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Set, setting and cigar: Mental and environmental states affect perceptions of quality

To each their own, as they say, but what makes a cigar high quality? The best construction in the world won’t save you from a powerful gust of wind. The most delicious, balanced and complex flavor profile will go unnoticed to the cigar smoker deeply occupied with another task. What’s happening in the environment — both physical and mental — has a huge impact on one’s impression of quality when it comes to cigars.

Reviews rarely address this — sometimes they’ll mention what they were drinking, how they were feeling, where they were — but this is hardly ever counted in the point score. Yet your ‘set’ and ‘setting’ are keys to unlocking enjoyment of any given cigar. It can make a $1 stick taste like a Padron Anniversario, or a $10 stick taste like a Dutch Masters.

Here’s a hypothetical experiment: give someone a cigar after a hearty meal with a glass of fine bourbon on a relaxing summer night while casually conversing with friends. The cigar is just one harmonious note in a symphony of enjoyment. Now give that same cigar to that same guy on the golf course at noon in breezeless 90-degree weather after a quadruple-bogey. Now the cigar is a dissonant note in a sea of noise. The two experiences couldn’t be more different even though the cigar remains the same.

It’s not that cigar smokers are ignorant to this fact — to the contrary, we’re well aware. We take great care in enjoying high quality smokes in high quality environments. We’re not lighting up an Opus X while changing the oil in our truck, nor are we smoking a bundled stick to celebrate a big promotion.

This is precisely why there are “yardwork” cigars and “go-to” cigars amidst the super-premiums. Matching one’s cigar with one’s set and setting is the true way of the aficionado. It’s why you don’t wait to run out of cigars before buying more — keeping a well-stocked humidor is the only way to properly match the cigar with the situation.

Only when you’ve harmonized set, setting and cigar can you truly give an objective opinion on its construction, flavor, etc. More importanly, it’s the best way to maximize your smoking enjoyment.