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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Storing & Aging Cigars

Michael Herklots, CMT Academic Contribution
Certified Master Tobacconist #1776
Storing & Aging Cigars
Fortunately the cigars available in the American Market are for the most part ready to be smoked. The manufacturers have invested the time to age the cigars appropriately before shipping to the retailers. However like fine wines, additional aging on cigars (box age) will change those cigars over time. Not all cigars will benefit from long-term aging. As a general rule of thumb, the stronger and more complex a blend is to begin with, the more potential for that cigar to change from additional aging. The milder the cigar is to begin with, the less the potential the cigar has for drastic change over time. Aging allows the essential oils within the tobacco to “marry” and to mellow as well.  What is aggressive and obvious on a newer cigar will become more complex and subtle.

I recently lit up a Davidoff Millennium Lonsdale (one of my favorite cigars to age) that was 4 years old. Now, the Davidoff Millennium Lonsdale is also one of my favorite cigars right out of the box. It’s full-bodied with abundant flavors of spice, earth and leather yet still balanced. With four years of age, the cigar was toned down a bit. Though still full in body, the obvious spiciness I expect in a “new” Lonsdale was slightly muted making the overall flavor a little more delicate and restrained. It was almost velvety in character, with an incredibly long and complex finish. I can’t say I prefer one to the other, but rather I enjoy both equally just for different reasons. But to experience the difference between the two is quite interesting.  And, since cigars are manufactured in a “non-vintage” style, it’s possible to compare new and old side by side.

A great humidor is essential for proper aging and storage. For long-term aging, it’s always best to purchase cigars by the box. This way you have enough cigars to gauge how they’re changing month-by-month or year-by-year.

A desktop model can hold any where from fifty to several hundred cigars.  Most desktop humidors are wood lined and utilize a passive humidification system.  This is generally a sponge-like element that holds water within it without letting the water drip out.  As the water evaporates, it maintains the humidity within the humidor.  Generally these humidors need to be refilled with distilled water every 3-8 weeks depending on the humidor’s seal, interior, and the system itself.    Additionally, desktop humidors require the cigars to be removed from their original box and stored as “singles” within the humidor since the passive humidification system is usually not powerful enough to penetrate a sealed wooden box of cigars.

If you prefer to store your cigars in their original boxes, a cabinet humidor is the best method of storage.  They range in style from end tables and credenzas to industrial “retail” style cabinets.  These cabinets use active humidification systems.  Usually only requiring a standard electrical outlet, this type of humidification system works in tandem with a hygrometer and actively regulates the humidor’s humidity by turning on and off accordingly.  These types of humidors tend to be much lower maintenance than their little sister desktop models, and are also much more stable as the active humidification does not produce the same “ebbs and flows” of a passive humidification system.  This steady humidity as well as the increased capacity permits the collector to keep cigars in their original boxes within the humidor, making absolutely certain that the cigars are stored and aged exactly the way the manufacturer intended.

If your cigars come in cellophane, and you’re storing several different kinds of cigars next to each other in a desktop model humidor, simply push the cigar’s foot to the open end of the cello and wrap the excess cello around the cap.  This ensures all of the tobaccos (including the fillers) are exposed to humidity.  If you’re storing your cigars in their original boxes in a cabinet humidor, then you can remove the cellophane and place the cigars back in their box.  This brings the cigars a little closer to the humidity, and also allows the cigars to marry with each other in the box as they age.  If you’re not aging for the long term, then frankly it doesn’t much matter.

So buy a box of your favorite smokes, write the date on the bottom and enjoy one every month. Keep a little Dossier of your own tasting notes in order to gauge how they’re changing and if you like the changes that are occurring.