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Does Price Really Matter? Episode 1

Posted by on Feb 6, 2014

Last week, during my Thursday night cigar gathering, I decided to try something a little different.  Rather than my normal practice of bringing out a cigar for each person (usually all the same blend and vitola), I selected two different cigars to faceoff head-to-head in a blind taste test.  To make things even more interesting, I decided to pit a cheap bundle cigar against a more expensive blend from a well-respected manufacturer.  Here’s what happened…

The Weigh In

Untitled1In the bundle cigar corner, we have the Consuegra Dominican No. 450 (Cigar Aficionado Rating:  N/A).  Measuring a stout 4.5 inches long, with a ring gauge of 50, this cigar epitomizes the budget blend profile, coming in with a closeout price of just $1.08 a stick (jrcigar.com).  These cigars had been resting in the humidor for approximately 3 months at the time of this matchup.  JR’s write up on these cigars reads as follows:

“These mild-to-medium-bodied Dominican beauties are overruns and odds and ends from the General Cigar factory in Santiago, DR. They are all handmade with long-filler tobaccos and are just as good as any other world-famous cigars coming out of this renowned factory. Packed in bundles of 25, they’re an incredible value!”

Untitled2In the heavy weight corner we have the Camacho 10th Anniversary Torpedo (Cigar Aficionado Rating:  87).  These cigars have a 5-pack price of $13/cigar, and a box price of over $11/cigar (cigarsinternational.com), though for full disclosure, I used the name your own price option on a popular site and managed to get a box for $100, or just $4.76 a stick.  They measure 6 inches by a robust 54 ring gauge.  These cigars had been in my humidor for less than a week at the time of this matchup.  Cigars International’s write up on them reads:

“This highly enjoyable, highly flavorful handmade was created to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Camacho Cigars, hence the clever name. Aside from being Camacho’s first box-pressed ultra-premium, the 10th Anniversary combines a bold blend of 100% authentic Corojo tobaccos grown in the Jamastran Valley of Honduras. Careful blending techniques and top-notch quality control promote a truly one-of-a-kind smoke with an amazing level of flavor. The smoke is smooth, creamy, and rich, coating the palate with smooth notes of earth, leather, and roasted nuts, all complemented by a relaxing, peppery aftertaste. Medium to full in body, perfectly balanced, and truly delicious.”

The Judges

For the judging, I had to disqualify myself because I knew which cigars were which, and I had arranged the matchup.  So instead I chose 3 of my neighbors of varying degrees of cigar knowledge and experience.

Katie W. is a true cigar novice who just moved to the so-called “Free State” from Dallas, TX.  Her experiences with cigars have basically been limited to sharing with her husband when the neighbors have gotten together over the last few weeks.

Greg W. is Katie’s husband, and would probably be best classified as an advanced novice.  He normally smokes a few cigars a year, but will probably be upping both his frequency and his knowledge now that he lives next door to me.

Javier C. is easily the most advanced of the 3 judges, and would best be described as an aspiring aficionado.  Over the last several years, smoking together at least once a week, Javier and I have sampled the full spectrum of cigars, from the cheapest bundles, to the top shelf Habanos, Padrons, and Opus Xs.  He’s very adept at flavor identification.

The Fight

The Consuegra Dominican No. 450 was most commonly described by the judges as being smooth, and somewhat leathery.  While smooth can be a very fine descriptor for a cigar, in this case, it largely meant absent a truly distinguishing flavor.  Javier stated it best when he said “It’s good, but there’s just something missing.  They left out a part of the blend that would have completed it and brought it all together.”

The Camacho 10th Anniversary Torpedo was most commonly described as being looser than a thrift store turtleneck, with practically no resistance on the draw.  To be fair, some of this may have been a result to dryness caused during the recent shipment of the cigars.  However, the judges also complained that the cigar contained harsh pepper notes.  While many smokers enjoy a lot of pepper and spice, the judges found it oppressive and unenjoyable.

And the winner is…

While neither cigar blew any of the judges away, the Consuegra Dominican No. 450 won this matchup handily.  The results, by the numbers looked like this:

Consuegra Dominican No. 450
Average Rating:  83
Average Price Estimate:  $5
Preferred by:  All judges

Camacho 10th Anniversary Torpedo
Average Rating:  76
Average Price Estimate:  $2
Preferred by: N/A

On a side note, if anyone has any sub-$3 cigars that they really enjoy and would like to suggest (or better yet, provide) for future renditions of “Does Price Really Matter?” please reach out to me. It’s not a segment of the cigar population I have a lot of experience with.  While I’ve smoked my fair share of cheap sticks, I haven’t found any I would swear by.  Of course, I’m also willing to take donations of more expensive smokes that you’d like me to put up against the bargain crowd!  ;-)

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My name is Nate, and I currently live in Howard County, Maryland. I enjoy the finer things, be it golf, cigars, liquor, travel, guns, or my beautiful wife. I have a pretty awesome office job working for the federal government, and making a very respectable salary. However, in my heart, I’m still the same salt-of-the-Earth country boy who grew up in Middletown and Oley Valley, Pennsylvania. I spent five years in Marine Corps intelligence after high school, and have been in federal service since 2006.

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  1. This is exactly what I have been trying to tell my Brothers of the Leaf… but I just can’t get any traction with it. Everyone is firmly convinced that more money = more better. That’s it, and their minds are firmly shut. You cannot shake them of the notion. If you made this exact same comparison with the price tags on the cigars you would get opposite results. Only a blind test works. People cannot seem to uncouple price from evaluation.

    Some years back, Cigar Aficionado held a blind comparison of some 605 different cigars. FX Smith’s Sons 150 year old cigar factory in McSherrystown PA submitted their Smith Oscuro Perfecto, I think it was. Placed fourth. Couple months later, after the things was published, Cigar Aficionado discovered it was a machine made, called up and pitched a fit, dropping the F bomb and making threats. Why? When they didn’t know it was a cheap machine made it was a great cigar. Once they found out is came from a factory it must be a fraud. The factory owner told me this story and showed me the magazine.

    My current standards stocked in the humidor include the Ave Maria, the Torano 1916 Cameroon, the Fonseca Arana, and the Smithdale Maduro. Nobody ever heard of the last one. Why? Cause it came off a machine in McSherrystown PA.

    My experience has been that once a cigar reaches six buxks or so, then the blender starts to roll the dice trying to do something different, and so the results get real chancy. Especially the boutique guys.

    Thanks for the article.

    • I just looked up the F.X. Smith’s Sons website, and I gotta say, at about $1/stick, those Smithdale Maduros look like they may be worth a shot! I think machine mades have a bad rap because of things like black-n-milds and phillies, but the Smith’s look tasty at least.

  2. Nate great read bro. I always often wonder as well if the $$ is really worth it. Most of the time i feel the complexity of the blend increases with price. Though for a great $3 / cigar (online price) i put a vote in for a Don Tomas. Though at my local they are at $7. I often pick up house blends st my local cheap that are decent. Seems like they need at least 4 weeks in my humi though.

    • I haven’t had any luck with house blends yet, though there’s a new B&M I’ve found nearby that I’m planning on checking out soon (they even have a lounge), so maybe I’ll find something there.

      • Yeah I am still looking for a decent lounge near me. Damn NY laws!!

        • The problem with lounges is, why go somewhere where I have to spend more money and drive home after, when I can sit on my back porch, smoke what I have, drink what I want, and have a ten second commute to bed when I’m done?!

  3. When I dove into the world of hand made premiums I had no idea what a raving loyalty so many brothers had for particular brand name irrespective of the actual constituents and quality of those cigars. They could have rolled buffalo chips and called it a limited release exclusivo and these fans would tout the cigar to us neophytes and veterans alike because so and so made it. This need to be the cool kids also drives cigar sales even though the price point and high marks are undeserved.
    My initial budget forced me into that secondary market of lesser known boutique cigars that seemed quite enjoyable to me.When in time I came to sample these popular cigars, many proved themselves inferior to me either in taste or construction or both. It reminded me of a saying,”contempt prior to investigation” as the principle by which so many stay in ignorance of the charms of lesser known cigars. Through this experience I’m more inquisitive about the particulars of a cigar such as the individual leaf, construction and obscure reviews. I can say I have happily filed my shelves with excellent cigars comparable to others costing much more. The proof is always in the pudding

    • Actually think that’s part of Drew Estate’s success, but also why some people don’t like them. They’ve become hip and cool with enforced scarcity, like only offering some lines at special events. The after market prices are simply unjustified and ridiculous, but the Pokemon attitude (gotta have em all) of their fans drive the outrageous sales. It’s almost like the Sports Card bubble of the 90s. Eventually you’d hope people would realize that they’re not really all that rare, and that the company is keeping out some would-be fans by purposely producing below market demand.

  4. While I am on board with your experiment and agree that price is not always an indicator of quality, I will say that this particular pairing was not a good way to prove your point. These are two completely different cigars wit completely different profiles. There is no fair way to say that either was better than the other because they are trying to be two totally different cigars.

    To prove your point, try pairing two cigars with similar profiles or tobaccos from the same country and see how they stack up.

    Since you are pitting a bargain cigar from the DR against a premium stick, choose something from the DR, like a Fuente, EP Carrillo, etc to compare with that is similar in strength and size.

    If you do, please share the results with us!

  5. Keep this going, you could have some very interesting matchups. Just like with other retail items there are things worth paying extra for and some you can get a great deal on for the same quality.

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