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Maintaining the aromas of cigars

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Davidoff Château Haut-Brion from 1982

Some of us are familiar with the problem: storing cigars in a humidor and after some time, the aromas seem to have disappeared. At first, this only affects the bouquet (olfactory perception); with cigars stored for a longer time, the abscondence of aroma can also be noticeable through a flat smoke. If you look online for advice you’ll find the glorious recommendation from times of old that you should place half an apple, a glass of rum, a piece of soap, or some pipe tobacco in the humidor. It’s well known that taste can be the subject of debate; aromas, certainly, too. However, such recommendations are not, under any circumstances, instructions that one should heed without testing. So let’s refrain from recommendations that try to compensate for the problem by superimposing foreign aromas. Let’s take a look at which influential factors are really significant for preserving the bouquets and the aroma. A long time ago, I tasted old cigars in a fun round, which included Cubans, Davidoffs, and Dunhills … Shortly after lighting them, there were comments like, “Tastes like hot air,” or “I can’t taste anything.” This initial frustration was followed by a second glass of rum … and that was the end of the tasting. My thoughts on this: when tasting matureaged specimens, great attention is required. You can’t expect a flavor explosion with cigars that are decades old. I’m of the opinion that we cigar lovers are increasingly losing the ability to perceive and appreciate the finesse of fine aromas. For the simple reason that we’re consuming cigars that are becoming increasingly more robust. Not every cigar improves through the aging process. There are cigars that, at some point, will almost completely lose their aroma, as I recently established with a Cuban Davidoff No. 1. Now, even decades ago, this cigar was not known for its abundance of aromas. If a cigar is more than 40 years old, the smoking experience is rather disenchanting. Quite the contrary to the Davidoff Chateau series. When, at the end of 2017, I was building a humidor on a museum ship in the Hamburg port, a box of Davidoff Chateau Haut-Brion 1982 was proffered for its inauguration. My goodness! We smoked that cigar until our fingernails glowed. Right up to the end, it was a perfect treat. It is evident that full-flavored cigars are generally better for aging than mild ones. In its first few years post-production, a Fonseca No. 1 has astonishingly complex aromas, despite its mildness. Personally, my feeling is that, now with a box from the year 2006, the cigar doesn’t develop positively – its aroma is flatter. On the other hand, I initially considered the Romeo y Julieta Robusto Edición Limitada 2001 to be an unsmokeable cigar. Only several years later did the cigar undergo an incredible development, and today it’s a treat. In my opinion, the composition of the cigar is very significant – that is, the ratio of volado or viso, seco and ligero leaves. Several years ago, I had 12 cigars rolled at a rolling event. Three of them according to an original recipe of the roller; three with the same proportions of volado, albeit with less seco and more ligero; three other cigars with more seco than ligero; and the last three with a very high ratio of seco and a medium amount of ligero. So, if one now considers that the ligero is primarily responsible for the strength of a cigar and the seco for the spice and aroma part, the result of the cigar development is illuminating. After about five years, the cigar with high seco and little ligero content was not particularly strong, but had a very intense aroma in the smoke. The cigar with more ligero and less seco did have a certain penetrative power, but the aromas were not selectively discernible. Either due to the superimposition of the ligero, or no longer present due to the low content of seco.

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The variety of tobacco types in a cigar are crucial

INDIVIDUAL STORAGE OR BOX-STORAGE
While we consumers have no influence over the composition and the structure of a cigar, we can pull out all the stops with storage. Because, in my opinion, the biggest influence on obtaining or losing the bouquet of a cigar is the individual storage or box-storage. If cigars are stored separately in a humidor for longer periods, you will notice a much stronger loss of aroma than if the cigars are stored in their box in a humidor. The reason is obvious. Each time that the humidor is opened the cigars are exposed to fresh air and the aroma accumulated in the humidor escapes. By contrast, if the cigars are stored in the box, the incoming fresh air cannot directly reach the cigars. Try the following test: Take a few cigars out of their box and store them individually in the humidor. Keep the rest in the box and age them together with as little fresh-air supply possible. Then smoke both cigars in parallel after a few years. You’ll be amazed. “But one should regularly ventilate the humidor,” is anchored in the minds of many. This recommendation, and I can only repeat it, is due to the fact that passive humidification systems are unable to avoid over-humidifying the humidor, and through ventilation, the surplus moisture from the humidor can escape. But ventilation is, in itself, absolutely counterproductive.

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Combined boxes and individual storage in a humidor

TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY
A factor that continues to amaze me is the fact that, in an environment of 16 to 18°C (approx. 60 to 64°F), a cigar does not significantly keep the bouquet longer than if it is stored at 22 to 25°C (approx. 72 to 77°F). One would actually think that escaping substances dissipate faster at high temperature than at lower ones. Strangely, one can’t determine this with a cigar. On the contrary. Storing cigars for longer periods at temperatures below 14 to 15°C [approx. 57 to 59° F] (even at the correct humidity level), the cigar will lose its bouquet. And even if takes on normal room temperature afterwards. This is remarkable, but it’s still fixed in our minds that a lower temperature should be conserving and sustaining. This, de facto, does not apply to a cigar. This is the result of numerous experiments for the Habanos Days Germany (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018). For this, I had the same cigars stored differently for two years. Chilled cigars, alongside the ones stored with strongly fluctuating humidity, were always the losers in the evaluation. If the humidity is too high, the cigar can begin to smell musty, but largely retains its tobacco aroma. If it is then slowly brought to the correct humidity level (12 to 13 weight percentage of water and stored in a humidor with a relative humidity of approx. 70%), the musty smell disappears and the tobacco aromas come back to the fore. The situation is quite different when the cigar dries out. Even a few weeks of storage at a humidity of less than 50 to 55% will cause a massive, irreversible loss of flavor. With the above-mentioned tastings, I did, however, ascertain something interesting. There are certainly cigar smokers who describe the taste of a once dried-out cigar as pleasant. Here, of course, the delicate aromas have completely had it after such a drying ordeal. We all know that tobacco is dried after the harvest, and one asks oneself why the drying of a cigar should be connected to the loss of aroma – when the drying of the raw tobacco does not cause it. Well, the drying of raw tobacco does not occur under uncontrolled circumstances at extreme dryness, but at an ambient humidity level of 50 to 80 percent. At this time, the tobacco is not yet fermented. After fermentation it is stored and continues to lose further moisture. But it never dries out completely. On the contrary, the tobacco in the compressed bales has a water content of 18 to 25%. A finished, cigar, stored correctly, has a water content of around 13%; that is, much less.

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Tobacco drying after the harvest at altering humidity

CONCLUSION
In order to preserve the bouquet of your favorite cigars for as long as possible, I recommend the following:
1.) Over longer storage periods, keep cigars in their boxes, if possible.
2.) Expose the cigars to as little fresh air as possible, but also don’t store them in an airtight environment.
3.) Keep a constant humidity level of approximately 70%.

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Marc André is a passionate cigar smoker and humidor manufacturer. He has developed various humidification technologies for humidors, consults on and creates special humidor series and custom orders, and is in high demand as a lecturer on topics like cigar storage and humidor construction. His website, www.humidorbau.de, features his 100%-made-in-Germany Century series, which offers a range of professional solutions to cigar storage – from small table humidors to aging cabinets.


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