Cigars and humidors are like horses and saddles. We associate them as a dependent set, but you don’t need a saddle to ride a horse, and you don’t need a fancy wooden humidor to store cigars. There is one catch, however: You and the horse will survive without a saddle, but your cigars won’t survive without some form of humidification. For the purposes of this post, I’m talking about wooden desktop cigar humidors, not coolerdors, tupperdors, or other makeshift storage units. Continue reading
I have that lightning-strike of a reaction from time to time, since I sometimes like to cruise ebay on my laptop while smoking a cigar on the patio (viva wi-fi!). I like history, and looking for historical or vintage items. So I search for the same stuff from time to time: sixties-era Slingerland drums, collectibles that reference my vacation spot in New England, and vintage Donatus-style cigar cutters. Occasionally I find some gems, so I decided to just type in “vintage cigar” and see what came up…“Results found for ‘vintage cigar’ – 8,246”
Cool! Let’s start digging.
Here’s a nifty topic that crosses my path every now and then – rotating cigars in your humidor. According to a poll administered by Cigar Advisor Magazine, 54% of cigar smokers surveyed said they rotate their cigars on a regular basis. So what is “rotating cigars,” and what are its benefits?
Not unlike the way tobacco leaves are rotated on pilons in the cigar factory during fermentation, rotating cigars is simply moving the cigars in the lower rows of your humidor to the upper rows. There are areas in your humidor that can restrict moisture from getting to your primos. And because air circulation is important during the aging process, rotating cigars allows them to get a more equal distribution of moist air. This is also why it helps to leave some space between your cigars. Trying to pack them in tightly like they are in their factory cigar boxes can be detrimental to their survival. There’s no specific method to rotating cigars, as long as you’re able to shift the majority of the sticks from point A to point B.
Here’s how I do it: About every 6-8 weeks, I bring the humidor out to a table where I have plenty of room to spread out. Because I’m kind of a neatnik, I lay the cigars out by row on either paper towels or wax paper. The latter is better because wax paper won’t leave any lint on the cigars. Noting which cigars were taken from the top row, I begin placing them back in the humidor. Sometimes I replace them by size, but mixing them up can also help create more air flow around the cigars.
One hitch is, if you happen to have a high-capacity humidor that’s well-stocked, it can take a while before you get through all of them. So, sometimes I enlist the help of my younger son, and he actually enjoys it because he
says they remind him of Lincoln Logs. The other hitch is, if you remove the cellos from your cigars, you have to be careful. I’ve damaged several good sticks during the process over the years, so now I keep the cellos on my most expensive cigars.
Although it’s still a good idea to rotate your cigars on a regular basis, if you can get the air circulating in your humidor 24/7 you may not have to rotate them as often. Some cigar smokers actually add small computer fans to their humidors to help circulate the air. However, Cigar Oasis, a company that makes electronic humidifiers, includes fans in all of their models.
Many aspects of enjoying premium cigars have to do with patience, and though rotating your cigars may be a bit time-consuming, as the saying goes, “The end justifies the means.”
In my previous blog, How to re-hydrate stale cigars, I spoke more to the issue of whether stale or dried-out cigars can be re-humidified. In this column, I will explain the actual “how-to” of proper re-hydration for both loose and boxed cigars.
Re-hydrating cigars is a procedure that requires a lot of patience. The idea is to allow slow absorption of moisture. You don’t want to “shock” your dry cigars with too much moisture at once. They can actually swell and even split, which is the last thing you want to do, especially if some of them are expensivos.
- Place them in a humidor or a sealed container with a humidifier that isn’t fully charged. It helps to have a digital hygrometer / thermometer in there as well, so you can keep better tabs on the amount of RH your cigars are getting. Give them a few days to absorb what little moisture remains in the humidifier. Check the humidifier to see if it’s just about dried-out. If so, move on to the next step.
- Next, add only a little distilled water and/or recharging solution to the humidifier – no more than one-third absorption – and let the cigars settle-in again for about a week, maybe two, depending on how well they’re coming back. Once they begin to feel less like sticks, move on to step 3.
- Fully re-charge humidifier and let your cigars continue to rest until they are re-humidified to your satisfaction. Rotating them every few days will help keep things even during the process, too.
If you’re re-hydrating your cigars in a very large or cabinet-style humidor, you should start by placing the cigars as far away from the humidifier as possible. Move them a little closer to the device about every 5-7 days.
Remember, this process can take several weeks to well over a month, or even longer, so, be patient.
If you keep your cigars in their factory boxes and notice they’re beginning to dry out, one of the simplest methods is to place the entire box inside a plastic zip-type bag. Don’t completely seal the bag; leave it open about one-half-inch, because you want a little air to get in there. Plus, it will help trap any moisture still left in the cigars. Placing a clean piece of sponge dampened with distilled water or 50/50 solution in the bag will help. Or, in lieu of a piece of sponge, you can add a Boveda 69% humidity pack. As noted above, the idea here again is slow absorption of moisture.
Rotate the cigars every few days from the bottom to the top of the box. Keep this up until you’re satisfied with their suppleness. After that, you can place the Boveda pack inside the box, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to pick up a box of Boveda packs to prevent this from happening again, or in the first place.
Remember, as I pointed-out in my prior column, when cigars lose too much moisture they also lose a lot of their bouquet, so, unless you nip it in the bud, don’t expect them to be as flavorful. Finally, regardless of their condition, never resort to drastic measures to revive your cigars or you’ll ruin them permanently.
One of the most often asked questions I get is, “Is there anything you can do if your cigars dry out?” Actually, there is, but it also depends on how far gone they are when you discover the problem.
If the cigars are very hard, like kindling wood, then it may be time to move those cigars to the woodshed. However, if there’s even a little bit of moisture left in them, they may be salvageable.
The best way to test this is to gently pinch the cigar at the foot. If it crumbles, you’ve got trouble. Other signs of trouble could be unraveling and cracked wrappers. So how does this happen?
If you don’t have good, consistent humidification in your humidor your cigars will begin to lose their oils, and it’s the oils that give tobaccos their flavor properties. Here’s the rub: By re-humidifying your cigars they will eventually regain their suppleness, but because the oils evaporated during the period in which the cigars were drying-out, its unlikely the flavors will return. IOW, you can usually save stale cigars, but don’t expect them to be as savory as when you first opened the box. Note that this applies to cigars that have been going stale over a period of months, not a few days. Cigars which may have dried-out during your vacation or business trip will probably retain most, if not all of their flavor after re-hydration.
The best advice is to try to prevent this from happening in the first place. I have a lot of faith in the integrity of my humidors, but I check them pretty regularly. If, for some reason I’ve gone more than a week without checking the temperature and RH (relative humidity),
I get a little paranoid, but so far, so good.
Finally, make sure you have the right size humidifier for your humidor and a reliable hygrometer. My theory is, it’s better to have a humidifier that’s a little more than you need. It’s easier to control the humidity that way, too. Make sure you also rotate your cigars from the bottom to top every couple of months to ensure all your cigars are getting the proper air flow and moisture. In a future article, I’ll explain the proper way to re-humidify your cigars, so stay tuned…
OPERATOR: Hello, Hygrometer Hotline. How may I help you?
OPERATOR: Was it an analog hygrometer, sir?
CALLER: Yes. The final reading was 65 percent. I turned the calibration screw until it pointed to 75%. Somehow though, the needle keeps jumping back down below the reading I had after the first test. I’ve done this several times already, and I’m starting to get a little annoyed.
OPERATOR: I can understand that sir.
CALLER: I thought about returning the humidor, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. I was also thinking maybe I should just buy a digital hygrometer since they’re supposed to be more accurate anyway. What do you suggest? My cigars are still waiting to move into their new home.
OPERATOR: First of all, most of the analog hygrometers that come with many humidors are cheapos. You did the right thing by calibrating it, and it sounds like you did it right. I’ve also had some models “jump” in the wrong direction when turning the calibration screw. Sometimes, by the time you get the screwdriver in the back and turn the screw, the RH level has changed anyway. They’re hardly ever 100% accurate. It’s funny how some cigar smokers insist on having the hygrometer read perfectly. All I can add to that is, ain’t gonna happen.
CALLER: What about the digital models?
OPERATOR: They are much more accurate overall, but even they don’t always tell the truth.
CALLER: Is it true that there are digital hygrometers that can be calibrated?
a screw on the back of an analog model to the correct number. All they do is reset themselves to 75%, which is what your analog unit would have read after the salt test, had it been accurate from the start.
CALLER: So what good is that?
OPERATOR: Well, one advantage to having a digital hygrometer is that it will also display the temperature, which also plays a big part in the health of your cigars. There’s a relationship between temperature and humidity you need to be aware of.
CALLER: And that is?
OPERATOR: Ideally, you want the temperature to range between 65 and 70 degrees, while keeping the RH, or relative humidity, at about 67% average. Since cigars are hydroscopic, meaning they absorb and discharge moisture, you want to keep a nice ebb-and-flow going so that the moisture content in the humidor stays as balanced as possible.
CALLER: Then what do you recommend I do?
OPERATOR: I would buy a self-calibrating digital model, but I would add one other item to your order -a Boveda Calibration Kit.
CALLER: What’s that?
OPERATOR: It’s a better way to calibrate hygrometers and a lot cleaner, too. Basically, it’s an airtight pouch with a small Boveda humidity pack that puts out 75.5% relative humidity, and can be used for analog and digital hygrometers. When your order arrives, follow the instructions and note the final reading on your hygrometer. If it’s off by a lot, you can reset the digital model and try again to see if it’s more accurate on the second go-round. At that point, however, whatever the unit reads is what it is. If it reads somewhere around 72%, that’s not bad. Then you know that the unit is off by three. Make a note of it, put your cigars in their new home and forget about it. The next time you take a reading, if the hygrometer reads 66%, then you’ll know it’s really 63% and maybe you need to recharge your humidifier.
CALLER: Sounds simple enough.
OPERATOR: It is. You can make yourself crazy trying to make a hygrometer to meet the ideal settings. It’s not worth it. Besides, once you’ve become more experienced at smoking cigars, you’ll know almost immediately if a cigar is properly humidified or not. A series of gentle pinches along the length of several of your cigars will often tell you more about the conditions in your humidor than the hygrometer. Whether you have an analog or digital hygrometer really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in the big scheme of things.
OPERATOR: You’re welcome. Have a nice day.