I’m often asked, "How do you taste so good?" to which I reply that in a former life I was a chocolate éclair. Seriously, though, reviewing tobaccos for publication is a bit of work, but perhaps not as trying as one might think. People often tell me they don’t have as refined a palate as I do, or some other such nonsense, like, "I don’t know how to describe the taste; I only know what I like and what I don’t." To this I say poppycock and balderdash. If you can discern the difference between blend A and blend B, or hot dogs and chocolate éclairs for that matter, then your palate is refined enough. If you truly can’t, then stop reading right here and buy the cheapest tobacco available, because it won’t matter what you smoke. For the rest of us, our own rich experience is all the background we need for tasting—that, and a willingness to trust our own judgment.
To borrow a line from PipesMagazine.com’s own Brian Levine, we are all experts of our own opinion. The main qualifications in being such an expert are a confidence in one’s perception and the desire to define it, which I believe all of us are capable of doing when we allow ourselves to be. Whether you’re interested in simply keeping your own journal of tasting notes, chatting about the latest releases with the guys at the pipe club, or learning how to more effectively communicate to others for publication, you’ll find it remarkably easy to equip yourself with the tools and strategies necessary to fully interpret and profile your tobaccos. My own pipe taste-testing regimen is evolved and adapted from what I learned during my time in the specialty coffee industry, as well as a hobbyist’s experience with wine, spirit and food tastings.