15 Oct 2013
We often get questions from people who read our reviews and say something along the lines of, “But I can’t taste flavor X, Y, or Z; my palate isn’t developed enough.” And they’re probably right, most people just smoke and enjoy cigars, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s obviously a good deal of personal preference when it comes to reviewing cigars, but when reviewers frequently notice the same flavors in the same cigars, it’s evidence that there’s also quite a bit of science to tasting cigars. In my experience, it’s mostly a question of training yourself to observe all the complexities that a cigar can demonstrate. To that end, for those who want to develop their palate and become better at cigar tasting, here are five suggestions:
Take Notes – If observation is step one then documentation is 1A. Not only will writing down your observations help you remember what you noticed while smoking a particular cigar, but putting pen to paper will force you to think about the descriptions you use and make sure they are evocative and precise so they will be useful later.
Re-taste – There’s a good reason why we make a point of sampling multiple cigars (usually at least three) before writing a full review. Not only can one particular cigar be off, or just different, but the situation in which it is smoked can make all the difference. Taste the same cigar more than once and you’ll start to realize what is the cigar and what is you, and the more you taste a cigar the more easily you’ll be able to pinpoint the defining characteristics.
Clean Your Palate – While I love pairing cigars with a fine spirit or a good cup of coffee, I find the best way to really focus on the cigar is absent a flavorful pairing. Spring water is good. The best is room temperature or slightly-chilled club soda. The bubbles clean the palate while making sure it isn’t too cold will prevent your taste buds from being dulled.
Smoke Two – I’ve written before that one of the best ways to develop your palate is to smoke two cigars at once. It’s like that game you did at a kid where you had to pick out the differences between two seemingly identical pictures. If you smoke two similar cigars side-by-side, you’ll be forced to notice the contrasts and complexities that you wouldn’t smoking one alone. (Not to mention, most people smoke cigars too quickly, so alternating between the two will force you to slow down.)
Retrohale – It’s said that 90% of what you taste is smell, or more precisely that only 10-20% of taste is through the tongue. That’s why smoking through the nose, also known as retrohaling, is an excellent way to observe flavors you’d otherwise miss. My colleague wrote an excellent description of how to retrohale here.
photo credit: Stogie Guys