The two most important things to cigar storage and aging is the temperature and the relative humidity (RH) in which the cigars are stored. Generally, the lower the temperature, the higher the humidity levels required to keep things at a RH of 65-70.
Humidity is vital because without it, cigars will dry out and lose all their essential oils. When this happens, the cigar will be be brittle to the touch (the wrapper can and will crack very easily, and if the wrapper cracks, the insides of the cigar are liable to spill out and ruin the whole stick), and with all the oils gone, the flavour of the cigar will be muted at best, tasteless at worst. A cigar “breathes” throughout the time it spends unsmoked — it absorbs moisture, and this lends itself to a process of continual “marrying” of the tobaccos and their flavours. This is why, a well aged cigar, will generally taste different in a good way 5 years, 10 years, after it has been released compared to when it is still fresh.
Temperature is important for 2 reasons:
(a) the temperature at which the cigars are stored will have an impact on the RH; if you have too little humidity in a cold environment, then the cigars will still tend to dry out. The same level of humidity in a warmer environment may be sufficient, hence the term relative humidity (RH).
(b) if present, cigar beetle eggs will be able to hatch at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 21 degrees Celcium). A cigar beetle infestation can decimate your cigars in a blink of an eye. There is no way to know for sure whether your cigars have cigar beetle eggs in them, they are really tiny and are more likely to be found buried deep in the innards of the cigar rather than on the wrapper. They won’t hatch unless the temperature is suitable for them to survive, and that’s usually above 70 degrees F.
Humidity is an easy problem to solve. Just use humidity control beads, or even active air humidifiers that keep the air moist for health reasons, and that’ll generally work just fine.
But temperature is another beast altogether, especially since we live in a warm climate here in Malaysia. Our choices are either to keep the air conditioning switched on the whole day to keep the room where your cigars are stored cool, or you can use a wine chiller which generally has shelves that are convenient placeholders for your boxes of cigars.
Not all wine chiller models are suitable for cigar storage. Most conventional wine chillers use compressors to keep the temperature low and this has side effect of drying out quite drastically. Thermoelectric powered wine chillers do not. Since thermoelectric chillers do not have use a evaporator coil to chill the air, the RH won’t drop too much as the air chills.
Since humidity isn’t really important for wine storage, you’ll need to pay particular attention to finding ways to keep the RH at acceptable levels if you’re using a wine chiller. The best way is passive humidification such as using humidification beads (i recommend Heartfelt beads, really good, really cheap); the only caveat is that humidification beads tend to take some time to adjust to changes in the RH, so make sure that your wine chiller model isn’t the type that runs the motor too often to keep the temperature, since every time the chiller motor comes on, it will normally mean a few % drop in RH levels.
It isn’t easy to find a thermoelectric wine chiller in Malaysia, but they are becoming increasingly popular so you might find several suitable models in the local malls. One particular model i’ve found to be particularly suitable is the Pacifica PTW20 Degas, for RM1980 promotion price (normal price RM2,280).
Proper cigar storage is probably the most challenging and precise aspect of the hobby. Get it right and your cigars, like the finest Bordeaux wines, will last a lifetime and continue to smoke well years after you buy them. Get it wrong, and your cigars may easily dry out, become unsmokable or become lunch for the dreaded lasioderma serricorne.