Check Your Cellar
Fresh tobacco is a good thing, but aged tobacco can be a thing of amazing complexity and refinement. Given time, temperature, and humidity control, cellaring favorite tobaccos in their original tins or mason jars allows slow fermentation to the point that Virginias will develop sugar crystals that will come to the forefront during smoking. Likewise, Latakia and Orientals in blends will marry with other Virginia leaf to become something as desirable as vintage wines left to mature. Burleys change a little bit, and aromatics tend to have a shorter time of improvement before they begin to sour or lose the flavors that make them unique. Many of us cellar tobaccos in tins.
But I’m not here to educate on how much time blend-X takes to mature or how sharp flavors in young Virginias fade over time, or even about stockpiling favorites that are on the market. I’m here to say ‘keep an eye on what you have stored away.’
Pipe smokers can cellar tobaccos however they choose but many of us like to keep them in original tins because they can increase in value or age differently. I'm not as concerned about the stuff in mason jars, but tins should be periodically checked - just in case. Some good rules of thumb are to keep them in a dark place that is low in humidity, such as a closet, and away from windows that may allow the sun to heat up the tins and contents inside. After a little while in a humid environment troubling things can happen to a beloved tin. Namely rust.
Greg Pease and I talked recently about tobacco packaging. Only when I chose to write this blog did I even take notice that some tins are made from steel while others are aluminum. McClelland uses steel tins and C&D (makers of G.L. Pease tobaccos and others) used steel in the past but are using aluminum today. Tobacco tins are often coated with white material that doesn't rust, but the seams can sometimes cause problems as much as the base.
I've been cellaring some Tribute that was tinned in 2001 and was checking over my stash when I noticed some rust spots on the base. This was not the fault of the manufacturer or the tobacco inside; it's just humid here in South Carolina. My apartment gave me a dehumidifier to put in one of our rooms, and the thing sucked out about a gallon of water from the air in 10 hours. Too bad I didn't have one of these earlier, because the moisture problem could have been avoided. Once I noticed the pitting on the bottom of this tin, I carefully opened the tin and pinched out the contents to put in a mason jar for storage. Luckily the tobacco was fine, but I left the bottom half-inch to discard in case some rust was mixed in. Other tins weren't so lucky. You could take this advice or leave it but periodically checking your tins of tobacco for rust on the base or staining is a good idea. When one rust spot develops, others aren't far behind and soon they will eat through the tin, leaving your carefully sealed and preserved blends neither sealed nor preserved. It's well worth the time to check them over, or just go ahead and jar them when you buy them. Aging will still happen in a mason jar and you won't have to worry about rust ruining some of your favorite blends.