I've been smoking cigars for over twenty years. I've tried everything from Backwoods and Garcia Vega to Cuban Cohibas and Dominican Davidoffs, along with just about every other Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan cigar there is or has been. I've smoked some good (and I mean insanely good) cigars, and many, many bad (and I mean bad) ones. So that's what I'm here to tell you about today, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When in comes to deciding if a cigar is good, I try to have an objective view. I look at the appearance. The band is the first indicator of quality. Plain, smooth bands usually tell me that the producer has taken shortcuts. A well printed, embossed band means they've taken their time and expense to present the cigar with a higher image, because it is worth it. Of course, the smoker's knowledge of cigars comes into play here. A Cuban Montecristo #2 is arguably the most well-known single cigar in the world, but you'd never know it by that plain brown band. The wrapper leaf is the second indicator of quality. Big, rough veins or inconsistent coloring, clearly shows that the manufacturer has taken shortcuts and, if it tastes anything like the appearance implies, you're in for trouble.
Then, there's the smell of the unlit cigar. I've seen many a cigar smoker smell the wrapper. More experienced smokers know that smelling the foot of a cigar actually gives a better presentation of what to expect, and keeps your snotty nose away from what will ultimately land in another smoker's mouth. But, I'm not here to talk about humidor etiquette. In any event, my feeling is that smelling an unlit cigar is like smelling a raw Porterhouse. Unless it's putrid, it's not going to give you any indication whatsoever as to how the cigar will taste once you light it. Get your nose away from it.
The feel of the cigar can give you insight into the construction. A firm cigar, like a Rocky Patel Edge or one from Pete Johnson's tattoo series, usually indicates that the cigar will have a tighter draw, producing a finer, lighter smoke. A softer, spongier cigar typically has a more open draw, producing voluminous billows of smoke, like a Drew Estate Acid, which is the most extreme example I can think of. The preferred draw is a personal choice. I prefer a looser, more open draw and love to be surrounded in a cloud of smoke. Some smokers prefer a tighter draw, which often presents flavors differently to your palate. The choice is yours.
Ahhhh, now we can finally light up! I've seen smokers light a cigar, and immediately say "Now, that's a good cigar!" I usually bite my lip and smile, even though I want to to ask how they would know, since they haven't smoked it yet? The first few puffs on any cigar are usually the worst. The cigar has not yet heated up, vaporizing the oils in the tobacco, and releasing the true flavor. Good cigars usually vary in flavor throughout the burn. They often build in intensity, and I find that most most cigars have the best flavors from the 10% to 60% marks. Of course, some just keep getting better right to the end, when you find yourself burning your fingers.
With all of this said, I've realized that this article did not achieve what I initially set out to do. I didn't tell you what makes a good cigar - yet. But, I have had a revelation! There is only one thing that determines a good cigar. It's the enjoyment and satisfaction of the individual smoker. After all, everyone has different tastes. Some like double ligero intensity, while others prefer a mild Connecticut shade softness. The only way to tell if a cigar is good or not is to smoke it. Never base your opinions on someone else's ratings or description. Try different cigars all the time. When you get a good one, your tastebuds will tell you.