Much has been said about the benefits of aging pipe tobacco. If you've ever had the opportunity to sample a well-aged Virginia blend, then chances are you are already a believer. The comparison of pipe tobacco to wine may be cliche, but it is certainly accurate. While the vibrancy of youth can be desirable, in most cases, age will only improve a fine tobacco blend.
Recently a dear friend of ours stopped by Smokingpipes HQ for a visit and a tour. A few of us got together for lunch and after a most satisfying meal, our guest generously popped open and passed around a tin of a coin-style Virginia blend that was, by Sykes' estimation, approximately 30 years old. The smell of salted plums and candied figs from the tin was so delectable that I actually lost track of how many times the tin made its way around the room, each of us basking in the aroma, before anyone got the nerve to actually pack a bowl. As far as the flavor, it truly defies accurate description: deep, round, salty, a bit briny, and complex.
This experience prompted me to consider my own tobacco cellar. I have been laying down tins and jars of my favorite blends for some time now and have amassed enough to be able to smoke from a stash that ranges from five to ten years-old, while replacing what I smoke with fresh tobacco. I follow a simple rule: for every tin or jar that I smoke, I must replace it with two of the same blend, at the very least. I make sure to put away more than I smoke to ensure that at my normal pace, I won't be dipping into tobacco that is less than five to ten years-old. Of course, I do plan to let some of my cellar continue to age well past the ten year mark.
There is no need to over-complicate the practice. Tins that are factory sealed only need to be stored in a cool, dry place and out of direct light. I date the bottom label of my tins and put them into plastic storage containers to keep them organized and safe. As far as bulk tobacco or tobacco that does not come in a sealed tin, Mason jars are the preferred method of storage. A package of Mason jars comes from the factory ready to use right out of the box. There's no need to scrub or attempt to sterilize brand-new jars. It has also been suggested that jars should be "vacuum sealed" by heating the jars in hot water just before filling and placing the lid on. This is another unnecessary step, as is dipping the tops of the sealed jars in paraffin wax. Simply fill the jars loosely with your tobacco (leaving some room at the top), make sure there is no debris on the rim of the jar as even a small bit can compromise the seal, and apply the lids and tighten the seal. Store the filled jars in the same manner as you would tinned tobacco.
We here at Smokingpipes.com have found that aging the same blend under different conditions (i.e. in a vacuum sealed tin verses a jar that has air in it) will produce slightly different results, both of which are pleasant. Personally, I tend to prefer jarred tobacco that is not vacuum sealed and perhaps this quote from an old Charles Rattray's of Perth catalogue explains why: "Contrary to popular belief, the air-tight container is not the best method of packing [...] Tobacco is a vegetable that lives and breathes; it does not improve by being imprisoned in an air-tight compartment. Further evidence of this is the fact that the choicest cigars are always packed in a plain cedar wood box from which the air has not been excluded." It does, however, come down to personal preference, and you can expect a fine tobacco to mature under either condition.
There are many blends that age beautifully, with Virginia blends such as Escudo and Orlik Golden Sliced seeming to benefit the most from long-term storage. Oriental-heavy blends will mellow over long periods, although many smokers feel that too much age on such a blend (in excess of five years) may lead to a less than optimum experience. As always, experimentation is a must. The recent release of Cornell & Diehl's Cellar Series marks the first ever tobacco blends formulated for long-term storage — despite also being quite tasty when fresh. It is apparent that the trend of aging quality pipe tobacco is here to stay.