Opus X BBMF Maduro. Tatuaje T110′s. Well-aged Padróns. Original-release Padilla Miami 8 & 11′s. Various regional-release (ahem) “contraband” cigars. These are all smokes we might consider “special occasion cigars”.
These are but a few of the cigars I may never smoke, though they slumber comfortably in my humidor. Which begs the question: “Why in the world would anyone hold on to cigars he has no intention of smoking?” Pondering this always makes my head spin.
On one hand, we’re not promised tomorrow. Some once said we should “live every day like it’s going to be our last,” because we’re living on “borrowed time.” You know, Carpe Diem and all that. In other words, don’t waste your time hoarding cigars, because you may not live to smoke them. Besides, cigars are for smoking, not for being conspicuously displayed in a humidor…right? Why save cigars for a special occasion? Why not turn a regular day into a special occasion with a terrific rare cigar?
On the other hand, isn’t it appropriate to save your truly rare treats for truly rare occasions? You wouldn’t break out the vintage champagne to celebrate some mundane victory, would you? Nor should an extremely precious vitola be smoked on some mundane afternoon, or after a mundane meal…right?
I acknowledge that, on some level, fear is at play. Fear that I’ll never smoke that cigar. Fear that I will smoke it and hate it. Fear that I’ll smoke it in the wrong setting and be disappointed by what could have been. Fear that I’ll enjoy it immensely, but never have another.
All of which forces the conclusion that there’s no right or wrong answer. Every factor in the equation is relative…the cigars, the cigar smoker, and the given occasions one deems appropriate for torching such rarities.
What special cigars do you have tucked away? Are you planning on smoking them? If so, will they serve to punctuate a memorable moment? Or will the cigars themselves be the focus of the moment?
Cigars are, by nature, delicate objects. They are a hand-made product, and one made from a delicate plant. It’s one of the reasons most premium cigars are wrapped in cellophane; it protects the wrapper leaf and helps maintain moisture during shipping. Today I’m going to address some issues that surround shipping cigars, and resting cigars after shipment to ensure the optimal smoking experience. If you’re like most cigar smokers and order cigars online, the question is: Will the cigars be fresh when they arrive? They should be, since cigars can survive almost a month in their boxes or bundles under normal conditions.
The other question is, should you smoke one of your newly-arrived cigars right away? Sure, but it might be better to give your new arrivals a chance to “settle.” Most cigars are, indeed, ready to smoke right out of their factory packaging. But whether you bought them online or at a local cigar store, handmade cigars tend to taste and burn better after at least a few days in your home cigar humidor.
Honestly, I’ve never really understood why cigars seem to taste better after a little nap time in the humi. Maybe it’s just psychological, but they do, and many cigar smokers agree. That said, it’s the “burn better” aspect, whereby, resting cigars may have a more noticeable effect. It might be that some extra moisture accrued in the cigars during shipping. If that’s so, the cigars may burn irregularly. Giving them a chance to “breathe” in a space where they’re not so tightly packed appears to help. Moreover, the cedar in your humidor absorbs some of that extra moisture.
So, the next time you open a fresh box of cigars, give ‘em a break. They’ve traveled a long way to get to you, and resting cigars a little before lighting-up will do both of you some good.
As dictated by tradition, cellos should be removed from your cigars before placing them in your humidor. The primary function of cello wrappers is to protect a premium handmade cigar’s often delicate wrapper during packaging and transit to the retailer. Moreover, they help keep greasy fingers off the merchandise while customers are inspecting them in a cigar store. Yet, there is a belief among cigar smokers that by storing your cigars this way, the flavors in the tobaccos will “marry” causing your cigars to taste differently.
I’m not sure if it’s the main reason a Cigar Advisor survey showed that cigar smokers keep the cellos on their cigars by a margin of almost 2-1. It could be as simple as they just don’t want to take the time removing the cellos every time they buy a box of cigars. Fair enough (though it would be interesting to learn why most of them do).
Some cigar smokers may feel that the likelihood of all the different tobacco flavors marrying with the other cigars in their humidor is reason enough to keep the cellos on. I can only go by my personal experience, which is to say that I remove almost all of the cellos from my cigars and have never noticed a significant flavor shift. If anything, the cigars improve in flavor with age by being “au natural,” and some of my cigars have been in my humidors for years.
There’s a very simple way to test this “myth” of marrying flavors. The next time you buy a box of cigars, if they have cellos on them, remove the cellos from at least five of them and place them in your humidor with your other cigars. Let them sit there for a good month or two. In the meantime, continue to smoke the balance of the cigars at your regular pace. After about two months, smoke one of the un-celloed cigars from your humidor and compare. Chances are they’ll taste better just from having aged-up a couple of months, but they should have the same core character as the celloed cigars. The point is, most cigar smokers keep all of their cigars together, with and without the cellos.
For the record, your cigars will age-up nicely over time even if they are kept in their cellos until lit. I believe that if there was any truth to the “marrying” myth, at least from a negative standpoint, you’d hear a lot more about it. Yet, so far I’ve only heard the sound of silence.
You’ve been smoking cigars on a regular basis for a while now and it’s become a passion. Time to buy a humidor for your cigars. Like most cigar accessories, cigar humidors run from “el cheapo” to “el rico.” Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good, reliable box. Regardless of your budget, there are certain “appointments” your humidor should come with to ensure that your cigars will stay fresh and age properly over time.
First, you want to make sure that the cigar humidor you buy will accommodate the number of cigars you plan to keep on-hand. Someone once told me, the one thing boat owners have in common is, they’re always looking for a bigger boat. The same can be said for cigar humidors. All too often cigar smokers will buy a humidor only to find out several months later that they need another humidor because their cigar collection is growing faster than they can smoke. If you think you need a 50-cigar humidor, it may be to your advantage to invest in a 75 or 100 ct. humidor. Moreover, you can often find cigar humidors on sale and pick up a 100 cigar box for less than a 75 ct. box. Don’t let your budget limit you to a humidor that will only get you so far, only to find out that if you had gone the distance in the first place, you wouldn’t be spending more money a lot sooner than you expected. Finally, you don’t want to have to squeeze all your cigars into a cramped space. Cigars need air flow to age properly, too.
Veneer vs. Solid wood
Most modestly-priced humidors use wood veneer rather than solid wood. Solid wood is more aesthetic, but you will pay more, and many of the better veneered models are virtually indistinguishable from the solid wood models.
Check the seal
A well-made humidor should have tight seal. Obviously, this is not easy to do if you’re ordering a humidor online. One of the “traditional” methods for checking the seal is to close the lid, take a fresh, crisp bill (any denomination) and try to slide the bill in the space between the lid and the base of the humidor. If you have trouble trying to get the bill between the crack, the seal is excellent.
Another way to check the integrity of the seal is to raise the lid of the humidor about 3 inches and let it drop. You should hear a crisp “whoosh” sound. That’s the sound of the air escaping. If the lid drops like a barbell, chances are there may be some leakage. Realistically speaking, no humidor is going to be air-tight. At the very least, you want a seal that’s tight. Don’t forget that wood expands and contracts, too.
Brass hardware is also important for long life, and with regard to the hinges, quadrant hinges, which have arcs that connect the top and bottom of the hinge. The hinges ride on these arcs which keep the lid stable and prevent the hinges from loosening over time. The other preferable form of hinge is a “piano” or “continuous hinge.” This type of hinge runs along the entire length of the back of the base rather than the more common “butterfly” type hinges that you would find on a cabinet, for example.
Deck the halls with bows of cedar
Most cigar humidors are lined with Spanish cedar. It’s a wonderfully fragrant wood that lends a nice character to cigars, and should not be confused with the cedar used for souvenirs or for lining your closet. Spanish cedar also resists cracking as the wood expands and contracts over time.
Some humidors have a Spanish cedar plank covering the floor of the humidor with Spanish cedar panels that line the walls. Some humidors have panels that are removable and extend above the top of the base. In other words, when the lid closes, it closes over the panels. Other humidor models have panels that rest flush with the top of the base with extended panels in the lid section which close inside the base. One isn’t any better than the other, but you should be able to remove the panels for maintenance purposes.
Finally, the thicker the walls, the better the insulation, and the more stable your cigars will be in the long run.
Most humidors today come with a humidifier and a hygrometer, but don’t assume the humidification system is going to do the job just because it came with the humidor. The better manufactures generally include the right size humidifier, but sometimes they don’t. If you’ve done everything right in terms of setting up your humidor (seasoning it),
and your cigars tend to be dry, chances are the humidifier is not up to snuff.
Green “oasis” foam humidifiers will do the job, but over time can get flaky or clogged from using too much 50/50 solution. The way to go these days is with the crystal-based humidifiers. They’re much more reliable, last longer, are easier to maintain and absorb up to four times more the amount of distilled water (or solution) than the foam models. The Boveda pack system is also a smart and reliable way to go, but you have to replace the packs about every three months. There are some cigar smokers who swear by the Boveda method, while others would rather save the room for more cigars.
Some humidors still come with analog hygrometers, but digital hygrometers are considered more reliable and accurate. Until recently, you couldn’t calibrate a digital hygrometer, but that problem’s been solved with some of the newer digital hygrometers which have a calibration button. The other advantage to having a digital model is it also gives you a temperature reading.
Other things to look for when buying a new cigar humidor are dividers for separating your cigars, and top trays, which allow you to stack cigars above the cigars in the base section. Even though many humidors come with dividers and top trays, some cigar smokers opt out of using them, as they can take up valuable space. That’s a call you have to make.
Now that you know everything you need to know before purchasing a new cigar humidor, the key things to keep in mind are size, seal, wall thickness and overall integrity of the box. Remember, just like shopping for cigars, as long as you know what to look for, you can find a good humidor in most any size that will do the job at an affordable price. If your decision comes down to spending a little more for a better-made box, go for it – your cigars are worth it.
It happens. You reach into your humidor for that great cigar you’ve been looking forward to all day and you notice the wrapper is starting to peel away from the roll. If you light-up, the peel will only get worse. So what can you do? Using saliva seems like a practical solution, but rarely, if ever, works. Some cigar smokers also resort to using bee’s wax-based lip balm, but there are no guarantees with that either because it never really dries.
Unraveling cigars are best fixed with acacia powder, better known as gum arabic, or vegetable gum. This is what cigar rollers use for preparing the wrapper leaf and cap when they roll cigars. Gum arabic, which can be found in the baking aisle at some supermarkets, spice shops, and online, comes in powdered form. When mixed with distilled water to the right consistency, it can be a real life saver, or to put it another way, a real cigar saver. It’s also odorless and colorless. Simply apply a modest amount of the liquefied gum to the wrapper and carefully “roll” the detached portion of wrapper leaf back into place.
Another product that can be used for repairing unraveling wrappers is Pectin. Pectin comes in both powder and liquid form, and you might already have some in the house. Normally used for canning jams and jellies, when applied carefully to the wrapper leaf as described above, you should get similar results.
What about cigars that are cracked in the middle or at the foot?
When a cigar is cracked in the middle, in some cases it may be minor, but any crack in a wrapper leaf, no matter how small, is going to leak smoke and may negatively affect the way the cigar draws and burns.
The best way to repair this type of crack is to take a small piece of wrapper leaf (it could come from a cigar stub of the same blend or another cigar with the same type of wrapper leaf),
and use it to “patch” the crack, not unlike the way you’d fix a blown tire.
First, cut a piece of wrapper leaf to the approximate size you need to completely cover the crack. Then lightly wet the piece of wrapper leaf with gum arabic solution, paste it over the trouble spot and let it dry. In the meantime, go get another cigar.
If the crack starts at the foot of the cigar, first see how far up the length of the cigar the crack goes. If it’s less than an inch you might be better off cutting the cigar as cleanly as possible just above the crack. The cigar will be shorter, but you might still be able to get a decent smoke out of it. If you go that route, make sure you use a really sharp and powerful double blade cigar cutter. If the body of the cigar fits comfortably in the hole and the cutter is very sharp, snap the cutter as quickly as possible for a clean cut. Sometimes you get a rough edge, but it’s better than tossing the cigar.
If you’d rather not take any chances, repeat the process described above for repairing a crack in the middle of a cigar.
Remember, if the wrapper is cracked and you don’t have gum arabic or pectin, there is very little you can do to repair it. By having a small jar of gum arabic in the house, at least you know there’s hope.
I remember when I first got seriously into smoking premium cigars. I read all the magazines, bought a few books and absorbed as much as I could. One thing these sources had in common with regard to cigar storage was that cigars were to be kept in a humidor at an approximate temperature of 70 degrees F? and a relative humidity (RH) of 70%. This is also known as “the 70/70 rule.”
Under those conditions, if you can keep your cigars there within a point or two, they will fare quite well. But unless their humidors are kept in climate controlled rooms, most cigar smokers know the reality; in the winter it’s too cold; in the summer it’s too hot – you get the idea.
Based on my own experience, as well as the trusted word of colleagues and other long-time cigar smokers, keeping your cigars at temperatures around 65° and the humidity at an average RH of around 67% is a good comfort level. Some aficionados keep the RH even lower than that as you’ll see shortly.
Moreover, I once read an article about the Davidoff cigar store in London in which the writer said the store has a walk-in humidor solely for vintage cigars that’s kept so cold you practically need a winter coat. But you can bet that the humidity in that humidor is perfectly balanced so those rare primos don’t lose their finer qualities.
Note that the higher the relative humidity, the softer your cigars will be, which can cause burn problems. When the RH is lower, your cigars will feel a bit firmer. If the RH and temperature are too low, your cigars will eventually lose their moisture and turn into kindling. It’s also interesting to note that many cigar smokers who have cigars with thick wrappers, like Maduros for instance, say that they fare better at a lower RH, closer to around 65%. This is most likely due to the higher amount of oils in the wrapper leaf.
As cited above with the London cigar store, there must also be a balance between the temperature and humidity.
Here’s something that may help prove the point. I have an old 25-cigar humidor on my office desk. During the summer the average temperature in the box is a pretty constant 75-degrees. Going “by the book,” that would appear to be a little high. With a standard small round humidifier in the box the humidity gets up to around 68%. The result is the cigars border on squishy and burn crappy. After removing the humidifier the RH went down to about 62%. That would appear frighteningly low to a lot of cigar smokers, yet the cigars settled down and burned well.
When the RH dipped to 60%, feeling a little paranoid, I put a small Boveda 75% packet in the box to give the RH a boost. (Not one of their regular sized packets. This one was about the size of those wipes you get at the local rib joint.) Within two days, the RH was up to 68% and cigars were all soft again. So, into the trash went the packet and you now see how delicate the conditions can be in some cases. More importantly, it is not healthy to expose your cigars to wide fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
The basic rule for higher and lower than average temperatures is, High temp/Lower RH; Low temp/Higher RH. As for me, I try to keep the temp/humidity balanced at about 68 degrees/67% RH average year round. Eventually you’ll find the right mix for your humidor, plus humidors vary too, based on the size of the box, type of humidifier, etc. The key is to find the comfort zone that works best for your cigars.