Preparation – In getting ready for performing a review, I grab my cutter, lighter, camera, laptop and drink and head out to my smoking shed in the backyard. I am a creature of habit and virtually always use the same cutter and lighter. The cutter is a black Palio. It works flawlessly. It maintains sharp blades and works as a cigar rest due to its curved body. The lighter is a Ronson Jetlite which is butane single flame torch. This is a very inexpensive lighter that I was turned on to very early on when I started smoking cigars through the cigar forums I had joined. At the time I purchased it they ran $4.99 at my local Walmart and I grabbed about 8 of them as they were cheap enough and figured if they didn’t last or I lost some I’d have some backups. Well, after opening the first one, I’m still using it 4 years later and haven’t cracked the seal on any of the others I’ve purchased. The finish has worn, but it functions fine. You will typically see me using the Palio and Ronson in my review pictures.
Pictures – Once I have my laptop all setup, I will go just outside my shed to take some pre-light pictures of the cigar. There is a wooden play structure right outside my shed that gets some fantastic natural light, so I use that as the staging for my pictures when the natural light is available. The camera I use is a Sony Alpha DSLR-A300. It is on the lower end of digital SLR’s, and I use it because I like having some of the enhanced features of a DSLR, but I am in no way above a beginner in photography, so the features of a high end DSLR would be lost on me at the moment.
Review – After snapping a couple of pre-light pictures, I head back into my shed to start the review which begins with the pre-light experience. I login to our online review form and begin taking notes. I start with the appearance and feel of the cigar. Next, I note the aromas I get from the wrapper and from the foot. Finally, I cut the cap and take a couple of pre-light draws and note the flavors and aromas I get from that. When I do this, I actually retrohale these draws as I get far more flavor and aroma in this fashion.
Before the actual lighting, I take a quick measurement of the cigar and make small dots on the wrapper with a fine point Sharpie to denote the transition points for the second and final thirds. Thirds of a cigar are a somewhat arbitrary measurement as the cigar can have transitions at any point, but we feel it’s a good way to break up our notes so that the flavor and smoking experience isn’t written into a large block of text.
I take a quick drink and begin the toasting and lighting of the cigar. For my drink, I try to always have S.Pellegrino sparkling mineral water. This isn’t any of the flavored versions, but the natural version. I prefer to drink this as I feel it does a very good job of keeping my palate fresh and clean during the smoking experience. If I don’t have access to the S.Pellegrino, I will just go with plain tap water. I keep my drink in a Yeti Rambler Tumbler with a few ice cubes as this cup does an amazing job of maintaining the temperature of the liquid throughout the smoking duration. Our feelings on what to drink when reviewing cigars is to not introduce anything that may have an effect on the flavors of the cigars.
Once lit, I begin taking notes on my experience. I record what I taste, smell and experience, even if it’s just a brief moment as I want to try to relay my full experience. There can be many transitions or very few throughout each third, it really just depends on the cigar. In each third, I take a picture of the cigar in some location that has good lighting. At some point during the review we each take a picture that focuses on the burn to help relay what that looks like as well. As I reach the end of the third I’m smoking, I then record my score for that third and then move on to the next third.
Once I’ve completed smoking the cigar, the next scoring categories are burn and draw. I note down my experience throughout the cigar for those two areas as well as my score. I then move on to the final category which is overall experience. This is where we get to take the entire experience from pre-light until end and put our thoughts and score to it. This is very subjective and the whole could be better or worse than the individual parts. It really comes down to how the cigar made us feel. Along with my own thoughts, I try to give some insight into which types of smokers might enjoy the cigar or give some other guidelines around it to help with determining when or with what to smoke it.
That’s the process that I go through for my reviews. I am pretty consistent with this process which I believe helps keeps all of the cigars on even footing. When I read reviews, I like to get the same information from the same source, and if there are too many variables then I start wondering how cigar X would have fared if attribute Y would have been applied. In the end, I try to write what I would want to read and try to be as unbiased and transparent as possible.
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