Since consistency is an integral part of the quality of a cigar, reason dictates that you cannot judge the quality of any type by sampling only one. So how many cigars should be tested? Statistically, the greater the number, the greater the accuracy, so sampling at least a box of 25 would be ideal. Make sure to have at least a few of the same stick before passing your final judgment on any cigar.
How It’s Made
What makes construction so important?
If a cigar is under-filled, constructed by skimping on the number of leaves in the filler, it will draw easily. Now that’s often considered a benefit, but the ultra-easy draw will be offset by hot burning and harshness, because in an under-filled cigar, there are too many air pockets, causing a fast burn and thus a hot smoke.
If a cigar is overfilled, it will be hard to draw, sometimes impossible (plugged). This is the cause of the greatest number of complaints by premium cigar smokers. A hard-to-draw cigar gives a much lower volume of smoke, thus much less taste and aroma, and a lot of frustration to the smoker. If you run across a plugged cigar, you can attempt to fix it by gently rolling the body of the cigar back and forth between your fingers. Go up and down the whole cigar and sometimes this will loosen up the filler enough to unplug it.
Quality in construction should be there time after time, if you are smoking a “good” cigar and is essential to achieving good taste and aroma. You can use the best, most expensive tobacco in the world, put together by the most creative and knowledgeable blenders, but if the cigar is not constructed properly, none of the intrinsic quality of that tobacco can be brought home to the smoker.
What other characteristics of construction should be considered?
While taste and aroma are the most important attributes of the consistently well-constructed cigar, there are others as well. Some of these have to do with aesthetics. All are other indicators of how well a cigar is made.
Assuming the cigar is properly lit, it should burn evenly all the way down. A terribly uneven burning cigar is a sign of one that has been poorly rolled.
The ash should be relatively firm and get to an inch long without difficulty (except in small ring gauges) and hold tight to the cigar. A falling ash is not necessarily a sign of a poorly constructed cigar, but it can be annoying to find cigar ash in your lap.
A cigar should have good mouth feel. While it is not recommended to chew the end, the cigar should feel firm and resilient in the mouth. If the cigar is soft and mushy, it’s another sign of poor construction.
Cigars should feel good and look good. A good cigar looks and feels smooth and the wrapper should not have many blemishes. The cap and band should be applied neatly. The color of the cigars in the box should be consistent from one to the other. A manufacturer who pays attention to detail makes sure that all the color shades are the same in a given box.
How do the aesthetics reflect quality?
While draw and burn are the most important factors affected by construction, the aesthetics of that construction can provide early warning signs regarding the quality, taste and aroma of a particular cigar. After all, if a company places little importance on aesthetics, then it’s reasonable to expect that it doesn’t place any importance on quality.
How important is the tobacco?
The tobacco is equally as important as the overall construction of a good cigar and both must remain consistent cigar after cigar.
Not only must the tobacco be of consistently high quality, it must also be correctly processed. To maintain consistency in taste and aroma, we must maintain a consistent supply of the same types of tobaccos that go into the blends. Since crop years vary as to the availability of the various types of tobaccos yielded, it is important that we are able to keep a sufficiently large stock of a particular leaf in order to protect against short supply due to drought, heavy rains, too much or too little sunshine, political upheaval in tobacco growing regions of the world, etc. This requires sufficient financial resources, if high quality and consistency are to be maintained. The alternative is to buy leaf hand-to-mouth from whatever becomes available, thus rendering it impossible to keep blends consistent, and possibly subjecting the cigar to inferior leaf.
Unless a manufacturer has the resources to lay in supplies of high quality tobaccos, taste and aroma will vary from year to year, even sometimes from month to month. And, if inferior quality is used, the cigars will produce a harsh, rough, musty taste with an unpleasant, penetrating aroma, the kind wives tend to become so vociferous about.
But financial resources are not enough. A manufacturer must also possess the expertise to know good tobacco from bad when he sees it. This comes only from experience. The best tobacco men today have been in the business for decades and travel the world buying leaf stock for their companies.
What does fermentation do to tobacco?
It’s imperative that the wrapper, binder and filler are properly processed before rolling a cigar. After the cigar is made, fermentation ceases.
Tobacco fermentation means laying the leaves into huge “bulks”, the centers of which develop heat. Theheat in the center of a bulk should not be allowed to exceed about 115-130° Fahrenheit, depending on the type of tobacco, otherwise it will be ruined or “burned out.” When it gets up to that temperature, and it will do so in its own time depending on the leaf and its condition, the bulk gets turned inside out and the heat build up (fermentation) begins again. When the heat levels off, the fermentation is complete. This could occur after four turns or eight turns, referred to as “sweats”. Over-fermentation will ruin the leaf, cause it to become “spent” and lose its flavor and aroma.
During “sweating”, the fermentation process causes the emission of nitrogen compounds and other chemical compounds and somewhat reduces the nicotine content. After fermentation, further aging in bales helps to settle the leaf and enhances flavor and burning quality. Manufacturers who can’t afford to wait or who just don’t care to wait until this process is completed, produce inferior cigars.
If when you smoke your box of 25 cigars and find the following telltale signs, chances are the leaf has not been fully fermented or aged:
Harshness or bitterness on the tongue, lips and in the mouth. A feeling something like heartburn in the chest cavity. The cigar keeps going out easily. If this happens with a few cigars in your box, the manufacturer is not consistent in the use of his tobaccos. If this happens with a majority of them, he is not making the investment in fully-aged leaf and is using the tobacco before it’s ready.
One last point is once the cigar is made, it is impossible to ferment the tobacco further. How would it be possible it get the temperature up to 115° Fahrenheit (45+° Celsius.) in order to do the job? Some cigar people say properly stored cigars will “mature” and become mellower. Maybe, but, if unfermented or “raw” tobacco has been used, no amount of aging or maturing in the box will cure it.
Time & Place
Is when and where a cigar is smoked important?
Whenever you smoke cigars from a certain box, see if you can determine any significant variance in taste and aroma. If you can, improper fermentation may be the cause. But be careful. A cigar will taste different depending on when and where it’s smoked: morning or evening, indoors or outdoors, after a meal, and what you are drinking at the time. When testing a box of cigars, slight variances are acceptable. It’s the wide swing in quality you must watch out for.
Is the size of a cigar important to the taste and aroma?
Yes, the same cigar blends in different sizes will taste different if there’s a big difference in ring size and length. This is because a big ring gauge, say 50 or 52, produces an immense volume of smoke compared to a 28, 36 or even a 42 ring. Larger ring gauges allow for more filler tobacco which gives a cigar more complexity and allows the cigar to burn slower and cooler. Naturally, this strongly influences taste and aroma. To fairly compare two different blends, you should taste test cigars of the same size.
To a lesser extent, length also influences taste. Besides, if you start with a 7 inch cigar when you’re used to one 5 1/2 inches long, it’ll become 5 1/2 inches long soon anyway – although, believe it or not, the 7 inch cigar at 5 1/2 inches will taste a little different than the one that starts at 5 1/2 inches.
If a manufacturer excels at making a great cigar 42 ring x 6 1/2 inches, it does not necessarily follow that the same brand in other sizes will be as good or as consistent. You’ll have to try a box of each. If you’re not accustomed to smoking a certain size that you might be curious about, maybe you should enlist the cooperation of a friend who smokes that size regularly.
We hope this little piece of information on how to judge a “good” cigar helps you in your search for excellence. At the very least, we trust that you now understand why you can’t test one cigar and from that singular experience, label it “good”, or even not so “good”. Notice, we have not tried to tell you how a cigar should taste or smell. That’s too personal. As a rule, with cigars as with food and wine, if you like the taste and aroma, it’s good. And, if that pleasing taste and aroma is delivered every time, then the cigar is “good.” But, if you personally do not enjoy the taste of a particular cigar but find all the other aspects of it to be sound, it might be considered “good” by another person. It’s something akin to all those people in the world who do not enjoy caviar. The subjectivity of taste is one of life’s fascinations and it definitely applies to cigars as well as caviar.