In part two of our in-depth interview Patrick Lagreid we tackle writing reviews, ring sizes, cigar culture and more.
When reviewing a cigar, what are the things you look for? What are the most critical factors for you? Halfwheel is notoriously critical in their reviews (something which I think lends credibility in the long run), do you find yourself overlooking certain issues when the flavor is particularly exceptional?
When I review a cigar, I look for not only what the cigar delivers in terms of flavor and aroma but how it does it. I find myself looking for and rewarding cigars that offer balance and complexity more than anything; good solid flavors that are kept in balance and that progress and evolve from the start of the cigar through its completion. For me, a great cigar is like the performance of a symphony: the individual players and their instruments shine but the performance and interaction of the group lift the performance to an even higher level.
If there’s something I’m most likely to overlook, or at least not be as critical about, it’s likely burn issues, since there are so many variables after the cigar has left the factory that can affect how it burns, from the way it was shipped to the humidor of the retailer and consumer, even to the environment where the cigar is smoked. Some burn issues you simply can’t overlook, but I don’t necessarily believe that a cigar has to have a razor sharp burn line to warrant a high score.
What do cigars, their heritage, and their culture mean to you?
In my writing, I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. While every cigar has its own story, it’s also a chapter in a bigger book that chronicles the history of individuals, families, cultures and countries.
In my mind, every great brick and mortar cigar shop has it’s own unique vibe and ambiance. What do you think goes into making a cigar shop stand out as a great store?
It’s a bit of a two-part answer: the retail side needs to involve friendly, knowledgeable and helpful employees who are able to guide a person through a well-curated humidor that offers a wide yet not necessarily overwhelming selection of cigars that span a number of flavor profiles and price points.
On the lounge side, it should be a place that allows a person to be himself, whether that is to allow for some quiet relaxation, conversation among groups of people or a space to get a little work done. The one thing I am not a fan of is lounges with tons of TVs blaring that end up setting the tone for the lounge.
You always see it argued that smaller rings, particularly lanceros, offer more flavor from the wrapper. What’s your take on the ideal ring size?
I think every blend has its ideal ring gauge and length, and it’s unfortunate that hardly any cigars are presented that way. I understand that there are considerations that go into picking a size of a certain cigar to smoke – time and cost being the two most notable – but I think if manufacturers were to start coming out with single vitola releases and saying that they believe a certain size shows off the blend best, you’d have a completely different situation.
For me, I tend to prefer ring gauges under 50 or 52, though I try and stay in the 40s whenever possible. I think coronas are able to show blends very well, though again each blend is unique.
I’m definitely hesitant and avoidant of cigars with ring gauges over 56 or so, as I think without some kind of a press a 60 simply feels too big for me. While I understand the appeal of the big ring gauges, I think if consumers shopped more with their sense of taste than sight, we’d see a huge change in what cigars sell.
What are your favorite cigars in the last few years?
There are so many to pick from – the EP Carrillo Short Run 2013 and Dark Rituals EL 2011 stand out, as does the Oliva Serie V Maduro 2012, Drew Estate BOTL.org Corona 2013, Davidoff Limited Edition 2009 Seleccion 702, plus cigars I smoked while I was at the Montesino and Robaina farms in Cuba – the list could go on and on.
Hypothetically, if you had the opportunity to bring any 5 cigars, from anytime, to regular production, what would they be?
Certainly the Davidoff Limited Edition 2009 Seleccion 702 and Drew Estate BOTL.org Corona 2013 stand out since I’ve smoked them both fairly recently. I would love to go back and explore the old Cuban offerings and sample some of the better years, as well as the original Cohiba Behike and Cohiba Gran Reserva. But at the same time, having all these classic cigars readily available would take away from trying the new stuff
What do you think are the best cigars that can be had for under $10?
Again – so many options to pick from: Illusione Rothchildes, the Padron Series, Casa Magna, Joya de Nicaragua Antano, El Centurion…there is a huge list to pick from that I could on and on.
What’s your take on the continuous blurring of the line between legitimate cigar journalism and the advent of what I’d like to call “twitter jockey journalism”?
Because of the changes in technology as well as individual access to it, there’s been a significant shift as to how and from whom people can get their information. The thing to remember is that a person isn’t a legitimate journalist simply because they have a Twitter account or blog. Credible journalists, regardless of their chosen medium, are established over long periods of time through their body of work, produced on a regular basis that shows an understanding of the field that they are covering, is free of bias or agenda, and maintains personal detachment from the subject at hand.
Unfortunately in the world beyond cigars, there has been a blurring of the lines as to what news and journalism really are, because you have TV networks calling themselves news networks when in reality they are nothing but opinion shows, and while they may report on a newsworthy topic, is only done with a political slant aimed at promoting a certain political party’s agenda while placing blame on the other.
Likewise, in an attempt to create neat, tidy little packages of news, content producers often leave out a lot of the much needed context. On Twitter, you can only tell a story 140 characters at a time, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for context. While it is great for headlines and links to hopefully well written stories, it falls short of being an appropriate medium through which to really communicate a story. Similarly, a lot of so-called reporters, journalists and bloggers don’t take the time to ask questions or investigate beyond the surface level of a subject and just accept something at face value, or if nothing less fail to provide some context and connection.
At the end of the day, it shifts more of the burden of being a media consumer onto each individual; every individual has to become more and more critical of where their news and information are coming from. You have to consider the source with a critical mind to determine if their opinion and “reporting” is really worth valuing.
When introducing somebody new to cigars, what are your go-tos to give a novice?
It all depends on what they like to eat and how adventurous they are feeling – I think the Padron Series can be a good place to start, likewise with Illusione’s Le Epernay line, some of Fuente’s offerings, or Oliva’s Connecticut or Serie G lines. I would start them with smaller cigars that aren’t overpowering yet offer a good bit of flavor. I don’t want to give them something so mild that they don’t get anything out of the cigar, nor so overpowering that they have an adverse reaction to it.
Are there any funny stories from your time out and about in the cigar world that you’d be willing to share?
I’ve certainly had my share of laughs with people in the cigar industry, but it’s the good, deep conversations that I really appreciate, whether it be about tobacco or something completely different. I love learning from other people and hearing their opinions and perspectives on things, and I’ve been fortunate to have been able to have time with some great minds in the industry over a cigar.