Cigar Guide Part IV: Storage & Humidors

Why do premium cigars need to be kept in a humidor?
A premium cigar, by definition, is handmade and in most cases, constructed with long-filler tobacco. It is 100% pure tobacco leaves throughout its construction. Unlike cigarettes or machine made cigars, they have no chemicals that are added that will keep them from drying out. Therefore, they must be stored at the correct humidity level to preserve its moisture content, or they will dry out and crumble.

What are characteristics of a good humidor?
There are several key points that all good humidors share. It is important that you chose the right one in order to protect your precious and delicate cigars. First, is the interior lining. It should be made of Spanish cedar. A very small percentage of humidors on the market use a mahogany interior as an acceptable alternative. The next important feature to look for is the seal between the lid and the rim of the box. It should be a tight seal, but it can not be purely airtight. Lids that are very heavy, relative to the rest of the box, help to promote a sufficient seal. An indicator of a good seal is when the lid is closed you should feel / hear a small whoosh. Another critical element to look at is the hinges on the lid. They must be heavy duty, and be secured with good anchoring. Often, as described earlier, the lids can be very heavy, and the hinging must be sturdy enough to support the stress that a heavy lid will put on them. Often, people will say that the most critical part of a humidor is the humidification element. However, I disagree. It is actually the only component than can actually be replaced, therefore, it is more important to have good seals and hinges, for without them, even the best humidification element will not keep the cigars in peak condition. These key features are what make a humidor.

What are some other features that a humidor can have>
There are several "options" that your humidor can have. For example, some have locks, which would prevent people in your office or home from snatching your stash without your permission. Other humidors have handles. These not only look elegant, but will aid you when you are moving the humidor from your beach house back to your winter home. Other important options that a humidor can have is shelves and dividers. These help you organize your cigars and keep different brands separated.

What are the do's and don'ts when holding or feeling a cigar?
Premium cigars are delicate and require care when handling. They can be damaged by squeezing, pinching, or dropping them. The two ends are the most susceptible to damage. The rounded, or closed end (nearest to the cigar band), is called a cap. The cap can be split if it is squeezed too tightly. The best place to hold a cigar is anywhere in its middle section, at least 1 inch away from the ends. How should premium cigars be stored? Back to Top The cigars must be kept at 70-72% humidity level to prevent them from drying out. This is best achieved by keeping them in a humidor. The humidor should have a Spanish cedar lining, to enhance the aroma and promote the aging of the cigar. If you are on a budget, there are cigar jars, made of glass, that will do an adequate job. If you are really in a pinch you can use Tupperware, or a similar style food storage container. All of these storage devices must have a humidification element that releases moisture into the storage chamber.

Must I use distilled water in my humidification element?
Yes. Other than the initial charge of humidor solution, use only distilled water. Tap water and bottled spring water contain minerals that will collect and slowly "cake-up" on both the device and the interior of the humidor. These minerals turn into a whitish/tan crust, and eventually, will clog the pores of the humidification device and destroy the effectiveness of the humidor. Additionally, some tap waters often have a slight odor, that will taint the aroma of the cigars when compounded over months or years.

What is Humidor Solution?
Humidor Solution, or Activator Solution as it is sometime called, is a 50/50 mix of distilled water and propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is a colorless innocuous liquid that has two favorable characteristics for the use in humidors. First of all the formation of mold as well as bacteria is actively prevented. Secondly, propylene glycol forms a thin layer on the surface of the humidifier, which absorbs humidity at humidity levels of over 70% humidity and which supplies humidity at humidity of less than 70%. This way the humidifier becomes a self-adjusting humidifier and will automatically stabilize the humidity level at an optimum level of approx. 70%. As distilled water evaporates substantially faster than the propylene glycol part, the humidor should be refilled exclusively with distilled water. This special propylene glycol solution should only be applied when setting up your new humidor or when the humidity level in the humidor suddenly drops. Depending on the outside temperature this is usually once every 3-6 months. Under no circumstances should the solution be used more frequently and never exclusively. If you do, the humidifier will become saturated with propylene glycol solution and will not be able to absorb more water and thus the humidifier becomes useless.

Is my humidor supposed to be airtight?
No. The exchange of air is critical to the storage of cigars, as it will prevent mold growth. A completely airtight system, kept at 72% humidity, would grow mold very quickly and destroy the cigars. High quality wooden humidors, even with seemingly airtight seals, have an exchange of air because they are made of wood, which is a porous material. However, a poorly made one will have a seal that is too loose and allow the moisture to escape rapidly, thus resulting in dried out cigars. If you chose to keep your cigars in Tupperware or glass jars, it is critical that you open them at least once a week to refresh the air. How do I set up my humidor for the first time? Back to Top When most people get their new humidor home, they are anxious to fill it up with their collection of smokes. If you do this without first re-humidifying the wood, you may ruin your cigars. Why? The wood has not had a chance to reach its equilibrium. So when you put your cigars in, the wood will absorb their moisture and you will be left with dry useless cigars. Not exactly the reason you bought a humidor, huh? To solve this problem, all humidors should be re-humidified before their first use. Re-humidifying your humidor is easy, just follow these simple steps: Place a shallow container filled with distilled water or activator solution in the bottom of the humidor Place calibrated hygrometer inside humidor Charge your humidification device Place humidification device inside humidorYou have to check the relative humidity every day. Depending on a number of factors this can take a few days to a few weeks. When you get in the 70 range it is safe to store you smokes inside. As long as you constantly recharge your humidification device you will never have to wait to store your cigars again. Some people suggest wiping down the inside of the humidor with a moist cloth to speed up the process. NEVER DO THIS! Under no circumstances do you want to get the wood wet as that may cause it to warp or crack, thus rendering the humidor useless.

What happens to a cigar that was left out of the humidor?
The answer depends on the environment that the cigar was exposed to and what protection the cigar had. Cigars often come with an individual plastic sleeve that surrounds them. This plastic protects the cigar from drying out for short periods of time. For example, on the ride home from a cigar store. A cigar with this sleeve that has been out of the humidor for a few hours, or even a day, will be not be drastically affected by the change in humidity. However, without this sleeve, the cigar, under low humidity conditions, can be ruined in as little as 45 minutes. These guidelines are only approximations, and it is strongly recommended that you protect a cigar by keeping it in a plastic bag until you can get it to the humidor. Do not tempt the fates.

What if the cigar has been left unhumidified for longer than a day? For example, say a few days, a week, or even a month?
After a day or so, the cigar will begin to dry out. It can be restored by putting it back in the humidor and leaving it untouched. It will revive itself over time. Generally, it takes about 2-3 times longer for a cigar to regain its moistness as it did to lose it. For example, if a cigar was out of a humidor for 2 days, it may take 4, 5, or 6 days to recover, depending on the humidity of the environment it was exposed to. When attempting to revive the cigar in a humidor, it should put it as far away from the humidification device as you possible. Leave it undisturbed for as long as you can, and then you can slowly move it closer, until you deem it in a smokeable condition. It is most important to handle the dry cigar very gently. Remember, it is merely a leaf. If pinched, squeezed or dropped on the floor, its wrapper leaf may flake, crack, or split. Very little can be done to save it once this happens.

Can a dry cigar be dipped in water, sprayed with misted water, or put into a steamy bathroom to speed up its recovery?
Never. The cigar filler will burst through the outer wrapper leaf if the humidity changes this rapidly. The only procedure known to work is for it to reabsorb the moisture of the humidor very slowly.

How are cigars protected during shipping? Why don't they dry out if it takes more than a day to transport them?
The cigars are protected from humidity changes during shipping because they are bulk wrapped in protective layers of plastic, which retards the moisture's escape.

Is temperature control an issue? Can they be stored in a refrigerator, third floor attic or a basement?
Temperature is only a factor in the extremes. Too much heat (sustained above 80 degrees for 3-4 days or longer) may invite a beetle infestation. This is the same type of bug that would invade pasta, cereal, raisins, and breads. Great care must be taken to prevent the cigars from being placed near a heat source, where this infestation is invited. On the other side of the spectrum, too much cold will dry out the cigars. Cold air is devoid of humidity and pulls moisture out of things that have it. This is why lips get chapped and skin dries out in the winter months. The same holds true for the cigars. Any home or office that maintains a temperature control between 60 and 75 degrees provides a suitable environment for cigars. The colder the room is, the more frequent the humidification device will need to be recharged with water. Storing cigars in the fridge or freezer is not recommended for two reasons. First, you must use a completely airtight container to prevent them from drying out. If the seal fails, or you accidentally do not tighten it completely, you have sentenced the cigars to a merciless death. Secondly, even if you have a good seal, the cold temperature will suspend the maturing and aging of the cigar, which although is not harmful, is not productive.

Should I remove the plastic sleeves when I put the cigars into my humidor?
In general, if you are "laying down" the cigars to age for any period of time, you should take the sleeves off and allow the cigars to lay next to each other. They will pick up the natural aroma of the Spanish cedar, which will make them age better. I only leave the sleeve on if I know the cigar will be "moving out" quickly, and I want it to be protected on its next journey.

Why do experts recommend aging cigars in a humidor before they smoke them?
Seasoned cigar smokers feel that aged cigars taste better. The long term exposure to the Spanish cedar enhances the flavor of the cigar. Also, many cigars, usually of the stronger variety, will improve, as the oils bloom through to the surface of the wrapper. Many cigars are just fine when you buy them, and it is not a hard and fast rule that all cigars should be aged. However, all cigars will benefit from at least a few weeks or months in your personal humidor. If you plan on laying down the cigar for a long period, separate different brands with cedar dividers or the cedar sheets that often come in the boxes. This will prevent the cigars from tainting each other with their distinct aromas.

What does Bloom mean?
Bloom is a grayish fuzz that can appear on a well aged cigar. It is not mold, and it is completely harmless. It is a residue from the fermenting oils within the cigar, and is indicative that you have ideal storage conditions. You can identify it as bloom if it easily wipes off if you brush it gently with your finger. If you can not easily remove it, and it is more of a white color, it is probably mold.

What causes mold? What do I do if I see it? Mold will grow if the humidor is too moist. You must always be conscious of how much water you are adding to the humidification device. Mold will not grow quickly, so there are 2 signs that you can look for that will indicate that you are heading in a bad direction. The first indicator is damp, soggy cigars. These will be hard to smoke, and may even hiss or burst as you smoke them. The second sign is a foul, musty odor that greets you when you open the humidor. If you notice either of these symptoms you should cut back on the amount of water you are adding to the element, regardless of what your hygrometer (if you have one) says. It is probably not calibrated and is giving a false reading. If you spot mold on a cigar remove it immediately from the humidor, as it will spread to others.

What is the Tobacco Beetle?
The dreaded beetle is a tiny little bug that will infest tobacco. You may see the beetle, about the size of a large grain of sand, crawling around your precious stogies. Often, though, you may not see the actual beetle, as it can crawl within any one of your smokes and hide undetected. However, there are two telltale signs that you have been infested. The first, is that you will notice that small holes have been bored through the cigars. These holes are about the same size as if you punctured the cigar with the end of a paperclip. The second signature is the nasty bug will leave piles of small charcoal colored sand in the humidor. This is beetle excrement. This stuff is often accumulated inside the cigar too, and if smoked, will leave a harsh bitter taste in your mouth. The burning aroma will also be very unpleasant. Your spouse or roommates will perceptively remark, "what the hell are you smoking, s...?" Unfortunately, they will have nailed it right on the head.

How did the Tobacco Beetle get into my humidor?
The beetle has been hatched from eggs that came hidden on one of your cigars. They can hatch whenever the ambient temperature of the cigars rises above 80 degrees and is sustained for a few days. These extremely tiny eggs were laid on the leaves while the plant was still in the fields. They are undetectable, and therefore, unremovable during the any part of the processing and handling. These eggs may exist within every cigar in your collection, or none at all. The guilty cigar can be the most expensive prestigious brand you own, or the cheapest. The bug is not brand conscious or prejudiced, all cigars taste good to the beetle.

What can be done to prevent the Tobacco Beetle from infesting my stash, and what can I do if they have already stricken?
Fortunately, these bugs do not like freezing cold temperatures. You can place the cigars in the freezer for 4 days. The freezing cold temperature will kill off all the bugs and its larvae. However, there is a strict procedure that must be adhered to in order to prevent the complete ruination of your collection. First, take all the cigars and place them in airtight plastic bags. If there is even the slightest gap in the seals the cigars will lose all humidity and be destroyed. I repeat this procedure twice more, so that the cigars are protected by three layers of plastic. Place the package in the freezer and leave it there for 4 days. Meanwhile, you can thoroughly wipe down the inside of the humidor (using distilled water, of course). Make sure there are no little critters hiding in the corner. Once the 4 days have passed, take the package out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. Be very careful when handling the package, as the cigars will be very brittle. After this time in the fridge, take them out and let them warm up to room temperature. This will take at least 4-6 hours. The larger the package, the longer it will take to get the core to rise to room temperature. Once this is done, you can now replace your sterilized smokes back into the humidor.

Can I freeze all incoming cigars as a preventative measure? Yes, I firmly believe in this procedure. As long as the procedure above was carefully followed and the cigars were not directly exposed to the freezing air, you will not have a problem. Many will scoff at the procedure, as they do not want to be bothered with the time and effort. However, if you have ever lost a batch of 8 year old cigars that you were saving for just the right occasion to these merciless creatures, the precaution is no trouble at all.

How do you know where the cigar is from, if it is made from tobaccos of different countries?
A cigar's country of origin is classified by where it was rolled, regardless of where the wrapper, binder, or filler is from. Typically, the filler tobacco is usually grown in the same country as where the cigar is made. This is not an absolute rule, as cigars rolled in the US, (typically, Miami or Tampa regions) must import all of their filler. Another exception is Honduran and Nicaraguan cigars, as their native grown fillers are often too harsh to be used exclusively, and are typically blended with Dominican filler in order to produce an acceptable smoke.

What are the different tools used to cut the cap ff the cigar?
There are several methods of cutting the cigar. Here are the most common accessories on the market.Cutters: A cutter is a guillotine style device used to slice the cap off of the cigar. It is the most common type, and is available as a single, double, and even triple blade. The single and double blades are the most common. Most double blades cutters are more expensive than the single blades, but they will last far longer, as they are self-sharpening. Most single blade cutters are disposable, and should be thrown away once they have stopped making a clean, sharp cut. If you buy an expensive gold or silver single blade cutter, be sure that the blade is replaceable, or else you will have just spent a lot of money on a disposable cutter.Scissors/Clippers: These scissor-action clippers work the same way that the double blade cutter does. However, they are not self sharpening, and can crush or tear the head off the cigar if they are not kept at peak sharpness. They do not fit comfortably in a pocket, and therefore the lack of portability makes them attractive for home use only.Wedge Cutter: These cut a "V" down the center of the cap, about an 1/8-1/4" deep. Typically, they work very well on thin (less than 40 ring size) and tapered (torpedo shaped) cigars. They do not give a clean cut on the thicker heads.Punch: A punch cuts a small circle into the cap. A well designed one can have an ejection spring to push out the cut tobacco. The punch does not work well on thin cigars. It works well on thick cigars, especially the oversized ones of 54 ring gauge or more. Often a guillotine cutter can not accommodate these mammoths. Also, the punch hole in these giants relieves you from having to put the whole cigar in between your lips, which can be uncomfortable on the jaw. Rather, you can "sip" the smoke through the punch opening.Poker/Piercer: This is a pin-like rod that just pokes a hole in the cap. It does not allow a good draw, which can cause the cigar to burn improperly, or provide its full flavor. It also causes a build up of bitter tars at its opening, once you have been smoking the cigar for a while. Therefore, a piercer is not recommended on anything larger than a short, thin cigar.

How do I carry my cigars around when I travel or just go out for the day?
You must protect the cigar in some fashion, as it will either dry out or get bruised. Here are the options you can chose which best suits your needs.Tubes: A tube will hold one cigar. If it has a good seal, it will protect it for many days or even weeks. They can be constructed of any type of material, ranging from plastic to platinum, and will be priced accordingly. Some even have tiny humidification devices built in, but this is not necessary for short term use. The only downside to these carrying tubes is that if your friend has one it means that he did not bring a cigar for you.Finger Cases: These are cases made from either leather, metal, wood, or plastic. They will have 2-4 "fingers" for the cigars. The leather models are soft cases, and are most often made from 2 telescoping pieces, that slide within each other. They are made for specific length cigars, but will often handle a variance of 1-1.5 inches more than they were designed for. Sometimes they have individual slots for each cigar, but these are not absolutely necessary. These cases will provide several hours of protection and are perfect for a night out. They are not heavy and will not show a bulge by weighing down your shirt or jacket pocket. The metal, wood, or plastic varieties are hard cases, providing more protection from both the elements and from being crushed. However, they are bulky, will pull down on your clothing, if they even fit into the pockets. They are more suited for carrying in a briefcase or golf bag. Elaborate ones can have miniature humidification devices, but these are only necessary if you want to insure the cigar's freshness for an extended period of time.Travel Humidors: Travel humidors are miniature humidors, complete with a humidification element. As the name implies, they are used when you need to take your smokes out of town. They will hold between 4 and 20 cigars, depending on size. They are made from wood, metal, plastic, or any combination of these materials. As this is a short term storage unit, a Spanish cedar lining is a nice cosmetic touch, but not an automatic prerequisite. There are many poorly designed models on the market, and you should look for the following features and pitfalls when considering the purchase. First and foremost, the seal must be a good one. The seal on travel size humidors should either have the same type of interlocking "lips" that a full size one has, or a gasket of some kind. You need to be confident that moist air is not escaping. Another important feature is the interior protection it offers for the cigars from being knocked around.

Will they continue to slam into each other or the walls of the unit?
Well designed ones will be built very thinly, so that you can only stack the cigars in one or two layers, thus minimizing the potential for damage. Good alternatives to keeping the cigars in place have grooves cut into them (usually molded plastic), foam egg cushions, or straps that act as seatbelts. These features are useful, but not completely necessary, as you can always put some balled up bubble wrap into a half filled humidor to prevent them from jostling. This is not exactly elegant, but extremely functional. The last key factor when examining a travel humidor is its strength. You want the unit to stand up to external stress, without breaking. A good, functional travel humidor will have all of these features.
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