Great Cigars Part II

Last month, we took a closer look at sight and touch, and the role that each plays in evaluating and enjoying a good smoke. Equally, if not more important, however, are taste and smell. Taste and smell are almost inseparable sensations. While some people may have more highly developed perceptions of taste or smell, nearly everyone agrees that clogged sinuses hamper their ability to taste. Basically, when you can't smell, half of the senses required for cigar smoking are missing. Aroma and taste are inseparable.

Regardless of the language used to describe and evaluate cigars, coming up with a blend of tastes that works requires many different types of tobacco. And to reach a consistent taste, one that stays the same year after year, is the most difficult task for any cigar maker. No two leaves of tobacco are the same, and no two cigars can be exactly the same year to year. Any tobacco, even tobacco grown on the same spot, changes constantly.

Cigar makers use several different tobaccos for two reasons. The first reason is to compensate for nature - which alters tobacco leaf taste from year to year, plot to plot and plant to plant. Producing and blending great handmade cigars has a multitude of variables and obstacles. Unlike the tightly controlled production of, say, Coca-Cola in a factory with artificial ingredients that never change, cigar makers are forced to contend with Mother Nature. Thus, the idea of a "consistent blend" as most think of it, is non-existent. For example, two red apples never taste exactly the same, but we've become accustomed to, and believe in, a certain taste attached to that piece of fruit. Likewise, no two cigars taste exactly the same, but adding a stronger tobacco one year and a weaker one the next to achieve the same "balance" creates the illusion of consistency, not necessarily a consistent blend.

Achieving this balance is also complex; there are an infinite number of variables that can alter the taste of any blend, such as soil, tobacco variety, climate, ground condition, curing, the harvester, fermentation, aging, manufacture of the cigar and the humidity of the cigar. But essentially, what it boils down to is that a binder, even one of relatively weak tobacco, will have some impact on the quality of the smoke, while the filler will determine overall strength; the wrapper will add a great deal of character, or not much at all, depending upon its condition, seed origin and type.

Aging and construction play a major role. A good cigar has a range and variety of tastes, and one way to alter those tastes is with different ages of tobacco. Typically, aging makes a smoother, richer cigar. Most experts agree that aging does not necessarily make a cigar better, but simply "rounder," producing a mellower character with less sharp tobacco taste. The final factor that contributes to taste is proper construction. Believe me, watch any novice roll a cigar - I've tried rolling cigars and trust me when I say I'm much better at selling and smoking them! Beyond every other element of taste, even with the finest blend in the world, a poorly constructed cigar will be less enjoyable than a perfectly made constructed only modest blend. There are many reasons why faulty construction destroys taste. First is the negative effect of a faulty draw. A loose draw (a cigar that burns fast, letting a lot of smoke pass through quickly because it is underfilled) will increase smoking temperature and destroy taste. A tight smoke reduces the sensitivity of the taste buds, and on a fundamental basis, drawing less smoke means having less to taste.