After reading Russ’s article about doing a cigar tasting, I reflected on my own methods for review. I would consider myself relatively ritualistic in regards to my process. I try to be alone whenever I can, which is not always possible. I feel as though it will yield the most accurate results for a few reasons. Now, I am talking about a straight review for publish, not a casual tasting and pairing. I like to be alone because there is nothing to taint my results. If you smoke with someone else, unless they are smoking the same thing you are, the aroma of their smoke will throw off your findings. Also when other people are in the room, you will wind up paying attention to their conversations and become distracted. Next thing you know, half a cigar is missing and your notes are blank. What the hell just happened?
I treat the experience very scientifically because I feel responsible for the words I write. If what I write is going to influence your purchase, I want to be as accurate and thorough as possible. If I feel I cannot provide that level of accuracy, I have been known to scrap the whole review. I also prefer, whenever possible, to do the review indoors. If I cannot I will include that information up-front, because the findings will not be as true to form as they could be if I were inside. In my opinion, and I have been able to confirm this via a simple experiment, smoking outside will make the cigar seem a bit less potent than the same cigar smoked inside. Try it for yourself (if you can). Start smoking a cigar outside, making sure to make a firm mental note of the strength and flavor. Now (while still lit) take that cigar inside and notice the same things. Did you notice a jump in the body and flavors? That is because the smoke is more concentrated and will linger close to you longer. It also holds firm my thoughts on why I prefer to smoke alone while reviewing a cigar or trying one for the first time if I can. Just as the atmosphere (not ambiance) can affect the taste, so can the smoke from another cigar. (Ambiance will affect the cigar too, but that is a topic for another article)
Smoke before eating lunch as opposed to after dinner. Why? Again, I am talking about my methods here, plus I work in a place that affords me the opportunity to do something like smoke inside during the afternoon. I do this to get a more genuine feel for the taste. If I have recently eaten, I will have “ghosts” of what I just ate as part of the review. I also heard once somewhere that your taste buds are most acute just before lunchtime. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but I like to use it anyway. I think it makes sense though, if your body is waiting for food, your senses are livelier. This theory has come back to bite me on a few reviews though. It is a known thing that people will save a strong cigar for an “after dinner smoke“. There is a great reason for that. When you are smoking something strong, it is strong because there is a lot of nicotine in it. If you consume a good dose on an empty stomach, you will begin to feel it quickly as it will cause a decrease in your blood sugar. To combat that, people have suggested (and it works) eating a piece of chocolate during the cigar. If you have never experienced a nic hit like that, it is similar to drinking too much. You start to feel light-headed and nauseous, a lot of times you don’t realize it until it is too late. You go to get out of your chair and BAM you’ve been hit. As you can imagine, if you are trying to be pure about tasting flavors so you don’t eat first, this can become a problem quick. I have definitely sweated (literally) my way through a few reviews in the past.
Beverages: I am a big fan of pairing drinking (of all sorts) with just about every activity. Not just adult beverages either, but when it comes to a cigar review, I will go exclusively with water. I will agree that a great pairing will enhance a great cigar and vice versa. A bad pairing is a quick way to ruin a good cigar too, but for the most genuine results, I choose water every time.
The most important thing to do is write down everything. I tell all of my customers that are just starting off to write down as much as they can about their cigar. The reason is, life is full of distractions and it is hard to recall specifics when put on the spot sometimes. It can be as simple as keeping the band and writing a few words on the back and putting it in your wallet for future reference.
I was asked once by some fellow lounge lizards how I can detect the tastes I write about in my reviews. I told them my method is the same as when I cook at home. Taste and smell as much as you can, but know what you are sampling. What I mean by that is, go to your spice rack at home and open something up. Read the label and take a whiff. Think about it, chew it (not literally), but take the smell into your mouth and nose and exhale slowly while making a chewing motion with your mouth. Slowly exhale through your nose and concentrate on the flavor. This will give you an idea of what you perceive that flavor to be. Now read the label again and try to keep the association in your memory. I like to test myself sometimes by going into a candle store and taking a deep whiff before reading the label to see if I can “predict’ the aroma they were going for before reading the answer. Essentially, this will increase your nose’s vocabulary when it comes to detecting flavors and aromas. This can be a detriment as well. You might not know what it is you are smelling or tasting and form a false relationship if you think it is something it is not.
After I am done with the smoke, I give myself a few minutes to reflect on the cigar and read through what I have just written. It also provides me the opportunity to “re-smoke” the cigar and see if I agree, as well as comment on any lingering tastes that may be present (finish).
What have been some of your experiences with the review process?
What are your methods? Perhaps I may be able to incorporate them into mine for a more thorough experience.