Don't Go Up in Smoke

8 September 2011 By Kelly Sanford

It’s no secret that cigars are up in the ranks of gourmet items found on yachts. Both classy and classic, these tobacco-filled, rolled leaves need care and maintenance, in order to be fresh and ready to light the next time a guest wants to enjoy a smoke and cocktail on the aft deck.
According to Mauricio Cordoba, the general manager of the exclusive Club Macanudo in New York City, properly caring for cigars is a delicate science.
Prior to a cigar being rolled, the tobacco undergoes a meticulous curing process, which ultimately gives it its flavor, aroma and burning characteristics. It’s a process that slowly dries the leaves to a supple, fermented state without rotting or desiccating the leaves. To preserve the cigar’s character, the amount of heat and humidity must be carefully controlled. “To preserve a cigar, the temperature needs to stay between sixty-eight and seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit and humidity must stay between sixty-eight and seventy-two percent,” Cordoba says. “If you are going to have cigars around for any longer than [a few days], then they [need to be stored] in a humidor.”
Where the humidor is placed is important because if it’s near a heat source — electronics, a sunny window or near the galley — it’s difficult to maintain the delicate balance of proper temperature and humidity. He suggests that conditions inside the humidor be monitored daily, ideally several times a day. “If a cigar is stored properly, it can last indefinitely.” He has sold cigars that were rolled as far back as 1988.
When it comes to buying cigars, Cordoba suggests some essential dos and don’ts. Even if an opportunity arises where you’re able to buy a quantity of very fine cigars at a great price, Cordoba advises, “If you don’t have a humidor large enough to store them properly, then don’t waste your money.” Forget about using a refrigerator as a substitute for a humidor. It will dry out and ruin cigars. He also warns that you should always buy cigars from a reputable vendor. “There are a lot of counterfeit cigars out there,” he says — it’s easy to change a wrapper and a label. Pay attention to how the cigars are being stored; if they are not being stored in a proper humidor, then the cigars likely are already ruined.
Another concern is the issue of stowaways; in other words, tobacco beetles. If tobacco beetles come aboard in a bad cigar, they can quickly decimate an entire humidor. Tobacco beetles do not like freezing temperatures, so as a prophylactic measure, he suggests freezing cigars purchased from a questionable source, but just allowing them to freeze for 10 minutes. “Any longer than that,” he says, “and the cigars could be ruined.”
Should the vessel’s cigars dry out, they can be returned to the humidor if they aren’t too dry and they may come back enough to be smoked. However, “An amateur smoker probably would not notice a difference, but an aficionado would,” he says.
Cordoba also cautions that crew must know what kind of cigars the guests enjoy before buying on their behalf. “Cigars are very personal, so don’t guess,” he says. “Cigars come in different sizes, flavors and colors. People like to compare cigars to wine, but this is not an analogy I like. Wine is something you drink with food, so the meal dictates the wine. A cigar stands alone; you enjoy it by itself. I say it’s more closely compared to single malt whiskey.”