It’s the Holy Grail of cigar smoking, that moment when you’ve mastered the basic tips and tricks, learned the lingo and developed a taste for the refined intricacies of cigar smoking – this is when you’re ready for advanced cigar aging.

Cigar aging is a practice not to be confused with cigar storage. Many have tackled this subject and yes, it’s one of the most important and necessary skill sets to be acquired throughout a cigar smoker’s journey. Cigar aging is more akin to the practices of wine aging, creating an optimal environment for the continuous evolution a cigar’s tobacco will undergo.

Why age cigars?

Cigars are made up organic, breathing, continuously changing material – aka tobacco leafs. What many don’t realize is that cigars are continuously fermenting. Even after the manufacturer has finished the fermentation process, cigars continue to evolve – further melding the various tobacco blends together. Because of this, cigars may undergo many changes throughout the years. From the smoker’s viewpoint, a well-aged cigar will burn better, as well as bring out finer flavors that may not have been detectable in its young age. Aging rounds out a cigar’s imperfections, taking away harsh and astringent flavors. Ultimately, this makes for a more well-balanced smoke with less strength and more mellow, mild, and delicate complexities.

Nearly every cigar will benefit from age – this is most noticeable with 1 – 2 years under the proper conditions. Cigars may age for much longer though, usually maxing out their ultimate potential around 10 – 15 years. This is not the case for every cigar though, each blend is different. Typically, stronger cigars benefit the most from proper aging, as age will mellow any cigar’s tobacco. Therefore a stronger blend will be removed of any harsh qualities, whereas a mild cigar may be mellowed to nearly undetectable nuances.

While all cigars will benefit from proper aging, we recommend this only be performed on premium blends. I.e. aging will not turn a $2 smoke into a $15 smoke. After all, years of patience and proper care is hard work, you’ll thank yourself someday for choosing only premium blends for aging!

Note: a cigar’s age is determined from the moment it is rolled. I.e. a cigar with 1 year of age may contain tobaccos that are 20 years old. This does not make your cigar 21 years old, it is still a 1-year-aged cigar. This is because the various tobaccos used in a blend will begin to marry once they are rolled together.

Advanced techniques for cigar aging

Advanced cigar aging techniques

Through the help of cigar industry expert Isaias Santana Diaz, president of Pure Aroma Cigars, Inc., we have boiled down cigar aging to its finest points. Santana, aka “the cigar scientist”, as we refer to him, is a Cuban-born immigrant who has built his own cigar company using Cuban techniques he has mastered over years of labor. His own D’Crossier Cigars represent some of the finest cigars in the world.

I must warn you, before we get down to “the nitty gritty”, some of the techniques discussed in this article may go against the mainstream rationale. There are multiple points that directly contradict the disposition of nearly every article you will find on cigar aging. It’s true, we ourselves have contradicted the very same way of thinking – understand that many of these techniques are specific to aging cigars, not merely storing cigars – there’s a difference.

Building on basic storage techniques

For cigar aging, you will be building on the basic principals used for cigar storage, for the most part.

  • Use a proper humidor with authentic Spanish cedar shelves
  • Season your humidor
  • Keep humidity between the levels of 62% – 68% (Never 70% or above)
  • Rotate your cigars – As humid air is heavier than non-humid air, it will settle at the bottom of your humidor. For even distribution, cigars should be rotated every 3 months. For large humidors with multiple levels, shelves should be rotated as well, from top to bottom.
  • Make sure you’re bug free – This can be done by freezing your cigars or quarantining new cigars in a separate humidor for a few weeks to make sure beetles don’t emerge. The latter is the preferred method; when doing this, use a small humidor specifically for this purpose (only newly acquired cigars enter this humidor). To amp up the results, place a small dish of water at the bottom of the humidor, any bugs will emerge (as they are thirsty) and you will then find these beetles exposed, drinking from your dish within a few days. This method is not a “cure” for the bugs, but rather a fast way to tell if your cigars have active bugs—in which case these particular cigars will not make it to your trusted humidor (tossing them is the suggested action)
Note: our original statement that humid air is heavier than non-humid air is inaccurate. Scientifically, humid air is actually lighter, as water vapor molecules are lighter than nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the air — source. However, in our many tests, we’ve always found the highest humidity levels at the bottom of humidors, especially in tightly sealed humidors without fans/circulation. This is believed to be caused by a temperature gradient within the humidor. In any case, you should perform tests on the humidity levels of your own humidor to know where the humidity is settling—whether it be on the top or bottom shelf, the advice of rotating your cigars still holds true.

Dedicated humidor for long-term aging

At this point, you probably realize the necessity of multiple humidors, this is just one more example. There are special steps involved with cigar aging that you won’t use for basic storage, so it’s imperative you use a special humidor or wineador for cigar aging (cigar coolidors are not the best choice here). You’ll want to find a fairly large humidor for this, as you’ll be continuously adding cigars throughout the years – imagine 10 years (or more) worth of cigar purchases, all sharing the same space… This humidor should be seasoned before use, just as you would with your regular storage humidor.

Note: it may be helpful and beneficial to age similar cigars together, i.e. keep you maduros together, your habanos together, and your connecticut cigars together. This is not a requirement though, and some may even enjoy mixing cigars together to impart different qualities among various blends.

Sanding your cedar shelves

Sanded cedar cigar shelves

Freshly sanded Spanish cedar shelves in the D’Crossier storage warehouse.

You heard that right! This is definitely something you won’t hear in any Humidor Maintenance 101 courses. We use Spanish cedar shelves for cigar storage because of its pleasant aroma as well as its ability to repel tobacco beetles. Over time, the cedar imparts its aromas to your cigars and they benefit greatly from this special marriage of tobacco and wood (similar to barrel-aging alcohol). What we need to take into consideration here is that your fresh cedar will eventually loose its luster, no longer providing that essential, distinct aroma. For this reason, it is recommended to sand down your cedar shelves once per year, using a fine-grit sheet of sandpaper to bring your shelves back to life! This is a special technique used by Santana at his custom-built aging warehouse, holding over 1,000,000 cigars!

Note: Spanish Cedar (Cedrela odorata) is neither Spanish nor cedar. It belongs to the Meliaceae family and is more similar to mahogany than cedar.

Remove cellophane wrappers

Cigar cellophane usage

This is a hot topic among cigar enthusiasts: to cello or not to cello. We even wrote a special Cigar Tip article on the subject. Usually, we advise you to do whatever works best for you, or leave your cigars as they are sold. For cigar aging, however, this is not the case!

People often brag of their aged cello wrappers, showing the cigar has been sitting for quite some time. What they don’t realize is, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For an aged cigar, this basically tells us you’ve been suffocating your stogie for years! As we mentioned, cigars are continuously fermenting; as they ferment, they emit ammonia (walk into a manufacturer’s aging/fermenting room and this will become more than apparent—you may be spinning after a few minutes…) and as you can imagine, ammonia isn’t a desired quality in a healthy cigar. Back to the cello—that aged and brown/yellow cellophane wrapper has absorbed quite a bit of ammonia from the cigar (as well as nicotine, oils, and a few other compounds), causing the brownish color. As your aging cigar expells ammonia from its fermenting tobacco, it becomes trapped in the cello and basically reabsorbs into the cigar—this is not optimal…

So, while cello is porous, allowing for humidity to reach your cigars (and conversely, allowing ammonia and excess humidity to escape), it is still an inhibitor for the natural process of ammonia discharge from fermenting tobacco. Keep cello only in short-term scenarios—it’s nice to have for situations where you’ll be gifting and trading your cigars to prevent damage.

Vary your temperature levels

Cigar humidor temperature maintenance

Most will advise cigars be kept under constant, unchanging environments, this is actually not the case when aging cigars. Remember, cigars are breathing, evolving, organic material – they benefit from change in the same way a proper Kentucky bourbon benefits from the changing Kentucky seasons – they’re alive, so to speak! An unchanging climate will essentially set your cigar into limbo, freezing its aging process.

Therefore, a proper climate for the aging cigar involves a fluctuating temperature. 65 degrees Fahrenheit is right around the sweet spot for cigar storage, and it’s where you should be for the majority of the time during cigar aging as well. But every so often (once every 2 months), we’re going to bring that temp up! The degree of change depends on the blend – the stronger the blend, the hotter and longer we’ll go. Full flavor/strength cigars should be brought up to 75 °F for 10 days (occasionally more time if using a strong enough blend). Mild-medium cigars will require less time and a lower temperature, say 70+ °F with a time of 10 days maximum. After a period of high temperature, you will need to open your humidor up for a solid 1 – 2 hours, allowing the heavy increase of ammonia to escape.

Fermenting cigars thrive on these higher temperatures, similar to the environment a leaf will undergo while bundled together in the original fermenting process – it’s breaking the leaf down, melding tobaccos together, and bringing out essential oils and sugars. Unwanted ammonias and other harsh/chemical flavors are also ironed out during this stage.

Note: the typical worry with higher temperatures is due to an increase in beetle activity. Temps 70 °F and above will awaken a dormant beetle and they will quickly spread to other cigars. This will not be the case with cigar aging, as we have already accounted for all beetles (previous step) before cigars go into the aging humidor.

Air out your humidor

After reading the previous step, this concept won’t seem so foreign. We’re constantly battling those unwanted ammonias in our cigars with extended aging. Even when you’re not varying your temperatures, you still need to allow ammonia to escape the humidor, as we don’t want it settling back into the cigars. We recommend opening up your humidor for 1 hour every 3 weeks – this will keep your cigars fresh and free of unwanted toxins. Don’t worry, your seasoned humidor will return to its normal RH shortly.

Staying organized

We realize this is a lot of steps (and work) and hey, advanced cigar aging is certainly not for everyone. But if you’re serious about taking the hobby to the next level and want your ultra-premium smokes to perform above and beyond, this is how you can take cigar storage to the next level.

Obviously, you’ll want to track everything with a dedicated notepad, app, or whatever works for you. Mark on your calendar when you need to raise and lower temperature, as well as when you need to air out the humidor and when cigars should be rotated. Sanding your shelves is easier, as it only needs to be done once per year. It’s a common practice to write on the cellophane when each cigar was purchased – we recommend not using cello. Instead, write this info on a notepad or app, or… wrap a small piece of paper with the date information over the cigar’s band.

The ultimate indicator for a cigar’s maturity is your tongue, put it to use! Keep notes of how your cigars perform over the years and watch as they change. If you feel a particular blend has reached peak performance, enjoy yourself and smoke ’em! Remember, cigars do not definitively improve forever. Every cigar will eventually ferment away its oils until it tastes like papier-mâché – let’s not let this happen!

This article was updated on 11/13/17 to more accurately describe the negative impacts of cellophane. We originally alluded that water vapor is smaller than ammonia vapor, when it is actually the reverse.
  • Aubrey Smith

    “So, while cello is porous, allowing for humidity to reach your cigars, it is not quite porous enough to allow your cigar to naturally rid itself of the unwanted ammonia”….How can this be? Ammonia has a lower molecular weight than water!

    • Thank you Aubrey for bringing this to my attention. I looked into this and you are correct! But while water vapor would have a harder time than ammonia escaping cello, I still feel this isn’t an optimal scenario, as there is less harm for water vapor to be trapped in the cello, compared to any sort of barrier for the ammonia.

      Here’s the updated text, “So, while cello is porous, allowing for humidity to reach your cigars (and conversely, allowing ammonia and excess humidity to escape), it is still an inhibitor for the natural process of ammonia discharge from fermenting tobacco.”

      Thanks again!

  • Greg K

    Thanks, interesting article.
    What would you suggest for, sealed boxes, for long term aging? If you not wanting to break the “seal” and only open years down the line. This could be for future re-sale where a “customer” would not want an opened box!

    • Sumatra Samurai

      Well if your goal is to sell the cigars, you really only need to focus on the humidity & temperature aspects, making sure to keep the box at your typical 65-68% range and temp under 70. It’s not going to be the most ideal aging process, because the ammonia won’t have a way to escape properly, but the buyer can’t blame you for that.

      In this case you’re really only able to “preserve” the cigars, rather than increasing their performance through advanced aging.

  • wally

    Since when is it ok to freeze cigars? Freezers are a moisture suck/have virtually no humidity, so wouldn’t this step be drying out the cigars/removing the essential oils before the cigar even has a chance???

    • Sumatra Samurai

      This is a common practice with cigar hobbyists. It is NOT our recommended method. But… The cigars are double sealed in air-tight bags before freezing, therefore taking the humidity factor out of the equation.

  • peirceman

    Great article. Just curious…..

    Porous systems are typically 2 way systems, so why would I want to sand my cedar siding, wouldn’t that encourage ammonia absorption into my humidor walls?

    Also, you don’t mention the dangers of aging different cigars in the same humidor. In the scenarios you mention, if two different cigars are aging in the same humidor and the wrappers are touching, there is a possibility of the two cigars exchanging flavors, which probably is not a good thing. The solution is a thin sheet of cedar, like those coming in cigar boxes between the different cigars

    Something else to consider is the dangers of the air tight humidor or “wineador”. Again, it is the dangers of ammonia. If the humidor is air tight, there is no where for the ammonia to get out nor for fresh air to get in. That is why it is encouraged to “burp” tupperdors, for air exchange. In normal use, the seal of your humidor is not something to worry about, because even if it is air tight, you open it enough times to let the air exchange. In aging cigars, your storage device can go months without being opened, causing ammonia to build up.

    In the comments, Jordan mentions about not wanting moisture to get into the cigar’s core. I guessing he is talking about the filler. Why would you not want your cigars evenly humidified? That doesn’t seem to make sense. Also, considering most cigars have an open foot, it doesn’t look like you have much control over it anyway.

    I love these types of articles and enjoy reading them. Thanks for all the hard work and effort.

    • peirceman

      I feel like a bit of an idiot. I really did read the article…..but for some reason did not see the comment about the adding different cigars to impart different flavors. Ugh. Even though the article talks about opening the humidor under high temp phase, I still think an air tight humidor is problematic during aging.

      • Sumatra Samurai

        Yo Peirceman, thanks for the comment! So, yes a lot of this I did cover in the article. You did catch that we say to open the humidor after the high temp process, but we also recommend opening for a shorter amount of time every few weeks.

        As far as sanding cedar, this will actually sand away ammonia that has been trapped in the outer layer of the cedar. It may eventually absorb back into the cedar over the course of a year, but you will be sanding once per year to avoid this – ultimately, you would have much more ammonia absorption if you never sanded.

        When Santana refers to the humidity reaching the cigar’s core, he is referring to high humidity. Yes, you want the cigar evenly humidified, but RH over 70% will cause bitter flavors in the ligero. He recommends RH levels between 62% – 68%.

  • Jae

    So the 8-10 year old cigars I’ve smoked with browned cello were not aged but only stored? Cigars I’ve gotten from Martin (meatfinger), Pete and various other industry people …… Mind blown. I need to brush up on my knowledge. Thanks for the education. 😉

    • Sumatra Samurai

      Jae we never said cellophaned cigars can’t taste good, only that they have more potential without…

    • Of course the brown-celloed cigars were aged. And I have no doubt they were tremendous. However, according to guys like Santana they might have been ever better had they been aged as described in the article.

      When Santana told me all of this recently while we were in Florida I was skeptical myself. It wasn’t until he described in detail how tobacco evolves over time that it started to make sense to me.

      I’m thankful that as an old dog I can still be taught new tricks. 🙂

  • Mike

    Enjoyed this immensely! Probably too much hassle for someone like me, although I do keep 3 humidors to separate out aging vs stashing vs smoke them now cigars. Living in FL, I too struggle with the RH and cello questions. One gets so much conflicting advice! I am leaning toward cello for short term storage and 65-70% RH these days. Boveda helps a lot. Thanks for the very interesting read!

  • Jmoore04

    Great read! There was a lot of info that I had not been privy to before. I feel like a noob again! haha
    Seriously though this was good to know and I’ll be passing this on to some of my friends to be sure they get it. I’ll also be passing it on to my wife for documentation that I need another humidor…

    • Yes…. tell your wife it’s all in the name of science.

  • Jae

    Great read. Like the Captain said… I agree with 99% of it as well. My hang up is on the cello portion. I’ve had my share of stained cello wrapped cigars and have never experienced a negative effect. I know this “on or off” thing is widely discussed and will never end but I fully disagree that it’s harmful to the aging process. Speaking from personal experience at least. Keep up the good work fellas

    • Thanks Jae.

      In full disclosure I haven’t ever been able to detect any difference with cellos on or off either. Keep in mind this article was written for those that might want every possible advantage in aging their cigars. Lets call them cigar nerds. 🙂

      And for those types of guys this little tidbit of info might be something they never considered and could make a subtle improvement in their efforts.

    • Sumatra Samurai

      Jae remember, this article is written for cigar aging, not cigar storage. When following all of the steps, such as raising the temperature occasionally, you will find a higher output of ammonia. All this extra ammonia will become trapped in that cello, making for a less enjoyable smoke than could have beed achieved sans cello. We actually use cello on a lot of our cigars, but not on the cigars we intend for extreme aging.

  • John

    I take issue with several points.

    Tobacco is fermented when heat is created through decomposition. Tobacco is put into large piles known as pilones and this is the part of the process in which fermentation occurs. This process is what releases ammonia from the tobacco and it is only when the ammonia is released will the manufacturer be able to use the tobacco. Once the cigars are rolled the fermentation process stops and the aging process begins. So a yellow cello is not created with the release of ammonia. It’s created with the release of natural oils over time and trapped in the porous cellophane.

    • John, have you ever been inside an aging room? Any aging room filled with finished cigars will have a distinct smell of ammonia to it. That’s part of the reason as to why cigars are aged in these rooms to allow the ammonia to escape as the tobacco breaks down. This is long after the tobacco is fermented in the barns in pilones.

      You stated… “Once the cigars are rolled the fermentation process stops and the aging process begins.” This isn’t true. After all…. if fermentation stops, so does aging.

      While the majority of the ammonia will be out of a cigar by the time it gets to the consumer, there will always be some release of ammonia while the tobacco is aging (even in your humidor). That’s why Santana and many other cigar professionals recommend removing the cellos if you are doing long-term aging, so that you can allow the cigar to fully “breath”. Their opinion is there should be no barrier at all that interferes with this subtle release of ammonia.

      That being said, we realize that this info goes against the popular belief so we really do appreciate your opinion and just hope that you might consider what our sources have provided to make this article.

  • Capt-Maduro

    Nice article and I agree with 99% of it except the perennial question about RH… the articles recommend levels are perfect for Nico Puros and Dom Reps… but Cubans seem to thrive at 72% RH and dry boxing before smoking.. I shared a few 1974 Fonsecas with some dojo members and I am sure they will agree these were aged to perfection.

    Just my 5c worth.

    • Sumatra Samurai

      Thanks for checking out the article Capt-Maduro! This is what Santana has to say on the subject, “Never allow humidity above 70%, this is safe for the filler. You do not want that high humidity to reach the inner-core of your cigars. Time is a big factor on this issue, let’s say if you keep it at 70% for 30 days, humidity will reach the ligero – then you will get that tannic, bitter taste.”

      But as always, personal preference rules! Although, I don’t see why Cuban cigars would be any different than NCs.

      • capt-maduro

        Indeed each to his own but just as you make the distinction between aging and storage, I make the distinction about aging RH and smoking RH.

        For me 72 works perfectly for my CCs and then dry boxing solves the bitter tannic issue before smoking,

        Once again great article… I will now get my sandpaper out once a year and get that fresh cedar smell hack in my humidot

        • Sumatra Samurai

          True that brother! But I’m wondering why you see the benefit of the higher RH in the first place. I would rather not let the humidity reach my cigar’s core, while at the same time removing the need to dry box.

        • Captain… if you want to make your Nicaraguan cigars feel “at home” you will need to keep them at 45%RH in the winter months and 90-100% in the summer months. 😉

          • capt-maduro

            Sensei.. hysterical but I know how to resolve this debate

            Incoming capt-maduro aged CCs..

            You and Jordan deserve them anyway for all the outstanding effort you put in to the dojo and building this community

            Put em to the taste test..

            From a greatful Seasoned Samurai

        • Whoa…. that would be the ultimate test. And the way I see it…. even if I lose, I win! 🙂

  • This is an excellent article. I am new to the hobby and found several interesting points.

  • Bruce S. Curtiss

    Excellent article. Very informative. Thanks for posting.

    One minor point (with all due respect): It’s “shelves”, not “shelfs”.

    Thanks again. Youse guys are the best!

    • Sumatra Samurai

      Ha, thanks, good catch.

      • Bruce S. Curtiss

        Whew! I hesitated to mention it, because some folks deem such comments as being from a grammar nazi. You obviously are one cool BOTL! Have a contented day, Brother.

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