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When Bad Things Happen to Good Cigars

PART I
Jack Bettridge, David Savona
Posted: August 7, 2003
Okay so you're a cigar aficionado. You know Montecristo No. 1s are great cigars. You know they're cedary, smooth and rich. But do you also know that they're aerodynamic?

Consider this scenario: You're standing in your backyard. Maybe you've just had a fight with your wife. Suddenly, the deck door slides open and there is the love of your life standing in the doorway with your $1,200 humidor in her left arm, a familiar chocolate brown lonsdale in her upraised right hand. This could have been a vision of loveliness: a beautiful woman cradling a fine, exotic wood humidor, Cuban cigar in hand. A cold Manhattan and a lighter would complete the picture. But then things turn ugly. She begins flinging the precious smokes into the backyard like yesterday's pancakes.

The cigar takes flight, arcing towards that rose bush you should have trimmed months ago. You scream in horror as other cigars from the humidor sail over your head, following their Cuban brother on its obscene first flight. Perhaps, as your cigar world seems to collapse before your very eyes, you take time to note that the thin lonsdales are elegant in mid-air, while robustos don't possess near the same grace, and torpedos (despite their aerodynamic name) look downright silly soaring through the heavens.

You never really know cigars until you've seen the worst tragedies befall them. Perhaps you've considered the obvious -- cigars gone stale in faulty humidors, eaten in tobacco beetle infestations, washed away in flash floods. But so many more calamities are possible that we offer this primer on bad things that can happen to good cigars. All are true stories, all are love affairs with unhappy endings.

What could an aficionado do given the first circumstance? Here's our advice. Make baby sounds to draw the woman close, and regain her trust. You need to get that humidor out of her hands. Make no sudden moves, and resist the urge to rush to the aid of your fallen cigars. Fly the plane first, baby. You've got other men in danger. Profess your undying love, promise to listen to everything she says, tell her how pretty her eyes are, whatever it takes, but get the humidor out of her hands. (Remember: long nails can scratch precious veneers, so don't yank it away too fast.) Once you have the humidor in hand, scoop up your fallen comrades.

Preventive measure: Always secure your cigars before leaving the house. If your significant other has a reason to bring down wrath on your cigars, or if that person thinks she has a reason, heck, if you have anyone that comes close to your cigars on a regular basis, lock the smokes away from harm. At all times.

 

CHILDREN AND OTHER PESTILENCE

Fred (all names have been changed to protect the pathetic) needed a place to crash after the office Christmas party, so he spent the night at a friend's house. His last memory was putting a cigar case stuffed with Bolivars on the arm of the couch. That morning, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and his friend's two-year-old son was shredding the Bolivars over the carpet. Within moments, Churchills had become Robustos, long filler rendered into short filler.

What can you do: Sadly, not much. Apocalyptic vengeance runs the risk of insulting the demon-spawn's parents, not to mention a prison sentence.

Preventative measure: Treat cigars like salmon steaks at a campout. Seal them away and store them high, away from bears or toddlers.

 

ARID CIGARS

Bernard forgot to refill the Credo in his humidor -- for the past six months. The Padróns inside now go snap-crackle-pop when he touches them. They burn much faster than they used to, and the flavor just isn't the same.

What can he do: Dry cigars can be salvaged, as long as they haven't been out of humidity for too long. (Great-grandpa's 45-year-old La Corona coronas, the ones that you found under the ornaments in the attic, have been too dry for too long, and have lost essential oils that cannot be replaced.) Bernard needs to rehumidify his cigars, but he needs to do so gradually. That means don't put the cigars in the bathroom while you take a shower, which can cause them to split as they take on too much humidity too quickly.

Put the cigars in a humidor, but keep them as far away from the humidification element as possible. Gradually reintroduce the humidity, and allow them to take it on slowly. You won't be smoking these cigars anytime soon. Give them at least a month, moving them ever closer to the humidity source, week-by-week.

Preventive measures: Keep an eye on your humidity, and your cigars. Your fingers are your best measuring stick: properly humidified cigars should feel supple, with just a little give.

 

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BEETLES

Even when locked away, your cigars still face a danger from within -- tobacco beetles. Returning to work one Monday, Ed opened his cabinet humidor to re-sort the 200 or so cigars he had organized by brand, color and country of origin. It had been an exceptionally hot weekend, and the building superintendent had saved $20 by switching off the air conditioning. At 9 a.m. the office was doing its impression of Havana in the summer, with a temperature of 89 degrees.

As he removed one cigar from its tray, he noticed a perfectly circular hole, about the size one would expect from a prick from a sharp ballpoint pen. That was a sure sign of a tobacco beetle.

If Ed had managed to miss that clue, there were plenty more waiting. Nicotine-charged insects crawled over his precious cigars, more than 50 of which had holes. Some had one, some had several, and a couple had zigzagging channels, cut open by the Bob Vila of tobacco beetles.

What you can do: Chuck all the cigars with beetle damage, and freeze the survivors. Three days in the freezer followed by one day in the refrigerator will kill beetles and their eggs. Put boxes directly in the freezer, and put loose cigars in plastic bags. Clean out your humidor (no disinfectants; a damp rag will do) and get rid of any visible beetles and tobacco flakes. Put the cigars back and make sure you keep humidity and temperature near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 70 percent humidity.

Preventive measure: To be extra careful, place newly purchased cigars in the deep freeze for three days, followed by the one-night stint in the fridge. You'll sleep better at night, and so will your cigars.

 

MALICIOUS MOOCHERS

After months of hints and prodding, you've finally succumbed and invited Huey over for dinner. After the meal, you suggest repairing to your study for a bracing smoke. You go to the bar to pour two snifters of Brandy, and turn around to find Huey clipping the head off your only pre-Castro Cuban cigar. It was once owned by José Martí; you picked it up for a princely sum at a Christie's auction in London, using money you had earmarked for your daughter's education. Your Caribbean tan melts into your liver and you watch, paralyzed, as the oaf puts flame to the 50-year old corona.

What you can do: Resist the urge to slay Huey. After all, this is your house, and you're likely to stain the carpet or oak floors. Hand him an ashtray and, when he puts the cigar down, draw your service revolver, leveling it at Huey's misshapen head. In a firm voice, instruct him to step away from the cigar. Once the cigar is recovered, take Huey by the ear, lead him to the back door and throw him into the snow, followed by his coat and hat.

Preventive measure: Truly precious cigars belong in precious places: try a locked humidor in a cigar bar, or a keep at your local cigar store. If you wish to keep such smokes at home, put them in the humidors kept farthest from your guests, who shouldn't peruse them without permission anyway. Have we forgotten the obvious? Lose Huey as a friend.

Illustrations by Michael Moretti
Design by Joe Mejia

Go to Part II

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