Cigar Sommeliers 101: The Blind Taste Test
Darius Namdar, 2018 Habanosommelier Champion, firing up a cigar.
For those who want to get on the path of becoming a cigar sommelier, then polishing up your taste buds is an absolute must! As a sommelier, your job is to identify the specific notes and distinctions within a cigar, then utilising that knowledge to suggest some potential alcohol pairings with that smoke. Cigar lounges are filled with many different kinds of aficionados – from inexperienced to the utmost experts. These individuals would rely on you to offer recommendations and provide some cigar-smoking advice. On top of basic knowledge on history and vitola, a strong palate for tasting Cuban cigars is undoubtedly required for the job of a cigar sommelier. One of the ways you can develop this is through the 'blind taste test', have read to find out more.
"THE ART OF BLIND TASTING"
During a blind taste test, the identity of the particular brand of cigar is masked – this means that the tester doesn't know what it looks like nor what brand it is from. The fact that the tester is unaware of what the cigar is, can help create unbiased reviews. Think about it, if people knew they were smoking a Cohiba Cigar, then they would assume that it would taste phenomenal. However, that is because they are basing it off the reputation of the brand rather than the actual smoking experience itself. In the cigar industry, many experts conduct this taste in order to create a real, unbiased review of a cigar. For cigar sommeliers, blind taste testing helps the sommelier create perfect pairings based on the sensory of experience of aroma and taste – regardless of whatever brand it is from.
In the International Habanosommelier championship, cigar experts all over the world compete over the title of being the sommelier of the year. Out of all those tests, the blind tasting segment is one of the most vital parts of the competition. The segment requires the contestants to blindly taste a cigar and then pair it with a suitable alcohol pairing. This segment tests the contestant's sensory skills, as well as their expertise in the world of Cuban cigars and alcohol.
A range of Cuban Cigars.
"AN ESSENTIAL SKILL FOR SOMMELIERS"
DEVELOPING YOUR SENSES - For most beginner smokers, they will have a difficult time identifying any specific 'notes' or 'flavours' from a cigar. Why? They haven't developed their cigar palate nor have they collected a mental library of different cigars and flavours. Acquiring such skill, undoubtedly, requires years of the smoking experience, as well as conscious scrutiny over the flavours of the cigar. We must admit, identifying flavours is something extremely subjective, however, it still requires a reasonable amount of experience to finally get to grips with finding flavour characteristics.
THE ART OF PAIRING - Becoming a cigar sommelier doesn't require to identify a cigar straight from a smoke – but you should have an idea of the characteristics of the cigar. Some stogies have a creamier taste while some may have hints of citrus. For instance, think of cigars by H. Upmann, they offer light-bodied flavours while Bolivar Cigars offer richer, full-bodied smokes. Identifying the characteristics of different cigars from different brands, particularly its flavour, is essential for a sommelier – especially when it comes to pairing it with beverages. For instance, in our Cigar and Whiskey Pairing blog, we described how the Partagas Serie D No. 4 pairs beautifully with a Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve, as they both exhibit intense flavours.
"HOW TO DO A BLIND TASTE TEST?"
TASTE TEST - To execute a taste test, ask a close volunteer to select a wide range of cigars and lay them out. Wear a blindfold and smoke each cigar one-at-a-time. With each slow, puff you should take focus and take note every little note you can find. It may be challenging at first, but by concentrating on the flavours of the cigar, you should be able to recognise it better in the future. It’s even more helpful if you can take a notepad and write it down, as you can refer back to your notes as a reference.
SMELL TEST - Taking inspiration from blind taste tests from the wine industry, a great experiment to conduct is a 'smell test'. First, ask a friend to gather a few ingredients such as nuts, dark chocolate, leather or hay (without revealing them to you of course). Afterwards, wear a blindfold and begin guessing what these aromas are. This tests how well you can identify certain ingredients with just your nose. Then, take a few cigars to start comparing these aromas with the taste of cigars - helping you to train your sense of smell. Remember, your sense of smell is directly associated with your taste buds. Therefore, this exercise should help develop your skill for tasting cigars.
For more interesting articles about all-things Cuban cigars, read our Cigar Blog: