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Commentary: Good, Great, and Not-So-Hot Cigars (Part 1)

3 Feb 2015


Who among us does not relish a great cigar? But, then again, who among us can agree on just what makes a cigar great? I started thinking about this several weeks ago, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind ever since.

It started when I lit an Oliva Serie V Toro, a one-time favorite I hadn’t smoked in ages. Less than an inch into it, I thought, “Wow, this is a great cigar. Why haven’t I been smoking more of these?”

As I continued burning it, my enjoyment didn’t diminish. But my assessment did.

Why? Well, I reflected on the circumstances. The Serie V came in the wake of cigars I had smoked the previous two days that I found disappointing. By comparison, the Oliva was wonderful. But trying to approach it a little more objectively, I had to admit that, while the Serie V is a very good cigar, it failed to attain the elite status of great. While the stick’s flavors and performance were excellent, it came up a tad short in complexity and smoothness.

That led me to begin examining what qualities make for a great cigar, what accounts for a bad or mediocre cigar, and which attributes don’t really matter in any judgment.

It is fairly easy, I think, to agree on things that make for a lousy cigar. Descriptions like harsh, plugged, tasteless, bitter, and wildly inconsistent come quickly to mind. Mediocrity is a little tougher to judge, since one man’s bland can be another’s tasty.

Generally, I think, mediocre cigars are those that have nothing special, nothing that stands out. They’re not bad, they’re just not that good.

Judgments also can be clouded by considerations that I would classify as personal preference. These sometimes enter into the discussion, though I believe they often should not.

Size, usually ring gauge, is one of the most common. While many ardent smokers disdain today’s massive ring gauges, there is certainly nothing that makes them inherently bad cigars. Personally, I find myself drawn more and more to smaller sticks these days, both in ring gauge and length. Again, though, that is preference, not a standard by which to establish quality.

Another factor can be price. Too often, I believe, some smokers equate high prices with hype and nothing else. As in, “No cigar is worth (fill in your own price tag).”

Sure, that’s true sometimes. But far from always. Growing tobacco is a costly and risky enterprise, but one that can help ensure high quality and consistency, as well as stimulate creativity. Aging and stockpiling tobacco is an expensive investment, but a necessary one for those who wish to create extraordinary blends. Quality control can boost operational costs without an immediately visible effect on the bottom line. Talented workers command higher wages.

Conversely, it is extremely difficult to produce a great cigar at bundle cigar prices.

There are two common cigar-smoking mantras: “Smoke what you like, like what you smoke” and “If you like it, then it’s a good cigar.” Who could argue with either sentiment? On the other hand, can anyone honestly contend that a Ron Mexico, say, is equal to a Padrón Family Reserve, regardless of personal preferences?

The truth is, in our current Era of Magnificent Cigars we encounter a lot fewer lousy sticks than there were years ago. There are also a lot more good and very good cigars on the shelves, too.

In the second part of this commentary (tomorrow), I’ll discuss what I think makes for a great cigar.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

3 Responses to “Commentary: Good, Great, and Not-So-Hot Cigars (Part 1)”

  1. Reggie W Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    I too find that, after a subpar cigar or two, a solid everyday value smoke tastes all the better. I actually try to maximize my enjoyment by smoking an everyday smoke right after a bad cigar, instead of jumping right into something phenomenal.

  2. Nano Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    I agree 100% with the article, but would like to add a little more.

    When it comes to recognizing a great cigar something will always stand out not just to you but to others. There are several brands that have this recognized greatness. The enjoyment of these cigars are still subjective, but because most everyone rates them highly and all say “this is a great cigar” then it can be viewed as an objective standard.

  3. George e. Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

    Good points from both. Thanks!