Cigar Academy: Aging Cigars

“The Wrapper of Dorian Maduro”

If you’re really “into” the hobby of cigar smoking, you have probably been given a special cigar or two that you want to save for a special occasion. Most likely, you put it in your humidor and try to figure out the best time to break it out and treat yourself. Because you’re not going to smoke it right away, you stash in a corner, and you might possibly forget about it for awhile. Then you come across it when you’re organizing your box and realize that it’s time to designate a day and time for your treat.

When you finally get around to smoking it, you find that it’s sublime, even better than you remember it from your previous experiences. You might assign the impression to anticipation, because you’ve waited so long to enjoy it, and that may be true, but the cigar has also benefitted by the additional aging, and you’ve finally discovered what a number of cigar smokers have learned over the years- there’s no substitute for time.

Why do cigars become better with age? That’s a more difficult question than it may appear, because not all cigars will improve over time. A very mild cigar with a lot of nuance (like a slight hint of pepper and savory notes) could possibly lose those unique qualities with too much aging. Other cigars don’t seem to undergo any kind of transmutation of flavor, for whatever reason. But in most cases, stashing your special cigars for an extended period of time should yield some great results.

A couple of notes- One thing that I’ve noticed is that powerful and very complex cigars tend to yield the best results from long-term aging. Usually any harshness that the power brings to the table will mitigate somewhat, and the more subtle aspects of the complexity will tend to become more easily noticed. This leads to my second observation. Segregate the cigars you want to age by strength. Keep mild cigars with others in that profile, and keep them separate from the bolder smokes that you’ve set aside. One of the greatest benefits of  letting a cigar rest is to marry the flavors within the cigar, meaning that the flavor characteristics of the leaf in the wrapper, binder and filler tend to become more homogeneous and uniform. The problem, though, is that cigars stored adjacent to each other can do something similar, so if you decide to age an Ashton Classic next to a Camacho Corojo, you might be in for a surprise, as the mellow Ashton may pick up some spice and the Camacho may become a bit more toned down.

I also have a recommendation if you’re frequently given especially nice cigars, or have started to collect certain cigars for aging. Buy yourself a second humidor. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it absolutely needs to have a tight seal, a top quality humidification system and hygrometer, and should have a tray. Since you won’t open this box as frequently, it might not be a bad idea to get a humidor with a lock, as that will hold the lid down even a little tighter. It’s vital that you check the humidity as often as is necessary to assure yourself of little variation in humidity. Slightly high or low humidity is not the major enemy of a good cigar, but fluctuating humidity is. It can cause expansion and contraction of the filler, which can crack your special sticks.

Having the tray (or trays) at your disposal is the extra measure of protection for isolating the different strength levels from one another. I prefer to keep the lighter bodied cigars in the top most tray and the more robust ones below. I’m not sure why this is beneficial, but my experience has shown me that it seems to work.

As important as keeping your aging humidor properly sealed is, you need to keep it open for a few minutes once a month or so, usually when you’re checking the hygrometer. Yes, it will cause the humidity level to drop, but it serves an important service. If there are any trace amounts of ammonia left in any of the cigars you’re storing, you have to let it escape the humidor or it can taint the others.

I’ve noticed that a number of very good cigars have become great with age, and excellent ones have become sublime. That said, don’t expect that setting down a bunch of dog rockets will turn them into little pieces of nirvana…the crap will just become older crap. But there’s a lot to be said for setting up a system.

One last piece of advice- when you look in the humidor and see these potentially amazing stogies, make yourself set up a timetable for smoking some of them. I know that I’ve put some cigars away for a while, and waited a long time to enjoy them. That can be a good thing, but a good friend once told me to light them up sooner rather than later because (as he said), “You don’t want your buddies smoking them at your wake”.

Related posts:

About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.