A good cigar is a beautiful thing. The flavours of the tobacco leaves, which are essentially what a cigar consists of, are something to be savoured. It is true that – as with fine wine – a good cigar can improve with age. This is only true, however, if you store your cigars properly.
It’s important to remember that cigars originate in the Caribbean. A Cuban cigar, after all, is the ultimate cigar. This is why cigars will last longest and keep at their best in a humidor, which keeps them in a perfect state.
It’s easy to think of a humidor as a symbol of status, a bit like an expensive watch – nice, but not really necessary. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth: if you want to experience the true wonder of a good cigar, you need to keep it in perfect conditions, and that means investing in a humidor.
A cigar is a natural product. Fermented tobacco leaves are rolled into a tubular shape – some are long and thin, others wider and fatter – and then the cigar is set to mature. There’s a video here (and below!) of hand-made cigars being made. Of course, this is the traditional method that is used for the very best and finest cigars, and many are now made with a machine. These can also be very good cigars.
The cigar gets its flavours from the leaves, and from the natural oils that lay within. This is why a cigar – although it will feel dry and crispy – should never be allowed to dry out completely. Hence the need for a humidor.
How do you tell if a cigar is in good condition? We’ll talk in a moment about keeping your cigars at their best, but here’s a tip: take the cigar between your thumb and your finger, and gently squeeze it. If the leaves come back to shape when you let go, then the cigar has been well-kept. If the leaves crack, it’s too dry.
So why do you need a humidor? Is it just a case of looking the part?
Maturing a Cigar
Here’s the basic answer to the question at the head of this article: if you leave a cigar out in the open, whatever the weather, it’s very possible that it will dry out too much. The oils will seep through the leaves and will eventually evaporate. Also, it can be affected by bacteria, and surprisingly quickly – in a matter of a few days, in fact.
Given the price you will pay for fine cigars, this is not something you want to happen! This is why a humidor is not just for show; it’s an essential investment for anyone who wants to enjoy cigars at their best, and one you should look into very carefully.
Experts will tell you that the optimum time to mature a cigar is five years. Yet, this depends entirely on the cigar itself, where and how it is stored, and how long you want to wait before smoking your cigar! There is, after all, a vast difference between a standard cigarette – an everyday smoke if you wish – and the cigar, which is a once in a while indulgence, and always a special occasion.
Choosing and Using a Humidor
So, what is a humidor? In short, it’s a box that is humidity controlled inside, that is intended for the safe and correct storage of cigars. Some are large cupboard-like devices, others are smaller boxes, designed for desktop use. They can be very attractive and – like the cigar cutter – are an essential part of the cigar aficionados kit.
You can – should you wish – spend a great deal of money on a humidor. You don’t need to, however, as there are good examples of the smaller kind that are reasonably priced, and that do the job. What you do need to do is ‘break in’ or condition your humidor before it is ready to use.
This involves the following steps:
- Follow the manufacturer’s advice as to how to add the fluid that will activate the humidifier. Do not follow any advice that tells you to wash the inside of the humidor as the wood – usually cedar – can be damaged by doing this. Always do as instructed by the maker.
- Place a cup of water in the humidor and set it to work. This will slowly infuse the humidor with the humidity required for it to do the job. Check in 24 hours, but expect it to take longer than that, perhaps a few days to get it right.
- You need to wait until humidity in the humidor reaches between 65% an 70%. You will need a hygrometer – a device that measures humidity – to do this accurately. We recommend you check out the different types of hygrometer before buying one, and learn how to use it properly as humidity is the key to perfect fine cigars.
- The time it takes to condition your new humidor will vary according to its size, and the climate where you are. In drier places, it can be sensible to use more than one humidifying unit in your humidor.
So, now you know the benefits of a humidor, what else can you do to keep your cigars in perfect condition?
Keeping Fine Cigars Correctly
To keep a fine cigar in top condition in your humidor, you need to be aware of three things: humidity, temperature, and air supply.
No matter how impressive your humidor is, it is essential to remember that there will be differences in the levels of all three of these factors in different places in the cabinet. This is why cigars should be turned at least once a month, in order that they all get the same level of humidification.
Furthermore, as the humidor is essentially airtight, you need to allow your cigars to be aired at least once every two weeks. This helps keep the humidor itself in top order, as well as the cigars.
64 to 70°F (18 to 21°C) is the optimum temperature range. Any lower and you will slow down – or in fact ruin – the natural ageing process, and any higher will simply rot the cigar, leaving you with an expensive and unusable product. As with fine wine, cigars need careful attention if you are to get the best out of them.
If you keep your cigars correctly in a humidor, you will find they last for many years. This means you can take one out every now and then and smoke it, and notice the flavours that are brought to the fore by ageing.
Enjoying Your Cigars
There is a sense of satisfaction in smoking a very fine Cuban cigar, one that has been correctly stored and aged. It simply feels right, and is an enjoyable smoke in every way. You will notice differences in flavour over the years and that’s just personal choice. While some people like to drink a young, fresh wine, others enjoy a more mature bottle, and it’s the same with cigars.
The simple rule to remember is this: if you leave a cigar out of the humidor for just a few days, you will find you may smoke a bitter, ruined and unsatisfactory cigar. Keep them well, follow the tips above, and you will get the full satisfaction that only a fine cigar can provide.