So, about my cigar reviews themselves. I figure I’ll put a primer here too about how I’m planning to structure and organize my reviews and their accompanying photos. A lot of this stuff below might seem anal retentive to some, but it may also be something that someone else might want to know, to better compare how, and what, I’m tasting, to enable a better comparison to their own thoughts. Hey, if any of this, any of my reviews or this blog, if it helps anyone find a hidden-treasure of a cigar for them then it’s all worthwhile in my opinion.
My reviews are mostly structured around the benchmark that Cigar Aficionado generally introduced to the cigar community. Based initially on wine tasting structures, their review design revolves around dividing a cigar into “thirds”, and then assigning a point scale out of 100 to the overall end result after the cigar is smoked. While many people in the cigar world see lots of pros and cons to this (a 100-point scale, dividing a cigar into thirds, and CA’s reviews generally – who smokes only 1-inch of a cigar?!), the origins of their reviews and the structure really coincided with me initially getting into cigars in the late 90’s, so it’s just simply the structure I most base my “mental picture” of the cigar on.
With that in mind, I’m rolling with the following scoring, similar to theirs but with some personal tweaking:
- 95-100 points: “classic” cigar, stellar (stock up and go deep!)
- 90-94 points: outstanding, very good cigar (must buy)
- 80-89 points: good, above average (buy if you find quality boxes)
- 70-79 points: average or below (generally meh)
- Below 70 points: ¡no más por favor! (stay away from these)
Also, the score breakdown itself – that usually ends up being an item that people are curious about, about how the points themselves are awarded. Years back, I actually found a scanned picture of what appeared to be one of CA’s tasting sheets, and I re-typed it up to use myself. When I was first getting back into cigars in 2005 onwards, I found that using this sheet, in combination with a “cigar flavour wheel” really seemed to help me focus on what I was tasting, and better describe it.
Anyhow, it listed off how the score breakdown worked:
Appearance & Construction – 15 points:
Wrapper, cap, amount of tobacco in cigar, consistently rolled, etc.
Performance (Smoke & Burn) – 25 points:
Even or uneven burn, draw, ash, burns hot or cool, etc.
Flavour & Body – 25 points:
Are flavours easily identifiable and pronounced? What are they, and how well do they work together?
Overall Smoking Experience / Overall Impression – 35 points:
Value for experience? Flavour profile works for format? Enjoyable?
So, all the above on tasting reviews may generally be the same overall for you personally, but it’s how I structure my reviews. Start at 100 points, and then deduct for flaws in any of those categories. The only variance for me might be the “value for experience” aspect – I sometimes only assess a “value” rating to the cigar after its done being smoked and reviewed. I try my best to take the cost factor out of the cigar rating itself, and only make a determination on that afterwards.
Regarding my smoking set-up itself, I generally cut all my cigars with a double-guillotine-style cutter, usually one of my Xikar cutters. I rarely use a punch cutter, as I find it’s just not for me. However, some people do note that they can get different flavour experiences with the same cigar depending on if they use a guillotine or a punch, so keep that in mind with my reviews if you think that may differ from your own perceptions.
Similar to that, I almost exclusively use torch lighters now. I really prefer to smoke outside, so using a cedar spill or a soft flame just doesn’t work for my needs usually. I have everything from simple single-torches, right up to a ginormous triple-torch table lighter. I do sometimes get that “carbon”-like negatively-burnt-and-charred tobacco flavour on the first puff after lighting, but I find that goes away with a single purge of the cigar, or after a couple of millimetres into the cigar itself, and it’s usually not overpowering or highly negative. But it’s straight torches for me, with really good quality purified butane (I can’t STAND the smell and taste I can get from some low-quality fuels, or especially from soft-flame fuels such as Zippo fluid or from a cheap-wannabe Bic-type lighter usually).
And secondary from the tasting notes of the review itself, I’ll try my best to always add-in the various supplementary information. Stuff such as the ambient temperature (and I’m weird – usually Fahrenheit if it’s warm out / summertime / over 70, but then Celsius in the cooler / winter / sub-freezing temperatures), as well as the relative humidity, wind, general weather conditions, etc. And of course, as much as I’m able, box codes for the cigars themselves. It’s usually not recommended to hunt box codes (though I’m definitely prevalent to do so myself), but there always seems to be some stand out codes, so I definitely like to take note of the box codes in my reviews as well.
So again, a lot of this stuff may seem anal, but I hope it helps line up what I’m tasting to your own thoughts.
And as for my pictures with the reviews, I’ll do my best to post pictures of the cigar in the various stages as I’m smoking it. If I’ve got pictures listed with a review, they’re pictures from that actual cigar smoked. Sometimes, the smoking conditions or location (like in the hot tub) doesn’t present itself to being able to take good, or many, pictures. So be it. Pictures will either be taken with my iPhone 5S / iPad Air, or as much as I’m able to, with a Canon 60D digital-SLR, with a Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS and USM lens. Mostly, I’ll be taking the pictures on the pre-set foliage / still-life macro setting, and with no touch-ups or photo tricks, and with a Hoya Skylight (1B) 72mm filter (UV clean-up with that filter only, no filter or coloration tricks).
Pricing listed for the reviewed cigars is in US dollars generally, or Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) where stated, and are listed as the cost-per-cigar that I paid for the actual item when it was purchased, and the year and location purchased from (ie – online vendor, LCDH store in Canada, Cuba, etc.)
And lastly, as I’ve said before, these reviews are my palate, my perceptions, my experiences. Take it all with a grain of salt, and don’t take it all too seriously, or don’t perceive that my thoughts on the cigar should overly sway anyone one way or another. My reviews are but a guide – if it helps you in your own tastings / reviews, great. Its Cuban cigars after all – make your own experiences, and enjoy the ride!
[September 23, 2014]