After careful consideration (actually about three years of hand-wringing) I’ve decided to start publishing the Almighty Numeral with my reviews. After writing this year’s “Best Of 2008″ post I had second thoughts about my resistance to rating and ranking: I had about 25 cigars that I thought were worthy of being “Bests” and found the selection and ordering process excruciating. A numerical score might have helped me to rank them.
And while a numerical rating is no more objective for this purpose, using a consistent method of evaluation levels the playing field, making qualitative comparisons between blends a little less arbitrary. I hope.
Quantifying quality is a complex matter. Perhaps it shouldn’t be done at all. I will never feel totally comfortable with either my rationale or my evalution method, but I’m going to publish the rating numbers anyway with the understanding that they are not to be taken all that seriously. I have considered moving to a standard format as well, but unlike the White Queen I can only have one impossible thought before breakfast.
To describe my rating system a little:
I subscribe to the notion that the construction of a cigar is just as important as its flavor — for me a Flor de Oliva bundle cigar that burns well and tastes good is going to win over a plugged Cohiba Esplendido. So in my scheme construction and flavor are assigned equal weights.
Within the category of Construction, equal weights are assigned to four factors:
- Wrapper (evaluated for appearance, texture and consistency)
- Roll or Bunch (Density and uniformity)
- Burn (Speed, regularity/evenness and burn zone definition)
Lesser weight is given to cap quality (evaluated for appearance and integrity) and ash (density and integrity.)
My scoring sheet is a modified version of the one used by John Vogel’s Tabacos de la Cordillera — over the years I’ve looked at several different evaluation methods and this one impressed me the most in terms of its detail. For one thing, it places the smoothness (or in his terms, aggressiveness) of a blend in a position of great importance, and I agree with this wholeheartedly. For me it is equally as important as taste, which is why in my scheme they share equal weight.
- Agressiveness (smoothness) defined as tongue bite and/or throat burn, or preferably lack thereof, in the first and second halves of the cigar, with more leniency given for bite in the second half.
- Taste: Greatest weight is placed on balance. Points are deducted for excessive sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, or sharpness (metallic flavors.)
Lesser but substantial weight is given to aromatic qualities (judged for complexity) and aftertaste:
- Complexity (evaluated for distinctive aromas/flavors and transitions in flavor from start to finish.)
- Aftertaste (simply agreeable… or not, during the first half and then again in the second half of the cigar.)
The picture above is an example — if it can be seen clearly enough — of the first sheet for an evaluation of the Gran Habano No. 5 rothschild. Typically I would try to do at least two, preferably three of these and then average the numbers before publishing a review. The total points awarded the Gran Habano Corojo was 81 — a five point correction is added to the total, otherwise I would almost never rate a cigar over 90 points — giving the Gran Habano rothschild an 86 in this instance. That seems about right to me.
A numerical rating is never going to take the place of a considered review — with angelic flights of questionable description and history lessons where available — so my blathering will continue in its customarily undisciplined fashion. But now with an easily ignored numerical rating pinned to the donkey’s ass.