BOX PRESS WITH BOVEDA’S ROB GAGNER
“A well-presented science lecture in a relaxed cigar setting,”
-Boveda YouTube Viewer
It’s not so much a lecture as it is two guys talking truth over smokes. Rob’s pulled in Brian Rice, the Principle R&D Engineer at Boveda, to tell it to you plainly—the science behind Boveda.
- What’s the secret to Boveda?
- Why is 2-way humidity control for cigars better than a 1-way humidifier?
- Will the wipe down method speed up seasoning?
- What gets rid of “cigar mouth”?
Explore cigars, cigar life and cigar enjoyment with Rob Gagner, host of Box Press, Boveda’s cigar podcast.
What are Rob and Brian smoking in Box Press Ep. 06?
Aging Room Solera Fantastico Sungrown
Who is Brian Rice?
For two decades, Brian worked as a packaging engineer for some big names in consumer products, including General Mills®, PepsiCo® and 3M® before joining Boveda in 2017.
“Switching industries was a little difficult as I had to change my way of problem solving,” Brian explained. “My entire career was focused on coming up with innovative packaging for new product launches. Now I’m tasked with finding innovative solutions to help people protect and store their most valued products, such as premium cigars.”
“I’ve always been a cigar guy. I grew up in a family that enjoyed smoking cigars and the hookah during our big family gatherings. No matter how busy or complicated life got, it all seemed to melt away with good friends, family, great food and finishing with a relaxing smoke.”
Did Brian always want to be a packaging engineering? Heck no.
“I knew I wanted to be an engineer, but I didn’t know what kind until my cousin asked if I ever thought about being a packaging engineer. I remember telling her, ‘I don’t want to make boxes for the rest of my life!’ ”
- Coordinate trials to test a packaging’s performance
- Design experiments to evaluate and improve materials and equipment that will make those packages
- Use lab testing equipment to validate and confirm results
After learning more about cool stuff like that from his counselor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Brian was hooked. (Or was he hookahed?)
Enough about Brian, let’s get into the secrets behind Boveda.
What’s in Boveda?
- Natural salt
- Pure water
- Food-grade thickening agent (that’s also found in many salad dressings)
Why Boveda adds a thickener:
- So the salt doesn’t clump
- So the salt stays mixed with the water
- So it’s easier to fill each Boveda with a consistent amount of salt solution
What’s with the Boveda reverse osmosis membrane?
Sounds a little sci-fi, doesn’t it? (Boveda was way ahead of its time when it came to cigar humidification.)
More than two decades ago, Boveda Co-founder Robert Esse hunted down the material that makes 2-way humidity control possible for moisture-sensitive products. Other films around at that time were designed to hold in water, hold in moisture and hold in aromas.
Boveda needed a material that could add and absorb water vapor. Add AND absorb. That’s what makes Boveda 2-way humidity control. And that’s why our packaging is patented.
“The resin we use to create our membrane is astounding,” Brian said. “Not only can it effectively condition an environment, the membrane efficiently pulls in or gives off water vapor in a short time frame to create balance in your humidor.”
Why Boveda uses salt?
Boveda saturates distilled water with salt. That means, we heat up the water, so it can absorb a lot of salt. (If you’ve ever made simple syrup for cocktails, it’s the same idea.) When you saturate a salt water solution, that solution can now give off and take in a lot of moisture while still maintaining a designated RH level.
“The key that separates salt water from other solutions is that salt water maintains an accurate RH over a long period of time,” Brian explained.
“Boveda’s salt-based solution is different,” Rob said. “Boveda holds on to moisture, so if the RH level in your humidor drops below 69% RH, Boveda will release water vapor. If the level climbs above 69% RH, Boveda will absorb that excess water vapor.”
Boveda controls the environment it’s in, Boveda is not controlled by the environment. It’s an active system based on what your humidor needs.
Why is the Boveda salt-based solution more effective for cigar storage than 1-way humidifiers?
Now 1-way humidifiers, like you find in other packets, PG solutions, beads and gels don’t use salt. They use other ingredients—like propylene glycol or glycerin—to make their solutions.
“With glycerin, for example, you can add enough moisture to start at 69% RH,” Brian said. “Once you put that glycerin-based humidifier in an environment where it starts to gain or lose moisture, such as your humidor, you’ll see significant swings in the RH level.”
You can saturate other compounds, so they also absorb moisture. As that happens, the solution can’t maintain an optimal RH level. When a saturated sugar solution, absorbs or loses just 1% of its weight in moisture, for example, there is a 2 point gain or drop in RH.
“You can see how ineffective a sugar solution can be. And how fast your RH can drop or rise when you don’t use salt-based humidity control like Boveda in your humidor,” Brian said.
Now Boveda can lose up to 30% of its weight in moisture and the RH range will only drop between 2 and 5 points. Your humidor can keep drawing and drawing moisture and Boveda will keep giving and giving and still maintain an optimal RH level. But when Boveda starts to get hard and crunchy, it’s given all it can give. Replace your Boveda.
What about using distilled water and a sponge to humidify cigars?
When you fill a reservoir device or saturate a sponge and put either in your humidor, you’re exposing your cigars to 80% RH, according to tests done in the Boveda Innovation Center. At an 80% RH level, you can spoil your cigars’ taste, damage their condition and encourage mold growth.
“If you use a wet sponge in your humidor, your RH level is always roller coastering up and down. You’re counting on your humidor to exchange moisture with its surrounding environment, ” Rob said.
“Depending on where you live, outside, the humidity might be great. But inside of a building, heated or cooled air is moving. So the humidity level in your house is always changing,” Brian explained. “From that perspective, the RH in your house determines how well and how effective a 1-way humidifier system preserves your cigars.”
Only Boveda keeps cigars at a precise and consistent RH level.
How do you know a Boveda 69% RH is really 69% RH?
Before making a batch of Boveda, we test the salt solution using a water activity machine. The machine tells us if the salt solution is at the proper RH. Throughout the entire production cycle, we check again and again to make sure the RH level is consistent. And we verify that Boveda’s contents meet our product specifications.
How does Boveda determine its RH levels?
In the Boveda Innovation Center, we:
- Bring a cigar up to it optimal condition using Boveda in an airtight humidor.
- Extract samples from the cigar. (This step is painful for all of us.)
- Put each sample inside a little dish.
- Measure the sample inside our handy water activity machine.
- After about a minute, the machine reveals the sample’s water activity number.
The water activity number = the RH level.
- Since that cigar was at its optimal condition going into the test, we know that the RH level is the perfect RH level for that cigar. Ta-da!
How do you know the water activity machine is correct?
Re-calibration, dear cigar friends.
Even the high-tech equipment used in the Boveda Innovation Center needs to be re-calibrated. Over time, all scales and hygrometers need to be calibrated to make sure they give accurate readings. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the hygrometer in your own humidor is calibrated correctly.
“An un-calibrated hygrometer is inaccurate,” Brian said. “You will be amazed at the smoke quality of your stick when it’s actually at the same RH as what’s printed on your Boveda.”
Honey graham crackers? Pepper? Black tea? Store your cigars at the correct RH level with Boveda to bring out the intricate flavors you only read about in cigar reviews.
Re-calibrate your hygrometer every 6 months to catch fluctuations in your humidor’s RH level.
How do we know how many Boveda to use in a humidor?
Through testing in the Boveda Innovation Center, we’ve found 2 Boveda 60 gram are perfect for a 50-count humidor. Now that’s a baseline.
Because humidor makers go by count, so does Boveda. When you order Boveda, go by how many cigars your humidor can hold, not by the number of cigars you currently store in that humidor.
“What you’re really humidifying is the cubic air space inside your humidor and not the cigar count. It’s a little confusing,” Rob admitted.
So if you have 10 cigars in a 50-count humidor, you would need 2 Boveda 60 gram. (While you’re buying Boveda, go out and buy some more smokes to fill that humidor, wouldya?)
Not achieving the RH level printed on your Boveda?
It’s telling you something is going on in your humidor. Something is exchanging moisture faster than Boveda can replace it.
- Did you just add new cigars?
- Have you seasoned your wooden humidor with Boveda 84% RH?
- Is your humidor leaky?
- Are you using enough Boveda?
“We’ve done extensive testing with a variety of different humidors,” Brian said. “It’s hard to replicate every real-life scenario in the Innovation Center. As a failsafe, our recommendation is based on very dry conditions.”
What if your humidor can’t sustain that 69% RH level, the sweet spot for most cigars? Could be the time of year. Could be your humidor. Could be the condition of your cigars.
What you need is more horsepower, more humidity control engines inside your humidor. You can always use more Boveda than we recommend. Boveda can never over humidify. It can’t go above the RH level printed on the packaging.
“Boveda is really humidifying the headspace in your humidor, so it’s not necessarily going from the Boveda to your cigars. It takes a second step. Boveda’s water vapor goes into the headspace and then your cigars pick it up from there.”
“The humidor, the wood, the cigars, will all try to get to that equilibrium, so it might be a little bit slower, but it does work,” Brian said.
“If I want the RH level of new cigars to come up to 69%, I first bring them up to equilibrium,” Rob said. “The fastest and safest way is to put them in an airtight container, like a Boveda Humidor Bag. Once the hygrometer hits 69% RH level in the humidor bag, I’m good to go. Only then do I put the cigars inside my wood humidor.
“I don’t have an RH drop. I don’t have any RH issues inside my humidor. I can just go in there every day and pluck out a cigar.”
GOT A QUESTION FOR Rob? | Use #AskBoveda on Social Media
Will the wipe down method speed up the seasoning of my humidor?
No. Wiping down the inside of a wooden humidor before you add Boveda 84% RH for seasoning will delay effective seasoning.
If you wipe down the inside of a wooden humidor with a sponge saturated with distilled water, the moisture level on the surface of the humidor’s interior will spike to 100%. Add Boveda 84% RH and Boveda will detect that 100% moisture level.
Boveda will first go into absorb mode to bring the moisture level down to 84% RH. (This will add 2 to 4 days to the Boveda 14-day seasoning method.) After that, Boveda will push moisture all the way through the porous wood—deep down into its cells, not just on its surface.
Best to just toss in Boveda 84% RH into a dry humidor and let it work on its own—no need to rain on its parade. 2 weeks, done.
What’s the best beverage to drink while you smoke a cigar?
Enjoy an alcoholic beverage with your cigar?
Brian pairs his premium cigars with a single malt Scotch that’s been aged at least 15 years, like Glenfiddich®. Redbreast® Irish Whiskey is also a favorite cigar pairing. To his pour, Brian adds a single ice cube to slightly chill his whiskey while freeing its aromas and flavors. Then he’ll settle in for good hour’s smoke.
Teetotaling cigar smoker?
Have a Coke® and a smoke! With his cigar, Rob’s a fan of enjoying a sugary, carbonated soft drink. When Rob’s reviewing cigars, he’ll drink sparkling water or tea in between sticks to eliminate competing flavors. What’s the secret to really cleanse your palate after smoking a cigar? A glass of milk.