Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cigar aging experiment

One thing that is at the heart of cigar collecting is to let your cigars age long enough for them to become great cigars. Or at least that's the hope...

The hard part is waiting ! Who wants to wait 5 years or more to start smoking a box you bought last week ? You waited a week and you're already going crazy thinking about how tasty those babies must be, but you're supposed to suppress that and wait patiently 259 more weeks ? It's inhumane.

For cigar aficionados that have a large collection of boxes, it's not a big problem usually because they almost always have some aged stuff to smoke while the new boxes are resting. But for the rest of us, there must be way around this problem.

I looked around the internet, spoked with a few BOTLs and managed to find a few clues. I'm going to share them with you. Now, don't judge to fast even if it sounds pretty weird, keep an opened mind, you might be suprised in the end. In the end, we just want better tasting cigars.

First, a little bit of basic facts about cigar storage/aging.

We all store our cigars in humidors and even if there's a wide variety of models, they all serve the same purpose: keep the cigars at certain humidity and temperature levels, usually 70%/(21.1°C/70°F). Rencently though, more and more of us now keep our cigars around 65% RH for better draw and long time aging with the added benefit of better mold prevention.

Now for the aging process: like many things on this earth, tobacco ages quicker with a rise in temperature, humidity and pressure. That's why during the manufacturing process of cigars, humid tobacco leaves are stacked together in big piles, wrapped in bundles and left to ferment in the natural heat of the producing country. Chemical reactions occur and flavors develop, changing the tobacco from harsh and bad tasting, to a smoother and better product worthy of being rolled into magic.

The same thing happens in a humidor, but at a much slower pace. Lower humidity and temperature levels are the reason why it takes so long for a finished cigar to age. Doing it any other way puts those precious sticks at risk of MOLD.

So what can we do ? Here's the three methods I found that might work:

- raise the temperature and lower RH
- freeze cigars for 1 month
- add MSG to cigars


For mold to grow, it takes a certain humidity level and that's pretty it. The higher the temperature, the faster it grows, but it'll grow even if it's just a few degrees above 0°C/32°F. So the trick is to lower the RH to a point that even a warm environment doesn't allow mold growth.


I got this info from a fellow forum member that a very well known cigar aficionado freezes his cigars for a month and says that it makes the cigars taste like they were aged for 4 years the regular way. That seems very counterintuitive, especially considering what I've written above. But like I asked of you in the beginning, I'll keep an opened mind... Considering the source of this information and if the messenger related it faithfully and didn't invent it himself to prank me or others, it's something worth trying.


Some people get afraid when they hear MSG, so here's something to erase those concerns: MSG is monosodium glutamate, the salt form of the amino acid glutamate, which has an important role in our body as the most abundant neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. A number of common food ingredients contain high levels of naturally-occurring free glutamate, including tomatoes and tomato juice, grapes and grape juice, other fruit juices, soy sauce, cheeses such as Parmesan and Roquefort and mushrooms. Our bodies even produce MSG, maternal milk contains ten times the level of MSG in cow's milk.

MSG has been used in food as a flavor enhancer, itself only tasting somewhat salty. It has been recently accepted that MSG triggers a special kind of taste buds called umami, which are considered to be the fifth basic taste perceived by the tongue, the other four being salty, sweet, sour and bitter.
It can be described as a pleasant "brothy" or "meaty" taste with a long lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue.  Its fundamental effect is the ability to balance taste and round the total flavor of a dish.

So what's all this have to do with cigars? It is believed that during the fermentation process of tobacco leaves, MSG is formed and that's what in part gives a deeper flavor to the tobacco. The longer the fermentation or curing of the tobacco, the more MSG there will be and so more flavorful cigars will be produced.

So a young cigar or one made with less cured tobacco will have less MSG and therefore less taste. So why not add MSG to cigars ? It would artificially age cigars almost instantly.

And where do you get MSG? At the grocery store of couse! It's in the same aisle as spices: one common brand is Accent.

So after all this, what's this experiment mentionned in this post's title anyway ???

I've decided to try all three methods and see if any of them work for real. So here's what I did:

Found 8 identical cigars (Jose L. Piedra Cremas) which I separated in 4 groups of 2:

Cigars 1-2 : high temperature, low humidity
Cigars 3-4 : one month in the freezer at -17.9°C/0°F
Cigars 5-6 : MSG added
Cigars 7-8 : control group, left in my main humidor with the remaining cigars of that box

Why did I choose these cigars? Because they're not very expensive and I didn't want to ruin my better cigars! And why 2 cigars for each method? Just to be a bit more sure of the results.

Here's a few pictures and some comments:

The three test groups

MSG from the grocery store, about 3$

100% MSG

1 gram of MSG that I diluted in 10ml of water, so 10% w/w ratio. Why that amount? I thought it tasted "salty" enough to have an effect...just a guess...

Ended up using 2ml of the solution, 1ml per cigar, which means 0.1 gram of MSG per cigar

I used 0.5ml to wet the outside of each cigar
Wrapped each cigar with plastic wrap for 1 minute
After 1 minute cigar 5
After 1 minute cigar 6
Injecting the remaining 0.5ml starting at a depth of 1,5" and pulling out while injecting
Cigars 1-2 in tubes that I sealed in a plastic bag before going in high temperature environment
Cigars 3-4 in plastic tubes that I sealed in a plastic bag before going in the freezer
Cigars 5-6 in a baggy with cigar beads to lower the RH before being returned to the humidor

High temperaure environment is an electric blanket that's setup  for our cats (!) which reaches a constant 109°F/42.8°C The starting RH is 62% for this test, as well as for the others.

So now comes the wait: I'll stop the experiment in a month, just because the freezer test takes 1 month and I don't want to wait more to find out the results, simple as that !

See you in a month !