The Big Smoke Las Vegas was a particularly apt setting for Cigar Aficionado's first-ever seminar on Humidity and Your Cigars, with panelists Daniel Marshall of D. Marshall Humidors and Sean Knutsen, the president and CEO of the Boveda humidification systems.
Co-host David Savona, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, opened the session by pointing out that cigars are the product of a naturally moist tropical climate and that taking them to a desert setting like Las Vegas is bound to beat up on them unless they are properly humidified.
Discussion predictably settled on the proper rate of humidification, and the panelists reported that the preferred relative humidity (RH) rests on a few different criteria. Taste, of course, is a chief determinant as Marshall pointed out. In England, 69 percent or lower is often the preferred level, while in America humidity is typically maintained around 72 percent.
Knutsen pointed out that different leaf and different cigar sizes may determine how you maintain your tobacco. For instance, thick Connecticut broadleaf may be better stored at 65 percent as the contents of the cigar may change above 70 percent. "Some cigars want to give up their moisture faster than others," he added. "But you don't want too much fluctuation, which damages essentials oils."
Knutsen's Boveda product, first introduced in 1997, is designed to variously release and absorb humidity to maintain a specific level. The packs come in different sizes and are set at six different RH levels between 65 and 84 percent. He said that temperature is important in maintaining RH, playing "a vital role in determining if a cigar is outstanding or just another stick."
Marshall, a 32-year veteran of the humidor-making business who has had consistently high ratings in Cigar Aficionado tastings, also suggested that "replicating the region where tobacco was born" was a good strategy for picking a humidity level. He counseled to buy a quality humidor, saying, "An investment in a humidor is an investment in your cigars that lasts forever."
Maintaining a proper seal is paramount to Marshall, and he related a story about a customer who had stored cigars in a second home where a hurricane hit in his absence. The man rushed to his home in trepidation over the fate of his cigars and found his humidors floating in his flooded out house, his sticks still intact.
"You want a humidor that can stand the test of time," Marshall noted. "That's how Connoisseur's Corner [a feature in Cigar Aficionado magazine that rates aged cigars] can give a 100-point rating to an H. Upmann after 65 years of storage."
Associate editor Andrew Nagy, who shared the hosting chores, wondered which condition were worse—storing cigars at too low humidity or too high. Interestingly, the panelists concurred that the latter could be more damaging.
"If it's too humid," said Marshall, "you'll be huffing and puffing." Knutsen added that at more than 72 percent RH, molds can form and fermentation can be accelerated. Cuban cigars, he said, are particularly subject to that problem. "Too much humidity is not a good thing—you've lost something."
However, both Marshall and Knutsen agreed that great cigars that have been dried can be restored to a certain degree. The process involves reintroducing moistness incrementally over time. Marshall said, "We certainly can resurrect a cigar. Sean [with his system of bags set at varying RH] has made that easy, but it has to be a great cigar."
The panel also discussed the cellophane packaging that cigars often come in—with mixed reviews. While Marshall said that aesthetically he enjoys the way cellophane become yellowed over time, he felt that they slow down the marinating of flavors that continues in the humidor, causing the tobacco not to meld as effectively.
Knutsen called the packaging a personal preference, but added that they were not a perfect barrier. He conjectured that cellophane had been introduced to protect cigars from handling while on display in cigar stores. Whatever the case, he felt they made little difference over a long period.