Gregory L. Pease, Associate Editor
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, if only for my own benefit: A single experience of something worthy of deeper consideration is always insufficient for critical evaluation. One cigar, one bowl of pipe tobacco, one sip of a great whisky does not, cannot, tell the whole story. This was brought home in rather bold relief just the other day when I was smoking the second example of a really good cigar, and found myself enjoying it even more than the first. Here’s the back story.
One of the perks of my job as Associate Editor of a cigar magazine is that I get the occasional free cigar to smoke. (Yeah, okay. Nothing is ever really free.) Sometimes, it’s a single, and though I always appreciate them, I am not likely to write about them, especially if I don’t have much good to say, because it’s unfair to harshly judge a cigar based on a single sample. (The probability of one bad cigar in a box of good ones is higher than the probability of a good cigar in a box of dog rockets.)
Last week, an extremely generous gift of a box of Oliva Cain Daytona 5x43s, a petit corona, arrived, along with a note saying, "I hope you enjoy these as much as I do." My benefactor for this wonderful gift had mentioned in a phone conversation that it was just the sort of cigar I’d love—rich, creamy, delicious, not overly strong, complex, woodsy, slightly sweet, with earthy overtones, and subdued spiciness. He clearly knows me too well, and has studied my vocabulary. I could hardly wait to try one with my morning coffee.
Upon lighting up, a delicate, honeyed sweetness was present, with beautiful oak and cedar wood notes, and hints of vanillin, white pepper… A lovely cigar. It developed beautifully throughout its length, and at the end, finished with a great memory, a happy disposition, and a smile. But, dammit, it wasn’t that creamy. Certainly not creamy enough to rave about, as my benefactor had when we chatted. And, it was a little spicier than I’d been led to believe.
Therein lies part of the problem with the "single experience." I’d been set up with a preconception about a couple aspects of the cigar that it didn’t quite deliver. Sure, it was absolutely delicious, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I still had a subtle, but nagging disappointment that it hadn’t quite given me the experience I was promised, the experience I expected.
Fast forward a few days. I smoked the second cigar from that box, accompanied by a cup of the same Bolivian coffee, brewed the same way. I came to this cigar with a different set of expectations, a different point of view. Here’s where I drop the other shoe:
It was absolutely superb. And, it was different from the first one. All that creaminess that I was promised was present in spades, and, indeed, the spiciness I found imbalanced in the first smoke now was subdued and perfect. Though it doesn’t seem like it, I’m really not talking about massive differences, here. It’s not like I smoked two cigars of different origin, but the confluence of subtle variations from one cigar to another combined with my own altered expectations resulted in a magnified difference in the smoking experience. We know, we accept that no two cigars will ever be exactly alike. In fact, that cigars are as consistent as they are is a great testament to the skills of the blenders and rollers. But, there are subtle variations from one cigar to the next, and in some ways, that’s part of the joy of cigar smoking. If we don’t pay attention, we might miss this, but when we’re smoking critically, sometimes those differences are more apparent. And, when we come to the experience with a different set of expectations, those differences can be amplified.
Another example comes to mind.
A few months ago, I bought a box of well-known cigars from a well-known national retailer. (Yes, I do sometimes actually pay for my cigars.) Upon their arrival, I did as I usually do, removing their cello sleeves, and putting them back into their cedar sarcophagus for a couple weeks’ breathing time. But, I couldn’t resist the urge to try one. It. Was. Dreadful. I scarcely made it to the half-way point before giving up on it. The thing was certainly well made, burned beautifully, possessed a lovely wrapper, and presented a nice aroma in the box—all the good things we like to talk about—but the balance and the flavors were dreadful. It was harsh, overly spicy, pungent with ammonia-like character, astringent; overall, quite unpleasant. I was almost convinced that I’d hate them enough to toss them in the rubbish bin, but, then took a moment to breathe and remind myself of my own credo; don’t judge by a single experience.
Over the ensuing months, I’ve smoked half the box. The second, after a week of air time, was much more pleasant, but still out of balance. The most recent was actually very enjoyable. I suspect the rest of the box will continue to improve over the time it takes me to get through them. That first cigar would have earned the lowest score I could conceivably give a cigar had I written it up; the last would have found itself pushing up towards 80 points.
Another factor to consider in judging how we experience something as ethereal as a good cigar. What we’ve eaten, what we’ve had to drink, our mood, the weather, even time of day can influence our perceptions more than we may realize. What’s wonderful in the morning on a relatively fresh palate might be too delicate to enjoy after a rich meal. What goes well with a cup of coffee might be completely overwhelmed by a peaty whisky. There’s a converse to all of this, too. More than once, I’ve smoked a cigar that I felt was absolutely magnificent, only to find myself disappointed that the experience was never duplicated. All of these factors can play a significant role in creating those great experiences, just as they can sabotage what would’ve been great ones.
So, next time you smoke a cigar that doesn’t meet your preconceived expectations, or match what you’ve read in a review, even ours (and, yes, we actually smoke the cigars we review), try to keep these things in mind, and don’t jump to what might be an unfairly harsh conclusion. The next one you try might be fantastic.
|Gregory L. Pease Associate Editor.
Greg joins us for regular cigar reviews, his monthly editorial column, "Up in Smoke," and the occasional feature article, bringing over 30 years of deep passion for the leaf to our team. Prior to becoming the founder and principal alchemist behind the pipe blends of G.L. Pease Artisanal Tobaccos (est. 1999), he’d been a pipe and cigar aficionado since his college days, and spent time working at the legendary Drucquer & Sons Tobacconist in Berkeley, California to support his affliction. He is widely educated on tobacco and all things epicurean, is an experienced writer, and has quite a refined palate. He is also a wine and spirits geek, and a gourmet cook.