Many people who are new to cigar smoking have more familiarity with drinking fine wine. The ability to compare the two provides a frame of reference that makes cigars easier to understand. When talking about what grape varietal is used, we could easily substitute what kind of tobacco leaf. Knowing which country and region in which the grapes are grown is equally important in the cigar world. Lastly, wine connoisseurs often talk about particular vintages of wine, and how long they have aged. How does aging play a role in cigars, and are cigars better with age?
There’s one thing we know for certain: a bad cigar will not get better with age, but a good cigar can become even better if allowed to rest for months or even years. There is a reason the Fuente’s have coined their motto: “We will never rush the hands of time.” When cigars are aged, the natural oils and sugars in the tobacco continue to develop and mature, which can enhance a cigar’s flavor and aroma. The aging process can also help to smooth out any harshness or bitterness in the tobacco, making the smoke more mellow and enjoyable.
There is a distinction between tobacco aging and cigar aging. Tobacco aging occurs after air-curing and fermentation, when tobacco is first left to rest and age in small batches. According to The Tobacconist Handbook, “While filler and binder leaves are usually wrapped in sackcloth bundles, wrapper leaves receive extra care and can be wrapped in tercios.” Tobacco can be stored like this for many years before a single cigar is rolled. The Davidoff Royal Release, for example, uses tobacco that has been aged in bales for a minimum of 8 years, and the Padrons only age their tobaccos prior to rolling, not the rolled cigars themselves.
Cigar aging begins when the cigar has been rolled, and ends when the cigar is smoked. Each manufacturer determines when they believe their tobaccos and cigars have reached their optimal state and are ready to be sold in our store. To celebrate his 60th birthday, Rocky Patel blended the Sixty and let the cigars age for two years before they were released. With several different types of tobacco leaves in each cigar, aging them after they have been rolled gives those leaves time to marry and create something truly special. With some cigars, blends will become more bold with a few years of age, and with others, more mellow. Like with fine wine, there’s a tipping point. At some point, the cigar will have lost its intended flavor. Those fancy, expensive pre-embargo Cubans on the market? They may be a great conversation piece, but even if they’ve been well maintained, they might just be unsmokable. Could a 65 year old cigar really be better today than it was in 1962? You’ll have to be the judge…
If you have a humidor at home, aging is a fun experiment, as no one can really predict whether an aged cigar will be more bold, sweet, or mellow. If you really want to nerd out, bring a few cigars home, smoke one, and take note of the flavor and bouquet (as in, write down actual notes). Wait six months, smoke another and compare notes. Then wait a few years (if you can stand it) and make that final comparison.
There’s also an easier way: we’re fortunate to have a selection of several vintage Paul Garmirian (P.G.) cigars, dating back to as far as 2001. Getting to experience the difference between the Gourmet Series Belicosos rolled in 2015 versus 2001 is one of the joys of my job– and Dr. Garmirian did all of the work of properly storing and aging these cigars for us! I’ve also been fortunate to smoke both the Davidoff Royal Release Robusto that has tobacco aged over 8 years, and the Davidoff “Unbanded” Royal Release Robusto blended with the same aged tobacco but rolled 10 years ago. What I cannot answer is which vintage is better… there are nuanced differences, and everyone’s palate will dictate which they prefer.
It’s simply science that when properly humidified at correct temperatures, cigars will continue to release ammonia and impurities and oils will come through their wrappers. You’ll see our staff get downright giddy when we see a clear cellophane wrapper has taken on a brownish, yellow hue. Finding plume on a cigar is also an excellent sign of age— a white powder that some may mistake for mold is actually these very oils in a crystallized form. If it brushes off easily, it’s plume. Smoke and enjoy! (If it’s green or blue or won’t come off, over-humidification has unfortunately caused mold, and these cannot be saved.)
The key to proper aging is of course, the ideal environment. Stay tuned for our next post, which will be all about humidors. Until then, whether you’re smoking a cigar at an event that has been freshly rolled, or your favorite blend that you’ve tucked away in your humidor for 10 years, thank you for smoking!