Stay connected and sign-up for emails to get exclusive deals and event info.
Like a fine wine, bourbon, or scotch, premium handmade cigars offer subtle notes and nuances that, if you’re not paying attention, can be completely overlooked. While developing your palate to distinguish all the flavor characteristics that a premium cigar can offer takes time, it’s a rewarding experience that can open new dimensions for your cigar enjoyment.
The senses of taste and smell work together in helping us define a premium cigar’s flavor characteristics. Cigarmakers and those who rate cigars and offer descriptions of their own smoking experience borrow heavily from the culinary world when describing how a cigar tastes comparing a cigar’s notes to herbs and spices, fruits and nuts, earth and minerals, and plants and flowers. For example, Drew Estate’s Herrera Estelí Brazilian Maduro is described as having smoking characteristics of spice, pepper, and floral notes with a hint of Mexican dark chocolate. The important thing to remember when trying to identify a cigar’s flavor is that a person’s taste is subjective and can be influenced by other factors such as previous meals or drinks that a person might enjoy with the cigar. If you’re smoking a cigar and picking up caramel notes and you love it while a magazine rating doesn’t mention caramel in its flavor profile and gives the cigar a poor rating, don’t worry about it. Only you are the expert of, well, you, and no one has the authority to tell you that you’re wrong when it comes to the flavors you experience when smoking a cigar. While taste overall is subjective, there are steps you can follow to pick up the nuances you might not have noticed before.
Before lighting a cigar, cut it and bring the cigar to your mouth, and puff on it like you would if it were lit. This is called a “Cold Taste” and it will tell you how the cigar will draw and offer hints of what the cigar might taste like. You can also bring the cigar foot up to your nose and deeply inhale to get a hint of what flavors and aromas the cigar might offer. For example, if you were to cut a Tabak Especial Dulce and draw on it before lighting, you might pick up slight notes of coffee, cream, Spanish cedar, and milk chocolate. After lighting the cigar, relax and puff slowly and let the smoke linger in your mouth for a few seconds, and try to discern what areas of your palate the smoke stimulates. Our taste buds pick up five basic flavor sensations: salt, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami. While the flavor receptors on our tongue work together to distinguish the sensations we taste, the intensity of the stimuli is localized based on the specific basic flavors we’re experiencing. Sweet sensations are localized to the tip of the tongue; saltiness can be discerned on the sides of the tongue toward the tip; sour is localized to the flavor receptors on the side of the tongue toward the back of the mouth; bitter is experienced in the back of the tongue; and umami has a mouthwatering effect over the entire palate that favorably intensifies the effect of all the individual taste sensations. Cigarmakers work tirelessly to craft blends that feature tobaccos that complement each other while stimulating each of the five basic tastes throughout a cigar’s smoking experience to achieve harmony and balance.
Taste buds on the tongue are only able to tell part of the story. We also have flavor receptors in our noses, and these are more sensitive than those on our tongues. To pick up the more nuanced notes in a cigar, wave it under your nose to smell its aroma. You can also “retrohale.” Take a puff and slowly release about half of the smoke from your mouth. Push the remaining smoke to the back of your mouth with your tongue while exhaling. The remaining smoke will exit through your nose allowing you to pick up on the subtleties of the aroma. Many premium cigar manufacturers insist that if you do not retrohale you will not experience the full flavor range of a particular blend.
A cigar’s “finish” describes the length of time its flavor sensations last on the palate. Cigars with a short finish don’t offer stimuli that last for long while those with a long finish, such as Drew Estate’s Liga Privada line or Undercrown 10, offer taste sensations that linger longer.
Paying attention to how a cigar stimulates your palate and retrohaling to pick up the more nuanced notes a cigar blend offers can bring new levels of appreciation for the cigars you enjoy and the artistry of the master cigar blenders who create them. It’s also fun to enjoy the same cigars with friends and compare notes on how each person experiences it. You may even want to start your own cigar dossier to keep track of the cigars you have smoked, and which ones you prefer! While taste, after all, is subjective, the enjoyment that a fine handcrafted premium cigar offers is universal.