Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

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For the most part, people tend to think “a cigar rating is a cigar rating”; but looking into the numbers, this isn’t actually the case. With Cigar Aficionado utilizing the 100 point scoring system that was very successfully used for wine, it made sense that many other cigar media entities would use the same scoring format as it is very familiar to people as a rating system. Other than the system’s basic structure, how various sites/magazines work within it are different. With those differences, and taste being very subjective, it’s only logical that the results would be different.

With this possibility, we were very interested in digging into the numbers to be able to clearly see what these differences were rather than just being speculative. What it shows is that each site/magazine uses the ratings in their own individual ways.

What we did was identify some of the more popular media outlets that utilize the 100 point system. If an outlet was not included, it was either due to the fact that their full library of scores are not available online, they do not have at least a 3 year history of reviews, they are not consistent with giving scores as part of reviews or that we were just not aware of the brand.

We collected all review scores from the most recent 3 year window. Different brands have different review frequency so there are some wide ranges in the number of reviews included, but over a 3 year window, it provides ample data to be able to do some analysis. With this data, the average score was determined as well as a simple histogram mapping out the quantity of reviews that were given a particular score. From there, we were able to make some observations from the data which is shared below.

Cigar Aficionado

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

We’ll start with Cigar Aficionado since the magazine began earlier than any of the other entities in this article and, like it or not, is still the standard where ratings and scores are compared. The average score across 2,245 reviews is 89.1. There were 443 reviews that were given an 89, 418 were given a 90 and 352 were given an 88. With the bulk of reviews getting an 89 or 90, cigars need to score 91 or higher to start differentiating themselves from the pack. This makes sense as they use the 91 point marker as a cutoff for cigars to qualify for their cigar of the year ranking. On both sides of their most frequent ranking of 89, they produce scores on the higher side 13% more than they do on the lower side.

Blind Man’s Puff

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Blind Man’s Puff has multiple reviewers on each review which uses a formula to generate the overall score. The overall score is what was used to generate this data. The average score across 382 reviews is 90.2. There were 94 reviews that received a 90, 81 were given a 91 and 72 were given an 89. With the bulk of reviews getting a 90 or 91, cigars need to score 92 or higher to start differentiating themselves from the pack. On both sides of their most frequent ranking of 90, they produce scores on the higher side 30% more than they do on the lower side.

Cigar Coop

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Coop consists of a single reviewer which takes the variation from multiple reviewers out of the equation. The average score across 656 reviews is 90.8. There were 146 reviews that received a 91, 144 were given a 90 and 133 were given a 92. With the bulk of reviews getting between a 90 and 92, cigars need to score 93 or higher to start differentiating themselves from the pack. On both sides of the most frequent ranking of 91, he produces scores on the lower side 21% more than he does on the higher side.

Cigar Dojo

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Dojo has a team of reviewers but just a single person on each review. The average score across 209 reviews is 90.2. There were 41 reviews that received a 90, 28 were given a 92 and 27 were given a 91. There were also two other scores that were very close which were 88 and 89 both having 23 reviews each. The score distribution is pretty unique as there is a clear high frequency of 90, but 88 to 93 are all pretty equal. With the bulk of reviews getting a 90 and an even spread for secondary scores between 91 and 93, it’s not as easy to draw a direct correlation of where the tipping point is for cigars to differentiate themselves from the pack. On both sides of the most frequent ranking of 90, they produce scores on the higher side 27% more than they do on the lower side.

Halfwheel

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Halfwheel has a team of reviewers but just a single person on each review. The average score across 911 reviews is 86.7, quite a bit lower than the rest of the media outlets. There were 103 reviews that received an 88, 96 were given an 87 and 93 were given an 89. What’s interesting is that there is a bit of a gap between what the average rating is compared to what the most given score is. The gap is larger than a full point, so it’s not something just occurring from rounding. Part of this reason is that the site is the only one from this group to publish any scores below a 74. There are 20 scores below a 74 with the lowest being a 50. With the bulk of reviews getting an 87 to 91, cigars need to score 92 or higher to start differentiating themselves from the pack. On both sides of the most frequent ranking of 88, they produces scores on the lower side 25% more than they do on the higher side.

The Cigar Authority

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

The Cigar Authority reviews primarily come from a single person, but there are a couple of reviews from others mixed in, so the variation is very low in regards to consistency. The average score across 600 reviews is 91.6. There were 117 reviews that received a 92, 116 were given a 91 and 105 were given a 90. With the bulk of reviews scoring between a 90 and 93, cigars need to score 94 or higher to start differentiating themselves from the pack. On both sides of the most frequent ranking of 92, they produces scores on the lower side 54% more than they do on the higher side.

Tiny Tim’s Cigar World

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Tiny Tim consists of a single reviewer which takes the variation from multiple reviewers out of the equation. The average score across 230 reviews is 91.7. There were 67 reviews that received a 92, 45 were given a 91 and 43 were given a 93. With the bulk of reviews scoring between a 91 and 93, cigars need to score 94 or higher to start differentiating themselves from the pack. On both sides of the most frequent ranking of 92, he produces scores on the lower side 30% more than he does on the higher side.

Conclusion

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

The score of 90 has seemed to be the magic number that people look for to determine when a cigar is “good”. We think it goes back to the 100 point scoring system in school where a 90 and above was an A. In seeing that the majority of the entities here give a 90 or above as their most frequent rating it may need to be determined if most of the cigars out there, or at least those being rated, are considered “good”, if the score that consumers use needs to be bumped up or if reviewers need to adjust their ratings to bring the scale back down.

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

As far as we know, none of these brands only review cigars they like or that are going to score above a certain threshold, so that shouldn’t be one of the traits that shows a higher average rating. It may be possible that some of the brands don’t publish some (or a lot of) lower scoring cigars they review and that could be a trait that leads to a higher leaning average score.

As you can tell by the scores given across the brands, a 90 is not a 90. It’s not enough just to know that someone is using a 100 point system, you also need to know their tendencies to get a feel for where they score most often to truly gain value from the score given. It’s most likely that the words in the review are more objective than the numbers given and it would be much easier to discern the value of the review from reading the notes than just looking at the score.

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter to most people that there are differences in scoring between brands just as there are lots of people that pay no attention to the words in reviews and look solely at the score given. This was an interesting exercise for us as we were pretty sure there was a difference just based on casual comparisons and we’re glad we went through it to get the data to back it up. For the others that are into such things, we hope you find the article interesting.

You can find the follow up to this article with opinions here.

Cigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90
Aaron LoomisCigar Editorial: When is a 90 not a 90

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