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From time to time a friend or acquaintance will state that a particular cigar seems “stale” and therefore not up to par. Time to set the record straight! Remember, cigars aren’t like bread or potato chips and therefore don’t go “bad” after a certain amount of time. Matter of fact, they more often improve with age, like wine, assuming proper storage.
If a cigar is dry, cracked, or falling apart, it is not due to the amount of time elapsed since they were rolled but because they were not properly humidified or were mishandled, or more often than not, swings in humidity have caused the tobaccos to expand and contract repeatedly. If the cellophane covering your cigars has a yellowish tint, be happy! In such cases you’ve won a virtual cigar lottery - often this is a stick that has been aging for several years in its box; and if properly humidified, is usually a gem of a smoke.
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 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.
Interested in systematically box-aging your own cigars? Duration of aging is a matter of preference. In general, lay them down for at least one year for optimum enhancement. Of course, some low-quality cigars won’t see much improvement with aging - “garbage in, garbage out” as they say. However, keep in mind that some cigars after aging will have pleasantly rich flavors, even though today they might smell like a dumpster - much the same way that good wines for aging are too tannic to drink when young.
Certain blends are just naturally better suited for aging. Larger ring-gauge cigars are one example. The thicker the cigar, the greater the volume of tobaccos and more complex final flavor. The insides of larger cigars tend to be somewhat shielded from the outside environment, 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.
On the other hand, since the wrapper is such a key element of a cigar’s taste, maduros are often a different story as aging may not significantly improve their taste. This is especially true of maduro-wrapped cigars which are “cooked” or “cured” to achieve the dark coloration of the wrapper and a distinctively strong, sweet flavor. In the cases of such non-natural curing, they have essentially been “fixed,” and thus any further benefits of aging have been stunted.
In short, be sure not to confuse these factors with “staleness.” More often than not, a little time will cure some ills.