The Big Idea: Cigars Made With Ultra-Aged Tobacco Leaves
No one wants to hear they’re getting older. But in the cigar-making world, age has recently taken on a new—and far more positive—dynamic. We now want our cigars, and the tobaccos from which they’re made, to have a little time in the rearview.
Of course, the aging process begins as soon as tobacco leaves are harvested. First they’re dried, then sorted by type, size and color; once categorized, they’re stacked into piles called pilónes (or “pylons”), where a compost-type fermentation takes place. After being put into bales and aged further, the brittle tobaccos are brought back to life with water mist, making them pliable enough to be rolled into cigars.
But aging a cigar is a step further still. Different tobaccos age differently, as do various cigar shapes. The Fuente Companies’ owner and chairman, Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr., takes great pride in the different aging rooms, for different styles, at the company’s factory in Santiago, in the Dominican Republic. Short, thick Hemingways are aged in open-ended cedar bins, for example, while the OpusX cigars pass the time in closed cedar mini-vaults. No matter the technique, aging finished cigars merges and mellows the qualities of their various tobaccos.
Cigar makers are using that process to creative advantage. Many of our Best of the Best picks feature notably well-aged tobaccos: The Partagás Limited Reserve Decadas 2019 is characterized by its 10-year-old Cameroon wrapper, while the Cohiba Spectre was inspired by the rediscovery, in 2016, of tobacco bales that had been aging anywhere from 4 to 16 years. And although Fuente is announcing its newest smokes this month (too late for this year’s Best of the Best consideration), we know the brand’s Santiago warehouses contain certain leaves that have been aging for more than a decade. Some of them may well show up in special Fuente releases later this year.
Which brings us to limited editions, which by their very nature contain ultra-aged tobaccos. Five of our nine Best of the Best selections this year are limited productions, which is not surprising considering the FDA will now require market approval for any brands not in existence before February 15, 2007. Due to this new regulation, it’s possible limited editions may cease to exist in any real sense, as most are meant for the US market. (The exceptions are Cuban cigars, since Cuban manufacturers have their own lines of limited editions for the rest of the world.)
The good news is that aged tobaccos have finally come of age, as it were. With tobacco growers opening up new areas to plant seeds, and with the development of hybrid tobaccos adding to the promise of even more diversified flavors, the variety of aged tobaccos in superlative cigars has never been so vast as it is now. Or as satisfying.