Check Your Cellar
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14 February 2011

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.

Posted by adam at 2:00 PM | Link | 8 comments

Re: Check Your Cellar
Another thing that should be taken into consideration, several years ago I had to throw out a tin of tobacco that had dried out, due to being opened. I inserted one of those cheap aluminum disk humidors believing that this would soften up the tobacco. Forgetting about it for several months, when I did finally open it to see how it was doing, I noticed that the aluminum on the humidor had begun to dissolve into the tobacco. I'm not sure if it was the sugers or acidity in the tobacco that caused this, but I consider it lesson learned. Thanks Adam...........

Posted by Ted Bihlmaier on February 14, 2011 at 6:49 PM

Re: Check Your Cellar
What about bulging? I have a few older tins (15 plus) years that have started to bulge ever so slightly at the top. Is this a sign of good things happening, or should the contents be opened ASAP and transferred to a jar? Any experience with this?

Posted by tripp on February 15, 2011 at 3:58 PM

Re: Check Your Cellar
Sometimes old tins can bulge from the slight fermentation within. It really doesn't cause a problem, but they can pop like a can of biscuits if the pressure gets too great. If it were my tin, I would just open it and put the tobacco in a mason jar. Plus, it's bound to be a really tasty smoke by now!

Posted by adam on February 15, 2011 at 4:03 PM

Re: Check Your Cellar
Bulging is a good sign. If it's also accompanied by rust or other problems, then you'd want to change it, but bulging just means that its aging nicely.

Posted by sykes on February 15, 2011 at 4:03 PM

Re: Check Your Cellar
Great post, Adam.

In addition to the rust spots on the bottom of the tin, check for staining on the label, which can happen when rust forms on the sides. I've lost some pretty wonderful tobaccos to internal rust in the past; philosophically, I just chalk it up as part of the risk when smoking vintage blends, but it's still pretty disappointing when it happens.

When faced with dry tobacco, all is not lost. I wrote about it in the Briar & Leaf Chronicles in an article entitled "Tobacco Reanimation - Bringing it Back to LIfe." I know I can't post a link here, but a google search for "Tobacco Reanimation" will find it.

Posted by glpease on February 27, 2011 at 3:55 AM

Re: Check Your Cellar
Adam, please allow me to add something that's rather mundane? I store more PT than I'll ever be able to enjoy, in a cabinet with double doors. I have long used a simple dehumidification product called "Keep It Dry" Closet Dehumidifier. It contains crystals that ultimately absorb enough moisture until they turn to liquid. They're available in Lowe's, Home Depot, etc. They certainly don't affect the moisture within a tin or glass jar, just in the surrounding air. I have tins in that closet as old as from the late 1980's, and have yet to see the first spots of rust on a tin. Very cheap insurance....

Posted by Alan on February 27, 2011 at 4:16 PM

Re: Check Your Cellar
I must add a P.S. onto the subject of bulging cans. Adam and Sykes - perhaps you remember a batch of your Low Country Waccamaw from C&D that had bulged a lot, and quickly? I bought seven of them, and finally opened two of them to transfer them to a Mason jar. When I popped the first tin, I thought a gas main had exploded! So, I was more prepared for opening the second one, sort of. lol. But wow. I treasure that stuff. I only allow myself a treat of that every once in a while. It's coated in sugars, and the first tins taste like the perfect VA blend after 7 years of aging.

Posted by Alan on February 27, 2011 at 7:15 PM

Re: Check Your Cellar

Yeah, that's super good advice. Advice indeed that I keep meaning to adopt myself. I had a bunch of tins from 2003 go bad on me, and I really wish I'd taken more care with their storage.

As for the special bulging Waccamaw, there was a whole run of weird C&D virginias with this 'feature'. The upside is that it was like super-accelerated aging and the tobacco was extremely tasty. The downside was that sometimes the tins spontaneously exploded. Once we realized the latter, we pulled them from the shelves.

Really, it's super rare to have actual exploding tins from aging. These tins had some wild yeast or something that had made it in there in the manufacturing process (tobacco aging is literally fermentation, much like yeast in bread or alcoholic beverages). It shouldn't have happened, but the tobacco was super good as a result. It was a pretty awesome example of the feature/bug dichotomy based on how you looked at it.

Posted by sykes on March 1, 2011 at 2:10 PM

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