Shane Ireland
An Introduction to Cellaring Pipe Tobacco

Cellaring Tobacco at Smokingpipes.com

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.

Cellaring Tobacco at Smokingpipes.com

A word of advice on cellaring:

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.

To vacuum seal or not to vacuum seal:

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.

Which blends should I age?

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.

Cellaring Tobacco at Smokingpipes.com

Category:   Resources Tagged in:   Cellaring Pipe Basics Tips Tobacco

Comments

    • tom pallan on August 24, 2014
    • Finally, a simple and easy approach to aging tobacco... any other specific brands and types of tobacco that you can give us specific recommendations; I realize that we all have different tastes, however your advice is well served and a great starting point for all. Best, Tom

    • s.ireland on August 25, 2014
    • Tom, aging tobacco is easy and all too often the process is made out to be tedious and complicated. As far as specific recommendations, keep an eye on the blog in the coming weeks as I will be expanding on the points outlined in this introduction. I will say that for the last week or so I have been enjoying some 10 year-old Solani Virginia flake with Perique blend 633 and the taste is like toasted raisin bread and plum wine, with a bit of a smoked gouda or blue cheese. Age has been very, very kind to this already delectable tobacco. Cheers!

    • WaltCannoy on September 8, 2014
    • What I dislike most about canning tobacco is trying to label the jars. My handwriting can be somewhat unsightly, especially when wielding a Sharpie and targeting the lid of a jar. Ideally, I will carefully peal the sticker off a bag of tobacco and stick it to the jar, but the sticker often rips during this process, and if I'm breaking up a pound of tobacco into several jars, then only one jar gets a sticker. I think it would be a brilliant idea for retailers selling bulk tobaccos to include extra un-pealed stickers for the cellaring folks! Maybe, say, one sticker per each two ounces? What a fine little extra perk that would make!

    • s.ireland on September 8, 2014
    • Walt, I use the peel away address labels for letters that come on a sheet. I find it much easier to write legibly then I can just peel them off and apply to the side of the jar(s). This is also ideal if you re-use jars as you can peel the old labels off or simply cover them with new labels. It was great seeing you in Chicago!

    • keith on September 14, 2014
    • "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." That is great news. I'm new to pipe smoking and when I finally settle on some favorites, I plan on buying in bulk and jarring them up. However, everything I've read so far on cellaring tobacco indicates that the jars must be at least washed to clear off any factory residue, or at most sterilized to prepare a clean environment (free of mold spores, etc) for the tobacco to reside for the next 5-30 years. I would love to be able to skip this step; so, I'm wondering if the "no wash" method has been tested...

    • s.ireland on September 15, 2014
    • Keith, it has been tested, both literally (by a pipe smoker who also happens to test food-safe containers professionally, using a very expensive apparatus) and in practice by all of us here at the office. I have dozens of jars that range in age from about ten years, to days ago, and everything in between. The only time I have washed jars was to re-use them with brand-new lids and seals and I am more worried about those jars than anything straight out of the package from the store (I try to re-use jars for tobacco that I am going to smoke, not for long-term aging). By washing brand new jars you are more likely to introduce mold spores, bacteria etc. I hope this helps!

    • keith on September 15, 2014
    • Shane, thanks for the response. That puts me at ease. However, I do wonder why everybody -- from Ball to the USDA -- instructs canners to wash all jars before use. But if none of the folks at SmokingPipes.com wash new jars, then I don't suppose I should be worrying about it!

    • s.ireland on September 15, 2014
    • Keith, they are not talking about use with tobacco, but rather with food! I will say that I do not recommend using loose or individually sold jars or pieces of jars without washing them. Factory-sealed packages of a dozen are preferable (I always make sure I grab packages that have not been opened by someone else). Food-borne bacteria is what the canning methods are intended to eliminate. You can certainly take the same steps with tobacco, but is it not necessary.

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