tell tale sign of well aged tobacco....physically and w/taste? Thank youMike BoomerCigar Buyer Duty Free Americas" —July 23, 2009 11:26 AM