Cigar enthusiasts will go to great lengths to protect the hand-rolled treasures they spend hours, weeks and years selecting and collecting with the anticipation of that one special occasion in which they will finally get to indulge in a cherished blend. The importance of a dedicated cigar storage system cannot be overstated when we are talking about protecting an artisanal, handcrafted investment, whether you hang onto your cigars for 20 minutes or 20 years. A quality humidor is the most obvious and practical means for properly storing and protecting your cigars, but it also can be the most expensive option. Thus, the two-part question often asked is, ‘does the price of a quality humidor (usually, several hundreds to thousands of dollars) extend the life of a cigar, and does it merit the significant cost?’ The answer is dependent on several factors, all of which can determine the longevity, and quality, associated with a cigar’s lifespan.
Cigars are made from naturally grown plant products. The lifespan of a cigar is influenced by atmospheric conditions. Stored in an environment that is too dry, cigars will eventually lose moisture and become brittle. In an environment that is too damp, cigars will take on additional moisture and become oversaturated. Either scenario will be detrimental to the cigar’s shelf life, as well as to its viability for smoking. Think of overly dry or damp cigars as you would firewood kindling … the first will burn too quickly, while the second will burn too slowly … and neither cigar will maintain its best qualities for texture, flavour, and aroma. A humidor mitigates these concerns by providing optimal conditions for your cigars to be stored in, and subsequently aged.
A cigar’s lifespan in a humidor should extend for many years provided the internal airflow and humidity levels are properly maintained. Personal preference can dictate the ideal humidity level in your humidor, but consider a range of 65%-72% as an acceptable standard. Additionally, suitable spacing between cigars is vital (irrespective of humidor capacity) to enhance circulation, keeping the tobacco fresh, sufficiently moist, and aerated. Rotating your cigars on at least a semi-regular basis is encouraged. If the same cigars are always the closest to your reservoir, or humidification source, it is likely they will absorb a disproportionate amount of moisture over time. Move the cigars from the top row to the bottom and vice versa every month, or every couple of weeks.
Humidors vary greatly in price due to factors such as build quality, aesthetics and size. Regardless of how big, elaborate, or expensive your humidor is, the key in its function is your maintenance. In most cases, you want to use only distilled water to avoid any potential for mould or bacteria. You want to make sure you are replenishing the reservoir, or humidification unit, at a regular interval. And, most importantly, you want to be sure you are accurately measuring the conditions in your humidor (preferably with a digital hygrometer) to be sure you are maintaining an ideal humidity level at an acceptable temperature. Pay close attention to your cigars. They will tell you what you need to know most of the time. Cigars should express a firmness that offers a bit of give, but does not crack or crackle from the application of just a touch of pressure between your fingers. Unwanted crackling and cracking of a wrapper leaf indicates dryness. By the same token, your cigars should not be overly spongy, where you can squeeze one like a toothpaste tube without any interruption to the shape. A cigar that is overly humidified will not burn evenly, or taste right. Cigars kept in your humidor should reflect a consistency similar to the state you would expect them to be in from a trusted retail shop. Keep in mind, not all cigars will express the same density, however, an attentive cigar lover is the greatest common denominator to ensure your collection lasts for eons.
Cigars can last for many years in a humidor that is properly maintained. But is that really all to consider? The short answer: No. Longevity does not necessarily always correlate with the greatest or most ideal amount flavour and indulgence one can experience from a cigar. Similar to fine wines, fine cigars will grow better with age, but eventually they will reach a peak for potency of taste and aroma. Once a cigar’s peak has been reached, its characteristics will begin to decline (even in the balanced environment a humidor provides) and it will yield diminishing flavour and aroma as time passes. Therefore, “younger” tobaccos, or cigars, have the potential for more enrichment over a longer period of time in a humidor, while cigars that have already been aged for several years before they are sold may not have as much to gain from an extended period of ageing in your humidor.
How long cigars will last and retain their vitality in a humidor is also dependent on a cigar’s makeup and how much attention, care and selectivity the cigar-maker exercised in creating the blend. We recommend experimenting a bit. When you already know you are fond of a particular blend, buy a handful. Smoke one on your way out the door of your local retail smoke shop, and smoke another after 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months, or even 6 years in your humidor and take note of the difference. The key is that you are tasting the flavour profile you believe best suits your palate and indulges your senses the most. Maintaining your cigars in a well-made humidor is the best way to guarantee your investment in cigars is protected. Fine, handcrafted cigars are premium, artisanal creations that deserve an optimal home until you are ready to light one up, whether it is 10 days or 10 years from now.
AVO SYNCRO NICARAGUA TORO
Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut
Filler: Nicaragua (Ometepe) | Dominican (Piloto Cubano, San Vicente, & hybrid Olor/Piloto) | Peruvian (Olancho)
Factory: Oettinger Kelner Cigars (Dominican Republic)
Production: Regular Production
Vitola: 6″ × 54 Toro (Box-Pressed)
Release Date: Aug. 24, 2015
AVO has always showcased a nice balance in the Davidoff umbrella, being made at Davidoff’s OK Cigars factory in the Dominican Republic; the cigars often feature more delicate and refined profiles, while retaining a moderately affordable price range. The intriguing aspect of this cigar, though, is the Nicaraguan tobaccos — giving the impression the cigar will feature bigger, bolder flavours than AVO’s usual endeavours.
Syncro Nicaragua Toro is a nice-looking cigar, it’s sophisticated with a luxurious, clean-cut band and the soft box-press feels sturdy in the hand. There are also a good set of other vitolas used, ranging from a short robusto (4×52), up to a hefty gordo size (6×60). As with all AVO cigars (currently), the wrapper is Ecuadorian, this time being of Connecticut seed, having a medium brown, Colorado Claro hue. I was very impressed with the construction, having invisible seams, very tight veins, and a dense, solid roll. Also of interest was the near-flat cap, similar to what you’ll find on many Cuban cigars.
AVO Syncro Toro has the look of luxury, and a closer examination shows pleasant aromas of dry wood, sourdough, and a petting zoo-like leather. With a cut, the pre-draw is medium resistance, with subtle notes of mineral and cedar. After lighting, the first notes are very Dominican, with a tangy, funky quality, soon followed by caramel and smooth coffee. The texture is very pleasant, having a smooth and delicate feel, making for an enjoyably effortless exhale.
At this point, the flavours are fun, but certainly nothing new or noteworthy. “Why is this called Nicaragua?” I found myself asking — which seemed to make itself known mere moments later! A restrained spice enters the mix around the half-inch mark. Of course, it’s not overpowering or in-your-face, just a nice kick of spice, coupled with a little saltiness on the palate. The profile is refined, with a nice creaminess of salted butter and sweet cream to go along with the newly formed punctuations of Nicaraguan zest.
Moving into the two-thirds mark, the cigar seems to settle into a comfortable base of coffee and cream. And while the flavours are less dynamic, the body is still developing — now feeling more full and complex. This lasted a good chunk of the cigar, but eventually additional flavours again emerged — showing notes of toffee, black licorice, peppermint, and root beer candy. The black licorice later moves into a cold anise and nicotine strength in the retro, which is something I don’t usually find on a Dominican cigar (hello Nicaragua!).
WOULD I SMOKE THIS CIGAR AGAIN?
No doubt about it! I have to admit, I hadn’t paid much attention to the AVO brand until some of the more recent updates last year (2017). But if Syncro is a sign of what’s to come, I think I’ll be coming back, not only for this cigar, but to revisit the entire line. The new AVO line reflects a similar reduction we saw with Camacho, bringing the core lineup down to a solid 4 cigars (5 including the new Syncro). I feel this makes the whole brand more approachable, with Syncro Nicaragua leading the way.
AVO Syncro Nicaragua Toro does exactly as advertised, "syncing" Davidoff's skill in blending Dominican tobaccos with enough Nicaraguan edge to keep you interested throughout. After smoking the cigar, I am honestly shocked of its affordable price point. There are loads of complexities and refined flavours throughout. This is definitely not a Nicaraguan cigar in character, which might be confusing, considering its name. But when you understand the concept and what they're going after, I think it's easy to appreciate what AVO has accomplished with their first commitment to the power of Nicaraguan tobacco.
Do cigars expire? No. Do cigars go bad? Yes, but only if they are not stored in ideal conditions. Cigars are not perishable like fruits or vegetables. Premium, handcrafted cigars will actually remain fresh, or at least smokable, indefinitely, if they are stored correctly. Cigars can be aged similar to wine. 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.
The optimal conditions for storing cigars are 70% humidity and 70 degrees, but ranges of 65-72% humidity and 65-72 degrees are acceptable. Fluctuation is expected due to season and climate changes, however, keeping that fluctuation to a minimum is key. That is 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.
When cigars are aged, especially for several months or years, they can exhibit an ultra-refined taste. Distinct flavours created by the different leaves that make up a premium cigar will meld and deliver a smooth, more uniform profile. A cigar that has been aged significantly beyond its date of purchase can taste incredibly different. In some cases, stronger cigars that have been aged will lose some of their initial intensity, while a cigar that originally tastes bitter or harsh can dramatically improve. To understand, let us consider what a cigar is made of.
Cigar Anatomy 101
Premium cigars are handcrafted by highly skilled cigar rollers who spend many years developing their technique. Cigars are made from extensively fermented, or aged, tobaccos, much of which has been deliberately grown or selected to deliver specific aspects of taste and aroma in a given blend. Essentially, a cigar is made from a recipe of tobaccos that have been chosen by a master cigar-maker, or blender, like a chef who has patiently selected the ingredients for a special dish. A variety of distinct tobaccos make up the three primary components of a cigar: the binder, the filler and the wrapper leaf. These tobaccos can come from many countries or regions, or they can all come from the same field. For example, Davidoff Escurio is rolled from binder and filler tobaccos that are grown in the Dominican Republic, while the wrapper leaf comes from Brazil.
Yes, Cigars Can Go Bad
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. When humidity is deficient, a cigar’s tobacco will crack and crackle and can burn dry, hot, and very quickly – a bitter experience the blender certainly did not intend. Conversely, cigars that are over-humidified will feel and taste soggy, and have a tendency to burn out, and can be plugged or exhibit a constrictive draw. Over-humidified cigars also have a higher propensity to develop mould. Additionally, rapid changes in humidity and temperature can cause a cigar’s wrapper to split.
Too Little Humidity
How can you ruin a good cigar? The most common reason cigars go bad is because they are left out of a humidified environment for days on end, or they are kept in the box or a Ziploc bag with no humidification. If you have purchased or received cigars in the past, but lacked an appropriate place to store them, the good news is that you can re-humidify your cigars. Place them in a humidified environment, such as humidor or Ziploc with sufficient humidity, and they can gradually be re-humidified. This process can take several weeks, or even months, if your cigars have been dried out for a lengthy period. 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.
Too Much Humidity
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 soft firmness 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 should 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 mould, which can ruin your cigars, as well as your entire humidor.
Popular Misconceptions About Aging Cigars
When a cigar has been stored in a humidified environment for a long period, small white crystals can appear on the wrapper. These crystals are known as “plume,” and the process of crystallization is referred to as “bloom.” Plume is actually a sign that your cigars have been properly aged. You can simply brush off the small white spots of plume and enjoy the rich, smooth flavour and aroma that well-aged cigars are known for.
How Can You Tell the Difference Between Cigar Plume and Cigar Mould?
While plume is a harmless substance and a welcome sign of proper cigar maintenance, mould is quite the opposite. Mould can occur when cigars have been humidified with tap water, as opposed to distilled water. Mould typically appears as a bluish or green substance. It harbours a musty smell and will not brush off your cigars. It can also easily grow on the interior of your humidor. If you utilize a traditional humidification unit in your humidor, refill it with only distilled water to avoid the potential for mould to occur. If you notice signs of mould on any cigars, remove them from the environment immediately and throw them out, as they will infect the other cigars you are storing. Mould can also grow in the lining of your humidor and is very difficult to remedy. Often, humidors affected by mould should be discarded.
A nice collection of cigars is an investment. As you develop a palate for premium cigars, it is often fun to experiment a bit. When you have discovered a brand or a blend that you are fond of, try ageing a handful for differing durations to taste how their flavours evolve.
Some cigar enthusiasts will obsess over pre-embargo Cubans, which if legit, have been aged for more than 50 years. That is an incredible amount of time. I have aged cigars in my personal collection for 6 to 7 years in the past. Some blends delivered a wonderfully enhanced flavour, while others lost their complexity and tasted flat. I recently had the pleasure of smoking a Cohiba Secretos Maduro 5 from 2007 and it was positively sublime. Whether you plan to store your cigars for 8 days or 18 years, as long as you keep them humidified properly, they will stay fresh, burn perfectly, and taste great.
If Torpedoes are your favourite cigar shape – you have not only got good taste, you are among a loyal following of cigar enthusiasts. But have you ever wondered why you were drawn to them in the first place? For me, Torpedo cigars are a great “change of pace” pick, because there is big flavour in there. But there is more to know and appreciate about them, than just their pointed heads.
The generic definition of a Torpedo is a cigar with a tapered head that comes to a point; as you will see, the word “Torpedo” gets thrown around a lot, instead of some more accurate cigar descriptions.
Then there is the smoking experience…you may have heard us talk about some cigars being “front-loaded,” meaning the cigar opens with a blast of intensity, then settles in before it starts to build in strength and flavour again. Torpedoes tend to burn with more of that intensity, more consistently. They also burn a little more slowly, because they have a naturally tighter draw, which can be adjusted by how you cut it.
There is more – so use these five pearls of Torpedo wisdom to take your cigar expertise to the next level. You might even be convinced to try your first, if you have never had the pleasure.
TORPEDO CIGARS ARE A LITTLE HARDER TO MAKE.
That means they might cost you a little more, but that goes for pretty much all Figurados. Part of that is because the task of making these special shapes is entrusted to the factory’s more experienced rollers. In the case of most Torpedo cigars, the body or barrel of the smoke is formed the same way as any Parejo; as Lázaro Collazo, head of quality control at the Habanero factory told Financial Times, “The main challenge is in the cabeza or ‘head’ of the cigar. In a Parejo cigar you cut the binder/filler after you have rolled a cylinder of tobacco. This creates the flat end onto which the cap is placed. With a Pirámide, you have to continue rolling the binder and filler tobacco into a Pirámide shape, and then also add the cap at the end. This is a more complicated and difficult process.”
And yes, most Torpedoes do have a cap – it is called a flag, which is a strip of tobacco that is wound around the pointed head of the cigar to finish it off.
MOST TORPEDO CIGARS ARE NOT ACTUALLY TORPEDOES.
Naming cigar sizes has always been left to the blender’s discretion…one brand’s Robusto is another brand’s Rothschild, so do not be surprised when you see Torpedo swap places with Belicoso or Pirámide (aka, Pyramid).
Here are the tells:
“True” Torpedo cigars are 6 1/8 x 52; they have a closed foot, a bulge in the middle, and taper to a point at the head. A legit Torpedo having all of these qualities is actually pretty hard to find.
Belicosos are, technically, supposed to be shorter. Their heads taper more dramatically, but the point is rounded. Most Torpedoes out there are actually Belicosos.
Pirámide cigars taper the entire length of the cigar; the head, however, is pointed like a Torpedo.
All of these cigar shapes fall under the Figurado side of the family tree, as opposed to straight-sided, round-headed Parejos: Churchill, Toro, Robusto, etc.
…and the most popular Torpedo is not a Torpedo, either.
The Montecristo No. 2 – which I have seen described as “the staple to which all other Torpedoes are compared” – is actually a Pirámide. Look closely, and you will see how the cigar tapers very subtly, from foot to head; the sides are not parallel, as in most of today’s Torpedo cigars.
THE POINT OF A TORPEDO IS THE POINT.
The point of a Torpedo shape is to deliver more concentrated flavours to the smoker’s palate, and it is achieved by channelling the smoke through the point of the cigar because most Torpedo cigars are a wider ring gauge, this gives the blender the space to mix a wider variety (and larger quantity) of tobaccos, resulting in deeper layers of complexity.
Bottom line: you get the nuances of a large cigar passing through a narrow headspace, giving it the intensity of something more akin to a Cuban Corona. That unique expression of flavour is why Torpedo cigars often smoke differently from the other sizes in the same blend or line.
CUTTING TORPEDO CIGARS CAN BE A LITTLE TRICKY.
How deep you cut the cap of a Torpedo determines your control over the intensity of the flavour. I have heard some folks say that a correct way is a straight cut, anywhere between 3.5mm to 4mm down from the tip. Cut too shallow, and the draw will be tight; cut down too far, and you risk the cigar’s wrapper unravelling on you. Besides, if you cut too deep, you lop off most of the tapered head which is the whole point of smoking a Torpedo.
You can also v-cut a Torpedo: a v-cutter exposes enough surface area to give you a good draw, and the wrapper is at very little risk of unfurling.
Try an angle cut, this technique is a straight cut with a guillotine done at a very steep 45-degree angle; supposedly, this method “opens a tremendous surface area and directs the smoke down onto the palate – the idea being that it will maximize the cigar’s flavour.”
TORPEDOES ARE RATINGS WINNERS.
Seven out of the top 15 cigars of 2017 were Torpedo cigars; or as we discussed, close enough to be considered one.
Those that like Torpedoes usually tell you they love them. But Torpedoes are not, shall we say, the most popular humidor picks among the masse.
That is, in part, due to the Torpedo being an acquired taste: more focused and intense flavour is not always a selling point. They are more expensive cigars, and they take a little more care in transporting – the tapered head can break. Plus, not every cigar maker puts out a Torpedo alongside his or her usual 4 or 5 Parejo selections.
Even in Cuba, it is taken awhile for some brands to consider making figurados of any kind – and even longer for them to catch on. Many of them are limited to special editions, and most brands offer a single option they call a “Belicoso,” in the neighbourhood of 6 1/8” x 52.
Cigars can be purchased at any price point, and often what sets apart the expensive options from the cheaper ones are small differences in the taste of the cigar. However, if your palate is not cleansed, you may not be able to pick up on these differences and flavour enhancements. Every person has a mouth that contains a hard and soft palate, a tongue and inner cheeks. All of these parts contain anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 taste buds. Learning how to cleanse your palate and taste flavours can help to enhance the taste buds and allow you to pick up on the tiniest of flavours in cigars.
The Benefits of Cleansing the Palate Before Smoking
After eating and drinking, the food and drinks that you have consumed can leave the taste buds in your mouth covered with the previous flavours or filled with different layers. These previous flavours can block out new ones. This is often why upscale restaurants offer a palate-cleansing dish between courses. It helps to remove any flavours from the taste buds, leaving them as open and clear as possible. You will be able to pick up on complex flavours in foods and cigars
How to Cleanse Your Palate
The easiest way to cleanse your palate is to eat or drink foods that clear fat from the taste buds in your mouth. Many foods clear the palate, but some of the ones that do the best job include:
Lime, lime juice, and lime peels
Water (or Sparkling)
Experts recommend that you avoid eating fatty foods before smoking a cigar and cleansing your palate. This helps to minimise the amount of fat content that is on your taste buds in the first place.
Why Palate Cleansing Does Not Mean You Will Like Everything
It is important to keep in mind that taste is subjective. People will always have different opinions regarding taste, regardless of whether or not their palate is cleansed. Cleansing your palate does not automatically mean that you will like everything that you try. However, it does help to enhance flavours and may make particular cigars more complex.