Well, the natural thing that one might want to know when reading a review is how the review has been conducted.
When I review a cigar it is very much a smoking experience. I review the cigar so that I enjoy the smoke all the more – I find that I appreciate the flavours and characteristics of a cigar more than usual if I’m jotting down my notes (I do get some funny looks though…)
A lot of my scoring is anything but scientific, it is largely done by the gut – this is quite substantial in my case. I try to be objective, but that’s not always possible: anyone that tells you that the same cigar isn’t more enjoyable on a scorching hot day by the water than it is in a cold and rainy field is flat out lying to you…
Anyway, onto the categories by which I rate the cigars. I have outlined what I am looking for in each category, and the score available for each:
Appearance – this is marked out of 15. It is not vital to the smoking experience, so it is marked lowly. That said, it sets the tempo for the whole cigar and is a visible mark of the care that went into making it. Colour, smoothness, lustre and cap application are all important when considering the wrapper. I also include the feel of the cigar in this category (I store all of my cigars at a fairly constant 67/68% RH, so they should be comparable).
Smoking Characteristics – this is marked out of 25. The way a cigar draws and burns can make or break the smoking experience. Those are the two key elements of this category. The score represents a quarter of the total because, no matter how palatable the cigar, if it’s too tight it will be a poor experience. There are also a couple of side concerns for this category. Firstly, the quantity of smoke is considered (after all, there’s nothing more satisfying than huge plumes of smoke from a cigar). Secondly, the aroma, both pre-light and during the smoke, are also considered. However, these ‘side concerns’ have negligible bearing on the score.
Flavour – this is marked out of 25. It would be fair to say that this category needs little explanation. The flavour is the cigar to many people, that’s why it gets 25 points to itself. Now… I say flavour, note the singular, however, one of the key requirements for a good score is the development of flavours through the cigar. In my opinion, pretty much all but the tiniest cigars should go through at least three flavour phases. If it’s a one-dimensional stick then it lacks a degree of interest for me, so will not score as highly as it might if there were developments as time went on…
Overall Impression – this is marked out of 35. The big daddy of the scoring world – what did I actually think of the cigar!? After all, that’s the most important part about smoking a stogie, how did you enjoy it, what did you think as you put the remenants in the ashtray? Have you just burnt your fingers through smoking it almost beyond the nub, trying to extract every last bit of excellence, or have you just hurled two-thirds of it into the lake?
All of the categories combine to make a possible grand-total of 100 points! It’s hard to split this down into neat quality divisions, but it would be fair to say that anything over about 80 is a decent cigar, and anything over about 87 is definitely one you should be smoking. Mid to high 90s is stogie-heaven.
Thank you to Cigar Aficionado magazine who developed the framework of this scoring system (the categories and score distribution). I’m sure I go about the marking process in a slightly different manner – placing emphasis on different aspects of the cigar – but the basic ideas are the same. Unlike CA, I don’t smoke the cigars blind, and I may only have a couple of examples to work with.
Here are two very interesting videos from CA’s excellent video archive in which the editorial team outline how they go about tasting cigars:
If you have any questions or comments on my reviewing process, feel free to add a comment below.
If you want to review a cigar using the ‘template’ laid out here, and have it published on The Cigar Monologues, then give it a whirl. Write up your review and email it to me and I’ll add it to a ‘guest review’ page. I’d be especially interested in non-Cuban cigar reviews, as those available to me are a little limited. (However, if you’d like to donate a cigar for review, that would be even better… 😉 ).