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Humidors

Michael Frank
From the Print Edition:
bundle of cigars, Winter 92/93

(continued from page 2)

A good humidor is more than just a box. Like a cigar, a well-built humidor enhances many experiences, rewards its owner with keen and lasting memories, and provides him with many pleasures. But a poorly crafted humidor resembles nothing more than a box because at best it serves as a way station for cigars as they travel from the tobacco store to the smoker's mouth. Worse yet, a box alone will do little to protect cigars from drying out.

Cigars are not like, say, your old vinyl LP's--you cannot toss a cigar in a wine crate and then light up your favorite smoke as easily as you can spin an old, monaural Nat "King" Cole album on a turntable. Cigars are a natural, agricultural product, and will smoke poorly or wonderfully, depending upon their care. Unfortunately then, some amount of sweat and cash must be spent to correctly preserve cigars.

Ideally, a humidor should maintain a cigar at its peak of "smokability." This isn't simple, because a humidor should re-create the tropical or semitropical environment in which most cigar tobacco is grown. Makeshift tropical environments--like a steamy bathroom or a zippered plastic bag with a moist paper towel--don't work reliably.

A cigar is composed of multiple layers of tobacco. In an inconsistently humid environment such as a shower stall, the outside of the cigar will dry once the mist is cut off, but the inside of the cigar will still be damp; the inside "bunch" of tobacco will swell but the wrapper will contract and split open, destroying your investment.

The most crucial characteristic of a fine humidor is that it can provide a consistently tropical environment (about 68° to 70°F and 70 to 72 percent humidity). A constant humidity level will also increase your smoking pleasure; beyond providing proper burning speed, with less heat and therefore more flavor, a good humidor will not intrude upon your smoking pleasure with niggling details.

The components of a good humidor can be judged easily: A humidor should always be measured against its ability to provide constant humidity to its contents over a long period of time. And remember, this does not only mean how often you add water to the humidification system; it also means that 20 years from now the box lid hasn't warped and the hinges still open easily and quietly.

Starting from the inside of the box, look for details such as perfectly squared and fitted seams. You shouldn't see any glue or signs of construction, and a gap in any joint spells trouble: It provides an exit for moisture, and eventually warping will result. Cedar is the best wood for the inside of a humidor, because of its ability to enhance the aging process (allowing the various tobaccos in a cigar the chance to "marry" so that the cigar is not composed of distinct pieces of tobacco, but of subtle nuances of taste). The wood inside a humidor should be unvarnished, otherwise your cigars might very well taste like linseed oil.

The rim of the box should be constructed uniformly, with tight tolerances, so that the lid closes with the solid feel of a Mercedes-Benz car door. An inner lip, especially a lower one, will protect cigars from dry, outside air. In a box without a lock, this is all-the-more necessary, because only the weight of the lid will keep it shut tightly. A humidor lid should not close as tightly as a safe, to ensure the necessary circulation of air. Musty smells destroy cigars. The entire box should be balanced, both when left open or when closed (the last thing you want is to have your box tumble off the desk because the lid is too heavy or bounce when the unit is opened).

A perfectly constructed box is worthless if it has no means of providing humidity. At one time old apple cores were thought to do this nicely, but modern humidification systems will prove more reliable (though, as the survey below yields, some humidifiers are more "modern" than others). Most humidifiers rely on some variety of sponges, chemical compounds or even plain bottles to provide moisture. Whatever the medium, remember that prime cigar aging demands constant humidity levels; always ask your tobacconist how often a humidification system needs refilling. Usually, humidor instruction manuals call for low maintenance, but a good rule of thumb is that you shouldn't think "I could have made this myself" when examining the unit's humidification system. And it is a given that any system should look as sturdy as the box it comes with.

Other practical features, in order of importance: a tray, which provides the owner with the option of storing cigars at more than one level, so that they are exposed to varying degrees of humidity (always place parched cigars on the bottom of the box first, where they will regain humidity slowly, then move them to the top shelf); slots or wells drilled into box sides, which allow a unit to breathe while preventing separation and warping of veneer; and lid magnets, for holding cutting instruments, are occasionally added to humidors. A hygrometer, while fancy-looking, is seldom accurate even in the most expensive desktop models.

Outside, the appearance of a humidor is entirely up to the individual. A deep, rich lacquer finish is beautiful and functional and should be judged as you would the finish of a dining-room table. Also, a felt bottom will serve as protection for both the box and the surface where it sits. Handles are often helpful additions, especially on larger units. Keep in mind that in a home or office, a humidor shouldn't overwhelm its surroundings--deciding where to put your new purchase before buying it might help you find a humidor that will both look good and function exceptionally well. If you made the right choice, 20 years from now when your son starts to covet your humidor, you will know for certain that your investment was worthwhile--you didn't buy a mere "box."

--Michael Frank

THE TEST

The following humidors were tested rigorously for seven weeks. The test was designed to evaluate the boxes and their regulators. Each humidor was filled to half capacity with identical cigars. Prior to the test, humidor regulators were filled according to

1. DAVIDOFF NUMBER 3, BURR WALNUT
Dimensions: 12 1/4" x 9 1/4" x 5 1/2"
Capacity: 75
Price: $1,400
Specifications: This hand-polished lacquer box comes with a solid rear piano hinge, magnet for cutting instruments, date notice on the humidifier, and a laminated wood bottom-which prevents warping.
Performance: The Davidoff humidification unit, which contains a chemical compound of clay, salts and stabilizers, worked perfectly. Instructions required adding water once every two months, and no additional maintenance was needed.
Rating: A. This humidor was a top performer, and was one of our top-rated models.

DAVIDOFF OF GENEVA: (800) 328-4365

2. SAVINELLI, LARGE BLACK LACQUER
Dimensions: 14" x 8" x 5 1/2"
Capacity: 150
Price: $250
Specifications: The Savinelli has some excellent features for the cost-conscious buyer: slotted walls, both top and bottom, an inner lip to restrict air flow, and a giant interior. But an over-finished wood interior wilt not help age cigars and inside seams show obvious assembly-line drawbacks-like splinters.
Performance: The dial-on-lid sponges of the Savinelli unit dried-out too rapidly, and though instructions required only monthly filling, our test cigars would have been very dry without a weekly regulator refill.
Rating: B+. Price is the big attraction here. But be ready to keep a close watch on humidity levels. Very close to being a "best buy."

SAVINELLI-CALL: (919) 481-0511 FOR RETAILER INFORMATION.

3. MICHEL PERRENOUD FOR NAT SHERMAN
Dimensions: 14 1/2" x 9" x 5 3/4"
Capacity: 150
Price: $900
Specifications: A large humidor, the Perrenoud lacks a top shelf, and is varnished inside, which slows proper cigar aging. The hygrometer read a very high 87 percent humidity.
Performance: After filling the Nat Sherman regulator once, there was no need to refill it in seven weeks. Cigars remained moist.
Rating: B+. This humidor combines good performance with a slightly lower price, and may be the right choice for many people.

MICHEL PERRENOUD FOR NAT SHERMAN

NAT SHERMAN'S: (800) 221-1690

4. ZINO MACASSAR GM
Dimensions: 14 1/2" x 9" x 5 3/4"
Capacity: 150
Price: $1,225
Specifications: A solid wood hinge keeps the lid balanced when opened and closed, and one-piece brass handles are well-made. A tray is included with the lacquer-finished box, as is a lock.
Performance: The Zino Macassar's low-maintenance Davidoff regulator kept cigars in prime smoking condition, and the unfinished wooden interior allows tobacco aromas to meld easily.
Rating: A+. The best humidor in the test. Price is somewhat high, but you get what you pay for.

5. DUNHILL POLISHED MAHOGANY
Dimensions: 9 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 3 1/2"
Capacity: 25
Price: $630
Specifications: The Mahogany box has rounded corners and a sleek, space-age appearance, with silent hinges and a soft closure.
Performance: The traditional Dunhill "English Grid System" humidifier is a metal grate which fits into the lid of the humidor. The Dunhill box did not come with instructions, but it proved necessary to load this unit's regulator twice a month to keep moisture levels constant.
Rating: B+. A solid humidor that requires bimonthly refills to keep cigars moist. However, if price is a concern, this is an excellent price-value ratio.

DUNHILL AT DUNHILL OF LONDON STORES: (800) 776-4053

6. CLUB IMPORTS, ITALIAN BRIAR, CREDO HUMIDIFIER
Dimensions: 7 3/4" x I0" x 3 3/4"
Capacity: 30
Price: $420
Specifications: The magnet which held the Credo regulator to the inside lid of the box often failed, dropping the regulator onto the cigars. There are slots in the rim of the box, to prevent warping, but glue could be seen in the lid construction, and the rear hinge had lots of play in it.
Performance: This Club Imports model functioned better than the Rosewood unit (tested below), maintaining constant cigar moisture. However, it was necessary to refill the Credo regulator bimonthly (more often than called for in the instructions).
Rating: B. A straightforward, no frills system, that must be carefully maintained to preserve cigars.

7. CLUB IMPORTS, ROSEWOOD
Dimensions: 7 3/4" x I0" x 3 3/4"
Capacity: 30
Price: $370
Specifications: The Rosewood box is finished nicely but it shut awkwardly and the solid wood rear hinge had a tendency to rattle about. The hygrometer in this box was the most accurate of all those tested, reading between 45 and 50 percent humidity.
Performance: The sponge regulator demanded weekly maintenance to keep cigars moist, and the dial-on-lid sponge did not look durable. There were no instructions with this unit.
Rating: B-. Basic system requiring weekly maintenance. Low price is attractive. Best that can be said: it worked.

CLUB IMPORTS-CALL: (800) 292-CLUB (2582) FOR RETAILER INFORMATION.

8. HOLLCO ROHR, CONDAT HUMIDIFIER:
Dimensions: 9 7/8" x 8 1/2" x 3 3/4"
Capacity: 25
Price: $600 Specifications: The inside of the Hollco Rohr humidifier had a few too many gaps between trim and wood.
Performance: Inside the lid of this unit, a gold plastic disk holds a compound which resembles florist's clay, exposed to the air via 16 slots in the plastic. This "regulator" needed refilling weekly-both the sponge and the cigars were dry, though cigar weight did not vary when water was added weekly. The instructions indicate a monthly filling, but they come with a notice that a "break-in" period of high water consumption is required with this unit, leaving the possibility that this humidor might improve.
Rating: B. How long is a long break-in period? Performance didn't improve during the seven-week test, and required weekly filling. Price is right.

HOLLCO ROHR-CALL: (800) 247-6653 FOR RETAILER INFORMATION.

9. DAVIDOFF NUMBER 800, RED MAHOGANY:
Dimensions: 13 3/4" x 9" x 5 5/8"
Capacity: 110
Price: $1,600
Specifications: A well-made locking mechanism closes the box efficiently. The 800 includes an accessory magnet and large-capacity top tray. All seams were well-fitted.
Performance: Like all Davidoff humidors tested, the chemical compound humidifier in the 800 required only the first filling. Cigars remained in prime condition, and an unfinished interior allowed them to age.
Rating: A. Again, Davidoff scores. Price is in the high end range, but performance delivers.

10. ELIE BLEU-LOUP D'AMBOIN:
Dimensions: 16" x 10 1/4" x 6"
Capacity: 175
Price: $2,000
Specifications: The Elie Bleu features a hand-rubbed lacquer finish. A huge upper tray (50 cigar capacity) and recessed handles are included with this model. The hygrometer was faulty, reading an average 102 percent humidity.
Performance: This large box needed a long break-in period. The instructions called for filling the regulator every two months. After only one extra filling, cigar moisture levels became consistent over the test period.
Rating: A-. Expensive, but beautiful. It delivered above average performance, despite hygrometer flaws, and was hitting its stride at test's end.

ELIE BLEU FOR HOLT's/H.A. TINTS: (800) 523-1641

11. ZINO PLEXI-ACRYLIC GLASS MODEL:
Dimensions: 9 3/4" x 6 3/4" x 4 3/8"
Capacity: 25/50
Price: $165
Specifications: The Plexi has the same humidification unit as all Davidoff models, on a smaller scale. Inside, the box was sparse-no trays or amenities come with the Plexi. The Plexiglas composition is a drawback because it will not age cigars as well as wood. The high-tech Plexi units are available in "smoke" or "clear," in a 25 or 50-cigar size.
Performance: The Zino Plexi instruction manual calls for refilling the humidifier every two months. Following these directions was simple and the weight of the cigars never varied, nor did the cigars dry out during the test.
Rating: B+. A low-cost version that delivers. Not great for long-term storage, but ideal as a "second" humidor.

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