This is the time of year that publications, websites and passionate cigar smokers start releasing their “Cigar of the Year” lists. Not all of these lists are created equally though, so we wanted to point out what some of the differences are, what you should be looking for and what to take into consideration when evaluating them or comparing them to other lists.
Criteria of what cigars are eligible – This is probably the most important item to take into consideration. For any publicized list, the criteria for the list should be included so that the reader is clear on what cigars were eligible for the selection process. Here are some of the most common criteria to look for.
- New cigars for the review year or any cigars smoked during the review year regardless of release date – Some lists are designed to only include cigars that were released in or near the calendar year of the review year. Other lists are open to a cigar released at any time, but that was smoked in or near the calendar year of the review year. These are very important distinctions and becomes a very hot topic every year when these lists are released as people have very strong opinions as to which of these two types they think really depicts the true “Cigar of the Year.”
- Date range for eligible cigars – This isn’t the same as the previous topic regarding new release criteria, but as to when the person or group that is releasing their list determines the date range for release date or smoke date of the cigars that are eligible. This is typically more relevant to those lists that are only including cigars released in the current calendar year of the review year, but could also pertain to other list types. In order for a list to be released, there needs to be some prep time to gather the data to put the list together. In regards to this, there is typically a cutoff point at which it is determined that cigars past a certain date are not eligible for the current review year but will be eligible for the next review year. This is variable as lists are released around different times. Some may say that cigars from December 1st of the previous year until November 30th of the current year are eligible for the current years list. Each list can have its own date range and that range can have criteria such as the date of release of the cigar, the date that the cigar was introduced to them or the date at which they smoked it (typically in the case of lists that allow cigars with any release date as eligible). Some people miss this and are surprised that a cigar that is released late in a year may not make a particular list.
- Eligibility based on release size – Some lists make any cigar eligible regardless on the size of the release. This could include regular production, limited editions, store exclusives and even event exclusives. Other lists may make a distinction on which of these are or aren’t eligible. Similar to date range eligible, this is another criteria that can cause confusion on what was or wasn’t eligible for the list.
Who contributes to the generation of the list – Some publications and websites use groups to compile the lists while others are from an individual. This needs to be taken into consideration to help determine why the final list looks the way it is. When a list is the compilation of a group, it is very unlikely that each members list looked identical, so therefore different members had cigars in different orders and the final list was a result of how the group scoring was finalized. For a list from a single person, there is no mistaking who participated in the building of the list.
How specific is the list – Some lists rate a particular line, some list a line and specific vitola and some use a combination. Some cigar lines are great across all vitolas while others really shine in a particular vitola. There are also some cigars that are only released in a single vitola so it easy to be specific about the cigar being listed. Keep an eye on this in the lists as your disagreement with something being included or not included could be based on a different vitola of the same cigar and that can sometimes be a big difference in experience.
Palates – The common saying that “everyones palate is different” is one that definitely deserves repeating here. Since someone creating a list has at least a slightly different palate than you, it is obvious that their list would likely be different than a list you would create. Now take someone that has a very different palate than yours, their list should look very different than yours. Does this make their list wrong? Absolutely not. There is no wrong list. Each list is the opinion of the person or group that created it. They can absolutely spur debate and I think that’s one of the best things that come out of these lists. Don’t let the debates get out of hand though as palates are different and it’s very rare that everyone will agree on the rankings of each of the lists out there.
Exposure – This item may be the one that the people that put out the lists would like to express to the readers the most. The quantity of new cigars released changes from year to year, but there can be quite a few. In order to smoke everything new in a given year, it requires a large investment in time and money. If you want to get specific and try every vitola of all of the new releases, then add on that many more cigars. For those whose lists comprise of not only new cigars, but previous releases as well, the cigar pool is even larger, especially if you want to get vitola specific. Along with limited runs of cigars, store exclusives and event exclusives, it is impossible to get your hands on every cigar, let alone smoke all of them. The lists will be comprised of eligible cigars that the reviewers were able to smoke. This may leave out some really good cigars that make other lists, but it just really isn’t possible for all cigars to be evaluated.
The criteria listed above is a good start for what to consider when reading these lists and I hope it gives you a way to step back and evaluate the list for what it is. People invest lots of time into the generation of these lists and it is typically a passionate hobby for most. If you see a list that doesn’t give you the criteria or a portion of the criteria that it is based on, reach out to the author. I’m sure most would be happy to explain their process or update the explanation for others so that it is clear how the list was derived.
Enjoy the season of lists and keep up all of the debates on what should have been ranked where.