How I Review a (Deserving) Prize-Winning Cigar (Rocky Patel Renaissance Toro)

2016-03-18 07.34.01Friday morning, and I’ve been so busy that I am just now sitting down to smoke a morning cigar for review.  With everyone having been ill this week, the duty falls to me to maintain regular content!  So today I have selected the lightest of the two cigars I have not yet tried from the Holt’s Cigar Company’s Rocky Patel Luxury Toro Sampler I was sent to review, which would be the Rocky Patel Renaissance.

I try to come up with a theme of sorts for each review.  The ones you read that are strictly about the cigar and not laced with colourful thematic metaphors are usually the ones I whipped off between one major project and another in a fairly busy week.  I find that while people are interested in the stats, and a reviewer’s opinion, you can really get that anywhere.  Evocative language so that you can share the experience vicariously; that’s what I think people keep coming back to us for.  For me, using a theme that relates to the cigar I’m smoking is a way to stimulate that evocative language.  So today, since I am something of a Renaissance woman, I thought you might want to read a bit about my process in writing reviews.  It’s probably a good idea to know where I’m coming from and have some insight about the lens through which I view cigar smoking; because, let’s face it, we all look at the world through an individual lens.

Sometimes, when I’m doing other things like our local Pipe Club, I use a notebook to jot down notes and come back to them later.  More often I sit down in front of my computer with a fresh coffee, and I open up the window to our site, where I create a draft in the WordPress posting utility, and I add the name of the cigar and its size category in brackets.  That effectively becomes my working title.

Then I open another writing window (my other blogs, my novel, etc.) to work on at the same time. To me it’s a great way to multitask.  Smoking a cigar takes time.  You can’t rush it.  I am the sort of person who needs to be doing things, and so if I’m not engaged in stimulating conversation while I’m smoking, I need to do something else as well.  And nicotine, as many scholars and philosophers have observed, stimulates the mind.

So the next thing I do is to smell the cigar in the wrapper.  This time I find that the wrapper note is purely quality tobacco.  Very appealing and it makes me look forward to the rest of the cigar.

I pull the cigar carefully from the wrapper so as to not damage the edges.  At this point I offer my impressions of the labeling.  I roll it around in my hands and observe it with my senses.  Then I take a couple of pictures of it with my cell phone.  Because it’s important to give an accurate description of the size, this is the first time that I open up a browser window to research the cigar at all.  I open up a commercial site that is selling the cigar, usually one of the first few that show up in a Google search, because they almost always have the stats in a separate section so that I can avoid looking at anything else.  I don’t want to know what other people thought of it, what its Cigar Aficionado rating was, or what flavours other people detected, before I am finished and have acquired my own impressions.  If I can do so at this time I also research the types of tobacco used and where it was created, but if I can’t separate that from descriptions of the ambient flavours then that waits until after I’m finished, regardless of where that information appears in my review.

So proceeding with my process, I observe that the Rocky Patel Renaissance is a Honduran cigar with an Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper.  It’s billed as a medium strength cigar (but I never put any stock in that because that’s subjective, and I think they just take the manufacturer’s word for it.) The toro size is six and a quarter inches and a 52 ring gauge.  I can tell you from my personal observation that the stick is a medium-firm pack with a Colorado, possibly Colorado Maduro wrapper which is appealingly veiny and almost seamless, and capped with a triple cap.  The elegant gold filigree label definitely suggests the artistic and cultural beauty of the Renaissance.

I then select the method of cutting the cigar, since I have four options: my Ciguru cutter, my single guillotine that came with my portable leather cigar case, my double guillotine cutter, and my bullet punch. To some degree this is often determined by necessity; for instance, if I’m out and about, it’s the bullet or the single guillotine by necessity, unless I’m on a really long trip (and that’s another occasion where I bring along my notebook.)  I have learned that bullet punches are best suited to robustos and smaller cigars, since the draw often becomes more difficult in the later portions of the cigar; and the same holds true if it’s a really firm pack. This time I choose the Ciguru, which often works well for a triple cap. This time is no exception.

Next I’ll sample the pre-light draw.  This time it doesn’t tell me much; just good tobacco, really.  So then I light the cigar.  First I toast the foot, and if that tells me anything significant I let you know.  This time I notice a faint iron scent that reminds me of Cubans.  If I can, I use the cedar spills I got from Cigar Reserve because I think a cedar spill makes a better light.  I try to light evenly and cleanly around the circumference of the cigar. I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now.

2016-03-18 12.04.07I then sample the first few draws, which I think, perhaps slightly influenced by the bright spring morning I’m experiencing here, suggests an element of new-mown hay and an almost Cuban terroire.  Very nice. I note the time that I start smoking at because I think people appreciate having an idea of how long a cigar is going to take them to finish.  This time it’s five after eleven in the morning. It’s going to be a tight squeeze to finish the cigar and get the review finished before I have to be at work at 1 pm, but the cigar doesn’t look that big and with the medium-firm pack, I figure it’s probably going to take me somewhere around an hour to smoke it, so it should work out.

I start working on another article for one of the other blogs I write for, and drink my coffee and enjoy my smoke.  As it progresses into the first third I try to consider what else I might taste in it.  This time, again perhaps influenced by the sunniest day I have seen in a long time, I think of sun tea.  You know how you take teabags and put them in water and then put the (preferably glass) container in the sun to steep it?  Then you add some slices of lemon or that lemon juice concentrate stuff (if you don’t have lemons) and then you put maybe just a tiny amount of sugar or honey in it and you drink it?  Yeah, like that; that’s what I think of.  And I think it’s delicious!  So now I leave the other article I was working on to spend some time finishing this paragraph.

At about this time I also consider unusual factors that should be noted.  For instance, if there was a heavy volume of smoke, or if it lit unevenly, or perhaps even if the room note was significantly different than the smoking flavours, I would add these things.  There’s nothing like that.  The Renaissance produces about the volume of smoke I’d expect it to and it smells like a good cigar.  If your wife doesn’t like the scent of cigar smoke, she won’t like this one.

Now I’ve made it to the end of the first third, based on my subjective observation of the length of the cigar and how much of it remains.  I observe the time (11:31 am; maybe I’m shaving things a little close for the review after all!)  I now describe anything else worth noting that I observed in the first third, which in this case includes noting that it was flaky as far as cigar ashing goes.  When I left it for a few moments (okay, probably it was a few minutes if I am being honest; like I have said before, I smoke cigars really cold) in the ashtray it dropped its ash all over my kitchen table.  Oh well, such are the hazards of cigar smoking.

This is about the time I usually start reading back through the article, since the bulk of it is written by now, and start to add in any links that it has occurred to me to add.  Once again I wonder, as I usually do, if anyone ever actually reads the links (aside from the “where to get it” link of course,) or if I’m just making more work for myself; so since I am describing my process, if you do read those links, let me know in the comments!

As I do all of this, I start thinking about the second third, and whether the flavours I’m detecting have changed considerably from the first third.  In this case I think they have.  I’m tasting some elements that are more like tea and milk than strong sun tea and lemon. I am reminded of the very first taste of orange pekoe tea my mom used to give me as a child; half milk, half tea.  I think this is one of the most fun aspects of smoking a cigar; scent and taste are strongly linked to memory, and the trips down Nostalgia Lane are almost as important as the experience of the cigar itself.

I finish up the other article and then the second third is done.  But alas! Real life now intrudes, and unavoidable interruptions and delays at home cause the cigar to go out at ten after twelve, and now I have to get ready for work and will not have time to finish it.  So I clip it to remove the burnt portion so it won’t absorb that flavour (a trick my friend Graeme showed me; he’s in the military and he and his buddies used to wear lucador masks and smoke cigars to irritate their COs, and naturally he had to learn how to put them out quickly and save them, especially since Canadians cannot afford to just throw half-smoked cigars away!) and then I head out the door to work.

When I get home at 5 pm, I make dinner (a rare thing in my household) and then once I’ve finished eating, go back to my cigar with a new coffee.  It is now 6:30 pm.  I relight with what remains of my cedar spill and now I’m calling this the final third, since I have to take the label off almost right away.  That’s my personal gauge of when the final third begins.  This time it’s a much woodier flavour I’m getting, something that reminds me a bit of old cedar cabinets.  And tea.  Very relaxing.


This is about when I start deciding; how am I going to rate this cigar?  Did I find I had to take off points for bad construction?  Did I enjoy the flavour?  Was it at all bitter?  Has it moved me?  Has it given me a positive experience?  In my evaluation of the Renaissance so far, I find that I have indeed had a lot of positive experiences, and some really evocative ones.  So it starts from a positive rating.  Was I overwhelmed by its brilliance though?  Well, not entirely.  The only cigars that get five star ratings from me are not only perfect in their flavour profiles, construction and performance, but I consider whether or not I would be inspired to buy a box of them at Canadian prices.  And I don’t think I would buy a box of these at those prices, no.  So it starts from a rating of four stars.

I also consider whether or not I agree on the advertised “body level” of the cigar.  Surprisingly, I would have to agree that the Renaissance is medium bodied; though like with most of the other Rocky Patels I have tried, I find it on the high side of its rating.  “Medium-full” is how I would describe it.  And I add that piece of information to my review.

In the final third I also note anything about that final third that impresses me.  In this case, the Renaissance performs well above average in the final third.  I am able to smoke it down to the nub; it only goes out once, and it at no point turns mushy.  I finally call it a wrap at quarter after seven and am astounded; did that final third, which looked stubby to me because I had to clip some of it, really take a full 45 minutes?  Yes, I think it really did.  Hmm!  Good reason to consider a higher rating.

Now I type all of that into the computer, sad that my cigar is finished (which is another thing worth noting) and I Google the commercial sites that sell this cigar once again.  I skim through the data for anything else significant.  Did customer reviews consistently describe a particular aspect, be it positive or negative?  Did they give any suggestions for ways to improve the experience with the cigar?  What other flavours are described in the page blurb?  Did any of them match the ones I detected?  Were some so completely left field that I didn’t sense them at all?

In the case of the Renaissance, once again the answer is yes.  Holt’s site describes it as having notes of “coffee, cream, vanilla beans and fresh pepper.”  I tasted more tea than coffee but the flavour is similar; pepper and citrus are very similar in a cigar profile: what we’re describing, really, when we mention these flavours is the sharpness of the “top note” of the cigar, and our reflections that it’s like one or the other are subjective associations.  I find that with the tingle on the mouth that I’d observed when I got a few good puffs going at once that yes, it might be described as “pepper.”  The cream I mentioned myself in the “tea and milk” metaphor.  But vanilla?  Nope; I didn’t get that one at all.  I note my agreement and disagreement, and skim through the rest of the description.

It’s usually at this point that I find whether or not Cigar Aficionado had anything to say about the cigar, because I figure my readers want to know that.  And in this case they did; the Renaissance earned a 90 rating in its robusto size, but I guess it didn’t make any Top 25 of the Year lists, because if it did, they would tell me when I Googled “Cigar Aficionado Rocky Patel Renaissance,” and they don’t.  The rating page does tell me the Renaissance also netted an 85 rating from Cigar Insider; and their review tells me that they tasted the woody flavours I was noting near the end.

I make a note about any of my final thoughts and come up with a clever way to wrap up the article (or at least, I do my best) and then I check out the most important information: where you can get it, and what the price point is.

I found that I really enjoyed this cigar.  I think it accompanied coffee (and an after-dinner maple cookie) rather well.  I was pleased by its presentation, its feel, the memories it sparked, and above all its flavour profile.  I would recommend it!  Yet another happy Rocky Patel moment for me.

I find that while Thompson Cigar is selling the maduro version, you can’t get the original there.  I discover that there’s also a Renaissance Colorado, which is probably closer to a Colorado Claro based on the pictures; and I mention this because it might be easy to confuse the two.  But Holt’s Cigar Company is selling the Renaissance Toro for $59.95 USD.  Now that’s something worth noting: that’s a great price point!  And Holt’s points that out too because they wisely know that’s a selling point.  That actually makes it more likely that I would buy a box of them, because that price point will be reflected here, even when you factor in taxes and duty.  Hmm; that’s three extraordinary factors; guess I’m going to have to increase the rating half a star.  Since it lost none in construction or quality, that brings it up to a

Stars - 4 and a half rating and something I might invest in!


I add the graphics now to the article; usually the two or more pictures I uploaded, one of which is taken to show the label prominently in the center of the “featured image” that appears next to the article blurb on our front page.  I include the graphic for the stars I’ve chosen to rate it at, which I of course uploaded ages ago.  I add any links I may have missed, and read the article over as I do so to proofread and add any final touches.  I have probably already selected the categories it will appear under, but I don’t often add the tags until now; and that’s the stage at which we decide whether or not to feature a review.  And it’s at this point that I finally compose the title of my article, in the hopes that I will catch your attention.  With all that done I open up a preview to see what it looks like on the site; make any necessary changes for format and typos, and schedule it to post, or post immediately.  Which is what I’m doing now.  I hope you enjoy this insight into my process.

And that’s a lady’s perspective!


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One thought on “How I Review a (Deserving) Prize-Winning Cigar (Rocky Patel Renaissance Toro)

  1. Pingback: A Perfect Dessert for a Roast Beast Feast (Rocky Patel Decade Toro) | Smoking Jacket Magazine

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