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Expert Tip: Key to Tasting

​​​​​​​There is a myth I’d like to debunk this year: bigger ring gauge cigars are more cigar for the money. Taken literally, they are heavier and contain more tobacco for the money, but is it the tobacco you need to create the best flavor? We’re very lucky at CIGAR.com to conduct vertical tastings (evaluating every size in one line) in the name of research. We all tend to agree that most blends burn and taste best in ring gauges under 50. Here’s the kicker, most of the items we stock in smaller ring gauges don’t sell worth a lick. You’re reading that right, what we consider some of the best cigars in the business are terrible sellers.

A lot of times we get fooled into adopting the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy, whether it’s buying a home, an SUV, the 24 ounce lobster tail, or cigars. We erroneously assume that size equates to value, but in the case of cigars can be misguided. When we break down value as it relates to the components of a cigar, the most costly, and flavorful, ingredient in a premium blend is the wrapper. With a smaller ring gauge cigar there is a greater wrapper to filler ratio, thus providing you with more of a taste of the wrapper and its interplay with the filler tobaccos. I remember my first box of cigars being exciting and unnerving all at the same time. It was a box of 5 Vegas Classic Torpedos, and at that point in my life, the most I had ever spent on a box of tobacco leaves. The grizzled vet in the shop told me “get something mellow,” but I asked him for something a step up in strength. After all, I had 3 cigars in my life up to this point, what did he know! The product was beautiful and exciting, but the thought of figuring out which end to light was unnerving. After a few uneven burns and unraveled cigars (all my doing looking back) I had the cigar process down, and was chomping at the bit to try the other thousand or so cigars that I left behind on that first visit to the cigar shop.

This is when things got expensive. If you’re nodding your head, sorry for the reminder! My next visit sounded like this, “let me get two Ashton VSGs, one of those Oliva Serie ‘O’ Robustos, a Cohiba, all your Camachos, whatever you’re having, and another box of 5 Vegas.” That will be two hundred and something dollars, sir. I was off to the races, big, bold cigars, as many as I could try. Some tasted great and others not so much. I didn’t keep track of anything, it was only a mental note on the quest to find the best cigar so I could buy twenty boxes and never shop around again. What I learned along the way was how to taste cigars and relish the journey, a craft that I am still working on thousands of blends later.

Tasting cigars is like eating all your meals blindfolded. In the beginning, it’s “this is good” and “this is bad.” Because there is usually no specifics of what’s inside the cigar, you’re forced to tally up the results based on the band and the wrapper appearance alone. It takes patience and practice to discern the components when you can’t see the tobacco. Even so, most tobacco looks the same to the untrained eye. The key to being a knowledgeable cigar enthusiast is to figure out what you are tasting, and know what a good cigar is for you. There are plenty of $4 cigars that are much better for me than a $25 cigar. That is why this information is valuable, it’s not to impress (read: annoy) your buddies with “notes of raisin, and a long coffee finish.” This lesson is to save you time and money on lackluster cigars. After all, life is too short to waste time on cigars you don’t like.

When enjoying cigars, taste and smell go hand-in-hand. With your mouth, you can pick up 5 flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory. Your nose can pick up thousands. If you’re not doing it already, enhance your cigar experience by cycling the smoke through your nose, as known as a retrohale. It’s simple, save about 20% of your draw and slowly release through your nose. The next step is to evaluate what you are perceiving in more detail than “good” and “bad.” The Four Pillars of Tasting are balance, flavor, body, and finish. When those four components are working in harmony, it leads to your “aha moment” when you fall in love with a cigar. The most important piece of this moment is the identification of flavor. If you know you like tobacco grown in Jalapa because its flavor is sweet, rich, and smooth, it makes new blends with that component much less of a gamble. After all, you wouldn’t order pizza if you detested tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.

Hopefully I’ve whet your appetite for more information on tasting cigars. Even though I enjoyed that 5 Vegas Torpedo the first time around, I like it a whole lot more after battle-testing my palate, and training my senses to pick up on flavor. Once mastering flavor, you may want to go back and try every single cigar a second time, I sure did. In selecting cigars, your process will transform from “I only like certain strength cigars” to “I like this flavor, and I’ll choose the strength based on what I’m in the mood for at the moment.” It’s the whole reason to have a diverse collection of cigars to choose from. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to tell you how to enjoy the cigar(s) you love. But if you’re looking to expand your horizons and figure out what you are tasting, hopefully this article will have you well on the way.