Storage

Aging cigars

 
  • A cigar is constructed from tobacco leaves. While it is true comparatively speaking, that certain types of tobacco will ‘age better’ than others, the fact remains that all tobacco, by nature, is living matter – and as such, will steadily alter over a period of time. Veteran smokers will for example select specific Habanas for long-term aging due to decades long experience with that particular blend; it is a simple fact certain blends of tobacco yield greater results from aging than others. Some cigars, it has been found, will mature over a period of time, then cease to offer any added advantage with increased aging. In those cases, it’s not as if the cigars stop aging (remember, the compositional evolution is on-going), it’s only that with certain cigars, no greater enhancement will be realized after a period of time. Yet, other blends continually improve with greater, and greater maturation.Key in this argument is the issue of ‘proper’ maintenance. Even with cigars that are known to ‘age well’, with long term storage (5, 10, 20 or more years), proper maintenance (humidity/temperature) is extremely critical. It’s one thing to practice haphazard storage with a box of cigars that are to be consumed within a month or so after purchase – it’s an entirely different issue when one is considering the storage of cigars for even six months — let alone 6 years. We should not confuse long term aging of cigars with short term maturation. These days, more often than not, cigars are brought to market in a ‘green’ state; to derive any measure of enjoyment from a ‘fresh’ cigar, requires a bare minimum of 3 to 4 weeks just to marry the tobaccos, smooth off the roughness in taste, and bring the cigars up to par. On the other hand, long term aging is a process that will mature a cigar to a highly refined state, that greatly alters a cigars character. In Europe (particularly in England), the aging (or laying down) of cigars is a time honored practice, that is just beginning to find popularity in North America.
  • How long will it take to properly age my cigars?3 weeks will stabilize the mechanical tensions and moisture of a cigar, making it smoke better. 3 months will allow the oils to begin to migrate and flavors of the blend to marry. 2-3 years (in a suitable environment) will allow some of the more complex chemical processes of true aging to take place, and create subtile flavor changes…
  • and are there any special incidentals I need to know?The tobacco in most premium cigars is aged for 18 months to 2 years before rolling. In high-end premiums it’s often aged 3 years, and some special blends use tobacco up to 15 years old! Regardless, many manufacturers will roll cigars from this aged tobacco, and then hold them (now rolled) for another 1-2 years before shipping. It’s unfortunate that so many of the new “boutique” cigars becoming popular are in such demand that their manufacturers are shipping them directly off the roller’s tables, without this necessary “post-rolling” aging. This leaves it to either the distributers or the end smokers to hold these “green” cigars until they stabilize, marry, or age – whatever your pleasure.
  • Should I remove the cello wrapper for proper aging?A good cigar will certainly age in the wrapper, just as a good wine will age in the bottle. Aging cigars, as wine involves very complex chemical processes. Oxidation, slow chemical changes, blending of essential oils are all involved. If you age a number of similar cigars, then removing the wrappers will allow different cigars to “marry”, resulting in more consistence from one to another, but will not make the individual cigars any better or worse.When aging cigars in your “daily” humidor, you’re better off leaving them in their wrappers for another reason. Frequent opening and closing (exchanging the air) will result in faster evaporation/dissipation of the essential oils which give a good cigar its taste. Many people keep a broad assortment of cigars in their humidors. With an assortment of different types, you are best off leaving the wrappers on. You don’t want the spiciness from those Jamaicans mixing with the muskiness of the Hondurans. The Dominicans are mild – You don’t want them to acquire any “power” from those Cubans! Keeping the cello on also slows down the transfer of humidity. Your stored cigars remain stable – even with opening and closing the humidor frequently. You’ll notice that the end of the cello is never sealed, it’s just folded over. This allows the ambient humidity to slowly infiltrate the cigar. It also protects them from transfering problem like mold or bugs (shudder). Now, if you’re only keeping one or two similar brands in your humidor, you might consider unwrapping them – just so the flavors “marry”. This will produce better consistency from cigar to cigar.
  • What’s this about cigar’s flavors “marrying”???The phenomenon called “marrying” is a common, and well-known fact of tobacco production. It’s what makes LGC’s taste “green” until the 3 tobacco’s in the blend mix sufficiently. Some of this transfer is by smell (airborne ethers), but much of it is caused by direct contact – transfers of “essential oils” in the cigar’s tobacco. These oils migrate through the cigar and can be transferred readily.Marrying can be good or bad. If your humidor is full of the same (or very similar) types of smokes, it will guaranty a consistent smoke. If you inter-mix mild or spicy blends with strong or earthy blends, the mixing is quite noticeable. This is why you should consider leaving the cello on when mixing a broad range of cigars in one humidor (or removing it if they’re all the same). Some smokers go one step further, and leave their Cuban’s in a completely different box from their others…. 😉
  • But will these “essential oils” travel through the cigar’s wrapper?The wrapper is just another leaf. Vapors and oils migrate through this layer as quickly as they travel from any adjacent leaves (such as the 3 tobaccos in a LGC’s blend). Wanna see how well it protects ’em? Put a drop of water on the wrapper – after a minute, it’ll soak right in to your stogie! The essential oils which give a cigar its taste travel just this readily from layer to layer, cigar to cigar. Just as the humidity will stabilize in a closed box, the essential oils of the cigars will eventually migrate and stabilize.

Humidors

 
  • Why use a humidor? The purpose of a humidor is to keep your cigars at their peak “smokability”. The most crucial characteristic of a fine humidor is that it can provide a constant environment of about 68′ to 70′ F and 70-72% humidity. It doesn’t really need to be fancy, but it does need to be functional.
  • What do I look for in buying a humidor?Starting from the inside of the box, look for details liked perfectly squared and fitted seams. Gaps provide an exit for moisture. Spanish cedar is the best wood for the interior of a humidor (see section on woods below) and it should be unfinished. There should be an “inner lip” protruding from the top of the side above in to the lid to help prevent the exchange of moisture.The lid should close sufficiently tight, and be a uniform fit (no sign of warping). The humidification device should be capable of maintaining a constant level of humidity within the box with as little maintenance as possible.
  • What temperature is best for storage?70 degrees. – although cooler storage temperatures are definitely not a problem for cigars (as long as you maintain a reasonable relative humidity).Why do we attempt to keep them at 70 deg. then? The key is in the subtle difference between stable storage and true aging. Your cigars will not age, mature, mellow, or develop the complex character of well cured smokes at lower temperatures. The blended tobaccos will not “marry”, and if you’re keeping them for a long time you won’t get the subtle changes in flavor. There have been several long threads in a.s.c. on the need to age La Gloria Cubanas, for example. These will stay “green” much longer if aged at cooler temperatures. At higher temperatures, there are several insects to worry about. The microscopic eggs of the dreaded tobacco beetle, for instance, hatch at temperatures above 80 degrees.
  • Must cigars be stored horizontally?Cigars are stored horizontally because in a completely still environment moist air is very slow to mix with drier air. It obviously does stabilize eventually, but with a humidor’s frequent openings and closings, this “layering effect” may make your stogies burn irregularly. You can minimize the effect by storing cigars horizontally (and not opening your box too often). I’d recommend a tupperdor over a jar for this reason.Sliding cigars in and out of a cigar jar can often damage the ends of their delicate wrappers – it’s best to subject your cigars to as little handling as possible. A shoebox size tupperdor hardly costs more than a single good cigar, and you’ll be able to store more cigars (and longer ones). Picture an 8″ tall jar (big enough for larger 7 1/2″ sizes) with a few 4 1/2″ robustos mixed in. You’ll have to dump them all out to get at the shorter ones!
     

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