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No Plastic Taste for the Stogies: Prepping Your New Humidor
We've come a long way since the days when cigars were sold wrapped in pigs' bladders with a few vanilla pods to disguise the smell. Nowadays they are more likely to come wrapped in plastic, and though more preferable to pigs bladders, if left in the bag they can take on that plastic taste. A better way to enjoy a cigar and get the full flavor from them is to store them in a humidor.
For a cigar smoker there is nothing more pleasurable than opening the humidor, looking through their treasures, and choosing a cigar to enjoy for the evening. More satisfying than unzipping a baggie or opening a Tupperware box, and in the long run more cost effective than buying and replacing humidifying pillows; a humidor can keep a large sampling of sticks fresh and in the right condition. Many humidors come beautifully carved and decorated, celebrating the craftsmanship and tradition of fine cigars. Any true enthusiast will have a well stocked humidor at his disposal, and some will have several.
Why Should a Humidor be Seasoned?
Unfortunately, a humidor isn't ready to use out of the box. First it must be seasoned properly, with the humidifier recharged and the hygrometer calibrated before any cigars are placed inside of it. This can be a time consuming process, but will be well worth it in the end, and if not done the humidor can ruin the cigars stored in it.
A humidor provides humidity and flavor to cigars. The best humidors recreate the lush, tropical environment where most cigars are made. Tobacco leaves are naturally flexible and moist, and respond best to those conditions that they have been bred for.
A good humidor will be made of cedar, preferably untreated Spanish cedar, which is integral to the humidification process. The cedar works to add important moisture inside the system to preserve the cigars and add flavor. If not seasoned properly the cedar wood will work instead to draw moisture out of the cigars and dry them out, so placing your prized collection of sticks inside an unseasoned chest is a definite no.
Therefore, it is important to follow the proper steps, and take the proper time, to ensure that your cigars stay fresh and moist when placed in your new humidor, so you can continue to enjoy a selection of fresh sticks.
Materials You'll Need:
- Distilled Water
- Propylene Glycol solution
- New sponge, free of soap and unscented
- Cellophane or Plastic Bag
- Clean Cloth
Prep the Humidification Device
Some humidors have a freestanding humidification device that doesn't need attaching, while others use magnets or Velcro. Some humidification devices are sponges, while others use beans, and the preference seems to be personal with many advocates for both. Either way they need to be charged before the humidifier is placed inside the humidor.
- Choose a location inside the humidor to place the humidification device. Some prefer it to be lower down because humid air tends to rise, while some prefer to place it on the lid to leave more storage space for their cigars.
- To prep the humidifier use either distilled water or a humidor solution, like propylene glycol. Do not open the humidifier; instead squirt the solution between the vents of the humidifier until it is fully moistened. Don't over saturate the humidifier, especially if it attaches to the humidor walls as the heavier weight may cause it to fall.
- Wipe the humidifier to get rid of any excess water, and rest it upside down on the clean cloth for half an hour. Wipe down again to remove any excess water that has escaped during this time.
- If the humidification device needs to be attached with adhesive then do this before seasoning the humidor as most adhesives will need at least two hours to cure, otherwise the moisture from the chest will pull at the adhesive. The last thing you want is the humidifier to fall on your cigars and get them wet.
Prep the Hygrometer
Many humidors have a hygrometer, which measures the amount of moisture inside the humidor. Some hygrometers come pre-calibrated and cannot be removed. If instructions are provided follow the steps from the manufacturer, otherwise it's easy to calibrate a removable hygrometer.
- Remove the hygrometer.
- Place it in a wet cloth for half an hour or until it reads between 95-100 percent.
- Return to the humidor and allow two hours for it to rest
Prep the Humidor
- Check any adhesive to ensure that it has completely cured. Any moisture added during the seasoning process will likely wear at adhesive and cause it to fail if it has not cured properly first.
- Make sure your sponge is completely clean; you don't want to be spreading any bacteria into a moist environment that will propagate their growth and end up ruining your cigars. Don't use paper towels as they will leave an undesirable trail of paper fibers behind on the wood.
- Moisten the sponge with distilled water, and squeeze out any excess. Do not use tap water as it contains minerals that will often leave a white dust behind. This dust can then build up and coat cigars, and in some cases may encourage the growth of bacteria. Tap water can also contain pollutants like chlorine that will alter the taste of cigars found in the humidor. Plus, tap water can make it difficult to maintain the 70 percent humidity that is required in a humidor, while distilled water can do this easily.
- Wipe down the inside of the humidor. If the humidor is used, make sure to give it a good clean, but don't be tempted to get out the dish soap, just use some elbow grease and water. Don't ignore the lids and trays, and make sure to get every corner and crevice. Do not saturate the interior cedar; you just want to get it moist without leaving any dry spots. Wipe up any spills immediately by spreading them around the interior.
- Remoisten the sponge with the distilled water, squeezing out any excess, and place it on top of the plastic bag inside the humidor. Do not let any part of the sponge touch the wood.
- If your humidification device is not attached then place it inside the humidor now.
- Close the humidor and leave for 24 hours.
Open the humidor and check the sponge. If it is dry, add some more distilled water, if damp then leave it. Let sit another 24 hours.
- Remove the plastic bag and sponge.
- Wipe down the interior of the humidor with some distilled water and the sponge.
- Close the lid, this time do not leave the sponge inside the humidor.
Open the humidor and check for dampness. If any parts of the cedar feel damp, then wait another day before storing cigars.
If your humidor has a hygrometer then a reading of 70% is ideal, though 3% either way is acceptable, and you're ready to place your cigars inside.
Keeping the Humidity Levels Constant
It is important once the humidor is prepped and seasoned to keep the humidity levels around that magic number--70% relative humidity. A bit above or below won't do any damage, and you'll find after time that there will be an ideal number that makes every stick in the box smoke just right. Getting to that magic number can be affected by a number of factors such as location, how often it is opened, and even environmental conditions.
High Humidity Levels can Lead to Moldy Cigars
When the relative humidity inside the humidor reaches above 75% it is reaching the ideal conditions for the growth of all sorts of nasty things you don't want in your cigars like mold, fungi, and tobacco beetle larvae. Nobody wants to smoke any of that, plus the cigars will become soft and hard to keep lit, if they can even light at all.
Lowering the Humidity Quickly
To take care of escalating humidity levels in an emergency simply open the lid for a while, or try removing the humidifier for a couple of days. Another solution is to add more cigars as they will absorb some of that extra moisture quickly. If anything, it is at least a good excuse to stock up on some extra sticks.
Store Properly to Avoid Rising Humidity
To prevent the relative humidity inside the humidor from rising too quickly keep your humidor stored in a cool and dry place. In the summer, keep it in an air-conditioned room if possible and somewhere dark. In the winter, keep the humidor away from heaters, and place it somewhere so the cat can't curl up on it.
Low Humidity Levels Cause Dry Cigars
Tobacco leaves grow in tropical regions where it is moist and warm, so the humidor tries to replicate those conditions to some degree. When the relative humidity inside the humidor drops below 68% moisture is taken away from the cigars. This leaves the tobacco dry and brittle, and without flavor. The cigars will smoke too fast, and taste completely wrong.
Raising the Humidity Quickly
To quickly raise the level of the relative humidity inside the humidor just place a small container of distilled water inside and close the lid. Then add a solution of half distilled water and half propylene glycol. Change the solution once every one to three months, depending on the conditions of the room the humidor is stored in.
Why Propylene Glycol?
Propylene glycol is an effective humectant, and completely water-soluble so it mixes easily with distilled water. The beauty of this compound is that it while it will easily humidify the air, it will also work to help maintain a balance, absorbing any excess moisture when needed. The presence of propylene glycol will also inhibit the growth of mold and bacteria, which can ruin your cigars.
It definitely requires some patience to season a humidor. It's so tempting upon purchasing a new one to fill it up with an assortment of your favorite cigars, but doing that will lead to extra dry sticks that no one will enjoy. Instead, take the time to protect your investment of both your cigars and your humidor by seasoning it properly.
Waiting an extra couple of days won't seem like such a big deal when you're smoking a perfectly crisp and flavorful cigar. And with all that time and money invested in a new humidor there won't be any excuse not to indulge yourself with a few new cigars to build up your collection with.