Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Herf #21 - Blind Luck

January 31st, 2009 - Fife, WA

In attendance were Fernand, Robert, John, Eric, and Patrick. As usual, we gathered to enjoy a good cigar and give our opinion on it by holding a 'group tasting' following dinner. However, this was a special herf for us to get the opportunity to share it with fellow brothers-of-the-leaf outside of our club.

Tacoma’s finest were kind enough to host us in their home court. The law enforcement men of 10-7 Habaneros Aficionados hosted us at Smokey Joe’s, the cigar lounge inside BJ’s Bingo down in Fife. Also making this herf unique, was that it was our first time doing a blind taste test.

The five of us were treated to fabulous service by the staff at Smokey Joe’s. The food was really good, they had a nice beer selection, and their mixed drinks were first class. Once everyone had their fill, it was time to get down to business.

Our selections for this Herf were two competing lanceros, one plainly labeled 'X' and the other labeled 'Y'. Only one person in the room (Fernand, Co-Founder of The Cohiba Club) knew what treats lie beneath the stark white bands. Soon the willing taste-testers would be smoking an Oliva Serie V Lancero and a Don Pepin Garcia (Blue Label) Lancero. The anticipation in the room had the guys all looking like kids on Christmas morning.

Both cigars were dark looking, sweet smelling lanceros measuring 7 to 7 1/2 inches long with a ring gauge of 38. The Don Pepin Blue was Cigar of the Week back on January 12th, 2009 which received a 92 from Cigar Aficionado's expert tasting panel.

Made by Pepin's expert artisanos in Miami, this cigar’s wrapper had a dark, well-aged look that gave off a slightly sweet smell. The texture was smooth, with very fine veins, and the roll quality was firm and uniform along the entire length of its slender profile. The deftly applied pigtail cap was perched like a crowning cherry on top.

The Oliva V was equally alluring in its appearance as well, with its art of construction clearly not second best, but rather a mirror of craftsmanship to the El Rey de Los Habanos product. Made in Esteli, Nicaragua by the torcedores of the highly acclaimed Oliva family, this lancero is the perfect culmination to the popular and highly rated Serie V line.

Following CA's 4-part rating system (Appearance & Construction, Flavor, Smoking Characteristics, and Overall Impression) we began the tasting session. A few of the guys chose to smoke both the X and Y cigars. One adventurous sole (Robert, Co-Founder of The Cohiba Club) even smoked both his X and Y at the same time, comparing the two in an alternating fashion, taste-for-taste; a very insightful way of comparing their attributes.

These cigars both drew quite well. Most everyone commented how it was just the way they liked it, although one of the guys smoking the Pepin 'Blue' found his drawing a little too tight, while another said he would have liked to see a firmer roll. Those smoking the Oliva V had fewer complaints about the draw or roll. In fact they awarded more points to the Oliva’s appearance and construction: an average of 93% of the points possible, compared to the 88% that the Pepin Blue received for it’s build quality.

An initial spice that eventually succumbs to sweet or savory notes, has be come the trademark of Pepin’s blends and this blue label lancero was no different. The flavors were described by the tasters as a peppery sweetness, full-bodied, and even “not really tasty” by one. The Oliva gave favorable impressions as well, but also not exactly what you could call stellar. Comments for the Serie V were along the lines of smooth, earthy, and with a pleasant finish. Ultimately, they scored about the same, each earning an average of 88% of the points possible in the flavor category.

Ample amounts of smooth smoke were produced by both. The ashes, however, could have been more stable (perhaps a trait of the the smaller ring gauge vitola in general) and maybe even a little lighter in color. The burn was even, though a few did require a couple re-lights as things progressed. It was the Pepin blue that earned a slight points advantage with regard to smoking characteristics, just edging above the Oliva; 84% to 80% of the points possible.

The final category, ‘Overall’ went to the Oliva, which also won out in the end when all was totalled.

After averaging our scores, 10-7ha and The Cohiba Club give their official combined rating for the Don Pepin Garcia (Blue Label) Lancero a score of 83. A very good cigar.

Here's the points breakdown for the Pepin 'Blue':
I. Appearance & Construction: 12 pts (80% of the points possible)
II. Flavor: 22 pts (88% of the points possible)
III. Smoking Characteristics: 21 pts (84% of the points possible)
IV. Overall Impression: 28 pts (80% of the points possible)

After averaging our scores, 10-7ha and The Cohiba Club give their official combined rating for the Oliva Serie V Lancero a score of 85. Also, a very good cigar, and in this case - slightly preferred over it's rival by Don Pepin.

Here's the points breakdown for the Oliva:
I. Appearance & Construction: 14 pts (93% of the points possible)
II. Flavor: 22 pts (88% of the points possible)
III. Smoking Characteristics: 20 pts (80% of the points possible)
IV. Overall Impression: 29 pts (83% of the points possible)

Upon closer examination of the scoring data, it’s interesting to break it down according to how each club rated their cigars. For example, would one club provide higher scores than the other? After all, The Cohiba Club has been using their cigar rating scorecard for almost two years now, whereas it was a new experience for 10-7ha to fill them out while smoking. The total points given by 10-7ha average out to 83.4 (for both cigars). The total points given out by The Cohiba Club average to 84.0, so it's readily apparent that the two clubs awarded points very similarly overall.

There were some subtle differences, however. 10-7ha preferred Pepin’s Blue Lancero, giving it an average score of 83.7 compared to the 82 that The Cohiba Club gave it. In contrast, the Oliva V Lancero earned 83 from 10-7ha and 85.2 from The Cohiba Club. It’s clear that our law enforcement brethren preferred the Pepin, while we preferred the Oliva Serie V – but not by particularly wide margins.

Some thought must be given to the fact that our average scores for these two cigars are quite low, relatively speaking. For these two premium cigars to both average in the mid-eighties gives one pause for reflection. It may simply be the nature of blind tasting. So often, when we know what we’re smoking, and moreover, when we know what rating that a national cigar publication has bestowed upon it, we are swayed by that knowledge. Many of us often think, "Wow, this must be a really good cigar." and our brain goes along with it. I acknowledge that this is a complex topic for another time, but it’s one that cannot be ignored when seeing these numbers.

Finally, the co-herf of our two clubs was a dramatic success and we sincerely hope for more such events to come. Thanks to J&J Cigars in Shoreline for giving us such a good deal on these lanceros and thanks to Herman at 10-7ha for the photos herein.

Read their account of the evening's festivities here.

Until next time friends...

No comments: