I wholeheartedly subscribe to the theory that aging has a critical impact on a cigar's body and flavor. Initial aging after their rolling is essential to allow the cigar to dry and stabilize. Not only will this greatly improve the flavor, but also greatly improve the burn and draw. Stabilization typically takes only 4 to 8 weeks depending on the ambient climate, however allowing your cigars to age even longer will allow the flavors of the blend meld and mellow into a more harmonious smoke. A cigar's complexities and nuances will be greatly enhanced with long-term aging in a proper environment.
Also aging tempers the strength of a stronger blend. Many of the stronger cigar recipes possess a richness and depth of flavor that milder ones are unable to achieve, however their youthful bite can be overpowering to the palate. Aging these hi-octane smokes allows for their bite to fade, while leaving their robust and intricate flavors to be enjoyed by the smoker. Aging is always a good thing for stronger ligas.
On the other hand, I am also a firm believer that cigars do not perpetually age for the better. Every cigar eventually hits a peak, and from there on it is downhill. So it is just as important to not overage your cigars, as it is to age them in the first place.
The younger the cigar the more drastic the impact time has upon it; 3 months can mean a world of difference to a freshly rolled cigar, whereas 3 months are negligible when dealing with 5 year old sticks.
Assigning fixed blocks as ideal aging time is impossible, each box of cigars is different, and it will respond differently to aging. With that said, here are some ballpark figures to use:
- 4 Weeks - Cigars should be smoked within a few weeks of being rolled if you desire that "chincales" or "fresh roll" type of flavor.
- 6 Months - 1 Year - After 4 weeks, I think it is important to allow cigars at least 180 days of rest if they are not smoked directly after their manufacture. I strongly suggest 6 months for milder blends and at least a year for stronger ones. Without exception, cigars smoke and taste better when allowed a year to age.
- 1 - 2 Years - This is a good time to start smoking those heavier Nicaraguan and Hondurans. This is also the peak period for many Dominicans, and most light bodied smokes.
- 2 - 5 Years - These are the peak years for most other cigars. Typically the stronger, full-bodied cigars age better over a longer duration. This is why Bolivar Fuertes, Ashton VSGs, and many Havanas are all considered cigars that age beautifully. The same logic applies to cigars of substantial strength regardless of their country of origin.
- 7 - 10 Years - This is about the maximum aging time for me on almost all cigars. After this point, I find most cigars become too mellow and too pale in body for me to enjoy.
- 10+ Years - At this point we enter the realm of "vintage" cigars in my book. Many of these cigars will be so flat and boring they are worthless to smoke, while others will take on unique characteristics that will make them enjoyable smokes. One such trait is a musty smell and a taste that is similar to snuff. Another rarer long-term aging trait is cigars taking on an odd scent that is commonly referred to as the "stinky cheese-like smell." This odd reference is due to their pre-light bouquet being faintly similar to a wheel of Stilton cheese. Though it may sound unappealing, these cigars are a delight to smoke and are highly prized by vintage cigar collectors worldwide. Many pay top dollar to secure these smokes. Regardless of the flavor characteristics of vintage vitolas, rarely do any of these cigars maintain any quantitative strength at this level of aging. Also, only the fullest bodied cigars have any chance of being worthwhile smokes after this many years.
By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that most cigar makers disagree with what I am suggesting. Many are emphatic that there is no benefit in the aging cigars. Of course, it behooves them to dismiss the concept of long-term aging, as it is not in their own interest to retain cigars after manufacture. I concede that they are correct in their contention that their cigars are ready to smoke once they ship them, however, as I stated in the beginning, I strongly subscribe to the benefit of aging cigars. Time allows for good cigars to become great cigars in my opinion. I do not expect manufacturers to retain cigars for extended aging, long-term aging is not a practice for the average smoker, but rather a luxury embraced by the connoisseur smoker.
There are many exceptions to the above timetable - it is only meant to serve as a rough guideline for your convenience. All handmade cigars improve with age, so before you dismiss any cigar as "bad" you should allow it to rest untouched for a while. You will be genuinely surprised how many of those poor cigars blossom into enjoyable smokes. However, please remember that aging cannot improve cigars that are made from inferior or under-cured tobacco. You should only age good cigars as they are the ones for whom you will be awarded from for your patience.
The best way to determine the impact time on your cigars is to smoke one occasionally from an aging box and to take detailed tasting notes. I am certain that you will see drastic improvement in the quality of your smoking experience as you allow your cigars to age. However, regardless of the age, once you find a box is no longer improving with time consider the smoking lamp lit and enjoy them. Once you begin smoking aged cigars, you will discover that what I have described as a luxury will quickly become a necessity.