After a few months of fairly well mannered, thought provoking rants I finally found a topic that, although it has been under my skin for a while I have never really had the need to move it to the surface but now is the time! A number of magazines, blogs, podcasts and forums fall victim to what I consider no different than an attempt to provide a ‘quick answer’ to something that can not be properly explained in a briefing. You can’t explain Quantum physics in 3 words the same way you can’t describe a cigar with a number. I may go off the deep end (which is probably why you read these), but how fucking stupid must we be to buy into the bullshit?
What I am specifically talking about is the way that cigars are being judged and projected to the masses – reviewed if you will. Lets start with the big dog of the cigar world (although hated by some, loathed by others) Cigar Aficionado and their ‘cigar rankings’ have left me with more than a little to be desired. Lets take a step back from the current situation and pretend that they do not slant their reviews upon sponsorship or publicity (which we all know has a decent influence on the results) and simply gave their honest reviews on the product. I know – scary thought.
In this scenario though, we could expect the reviewing board to look at the cigars amongst several different yet standard factors; Construction, burn, color and draw – give us scientific, repeatable data that can be examined amongst several individuals across the world at any time – a constant – in this respect I feel a numeric or graphic representation of ‘quality’ could be properly portrayed and would actually be beneficial to the consumer and the cigar community. If a number of people smoke cigar X and notice that it is continually plugged or that it cracks half way during smoking, I would consider not smoking it or prepare myself with the proper tools to alleviate said issue but I would still see value in the data.
When it comes to packaging, advertising and aesthetics I feel those ‘numbers’ are by in large a personal opinion and can be greatly debated. Granted now – minor aspects such as quality of wood, hardware or display capabilities would have a small factor (if the box falls apart, not so great or if a 21 cigar count box take up shelf space of 2 boxes when opened that may affect retail displays) but it appears to me that some review sites and magazines include these factors as if they would make the cigar any better or worse because it uses a cheap or expensive wood for their boxes. If the box is a piece of shit but the cigar is fantastic, then who fucking cares?
So, given the repeatable query of data, I would say that only 50% or less of the cigar can really be quantitatively diagnosed, the other portion falls into that gray area of ‘personal opinion’. The flavor, although a huge portion of a cigar and the driving aspect for purchase (in my own mind and my wallet), is not something I would feel comfortable putting a number ranking on. Bad example but try to compare it to a pizza – a specific brand may be your first choice, maybe a specific set of toppings or a style of crust but the fact remains you are getting a pizza – an item with certain, repeatable characteristics. Just because Bob likes Dominos or Sue likes Papa Johns does not mean that one should be ‘ranked higher’ than another simply based upon their flavor preferences – that is subjective to each person at a specific time. I understand we have preferences, but that is not a definable base. Hell, the same person eating the same product on two different days may report the flavors in two totally different extremes yet both would be correct. If Bob likes the first pizza and gives it a 95 and sue likes her pizza and gives it a 95 and leaves it at a numeric answer without divulging specific information as to how the numbers were decided – really… what information have we learned? Not a god damn thing.
I feel the same way with some of these ‘rankings’ that are given out on cigars – for fucks sake, how many times have we seen ‘Cigar Aficionado rated 90+’ – in my research the lowest ranking cigar I was able to find from the magazine was a 75, meaning that 0-74 truly is a null value and although “92 CA ranking’ sounds nice and may help to sell some product with well placed advertising, we still have no idea – at a glance – where this number came from or what it represents in regards to why it did not make a 100. So in my mind, CA is reporting a 1-25 ranking, most of their smokes in the higher 2/3 of said ranking possibilities. I find it very hard to believe that magazines and blogs refer to their grading scale purely on non-judgmental information and even if they did, where is the baseline?
To me, in order to have a solid ranking system (which can work if done properly, and I have seen a few blogs who took the time to clarify their remarks and I must say to them, thank you) of course you want the ability to highlight a specific high performing smoke but how can you do that without showing what the ‘bottom of the barrel is’ for comparison. I don’t feel anything out there should get the lowest or the highest possible score because I feel there is a level of variance – you can always do better or always do worse but at the same time please give a marker to judge your numbers by.
I do like the way that some of these sites attempt to cover up this possible quandary, explaining that a cigar will give off a certain ‘level of flavor’ of a specific type (which I fall victim to myself), ie A healthy dose of pepper or mild hint of leather – yes, I feel that is information that should be included and analyzed but I don’t see how someone could say (and I saw this on a site before) ‘I give the first third a 75 but once it warmed up a 90 but at the end an 80 ending at a 85’ – what are your comparisons for us to go by? It just pisses me off that someone who may be a full body smoker will give a mild cigar a lower ‘ranking’ because it was not as flavorful or complex as the full body smoke – well no shit Sherlock.
I look at this similar to the car industry – lets take a random company X as an example. Depending upon your requirements, they have many different options to fit the requirements of the consumer (similar to cigars size, body, shape, etc) as well in many different price options. There may be the day to day ma and pa kettle grocery getter – which is mild and one dimensional but consistent and cost effective or on the flip side the old man in their mid life crisis hot rod that will pass everything but a gas station and mechanic shop – although exciting, complex and expensive would not be suitable for every person as a daily get n go machine. Meaning, you can have a very good – low end cigar or a very bad – high end smoke – again, data that I do not think is figured into the final verdict.
One thing you will never see on my site is any type of numeric ranking system, mainly because I feel it is all a bunch of hot air from a buffoon. We have all heard (I’ve said it myself) that a certain cigar is great on some days but sucks on others – is that the cigar or is it the person smoking the cigar? How dare we, as reviewers, feel that our palate is a defining and consistent baseline for the rest of the world? I enjoy when people explain and express the flavors they experience and I do agree there are ‘certain flavor profiles the manufacturer attempts to achieve‘ but with a natural product under so many different variables there will be differences from person to person. All I can say, go out and experience some cigars for yourself, check through a few of the hundreds of cigar review sites and find someone who has similar tastings to yourself and take their word as a grain of salt or a point in the right direction because really – the best cigars are the cigars YOU like.
If you put rankings on your site, please do not think I am mother fucking you, not everyone falls into this quandary, I am just asking for a baseline in which one can accurately confirm or deny your reports – thats it. I know there are a lot of people who prefer and use these rankings and I feel that is fine and I encourage those who prefer it to continue using them, its our God given American right to be an idiot, I just don’t understand the logic.
Till next rant,