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Make Your Own Way

Posted by on Dec 18, 2013

nathThis is the time of year when every website known to man is publishing Top 10 lists on everything you can think of.  Top 10 cigars.  Top 10 celebrities.  Top 10 political moments.  Top 10 moves to drive your man wild…  The list of lists is endless.  Hell, there’s even a list of the ten best top ten lists!

Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I can speak to the efficacy of all these lists, but I’d like to give you some food for thought on Top XX lists for cigars, and ratings and reviews for cigars and liquor in general.  In these matters, as in life in general, I find it’s best to make your own way.

When I was getting ready to graduate high school, I realized my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college.  I also knew I didn’t want to work on a farm, or go into construction with my father.  No offense to him or anyone in the industry, but it just wasn’t what I wanted for myself.  So I joined the Marine Corps with the goal of learning to do something I could turn into a career later.  I spent five years in the Marine Corps in intelligence, before getting out and going to work for the federal government.  Over the last couple years, I’ve gotten my bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working full time, and helping my wife raise four children.  I’ve taken myself from being a small town Pennsylvania kid with no real prospects on the horizon, to rubbing elbows with some of the most powerful people in DC.  I know a little something about making my own way.

Compared to many of the other contributors and readers on this site, I’m probably comparatively new to the world of cigars.  I only took up cigars as a hobby about 7 years ago.  However, like everything else I fall in love with, I dedicated myself to it veraciously.  I’ve read every website, book, and magazine I could find.  I’ve researched the differences in tobaccos, regions, cigar sizes, aging techniques, and just about anything else you can think of.  In the beginning, I would buy every cigar I could find that was on a reputable Top 10 list.  I liked the feeling it gave me to be able to tell my less cigar enthused friends “This is the #3 rated cigar in the world right now,” or “This cigar was rated as the best in the world last year, and that includes Cubans!”  However, what I discovered over the course of a few years was that I found many more mediocre cigars this way, than I found treasures.  In 2011, when the Alec Bradley Prensado won Cigar Aficionados cigar of the year, I had tried four of the top 10.  Two of them I really enjoyed, but though they were great values, I wouldn’t put them on my top ten list.  They were cigars I could enjoy smoking on a Saturday night, that weren’t so expensive that I was resentful giving them to my neighbor when he came over to have a drink.  But they weren’t special occasion cigars.  One of them, the La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor, is still one of my Top 10 all-time cigars, and Cigar Aficionado rated it #2 that year, so I couldn’t really be mad at them there.  However, I couldn’t have been more disappointed in the Alec Bradley Prensado.  Not only were there numerous better cigars out there, but there were 3 or 4 from the Alec Bradley line up I would have put before it.  The best adjective for that cigar, in my opinion, is flavorless.

The problem with cigar ratings are many.  First, Cigar Aficionados cigar of the year ratings are an average of several “experts,” which means that what’s most likely to win out is mass appeal, which may not be what appeals to YOU, which is what’s most important.  Second, on many sites, you don’t know why people are giving ratings, or what their motives may be.  Are they doing a solid for an advertiser?  Promoting a pet brand?  You just don’t know.  But the best reason to take expert ratings with a grain of salt is that they’re not YOU, and your rating is the only one that should matter to YOU.  My number one piece of advice to anyone that wants to get more into cigars is to smoke as many different things as you can.  When you find something you really like, buy a box or two.  This is why samplers and herfs are so wonderful.  You can get exposure to a wide variety of cigars, without making a large financial investment in one limited thing.  I once bought two boxes of My Father No. 1s in an auction because I was able to get a price I couldn’t believe compared to other sites, and because everyone had been raving about them.  I wasn’t impressed.  After two years in my humidor they’re finally coming around to something I can enjoy, but for the first 24 months I couldn’t believe anyone had called this cigar unbelievable.  This may be blasphemy, but anything with an Opus X label on it is an overrated, overpriced, mediocre stick, in my opinion.  But that’s the great thing about it.  If you love them, my disdain leaves more product for your waiting arms!  The key is to smoke the cigars you smoke because YOU love them, not because you’ve been told you’re supposed to love them.

I’ve had very similar experiences with alcohol too.  For years I drank Scotch with my cigars, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, damn it!  However, peat tastes like drinking dirt and campfire to me, and that’s not appetizing or enjoyable to my palate, so there are few Scotches I enjoy.  I absolutely love Montgomerie’s Tobermory 1994, but outside of that, it was more about tolerating than truly enjoying.  More recently, I’ve discovered I have a real appetite for bourbon, which also makes me look like a hipster, since bourbon is in fashion right now, but the tongue wants what the tongue wants.  However, my favorite liquor to sip with a cigar is actually a rum, which flies in the face of what most “experts” would tell you is a good pairing.  However, for me, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 year old rum can be sipped with any cigar I’ve ever smoked, and will provide an excellent complement, and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about that.  I’ve also found that buttered popcorn is an excellent complement to cigars and bourbon.

The bottom line is this; it’s always important to be yourself in life, and do what you enjoy as often as possible, and nowhere is that more important than in the things you do solely for enjoyment.  So stop worrying so much about experts and what you’re “supposed” to do, and start worrying a whole lot more about what YOU personally find appealing.

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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. WOW WHAT A GREAT READ. Nate that had some deep meaning to it. For the Cigars and Life. I also have been victimized to the top cigars that I haven’t been pleased with. To me and a lot of my close friends, it always seems like your go to cigars are never on the top lists but they are so good and tasty!!

    • Thanks, GDII! I know the prestige factor is a big part of cigar smoking for some people, so going for the fancy expensive cigars because they’re what you’re supposed to love is a part of the enjoyment for them, but I like to think I’ve grown beyond that point.

      The opposite happened with Liga Privada. They had mediocre ratings, but people loved them and dove at every box they could find. Now the prices have doubled over the last two years, and they’re no longer as fantastic a value at the new price points. That’s why it’s a good idea to find the new up-and-comers early and stock up on anything you like before the whole world catches on!

      • I certainly hear you about stocking up. One of my favorite go to cigars are the Nub Maduro 464T. It just hits my palate in that way. But when they first came out I scored 2 boxes at $65 a piece and now good luck getting 1 box for $130.

        But I guess a low price point might be needed for people to grab at first. The problem with Liga Provida is that I can’t seem to find them in singles. Not willing to go for a $200 plus box if I haven’t tried one yet.

        • The only place I’ve ever seen LP singles (or any LPs for that matter) is Senor Cigars in Ocean City, MD.

  2. Awesome read! Couldn’t agree more.

  3. Excellent job Nate

  4. Hey Nate, can’t say enough about your contribution to our site. Really insightful. I think you speak for a lot of our brothers when you talk about making choices for yourself when it relates to cigars, spirits etc. Fav’s List and recommendations are great… As Brand owners we realize that. BUT experience and self realization are the two cornerstones of any humidor, liquor cabinet or life (in the grander scheme of things). At BPB we strive to be part of your lives not because “So and So” says we should but rather because YOU said we could. Investing in “your” Life’s moments… they are words we live by!

    • Thanks Ronnie! It’s funny because I even see this play out on a small scale with my buddies. Probably my all time favorite cigar is the Cohiba Robusto. I had two friends over one night, and we each lit one up, and then rated them ourselves. Between the three of us we had scores of 85, 90, and 97. One of the biggest selling points for me was the power. I love the fact that when you smoke this cigar, it feels like you’ve had two drinks, even if you haven’t. But the guy who rated it 85 hated that, and that’s why he rated it so low, which works out great for me, because it means more of those tasty Cohibas stay in my humidor!

  5. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint with the community Nate. Very much appreciate it and look forward to your next entry.

    • Thanks man! I better start working now so I don’t have a sophomore slump and let everyone down.

  6. So true. Experience things for yourself and make your own decisions. Would you rather read in a book how beautiful some island is or take a trip there and have stories about things no one else has ever noticed?

    • We need to get Cigar_G to add the up vote/down vote buttons to blog comments so I can properly express how much I agree with this sentiment! You can see all the pics you want, but you don’t really understand the majesty of Big Sur until you’ve been there.

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