This is a question many of us have asked ourselves at one time or another. Have you ever heard from a prominent reviewer that a tobacco product might be kind of rough, but could possibly get better with some aging? When tastemakers say it, you have to wonder if it’s true. After all, we want to enjoy the results of buying cigars online when they’re at their best. It would be a waste to fire up a premium cigar before it’s at peak smokability. Plenty of us have a good supply of cigars and are more than willing to wait if that’s what it takes to make a smoke session great.
So we’re here to break things down a bit.
Do you need to age cigars? Which ones?
The basic idea is that taking the time to age cigars can mellow them out a bit. For some of the harshest, spiciest, and most potent natural tobacco blends, this is a way to “tame the beast,” so to speak. You take something that has a lot of bite—that’s kind of out of balance—and bring it more into harmony with itself. The strident notes become more muted, allowing other aromas to shine a bit more.
This means that the best candidates for aging are cigars that are full strength and full flavor, but which don’t necessarily give an enjoyable experience. We all love a nice robust blend and are sometimes in the mood for a pepper and spice flavor bomb. But sometimes, when it just seems a little too unrestrained, we have to wonder if some aging would do the premium cigar some good.
The stogies with “big personalities” can handle it.
Milder tobacco products tend not to get as much out of aging as the stronger stogies, although this is not a hard and fast rule. Undoubtedly, there are folks out there who have discovered a 20-year-old box of Connecticut cigars and had the experience of a lifetime. However, as a guideline, the danger is that they might sort of wither away taste-wise and not develop much as time goes by. That said, experiment as much as you like when you pick up new cigars online. No rule says you can’t enjoy a subtle long-aged smoke of any kind!
What does aging do?
In chemical terms, most of what needed to happen has already happened by the time you buy cigars. Green natural tobacco leaves just harvested from the field would be sickening, primarily due to harsh compounds like ammonia which are still present. You might literally be throwing up if you light a leaf like that. So tobacco product manufacturers start by curing the green leaf and getting rid of these chemicals.
The process continues with fermentation, which further cleanses the natural tobacco leaf of off-putting compounds and leads to an earthy and sweet flavor profile that we all know and love. By the time a cigar gets to you, it’s usually smokable, but the question of aging is about bringing it to the “peak” experience. It’s true for a number of products, including wine, whiskey, and even cheese. Aging brings a product to its maximum sweet spot of enjoyability. For that reason, if a smoke seems kind of “raw,” you might want to let it rest a few months or even a year plus to see how it develops.
How do you age tobacco? How long should you age cigars?
You can age premium cigars in your humidor, and the same considerations apply as usual: humidity and temperature must be controlled within the usual ranges. Right around 70% humidity should be good and, when you order cigars online, this can keep them from baking in excess warmth which is helpful too. Essentially, don’t let your desktop humidor sit in a sunny spot in your smoking lounge.
As for cigar aging times, a few months should give you your first test. If things have improved, see what a year does. You can carry this experiment on for up to about five years. When you buy cigars, you’ll find many of the best chart-topping aged smokes on the market sit somewhere in this range of one to five years. The spikes of spice smooth out. The flavor strength levels off. And the aromatic notes marry and evolve into something more muted, but also more complex.
Beyond that, you’re getting into extensive aging. Some companies will deal in decades-old tobacco, like the Rocky Patel Vintage series, but most don’t go that far. There are also auction houses that sell stogies that go even further beyond, into 30, 40, and 50 years of aging (or more!). Cigar Aficionado will sometimes even bust out true classic varieties and give them a try just for funsies. Some have reported enjoying premium cigars at this venerable age, but for the most part, they’re on the decline somewhere in the multiple-decade zone.
The next time you get cigars online and find something a little overbearing, give it a time-out in the bottom layer of your humidor. Stash it somewhere under the tray and meet it again in a year or so. You just might find yourself completing the long journey of making a great smoke session. We’d love to hear from you once you’re done to find out if any of our favorite cigars improve with age, so please send a note or drop a comment if you give this cigar aging experiment a shot!