The Growing Trend of Aging Non-Cuban Cigars
Text: Colin C. Ganley / Photos: Colin C. Ganley, Mike Maring, Alex Svenson
Aging and collecting cigars has been a European tradition for hundreds of years dominated by collectors and retailers who focus on Cuban cigars. Is this an oversight?
Habanos claims to sell some eighty percent (by stick) of all premium cigars purchased outside the United States. But more non-Cuban cigars are sold globally than Habanos. The United States is the largest cigar market in the world and officially consumes no Cuban cigars. Since more than half of the cigars sold in the world today are not Cuban, this issue’s column is devoted to Dominican, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Bahamian and other-country cigars. If you ask the biggest European vintage cigar dealers for non-Cuban cigars, you will find fewer than a handful of marques. Dealers say that there is no market for aged non-Cubans. Some have gone as far as to say that non-Cuban cigars do not develop the complexity that Cubans do over time. As much as I love Havanas, this idea doesn’t sit well with me. In order to find out whether this claim is true or not, I sought out experts in aging non-Cuban cigars.
Where Are The Cigars?
The vast majority of vintage non-Cuban cigars exist in private collections. Some retailers set aside stock for aging but with the popularity of cigars today, most are being smoked with less than a year of box-age. None of the vintage cigar retailers I spoke with has more than a couple hundred-thousand sticks at a time. It is more common to have less than fifty-thousand sticks. Cigar.com, a Pennsylvania based online and catalog retailer of cigars, created an ‘Aging Room’ where customers can find aged cigars to buy. To find out how they acquired such a large stock of aged cigars, I spoke with Alex Svenson, Cigar.com’s Chief Merchant and Aging Room Master. During his regular trips to visit manufacturers, Alex makes a point of asking if they have any cigars sitting around that have some age. Surprisingly, this technique has yielded many fantastic cigars for the Aging Room. Some of those cigars include original release Camacho Havana, Graycliff Profesionale, and Graycliff Original Blend cigars. The benefits of this kind of aging include optimal humidity and temperature control as well as not having to hold stock in the cigar.com warehouse.
Many retail shops display a few boxes of aged stock. In the US, one will often find a few boxes of early-200x cigars from the Dominican Republic on a special shelf reserved for aged stock. The truth behind these cigars is that they are often unsold cigars that happened to age in the back corner of a stock room. The same thing happens in Europe with Habanos but this doesn’t reflect proper cigar aging. One retailer who stands head and shoulders above his competitors by way of vintage non-Cuban cigars is Michael Maring. He owns C.I.G.A.R. in San Antonio, Texas. He does not seek his aged stock from manufacturers, but rather, he searches the secondary market for aged smokes. His stock now includes 450 boxes of aged cigars, from some of the most respectable factories. That is over 11,000 cigars! C.I.G.A.R. is an unassuming shop situated in the Parkwood Place Shopping Center on a busy road in San Antonio. Behind the strip-mall façade lies one of America’s best premium cigar shops. Yes, there is a spacious private lounge but the real treasure behind these doors is in the humidor. Paul Garmirian Gourmet Series (mid-nineties), La Unica Dominican Primeros (1997), Royal Jamaica manufactured by Jamaica Tobacco Company, Fighting Cock pigtail perfectos made in the Philippines and a boatload of other rarities are available for the asking. Mike smokes lots of vintage cigars. I asked him which non-Cuban cigars he has found to age the best. While each cigar should be considered on its own merits, he laid out some guidelines for selecting cigars for aging. Thicker wrappers tend to weather time better. Maduro wrapped Nicaraguans have aged well. Also, thicker Cameroon wrapped cigars have fared well. Thin wrappers become fragile and degrade over time. Connecticut wrapped cigars, Mike said, lose their flavor more rapidly than other wrappers.
According to Mike and Alex, the benefits of aging that their cigars gain are two-fold. As cigars age, the taste mellows. “Harshness which accompanies youth slowly fades away and the oils marry to create wonderful taste expressions,” according to Alex. Nat Sherman, the legendary 5th Avenue tobacconist in New York City, has sold cigars since the 1930s. Not only does the shop carry popular brands, but it also carries its own wide variety of Nat Sherman cigars. A recent discovery of some discontinued cigars from the early nineteen-nineties has found its way to the shelves of this Manhattan retailer. Both the Dakota and the Oxford lines of cigars were produced between 1991 and discontinued in 1996. Some of the last examples of both lines are now on sale. The descendants of Nat Sherman carry on the passion for cigars that the company’s patriarch inspired. What has happened to these cigars with over ten years of age is remarkable. Rich earthy, bark-like woody flavors anchor this cigar while essences of apple and black pepper dance on deck. This is an example of an aged cigar at its peak.
The belief that non-Cuban cigars do not age as well as Cubans is patently false. This can be disproved with just a few tastings of cigars such as these. At least thirty separate cigar selections were smoked in the research of this article. Some of the tasting highlights are included herein. The buyers of these cigars are the more experienced cigar smokers, according to Michael Maring. The curiosity of cigar connoisseurs has led them down the natural path which now brings vintage non-Cubans to their bulging humidors. As of the autumn of 2008, many of the top non-Cuban cigars with age are from the years 1994-1999. Look for cigars with thicker wrappers and stronger original blends. Blends with some ligero leaf included are rare from this period but are smoking very well right now. When you are looking to buy vintage non-Cuban cigars, I recommend looking at two factors. Try to ensure that the original cigar was a well blended and that it had a hearty wrapper and strong flavor. Once that is out of the way, the most important question to ask a tobacconist or collector is, “how was this stored?” According to agers of any kind of cigars constant conditions of humidity and temperature are vital to the proper aging of a cigar. The trend of aging Dominican, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Mexican, Bahamian and other cigars is growing, mostly in the United States. Fortunately there are retailers who sell already-aged cigars to introduce people to the hobby. The best way to get into aging is to simply start buying boxes!