Pre-light – Consistency is key here. Before heading into every cigar review, I treat it kind of like the way I head into a session of powerlifting. I first ensure I eat a substantial meal an hour before the smoking session. This is to ensure I can judge the strength and body of the cigar as objectively as I can. The meal has to consist of foods that are especially not too spicy, too salty, in general not spiked with a lot of sharp flavors. Doing this allows my palate to open and taste (unbiasedly) a broader spectrum of flavors. In addition to the food, I make sure I am hydrated with filtered water. I choose water because it is non-flavored and does the job of hydration. Often times, not being hydrated gives way to acrid and harsh flavors.
In addition to food and hydration, mental preparedness is also key. I make sure to read all literature I can regarding the blend of the cigar (wrapper, binder, filler), blender, price point, factory bunched and rolled, etc. This prepares me to have an idea of what I may be in for. For instance, if the manufacturer discloses an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, I think medium to medium full bodied and medium light to medium strength cigar. First cigar of the day if you will. If the manufacturer discloses Connecticut Broadleaf, I think medium full to full body and medium strength. A cigar towards the later part of your day if you will.
Upon completing the above, I move into my single car garage detached from the main house with my laptop and glass of filtered water. I smoke in my garage for three reasons; One, wind protection. Two, brings forth the aromas of the cigar. Three, neutral smell so that I can taste the cigar without the fragranced aromas of the house. I use my laptop to input all of my notes. I created an Excel spreadsheet with both the qualitative and quantitative scores for each of our weighted sections. I have filtered water to sip on to clean my palate between draws.
Post-light – Before toasting the foot of the cigar, I gauge the look, feel and pre-light aromas of the cigar. For looks, I gauge band, wrapper shade and consistency. For the feel, I feel for how well the cigar was bunched and rolled (pinch test), head presentation (specifically, how well the cap is applied), veins and seams (how well the veins are pressed and how tight the seams appear). This is all done to gauge if the cigar will burn and draw properly. For the pre-light aroma, I nose the wrapper and foot and get a sense of pre-light draw aromas. This is namely done to see if there are any off putting notes. But since (in my opinion) there is no direct correlation between pre-light aromas and draw versus the smoking experience, these exercises are more for fun than anything.
After giving the cigar a good toast, I input on my Excel sheet the time (to gauge smoking time). I review the flavor, strength and body of the cigar in thirds (first, second and last third). I jot down notes in bullet point fashion so that I can chronologically capture the profile throughout the entire cigar. Also, throughout the entire smoking experience, I write notes on the construction of the cigar (draw, burn rate, ash marks and consistency). Sometimes I will have a flavor wheel to reference (like the one from Cigar Inspector). This is namely to capture specific notes I am tasting that I cannot exactly pinpoint. I use the flavor wheel on about 30% of the reviews. Lastly, when I am done with the smoking experience, I capture the overall experience. Some questions I answer is, “is this a good representation of a “x” wrapper?” “how well did “x” factory bunch and roll the cigar?” “how did this cigar benchmark against others of similar kind (wrapper, blender, manufacturer, etc)?” “was it a tasty cigar?” I may write these notes in my written review or I may talk about them in our video recap.
In a nutshell, this is my methodology. I can elaborate in much greater details about all the points made, so feel free to ask me any questions!
Sherm - August 19, 2016
Very compressive Jiunn. Do you find yourself having any bias towards or against a specific manufacturer or factory if it is not a blind review? Would be interested to see some overall thoughts from your reviews. Which factories produce the best constructed cigars, do certain manufacturers/factories produce better burning cigars, what are some good examples of a blend type for comparison
JIUNN W LIU - August 19, 2016
I honestly miss smoking cigars blind. But when I review I take an objective approach. No doubt I prefer certain tobaccos and manufacturers out there but when I review I try to benchmark off the same playing field (for example if I am reviewing a Connecticut broadleaf, I benchmark against other Connecticut broadleaf and not say habano 2000).
You bring up really great points about doing comparisons (factory, construction, etc). We are thinking of doing editorials covering these topics when we do the year end wrap up.
Thanks for reading my post Sherm!
Wylaff - August 19, 2016
Subtle power lifting reference there. XD
This was cool to read. I’m curious as to how many samples you burn before a review? Is everything based off of one stick, or do you take an average?
JIUNN W LIU - August 19, 2016
Gotta love some powerlifting to get my fat ass off the couch!
We ask cigar companies to provide us two samples each (four total for Aaron and I). I smoke two when given. But if I only have one, I will just smoke that (typically for htf cigars). The most I will smoke is three.