People just starting in cigars often ask me what the first step is. Get a humidor? Grab a box of cigars? Get a high end cutter and lighter? No, my friends. I will tell you why your first stop should be Target.
If you were like me, your first cigar was a gift from a cigar loving friend and you were instantly hooked. Next, I dutifully traveled to my local B&M and bought a handful of cigars, a cutter and a travel humidor to start storing cigars. Over the years I blindly grabbed cigars and never really understood why I was grabbing certain cigars or what I was looking for. My local tobacconist would ask me “What are you looking for?” and I would reply “Cigars??????” In short, I was just drifting along and picking up cigars with cool bands.
Then I got the best cigar advice I have ever had; get a notebook. Like most beginning cigar smokers, you might be trying everything under the sun to see what you like and what is not in your wheelhouse. With so many brands and blend variations, it is difficult to keep a mental note of which cigars you connect with and which ones you don’t. Without blend and vitola information, it is very difficult to develop your palate and narrow down your ideal profile. Recording cigar information in a notebook is essential in understanding how vitolas and blends work together to create amazing cigar experiences.
What to Look For in a Notebook:
The main thing is that your notebook is user friendly. You can get a cool leather bound one, or be like me and cover a cheap one with a ton of stickers. The key is that you go with something that works for you. Ideally, you want something you can bring to a herf and / or a B&M, so you can have all your information at hand.
What Goes in the Notebook:
The notebook’s contents is entirely up to you; however, there are some essential pieces of information you should record. Here are the basics:
- The Band: Cigar bands are mysterious and amazing art. Some bands have the name of the brand and the cigar and are pretty straight forward. Others are more conceptual and focus on an amazing piece of art, while others might only have a coloured ribbon at the foot. Gluing or taping on bands will both help you organise your notebook and help you find that cigar again in the future. Plus, these bands are just too cool to simply throw away.
- Blend Information: Listing the wrapper, binder and filler will help you understand characteristics of tobaccos from different nations. Moreover, it will help you get a greater understanding of how different tobaccos interact in a blend. Over time you can see which tobaccos you gravitate towards and which tobaccos you still need to try. Some blend information is very difficult to find, but do your best. You can find blend information by going to the cigar brand’s website or checking various cigar blogs. Great blogs to check for cigar information are Developing Palates and Cigar Dojo.
- Flavour, Construction and Draw: You can do this in a variety of ways. You can break your review up into first, second and final third; or you can have seperate categories for draw, burn, construction and flavour. Choose a structure that works best for you. If you want to try different styles, look at some professional reviews to see how they review cigars. Take a look at Cigar Coop, Stogies on the Rocks, Toasted Foot, Developing Palates and Cigar Dojo for ideas. You are not choosing the top 25 for Cigar Aficionado, so feel free to experiment with different structures until you find one you connect with.
- Vitola and Ring Gauge: This might seem straight forward, but it is very important. Will Cooper is the person who taught me that the vitola and the ring gauge influences how the blend performs. For example, I found the Tabernacle toro to be a good cigar, but the Tabernacle lancero was far more flavoursome and my favourite of the line. Therefore, be sure to try different sizes and ring gauges to find the one in the line that works best for you. There are some lines where I have different entries for each vitola. For example, I have 4 different entries for the Tabernacle, the Warped El Oso and the Davidoff Nicaragua. Do not underestimate the importance of the size and the ring gauge.
- Did you Like it: The most important piece of information is whether or not you liked the cigar. There are different ways to record this. Cigar Dojo evaluates cigars on whether they would smoke them again or not, while Cigar Coop has a system that ranges from try one to an oasis one of a kind cigar. Furthermore, some sites score cigars, while others give cigars a letter grade. Pick something that works for you and makes sense. In essence, you want something to let you know if this cigar is something you want to smoke again. I used letter grades, because that makes the most sense to me.
- Pairings: Now, this section is completely optional. If you are interested in pairing cigars with drinks, or music, be sure to record that information as well. I list songs when I am pairing with music. Now, when I am pairing with drinks, I list the drink and some general information about it. Then I give the pairing a letter grade and a brief comment about how much I liked it, or a note to never try it again. If you are interested in pairing, be sure to subscribe to Sharing Our Pairings on iTunes or catch it at Cigar Federation.
- Cigar Wishlist: There are far too many cigars to try. I suggest everyone just getting into cigars to listen to podcasts and read blogs to see what cigars they want to try. Great podcasts to check out are Developing Palates, Cigar Coop Prime Time, Cigar Jukebox (of course) and Cigar Federation. Now, Cigar Federation has Sharing Our Pairings, Cigar Chat and John “The Cigar Surgeon” does cigar reviews on that site as well. All of these will go over cigars that you can list to track down later. Moreover, Cigar Aficionado and other blogs all do end of the year rankings, which are great places to find new cigars to try.
Getting a notebook to record information is a great way to develop your palate and record which cigars are for you. I still go back to notebooks I made 4 years ago. Also, they are great resources when recommending cigars for other people or buying cigars for herfs. Once you find out what flavours and tobaccos people like, you can flip through your notebook for the perfect cigar and pairing. So, before you get a cutter and order that Dojo sampler, run to Target and pick up a few pens and a notebook. Putting in the time to take notes will add a lot to your cigar experience.