Pro-tip: Without making you read this whole article, I will save you time and give you my field tested research. You can’t go wrong with the Padron Thousand Series. I have smoked a couple hundred of them so far this year, and several hundred over the years. They range anywhere from $7.00 – $12.00 and I think I have had an issue with one out of 500 cigars smoked.
Now if you want to indulge in the details of what makes a cigar worth its price, then please read on.
Much like wine, price isn’t always an indicator of a great or even good cigar. The best cigar to buy based on the price you are happy to pay will be determined by knowing a bit of your cigar history, who is making your cigars and what criteria to measure a good cigar by.
The generally accepted sweet spot for the U.S. cigar market is $8.00 – $12.00 +/-. Most cigar manufacturers will try to produce quality cigars in this price range to ensure they can sell enough volume to maintain a viable business.
If they price the cigars any lower, no one in the supply chain makes any money and quality may have to be compromised; price it higher and the average cigar enthusiast won’t buy; at least not week to week.
Now you can find plenty of cigars that cost less than or significantly more than $8.00 to $12.00, but for the sake of this article I am going to stick to that range because you can find some amazing cigars in this sweet spot.
There are four main factors you want to look for when settling on your go to cigar. If you find a cigar priced in the American sweet spot that hits these four markers plus you enjoy the flavor, then you got a winner.
Life is too short to smoke a lousy cigar and shame on anyone who knowingly puts one out on the market; so here is what you are looking for…
The Four Main Factors:
Construction: Have you ever had a cigar unravel on you? It is devastating to be enjoying a cigar, only to have the wrapper come undone leaving you with the option of smoking binder & filler, or just tossing the cigar. If you have a cigar that comes undone then first make sure you have it stored at the right humidity; this will eliminate user error. If your hygrometer is in range, then you may have a construction issue and its time to move on to a different cigar.
Draw: This one also ties into construction, but it needs its own bullet point because the whole point of enjoying a cigar is being able to puff on it to enjoy large plumes of cool, delicious and aromatic smoke. If you have to literally suck on the cigar to get smoke out of it then make sure its not overly humidified and there is a large enough hole at the head of the cigar. Provided those two dummy tests pass muster, then it could be time to dump that cigar and move to another brand.
Burn: This one is a bit more negotiable for me. Preferably you want a cigar that stays lit, but doesn’t burn fast. You also want it to burn evenly. Some cigars just won’t stay lit and there are several external factors that can cause that. Same goes for uneven burning. When a cigar canoes (one side burns faster than other); there could be a very light draft that you aren’t feeling, but its being reflected in your cigar. But if you have to relight your cigar every couple of minutes; this could be the sign of a quality issue, especially if you keep getting ‘charcoal’ in the cherry. Some charcoaling is expected, but manufacturers should know if the issue is beyond acceptable, so if your cigar is constantly going out and then charcoaling, send it to the trash heap and move on.
Consistency: This one can be tough, but if it is being sold as the same cigar then I am expecting the same cigar. To be fair, no two cigars can be exactly the same due to the nature of them being a natural product. But they can be so close that you’d have to really have to go out of your way to pick up on the differences. If a cigar does not taste or smoke the same from one to another, this is an issue worth moving on from.
Outside of the four manufacturing factors to consider, keep in mind that not all cigar makers have the same resources. At the top of this article, I mentioned you can’t go wrong with a Padron Thousand Series which passes all quality tests and falls within the American sweet spot for price.
They have been making cigars for 50+ years now and have the volume and resources to quality check every single cigar. They also have the luxury to trash a batch gone wrong at any point in the manufacturing process or supply chain.
Many smaller boutique manufacturers can have issues ranging from procuring quality tobacco, maintaining a well trained staff to having the legacy knowledge to even prevent quality issues.
But there are some boutique manufacturers such as Crowned Heads, that are real gems. They don’t produce a lot of cigars, but they definitely have a handle on quality and flavor.
On the other end of the spectrum there are large scale manufacturers that have their own set of issues. Without naming names, there are some mega producers who take short cuts through the various stages of the cigar making process in order to crank out millions of below average cigars that people naively enjoy due to great branding.
So how do you navigate all of this?
If you have never tried a specific cigar before, don’t just jump in and buy a box. Try buying three cigars at a time and apply the above quality checks. If you don’t have a single issue and you enjoy the flavor of the cigar; then buy another three. If they pass muster, then buying a box may not be a bad idea.
But if your sample of three to six cigars revealed an issue, then you have a 5% or more defect rate based on a box of 20 – 25 cigars.
Based on that number, you could essentially be tossing a whole box worth of cigars by the end of the year and that is no way to live life.
If you really like a brand, but notice quality issues then let them know. There are a lot of good people out there who are passionate about making cigars and certainly try their best. Share your feedback with them and hopefully they hear you.
In the meantime, remember that enjoying a cigar is all about you and the only cigar you should ever smoke is the one you enjoy when you are smoking it.