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Top 10 Most Asked Questions About Cigars

In no particular order, here are answers to 10 of the most commonly asked questions about cigar smoking.

Q. My cigars are over-humidified. What can I do to restore the humidor to optimal conditions? Can the cigars be saved?

A. In most cases, the cigars can be saved. Over-humidification is a problem, especially prevalent during summer or in warmer, more sultry climates. But there are ways to combat it, and to ensure that your humidor stays in top shape year-round.

Adding cedar strips to the humidor—you'll find these in many cigar boxes—will help maintain optimum moisture levels. Put a strip or two on the bottom of the humidor, a strip in the middle, and another on top, and you'll watch the humidity reading drop as the cedar absorbs the humidor's extra moisture. Just keep an eye on the cigars, and add or remove cedar until you've reached the desired humidification.

Upgrading your humidification device might be the best route for some.  Most humidors on the market today come with an inferior humidification method consisting of floral foam.  While this medium is great for flowers which “drink” the water, they can cause dangerous spikes in your humidor leaving it either over or under humidified.  There are numerous humidification devices on the market today that regulate themselves much better therefore creating a more consistent atmosphere for storing your cigars. 

The one thing you should not do is simply leave the lid of the humidor open—this can lead to wild fluctuations in humidity, and turn cigars that are too moist into dried-out cigars in a short time.

Q. Although I generally use guillotine cutters, I was recently given a stylish v-cutter. What's the difference, and will I damage my cigar?

A. V-cutters were conceived decades ago, when the average cigar was much thinner than it is today. They were designed to open up a larger opening to channel the smoke, which is a consideration for lonsdales and coronas but generally not an issue for thicker cigars such as robustos and toros. As a general rule, we prefer guillotines, as cigars cut with v- cutters can accumulate tars that do not build up when using a straight cut. Also, v-cutters tend to be imprecise in comparison with straight cutters, and you run the risk of damaging the cigar.

The third type of cutter that has become popular is the bullet, or lance, cutter. This type of cutter makes a circular hole in the head of the cigar and it, too, has its drawbacks. First, it is easy to pierce the cigar too deeply, creating a tunnel near the head that makes the cigar burn hot. Also, as with a v-cutter, the bullet hole left in the cigar's head allows tars to build up near the mouth of the smoker, frequently altering or souring the cigar's taste.  More recently, large gauge bullet cutters have been introduce to handle the ever increasing ring gauges that today’s cigars are being produced in.  Depending on the size of your cigar, these, if used properly, can produce a cut that is every bit as good as a guillotine style cutter.

Q. I've noticed a powdery substance on several of my cigars. What is this, and need I be concerned?

A. If the substance has a whitish color and can be easily dusted off the cigars without leaving residue, fear not. What you have in this case is "plume" (also called bloom), a natural occurrence caused by the cigars' sweating off some of the oils that are inherent to tobacco. Just dust off the cigars prior to smoking them.  Most aficionados look for this occurrence because it shows that the cigar has been aged properly.

If, however, the residue is more of a bluish color and leaves a stain on the wrapper when you dust it off, the cigars are the victims of mold. Mold is frequently caused by high temperature and humidity levels, so keeping your humidor near the optimal 70 degree/70 percent humidity mark will help avoid this problem. Also, mold can be caused by not using distilled water in your humidification device, so know what sort of water you are using.  Optimally, you should be using a propylene glycol solution, which is an anti-fungal additive. 

Q. My tobacconist sells many box-pressed cigars. Why do manufacturers do this? Is there an advantage to box-pressed smokes over round cigars?

A. Box pressing is a stylistic decision, and it neither makes a cigar better nor worse than a round cigar. Lots of people favor the feel of a box-pressed smoke, and some manufacturers feel box pressing can correct potential construction flaws. But it is an aesthetic decision as to whether you prefer this style of cigar. Box pressing says nothing about the quality of the cigar, nor of the person who smokes it.

Q. What is the best way for me to age my cigars?

A. Many collectors choose to age their cigars in boxes, keeping like cigars together. Many cigar brands are available in cabinet presentation, where the cigars are banded together with a ribbon in a format that makes them ideal for aging and long-term storage. While aging boxed cigars is certainly acceptable, these cabinet-packed smokes make even more attractive aging candidates.

Q. Many cigars are sold in individual cellophane overwraps. Should I remove the cellophane prior to placing the cigars in my humidor? What about tubes and bands? Are cigars best stored "naked"?

A. Cellophane serves several purposes on a cigar—in states that require each cigar to have a warning label, it makes this notification much easier to accomplish, and it prevents damage to the cigars from excessive handling in cigar shops.  Once you've bought the cigar and are placing it in your humidor, whether you remove the cellophane or not is entirely up to you. Cellophane can prevent humidity from reaching the cigar if it is taped shut at the open end by a label.  As for cigar tubes, whether glass or aluminum; these tubes will completely close off a cigar to humidification if left on. However, if you intend to transport your cigars (such as in a coat pocket), it may be a good idea to keep a few tubes or cellophane overwraps handy to protect the cigars during transport.

As far as bands are concerned, it's a matter of personal preference. Some people like to remove them, but when possible, we generally choose to keep the bands on. First, it makes identifying the cigars much easier, and it also prevents inadvertent damage to the cigar's wrapper that can occur while removing the band.

Q. Can I use my Zippo lighter to light a cigar?

A. It's probably not your best option. We suggest using wooden matches or, better yet, strips of cedar called spills. These will light your cigar without imparting to it the taste or odor of the oil found in lighter fluid. If you wish to use a lighter for your cigars, we recommend one that uses butane as its fuel, as these types of lighters are odorless. However, some smokers insist on using their old Zippo lighters, which may have sentimental value. If you're one of these people, purchase an insert that converts your old oil burner to butane fuel.  Paper matches should also be avoided because the paper is usually treated with chemicals that make the match burn better.

Q. My grandfather always dipped his cigars in Cognac or rum. Is this a good idea? Why does my tobacconist warn me against it?

A. Your grandfather probably started doing this decades ago, when cigars were shipped drier and humidification technology was not what it is today. Dipping the cigars in those years helped impart moisture to a dry cigar. Today, however, cigars are generally shipped and stored in optimally humidified conditions, and dipping a cigar in Cognac or rum will only serve to make your cigar soggy. What's more, the smoke will not taste like what it was dipped in, another reason we strongly recommend leaving the Cognac or rum in a glass, and enjoying it alongside your cigars.

Q. I've been told you should only smoke a cigar halfway. Is this true? How can I tell when a cigar is done?

A. The golden rule here is that a cigar is done whenever you're no longer enjoying it. The reason some only smoke a half to two-thirds is that a cigar gets hotter and more powerful the further down you smoke it, and its flavor changes as tars and moisture build up near the cigar's head. Smoke it too far for your taste and you risk ruining the great flavor you've been enjoying. Simply put, if you're still enjoying the cigar as its lit end is about to burn your fingertips, go right on smoking it. Cigar smoking, after all, is about enjoyment.

Q. How important is having a humidor, really?

A.Unless you are quickly collecting a lot of cigars or want to "home age" your cigars, it is not necessary to buy a humidor. For the short run, you can purchase a common sealable plastic food container and a Boveda pack or similar humidifying device and place the cigars in there. If monitored properly, they will last almost indefinitely. One drawback is your cigars may not have that distinctive cedar wood fragrance you get from a good quality humidor. But that can be remedied by taking a cedar "spacer" from a cigar box and adding it to the container, or lining the bottom of the container with a row of spacers.

Of course, there's nothing like being the proud owner of a well-made, wooden humidor where your cigars can nestle in the climate-controlled comfort of its Spanish cedar lining, but it's nice to know there is a low-budget alternative.

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