Refining Your Palate
by The Cigar Expert
As with cooks who become chefs, or wine enthusiasts who evolve into sommeliers, you too can elevate your cigar palate from refined to expert. We learn the most about cigars purely from experience, and anyone who has smoked for a number of years and experimented with various flavor profiles can recognize many notes and nuances right off the bat. Recognizing and articulating, however, are two different things. Achieving the ability to quickly and correctly identify every trace of flavor in one puff requires a bit more practice. Becoming an expert makes the cigar smoking experience even better, as it teaches you what you love in a cigar. Start training your taste buds by trying the following steps.
Do Your Research
You may have been smoking a particular cigar for years—decades even—without recognizing all of its complexities. Before you sit down to smoke, find out the flavor notes you should be expecting to taste. Read the box and check the website for descriptive flavor-profile information. Read or watch reviews online, and try to follow along with reviewers as they report each note they detect. Montecristo Social Club is a great place to start; just click “Reviews” under the “Cigars” headline. Choose the Right Complement Pairing a cigar with whiskey, beer, or other drinks with intense flavors can usually make for a great smoke. But if you’re looking to cultivate your palate, go for water instead (both flat and sparkling work well). Water won’t muddle the nuances of a cigar, allowing you to more easily discern its complex flavors.
You wouldn’t chug a glass of Pappy Van Winkle, would you? The same goes for fine cigars. A trap that many of us fall into is simply smoking too fast. Not only does this hinder a smoker from truly savoring the flavor, but it also causes a cigar to get too hot, which in turn often results in a bitter taste that overwhelms its subtler notes. Slow down to enjoy—and educate—yourself by waiting an entire minute between draws, which allows your cigar’s flavor to settle.
Light Two Different Cigars at Once
Yes, you read that right…but, no, we aren’t suggesting that you draw on both at the same time. Instead, alternate for each drag, focusing deeply on the nuances each cigar has to offer. This method of close comparison prompts your taste buds to recognize even the subtlest flavor variations between the two cigars. Be sure to try this with similarly bodied smokes (Montecristo Classic and Montecristo White make an effective combination), as a comparison of two blends on opposite ends of the strength spectrum presents far less of a palate-training challenge.
The majority of our sense of taste is courtesy of our noses, which is why expelling smoke through your nostrils can expose your palate to a whole new layer of flavor.
Talk About It
Next time you’re smoking in a group, discuss your cigar as you experience it. Attempt to convey specific, concrete terms for flavor notes instead of vague or general adjectives. For example, when puffing on The Banker by H. Upmann, the words coffee and leather may
reveal more to fellow smokers than rich or robust. If each member of your group is smoking the same cigar, compare notes to see if your findings match up.
Remember, it’s never too late to get started or to further refine an already experienced smoker’s palate…and you can never know too much. Even the world’s greatest chefs and most renowned sommeliers are constantly learning to exponentially increase their libraries of taste.