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The Cigar Advisor

Independent cigar advice from one of the World's leading Connoisseurs and Collectors!

I was recently lucky enough to spend some days checking out the Havana Cigar Scene in Hong Kong. It was my first trip in Hong Kong and I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people in general and the hospitality of my host in particular.

Whilst in Hong Kong I had the pleasure of smoking some fine cigars in the 3 cigar divans namely:

'The Nurse' at the Ritz Carlton Hotel
'The Cohiba Cigar Divan' at the Mandarin Hotel
'La Casa del Habano' at the Sheraton Hotel

Teddy Lam, general Retail Manager of all 3 cigar divans, and who has been in the business for nearly a decade and is quite a Connoisseur in his own right, confirmed to me my host is indisputably the single most knowledgeable Cigar Connoisseur in Hong Kong, and very probably in South East Asia.

I had the opportunity and pleasure of seeing some of the most beautiful examples of aged and rare Havana cigars within his comprehensive and complete collection including the unbelievably rare Saint Luis Rey Prominente, Cubatobacco 25th Anniversario Humidor, Cohiba 30th Anniversarrio Humidor (limited 45 editions) as well as numerous Cuban Davidoffs and Dunhills.

Teddy Lam also confirmed that the Cigar Advisor's cigar collection is unparalled in Hong Kong, and very probably South East Asia.

Readers of Cigar Aficionado Magazine might recall that it was reported in one of their issues that a probable all time record price was achieved by a 1970's Partagas Fabulosos cigar in an auction by Christie's.  We are pleased to disclose to our friends that this cigar was purchased by C.Gars Ltd on behalf of the Cigar Advisor.

The Cigar Advisor, by request from C.Gars Ltd, has kindly agreed to lending his knowledge and experience on any modern, aged or rare Havana cigars. Much of his advice, we promise, cannot be obtained in any published source.

The views expressed may not always reflect the views of C.Gars Ltd, but we guarantee you that they will not be altered in any way and thus represent completely independent expert advice.

The Cigar Advisor is famous for giving honest and neutral opinions to fellow cigar enthusiasts in Hong Kong.  As he is in no way whatsoever connected with the cigar trade, if his views are biased in any way it will be in favour of the customer.

The Cigar Advisor, while being famous not through his own intent, prefers to remain anonymous.

Latest Questions for the Cigar Advisor

Everyone hunts for the Bolivar Gold Medal in their quest for the ultimate collector's cigar but isn't (or wasn't) the Sancho Panza Dorados the same cigar? Also which one was discontinued first? 

Yes, the Bolivar Gold Medal and the Sancho Panza Dorados is of the same production vitola, namely Cervantes (503). Length 61/2 inches and rg 42. You may also be interested to know that this is not a particularly rare production vitola. Romeo Cedros de Lux No.1, Montecristo No.1 are of this vitola. It is also interesting that the Sancho Panza Molinos and the Bolivar Lonsdales also belong to this vitola.  

A box of 1985 Bolivar Gold Medal

The Bolivar Gold Medal was still sold by the Pacific Cigar Company as late as 1992 as ordinary cigars. But it has been officially deleted in the Habano S.A. Catalogue. It is very interesting that the Sancho Panza Dorados is still being listed in the Habano S.A. brochure with a commercial vitola number 503.10008. A practical joke by the Cubans maybe?

Four boxes of alleged 1998 Gold Medals were put up for sale in the March 2000 Christie's Auction. They were withdrawn after Habano S.A. confirmed that the Gold Medals are no longer made. So beware!

Regarding the Dorados, nobody that I personally know of have seen, or heard that anyone who have seen a single stick. It had never appeared in any auctions either. It is not even present in the Siglo XXI Humidor* (but the Gold Medal is). But I really have no idea of how rare it is, as Sancho Panzas were mainly exported to Spain and not to Hong Kong in the old days.

*Siglo XXI or Century 21 Humidor is a special humidor from Habano S.A. to commemorate the Millennium, there are 2,000 cigars from 20 different brands, many are discontinued items. Only 21 were made. Humidor No. 1 is now in Hong Kong.

The Bolivar Gold Medal is certainly very collectable but nonetheless it is not the ultimate quest of an average Hong Kong collector. All major collectors I personally know of possess at least a box (no doubt because of our long history in collecting cigars). Our cigar culture has long been established before the Second World War and is quite independent of the American 'cigar boom' of the '90s. It is quite remarkable that, according to a very reliable source, more than 60% of all collectable cigars are now in Hong Kong hands.

You have stated that you personally do not agree with the much-heralded 70°/70% storage for cigars -- I believe the British tend to keep a slightly lower humidity level than some others, and it could also be a personal decision among individuals.  In your opinion, what is your optimal storage environment?  Thank you very much, and I rue the day that you can no longer provide the excellent advice and discussion which you have generously provided.

The short answer is, I do not know for certain.

Nevertheless I think I am still doing better than the people who know. People who repeated mumble the magical numbers 70/70 have not got a clue about when, where, how and why these numbers originated. Most of them do not even know how to calibrate their hygrometers (For electronic digital ones the error is typically +/- 2%, for analog ones, it may even be +/- 5 to 10%).

At least I tried to find out and have seemed to find something meaningful.

Curiously, nothing really scientific has ever been found on anything published. Mr. Alfred Dunhill had reported to have done some researches undertaken by England's National Physical Laboratory before the First World War. However I have no information about the results. Mr. Dunhill nonetheless, in his book 'The Gentle Art of Smoking', recommended the ideal temperature for storage of cigars should be '60 to 65°F', but no specific figures for humidity were quoted.

This seems to concur with many recent experiments on the effect of heat on wines, which have concluded that the best temperature for storing wines is between 55 to 65°F, beyond 65°F, the fruitiness decreases irreversibly and  the absolute cut off point is 70°F, where the rate of destruction of fruitiness increases exponentially. Fruitiness is believed to be aromatic esters which are quite heat unstable. Thus it seems wise to store cigars at 60°F to be on the safe side. A lower temperature would not hurt the wine (nor perhaps the cigar), but it would not serve any useful purpose as the maturation is delayed with no meaningful gain.

Further, the theory that tobacco beetle eggs will not hatch below 70°F has been proven (by me!) to be too optimistic. I had many first hand experiences that they hatch at 70°F, but I do not remember encountering a single occasion when there was a beetle problem when cigars are stored at 60°F.

Regarding humidity, nothing scientific is known about the exact figures but everyone who has any experience with vintage cigars share the unanimous opinion that the best humidity for aging cigars long term is between 60 to 65%. Cigars which are stored at 70% seem to fail to age as beautifully and it is well known that cigars which is too humid e.g. 75% will lose all their bouquets in no time.

I normally age my cigars at 60°F and 65% RH for new cigars. For very old cigars, I store them at 55°F and 60% RH wrapped air-tight. I do not know for certain whether these figures are the most 'correct', but it had worked so far so good.

So how did the 70/70 myth originated? A very good speculation goes like this:

Cigars taste best at 72% RH, minus 1% for each five years of age. I discovered this by trial and error ages ago. Sometime later I read from a book that Mr. Davidoff insisted to sell his cigars at 72%. He probably discovered this by trial and error too. As cigars sold a few decades ago had already been aged for a few years when leaving the factory, and reputable merchants like Dunhill insisted to age them further before release, a cigar which a customer bought in those good old days had typically been already 10 years old. They should taste best at 70% RH. And somebody had obviously made the easy mistake that if a cigar tastes best at 70 %, they should age best at the same RH. (Mr. Davidoff mentioned in his book 'The Connoisseur's Book of the Cigar' that the 'ideal' RH of storing cigars should be 'between 67 to 72%', apparently he had also succumbed to this method of thinking.

The 70°F probably originated when a certain 'expert' had decided that according to a nineteenth century book on insects that beetle eggs do not hatch below 70°F, cigars should therefore best be stored below that temperature. And naturally people would think that if cigars were best stored below that temperature, they should age best at that temperature as well.

As the 70/70 are round figures, they are easily remembered and most quoted. Eventually the most quoted becomes the truth, as the majority is always right. That reminds me of a saying by Mark Twain: 10% of people think, 10% of people think that they think, the remaining 80% would rather die than think.

When you age cigars in air tight glass jars, do you still need to humidify them?

Experience about cigars maturing in air tight glass jars comes from the popular 'office glass jars' produced before the sixties.

The lid of these jars typically reads 'Nature-seasoned cigars', and 'Please close lid immediately after extraction and cigars will always taste exactly as in Havana'.

The body has a label which reads 'Nature-seasoned cigars' and 'The tobacco is fully seasoned before manufactured', 'Cigars in this packing should remain soft and fresh as smoked in Havana. Prevents loss of fragrance by drying out, is no less an essential feature of the Jars, than protection against injurious airs of varying climate'.

Thus the fact that cigars packed in this form can develop a great wine like bouquet after a few decades is quite unintentional. It is also observed that the less disturbed the cigars, as evidenced by the lack of yellowing of the tissue paper which wraps the cigar in the centre (to ease pulling out), the more brilliant the cigar is.

Based on this observation, the short answer to your question is no. As all these jars came with no built in humidifying device.

The recent Millennium porcelain jars come with a humidifying device underneath the lid. A lot of people who saw this were tempted to put some humidifying solution into it. While the long term benefits remain uncertain, a lot of cigars had been damaged irreversibly by moulds developing near the top because of excessive humidity.

What is your opinion on the following cigars and the age they "could be" smoked as well as the "ideal" age when the vitola peaks. I note the following cigars since they haven't been mentioned on this forum as well as the fact that they are quite popular: Punch Churchill and Punch Punch, Cohiba Esplendidos and Corona Especial, Partagas Lusitanias and 8-9-8 varnished, Montecristo No. 4 and A, Bolivar Belicoso Finos and Corona Gigantes, Cuaba Divinos and Exclusivos, Diplomaticos No. 2 and No. 5, El Rey del Mundo Taino and Grandes de Espania, H.Upman Sir Winstons and No. 2, Hoyo Churchill and Epicure No. 1, Juan Lopez Selection No. 2 and 1, La Gloria Med. d'Or No. 2 and Tainos and finally (!!!) Trinidad Fundadores.  I know the list is long, but it covers many of the cigars discussed daily on other forums, and since I respect your opinion very much, it would be great to know how long to put away those vitolas for optimum smoking pleasure.

Wow! That's a lot of cigars to give comments. But I wish you to know that, each stick of cigar is different, even within the same batch of productions. Trying to give comments on the 'could be smoked'  and 'peak' age about a cigar is about as flawed as discussing a top Bordeaux wine without referring to the vintage year. In general, more easily found cigars are more inconsistent.

The examples I quoted on peaks of aging (Mont-2, Cohiba Robustos etc.) are based on real examples purchased, and should not be taken as referring to a generalisation of the actual commercial vitolas.

Even when I quoted my examples on my 'top fives', despite I insisted that they have to be consistent, I was very worried that the ones you buy based on my opinions might happen to be different from what they used to be. And for that matter, sadly I had to omit many of the finest cigars I had ever smoked.

For me, a cigar reaches a 'could be smoked' age when its 'unpleasant' flavours (mainly under-fermentation and young tannic tastes) reaches tolerable levels. Every cigar leaves the factory without being 100% fermented. This is by intent as fermentation continues to generate the necessary 'raw materials' for aging.

When will a cigar peak? I personally define it as the exact time when the formation and attrition of pleasant aromas and taste  

This article was originally published in 2000.