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Smoke: Aged for the Discriminating

Richard Carleton Hacker

The possibility of a midlife crisis notwithstanding, aging can bring refinement—to us as well as our wines and cigars. And yet, while we are willing to cellar a California Cabernet for 10 years or longer, we feel compelled to open a box of cigars as soon as we get it home. But like fine wines—and most of us—premium cigars could benefit from a little more time alone.

To be sure, cigars have been aged before they reach the box. Having been cured in tobacco barns, then fermented in compost-like bales, and their tastes finally married as fully rolled cigars in cedar-lined aging rooms, these premium stogies are indeed ready to be smoked. But if the aging process is extended, their flavors often can be enhanced.

Although it takes a minimum of three weeks for the different tobaccos in the wrapper, binder, and filler of a finished cigar to meld together as though they were the spices in a simmering sauce, many cigar makers amplify this effect by aging their inventories for longer periods. Years ago, Cubans stored their cigars in cedar cabinets for a year or more, which improved their flavor and, consequently, their reputation. Today, in order to generate as much revenue as possible for the cash-starved country, some Havanas are boxed after only a few days. This produces the bitter taste of nicotine and ammonia—telltale characteristics of a green cigar.

By contrast, Fuente’s Don Carlos and OpusX cigars are aged for at least a year. Davidoff stores its cigars for a minimum of one year in warehouses located in Connecticut, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam, and because of shipping logistics, this aging process is often extended for as long as six months, as the boxed cigars continue to age en route to their destinations. And, of course, cigars age even more as they sit in a tobacconist’s humidor, which is why it is often best to select a box that has been on the shelf for a long period of time.
 
Upon bringing a box of cigars home, you should immediately remove the cellophane and then place the cigars in a humidor. Cellophane impedes the air (which is necessary for the aging process) from circulating through the cigar. The ideal humidor temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity should be maintained at 70 percent. Cooler temperatures arrest the aging process, which is why cigars stored in a wine cellar will age slowly, if at all.

Not all cigars age the same. Thicker leaves from higher primings (cuttings) on the stalk produce more flavor; thus, the effects of aging can often be more pronounced. Such is the case with the Ecuadoran wrapper of the Ashton VSG. The leaf produces a dark, oily cigar that can be tempered with further aging. Extra time in the humidor also refines the taste of the Partagas Black Label’s dark, sun-grown Connecticut wrapper. Additional aging of lighter-hued, shade-grown Connecticut wrappers, including tobaccos used for the Macanudo Vintage, results in a mellowing of the flavors. Although initially mild and creamy, the Macanudo’s taste still can be enhanced.

Be aware that some cigars, like wines, will peak after extended aging and then lose their flavor, especially if their natural oils evaporate. But when properly stored over a period of years, premium cigars can yield their maximum smoking pleasure, proving that a little extra aging can be time well spent.

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