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You know the taste of a well-aged cigar: that subtle complexity, that certain “je ne c’est quois,” that light kiss of tobacco flavor left gently lingering. Aging is often what makes a good cigar a great one. Cigars change as they age. Some prefer cigars young and fresh while others appreciate a mellower, more experienced cigar. To those who prefer the flavor of aged cigars, here are some tips and tricks to guide you along your cigar aging journey!
Generally speaking, aging makes for a smoother, richer cigar. Aging does not necessarily make a cigar better, but simply “rounder,” producing a mellower character thanks to tobaccos that have been allowed to marry and meld. If any of you have had a cigar that was particularly sharp or harsh and then tried the same cigar a couple of months or even a few weeks later after some TLC in your humidor, you more than likely noticed a mellower taste and strength.
Another characteristic of an aged, properly fermented cigar is typically a more even, gentler burn and draw, whereas a fresher cigar will sometimes burn unevenly and have a more challenging draw. Simply “laying cigars down” in your humidor can give the cigar time to dry out and the tobacco will loosen up considerably, allowing the tobaccos to marry and blend to create a more refined taste. A friend of mine buys boxes and bundles not to smoke right away but to age in his humidors, and as a matter of policy won’t touch them for at least a year. That’s patience. But when he hands out those prized smokes, it proves that patience truly is a virtue... you can’t buy that kind of aging.
The amount of time you age your cigars is a matter of personal preference. In general, age them at least a year for optimum effect. Of course, some low-quality cigars won’t see much improvement with aging – remember "garbage in, garbage out.” However, keep in mind that some cigars after aging will have pleasantly rich flavors, even though now they smell like a dumpster – much the same way that good wines for aging are too tannic to drink when young.
But certain cigars are just naturally better suited for aging. An example is larger ring-gauge cigars. The thicker the cigar, the greater the variety of tobacco leaves and hence, the more complex the final flavor of the aged cigar will be. The insides of larger cigars tend to be somewhat shielded from the outside environment, and less apt to be affected by fluctuations in humidity and temperature. This added stability that larger cigars provide is highly desirable for long-term aging.
The environment in which your cigars are stored is crucial. Follow the usual 70-70 rule for temperature and humidity. Any more and your cigars will get moldy; any less and the aging process begins to be stunted. Maintaining a stable environment for your cigars is key – a constantly fluctuating environment can be disastrous. Swings in temperature and humidity cause cigars to expand and contract, cracking their wrappers and may disrupt the aging process. Ideally, the space in the humidor should be about twice the volume of cigars. The lining should be cedar – cedar wood is a highly aromatic wood, full of its own oils. With the passage of time, the interaction of the tobacco oils internally and with the cedar of the wood leads to a mellowing and blending of flavors. This results in that subtle complexity you can only get from proper aging.