Pop Smoke with Mean Gene
March 14, 2018 By Gene Norton
In the first installment of "Pop Smoke with Mean Gene" Gene Norton, instructor, training coordinator and resident pipe and cigar enthusiast with the Government Training Institute goes over the necessary steps of setting up a humidor. This section of the monthly newsletter will contain articles, reviews and tutorials geared toward all things smoke related from cigars, pipes and whiskey to smoking delicious meats.
So you're a type A gunslinger and you enjoy the things in life that demand acquired tastes like fine cigars and a good bourbon or Scotch but you are limited to smoking cigars on special occasions or at the local brick and mortar lounge. Let me help you take your next step in the journey toward tobacco enlightenment. That next step begins with setting yourself up with the necessities to explore new and different cigar selections from the comfort of your man cave, back porch or, if you're lucky enough, your own study or smoking room at home. You obviously need a way to keep and preserve your new treats so they always deliver the best possible smoking experience. You're going to need a humidor and I'm going to talk you through the process of selecting, seasoning and stocking your new box.
Growing up my pop used to smoke cigars and pipes as a way to quit cigarettes. While I wouldn't advise picking up one tobacco habit to curb another, my pop did pretty well with this method for some years. I remember going to the Tinder Box in Hanes Mall, Winston Salem, NC when I was a kid and watching my pop pick up some Ramrod cigars by Avanti and a few ounces of aromatic pipe tobacco. Since his particular cigar selection was that of a dry cured, rough around the edges cigar he didn't need to be bothered with keeping them at a certain humidity and temperature. With that being said I learned about the importance of keeping a cigar fresh when I started buying him special cigars (something that costs about $10.00 or so a stick) for his birthday or Father's Day. When I made my first selection to gift the old man for whichever holiday prompted the purchase I was given the cigar in a Ziploc bag that also contained a humidification packet. I was schooled in the ways of when it would be best to smoke that cigar(s) and what would happen to it if I stored it outside of the bag or god forbid put it in the freezer. Suffice to say if you want to enjoy your cigar at its finest then it should be purchased from an establishment that keeps their humidor properly adjusted. If you're going to be taking a couple for the road you will need to replicate and maintain the conditions your smoke left the walk-in humidor at home. While the bag offered at most Tobacconists will do fine for a few days with a Boveda pack (name brand of humidification packs) the more you buy and the longer it takes to get to them the potential for the cigars to start to lose their essential moisture will inevitably increase. The solution? Set up a humidor for the house and then you can keep a good selection in rotation and at your fingertips.
Without getting too technical the basics about cigars can be learned by purchasing a "Cigar for Dummies" book or something of the like. Another good way to get your feet wet is to seek out a knowledgeable Tobacconist that can help you along the way. When it comes to selecting your humidor, which is what this article is about, there are a few simple steps that I will go into detail about.
Select your box. This sounds simple but there are a few tips that can save you some time and frustration. I advise going to a brick and mortar tobacco shop to browse humidors. While online sites have great humidors there's really only one way to know what you're getting will serve its intended purpose and that's to put your hands on it. Select a box that has an adequate capacity and understand that some of that room in the box may have to be allotted for aftermarket humidification devices (I've never set up a box that was maintained simply by filling the humidification device that it came with) which will cut down on the number and size of cigars you can store within. Next is the drop test as I like to refer to it. This doesn't mean you select a humidor, remove it from the shelf and drop it on the floor, you mongoloid! Raise the lid of the humidor about 2-3 inches and drop the lid. The lid should not "clap" shut, rather it should settle with a "whoosh" sort of sound letting you know that it has a good seal. If you have selected a humidor with glass in it for viewing you should talk to the shop owner and ask if there are issues with the glass holding it's seal in that model. Humidors come in all sizes and with an array of features like drawers for storing your cutters and lighters, glass panes for viewing your selection, hygrometers with varying degrees of accuracy etc. Once you've selected the box you intend to purchase feel free to price that model online and see if you can get it any cheaper.
Seasoning the box. This is the most important and frustrating part of the ordeal. I say frustrating because this process requires patience, of which I have 0. There are a few methods and I won't go over all of them, just what has worked for me. Your humidor will have to be brought up to proper levels of humidification and be stored at a favorable temperature. Seasoning achieves this by saturating your box so your cigars don't suck up all the moisture and then dry out because there's none left in the box to maintain them. You can use distilled water and a fresh from the pack kitchen sponge or propylene glycol (can be purchased at most tobacco shops) and the same aforementioned sponge. The final alternative that some swear by but which has never worked for me is to buy the Boveda seasoning packets. If you go for the more involved method of distilled water/PG you have to coat the inside of the box by dampening the sponge and wiping the surface area inside of the box. Once the inside of the box is damp and has darkened slightly in color moisten the sponge again, place it in the center of the box and close it up. The process should take about a week and you should give it at least that before you check the humidity level. If you go with the seasoning packets it is said that 2 packs of 84% should season a 100 ct box within a week. The best tip to help you through this is buying a digital hygrometer. Think of the hygrometer that comes in your humidor of having the same accuracy of the thermometer that came on your grill which is usually shit. You want to shoot for somewhere between 65%-72% and temperatures no greater than 73 degrees. This is all relative to your climate and where you live. My humidor stays around 69% and 71 degrees. When your box has been maintaining your desired humidity for a week or so it's time to load it up. *Make sure you remove the sponge and replace it with your humidification device that will remain in the box from this point on.
Alright, fast forward to your humidor running at optimal ranges of humidity and temperature. All that's left is buying a few cigars to see what you like. A very general rule of thumb is that the darker the wrapper (the leaf used on the outside of the cigar to roll it) the stronger the smoke will be. Again, that's a very generalized way to put it but sort of keeps it simple for beginners. I would purchase some Connecticut wrappers like a Macanudo Café, Ashton Classic or Rocky Patel 1999 Vintage Connecticut. Next let's add something that will challenge the taste buds but still have great balance with smooth and creamy notes like a Rocky Patel Edge A-10. The A-10 is a mixed bag so to speak. The A-10 is a barber pole wrapper that combines Maduro and Corojo leaves. This smoke will pair well with just about any beverage and should help you break into the world of darker wrappers and more full bodied smoking pleasure. This cigar is one of my go to sticks. Lastly, if you're game, grab a good strong Maduro wrapper like the Camacho Triple Maduro. Now that you have a range of cigars that all offer different notes and complexities you just need to ensure your humidor maintains the ranges you had prior to loading her up. Tweaks here and there may be necessary but if you set the box up right and seasoned it appropriately there shouldn't be any major issues to contend with. As your humidification reservoirs deplete over time it is necessary to keep a check on them and refill as needed.
Bonus tips. Invest in a good cutter and lighter. We will start with the lighter since you can get really great lighters at a great price. I recommend getting a three torch jet lighter from Vertigo or a similar company. These types of lighters are generally under $30.00. As for cutters you will probably spend a little more and you should. A precise and clean cut are absolutely necessary for a proper smoke. Xikar offers a straight cut cutter for around $50.00. Some cigars have different shapes and caps that lend well to alternate cutting methods and some cutting methods are simply a matter of preference. As long as you have a quality straight cut cutter and a good lighter you should be all set. I have included links below to some of the things I talked about using as well. Happy smokes!!
Here are links, to our friends at PipesandCigars.com, for some of the products mentioned in this article: Xikar Xi1 Cutter, Vertigo Champ QUAD Lighter, Xikar PG Humidor Solution and Boveda Humidification Packets
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