It's every cigar smoker's nightmare — a close encounter with tobacco beetles. These pinhead-sized insects can turn a humidor full of precious cigars into an unsmokable mess. Few things (with the possible exception of an angry spouse hell-bent on revenge) are as dangerous or annoying to the cigar connoisseur.
Your treasured smokes serve as both home and feast to the beetles, which exist in larvae form in tobacco leaves. Every reputable factory takes aggressive measures to keep beetles out of your smokes — fumigating, depleting entire rooms of oxygen to suffocate the insects, even freezing in some cases — but some inevitably survive. When your humidor gets too warm and moist, they appear.
"It's almost like getting a dread disease," said one aficionado who opened his humidor to find tobacco beetles crawling over his collection of more than 1,000 cigars. The damage was so bad that little piles of brown tobacco dust were heaped in various spots in the humidor.
Such a dramatic outbreak is rare. Cigar smokers usually see only the damage, not the beetles themselves. Typically, a cigar smoker will open the lid of a humidor, or crack open a new box of cigars, and notice one cigar with a neat, circular pinhole. That's evidence of beetle infestation.
If you have one cigar with beetle damage, you're likely to have others. Beetle larvae hatch at temperatures above 72 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level above 72 percent, one of the primary reasons that you should keep your humidor close to the proper level of 70 percent humidity and 70 degrees. When things heat up and get too damp, beetle larvae can hatch and tunnel out of a cigar, leaving holes in their wake. Left unchecked, the critters run rampant. In 48 hours, a bad beetle infestation can destroy every cigar in a humidor, or an entire box of cigars.
Most beetle outbreaks can be stopped without too much hassle. If you see signs of damage, take immediate action. Put all the cigars from an infected humidor into a Ziploc bag and place them in your freezer for three days. If the cigars are still in their box, put the whole box into the freezer. Make sure you treat all your cigars, because if you have one damaged cigar, you have to assume that they are all at risk.
Cold kills beetles and their larvae. After three days in the deep freeze, move the cigars into your refrigerator to avoid shocking the smokes from the rising temperatures, which could split their wrappers. In the meantime, wipe your empty humidor clean with a damp cloth. Don't use any type of cleaner or disinfectant — it will only ruin the wood and leave behind an odor that will taint your cigars. After one day in the refrigerator, the cigars should be put back in the humidor. Be sure to include some extra strips of cedar to absorb any excess moisture.
Now it's time to address the problem that caused the beetles to hatch. Your humidor was probably too moist or too hot. Use a digital hygrometer/thermometer to get an accurate reading, and consider whether the room that holds your humidor isn't subject to temperature extremes when you're not around. Make sure it's not in direct sunlight, and check your humidification system. If you're using a homemade system, or have a cheap, ineffective commercial product, invest in a high-quality device. Your cigars are worth it.