So now it is time to reveal the results of the Blind Reviews. A big thanks to Jamie of Zen and the Art of the Cigar for doing this with me. The project was a lot of fun. Jamie and I had a great conversation this past Thursday night as we went over the cigars and talked about the results of the blind tastings. The results were very interesting and made for some great conversation. One thing we discovered is that even when doing blind tastings it is possible for other influences outside of just knowing what the cigar is that can bias a review. We also learned some of the things that make blind tastings so challenging.
Let’s start with the outside influences. I believe the fact that I have such a strong preference for Pepin made cigars and have smoked so many of them, may have had me looking for some of the things I expect for those cigars. By the same token, Jamie explained to me that the fact he knew I was such a big fan of Pepin had him looking for the same things and influenced him on how he approached the cigars he was smoking. Much to his surprise I didn’t include any Pepin made cigars in the samples I gave him to smoke. But more on that soon.
Now as for the unique challenges of a blind tasting. I think I discovered that a big part of tasting cigars is in fact knowing what to expect. When smoking a Pepin smoke you look for the black pepper at the start and the robust earthiness at the core of a lot of his blends. If you smoked a new cigar from him and it didn’t have those tell tale flavors you’d notice it right off and start to focus in on what it was you are tasting. It is a different game when you have no idea what to expect, no idea what to look for. It raises the degree of difficulty in confidently identifying what it is you are tasting.
I will go through each cigar summarizing the reviews and detailing the guesses about the cigar and I will reveal the identity of the cigar. I will also share some of the thoughts Jamie and I had about each cigar and why the results were what they were (read “try and spin the results to not look so bad”). In my opinion, Jamie really shone here. He did an amazing job identifying the cigars and I will explain why as I go through them. I think he did the better job of the two of us.
- Cigar #1 – I smoked the cigar labeled number 1. This cigar had some major construction issues. Gaps in the filler, excessive tar in the head. The flavors were muddled and one dimensional. I thought the cigar had a Sumatran wrapper and guessed it was the cheap smoke. Cigar number one was actually the “mid-range” cigar. It was a Carlos Toraño 1916 Cameroon. Upon learning this I was a little surprised, but as we talked about it, it began to make more sense to me. I usually consider the 1916 a good cigar, but the truth is sometimes you can get a bad one, and when it’s bad it is usually pretty bad. Such was the case here. This 1916 was off, with a bunch of construction issues making it very difficult to identify. Jamie and I thought it was interesting that I guessed it had a Sumatran wrapper given that the Cameroon leaf is actually Sumatran tobacco that is grown in the Cameroon. Now I didn’t notice any of the sweet spice that normally is a dead giveaway of a Cameroon wrapper but like I said this cigar was off in a lot of ways so that may be why.
- Cigar #2 – Jamie smoked cigar number 2. He noted a dark, chipped wrapper, and flavors that were mild, safe, and not very complex. He noted that he thought it was a maduro but lacked the sweetness you’d expect from a maduro. He did state that he thought the cigar was the cheap smoke in the bunch and also said he thought it was a Honduran Maduro. Everything about this review was spot on except for when he guessed that it may be a Perdomo or Hoyo. Well picking the actual cigar is beyond tough, it’s near impossible so we can’t fault him for that. This cigar was in fact a Honduran cigar and the reason it looked like a Maduro yet lacked the tell tale sweetness is because it was actually an Oscuro wrapper which isn’t as sweet as a traditional maduro. This cigar was an El Rey del Mundo Robusto Larga Oscuro. Retailing at under $4 a stick this is the cheap smoke out of the bunch that I gave to Jamie. Like I said, he nailed this cigar and let me know right off that I partnered with an expert on this project.
- Cigar #3 – I smoked Cigar number 3. I found it to be robust, peppery, and complex with lots of strong robust flavors. I said it was very “Pepinesque” and guessed that if it wasn’t his that it was Nicaraguan in origin. WRONG. But in my defense this is not a typical Dominican smoke. Jamie thought I nailed the flavors pretty well, but truth is I was way off on my guess and here is why. This cigar was a 5 year old Opus X Super Belicoso. So this was the premium of the bunch that I was smoking, and it is not your typical Dominican cigar so I am sure you can forgive me for not guessing Dominican Republic on this one.
- Cigar #4 – Once again Jamie did pretty well nailing down this cigar. He said the wrapper was of the highest quality and looked to be a Maduro. He said it was smooth, balanced, but not overly complex. He noted a lot of forward spiciness with leather and earthiness. That coupled with his perception of me as a Pepin Garcia fan had him thinking “Pepin” on this one. His guess on this cigar was an EO 601 Green Label Oscuro. Well I thought he got the flavor pretty well on this one and he was exactly right that this was a premium cigar. He should have stuck with that thought when he made his guess. He said he thought this cigar was the premium stick, but then his guess was a cigar I would call mid-range. If he stuck to thinking of premium maduros I think he eventually would have zeroed in on this Perdomo Edición de Silvio Maduro.
- Cigar #5 – This one may win the “Biggest Surprise” award for this project. I smoked this cigar and was impressed with it from start to finish. It looked like a well made cigar. I smoked like a well made cigar. It tasted like an excellent cigar. I noted some decent complexity with some changes in flavor during the smoke. Na excellent appearance and an excellent draw and burn. It was quite mild in strength and body but the delicate flavors of espresso, cocoa, and oak were balanced and light on the palate. I thought it was a very enjoyable smoke and said if it wasn’t a premium smoke it was one heck of a good value. Looking back now I thought a bit on why I said that. Why I didn’t commit to saying it was the premium smoke, and I am not entirely sure, but something about it, as good as it was kept me from believing whole heartedly that it was a top shelf cigar. I wish I knew why so I could lay more credence to my words, but even knowing what I know now I can’t put my finger on it. As it turns out this was the cheap smoke of the three Jamie gave me. Cigar #5 is a Drew Estates La Vieja Habana Corojo. I have to say that this cigar impressed me. I thought it was an excellent mild cigar and at about $2 or less retail, it is quite a value. If I had known it was a Drew Estate cigar going in, I have to admit I probably would have went in expecting to to be horrible. Would that have colored my review? I don’t know. If I had known it was a corojo, I know I would have been disappointed because I wouldn’t have been expecting it to be so mild and I probably would have been put off by that. As it stands, I really want to pick up a few more of these and see if they can live up to the sample I smoked for this review.
- Cigar #6 – Yet again, Jamie shows he could be a professional taster. He starts off his review saying “I definitely think I have smoked this cigar before…” and truth is he was right. I picked this last cigar on purpose knowing he had smoked it in the recent past. I know. I’m sneaky, and mean. Well he got a 100% on this little test. I am humbled by his skill. He nailed the flavors, a little bit of spice with wood, leather, and coffee. He actually had the exact cigar figured out but he let his knowledge of me and my preferences sway him again and he guessed on his published review another Pepin Garcia stick. However, when we were discussing the cigars on Thursday night, before I revealed to him what the cigar was, he explained to me that he actually had another guess for this cigar that he didn’t publish with the review. He said he let my Pepin bias influence his guess, but that he also though that the cigar could be a Hoyo Excalibur Legend. DING! DING! DING! And we have a winner folks. He actually nailed the exact cigar! It was in fact a Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur Legend Challenger (robusto). Well done Jamie. Very Well Done!
So there you have it. This was a fun project to be a part of. I think I now have a heightened awareness of what goes into tasting a cigar now that I have done it without knowing what the cigar in question was. I hope to use that to do a better job in my reviews that aren’t blind. I wish we had videoed our conversation on Thursday night. We talked about a bunch more than what I detailed here and it was all great and interesting discussions on cigars, tobacco, and tastings. I just can’t remember everything and there was so much discussed I couldn’t attempt to put it all into this already very long post. This is fun to do though. I recommend you give this a try with a cigar buddy or two. You don’t have to write up everything for public consumption but it will make for some really great conversations for you and your buddies to have if you enjoy talking about cigars as much as my friends and I do.