Recently, I had an unpleasant surprise. I have a small collection of Gracliff cigars I keep in one of the drawers in my humidor. It had been a while since I lit one up, and I reached for a blue label “Professionale” torpedo that had been aging for a while. When I lifted it out of the drawer I noticed a bit of fine dust fall from the cigar. And then I saw it: a beetle hole. Wait, this wasn’t just a whole, this was a full-fledged beetle amusement park.
I dropped everything, pulled out the drawer. After an hour or so of careful evaluation of the cigars, I found 5 other cigars, all Graycliffs that had been raped and pillaged by the evil marauding insects. Worse still is that I came face to face with the little criminals. They were pretty brazen. A few of them just sitting on the sides of the drawer, surveying the vast tobacco tobacco landscape. I happy to say that I gave them a close look at my thumbprint.
After I quarantined all the cigars in plastic I wiped down the cedar drawer with distilled water to remove any remains of bugs and dust. (You have to be very, very careful of that dust. A pile of tobacco dust to us is a honeymoon suite to an amorous tobacco beetle.)
I was thinking of leaving it at that. Infected cigars gone. Beetles eradicated. Stogie citizens of the United Sticks of Brian’s Humidor (USBH, for short) were once again safe. From beetles anyway. All citizen stogies still faced the danger of small, controlled burns. But then it occurred to me, this is an opportunity to speak with the manufacturer about this issue. These are $20+ cigars, after all. There should be someone available for me to talk to about this.
I started out by sending the following message to Graycliff, using their web contact form:
Hi, I was wondering what sort of measures you take to prevent beetles in your cigars. Do you freeze your cigars like many manufacturers do?
The reason I’m writing is that it appears a few of the little guys made it through whatever measures you take to elimate them. I was VERY surprised this morning to discover a break out of beetles in the Graycliff drawer of my humidor. After some careful analysis, it appears the source of the beetles was in my selection of blue label (professionale) sticks, and spread into a red label cigar or two. Needless to say, I am a little disappointed. Fortunately only six cigars had to be thown away. I’m moving the remaining sticks to a quarantine humidor for now.
I just thought you should be aware of this. The only other cigar I’ve had a beetle problem with was an inexpensive bundled Dominican smoke.
P.S. If this gets through, it appears that you have a bug with your feedback form.
But the contact form errored out when I tried to send it. I tried again, but no dice. It’s lucky I wrote my message in notepad, because having to rewrite my questions would have just added insult to injury.
Since I couldn’t use the web-based contact forum, I decided to call Graycliff directly. I was a little surprised to find their direct line busy, so I tried again with the 1-800 number. Wow, two strikes! This time I got through and asked to be forwarded to someone who could speak with me about the cigars.
A lady with a great island accent answered the phone. I told her about the breakout of beatles in my Graycliff stash and asked her what measures Graycliff takes to prevent beetles in their cigars. Do they freeze their cigars before they ship? Do they use any sort of pesticide on the tobacco? She told me they don’t use pesticide. The only thing they do is ship their cigars in a freezer container to Baton Rouge where they are distributed.
I then asked her if they get a lot of calls regarding beetles. Initially she responds no, but then qualifies that they do get calls from warmer places like California during the summer. The key here is heat. Heat is what causes the bugs to hatch and start eating. She recommends to people who call that they do not freeze the cigars, saying that freezing the beetles can cause damage to the smokes. That seemed a bit contradictory, given they ship the cigars frozen, but I didn’t challenge her on the point.
What she tells people who call about beetles is that they should immediately throw out any cigars that have beetle damage and put the rest of the cigars from the box in tupperware in the bottom of the refrigerator until the end of summer. Of course, being careful to keep this container away from food items like onions and other produce with strong aromas. This advice seems to be a little suspect to me, as the cool temperature will not kill the eggs and even the most humid part of the refrigerator will considerably dry out your smokes if left there very long. Perhaps the idea is that this approach delays the problem long enough for you to smoke the cigars. Problem resolved by fire.
Of course, the 800-pound gorilla in the room (or on the phone in this case) was whether or not my smokes would be replaced. I decided not to ask for a replacement, rather waiting to see if an offer would be made. My rationale was that when I purchased these cigars, there was no obvious indication of bugs, so their germination had to do with my storage conditions. (I have had temperature problems in the past.) In my opinion, they didn’t owe me a replacement. However, it would make good business sense for them to make the offer. As anyone in customer service knows, you’re chance to score real points with your customer is when they come to you with a problem. Address it the issue well, and have the power to make an unhappy customer both happy and loyal.
The offer to replace the cigars was never made. Maybe it was because I didn’t sound angry on the phone (I wasn’t), or maybe they get calls all the time from people lying to get free cigars. I was a little disappointed, I have to admit. I don’t need replacements and probably wouldn’t have accepted them, but I would have appreciated the offer. I mean, hey, these are $20 cigars after all!
You might be wondering why I didn’t contact the retailer. In this particular case, I know that the cigar that seemed to be the epicenter of the beetle party was purchased from a cigar shop that has since changed ownership. Even if they wanted to generously replace any of my cigars, they couldn’t. They don’t carry Graycliff.
So what did I do to address the problem? I’m trying a multi-stage freezing process I’ve read about in the past. My plan is to put my stogies in the fridge for a day or so, before moving them into the freezer for around a week. And then transition them back out to the fridge before returning them to normal, though isolated, humidor storage.
So what, if anything have we learned? I’ll leave you, dear Stogie Review reader, with a few pointers for avoiding the evils of beetles.
- Monitor and regulate your humidor temperate carefully.
- Act quickly if you think you have a problem.
- Don’t try to keep or rescue a cigar with beetle damage.
- Quarantine all smokes that were in direct contact with the beetle-gnawed cigars. Consider freezing them to ensure safety.
- Clean up that tobacco dust. That’s beetle breeding territory.
- Per my conversation with lady at Graycliff and my past experience, there may be a slightly higher risk of beetles with Graycliff cigars. I’m not going to advise against buying them, I’d just recommend you be careful in where and how you store them.