Questions From a Reader…

question

A reader of the site posed some interesting questions. I asked him if it would be OK to post here, and he graciously agreed. I’ll weigh in with my two cents in a few days and I am curious to see what kind of comments this generates…

Jeff Writes,

I am only 3 months into this cigar smoking hobby/obsession. I want to raise some concerns as regards cigar ratings, and would be interested in what you and your readers think about it.

(1) I’m concerned that these ratings affect sales a lot more than they should. It seems the ratings have too much influence.
(2) I’m concerned that the advertisers and cigar retailers misrepresent the ratings of a given cigar by referring to a rating that is so old that no one knows what has happened to the quality in the subsequent years.
(3) I’m concerned that some retailers imply a cigar has a high rating when it was another size entirely that received the high rating, and not the one they are talking about.
(4) I’m concerned that most of the cigars being offered have ratings that are older than 2-3 years, and are suspect.
(5) Is it good for the industry that one publication in particular has so much influence?

The wine industry has 2 separate competing catalog-length ratings publications* that rate many thousands of wines, but we’re lucky if a cigar is rated once every 5 or 10 years. I’m not talking about the very small subset of the most popular premium cigars that are rated every few years.

There are very few current comparable cigar publications. Most of the cigar books date from the 1990’s, and there are no current comprehensive annual publications that rate cigars. By comprehensive I mean covering say 5000 current cigars, and by current I mean published either every year, or every other year.

This leaves us cigar smokers in the dark. We have no current comprehensive authoritative set of publications to guide us.

What do you and your readers feel about the concerns I have raised? (If this is not the best forum to use to raise these questions, what forums do you recommend?)

Yours truly,
Jeff Cohen




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  • http://www.cigarinspector.com Cigar Inspector

    Jeff, I learnt to rely on the cigar blogosphere when I want to have an idea about the quality of a particular cigar. Depending on its popularity, a Google search for “cigar name + review” will return anywhere between 3 and 20 relevant results from legitimate resources.

    By scanning through these reviews you are pretty sure to find all the info you need and decide what kind of rating it deserves. As a bonus, you will also be able to track the evolution in the opinions as blog posts are timestamped.

    Hope this helps :)

  • http://www.thefridaycigar.com Carl

    Hey Jeff,

    you’ve raised some important questions that many new and seasoned smokers should consider. Many of us with some experience put very little weight on ratings when considering what new cigars (or wines, or whiskies…) to try. I think the question is whether or not to assign someone (say a magazine writer) with enough authority to decide what you should try. Cigar Inspector has a great point (and a great blog) to consider: most of my favorite cigars were ones that I read about on trusted blogs or came reccommended from friends who share similar tastes. I’ve found that after trying smokes that were highly rated by different blogs, I know which bloggers share similar tastes to me. These ratings (by people just like you and I) are trusted by me far more than those of any magazine.

    As for questions about the impact of advertising on the industry, consider this: do you listen to Britney Spears? My guess is probably not. But many, many people do. It doesn’t mean that her music is particularly good, or even better than others. But if you get your exposure to music only from listening to the radio rather than from the suggestions of others who share your taste, you’re likely to think that Britney Spears is one of the best musicians out there. The radio (and Cigar Afficionado) are convenient sources of exposure, but not necessarily the best. But certainly, their influence on sales is unmistakable.

    Great topic Barry!

  • http://www.stogiereview.com Walt

    (1) I’m concerned that these ratings affect sales a lot more than they should. It seems the ratings have too much influence.

    It would seem that your concern here involves only reviews in print. In that case, it is a very valid concern. The big dog is Cigar Aficionado, which is known to make a company’s year with a “cigar of the year” ranking. This publication has been around for some time and probably has, by far, the largest readership of all print publications.

    Fortunately, some of the people that relied only on this publication for credible reviews are expanding their horizons to magazines such as Smoke, European Cigar Cult Journal, Cigar Magazine, Cigar Press, and Cigar Snob. In addition, some of these same people are broadening their horizons to include online review sites.

    Regardless if Cigar Aficionado looses significant foothold on the industry (which is unlikely), there will always be those that rely on their final score and make thier purchases without any other considerations.

    (2) I’m concerned that the advertisers and cigar retailers misrepresent the ratings of a given cigar by referring to a rating that is so old that no one knows what has happened to the quality in the subsequent years.

    Because some of these ratings can make or break a company’s particular product, when they are a hit they latch on to that rating and continue to use it for as long as possible. Even if the same product is reviewed at a later date and scores lower that the first go-round, you can expect the “shelf talkers” to promote the higher ranking to boost sales.

    (3) I’m concerned that some retailers imply a cigar has a high rating when it was another size entirely that received the high rating, and not the one they are talking about.

    This is very possible and the only way to protect yourself is to double check the information or only buy from a retailer that you trust. Some people see no issue with bending the truth to sell a product and will tell you that one vitola will be very similar to another regardless of score. For a new cigar smoker this is a valid problem that you may encounter.

    (4) I’m concerned that most of the cigars being offered have ratings that are older than 2-3 years, and are suspect.

    This goes back to concerns #2 and #3. The only thing you can do in this situation is purchase from a retailer you trust. This is a good example of one of the advantages of buying from a Brick and Mortar tobacconist rather than ordering online based on sales copy.

    In addition, it isn’t always the retailer that is the problem. Some manufacturers provide advertising materials to be placed with their product in the humidor. The retailer may not realize the information provided is incorrect, or simply place it in the humidor anyway.

    (5) Is it good for the industry that one publication in particular has so much influence?

    No, it is not good. Fortunately, more quality magazines and blogs are popping often enough to take some of the emphasis off of Cigar Aficionado

    All of your concerns are valid ones that every new cigar smoker should look in to. By doing business with companies that you trust, as well as broadening your horizons to other producers of cigar ratings and reviews, you lower the chances of falling victim of “…. but Cigar Aficionado scored it a 95 and called it a classic cigar, this thing is terrible”.

    The best thing you can do is find a reviewer(s) with a similar taste to your own and put more emphasis on their opinion than you would a popular magazine or sales copy.

    That is my take on it, anyway
    -Walt

  • JAM

    I agree the rating makes all the difference but only with Premium cigars, but then again barry is the only one i know of that will rate a Private blend or a 2nd, its like wines back in the days wines would be priced by the rating wine enthusiasts gave it not what the people rated it at would anyone smoke a cigar that had a rating less then 80 or buy a bottle of wine less then 80you will never go to a wine store and the guy will say take this bottle of canei wine at 14.00 no he is gonna sell you a bottle of barolo at 25.00 same goes for a cigar shop

  • HotelMotelHolidayInn

    can’t rely on anyone’s taste……. just gotta go out and experiment for yourself……. just like dating….. Hotel Motel Holiday Inn

  • http://tikibaronline.blogspot.com/ dmj

    Walt effectively answered just about every concern and others have touched on most of the other important aspects, but one of the bits I picked up on was the lack of a “comprehensive annual publication” to rank all 5,000 or so smokes that are out there. One of the inherent problems with such an undertaking is simply this: who will do it?

    Cigar Aficionado does their ratings blind and by committee (if you take them at their word, and I choose to rather than give in to wild conspiracy theories). Other magazines and blogs take different tactics. I’ve heard someone say that CA only smokes part of the cigar before rendering an opinion, while I tend to smoke it down to the last half inch or so before pronouncing judgment. Of course, one difference there is that I may review 10 to 15 cigars a month whereas CA’s panel reviews 40 or more. If I had to render an opinion on 40 sticks a month, I probably wouldn’t smoke them all the way, either.

    Also, everyone tastes differently based on their experiences and preferences and biological makeup. So what I perceive as being a classic cigar and the best of 2009 (LFD Salomon) only ranked number 13 for CA, while I thought their “Cigar of the Year” was excellent, but no higher than number 5 for the year. Everyone’s opinion is likely to be different.

    So, if you are asking someone or some organization to come up with a comprehensive cigar ranking guide on an annual basis, I think you will rapidly come up against this brick wall: no one person has the time to rank 5,000 cigars annually. If they only spent 45 minutes on each one, they would spend 10.5 hours a day, every day, smoking. While that may sound like fun, I wouldn’t trust that person’s taste buds to be very effective after the first day or two. If you break up the work among several people, you will end up with inconsistencies in review style and flavor preferences from reviewer to reviewer, making for a mess of a book.

    Bottom line, read the ratings to get a general guideline. If a general consensus of reviews agrees that a particular cigar is worth trying, then try it. If you like it, buy it again; if not, you’ve gained some experience. Always be willing to give a cigar a second chance, too. If something has received consistently high ratings, but you smoke it and just don’t like it, don’t be afraid to try it again at some point. Maybe you got a bad stick for whatever reason, maybe something you ate or drank before smoking put off your taste buds a bit, maybe there was some other environmental factor that caused you to not enjoy the stogie. I have given “second thoughts” to a few cigars like that and found that, more often than not, I was happy I did.

  • Adam T

    This was a very good post, if you don’t mind I’m going to add my two cents…

    (1) I’m concerned that these ratings affect sales a lot more than they should. It seems the ratings have too much influence.

    They most certainly do. What is the difference, exactly, between a 92 in CA and a 94? Well for Oliva, it likely meant a 50% bump in sales of their Serie V. Maybe more.

    (2) I’m concerned that the advertisers and cigar retailers misrepresent the ratings of a given cigar by referring to a rating that is so old that no one knows what has happened to the quality in the subsequent years.

    This is going to happen no matter what – at some point it is up to the consumer to make an educated decision. As long as the blend is the same (more on this at #4), if a company can technically ‘tell the truth’ and sell more product, then that is what they’re going to do. I’m more concerned with the idea that a 94+ is somehow ‘elite’, and a 90 is just ‘very good’, when we all know that at some point shades of ‘fantastic’ become very subjective.

    That said, often a very good small-batch cigar can take a turn for the worse when demand kicks in after a very good rating. So even though the manufacturer might be trying to keep the cigar the same, it never really lives up to the rating’s rep. The Onyx Reserve Mini Belicoso comes to mind from a few years back.

    (3) I’m concerned that some retailers imply a cigar has a high rating when it was another size entirely that received the high rating, and not the one they are talking about.

    Again, this is misleading, but I don’t mind it as much since as long as the blend and wrapper are the same, the size of cigar you prefer can vary dramatically from person to person.

    (4) I’m concerned that most of the cigars being offered have ratings that are older than 2-3 years, and are suspect.

    This goes back to #2, and I agree that it is a major problem. Let’s look at the Padilla 1932, for example. DPG used to blend the cigar (but no longer), and they are using the ratings they received back then to sell their new version! It’s a completely different cigar!

    (5) Is it good for the industry that one publication in particular has so much influence?

    Absolutely not. Luckily (as previously stated by commentors), blogs are having a massive effect on the industry, at least when it comes to us hard-core fans. What’s really amazing to me is that most cigar smokers are completely uninformed about all of this. Macanudo is still the best selling cigar in the US. Who, exactly, is smoking all of those?!?

    Anyway, you bring up some very good points. And I’m including a link that may or may not interest you. It is updated every year, though obviously not every rating is updated.

    http://www.cigarcyclopedia.com/webapp/content/view/930/36/

  • http://tikibaronline.blogspot.com/ dmj

    “Macanudo is still the best selling cigar in the US. Who, exactly, is smoking all of those?!?”

    I actually have a friend who loves Macanudos…he’s not a cigar enthusiast, but thinks Macs are the best out there. So when I get them as freebies at “members’ night” or whatever, I save them to give to him (or to smoke while riding my lawnmower!). I guess the question would be…do you know a cigar enthusiast who has willingly bought a Macanudo (besides the 1968)?

  • Jeffrey Cohen

    First, I want to thank everyone who responded to my query with such thoughtful, helpful, and informed comments. It was very gratifying. I plan to take the suggestions offered.

    Thank you Barry, for posting my questions in such a manner as to elicit these terrific responses.

    Appreciatively, Jeff

  • http://www.acigarsmoker.com Barry

    Jeff,

    You are welcome. I was going to chime in with a comment, but the readers covered it all. I thank them as well.

    Barry

  • OlivaSerieV

    I know ratings are controversial. like having a CA top 25 every year as I use it to see if there might be any good smokes that I am missing out on. I try to smoke every vitola ranked in the top 25 minus the Cuban ones since I live in the US.

    I also appreciate that Barry unlike many others places number ratings on his reviews. When something he smokes rates 90 or higher I tend to put it on my radar if I have not smoked any of them. I do realize his numbers define how cigars hit his palate, but if a new smoker would start down his list smoking the highest rated ones first they would be bound to stumble on something that they like.

    The process/journey of finding your favorite cigars is part of what makes this so much fun.

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