If you are new to smoking cigars, you may feel a little out of your depth. It is not always easy to tell if you are buying quality cigars, even for veteran cigar smokers. Luckily you do not need to be an aficionado to get a general understanding of your own taste and preferences if you have enough patience and willingness to experiment.
One of the more quantifiable aspects when judging a good cigar is how well a particular cigar is packed or filled. Poor construction can make an otherwise high-quality cigar entirely impossible to smoke, or so unpleasant that you would rather not anyhow. Unlike many of the other characteristics of cigars, how well the tobacco in a cigar has been packed hinges less on personal preference and is closer to a science.
An overfilled cigar that is packed too tightly can be unsatisfying, with hardly any smoke going through it, and might not be able to pass the smoke through at all. Since less smoke is passing through, the taste will be muted and there will not be as distinct an aroma. No matter what the tobacco quality is, if air cannot flow through it, it is a bad cigar. This can potentially be remedied by lightly rolling the cigar between your fingers or hands to loosen up the filling tobacco, but is still a mark against the cigar maker.
An underfilled cigar may be smokable, but if the airflow is not restricted enough, the cigar can burn far too quickly, and even burn your lips from the added internal heat. The flavor and aroma may also be harsher and resemble the taste and scent of char more than anything else.
Aside from the pace of the burning, an easy way to tell if a cigar is well packed is by the falling ash. If the tobacco is packed properly, the ash at the end of your burning cigar should be firm and easily able to get to around an inch long before falling.
Beyond how tightly packed a cigar is, the overall construction is often the best tell of quality. If a cigar maker knows what they are doing, it is usually a sign that the quality of the tobacco in the filling and wrapper leaf are of a higher quality as well. A poorly constructed cigar, on the other hand, could be made with the best of all quality tobaccos and still be unpleasant to smoke.
Other indicators include the way a cigar physically feels in your mouth. Full-bodied cigars with a good mouth feel can be like a love affair. Bad cigars will often have the clear giveaway of falling apart at your lips. If you find the wrapping coming undone and realize you are constantly spitting away bits of tobacco from your tongue, it is not a good quality cigar.
This can also depend on how the cigar is cut, however, so be sure to take care when using your cigar cutter. If you do not have a cigar cutter yet, look no further than the William Henry collection of cigar cutting folding knives. These stunning pieces are artisanally constructed with exotic materials and Damascus steel, and a far higher quality than you could find at the local cigar shop.
Size also matters, in the case of good cigars. This can be a matter of preference, but generally thicker cigars will have more depth of flavor and complexity. They will also burn more evenly and more cool than thinner cigars or cigarillos. Some brands may be an exception to this, but it comes down to experience and experimentation.
Falling under the construction is, of course, the overall aesthetic appeal of a particular cigar. While this does not always correlate to high quality, attention to detail and a feeling of artistry that comes with some cigars is generally a sign that the maker knows their craft well and cares for their work.
The cigar should feel firm between your fingers, the wrapper leaf should be relatively clean and unblemished. A quick visual inspection will show you if the cap is properly applied. If the maker has left a band on the cigar, it should be placed neatly and evenly.
Cracking or peeling wrapping, or a soft feeling around the cigar are a couple of early warning signs that the cigar was made without a lot of care or attention. If that is the case, you can generally assume that you are not dealing with a quality cigar.
While proper construction is crucial to a good cigar and is an overall sign that you have a quality cigar, the tobacco used for the filling and wrapper is equally important to how pleasant a cigar will be. The tobacco has to itself be of high quality, as well as being properly processed. This can be difficult to maintain over time, as tobacco crops vary every year, and some of the tobaccos in a particular blend may become harder to find at various times.
While this means that a particular maker’s cigars will vary year to year, a knowledgeable professional should still be able to put together blends of equally high quality regardless of which particular tobaccos are available and abundant at a given time.
In addition to the particular leaves themselves, the fermentation and aging process is crucial to having a good blend to make a great cigar. Before cigars are even rolled, manufacturers will process and age their tobacco for months or years. This process allows the blend time to meld together and create a more consistent and uniform flavor profile.
Sometimes it is best to age your cigars even longer at home in your humidor, but this should not usually be a necessity if you have a good quality cigar. If the tobacco is not aged or fermented properly, the taste can be more harsh, bitter, and even give you a little heartburn.
As mentioned above, being a crop, tobacco does not always come out the same as the crop before it. As a result, sometimes even the best cigars can vary significantly, even when they are from the same brand or even the same box. While this is unavoidable to some extent, a quality cigar manufacturer should be able to maintain a level of consistency within their brand.
Inspecting this characteristic of a cigar’s quality takes a little more time than some of the others. To do so, you should buy a larger box, at least 20 or so for more accurate judgment, and smoke through them. This is not to say that you should chain smoke a box of cigars, but try to get through them in a relatively shorter time period.
After purchasing and placing your cigars in your humidor which is kept at a consistent temperature and humidity levels, try to go through them before they age significantly further. While this is in itself a good experiment for finding the ideal age for any brand of cigars, it will not be the best method for gauging how consistent the box is already. If you allow some of the cigars to age for a longer period of time, they will be less compared to the cigars you smoked shortly after purchase.
Judging a high-quality cigar can be a long process and will probably involve you smoking quite a few options that you ultimately are not fond of. That said, once you find a consistent brand that makes the best cigars you have tried, you will be grateful for having gone through the process.
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