It's usually around the holidays that I get a lot of questions about what I do as tasting coordinator, and what we do here at Cigar Aficionado when we rate cigars. This week you're seeing the final results of that as we reveal the entire Top 25 list for 2013. But to get to those 25, there's a long, ash-laden road that the editors take every year.
In the last 12 months, Cigar Aficionado editors have puffed their way through more than 700 cigars for the ratings in the magazine and in Cigar Insider. On top of that, there was the special tasting of Top 25 cigars that began with a round of 45, then a second round of 13 finalists.
Here's how it works in brief: I get the cigars that will go into each taste test, and I personally remove the bands from every cigar that goes out for tasting. (I keep the bands for reference, in a half dozen sturdy, gallon-sized Ziploc bags throughout the year, eventually leading to a large, colorful and gilded pile of what our art department calls cigar confetti.) I pass out the cigars to each of the panelists. Most folks would welcome a personal cigar sommelier/courier in every day, but a couple of the panelists cringe when they see me coming.
The tasters receive unknown cigars banded with a white label marked with only a number. I hold the code, and I'm not one of the tasters. They rate the cigars, return their scores and notes to me, and from that information a final score is determined and a tasting note is written.
It's a considerable number of cigars. Looked at by ring gauges, laid side by side, they'd reach out over 120 feet—about the distance between home plate and second base on a major league baseball field. I mentioned that next year we should try for the outfield and was nearly fired.
Just to round out the "wow" factor: with an average ring gauge of 51, the cigars would cover 35,000 square feet. That's more than seven basketball courts of hand-rolled cigars. If they were lit with Gordon Mott's three match technique it would take 32 pounds of matches.
What always impresses me is that the number doesn't include the dozens of early release blends, tradeshow samples and recreational smokes each of these guys enjoys. They spend most of their days taking hard looks at new and old cigar blends, giving each one a fresh look and a clean palate.
And at the end of the day most of them pack up, head home, and light something up just for the enjoyment, like the rest of us. I don't have any control over what they smoke at home, since all the tasting is done in our offices. I think they like it better that way.