How long will a cigar keep?
I often get asked how long a cigar is good for... and well, the answer isn't really that simple. In this blog I will breakdown that question as best I can.
Firstly, it's all dependant on conditions. Much like anything natural, it's lifespan is based on its environment. For a cigar, it is the humidity that is the most impactful factor.
A good cigar can remain in 'smokable condition' FOREVER in the perfect conditions, but that doesn't mean the cigar is not 'past-it' either. And in bad conditions, a cigar can be ruined in as little as a week.
Let's dive into it a bit further.
The two basic primary ingredients in a cigar are tobacco and water. The leaves that make up a cigar are humidified. Because moisture is integral to any handmade premium cigar, it must be maintained up until the moment you smoke it. When a cigar is dried out, its construction, taste, and consistency are negatively impacted. A similar result will also occur if a cigar is over-humidified.
The optimal conditions for storing cigars are 70% humidity and 21 degrees, but ranges of 65-72% humidity and 18-25 degrees are acceptable. Fluctuation is expected due to season and climate changes, however, keeping that fluctuation to a minimum is key. That’s why a good humidor is important if you plan to start a cigar collection. Without a humidor, consider a handful of convenient alternative methods for achieving a consistent relative humidity and temperature for your cigars. You can store cigars in a Ziploc bag or in a sealed Tupperware container, as long as you have a humidification source, like a humidity pouch.
In much of New Zealand we are actually quite lucky as our climate is fairly 'friendly' to cigar storage, especially in places like Auckland where it is humid. In the deep south where I am the winter can be a challenge but as long as you keep an eye on the temp and humidity and adjust accordingly, it will work.
So how does humidity actually effect the cigar and what can you do if it has been effected?
The most common reason cigars go bad is because they are left out of a humidified environment for days on end. They dry out much faster than you would imagine and if you try to smoke a dry cigar you will not be in for an enjoyable time. This is why travel humidors are so important too! you might think taking a stack of sticks away with you for a week long holiday in a plastic container is ok, but without the Boveda packs you could wreck them by the end of your trip.
If you have cigars currently that have been out of the perfect conditions for a little while, the good news is that you can re-humidify them. Place them in a humidified environment, such as humidor with sufficient humidity, and they can gradually be brought back to life, but this process can take several weeks, or even months. The key here is that dry cigars need gradual humidity. Exposing dry cigars to too much moisture quickly will shock them.
Also, keep in mind, there is a point of no return, when a cigar is simply too dry to be resuscitated. If the wrapper leaf is flaking off or crumbling like a potato chip, you will likely have less success re-humidifying your cigar.
Excessive humidity can damage cigars, too. Some cigar lovers believe that softer, or “spongier” cigars are fresher. That is not the case. When cigars are stored in the range of 65-72% humidity, they will typically exhibit a softness that gives very slightly with a touch of pressure between your fingers. Cigars that are too soft, or squeeze too easily, are either under-filled, or too moist.
Pay attention to your cigars at the time of purchase. If you get your cigars from a reputable shop, they will be in perfect, humidified condition when you’re buying them. Essentially, those are the conditions you want to maintain.
Too much humidity can also produce mold, which can ruin your cigars, as well as your entire humidor.
Ok, so its sounding like, if we keep the cigars in optimum conditions they are perfect forever right? well... not quite.
The best way I can explain this next part is by using Wine as an example. The saying the a fine wine gets better with age, is in fact not the whole truth. Same with a good cigar.
If you have a great bottle of Pinot, it will last 20 yrs or more. BUT because it is natural, there is a time in which the drinking is perfect. Before that point it will be good or even great, after that point it will continue to get worst until the time where it is 'off' and no longer 'drinkable'
This is exactly the same for cigars.
Now, how long that is exactly will vary slightly based on the tobacco used and the... wait for it... conditions it is stored in! but in my experience it's usually somewhere around 7 years.
So I know a lot of you out there like to horde sticks (looking at you Simon...) and thats cool, ageing cigars is fantastic for them (and you) in terms of flavour and burn. But I would recommend dating you boxes or even the single sticks, rotating them often and keeping an eye on them. There is nothing worse than buying a fantastic cigar, ageing it for 7 years, then smoking it to find it past its prime and average to smoke.
Do cigars expire? No.
Do cigars go bad? Yes.
As a cigar ages, its flavour can improve, peak, mellow out, or even dissipate.
“Stale cigars,” however, are usually the result of too little or too much humidity.