By Tad Gage
If you weren’t scared off by the first part of this article, and you’ve decided to set aside some cigars for your aging experiments, here are some things to keep in mind. A lighter, milder or more nuanced cigar will more quickly lose intensity and complexity than a robust, full-bodied cigar. All tobacco softens in character with age, so a mild cigar won’t develop more body, nor will a full-bodied stogie become more intense. They’ll all decline in intensity over time because of exposure to air.
Pipe tobaccos, which are frequently sealed in air-tight tins that eliminate air exchange, can age happily for years or even decades. Most of us can’t store cigars in an airtight environment, although an interesting experiment would be to vacuum seal cigars in a food storage unit and see what happens. The downside of this would be the potentially detrimental effects of depriving the cigars of air and moisture for a long period.
Ultimately, What Occurs With Aging?
If you age a full-bodied cigar, or a cigar with a great deal of spice, you may end up with a product with more nuance and complexity, but without the original "bite." Worst-case scenario, you will have a cigar after 3-5 years of aging that will be just as pleasing as it was originally. After a few months or a few years, a medium-bodied cigar will probably be very similar to the original, though perhaps a bit more homogeneous in flavor, with fewer highs and lows. A lighter cigar will continue to maintain its light character, and may lose some of the refreshing edge it may have started out with, but it might gain some additional, subtle complexity as well. Each cigar will reveal different things over time, and the journey is part of the fun.
I have a small stash of old Jamaican and Canary Island cigars. These have been aging for upwards of 20 years. They were mild out of the box, and they haven’t lost a step. They were never overly complex. They’re still smooth and delicious. Maybe even smoother than 20 years ago. And I use this example as a means to contradict everything I’ve just said, because you can age a mild cigar for 20 years and still have something exceptionally enjoyable.
On bloom (sometimes also called plume): there is still some debate about what exactly this indicates. While everyone agrees it’s benign, it’s probably something you should only see on cigars aged for a number of years. A very well-educated tobacconist, who has a special aging room for certain cigars, said you should never see bloom on cigars in a tobacco shop because this should only occur with extreme aging. He also raised the point that maybe, with proper humidification, a cigar never should exude oils at all! There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer on this. But as noted, bloom is basically benign.
One debate continues over whether to leave cellophaned cigars in the cello, or to remove it. Some collectors remove all cellophane. Some leave it on. You’ll notice after a few years that cellophane encasing cigars will turn yellow, indicating they’ve absorbed some oils. This may not be a good thing, or it may be benign. I’ve enjoyed aged cigars both ways, as long as they’re properly humidified. Cellophane may inhibit a cigar’s ability to breathe. If push comes to shove, I would probably suggest removing cello wrapping and allowing identical cigars to age together without the cello.
And a final note on how to age your cigars without spending a fortune on expensive humidors. Simply place 10-15 cigars in the best quality food-grade one-gallon zip-seal freezer bag you can find. Take a high quality quart-sized zip-seal freezer bag and place a quartered piece of well-rinsed nylon sponge inside, moistening the sponge, but not soaking it. Place the "sponge bag" upright inside the gallon bag of cigars, leaving the quart bag open, and seal up the gallon bag. Store the combo in a dark area with minimal temperature fluctuation and as close to 68-70 degrees as you can find. Check regularly to make sure the cigars are not over- or under-humidified. If the cigars are feeling a bit soft, open the bag slightly for a couple days and let everything dry down a bit. If too firm, you may need to add a small amount more water to the sponge. Rehydrate the sponge as necessary as the months pass, but you’ll find that little moisture escapes the bag. Remember that consistency is more important than absolute temperature or humidity. The bag is a sealed environment, so if the temperature remains fairly stable, the humidity in the bag shouldn’t change much, either.
You may notice that over time, your cigars stored in bags (or in sealed plastic containers with a moistened sponge in a bag) may develop a slight musty or barnyard smell. That’s just from the cigars being closed up for a long time. Ideally, you should age your cigars in a large room with good ventilation and a perfect mix of 70% humidity and 70 degree temperature. Few of us are able to do that. All you need to do is move your next candidates for smoking to a good Spanish cedar lined humidor for about a week, giving them a few days to breathe, and they will flower and lose that oxygen deprived smell. [Editor’s Note: Spanish cedar is actually neither Spanish, nor cedar, but rather a species from the mahogany family, Cedrela odorata. I know of a fellow who built a small walk-in out of fresh aromatic cedar, and all but ruined a rather extensive collection of cigars when they took on the strong aromas of the wood. -glp]
We’re only touched on some of the aspects of a deceptively complex topic, but, I hope this is enough to get you started aging some of your own cigars. There are some who won’t smoke anything until it’s been "laid down" for many years, and others who will prefer their smokes fresh. In any case, it’s fun to experiment, and a great way to justify getting that discount on buying boxes of cigars instead of individual sticks. And if you find a cigar you really like, buying a box and stashing part of it is not a bad excuse for accumulating a nice collection.
So should you set aside a few cigars for aging? Why not?
|Tad Gage is the author of the best selling Penguin Books "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cigars," in its second edition. The book has sold over 40,000 copies worldwide, in three languages, and is available in stores and online distributors. Tad has made cigar connoisseurship accessible to beginners and veteran cigar smokes alike. He is delighted to answer questions through CigarChronicles.com. Just comment below.|