If you’ve read our numerous cigar reviews, you’ll have noticed that we use a review matrix just after the opening. We introduced the Bespoke Unit Cigar Review in August 2019 with our review of the Avo Nicaragua.
In this guide, you will learn how to properly analyse cigar using the Bespoke Unit Cigar Formula and why it can help you improve your technique at home.
You can read it all by scrolling down or jump ahead with the following links:
- What Is The Bespoke Unit Cigar Formula?
- Getting Started With The Cigar Formula
- Cigar Overview: Filling Out The Details
- Look & Feel: How Does The Cigar Appear?
- Pre-Light: Experience Before Lighting
- Palate: Flavours & Mouthfeel
- Burn: Combustion Performance
- Experience: Presentation & More
- Pairings: Best Accords With The Cigar
- Tying It All Together
You can also head to the menu below to see what some of our related guides.
How To Test Cigars Using Our Formula
In this guide, you will learn how to comprehensively yet fully test cigars using our proprietary cigar formula. Below is a quick menu to show you more of our available cigar resources but feel free to scroll on if you want to get straight into it.
Also, feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions on how to use the formula.
Discover The Best Cigars Of The Year
What Is The Cigar Formula?In late 2017, we published our very first cigar review where we covered the Davidoff Winston Churchill The Late Hour. However, we wanted to take it much further in order to provide all the details of the experience so readers would have a clear idea before making their purchase.
As passionate cigar enthusiasts, we are constantly seeking new ways to expand our knowledge so that we can share it with you. Therefore, we began researching how we could improve our methodology to improve our review structure.
A Quantifiable Approach
When reading reviews from similar publications, we started become frustrated by what would sometimes come across as arbitrary scoring. Needless to say, we have the utmost respect for our peers and we are confident in their expertise.
Nevertheless, the majority of scoring systems weren’t very transparent and it was occasionally difficult to understand how the cigars were graded. Similarly, we noticed a tendency to mark most cigars very highly and within 85% and 95%.
Despite being optimists ourselves, we felt such a narrow window for scoring didn’t always reflect the reality of what we experienced.
Therefore, we started work on developing a quantifiable scoring system for cigars in 2017 following the release of the Bespoke Unit Fragrance Formula.
The objective was to produce a sheet to accompany each review and that could be used by readers for their own evaluations.
Over the course of its development, we consulted with a number of leading cigar industry professionals.
Their feedback was very encouraging and the formula was soon ready after a number of modifications and fine-tuning.
Finally, we released the cigar formula with our review of the Avo Nicaragua in August 2019. Shortly afterwards, we used it for all our previous reviews, which was then uploaded to an internal database for our records.
Although our older reviews don’t yet feature the formula, we have them on record and intend to upload them soon. Nevertheless, this then paved the way for us to produce our Best Cigars guides by cross-referencing the scores for different purposes.
A Method That You Can Use At Home
Indeed, there are already a number of different cigar journals that you can use to document your cigar smoking experiences. Nevertheless, we humbly believe that the Cigar Formula goes well beyond their limitations so that you can keep a detailed record.
For that reason, we’ve produced a blank version that you can print download and print to use at home:
Feel free to download your own copy using one of the links above according to your own paper format. However, we don’t recommend using the preview image as it’ll be too low-resolution to blow up onto an A4 or US Letter sheet of paper.
Furthermore, you’re welcome to use the Cigar Formula for your own reviews and documentation at home. If you have a blog and will use them for these purposes, please ask for permission first by leaving a comment below.
Finally, we’ll now guide you on how to use the cigar formula properly. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us by posting a comment if you have any questions that aren’t answered by the guide.
Getting Started With The Cigar Formula
Before we continue, we’d like to outline a few parameters that we put into place when reviewing a cigar to ensure that the environment is controlled. Given that the experience may easily change due to a number of external factors, we try to reduce this as much as possible.
All of our cigars destined to be reviewed will be left to rest for at least one month immediately after purchase. This is in an effort to account for both shipping and the various storage solutions used by different retailers.
Additionally, only a single storage solution is used with the cigars carefully separated to avoid marrying their flavours. For this, we use homemade “coolidors”, which are essentially airtight storage containers.
Furthermore, we only use Boveda for humidification, which we believe is the most consistent and reliable solution. Each coolidor is equipped with sufficient 320g Boveda Packs for the container’s volume.
Meanwhile, our Cuban and non-Cuban or “New World” cigars are stored separately. While the non-Cuban cigars will be stored using 69% Boveda packs, the we use 65% for the Cubans.
The reason for this is that Cubans “often absorb more moisture and perform better at a slightly lower humidity level” according to Boveda.
For review purposes, we avoid smoking indoors and especially areas with which we aren’t intimately familiar. This is to avoid new smells affecting or influencing or palate. In most cases, the cigars will be reviewed in our respective offices or studies. However, this may occasionally vary.
Similarly, we try to only smoke at the same time of day when possible. Usually, this takes place around midday. Our olfactive nerves tend to be their most sensitive in the morning and they slowly become numbed when exposed to external stimulus throughout the day.
Therefore, we choose the middle of the day for a balanced perspective but always before lunch to ensure that our palates are clean.
Finally, despite our passion for fragrances, we never wear perfume when reviewing cigars. Additionally, we always try to shower in the early morning to remove any lingering odours.
Cigar Review Pairings
When directly reviewing the cigar, we avoid accompanying them with any pairings or accords. Even something as cigar-friendly as pairing it with coffee can greatly influence the results. However, we will try different beverages and meals after concluding the review itself for the pairing section described below.
Instead, we will only accompany the cigar with still or sparkling mineral water to avoid our palates from drying.
Number Of Cigars
As we note in all of our reviews, we smoke a minimum of three cigars for the purposes of the review. Sometimes the number may be higher but it’ll never be less. In either case, we will always list how many we smoked.
The reason for this is that cigars are handmade products. As a result, every experience can be slightly different. For instance, the construction may vary, which will affect the aromas.
Therefore, smoking several will allow us to evaluate the consistency and rule out any possible anomalies, which are caused by the cigars or even external factors.
Now that you have read about our preparation and arrangement for every review, let’s finally guide you on how to use the formula!
1. Cigar Overview: Filling Out The Details
A relatively self-explanatory process, the Cigar Formula’s first section consists of its physical characteristics and background.
First, we note the brand and the range. Following that, we write out the note, the vitola of the particular cigar that was reviewed, and the final smoking time. At Bespoke Unit, we use rounded averages of all the cigars that we smoked to make it both process and comprehensible
Afterwards, we then detail where the cigar was made, how, and with what tobaccos. Unfortunately, not every brand is particularly transparent about these things and will sometimes only list out the tobacco’s countries of origin.
However, we try to add as much detail as possible, which ideally would include the tobacco cultivars, their strains, and even the primings. Similarly, not all brands will share their factories as many are essentially private label made by independent facilities.
You don’t have to add everything to the same level of detail as us. Nevertheless, it can really help in becoming familiar with the different types of tobaccos, their properties and their countries of origin.
There’s also no need to do anything with the final score just yet. We added it to the top to attract the reader’s eye but we’ll be looking at that last.
2. Look & Feel: The Cigar’s Appearance? (20 Points)
Now that the basics are filled out, we evaluate the cigar’s appearance and construction. At this stage, we don’t take the band into account but just the cigar itself.
First, we consider the roll and its straightness. You can do this by carefully running your thumb and forefingers up and down the cigar to look out for any hard or soft spots.
Once satisfied, you can give it a slight pinch to get a feel of the roll’s spring. A spring can be too soft or two hard, which is why the scale branches out in two directions. At the firm position, this is allocated three points. If it’s any lower, you can score it appropriately and still know how it lost points.
Afterwards, we take a note of the cigar’s hue or colour. You can use the scale to mark the nearest colour and then add a descriptor so it’s easy to understand. Of course, we don’t score this as excellent cigars come in all sorts of colours.
Following that, we analyse the cigar wrapper’s attractiveness by evaluating its oily shine and the appearance of veins. Before finishing, we smell the wrapper and foot to list out some its aromas will giving it a score.
3. Pre-Light: Experience Before Lighting (10 Points)
In this small section, we quickly assess the cigar’s qualities before its lit. Sometimes this is known a the dry or “raw” draw where you essentially taste the cigar before lighting it.
Here, you can check the draw, which is scored using a similar branched-scale, its fullness of flavour, and the aromas that you can taste. Naturally, everyone has different tastes when it comes to the draw’s tightness.
However, we try to evaluate this based on the general preference for slight resistance like sucking through a large straw.
4. Palate: Flavours & Mouthfeel (45 Points)
Arguably the most important section that everyone has been waiting for, the palate actually only accounts for 45 points of the final score. Many people have asked us why this is so low compared to everything but this was a conscious decision.
For starters, the burn also accounts for 15 points, which totals the total core smoking experience to 60 points. While this may still be arguably quite low, it’s important to remember that a cigar offers a full sensory adventure. Therefore, we believe that every factor plays an important role in contributing to the final result.
If you take a moment to count where each of the points are allocating, it actually makes a lot of sense and stays surprisingly proportional.
You’ll also note that the aromas themselves actually only account for 15 points of the total score too. While the aromas are indeed important, they’re only a part of the whole palate’s stimulation.
Scoring The Aromas
To score the palate, you just need note the aromas for each third and then use your judgement to assess their quality. Although “quality” is a loaded term, this simply translates to their how interesting they are and how you enjoyed them.
As for the number of aromas, we work in rules of three. There are three thirds, which each have three notes. You’ll also notice that our whisky and fragrance reviews use the same concept.
For instance, whiskies have an opening, a heart, and a finish. Meanwhile, fragrances have a head, a heart, and a base. When we review these, each is attributed three different notes.
Indeed, sometimes there are more and occasionally they even intermingle to create accords. However, we try to keep it to three to remain digestible.
Scoring The Rest Of The Palate
The palate is then broken down into a series of terms, which may seem somewhat baffling at first. Therefore, we’ll break down each one here for your reference:
- Complexity: An evaluation of the cigar’s notes, how they evolve, and interact with one another.
- Mouthfeel: A basic overview of how refined the smoke feels across the palate.
- Astringency: Essentially how the palate is stimulated in terms of “dryness”. Do you salivate or get a dry mouth?
- Stimulation: Where is the palate stimulated by the smoke? Just a single place or all over the tongue?
- Life-Cycle: How well the cigar transitions from one third to another.
- Finish: The extent that the cigar leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth after finishing.
- Residual Scent: The quality of the odour left in the room after finishing.
Once you’ve comfortably filled out the necessary scores, we can move onto the burn.
5. Burn: Combustion Performance (15 Points)
As mentioned in the previous section, the burn is very much part of the core smoking experience. However, we’ve decided to separate it as it doesn’t necessarily pertain to the flavours themselves.
Firstly, you’ll probably notice that we cover the burn here a second time. The reason for this is that some cigars will have a draw that changes before and while being smoked. Sometimes, the draw may loosen or even tighten when being smoked so we take it into account here.
As you can probably guess, the temperature looks at the smoke’s heat and how pleasant it is. Bear in mind that smaller gauges will likely be hotter so it’s important to smoke slowly.
Meanwhile, the angle looks at the burn learn and whether you experienced any runners or canoes while smoking.
Finally, the backbone assesses the ash’s strength and how well it holds while smoking. Well-constructed cigars will usually produce and long and strong ash. However, unevenly rolled cigars may have flaky ash that produces a light grey coating on your trousers!
6. Experience: Presentation & More (10 Points)
Our final scored section takes a quick look at some of the cigar’s more external factors. While these don’t affect the cigar itself, they do play a role in the overall smoking experience. Therefore, we felt it important to mark them without attributing too many points.
First, we take a look at the band and box. The box can only receive two possible points as they’re not as present but the band can receive three as it’s a key part in the cigar’s presentation.
Similarly, we review the cigar’s “occasion”. This essentially looks at whether the cigar is versatile enough to be smoked during special or formal occasions as well as be enjoyed as an everyday pleasure.
Finally, the value for money takes a look at the full cost, the bought cost in case it was on sale, and to what extent it was worth the price. This is especially important for particularly expensive cigars as people often ask if they’re worth the extra money.
7. Pairings: Best Accords With The Cigar
The last section of this sheet is not actually scored. Instead, it’s used simply for informational purposes. When using it yourself, you can use it for future suggestions and ideas when you try the cigar again. Meanwhile, we use it to offer suggestions.
Again, using the rule of threes, we add three beverage ideas and three things to eat. Of course, there may be many more but we want to avoid overwhelming people who read it.
Bear in mind that these can be absolutely anything. For instance, the food can be full meals or just snacks. Similarly, the drinks can be alcoholic, soft drinks, or even hot drinks.
Tying It All Together
If you were to count every dot present on the formula, you’ll actually find that there are 100 possible points. Of course, this is taking into account the branched scales, which can’t be completely filled since it’s one direction or another.
When counting the score, you can write-up the subtotals for each section. This will make calculating the grand total much easier lest you lose count! It will also allow you to see the cigar’s strengths and weaknesses.
Once you’ve added up all the subtotals, you can add this at the top score. If you look to its right, you’ll notice a key for attributing the right number of stars:
- 81 – 100: Outstanding [5 stars]
- 61 – 80: Good [4 Stars]
- 41 – 60: Average [3 Stars]
- – 40: Mediocre [2 Stars]
As you can see, the final score is very quantifiable and relatively foolproof! You may have noted that there’s no option for a single star. The reason for this is that we don’t actually publish reviews that receive fewer than three stars.
We prefer not to publicise a poor result that can damage a brand’s reputation (especially a young start-up). Instead, we would contact them directly and provide constructive feedback so that they have the opportunity to make improvements and come back to us in the future.
An Objective System
After trying it out, you may also notice that it’s actually very hard to be too generous or over penalise a cigar without being blatantly dishonest. Similarly, it’s difficult for even an excellent cigar to actually get above 80 points.
This may seem like something of a culture shock given the tendency to mark cigars highly, but one of our objectives was to take full advantage of a 100-point scale.
Therefore, the stars and its accompanying key plays an important role in reminding people that even a score in the 60s or 70s is still very good.
Finally, you’re welcome to send us your copies of the Bespoke Unit Cigar Formula when reviewing your own. You never know, it might get featured in a future review! If you do, don’t forget to add your name and date at the bottom of the sheet for reference.
Have any more questions? Feel free to let us know in the comments below! Otherwise, now that you’ve learned how to use our cigar formula, why don’t you also check out our related guides below?
- BU Cigars – Home
- Top 10 Cigars Of The Year
- Best Cigars With Coffee
- Best Cigars For The Afternoon
- Top 10 Best Evening Cigars
"Superb guide! I've downloaded a copy of the Cigar Formula and I'll start using it at home instead of my old journal, thank you."Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★