A couple of years ago I was working as a tobacconist at a bar and lounge in downtown Huntsville. Several of the bartenders on the staff smoked cigars with varying levels of experience. One day, at the instigation of a couple of regulars, I participated in a blind tasting competition against one of the bartenders who boasted having the most knowledge (even above myself). We blindly tasted 5 cigars from the selection of over 200 in the humidor, eyes closed for extra difficulty. The owner of the bar lit the cigars and carefully passed them to us because for some reason I was worried about playing with my eyes closed. In the end, I was able to identify all 5 based off of taste while my competitor identified 1.5.
This experience made me curious about blind tastings, a practice especially common in enjoying wines and spirits. When you ignore the name brand and the price tag you can judge the spirit solely on its own integrity rather than be clouded by the assumptions that come with a certain company or cost.
The Benefit of Blind Tasting
Blind tasting cigars forces you into a higher level of objectivity than you normally have when smoking. It affords you the opportunity to enjoy your cigar in a much less prejudicial way. You will also get the chance to test and strengthen your sense of taste and smell, making future cigars more enjoyable. Additionally, taking the time to focus on all of the minute details of the cigar can bring a back a sense of respect and consideration that the cigar process deserves.
The Difficulty in Finding Objectivity
It is nearly impossible to be thoroughly objective about a cigar when enjoyed normally. All of the expectations you have for the smoking experience can greatly color the actual affair. Characteristics of the cigar, such as the appearance of the wrapper or the tightness of the roll, can make promises about how the cigar will taste. It’s easy to assume a cigar with a flawless wrapper will be a superior smoke to one with a myriad of defects.
Similarly, the brand and price tag can make promises about what to expect from the cigar. It is easy to expect a more premium smoke from a $20 cigar versus a $5 cigar. It can also be difficult to overcome previous experience with a particular brand. For example, if you have a favorite brand you will probably overlook a less than favorable experience as a one-time issue. If you have a brand you generally don’t like, you might downplay a good experience.
Knowing the make-up of the cigar can also affect objectivity. If you have a dislike of a certain type of tobacco, say Habano, and you smoke a cigar with Habano leaves in it, then you might spend the entire time searching for characteristics that validate your dislike of Habano tobacco.
Other issues that can affect objectivity include the location and company you have while enjoying the cigar. A pleasant setting with enjoyable company will raise your expectations compared to a miserable setting.
How to Blind Taste Cigars
Note the color and consistency of the wrapper. The oiliness, the seams, the varying shades of browns and greens. Observe the color and density of the smoke. Try to distinguish new flavors in the tobacco as the leaves heat up to the ideal temperature and the full flavor of the cigar unfolds. Make objective observations without adding judgment until the very end.
No matter how many people in your tasting group there are a few strategies that will foster the best experience. (1) Ideally, everyone should smoke the same type of cigar to create an open discussion; however, as long as you keep track of who has which, you can have a variety of cigars among the group. (2) To get the most out of the adventure take notes. (3) After the cigars are finished reveal to everyone what they just smoked.
- If you have a larger group: Designate one person to unband a cigar for everyone within the group. If your group is smoking more than one for the evening, have a different individual unband each type of cigar.
- If you have a smaller group: Use the buddy system. Have each individual select and unband a cigar for someone else in the group.
- If you want to experiment on your own: This option is more difficult, but not impossible. You could go into a humidor and pick a random cigar that you know nothing about and smoke it without studying the box or researching it online. Make sure to release any prejudices regarding the price and brand. Alternatively, you can select a handful of cigars to unband then mix them up and/or store them in your humidor until you forget which is which. This option is the best way to create the most objectivity; however, it is much more difficult for you to know what the cigar was after you smoke it.