A few years ago, Gary Manelski (our Cigar Guide here at About.Com) wrote a series of articles about aging cigars, and reported on a great test study that he did with Flor de Oliva bundles. In those 16 articles, Gary explained the process of aging cigars at home in your humidor, and tracked the way in which the cigars smoked over time.
We are now revisiting this topic, since a lot of cigar smokers I have met are now trying more and more of the bargain bundles available from online stores and their local tobacco shops. Almost everyone's tobacconist has a bundled cigar out now, and all of us cigar connoisseurs want to get the most from our $2 sticks, and aging them is about the only option we have once we get them home. There is just no amount of good coffee, wine or scotch that can turn a bad cigar into a good one (although it can really help out an average cigar, but that is another article). I will now lead you to yet another article that Gary and I have been updating which is our Top 10 List of Cheap Cigars, which includes a number of the best bargain bundles.
Okay, so what is the secret? No, it is not pairing it with a good beverage, even though that can help, nor is it ‘dipping’ the end of the cigar into that beverage (which I have done for a variety of reasons… again, not in this article). The secret is not a secret at all, and most of us know it and do it…. It is using your home humidor to bring some moisture back into those cigars after they have made a very long journey from the tabacaleras all over the world to your home.
Aging is actually one of the most critical aspects of a cigar's overall flavor and burn. All of us know and expect the premium cigars that we purchased have been aged for some time at the tabacaleras after they have been rolled. The purpose of this is to properly dry the cigar so we are not smoking wet and possibly moldy tobacco. Yes, the tobacconist and the distribution warehouses will keep the cigars in a humidity controlled environment, but that really does very little to the individual stick that is probably shipped in a cello wrapper, and then in the case of the bundles, another cello wrapper around the entire bundle. This does keep some of the moisture in, but not nearly enough. As a good scientist, I know that moisture seeks equilibrium, and no matter how much moisture is inside that wrapper, there is usually less outside, and henceforth, cigars have a tendency to dry out during shipping and storage. This is why it is important to let the bundle cigars you have purchased (and are hoping to enjoy) rest up a bit in your humidor and regain some of that needed moisture. How long you age the cigars in your humidor is going to be a trial and error process. Some will improve a lot after a week or two, but others may take several months.
Many humidors will have a small hygrometer inside or mounted on the outside to show the relative humidity in which your cigars are sitting. I have both on my humidor; an analogue meter on the glass door and a digital one inside, which also shows the temperature. My humidor is also a drawer type, which from my experience, allows the moisture to evenly distribute. In the photos you will see that the digital is slightly different than the analogue, and that my humidor is a bit on the dry side. With only 20% humidity in New Mexico at certain times of the year, it is difficult to keep my humidor much above 60%, but anywhere between 60% and 80% is a good level. Above 80% and you will start getting a really wet cigar that will not stay lit, and below 60%, the cigar will be quite dry and the wrapper will probably crack and split on you. The type of humidification system you use will also vary. I prefer a system of hydroscopic crystals that can be recharged once a month.
The aging and re-humidification process will do many things to improve the smokability of those bargain bundles. One is bringing moisture back into the tobacco of course, and the rest is easy after that. Your cigars will stabilize, smoke better, burn more evenly, and hopefully be more flavorful. There is a point at which you will no longer improve on the cigar in that bundle, as shown in Gary’s series on the aging of the Flor de Oliva’s. Remember, it is still a bundle cigar, and probably will never smoke as well as a Padron 64 or a Camacho Liberty, but it will help those $2 sticks behave closer to ones that you have easily paid 3 and 4 times more for.
Okay, I will admit it, dipping the end of a cheap cigar into a good scotch does improve the cigar, but consuming scotch while I am smoking usually improves my general outlook on everything (LOL).