Updated: Aug 22

Cigar ratings - so what are they all about?

You look at a website full of new world cigars, in big bold (sometimes flashing letters) it says rated xx by a certain publication. But what does that actually mean and should you take any notice of it. Today we’re going to dive into the world of cigar ratings and find out!

If you smoke cigars in the UK you’ve probably heard of Cigar Aficionado magazine, if you haven’t you should check it out, it is after all the biggest selling cigar magazine in the world from the USA. You may not however have heard of Cigar Journal, a European published magazine originally intended for cigar trade only readers, but increasingly gaining traction with the normal cigar smoker in the UK due to it’s in-depth cigar only content. On the web Halfwheel and Blind Man’s Puff are also big players in the cigar rating game. So rating cigars, what’s it all about?!

Firstly let’s be honest, the IPA I love, you may hate, the wine, whisky or rum I love you may love or hate. You see the human palette is subjective, that said, I can taste a beer or wine that I personally don’t like, but still tell it’s good quality, it’s just not to my liking. In new world cigars I will give you a perfect example. The Oliva Serie V Melanio was rated 96 by Cigar Aficionado, it is loved the world over, sells tens of thousands a year and yet I’m in a minority who think it’s a god awful cigar… The cigars construction is flawless, its draw is flawless, it’s burn line is flawless, everything about this cigar is flawless, yet to me it’s like smoking a hot sweaty cowboys leather jock strap after he’s been in the saddle all day… So if all our tastes are so different, should we be interested in a magazine or website’s rating of a cigar? Yes, especially if it has been reviewed by a panel, it could save you a fortune, or kissing a lot of frogs trying to find the next perfect cigar for you!

Why is a panel important? A panel smoothes out personal preferences if the scoring system has several dimensions to it. Back to my Oliva example, if I were on a panel and there were 3 scores (simplified to make the point) build, draw and flavour I would score it 10, 10 and 2 but the next judge may score his 9, 8, 10. Panels remove the element of personal taste by arriving at an average score. So does a high score guarantee you will like a particular cigar? No, it may not be to your personal taste, but it does tell you that it is better or worse than average (and these guys and girls taste a lot of cigars) and that there is a better chance than not, that you will like it. It also tells you if it is a quality product.

In a future blog I will dive a little deeper into the 4 well known reviewers methods to help you understand more. For now though in short hand here’s what the scoring brackets from each mean. Next time you see a new world cigar that has one of these 4 scores against it try it - I won’t guarantee you’ll like it, but there’s a good chance you will. And if you want to test your tastes against some of the cigar world’s leading cigar judges have a look at some of the top rated new world cigars we have in stock - are they right or wrong?!

Cigar Aficionado scores cigars on its 100-point scale as the following: 95-100 = Classic; 90-94 = Outstanding; 80-89 = Very Good to Excellent; 70-79 = Average to Good Commercial Quality; and 0-69 = Don’t Waste Your Money. Scores of 90 points or higher get attention from retailers and consumers.

HALFWHEEL is scored by individuals not a panel but has been producing very well respected cigar reviews for may years, rating scale as follows:

The three points are:

88 — Reviewer can recommend a box purchase.

86 — Reviewer can recommend a purchase of between three and five cigars.

84 — Reviewer can recommend a single cigar purchase.

Cigars scoring 83 and below are not inherently bad cigars, rather, that specific reviewer chooses not to recommend that specific cigar at this time.

Blind Man’s Puff, panel review, rating scale as follows:

99-100 = Epic

96-98 = Extraordinary

94-95 = Excellent

92-93 = Great

90-91 = Very Good

88-89 = Good

84-87 = Fair

82-83 = Subpar

79-81 = Mediocre

75-79 = Poor

70-74 = Bad

below 70 = unsmokable

Rated 95 by Cigar Aficionado, the Aging Room F55 Stretto - check them out!

The Don Lucas Classic Robusto rated 92 by Blind Man's Puff - we've got them here

The Rocky Patel ALRII rated 94 by Cigar Aficonardo and we have them here

Updated: Aug 22

How do you know if you will enjoy cigars, it’s really simple. If you like the flavour of smoked foods, think smoked salmon, ham, bacon etc then there is every chance you will like a cigar. Forget choking on acrid cigarette smoke behind the bike sheds! Cigars aren’t inhaled, it’s all about the flavour in the mouth. Traditionally cigars are known to go well with rums and whiskeys - and they still do. But with the huge diversity of cigars and flavour profiles from new world cigars, you can just as well enjoy a cigar with a G&T, IPA beer or red and white wines or a coffee.

Cigars can be you time, the one time in a day you switch off, sit, sip a drink and watch the world go by. Cigars can also be social time where you sit with others, sip a drink and put the world to rights or dance the night away. Cigars aren’t addictive, they’re a pleasure, time to be treasured, a moment of sanity in a crazy world. Cigars don’t discriminate, they don’t care where you’re from, they don’t care what you earn, they don’t care if you’re black, white Cuban or Asian. All they need is a little fire, a little care and treating gently.

Cigars fall into 2 main categories, Cuban cigars, which are still the most famous cigars and new world cigars (ironically both are technically in the New World!). Today we’re giving you a crash course in cigars, next blog we will guide you through the wonderful array of cigar smoking accessories, what you need and what you don’t need!

Cuban cigars, as a consequence of the political leaning in Cuba, and historically the incredible quality of tobaccos grown there are ‘Puros’, a puro is a pure cigar consisting of tobacco from a single country. New world cigars are produced mainly in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Philippines. We are now increasingly seeing cigars (and tobaccos) from Mexico, Costa Rica and Brazil coming on to the market though. With the lack of restrictions in new world cigar producing countries they are free to not only produce puro cigars, but blend tobaccos from all over the world. It provides the opportunity to make cigars with a limitless range of flavour profiles. It is this, along with a relentless focus on quality and product innovation which has peaked interest in a whole new generation of cigar smokers in the U.K.

Cigars then fall into 3 further categories (there is a 4th which is machine made which we will discuss another day). Hand rolled long filler, mixed filler and short filler. Premium cigars are hand rolled long filler, that is to say the cigar is rolled from entire sections of tobacco leaf. Short filler cigars are at the cheap end of the market and in the main rely on the scraps of tobacco left from making long filler cigars. Mixed filler (you guessed right!) are a mix of both and are moderately priced. If you are new to smoking cigars, buy the best you can, it will help you appreciate the quality, craftsmanship and flavours of a cigar. Hand rolled, Long filler is where it’s at, the vast majority of new world cigars available in the UK fall into that category!

A cigar has 3 component parts, the filler, which is the ‘core’ of the cigar, the binder, which holds the filler together and finally the wrapper which is the outside of the cigar. All 3 play a different role in how a cigar tastes and will be the subject of another blog in the future.

So what are the most common mistakes people new to smoking cigars make, and what cigars would be a great starting point? The biggest mistake most people new to cigars make is to go too big! Yes, size does matter! When you try a new whisky you try a small measure to see if you like it, then maybe a double and finally maybe a bottle. The same goes for cigars. Most cigars from the same company come in a range of sizes (vitolas), try the smaller ones first - they’re cheaper. If you like it try bigger ones. Eventually you will find the sizes you like. This will also help you learn the kind of flavours you like, just like different grapes, different tobaccos give different flavours. Smoking too quickly is the next biggest mistake, cigars are best smoked slowly, if they get too hot they can turn acrid. About a puff a minute is right, take your time, savour it. So, start small and take it slow.

Between our boutique and international new word cigars we have a number of cigars that are great choices for those just starting out. The 3 options below are a great example!

Thank you for reading, stay smokey, stay safe. Pete


Created with crazy genius, beer, rum, smokes and tears in 2019 - in loving memory of the most humble, loving, caring soul I ever met. Bracken. 2008 - 2019