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!
Advanced techniques for cigar aging
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 month to make sure beetles don’t emerge. The latter is the preferred method; when doing this, use a small humidor specifically for this purpose (no good 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 caught in your dish within a few days.
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.
Sanding your cedar shelves
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!
Remove cellophane wrappers
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 is a bad thing. For an aged cigar, this only 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 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 good for 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 expends 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, it is not quite porous enough to allow your cigar to naturally rid itself of the unwanted ammonia. 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
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.
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.
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!