First off, let me get something out of the way. There is no set in stone way to judge a cigar. For the vast majority of people a cigar will fall into about five broad categories: perfect, excellent, good, fair, and poor. But even within those categories there can be a world’s worth of difference.
That is why I like scoring cigars with an 100 point scale. It is the complexity of cigars that compels me to score cigars with an 100 point scale and the fact that Cigar Aficionado scores cigars with an 100 point scale kind of forces me into this as well. To be perfectly honest, I understand why someone wouldn’t like this system. However, I like categorizing and scoring things so I personally love the 100 point scale.
Now down to the nitty gritty. Cigar Aficionado rates cigars (here’s their video) using four different categories and they are: appearance/structure (15 points), smoking characteristics (25), flavor (25), and overall impression (35). As you can tell there is a lot of wiggle room within this rubric with over a third of the points going to “overall impression,” whatever the hell that is.
I personally use a much more trimmed down version of this system. I look for all of these categories but I do not assign a point value to each category. While I smoke a cigar I keep a running tally in my head of what the overall score should be. In the past I have tried scoring cigars while being faithful to the Cigar Aficionado rubric but it’s just too much and it does take away from my personal enjoyment of the cigar. That’s why I have this sliding scale in my head that continuously is rating a cigar.
Scoring cigars is not an easy task since each person’s idea of a great cigar is different. Some people like coffee and nut flavors while others will enjoy red pepper flakes and steak (I’m in the latter group). But you need to try to be as fair as possible. If a cigar is excellent, it is an excellent cigar.
Now onto the points.
96-100: A Perfect Cigar
This is a cigar that has a perfect draw, burns perfectly, is perfectly constructed, has some kick to it, has a good amount of flavors that work perfectly together, tons of smoke, isn’t harsh at all, and, basically, is just perfect. This is the type of cigar you are willing to pay way over MSRP for.
90-95: An Excellent Cigar
It has most everything from the Perfect Cigar category but is lacking in a couple of areas. Maybe the flavors weren’t as explosive as they could have been or it didn’t burn evenly the whole way through. There was just something missing from it and even though you would be willing to pay a little extra for one of these cigars you won’t be taking money away from the kid’s college fund to do so.
85-89: A Good Cigar
These are “everyday cigars” for most of us. They will have some problems with them; less flavors, burns a little hot sometimes, the draw is spotty, construction isn’t great, and maybe some other issues. It should still be an enjoyable cigar and it definitely should be a cigar you would want to smoke again but it is missing something that prevents it from being a 90+ cigar.
80-84: A Fair Cigar
There will be a number of problems with this cigar and unless you are thinking some aging will make this cigar much better you will probably want to avoid these cigars unless they are cheap. A fair cigar will have all the same problems a good cigar has but amplified. So there will be a tougher draw, even less flavors, really poor burning, and these cigars may even be a bit offensive to your palate.
79 and below: A Poor Cigar
You will immediately know when you are smoking one of these cigars because there is a pretty good chance one of these cigars won’t even light. If by some miracle you are able to pull any smoke through the stick you will be punished with extremely offensive flavors. These cigars burn harsh from foot to nub and you will probably find yourself throwing one of these cigars away in a couple of minutes. These are just horrible things and you should avoid them if at all possible.
A couple notes of warning before you go. Firstly, there is no way your score will always match up with other people’s scores. Secondly, there are always bad cigars in any line of cigars. Just because one Arturo Fuente Churchill was a bad cigar doesn’t mean they all are bad (they are mostly usually good to great). Thirdly, to be completely impartial you should rate cigars in a blind tasting. I don’t personally take this advice because, well, I do not have a guy to buy me cigars and set up a blind tasting like they do at Cigar Aficionado. Just try to be fair. And lastly, if rating cigars is no fun for you, don’t do it. Enjoying cigars is the most important thing, rating them is not.
I hope this helped you out a little bit. And do not feel obligated to use this rubric either. Make up your own. Use a letter grade or a five point scale. Whatever helps you learn more about cigars and helps you develop your palate better is what you should be doing. Personally, I have found that rating cigars has helped increase my enjoyment of them. Try rating a couple of cigars and see what happens.