Cigars, like wine, are botanical products that undergo a series of proprietary fermentation processes. And similar to fine wines, certain cigars gain additional richness and complexity through aging. Incorrect storage, however, can result in the irreversible deterioration of a cigar’s living flavor. Here’s a look at why cigar collectors invest in cabinet humidors, and an introduction on how to manage the aging process successfully.
Which Cigars Should be Aged?
According to cigar expert David Diaz, “The benefits of aging cigars will vary from cigar to cigar and may range from considerable to negligible.” Again, we can draw a similarity to wines: some are intended for immediate drinking, whereas more complex wines have unique qualities that will only emerge over time. As a general rule, full-bodied cigars benefit more from aging than milder cigars do. Many cigars are at their peak shortly after they are purchased, but there are some that hold surprises: A particular cigar may taste grassy or bitter at first, but then unexpectedly smooth out after aging for a few months. The characteristics of aged cigars are described by cigar aficionados as “subtle,” “silky,” “complex,” and “refined.”
Conduct Your Own Research
If you’re trying a new cigar or manufacturer for the first time, it’s a good idea to test for yourself whether the product improves with aging. When you buy a box, smoke one after a day or two, and make some notes on the experience. How would you characterize the aroma and flavor profile? How was the combustion quality -- did the cigar have to be relit? Then try another one a week later, and again after another week or two. Track the ways in which the qualities change as the cigar ages. Does the smoking experience gradually improve with time? It’s all about your personal preference; there’s no outside authority that you have to agree with.
Cuban Cigars are Good Candidates for Aging
Cigars rolled with Habano leaf wrappers are darker in color, and they are notoriously richer and spicier than those which use wrappers from Connecticut. These special Habano leaves are primarily grown in Nicaragua and Ecuador, although the seed originally came from Cuba and is named for the city of Havana. Devotees of Habano cigars have written entire books about the art of storing them, and these great cigars are only rolled after the leaves have already matured for several years.
Vintage cigars with the right pedigree can command hundreds of dollars per cigar. Avid cigar collectors treasure Cuban cigars made from the time period before the 1959 revolution in Cuba. These extraordinary premium cigars are sometimes available from Dominican sources today, and are considered to be perhaps the best cigar available today, even after the long-term aging they have undergone. However, if you’re patient, you can do your own aging in a proper climate-controlled humidor. You’ll pay far less for your collection, while enjoying the full confidence that the aging is being conducted under optimum conditions. NewAir carries lockable cigar coolers designed to securely store 250 cigars, keeping them safe for your future pleasure.
Don’t Age Flavored Cigars
Flavored cigars, including the ACID cigars and other infused premiums, do not benefit from aging. They are created for immediate consumption, and they come from the cigar maker already having achieved their full flavor potential.
Thicker or larger ring-gauge cigars often age most successfully, because their greater diameter means that the interior long filler leaves are protected from environmental effects. Thicker cigars are simply more stable.
Cello Wrappers: Leave or Remove?
Since cellophane is a plant-based material that is somewhat breathable, many people leave the wrappers on as the cigars age. This is really a matter of personal preference: If you remove the cellophane, your cigars will develop the powdery “plume” (formed by crystallized tobacco oils) that is the classic sign of a well-aged cigar. On the other hand, if you handle your collection quite a bit, you may want to leave the cellophane in place to guard against minor damage to fragile tobacco leaves. Some cigar smokers also feel that cello wrappers offer protection against beetles and mold.
Resting is Different From Aging
Any new cigars you buy will benefit from a few days’ rest. A few days’ worth of “settling” at proper temperature and humidity levels before smoking cigars will overcome any temporary changes in their characteristics due to transport.
What is the Ideal Aging Period?
Many experienced cigar smokers believe that two or three years’ worth of aging is as far as you should take it, whereas other experts feel that decades of maturing are sometimes appropriate. Popular cigars such as the Rocky Patel The Edge are made from Honduran and Nicaraguan long filler leaves that have already been aged for five years when the cigar is sold. The organic structure of the tobacco leaves will eventually deteriorate, regardless of how perfectly they are kept. However, some vintage cigar enthusiasts insist that cigars can last more than 50 years if they are kept under the proper conditions.
What Happens During Aging?
The aging process brings a number of changes to the cigar. The fermentation process that was begun after tobacco leaves were picked will continue at a slow rate throughout the time that you store your cigar, so its taste will gradually change. As this chemical reaction takes place, various compounds are released, including ammonia, carbon dioxide and nicotine. These obviously affect flavor and aroma. Similarly, changes are occurring in the concentration of essential oils inside the leaves, and you can affect these changes by the way that you keep the cigar. Finally, the tactile characteristics of the cigar and how well it burns will depend on the moisture level that you provide. To properly age a cigar, it must be stored under proper conditions. Let’s examine each aspect of those conditions individually:
This is probably the factor that draws the greatest amount of attention, when people plan to age their cigars. Maintaining a humidity level of about 70 percent slows down the fermentation, preserves the proper combustion characteristics, and prevents the essential oils from evaporating. It’s a good idea to use distilled water in your humidor, so that you’re not introducing extra bacteria into the water reservoir.
Cigars need a stable temperature of 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in order to be at their best. Any temperature warmer than about 74 degrees will stimulate the hatching of tobacco beetles, as well as the growth of mold. Cooler temperatures also work to slow the fermentation process and enable optimum long-term aging.
While cigars are not so sensitive that the exact amount of oxygen needs to be monitored, it is helpful to keep cigars in a closed humidor. High oxygen levels facilitate fermentation, whereas a lower oxygen level slows it down. However, cigar aficionados also recommend that you open your humidor about once a day in order to bring some fresh air inside and defeat the growth of mold.
While the recommended temperature and humidity levels are ballpark figures, and can vary by a couple of degrees according to which expert opinion you follow, avoiding fluctuation in these conditions is vitally important. There are ongoing chemical reactions inside the tobacco leaves that are disrupted by too much variation. Also, temperature swings can stimulate the hatch of certain tobacco beetles.
There is a reason why all the best humidors have boxes and shelves made from Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata). This aromatic wood lends a mellow richness quality to the smoking experience, while also serving to repel insects. The wood has the further property of absorbing excess moisture in the atmosphere, and then releasing it as needed if the air dries out.
From Wine Cooler to Humidor
Since the storage requirements for wine and for cigars are somewhat similar, it is possible to create (or purchase) a “wineador.” As a matter of fact, NewAir has taken the first step: we added Spanish cedar shelving and boxes to our classic 28 bottle black wine cooler, to create the CC-280E 400-count cigar cooler. This large-sized cooler is all ready for you to add a hygrometer (to measure humidity) and a small reservoir in which to keep some water. If you’re handy with tools and wonder if you could simply build your own shelves out of common cedar wood, you should be aware that Spanish cedar is a specialty product. It is not actually related to North American cedar; it’s a tropical wood that’s closer to mahogany, and it’s not easy to procure. Common cedar has a powerful smell that would quickly destroy your cigar collection.
If you’re caught up in the romance of legendary cigars like the Cohiba or Partagas, you obviously need a storage solution that will keep them in ideal condition for years to come. Our assortment of humidors are made to guard the flavor characteristics of each individual cigar, so that you can fully participate in this satisfying and time-honored tradition.