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Stogie Commentary: Great Expectations

1 Nov 2010

The other day I fired up a special cigar. It was a limited release super-premium that’s no longer in production. Expectations were high.

I had looked forward to trying this rare, fairly expensive smoke for the first time, especially given its plethora of accolades and impressive pedigree. I remember slowly selecting it from one of my humidors and taking great pleasure in the pre-smoke ritual. I took note of the aroma. I examined the exterior leaf with a careful eye. And I admired the cap before making a precise cut.

True, as a reviewer, I go through this routine often. But I was smoking this cigar for sheer enjoyment, not as “research” for an article. While I make a point to examine the sights and smells of each and every cigar I smoke, I can’t say I always fully live up to that commitment when I’m merely smoking for relaxation.

I did, however, with this special cigar. I made sure to invest the time to build anticipation given my high expectations. And I was pleased when those expectations were met. This particular smoke was creamy with a graham cracker sweetness, excellent construction, and a finely balanced profile.

So the special cigar ended up being, well…special. That got me thinking: Did I find the cigar special because it was truly outstanding? Or was it outstanding because, before I lit the first match, I thought it was going to be special?

I hope it was the former. I pride myself on being an unbiased judge of premium tobacco, trying my best to prevent expectations from influencing my judgments.

But isn’t it naïve to think that expectations played no role in my assessment of this cigar? Perhaps I enjoyed it so thoroughly because I made a conscious effort to savor all of its qualities—an effort that was motivated by expectations.

In the end I guess it doesn’t really matter. If I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it. Period. The best cigar is the cigar you like the best, regardless of reasoning.

The question of how expectations influence outcomes is a fair one to raise, though, especially when those outcomes are intended to inform decisions. It’s helpful to keep that in mind while reading reviews.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate

7 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: Great Expectations”

  1. Ethan K Monday, November 1, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    Patrick A, you consider the emotions of expectations etc, i.e. circumstances that effect one's perceptions. As one who is often put off by obvious prejudice, I commend you. The most common fault is the rush to join the admiration of a cigar that has not yet made it to the masses. Cigars whose greatness is touted before they are tasted; then available to a few more select priviledged; then, sold at a very high price, often get so much praise. I.e., Mi Barrio, $12 before, is now available at $4; but now the guys who clamored for it and bragged about getting it for 3 x the price are quiet. So much attention at $12! So little attention at $4!

  2. dmjones1009 Monday, November 1, 2010 at 3:35 am #

    I had a similar experience only yesterday. I had my hands on a super-duper-premium (even more expensive than super-premium) cigar that was supposed to be "all that and a bag of chips…and dessert!" I'll decline to name the cigar and just state that it had a $100 MSRP and that I did not pay for it. The expectations started crumbling when I noticed that the cap application was sloppy and that the wrapper was very possibly dyed. "Fine," I thought, "flavor is the real key." Through nearly 2 hours of smoking, I sought that flavor that would demand the exorbitant price tag this cigar holds and found…nothing of any real note.

    Given the price of this stogie (even though I didn't pay for it) I wanted very much to enjoy it…to find it over-the-top in flavor…a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Instead I found it rather mediocre…something that might be decently valued at $8 to 10. If I hadn't expected so much, would I have been so disappointed? Who knows? All I know is that the company that makes this stick pushes expectations to a new level by charging that much. If they don't deliver on those expectations, that's their problem.

  3. Giddeon S Monday, November 1, 2010 at 4:17 am #

    Excellent commentary. I find it especially poignant because it's written by a trusted reviewer. I really value what this website says about cigars, but you’re right; no matter how you try, expectations – and a bunch of other factors, for that matter – influence cigar perceptions. We all need to be mindful of that.

  4. Nick M. Monday, November 1, 2010 at 6:35 am #

    I live about six blocks from a smoke shop which carries an outstanding selection of smokes. When I've been good my wife stops by and grabs me a few smokes. She's always peeking through my catalogs looking for a bargain and she often suggests more cost-effective cigars than I usually enjoy. One day she asked me if she thought I could tell the difference between a $10 cigar and a $2 cigar. I told her I'd give it a try. She commonly de-bands the cigars she buys for me and my pallet has been surprisingly comfortable with cigars in the $3-4 range, depending on where you buy them. She's a good woman and if your significant other would be willing to engage in such a practice, I think you might find it fun. You'd be surprised at how much your perception of a cigar changes once you take that shiny band off. Just a thought.

  5. Ira Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    It's interesting that the only way expectations occur is based on the findings of others. Like food and drink, each individual's taste is different, yet the reviews still color our thinking. Like many others, I have been disappointed by much hyped cigars and thrill at the enjoyment of an unknown stogie, one that is off the radar screen. In the end though, like you said, it all boils down to taste. If you like it, you like it. None of us (especially today) has the time or money to sample everything, so we rely on others. Even if the "others" are as reliable as The Stogie Guys, everyone is going to have a different reaction to a given cigar.

  6. Craig Childs Friday, November 5, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    As a feature, I’d love to see the site do blind taste tests. I have a feeling a lot of “alternatives” or bundled cigars may rank close or higher to the premiums.

    I know one of my favorite go-to cigars is a the “cheap” Perdomo Fresh-Rolled. i won a cuban wheel of 50 for $60, but they consistently taste better than some $5 cigars I smoke.

    True, I’ve yet to find a $2 cigar that tastes like a Fuente God of Fire, but I’ve smoked quite a lot of $10 cigars that taste like dog rockets!

    Happy Smoke Trails!

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    […] Guys) Stogie Commentary: Great Expectations – I had looked forward to trying this rare, fairly expensive smoke for the first time, […]