F A Q
How do you decide which cigars to review?
Our primary means of selecting cigars is random, but is driven by feedback from the cigar community, retailers, industry insiders, social media buzz, the cigar/tobacco media and selections from our own “to smoke” lists. In some cases, we also select cigars that we feel have been forgotten, overlooked or those that are just the victim of poor marketing. Lastly, we select cigars from all price points and will occasionally select flavored or infused cigars by request.
Where/how do you acquire the cigars you review?
We do not accept “complementary” cigars from manufacturers, retailers, or industry folks for reviewing purposes. We purchase the vast majority of the cigars we review from both online retailers as well as brick and mortar shops. Rare exceptions are made for cigars given as gifts by, traded with or requests from friends and the cigar community. In addition, some manufacturers submit cigars for review at no charge and in such cases, we pre-arrange complementary advertising as compensation and reflect this disclaimer within the review itself.
Are your reviews “blind”?
No, we are fully aware of what we are reviewing.
For each review, do you smoke multiple cigars or employ a “team” of reviewers?
No, each review is completed by a single reviewer with one cigar.
Are your reviews in-depth and what information do they include?
Our reviews come in two flavors: Full Reviews and Bitesize Reviews.
Full Reviews include all details of our review of a cigar along with a summary of our likes, dislikes and recommendations. All pictures are full size and we include a fair amount of historical, background and even anecdotal information on the manufacturer. The “Full Monte.”
Bitesize Reviews are designed to offer a lighter version that can be digested in about 2 minutes. As busy cigar lovers and aficionados, sometimes we just need the “meat n’ taters” of the information without all the other stuff; however, we do include short tidbits about the manufacturer, a “Did you know” section for bitesize trivia and we include all our tasting notes.
Do you smoke the whole cigar?
Yes and no. In almost all cases we smoke all sizes of cigars to within one to one and a half inches of the cap. In certain cases where poor construction or unintended taste issues become prohibitive, our reviewers may conclude the review at any time.
For cigars with which you previously had issues, do you still publish the review and/or consider re-reviewing the faulty cigar?
It depends. In rare cases, cigars that are determined to be damaged beyond the manufacturers control are not faulted, and thus not published, and are often reenlisted for a second review. All other cigars and their characteristics are fair game.
Why don’t you rank cigars with a numerical rating like other reviewers?
For several key reasons. First, subjectivity. We’re all human with differing levels of taste and ability who are also deferentially affected by outside stimuli. In essence, a person’s review of something is largely their opinion, and at best, an informed one at that; however, we do believe that there is some level of embedded objectivity to any review, but without 100%, it’s simply an educated opinion. For example, someone may characterize the hue of a cigar’s wrapper as “chocolate” whereas another reviewer may proffer the color of the same cigar as more of a “bourbon” tone. Neither may be wrong, just differ in opinion.
Second, converting the various physiological and psychological reactions along with physical aspects of smoking a cigar into an arbitrary matrix of numerical ratings isn’t possible. There is no scientific method nor industry benchmark for determining, for example, rating the level of complexity an “8” versus “9”, on a scale of 1 to 10. Is it possible to distinguish cigars rated “88” and “91” or characterized as either “very good” versus “excellent”? We’ve reviewed cigars with numerical ratings in the mid to high ’80’s’ given by others that were superior in almost every aspect to those showered with ratings of ’90’ and above. In addition, what if some cigar smokers do not like pepper notes or spice in their cigars – a numerical rating won’t tell you if it does or doesn’t.
Third, there’s just too many variables to consider. From aesthetics to complexity or from draw quality to combustion performance, while important to most, at the end of the day cigar smokers just desire something they can afford, share and enjoy. One cannot simply quantify value, enjoyment or satisfaction. Beauty is in the mouth of the beholder.
Lastly, during the cigar boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Cigar Aficionado developed a ratings classification that served to evaluate genuine cigars produced by reputable manufacturers as well as function as an early warning system to repudiate the influx of fakes and shabby cigars hastily-produced for a quick buck. During this time, the approach was a useful tool, but as it evolved over the years while the cigar business recovered and flourished, it became less of a means of assessment and, perhaps unintentionally, more of a method of marketing: selling cigars.
Ratings, at best, are a useful guide and as individual cigar lovers, we use them frequently.
How do you evaluate a cigar?
Numerical ratings are, at best, a good guide, but at 99 Cigars, we think the cigar smoker is best served by taking more of a pragmatic and relatable path to reviewing cigars. We find it more practical to highlight the cigar’s best qualities and whether or not we recommend it.
- We do not fault a cigar for shortcomings in handling.
- We do not arbitrarily break a cigar into “thirds” since the majority of cigars are not blended this way; we follow the actual transitions. Some come early, some late. Some offer more than one or two and some are one dimensional.
- We evaluate a cigar on 10 key elements:
- Overall construction/quality
- Cold aromas
- Flavor palette
- User-friendliness (eg level of intervention required once lit)
Recommendation Breakdown (updated 11/2019):
Something you can smoke every day.
A special cigar that you may not smoke everyday, but want to keep plenty on hand.
Cigars for a particular occasion or ones that offer a unique profile.
A cigar offering little complexity or uniqueness – perfect smoke for mowing the grass.
No Recommendation [NR]
We’re neither recommending nor not recommending a cigar
Do you review only non-Cuban cigars?
Up until now, Yes. Unfortunately, the crop of Cuban cigars over the past few years have been affected by poor environmental conditions like torrential rain and low crop yields and are largely rushed to market without much regard for proper aging. So, we’ve been aging many of the our popular Cuban cigars and we’re planning to add 8-10 to our 2020 Review Bullpen.
Do you review infused or flavored cigars?
As a rule, no. The reason is, as their name suggests, they are endowed with a particular flavor, eg coffee, cherry, chocolate, vanilla, etc. and therefore do not offer many surprises. On occasion, we’ve received requests to review some infused cigars and we’ve included a couple this year and may include a few more next year, again, only by request.