Each week on The Cigar Authority you hear us discuss flavors from our cigars, but one of the top questions asked other than, “are you on drugs,” is how the hell do you taste those flavors. Well those who asked, you are not alone as throughout my blogging career many have stopped me to ask this same question, Cigar Tasting how is it done?
Visual & Touch Preparation
Taste is just a small part of knowing your cigar.. First before you cut and light your cigar you want to address the cigar. Now being old as dirt this reminds me of Art Carney from the Honeymooners but I digress… Look at the cigar, is it veiny, oily or toothy? While the first two are self-explanatory the toothy aspect is often lost. A perfect example of a toothy wrapper would be a Padron Anniversario Maduro. If you look closely at the wrapper you can see little braille like bumps that are caused by a high magnesium content in the soil. This use to be synonymous with Cuban cigars but as they have had issues growing wrapper it has become less common. In my opinion a cigar with these magnesium bumps is often a sign of good things to come.
Next you want to take the cigar in your hand and ever so gently press the cigar. You don’t want the cigar to be soft. In fact, the cigar should be firm with only the slightest amount of give the closer you get to the foot. I can’t tell you how many people come into a cigar store and squeeze the cigar which is a huge no-no because if you don’t know what you are doing you can damage the wrapper or the binder by cracking it. If your brick and mortar has a well-kept humidor or display cases then the cigar should be just fine and you only want to perform this before lighting it to make sure you kept the cigar properly humidified.
The Pre Light Ritual
One of the most important things when learning to taste the subtle nuances of a cigar is to take part in the pre-light ritual. This will help open the senses to the enjoyment that is about to come your way. At times it is easier to get the notes before the cigar is lit. The first step is the cut the cap with your choice of cut be it bullet, v-cut or guillotine cut. Once the cap is removed from the cigar you want to take a smell of the foot of the cigar and decipher what aroma you are receiving. After that is done you want to take a pull on the cigar. The reason I say smell first is there is much more you can identify through smell rather than taste which is limited to bitter, sour, salty and sweet. The aroma is key to the romanticism of certain flavors.
Before you even take your first puff of the cigar it is important to toast the foot. This is done by barely allowing the flame to touch the tobacco. With a torch in 15 seconds or less you will see the tobacco begin to glow red. At this point take the cigar to your mouth and once again kiss the tobacco with the lighter gently pulling on the cigar. With an even light it is time to begin the tasting process.
In order to properly taste the subtle nuances of the cigar you don’t want the cigar to burn hot. Many people make the mistake of over-smoking a cigar. You can avoid this by limiting yourself to 2-3 pulls per minute on the stick.
On the pull of the cigar with the smoke in your mouth you should begin to taste what the cigar has to offer. But if you don’t, fret not my friends there are some tricks you can do to expedite this process.
With the smoke in your mouth gently chew the smoke, this will allow your mind and the receptors on your tongue to work together much like when dining on a great meal. When you release the smoke blow it out slowly and gently thus allowing the smoke to wash over palate giving you more time to taste what the cigar is serving.
If you aren’t getting a specific taste, pay attention to what part of your tongue is reacting to the cigar. If you feel it on the tip of your tongue that is associated with sweet, while to the left and right is salty. Moving further back along the sides is sour and the back of the mouth is associated with bitter.
The retrohale serves a purpose other than causing our own Mr. Jonathan to cough. While the palate can only differentiate between a few types of flavors the nose is much more sensitive. The art of retrohaling is difficult to master and does not involve inhaling the cigar.
With the smoke in your mouth let it drift toward the back and breathe through the nose pushing the smoke out. When you first begin to do this it will most likely only create a pepper like experience. But as you grow accustomed to it will help identify the flavors. Many manufacturers and blenders state if you do not retrohale you are not getting the full experience of the blend. A retrohale can turn a sweet cigar into a cigar with robust chocolate notes or even the subtle sweetness of chinese pea pods.
Sometimes we will refer to the cigar having undertones, or overtones of nuts complimenting the chocolate. This is the result of the flavor that is left after the smoke has left your mouth.
A short finish means the flavors stop relatively fast, while a long finish means the flavors and characteristics of a cigar linger after the cigar or puff is finished. The debate is out there as to which is better. Personally I enjoy a short to moderate finish because I want to move on to the next cigar, while others prefer the long finish so they can enjoy the moment for a prolonged period of time.
When you are done with your cigar is it is important to just lay it down in the ashtray and let it go out on its own. Do not smash it out, as the aroma released from the ashtray will hurt the experience other cigar smokers around you are enjoying.