Cigar Editor Samuel Spurr gives tips on how to develop the perfect palate for stylish stogies.
Sure enough, my first cigar, a Bolivar tubos if my memory serves me correctly, tasted like what I thought a cigar was meant to taste like. Unlike a boy’s first sip of beer when dad has put his glass down and turned his back for a moment, there was no recoil in horror at the taste, nor was there a choir of angels singing across my palate… my first cigar was an enjoyable, smoky experience, but it tasted like a cigar. What I did enjoy was the promise of that first cigar – the promise that by learning a bit more about this intriguing pastime, that I was doing something risqué mixed with the idea that I was joining a select group of cigar loving people from around the world. This promise did indeed deliver.
Like wine, whisky, and rum, there are a myriad of identifiable flavours that can be picked up when enjoying a cigar. So much so that many novices who attend my cigar masterclasses marvel at the fact that there are no flavour additives in a premium cigar. Identifying flavours starts with noting if a cigar is sweet, spicy, woody or herbal. These are common flavours that most people can identify pretty easily and that can be found in most cigars. Going that step further and refining your palate to go beyond this group of flavours takes a lot of sampling but also ensures you give your cigar the attention it deserves.
I have found that identifying a cigar’s aroma and flavour comes down to relating the tastes and smells you’re experiencing in the food or drink you know well. Is that pepper note a black pepper or a Sichuan hot pot pepperiness? Is the spice you’re picking up cinnamon or a cardamom?
I fondly recall enjoying my first Perdomo Exhibicion which, upon lighting, delivered the most intense pepper and spice combination I’ve ever encountered. The smoke more than tingled my tastebuds and my eyes were watering. Luckily the spice and pepper notes subsided, but when writing my review, the one thing that popped in my head was a Jungle Curry dish from my local Thai restaurant. The Perdomo Exhibicion soon became colloquially known by the Perdomo people in Australia as the ‘Jungle Curry’.
If you’re wanting to expand your palate, my suggestion is try a variety of cigars, challenging yourself even if you prefer lighter or stronger bodied cigars, and to try to identify flavours and aromas you’ve previously encountered elsewhere. Developing your palate is a sensory journey and a great adventure that takes time. Importantly, taste is very subjective and everyone has their own preferences, so if you can’t identify that lavender note that’s combined with the eucalypt aroma of the Eastern Australian gum tree that everyone keeps mentioning, I wouldn’t lose any sleep.
Samuel Spurr loves sharing his passion for premium cigars and doesn’t require much arm-twisting to light a cigar and enjoy a splash of rum all in the name of work. He’s written for Cigar Journal for over a decade and has also been published in a variety of other international lifestyle magazines. As Asia-Pacific’s preeminent cigar writer, Samuel is well connected with the industry’s movers and shakers, frequently visiting cigar hot spots in Asia and the Americas.