I have been smoking cigars for over five years now, and compared to a lot of veteran smokers that is a relatively short time. Most people have cigars sitting in the humidors that are five times as old as that length of time…I sure do! However, regardless of this short amount of time I have made it my mission to learn as much as possible about cigars, the cigar industry, the different types of tobacco and how they can affect and change the smoking experience. This is a natural tendency of mine, for when I embark on a new journey of discovery I become gluttonous with the information that is made available to me. I become so absorbed that I feel like I have been doing it all my life. This is surely the case with cigar smoking, because when I am asked how long I have been committed to the hobby I have to sit and think for a moment because I cant even believe how much stuff I know and smoked in such a short amount of time.
I know some serious cigars smokers who have been in the business for decades that don’t know some of the information that I consider to be common knowledge, and sometimes this surprises me, an scares me! But regardless of who knows more or who knows less is essentially irrelevant to me. If you enjoy cigars thats all I need to hear to have a great time with you. However, there is one big problem when it comes to the uneducated stogie lovers, and that is the subjectivity of cigar reviews.
When it comes to looking for cigar reviews you can find dozens of websites and articles by different people of all different knowledge levels. However, there is one site/magazine to which the novices and aficionados go to alike, and that is Cigar Aficionado magazine. The magazine is famous for its annual top 25 cigar reviews. Those cigars that are awarded the prestigious Number 1 Cigar of the Year award typically see sales of that particular cigar skyrocket for months/years to come. The magazine is a truly influential tool to manufactures and a great guide for novices. There is a problem however, the magazine reviewers are essentially a handful of men who sit with blindfolds on and try thousands of cigars. They then come down to the final 25 and taste them over and over again until they reach a consensus to which is the best cigar. This is the point at which they rate them all and finally award the prize. The inherent problem with this reviewing scheme (100 possible points) is that it is completely dependent on the palette and preferences of the reviewers. For example, I love many cigars that are highly rated on CA, yet they are not #1. Some of those Cigars I believe to be even better then the #1, and they ARE…..but to me of course!
In the end thats all that really matters. If you like a $1 stick better than a $20 stick than I consider you the luckiest smoker on the planet, because you are enjoying yourself with the least financial burden relative to your peers. You should never tie your preferences to the predispositions that are formed from elitist magazines like Cigar Aficionado. I am not bashing the magazine, I actually adore it and I follow it religiously. However, I do not base my preferences on what a few other men consider their favourite. If we all did that then only one cigar a year would be purchased. The variety of choice, and favourability among smokers is what makes us a community.
Those of you that follow my blog regularly will see a lot of personal cigar reviews, and the key word is personal. I rate cigars based on a 10 point scale of favourability to ME. These numbers should be and are superfluous to anyone but me. However, it is a natural appetite of humans to crave a quantitative measure to which they can rate their experiences. And when people see high number like 8, 9 or 10 they automatically associate the number with their enjoyment level, and this is simply not the case. Please do not look at the rating in my reviews and base your decisions on that. Rather, you should look at what flavours I picked out, and try for yourself. You will most definitely pick out other characteristics. Remember cigars don;t give off these flavours, they remind you of flavours. Each person associates different stimuli with different memory patterns of flavours. This is where the dialogue comes in between cigar hobbyists.
Remember, cigar smoking is a hobby to be enjoyed regardless of reviews or ratings. Don’t feel pressured to smoke the top rated cigars simply to show that ‘you know whats good’, when in fact you don’t enjoy that flavour profile. Try different sticks and see what you like. This is the enjoyment and pleasure of cigar smoking. The only Number 1 cigar is the one you call number 1. Cigar smoking is a journey of thought, not a destination of numbers!
By: Steven Umbrello
Steven Umbrello is a student of philosophy and an avid cigar and pipe smoker. He has been smoking cigars and pipes for over five years and has made it his mission to learn as much about the industry as possible. He has attended some high profile cigar events and is a leading member of the Toronto Cigar Club. You can find more from Steven at his blog The Leather Library Blog.