My Cigars Are Alive!
With summer just around the corner, this is a good time to read up on how to keep your cigars safe. And of all the things that can happen to your cigars, perhaps nothing scares the average aficionado more than beetles. These little critters can make quick work out of some of your favorite - and God forbid - most expensive sticks. But fear not; there is hope. Your best defense against beetles is knowledge, so read up and soak it all in.
I was recently attacked by beetles, so I've done as much reading as possible in an effort to save myself future heartache. This commentary is intended to pass along lessons from my research with hopes that you can keep your goodies beetle-free.
Most people won't notice they have a beetle problem until too late - when they see beetles running around or holes in a wrapper leaf. But the process starts long before, when cigars are exposed to temperatures of around 80 degrees or more for an extended period of time. You see, all cigars have the potential to have beetle eggs in them. It's a sad fact of life that most are laid on tobacco leaves before they are harvested. High temperatures activate the eggs, which then go through the larva, pupa, and beetle stages. All this takes anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks, with the adult beetle stage only comprising the last 14 days or so.
Therefore, if you see beetles, they have been eating your cigars for a good eight weeks and you'll probably experience some losses. The best way to identify a ruined stick is to hold it up and tap on it. If a fine, black sand-like substance falls out the foot, the cigar has fallen victim. This black sand is the excrement left by the various stages of the beetles eating your cigar. That said, however, please keep in mind that no black sand does not ensure the cigar is safe. There are a number of reasons the excrement would not fall, such as blockage or a delay in hatching.
It is worth noting that beetle excrement has the ability to make your sticks stink when smoked, as well as taste bitterer. I noticed no difference in taste when I smoked an infected stick, but heard a quick snap and crackle as I burnt through the larva inside.
Defeating the Enemy
In order to kill the various stages of the beetle, you need to freeze all of your cigars. Simply double bag (in Ziploc freezer bags) every stick and suck out as much air as you can, then follow this schedule: one day in the fridge, three days in the freezer, one day in the fridge again, and then one day at room temperature before putting them back in your humi.
This process slowly works your cigars up to being frozen to minimize potential damage by becoming so cold and dry while killing anything living inside them. Keep in mind, though, that there is no definitive answer on whether freezing kills inactivated eggs. Freezing, therefore, does not give you the ability to ignore your humidor's temperature in the future.
For those of you with larger humidors where freezing several hundred sticks would be a daunting task, rest assured there is still hope. Beetles aren't dumb. If there's food around, they'll generally stay put. That said, in my experience, I have no reason to believe that a tightly sealed cigar box in your humidor that has been infected could be breached. Ziploc bags are also a good defense against spreading, although beetles have been known to chew through cellophane.
So, with summer fast approaching, my advice is to keep a watchful eye on your smokes. Several days of shipping in the heat could very easily meet the criteria for activation. Be vigilant, know your enemy, have Ziploc bags handy, and good luck.
Thursday, May 15, 2008