Cigar Hunter: Experimenting with the BlendLab

Editor’s note: Congrats to Leo from Folsom, California. He won the most recent Cigar Hunter prize giveaway: a 10-cigar travel humidor from Corona Cigar Co. and six of Corona’s 10th Anniversary Double Phatty Habano cigars. Watch for more giveaways in 2013: Make sure you’re 18 years old and registered here to win!

One of my earliest childhood memories involves tagging along while my mother chaperoned my older sister’s Girl Scout troop, as they visited a pizza joint and learned to make their own pies. Who knew you could get behind the counter, swirl your own sauce and choose your own toppings?

I was hooked on the idea, and actually mused on becoming a chef. For a year or so, anyway, until my baby teeth fell out.

Fast-forward 35 years or so, and the guys at Cigars International have given stogie lovers the closest thing available online to a roll-your-own experience. They call it the BlendLab.

A handful of cigar manufacturers offer Central American tours, and a few of those give ordinary consumers the chance to blend their own cigars in small quantities.

As you might imagine, the range of possibilities is practically endless: It’s like commissioning your own cologne from a custome perfume blender. The result could fall anywhere on the spectrum from sweet to disgusting. (RELATED SLIDESHOW: Cigar Hunter: Smoking hot famous women smoking cigars)

And you typically have to wait weeks or even months to find out: Freshly rolled cigars are generally too wet to smoke for awhile, no matter how much you might be tempted.

CI’s solution is a selection of 64 small-batch blends that aren’t available anywhere else. The goal, the company says, is to “taste blends that will never be released to the public, usually due to rare or small allotments of tobaccos from a particularly good crop year or type, too small such that it could never support an ongoing production cigar.”

A few of these, according to the online marketing materials, will eventually be released to the public in larger quantities if customers rate them highly.

Sound fun? I thought so. So I asked Jorge at CI to send me a sample of the BlendLab offerings, and he obliged in December with 10 different cigars for me to taste. (The cigars were free, but Cigars International hasn’t provided any other consideration for this review.)

It was, as Jorge warned me, a “roll in the catnip” for a cigar lover like me. Once again, I’m hooked on the do-it-yourself aspect of this idea. (RELATED: Post-election short smokes)

As I tasted the cigars he chose for me, I imagined myself in a factory blending room, trying combinations of flavors that I had never experienced before. Of the ten, I absolutely hated three; I found three more less than memorable; and the remaining three four were stellar — absolute diamonds in the rough.

The cigars range in price from $4.00 to $8.50. You can literally buy them one at a time and taste them all if you want to.

In general, I’m a big fan of small cigar shops and turned off by the mass commercialism that has nudged many online merchants toward the Wal-Mart-ization of tobacco. But this is different.