The Cut-off Point: How Long Should I Age Cigars?
By Gary Korb
With that quote from noted cigar expert and author, Dr. David Diaz, PhD, in mind, we can begin to consider whether or not our prized premium cigars are worth additional aging at home. Other cigar experts, including most of the cigar smokers I’ve met over the years, agree that as little as one month will improve a cigar’s flavor. The question is: How long should you age your cigars? Or, maybe a better question is: How do you know when your cigars have aged long enough? According to an About.com article on aging cigars in a humidor by Gary Manelski, “…the general rule is that the flavor of the cigars will continue to improve for up to 10 years. After that amount of time, cigars will no longer show any significant amount of improvement.”
That said, most smokers don’t have the patience to age cigars for a full 10 years. Moreover, some of them may not even be around to enjoy their cigars 10 years later; and as for those who will be around, will they remember what a particular cigar tasted like a decade ago? Actually, there is a way to remember that I’ll describe later.
In his article, “Long-term Aging of Cigars,” Dr. Diaz points out that it’s hard to predict how a cigar will age, and depending on how long you plan to age it, you may not be sure you’re even going to like it at that point. “The cigar may indeed be smoother and more complex, but there is no guarantee that you will enjoy that flavor profile,” writes Diaz. That’s because there is no established length of time that ensures your cigars will taste better. Only you, the smoker, can really know how much additional aging your cigars require, and that can only be achieved by certain means; that is, by smoking the cigars at various intervals as they age. Before I describe how to go about it, let’s look at some useful info that applies to aging cigars in a humidor:
- Based on cigar aging test results done by Cigars.About.com, a reasonable time frame for improving the taste of most premium handmade cigars is at least two to three months.
- Full-bodied cigars that are blended with more high-priming tobaccos like ligero tend to improve more significantly in terms of their complexity and balance over longer time periods, whereas milder cigars do not.
- Lower humidity levels within the range of 63% to 68% RH will improve a cigar’s flavors and aromas over time. “As you allow some of the moisture to evaporate, the essential oils will concentrate within the tobacco,” writes Dr. Diaz. “Those oleoresins are what contain the flavor and aroma particles.” Lower humidity also helps reduce the tobaccos’ tendency to develop mold. Diaz adds that he keeps his humidors at an average RH of 68% (as do I), because it will keep your cigars from drying-out, while allowing them to age well.
- A “bad” tasting cigar will not improve no matter how long you age it. This is usually due to poor fermentation, and once the cigar is rolled, it’s pretty much set. However, a cigar that may be a bit bitter or grassy in taste out of the box can do a 180 turnaround with some prudent aging time. I can attest to this from personal experience. Many years ago I bought a box of cigars made by a major brand that tasted bitter. You can imagine my disappointment. But after letting them stew in their factory box for a year under proper conditions, the bitterness was gone and they were right where they were supposed to be in flavor.
- Cigars made with tobaccos that already have many years of aging on them will not improve much more with additional aging at home. Cigars that are released with 5 to 10 or even more years of aging are, by design, made to be smoked right out of the box.
I’ve received a lot of emails over the years from cigar smokers asking if they should age cigars they own, and if so, for how long. The only way to know if a particular cigar is aging well over a given length of time is to smoke the cigars periodically as they age. Using the following guidelines, you should get good results. (I’ve also used this method to address the question of whether you should keep cigars in a humidor with or without the cello wrappers.)
First, buy a box (or bundle) of 20 or 25 premium cigars. Next, smoke one out of the box within 24 hours and make notes on the cigar’s flavor. To be sure, smoke another and compare notes. These are your “control” cigars. Place the remaining cigars in a section of your humidor. If you have a cabinet humidor, put the factory box in there. Don’t smoke another from that box for at least 6 weeks. Now compare it to the first two cigars you smoked. You should taste some degree of improvement. Is it mellower, smoother, or tastier? This first time period may not have been enough to move the needle all that much. Continue this smoking one every 6 weeks and taking notes process until you’ve run the box. With 20 cigars, (actually 18), they will have aged over a two year period. That should give you ample time to see if there’s a significant improvement in the cigars’ flavor profile.
You can also mix it up by using longer or shorter periods between smoking cigars. It all depends on how long you want the experiment to run. Here are a few parting shots to keep in mind:
- Flavored cigars, or infused premiums like ACID cigars do not require any additional aging, only proper humidity levels.
- Every cigar ages and tastes differently depending on its shape and size. (The same applies to cigars all from the same box AND long-filler bundle cigars.)
- If a particular brand tastes great right out of the box, it probably doesn’t need any additional aging.
Finally, remember to be patient when you age cigars. If you have the means, double your box order so you can smoke one to your heart’s delight while the other box ages slowly. That’s the thing about premium cigars; everything, from toasting and lighting your cigar, to the time you take to smoke a cigar, to aging them, must be done in a leisurely manner.