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Five Steps to Blind Tasting a Cigar

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For cigar aficionados at the dawn of the 21st century, it’s difficult to find anything but greatness in the increasing availability of quality, handmade cigars throughout the world. Where once there was a small, Cuban-centric industry controlled by an elusive elite, there is now a blossoming global trade that is supporting the addition of fresh new players eager to highlight not only the high art of handmade cigars, but also the technology that is making them more affordable than ever. However, the websites, magazines and general media that are helping to rate cigars and keep quality in check are inadvertently producing a downside: how can cigar hobbyists objectively find the cigars that suit their tastes when price, ratings and brand-reputation weigh in to taint their opinion before the first draw is even taken? The solution lies in mastering the art of the blind tasting. By following the five easy steps outlined here, cigar hobbyists, store owners and even professional tasters can be sure that they are influenced only by the inherent quality of the cigar they are smoking at any given moment.

1. Preparation

Naturally, a blind tasting relies on the taster not knowing which cigar he or she is sampling. Give a friend or family member a sampling of five to ten of the cigars you are eager to sample. Have them replace the labels on the cigar with a piece of paper marked only with a number. Have your accomplice match the number to the name of the cigar and keep the list out of your site until the tasting is finished.

For each cigar, prepare an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper divided into four sections. At the top of the sheet, place the number of the cigar you are sampling. Place headings at each of the four sections labeled Aesthetics, Construction, Flavor and Strength, and General Comments, respectively. These will be the four elements you score the cigar on.

2. Aesthetics

As is the case when enjoying food or wine, the aesthetic of the item you are sampling is half of the appeal and half of the fun. For cigars, this largely pertains to the wrapper and the overall facade. Look for veins in the wrapper leaf. Is the wrapper smooth, dry and brittle, dark, light, silky, gritty, oily, or coarse? Make observations on whatever comes to your mind. Remember: the idea is to capture your initial impression. At heart, did you like the look and feel of the cigar? Was it attractive to you? Or was it beat-up, brittle and worn-out? Rate your impression of the aesthetics on a scale of one to ten, pretending that you were judging an Olympic event. Don’t be shy about withholding or offering decimal points for minor details.

3. Construction

As you prepare to light the cigar, roll it between your fingers. Does it have soft spots? What is the weight like? Does it feel dense or light? Take in the aroma before you light it. Is it pleasing? As you light the cigar, pay particular attention to the draw. Does the smoke pull through on its own? Does the cigar appear to burn evenly with little effort? Take a look at the ash. Note the color and the texture. Use adjectives like flaky, solid, and messy. Take notes on all of these characteristics both before and after you light the cigar. Rate your ultimate impression on a scale of one to ten.

4. Flavor and Strength

One of the easiest observations for a blind taster to make is whether the cigar is full-bodied or mild. Look for undertones that seem musty, sweet, harsh, floral, robust, green, or salty. Write them down along with if they were pleasing or not. As the cigar is smoked, does the flavor increase or decrease? Did it steer towards more complex flavors or end in bitterness? As with wine, the after-taste is key: the sensation that remains in your mouth after each puff is an important reflection of quality. Spend a few moments thinking about how the after-taste makes you feel. Are you eager to take another puff to get rid of it, or is it something that you want to linger? Take notes on the overall aroma of the cigar as you smoke it. Use adjectives like grassy, harsh, woodsy, overpowering, unpleasant, and floral. Rate your observations on a scale of one to ten.

5. General Comments

This element is important for context. Some cigars are repulsive early in the day but absolute perfection in the evening after a meal. If the cigar you are sampling seems like it has potential but doesn’t create synergy with the mood you are in at that moment, have your accomplice set another one aside for tasting at a different time. Cigars can reflect on seasons, times of day, and moods just like anything else. Use this category to make notes on what mood would fit the cigar and whether it’s something you would like to enjoy often or rarely. Feel free to use this area to make overall observations such as, “All in all it was boring,” or, “This cigar changed my life and it will yours too.” Rate this category on a scale of one to ten.



Average your four scores at the end of your sheet and record the ultimate rating. If you are feeling particularly motivated, you can create an excel spreadsheet that organizes your ratings so you can observe not only the highest average rating for all of the cigars you have tasted, but the highest rating for each individual category. In this way, you will free yourself from the confines of a mass cigar media that encourages biasing and pushes the idea that you should like this. Cigars, like art, wine, or food, are all about individual personality. One cigar’s demeanor may or may not jive with your own, and that, after all, is the most important information you need to have.

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About Matthew Rosen

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Very nice post. I don’t really know much about cigars, but my father used to still keep some around and kind of chew on them after he had to stop smoking for health reasons. He liked the taste, I guess, even without the smoke.

    My brother smokes cigars ocassionally. He just bought his first house: can you recommend a couple of cigars I can buy him as a congratulations gift?

    As for this line, “This cigar changed my life and it will yours too,” I was thinking it might make a good title for a Monica Lewinsky autobiography!

  • http://www.whatsknottolove.com Matthew Rosen

    LOL-

    Congratulations to your brother on his first house. That’s an exciting thing.

    I will point you towards the Ashton Heritage Puro Del Sol, which is a great medium bodied smoke and will make a great gift.

    For the second item, the thing about cigars is that once you smoke them they’re gone. For a house warming gift, you might want to look at these Bram Warren Ashtrays. They are some of the most original ashtrays out there and available online only through my store. My customers love them!

    Congratulations again!

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Excellent, thanks Matthew!

  • Eric Olsen

    hey Matthew, don’t say it often enough because I am pretty deathly allergic to tobacco smoke and it only seems to get worse over time, but I think you do a great job with the subject and appreciate it!

  • http://www.whatsknottolove.com Matthew Rosen

    Thanks Eric, I appreciate that!

  • Eric Olsen

    there’s always much more to a subject than the outsider knows!

  • BRICKLAYER

    1. Spend stupid amount of money on known carninogen
    2. Smoke it
    3. Get stomach, throat or lung cancer
    4. Spend stupid amount of money on health care
    5. Die painfully

  • BRICKLAYER

    Oops, i meant “carcinogen”. Carninogens are rare exotic flowers that are harvested for their aphrodesiac qualities. I grow and sell them if anyone is interested.

  • http://www.whatsknottolove.com Matthew Rosen

    You forgot Drink Beer and Drive Fast between numbers 2 and 3.

  • http://www.iamrighturpie.blogspot.com/ jadester

    One suggestion: I think maybe, if you made the link to the online store selling the very item you’re writing about plainly obvious, instead of sticking it in amongst the actual article, it wouldn’t seem so…suspect.
    Apart from that, nice work. Reminds me of the absurdity of the situation here in england (well, in the US too, but i don’t like directly commenting on life in a country I’ve never even visited) with tobacco, alcohol, and the illegal drugs.

  • Eric Olsen

    do cigar smokers inhale? This is a serious question.

  • http://www.whatsknottolove.com Matthew Rosen

    Good question – cigar smokers do not inhale. As a result, those curious about the carcinogenic effects of cigar smoking could reference the surgeon general’s report on tobacco that determined cigar smokers who smoke five cigars a day or less have the exact same cancer risk as a non-smoker.

    But I think our friend BrickLayer is more interested in jumping on the anti-cigarette band wagon and tirading against tobacco in general. For the most part, cigar smokers consider themselves a different breed from cigarette smokers who are incurring serious health risks. Cigars are an art form after all, and a way for hobbyists to connect more with the pleasures of life on a cultural and sensory level. Whether you are a cigar smoker or not, you can appreciate the value of taking a moment or two every day to appreciate this life while you’ve got it!

  • Eric Olsen

    that’s what I thought – five a day sounds like a huge number

  • http://www.iamrighturpie.blogspot.com/ jadester

    i thought i recalled reading something about cigars not being as unhealthy as cigarettes, thanks for clearing that up!
    probably also explains the stories of some friends’ early attempts at smoking cigars ending pretty quickly with throwing up. I’m pretty sure they did actually inhale those times.

  • http://www.whatsknottolove.com Matthew Rosen

    That’ll do it! ;)

  • http://www.cigarjack.net Cigar Jack

    Great article. I’v found some great cigars that I normally would never have tried by doing a couple blind tastings with a group of friends. I long ago gave up on goign to the cigar mags for their reviews. I think the “Hint of CheeseBurger” they tasted in one cigar was the last straw.

  • JR

    Cigar smokers should only indulge in their their “art” in sealed rooms, ’cause that shit stinks big time.

  • Eric Olsen

    perhaps just chomping on them is the best approach

  • http://www.whatsknottolove.com Matthew Rosen

    That’s how the smoking room was conceived in the first place! And yes, chewing on cigars is a solution some people have found to keep the people they live with sane.

  • BRICKLAYER

    Hey! I’m not your friend, and everyone knows the sugeon general is in the tobacco lobby’s back pocket.

    From the National Cancer Center:

    What are the health risks associated with cigar smoking?
    Scientific evidence has shown that cancers of the oral cavity (lip, tongue, mouth, and throat), larynx, lung, and esophagus are associated with cigar smoking. Furthermore, evidence strongly suggests a link between cigar smoking and cancer of the pancreas. In addition, daily cigar smokers, particularly those who inhale, are at increased risk for developing heart and lung disease.

    Like cigarette smoking, the risks from cigar smoking increase with increased exposure. For example, compared with someone who has never smoked, smoking only one to two cigars per day doubles the risk for oral and esophageal cancers. Smoking three to four cigars daily can increase the risk of oral cancers to more than eight times the risk for a nonsmoker, while the chance of esophageal cancer is increased to four times the risk for someone who has never smoked. Both cigar and cigarette smokers have similar levels of risk for oral, throat, and esophageal cancers.

    The health risks associated with occasional cigar smoking (less than daily) are not known. About three-quarters of cigar smokers are occasional smokers.

    One good thing though, like cigarette smokers, heavy boozers, and drug fiends, this practice does help thin out the gene pool.

  • HW Saxton

    Cigars are an art form? Strange concept.

  • http://www.savoreachglass.com Tynan Szvetecz

    Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2000, Vol. 36, No. 6, pp. 1781-1788; Life Sciences, 2000, Vol. 66, No. 23, pp. 2267-2275; Archives of Internal Medicine, 2000, Vol. 160, No. 21, pp. 3258-3262:

    In the first study of healthy, middle-aged men and women, anger and hostility were positively associated with higher blood homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is linked to your risk of coronary vascular disease. While this study does not show that hostility causes high homocysteine levels, it does reveal that for whatever reason, individuals with high degrees of hostility and anger also show high levels of artery-damaging homocysteine.

    In the second study, proneness to anger was associated with significant risk of morbidity and death from coronary heart disease independent of biological risk factors.

    And in the third report, anger-prone patients who already had coronary heart disease suffered far more rapid progression of their disease compared to more even-tempered individuals.

    So it looks BrickLayer has his own problems to worry about. Maybe you should spend more time enjoying life with your family instead of getting yourself all worked up over other people’s hobbies.

  • BRICKLAYER

    Okay, whatever you say, you tobacco industry lackey! Oh, and another thing, EVERYONE knows the study you cited has been refuted by, and debunked by the learned Kerry King, in his extensive 2500 page tome “How hating cigar smokers can ge good for your health!”

    Put that in your rotting mouth and smoke it!

  • Galen

    BRICKLAYER, can you prove that the “…rare exotic flowers that are harvested for their aphrodesiac qualities…” you sell will not cause some form of cancer?

    I will sue you if they do! :D