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Cigar 101

How to Properly Age Cigars

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

Are Fresh-Rolled Cigars Fresher?

I hear it all the time. Customers proclaim, “I smoked an amazing cigar that I bought from a guy who was hand-rolling them right in front of me on the beach when I was on vacation. It was so fresh!” I’m sure it was. It was fresh and it tasted great. But slow down. Don’t think that all the other cigars that aren’t rolled right in front of you are now somehow stale.

There’s nothing wrong with smoking a freshly rolled cigar. But, there is a definite novelty at play. If premium, handmade cigars truly tasted best the moment they’re scooped up from a rolling bench, most cigar shops would have cigar-rollers onsite, cranking out fresh cigars by the dozens just like a bakery bakes bread. As long as you store your cigars in a humidor and you maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level, you cigars will stay fresh. And they will age.

What Does Aging Do?

Premium cigars need aging, even after they are rolled. In most cigar factories the tobacco has already been aged for an extended period before it is actually rolled into a beautiful cigar. However, a certain synthesis takes place in a premium cigar – after it’s been rolled and placed into the box. The tobaccos meld, exchange flavors, and create a more uniform profile. All the while, the cigar is shedding unwanted impurities that can interrupt the intended flavor. The most important ingredients in premium cigars are time and water. That said, aging a bad cigar won’t make it taste good. A fine cigar must be well-blended from mature high-quality tobaccos right out of the gates. Patience is the final step in the process. And some cigars age better than others.

The Best Way to Age Cigars

Choose a quality humidor. If you’re like a lot of cigar lovers, you age your cigars by accident. You tire of a particular blend and it will sit in your humidor for several weeks or months. Or, you only smoke very occasionally and when you purchase a full box, the cigars will rest for a long time before you smoke them all. Your cigars are an investment, particularly when you store them for a longer duration. A reliable humidor will protect your investment. The best type of wood used for humidors is Spanish cedar. A solid hardwood cedar humidor will last the longest, as opposed to a box simply lined with Spanish cedar. The Savoy Executive Series is a well-made affordable option.

When it comes to aging cigars on your own, many aficionados prefer to dial the humidity and the temperature down a bit in the humidor – usually into the lower to mid-60s. They’ll often store their cigars at 63-65% RH (relative humidity) and 63-65 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to the traditional levels of 70/70. Doing so simply insures more continuity and less fluctuation in the environment in your humidor. Swings in temperature and humidity can cause your cigars to expand and contract, leading to cracked wrappers.

Maintain your humidor. Refill your reservoir at regular intervals and make sure your hygrometer is calibrated and functioning properly. Monitor the conditions inside the box to insure they are consistent. Rotate your cigars on a regular basis. Every couple weeks move the cigars from the bottom row to the top and vice versa. This way the same cigars aren’t always in the closest proximity to your humidification source. And, leave some extra free space inside the humidor, at least 20%. Humidity and air circulate more freely with extra breathing room. If your humidor is stuffed to its capacity, it will function less effectively.

How Long Should I Age My Cigars?

Aging cigars is not exactly a black-and-white science. It is a subjective process. It really depends on the cigar and on your preferences for taste and strength. Many cigars will mellow out as they rest, especially stronger cigars. They tend to become more refined and approachable. Milder cigars can become excessively mild or even bland if stored for too long. Bigger ring gauge cigars often benefit from aging because they are made with more interior tobaccos. A greater range of flavor has the chance to emerge from the many tobaccos in a thicker cigar as it ages.

Noticeable differences in taste often occur after a few weeks; and then again after a few months; and definitely after a year or two. Purchase a box of cigars you know you love. Smoke one right out of the box, then allow the rest to sit in your humidor. Smoke another after each of these durations to see how the flavor evolves. If you like the transitions in taste that take place, aging is providing a benefit.

There is a limit to how long you should age cigars too. The best cigars-makers are well aware of it and they tailor the aging component to the tobaccos they are working with for a given blend. The best cigar-makers also strive to ship their cigars off to the retailer knowing they will deliver optimal flavor if you smoked one right now, or within an acceptable amount of time after purchase. Premium cigars peak just like wine.

An acclaimed blend like Padron Family Reserve, for example, is handmade from tobaccos that have already been aged for ten years. Will another ten years make them better or more perfect? Doubtfully, but they will certainly reflect a more singular dimension of taste as time passes. Generally speaking, it’s rare for a cigar’s flavor to “improve” beyond 5 to 7 years of additional aging, but there are always exceptions and it really depends on the cigar.

Cigars from the Archives

I remember smoking a number of La Flor Dominican Double Ligero cigars in 2004 and 2005. I tucked away a stash of 20 or 30 cigars from a particular shipment that I deemed superb. I revisited the cigars – which were originally full-bodied, peppery, and sweet – after roughly 5 years, only to find they had mellowed out far too much. Essentially, they became flat. Certainly they were not unsmokable or bad. However, the zesty complexity and punch I had come to appreciate had dissipated. Inevitably, I viewed the result as a testament to the talents of brand founder Litto Gomez. His La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero cigars were shipped to the retailer at their zenith for flavor and aroma.   

In another scenario, I recently had the pleasure of smoking a handful of Ashton VSG cigars from 1999 – their original year of release, making them 20 years old. I could not possibly have been more impressed. I would easily classify a 20-year-old Ashton VSG among the top three best cigars I have ever smoked. It delivered a magnificent profile of cedar, leather, and raisins with a delicate spice that lacked nothing in the way of complexity. What’s even more remarkable is that Ashton VSG is an entirely amazing cigar right out of the box if you bought one today. It’s not a cigar that “needs” any additional age, but the ultra-refined taste achieved after a couple of extra decades left an unforgettable impression.

By contrast, I’ve indulged in a handful of pre-embargo Cubans over the years. Cigars that are north of 50 years old are not easy to come by. But, I can honestly say they were unremarkable, if not unsmokable. I recall an overly mineral and metallic taste that required effort to finish. It’s impossible to pinpoint why. Cigars that are that old may have been superb when they were rolled. But after several decades, they were merely novel at best. I’m sure there are still a number of amazing pre-embargo Cubans out there somewhere. But given the choice, I would much rather start with a cigar I know tastes great now and witness its development over time.

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