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How to Become a Cigar Sommelier

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

Thanks to the explosive popularity of wine in recent decades, the term “sommelier” has become a buzz word for those in the know and those who want to be in the know about wine. The French word became more widely recognized in the 19th century and literally means “butler,” although today we understand sommelier as a “wine steward” in a restaurant or a hotel. When confronted with a wine menu in a fine dining establishment, the sommelier is the person we turn to for guidance in selecting the best wine.

A sommelier fulfills much more than a simple customer service role. A sommelier is regarded as someone with unlimited wisdom on wine – a real expert. In addition to possessing a vast amount of knowledge, the precision of a sommelier’s palate is second to none. This is a person who gets paid to taste and his or her barometer for quality and terroir must be unmistakable. Therefore, not only is a sommelier equipped to make perfect recommendations for wines to pair with your dinner, he or she is often also responsible for curating the entire wine list and espousing detailed knowledge on the provenance and tasting profile of almost any wine you could think to ask about. Sommeliers are generally only found in the finest restaurants – the kinds with a large budget for vintage wine.

Because the premium cigar industry mirrors the premium wine industry in so many facets, it’s natural for the title of sommelier to migrate, though it’s tough to draw an exact parallel. When we consider the sheer amount of rigorous study and time (many years) that it takes to become a wine sommelier, it’s not fair to invent an official correlation for the cigar industry. The protocols for becoming a wine sommelier are formal and have been well-established for many years. They are based on science and the chemistry of the palate. Roughly only 250 individuals in the entire world hold the title of Master Sommelier. Passing an extensive exam is required and many of the most qualified only pass after several attempts.

Discovering an equally scholastic curriculum for cigar lovers isn’t easy. While there are a handful of organizations that offer training and education for aspiring cigar sommeliers (mostly for Cuban cigars), we believe the frontier is still in its infancy. Here are a few helpful blueprints to follow, however, if you want to convert your immeasurable passion for premium tobaccos into a full-time career.

Learn Everything about Cigars

This may sound daunting, but it reflects the end goal. There are all kinds of basics to know about premium cigars from how to choose the right cigar and how to cut and light it, as well as a substantial amount of more detailed information on how cigars are made and what kinds of tobaccos go into a cigar.

Wrappers, shapes and sizes, brands, blends, countries of origin, and key tobacco-growing regions around the globe are just a few of the broad categories that should relentlessly excite you. Not to mention every cigar brand has a story, often a history that dates back many generations.

Work in a Premium Retail Cigar Shop

There are a variety of avenues to pursue when considering a career in the premium cigar industry, but few will offer more valuable educational insights than working in a retail cigar shop. Not just any shop will do. Choose a premium retailer with a solid selection of classic brands, such as Arturo Fuente, Ashton, Padron, and My Father. A reputable store with a clean, well-organized humidor and an abundant back stock is the kind that will attract sophisticated consumers.

Can the employees smoke cigars either for a discount or for free? A quality cigar shop will require its staff reflect authentic product knowledge. Part of the learning process is tasting the cigars themselves.

And, perhaps the most critical quality of any store period is the staff. How much do they know? Are they courteous and excited to answer questions? These are the individuals you will learn from. A tangible degree of hospitality is present in a professional sommelier. There’s no better opportunity to become an expert on premium cigars than by immersing yourself in the product and answering questions from a host of consumers, both educated and novice, every day.

Keep a Cigar Diary

Keep track of every cigar you smoke. Take notes. Log all the critical components that identify a cigar like the brand, the blend, the shape, and where it’s made. Premium cigars possess a magnificent range of flavor profiles, aromas, textures, and aftertastes. For many cigar lovers, smoking and tasting cigars is the fun part. But, there’s far more to it than simply indulging. Predicting what kind of taste a given cigar will deliver just from knowing a few minor tidbits of information is impressive. Pairing that cigar with the right kind of spirit is something a consumer will recognize. Like a wine sommelier, a cigar sommelier studies with the consumer in mind.

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