It happens to all of us. Life gets busy, and you don’t notice your humidifier is dry. Are your cigars ruined? Can you bring them back? The short answer: yes (and no).
Growing tobacco and hand-rolling cigars occurs largely in a tropical climate, where both humidity and temperature are ideal for cigar storage. When visiting any number of factories or homes of cigar makers, you’ll notice humidors are not commonplace. The natural, tropical environment is actually ideal for aging and storing cigars, so it is normal to see cigars kept in various locations other than humidors. However, the United States is a different animal. A humidor is defined as, “an airtight container for keeping cigars or tobacco moist,” but in reality it is so much more. The purpose of a humidor is to recreate the tropical environment in which tobacco is grown and stored; this ideal climate is moderately warm with higher humidity – 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% humidity.
The most important aspect of cigar storage is a consistent range in ideal temperature and relative humidity (RH) levels. The range in temperatures and RH levels is crucial for properly aging cigars and critical for preventing mold or wrapper-damaging expansion and contraction. Taking all of this into account, if you’ve neglected your prized possessions and want to restore them to their former glory, the damage done is irreversible. The natural oils in tobacco are essential to its flavor, and in a dry state, the loss of these oils can result in a drastically diminished flavor profile. While they can be returned to the proper RH levels, they will never have the same potential they once did – you simply cannot return them to a humid environment and expect status quo. The drastic change in climate will not only shock the cigar, but it will also create rapid absorption in the tobacco, causing the fillers to quickly expand, possibly cracking and damaging the wrapper leaf. Some of the flavor and complexity can be restored, but the success of this process varies based on how dry the cigars are. You must gradually reintroduce the cigars to their native environment, until they are returned to a full 70% relative humidity. Tobacco reacts almost like a natural sponge, drawing in moisture from its environment, so it’s important that this absorption occurs slowly. I first recommend putting the cigars in an environment at 60% humidity before slowly raising the environment to 70%. This may take weeks (or even months), but the product will restore to a smokeable condition over time, reestablishing integrity in its construction. While many of the important oils may be lost forever, there will still be a semblance of its intended flavor, balance, and complexity, depending on how long the cigar has been in a dry environment.
If life catches up with you and results in a neglected humidor, the cigars will be impacted but not completely lost. Maintaining a consistent environment with a 70 degree temperature at 70% RH level is paramount, especially for long-term aging. Failure to care for your prized cigars may result in the ultimate cost. Be sure you maintain your humidor by seasoning it often while monitoring your temperature and humidity levels regularly.