Water water everywhere, and occasionally I drink
However, taste buds, like any sensors, either biological or man-made, can only function maximally and accurately if they're clean. Think about it: a camera lens - a sensor of light - doesn't work if the lens cap is on. Similarly, taste buds can't capture the true essence of a cigar's flavor if they are covered in gunk. And this is where drinking plain old H20 with a new cigar comes into play.
To get an accurate sensation of the flavor and body of a first-time-to-you cigar, you want to clear away from your taste buds any residue that may be impeding their function WITHOUT leaving behind any additional flavors that would mask the "true" flavor of the cigar. A little research in the culinary sciences tells us that the majority of flavors in foods are carried in fats rather than in proteins or carbohydrates. Fats, while good at carrying flavor, are "sticky" from a chemical standpoint. That's what makes them good carriers of flavor but also difficult to dissolve away when you want to get rid of them. This explains why oils stain your clothes and why they can "clog" your taste buds. But how do we cleanse the palate of these pesky oils while not leaving behind other flavors? The answer: solvents - specifically, polar protic solvents.
Without getting too chemistry-geeky, a polar protic solvent is any molecular solvent which contains dissociable H+ (a/k/a - a hydrogen ion). Examples of such solvents are water, ethanol (the good stuff in any alcoholic drink) and acids (like citric acid found in lemon and lime juices). These solvents are hence effective at dissolving the pesky oils and fats that keep you from enjoying your cigar's true essence.
Although I mentioned that alcohol (especially my favorite, Maker's Mark) is the same kind of solvent as water, I would dissuade y'all from drinking alcohol if you're trying to assess a new stick's true flavor, simply because alcoholic beverages come with their own characteristic flavors which will interfere with your taste buds in a way that water - which, by definition is flavorless - will not. Trying a cigar for the first time accompanied by water will also give a truer sense of which alcoholic beverages will go best with that same cigar when you move on to the 2nd and 3rd cigars you sample, and that is something I'm always looking forward to.
The most recent recommendable cigars that I have recently tried for the first time accompanied by water are varied in body and flavor include the Rocky Patel Honduran Maduro, a full bodied yet mellow stick that has a lot of cocoa and toastiness in its makeup.
When I recently reviewed the Alabao by Perdomo, I had a glass of room temperature water at my side. Truth be told, while I usually smoke 2-3 sticks with water before selecting an accompanying adult beverage, I was mixing up my customary Sazerac to enjoy with my second Alabao even while I was finishing the first; it was THAT good. If full-bodied cigars are more in your strike zone, try an EPC Short Run which, due to its rich flavors, you will want to try unclouded by alcohol, both in palate and in mentation.
Medium-bodied cigars I'd recommend enjoying first with water are Perdomo Lot 23 (Natural) and the Plasencia Reserva Organica. Both sticks, to my palate, are dead-center medium on body but with plenty of flavor as well.
Finally, the next cigar I want to sample is the new lighter bodied La Floridita Gold, and as soon as Gary cuts loose and sends me a couple to review, I'll be pouring a glass of water and taking notes on what sounds like a great morning or coffee cigar.
While I'm never going to suggest teetotaling for most of your cigar experiences, if you want to get a true, precise sense of the cigars you're smoking, enjoy the first one with a glass of water at hand. You'll be much better prepared to pair it with other beverages in the long run.
This article originally appeared on April 14, 2011.
Gary Korb has been writing and editing content for CigarAdvisor.com since its debut in 2008. An avid cigar smoker for over 30 years, during the past 12 years he has worked on the marketing side of the premium cigar business as a Sr. Copywriter, blogger, and cigar reviewer. A graduate of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, prior to his career in the cigar business, Gary worked in the music and video industry as a marketer and a publicist.Show all Gary Korb's Articles