Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How to educate your palate

By Gary Korb

Today I want to pick-up on the topic of "flavors in cigars." I often refer to cigar flavor descriptions as "Cigar Aficionado-speak." No doubt, when the magazine debuted in 1992, it became "the voice" for describing premium cigars in much the same way wine aficionados described fine wines. And it made sense, since cigars and wines have a lot in common.

I've always had a sensitive palate, and as I've described in the Famous Smoke Shop catalog, as well as in my cigar reviews and blogs, I've tasted flavors of nutmeg, white pepper, and coffee bean, to name a few. Moreover, I even did a survey on this subject in which the majority of respondents agreed. Certainly, at this stage, you'd be hard-pressed not to find a cigar review from any "educated palate" that didn't describe some flavors the writer tasted in the cigar. I mean let's face it; if cigars didn't have any appealing flavors, we probably wouldn't smoke them in the first place.

So, now to the point.

Last weekend I was in my wife's sanctuary, also known as the kitchen, looking for some ingredients for an omelet I was making. As I was turning the spice racks, I became very curious. I began taking out a number of spice jars to see how accurate I'd been during my many years of reportage. Among them were nutmeg, fennel seed, anise, allspice, white pepper, black pepper, lemongrass, and crushed red pepper. I wet my index finger, sprinkled some spice on it and tasted, one after the other. I'm also happy to report that many of my descriptions were right on-target.

This procedure reminded me of a May 2006 article in Cigar Aficionado about a scent kit titled "Make Scents of Cigars" from Credo, the same company that makes some excellent humidifiers and other cigar accessories. The kit came with six scent flasks: caramel, leather, oak moss, musk, pepper and damp earth. A small booklet was also included explaining how each scent "figures into a cigar." The article was quick to point out that the kit represented "only a fraction" of what you're bound to find in most cigars, and were "not necessarily the most prevalent ones." Whatever, it sure seemed liked a cool idea, especially for cigar newbies.

The article also noted that "developing a keen palate takes time and patience." So, the moral of the story is, keep trying new cigars all the time. Eventually, your palate will become more sensitive to the flavor nuances in every cigar you smoke.

Additionally, if you want to learn more with regard the continuing education of your palate, I found an excellent online resource. Check out the Enspicelopedia® on McCormick's website. They're the experts on spices and flavorings, and I think you'll find it very enlightening.

Makee some time to experiment with spices and other flavors, and the next time you puff on your cigar, let that smoke roll around and settle in on your palate. You never know what you'll discover in there, but at least you'll have a better reference.

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