Cigar 101: How to Review a Cigar
To write readable, useful cigar reviews takes only a couple of prerequisites, not least of them being an ability to write readable prose. It also helps if you’ve smoked a lot of cigars, experience that doesn’t come easy or cheap. But if you can put those assets together with an abiding interest in the topic and a willingness to smoke thoughtfully, intently, you’re on your way to credible cigar reviewing.
You needn’t write for the public to benefit from review-writing. Just recording your own private thoughts in a cigar diary can bring lifelong benefits. Nothing clarifies ideas and preserves them for future reference, or helps one’s self-education, like a well-kept written record.
So then, what to write?
Header info (As many of these details should be disclosed as is practical.)
- Company name and cigar name
- Manufactured in [name of place] by [name of factory if known]
- Date of release
- XX inches x YY ring gauge
- Wrapper: origin, genetics if known, coloration
- Binder: origin, genetics if known
- Filler: origin, genetics if known
- Total smoking time
- Available at [locations where the product can be purchased]
Body of the review
The idea is not necessarily to explore all of the following points to exhaustion—only those that suggest themselves for the cigar at hand.
Mention the packaging, the design of the band. Describe the fragrance out of the cellophane or box, the apparent quality of the wrapper leaf (veins, visible seams, oily or toothy, rough-hewn or fine), the color of the wrapper, the overall quality of construction: Double capped? Triple capped? Firms feel or loosely packed? Is it hard or springy to the squeeze? After the cut, how do you rate the cold draw? Perfect draw? Too tight or loose? Do any flavor notes suggest themselves in the cold draw?
On light-up—this is very important—note the time! Give first impressions. What flavor notes predominate? Does the cigar taste good generally, or is it already giving you bad signals? Does some certain aspect of the flavor stand out, for good or ill?
Check back in at 10 minutes. How is it going? How far down have you smoked in 10 minutes? Are the flavors changing? Is the retrohale easy or hard on the sinuses? Did the cigar perchance start with a tight draw and then open up, or vice versa?
At about 20 minutes in, give a “first-third” report: You should by now be taking full measure of the cigar. How does it rate overall? How have the flavors transitioned (assuming they have)? How is the flavor “finish?” That is, how long do the flavors linger on the palate between draws? How long an ash will remain intact before it drops off? What color ash? Is the ash well-formed or flakey? Is the burn line straight or wavy? Does the burn require touch-up? Is there any tunneling or canoeing? Does the cigar stay lit without demanding too much attention? In other words, does this cigar behave itself? Is the “cherry” (the coal) compact or elongated? Can you, or can someone in the room with you, describe the room note?
In the final third, tell whether the cigar has maintained a good character throughout. Note any radical changes for better or worse. For example, if it started off mild, does it end up mild? How did the very last draw taste? Was the nicotine buzz pronounced or not so much? Is the cigar expensive or cheap? Is it worth the price in your view? Is this a cigar you could see yourself buying by the box? If so, say why. If not, ask yourself whether perhaps some other smoker might be attracted to this cigar. (This, by way of keeping ourselves honest.)
Check your clock: How long did the cigar last?
In a concluding paragraph, write a brief summation of the experience. This is where you can try to tap your inner poet. Do you have any “inside information” to share about the cigar, its production, or its maker? Can you “nutshell” this cigar—describe it in a sentence or two? Would it be good with coffee in the morning, or after a hearty dinner with drinks and dessert, or sometime in between like mid-afternoon? Where, in your view, does this cigar fit in the wide world of cigars?
That’s all there is to it.
Words often used to describe cigars:
bitter (In a good way, like baker’s chocolate.)
bitter (In a bad way, like tobacco tar.)
complex (How so?)
manure (This can actually be a good thing.)
nutty (Can you say which nut?)
spicy (Name a specific spice, if you can.)
For some examples of our reviews, check out: