Why Age Cigars?
Tobacco experiences many chemical changes from the moment it’s harvested until it’s rolled into a cigar. However, like wine once it’s bottled, it doesn’t stop there.
In most cases, tobacco is already aged in warehouses after fermentation and before being sent to the factory.
Furthermore, cigars will often need to rest after being made since the different types used to make a cigar aren’t prepared the same way. This period allows the different moisture levels in the cigar to balance out.
However, discerning producers continue to age their cigars and refrain from releasing them until they have sufficiently matured.
Aging tobacco allows it to continue developing while in contact with the right levels of oxygen and moisture. It allows the tobacco’s residual impurities to slowly dissipate. For instance, freshly-rolled cigars still contain traces of ammonia.
Additionally, a proper aging process will mellow the cigar’s flavors. The presence of tannins, which create an astringent taste, gradually decreases and results in a smoother moothfeel.
Meanwhile, the different tobaccos used in the cigar’s blend will marry with one another, which produces both richer flavors and added complexity.
Technically speaking, they should also have been sufficiently aged by the master blender at the factory. Nevertheless, it’s possible that a particular batch was released too soon or you may personally prefer cigars with more maturity.
Furthermore, some producers release their cigars early with the expectation that they’ll age during shipping and while stocked by the tobacconists. For this reason, their cigars risk being slightly too young when they’re on the walk-in humidor shelves.
How To Know If A Cigar Needs Aging
A freshly-rolled cigar can be recognised by a generally sharp taste that can be recognised by a dry mouthfeel and an overall bitter and herbaceous flavor.
If you’ve ever attended a cigar-making demonstration where you can smoke one that was just rolled, you may have experienced these distinctive characteristics. However, it doesn’t necessarily taste bad. In fact, a lot of people really enjoy fresh-made rather than aged cigars.
A bad cigar will unlikely improve with time. Indeed, you won’t be able to correct poor fermentation or blending of the tobaccos. However, a cigar with a few shortcomings may greatly benefit from aging. Meanwhile, if the cigar smokes with combustion issues, a short aging period may be enough to correct them.
Overall, aging cigars is not unlike aging wine, which is often determined by its body, alcoholic strength, and flavour.
Cigar Aging Potential
In order for a cigar to age well, it needs potential. A cigar’s aging potential can be determined by the following factors:
Strength and body are easily confused and we explain them in our guide to tasting cigars. In short, body is the richness of flavor whereas the strength is the nicotine content.
If either feels overwhelming, additional aging will likely improve their quality. The body will develop greater complexity whereas the strength will mellow over time.
Aging cigars also provides balance. Therefore, if a cigar’s flavor is generally good but it’s perhaps too bitter or acidic, consider giving it some extra aging time. Similarly, aging cigars that have a coarse or dry mouthfeel may become smoother after a while.
Nevertheless, it’s best to age premium cigars that already deliver good flavours that will benefit from the additional complexity brought on by the process. If the cigar is already bland, it will unlikely develop any nuances.
Finally, remember that cigar smoking is a subjective experience. If you prefer the flavors produced by fresh cigars, don’t feel that you have to age them at all.
How Long To Age Cigars
Unfortunately, there is no exact formula as to the aging time for premium cigars. Some may need up to 5 years or over 10 years whereas others require just a few weeks or months. Instead, you’ll have to proceed is by properly following the process and periodically test them.
The best way to test how well a cigar is aging is to smoke one. For this reason, you may want to age more than one box of cigars if you feel that they have lots of potential. One will be used for periodic testing whereas the other is to enjoy when you feel that they’re ready.
We suggest starting by smoking one cigar every two months for the first six months. During this early period, a cigar can undergo significant developments in its balance and mouthfeel.
After that, you can slow it down and test them once every six months. However, the way you proceed is entirely up to you. Full-bodied cigars often have the greatest potential and will benefit from the longest aging periods.
Similarly, thick cigars featuring the most tobacco will also require even longer aging than thin vitolas. After all, the tobaccos in larger cigars have less contact with air. As such, more time is required for flavours to marry through oxidative aging.
While mild blends certainly can be aged, they risk losing flavor if kept for prolonged periods of time. Therefore, it’s worth keeping a closer eye on those.
Generally, any cigar rarely needs to be aged for more than 10 years. At this stage, it’s unlikely that the blend will develop any additional flavours or complexity.
Indeed, bear in mind that there is a point where aged cigars will begin to lose their quality. Aging cigars for too long may cause their flavours to wane and even fade entirely.
What You Will Need For Cigar Aging
First of all, you will need a dedicated humidor or storage solution for cigar aging. This humidor must not include any cigars that you intend to smoke immediately.
Furthermore, it must be large enough to store the cigars in their boxes. While you can certainly age individual cigars, an entire box will allow you to test their progress as well as have a larger prize at the end!
Avoid Marrying Blends
Additionally, keeping the cigars in their box prevents them from mingling with other blends. Indeed, a risk of long-term aging is that different cigars may marry their flavours.
This concern is somewhat exaggerated as it only becomes a problem after a few years. Nevertheless, you’ll want to separate different blends in either several humidors or within their boxes at the very least.
The humidor needs to be very reliable and airtight. The last thing you want is a leaky humidor that prevents you from maintaining a steady humidity level.
Similarly, it should allow you to easily manage its temperature. The latter can be simply accomplished by keeping it somewhere cool or by using a cigar cooler with temperature control.
Your humidor must be seasoned if it requires it and equipped with a reliable humidifier. We have a preference for Boveda packs as these require little maintenance but also provide two-way humidification. Consequently, they also absorb excess moisture when necessary.
Spanish Cedar Vs Unscented Materials
Although people swear by humidors made from Spanish cedar thanks to its natural properties, it’s also quite fragrant.
It’s entirely your choice but since the cedar may impart its aroma in your cigars, you can choose a more neutral environment. While the distinctive taste produced by Spanish cedar is often prized, you may prefer an unscented material.
For this reason, acrylic humidors are an excellent choice. However, they are transparent so it’s important to shield them from any light sources.
Similarly, plastic tupperdors and coolidors are fine but make sure that they’re non-toxic and BPA-free. It’s important to make sure that the plastic doesn’t produce any odors that could actually ruin your cigars!
Otherwise, if you prefer wood, opt for a humidor made from okoumé, which is a scentless option that’s growing in popularity.
Needless to say, you’ll also require a calibrated hygrometer so it will provide you with accurate readings while the cigars age.
Below, we will cover our preferred humidors for cigar aging. Therefore, if you’re looking into investing in a new one, we invite you to check out that list.
How To Age Cigars
The cigar aging process is simple in itself but requires patience. Below, we’ll break down the steps to prepare and monitor your cigars while they age.
Assuming you have all the equipment listed above, it’s important to prepare your humidor so that it’s calibrated for aging rather than storing cigars.
Typically, cigars at home are stored at around 70% relative humidity and at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In the case of Cuban cigars, they may be stored slightly lower at around 65%.
When aging cigars, we recommend storing them at a lower temperature and humidity level. As a rule of thumb, we recommend between 3% and 5% less than your preferred moisture level. As for the temperature, we suggest between 60°F (15°C) and 65°F (18°C).
However, it’s the consistency of the environment that’s key and it’s important that you choose a figure and ensure that the humidor remains steady. You must try to avoid any fluctuations of humidity or temperature as much as possible.
Indeed, if you have a basement or cellar, we suggest using that space as a buffer for your humidors so they will be less affected by external influences.
Should The Cigars Remain In Their Cellophane?
As mentioned earlier, we recommend placing an entire box (or two!) in your seasoned humidor. However, should you remove them from their cellophane wrappers or not?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer as there are reasons for either choice. While cellophane protects cigars from getting damaged, they’re arguably not going anywhere since they’ll be spending the foreseeable future aging in the humidor.
Therefore, you might prefer to age them without the wrapper so the cigars will better marry with one another in the box. On the other hand, if you’re aging individual cigars, we highly recommend keeping them in the wrappers to prevent it from happening.
Cellophane will also help with damage control if you have a tobacco beetle outbreak. Yet, since you’re aging in such low moisture and temperature levels, an outbreak is unlikely.
Another argument is that the wrapper will help the cigar age on its own while also preserving the oils and flavour inside it. Of course, it’s entirely your choice.
Checking Your Cigars
While aging cigars will mostly require patience, it’s worth checking them every few weeks to at least make sure that the storage is functioning properly.
Some believe that you need to periodically open a cigar humidor in order to air it. However, we believe that it isn’t necessary. In fact, regularly opening a humidor can instead negatively affect its carefully balanced biosphere, especially when the cigars are slowly aging.
That said, a monthly visual inspection may be important to just make sure that the cigars aren’t developing mold. These can take weeks to become an issue so you’ll likely have time.
Although some people may regard it as a healthy layer plume, we strongly disagree. Nevertheless, if your relative humidity is at a consistent 60% to 65%, it will unlikely happen.
You can avoid regularly opening your humidor by using a wireless smart sensor. Some of these link directly to your phone, which means that you can check the cigars when you’re not even in the room.
Acclimating The Cigars