The professional evaluation of existing or new cigar brands happens in so-called Smokers Panels. In this article, we will talk about the four reasons for holding such panels, as well as their content and objectives.
At VILLIGER, six to eight experienced cigar experts meet regularly and form a so-called Smokers Panel. These experts may organize such a Smokers Panel for four reasons.
Why organize a Smokers Panel
A Smokers Panel is most frequently organized to perform the standard quality checks that all of VILLIGER’s existing cigar brands have to undergo regularly. However, there are three other reasons why the six to eight experienced cigar experts gather for these tastings: If there are any changes in production (relevant changes in the selection of tobacco plantations, production sites, or staff changes), if we intend to change the tobacco blends of existing brands or in the run-up to the creation of a new brand.
Tasting form – the foundation
A Smokers Panel is held based on the Tasting Form. The experts use this form to record information about the filler tobaccos, binder, wrapper, ring size, and cigar format. They also note the type of cigar or sample, the country, and the factory where the cigar is produced. Additionally, they explain why they hold the Smokers Panel (see above).
Smokers Panel program
The Smokers Panel is a group of experienced cigar connoisseurs that evaluate premium tobacco products according to a wide range of criteria based on two key aspects. The first aspect has to do with all the cigar’s external, physical, and aesthetic characteristics, such as shape, feel, color, and wrapper texture.
The second aspect has to do with criteria related to the very enjoyment of the cigar. First, this involves evaluating the cigar’s aroma, both cold and after it is lit. Next, the strength of the cigar is assessed. Is the cigar more on the mild, medium, or strong side? Aroma and strength are used to evaluate the flavor. Another important criterion is the way the smoke develops: Does it not develop at all, or does it tend to be negative or positive? Finally, the panelists evaluate the cigar’s draw, burn rate, and ash development.
Each panelist notes their scores using a predefined scoring system. This six-point system is similar to school grades ranging from poor to outstanding. All the experts’ points are then added up to determine an overall score. Beyond scoring the cigar based on the predefined criteria, panelists can also record additional impressions not covered by the set of criteria.
The next step
Once the panelists have compiled an overall score based on the individual evaluations, they can decide whether they wish to proceed with the next steps or not. For example, they could inform the producer of the tested cigar or cigar sample that they would like to see construction quality or the burn rate improved. Furthermore, the Smokers Panel could also result in changes to the filler tobaccos or the wrapper to improve the aroma.
New design and enhanced flavor
When it comes to hand-rolled cigars, VILLIGER does not conduct in-house experiments with the tobacco. This means that when an exclusive panel of VILLIGER experts decides that the aroma, strength, or flavor of a cigar brand should be changed, the manufacturer in the respective country is tasked with creating new samples. Depending on the requirements, VILLIGER allows the manufacturer more or less latitude concerning the composition of the desired samples. After the Smokers Panel gives a sample the required score, the cigar manufacturer is notified of the desired changes.
A recent example of such a change in an established cigar brand is the LA LIBERTAD. This cigar, which was previously made in Honduras, has been rolled by hand in Nicaragua since the summer of 2021. The visual design received a complete makeover for the relaunch of this full-bodied and robust cigar. However, the flavor was only tweaked a bit.
Creating new brands
Changing an existing cigar brand differs fundamentally from creating new brands. To create new brands, the VILLIGER representative responsible for the range of hand-rolled cigars travels to the country where the new product is to be produced. There, the person responsible for the product range and the master blender of the factory – the expert of the respective cigar factory – then compose cigars with a wide variety of tobacco blends. In doing so, they draw on the experience gained from previous blends and the requirements for the desired cigar brand. This results in various cigar samples, which are then sent to VILLIGER and evaluated by the Smokers Panel. Following this evaluation, a sample is selected and fine-tuned, if necessary. Then, after additional panels, the tobacco blend, the binder, and the wrapper are specified, and a new cigar brand is launched.