A NEW LOOK at Cigar Storage – How to Care for Premium Cigars
By Gary Korb
One issue which many cigar smokers seem as widely divided as left-wing progressives and constitutional conservatives is the question of “cello on, or cello off?” OK, maybe not to that extreme, but it’s always been a subject that tends to stir-up a lot of opinions.
My humidors have a mix of cigars wherein many have their factory cellos, as well as those that either came “cabinet” style (without cello), or I removed the cello for whatever reason. Some cigar smokers believe this type of setup causes the flavors of the non-celloed cigars to “marry;” in other words, by being exposed to the elements, these cigars begin to share similar flavor characteristics. Frankly, I’ve never noticed any difference in the way my cigars tasted, but I can see how this marrying effect would seem logical.
Recently, a situation that caused me to think there might actually be some truth to the marrying theory became the basis for this article, which also sheds some additional light on proper cigar storage.
A couple of months ago, I bought a box of cigars that I’ve enjoyed pretty regularly over the years and placed them in my office humidor. As I began to smoke through the box, the cigars tasted unusually bitter. So, I let them rest-up for several weeks in the top rack of the humidor, regretfully, with little or no improvement. Desperate for anything to make them better, I removed the cellos from the five remaining cigars and moved them below where the bulk of the cigars reside. One week later, I plucked-out one of the five cigars and it tasted more like the tasty blend I remember.
So, the questions that arose were: 1) Did moving the cigars in with all the others actually cause the improvement in flavor? 2) Did the cigar just happen to be one of the few better-tasting sticks in the box? 3) Did the cigar just need a little more time to settle, regardless of its position? or 4) Was it just my imagination runnin’ away with me?
Think about that while I digress. . .
As I often do when I need an expert’s opinion, I called my good friend, José Blanco, of Las Cumbres Tabaco, makers of Señorial Cigars, for his opinion of my story. This led to a conversation about cigar storage, and I learned a couple of new things on the subject.
How to Stack Your Cigars Like a Pro
When you open a box of cigars, notice that they are stacked one on top of the other. Naturally, this would seem like a logical way to stack them in your humidor. According to José, the best way to stack your cigars is by placing the subsequent rows in the cleft between each cigar in the row below.
For example, let’s say the bottom of your humidor can accommodate a row of 20 cigars. By placing the cigars for the next row between the spaces where the cigars line-up, you would be able to place 18 cigars in the second row. You can probably get 19 cigars in the third row because you will now have a little extra room. Keep in mind that not all of the cigars may be exactly the same size, but continue stacking them this way until all of your cigars are stacked, or you reach the top of the humidor. What this does is allow better airflow throughout the humidor. You don’t want to pack your humidor so tightly that you’ll have to pry the cigars out with a crowbar.
How to Safely Restore Dry Cigars
Here’s a situation for you: You add a box worth of cigars to your humidor. At the time, the RH is a stable 70%, plus or minus a couple of points. A week later, the RH has dipped to 40%. Your new cigars are in the process of drying-out; so, what do you do? Before I get to the solution, let’s talk about what may have caused to happen in the first place.
When you add cigars to a humidor, they will suck-up some of the moisture that’s already in the box. Of course, this depends on the condition of the cigars when you add them to the box. If they’re really moist, you may see the RH go up a bit, but eventually it will settle down. That’s why it’s important to have a humidor with a good seal, and a well-regulated system in which there is a continual ebb & flow of moist air. In this case, where the cigars have begun to dry out, you want to bring the humidity back s-l-o-w-l-y.
One way to do this is by regulating the RH at a lower setting, like 50% to 60% and going back up from there to your preferred RH. The mistake a lot of cigar smokers make is they overdo it by regulating it at 80%. This kind of over-compensation will only make your cigars bloated with moisture, and then you’ve got another problem; cigars that burn poorly, or worse, once they get hot enough, they’ll burst on you. If you’ve ever smoked a really moist cigar and noticed that it was getting a bit chubby behind the ash, you know what I mean.
According to José, another thing to keep in mind when restoring dry cigars is the nature of the blend. Cigars rolled in Connecticut wrappers, which are more on the dry side, will have a much harder time replenishing their moisture, and depending on the severity of the dryness, may not come back at all. On the other hand, cigars with oiler wrappers, like maduros, which may also have oily ligero fillers, are the best candidates for restoration.
Rotate Your Cigars – It’s Worth the Effort
Smoking cigars is fun, but they also require some work; call it a labor of love. If you have several or more rows of cigars in your humidor that remain pretty much intact for several months, or longer, it’s good practice to rotate and inspect your cigars about every 3 months. It’s easy to do, but depending on how many cigars you have in your collection, it can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. José has thousands of cigars in his collection, yet he insists on doing this so his cigars stay healthy during their lifespan. If you have a fan in your humidor, you may not have to rotate your cigars as often, but the moisture levels will still vary in different parts of the humidor.
To rotate your cigars, carefully remove the cigars from the bottom row and move them to the top row. If your humidor has a top tray, you can move them up there instead. While you’re doing this some of the cigars in the middle rows may slide down to fill-in the gaps, and that’s fine; as long as the cigars have moved from their original position, you’re good.
Rotating also allows you to check the health of your cigars. Inspect your cigars for chips in the wrappers, unraveling, mold, plume, and beetle holes. If your humidor has optimum conditions and you don’t annoy your cigars too much when looking for a particular primo, they should be fine for the most part.
According to José, a lot of cigar smokers spend thousands of dollars on their cigars, yet never bother to care for them. It’s like buying a car and never changing the oil or rotating the tires. Cigars are an investment, and deserve to be protected as such.
. . . Picking-up where I left-off above, so what was it that caused my remaining sour smokes to improve by moving them down with the other cigars in my humidor?
José said it had nothing to do with the tobaccos marrying; it had more to do with cigars needing a little extra time to settle. In his opinion, mixing cigars of various blends, wrappers, etc., does not affect the character or flavor of the cigars. Having practiced this, myself, all of my adult cigar life, I should’ve known! (I guess I let my imagination run away with me.) The only case in which you should NEVER mix cigars, is when you have a combination of traditionally-blended smokes and flavored cigars, or infused cigars, like ACID Cigars.
The moral of the story: Store your cigars well, check them regularly, and they will always be faithful.
Now It’s Your Turn
Please leave a comment telling me about similar experiences you’ve had on the subject of cigar storage.