So you have decided to do your future pipe-smoking self a favor by investing in a tobacco "cellar." Comprised of blends that promise to age like wine, as well as a few blends that you simply never want to be without, your cellar is an investment that can provide many years of contemplative reverie and enjoyment. Fine tobacco is not exactly cheap, and it is only natural to be concerned about the safety (and therefore the returns) of such an investment. The good news is that cellaring pipe tobacco is as simple as it is rewarding.
Many of us have spent our time and our hard-earned money searching for that special blend. A blend that just sings in our best pipes. One that delivers the aroma and flavor time, and time again and forces us to stop and say "now this is why I smoke a pipe!" Some of us have no plans to end the great search even after finding multiple "must-haves." There are two basic reasons to add tobacco to one's cellar:
It is safe to assume that a fine tobacco will only improve over time, but you might have to add enough to your stock to sample at different stages of maturation, to determine what amount of time you prefer. Many smokers feel that English blends (especially those containing high proportions of Latakia and Oriental varieties) peak around the five-year mark, showing little improvement beyond that point and a possible decline with too much age. Virginia blends, on the other hand, can essentially age indefinitely; they will not change much after a certain point (the biggest change tends to take place before or around the ten-year mark), but most smokers who have tried a Virginia blend with 25+ years of age will tell you that the experience was pleasing, to say the very least. As far as keeping a supply of your favorite(s), you might just be looking to ensure that if availability is ever affected, you will not have to "go without."
My personal tobacco cellar is comprised of several large, plastic storage containers filled with various tins and jars. Tins are wonderful because in most cases all you need to do is date them (I use a marker to hand write the date they are added to my cellar on the bottom label of tins which are not factory date-stamped) and keep them in a safe, dry place out of any direct sunlight. What about blends that are not available in tins? What about the savings offered by purchasing my favorites in bulk? Well, you will need to pick up some Mason jars. I prefer Pint and Half-Pint jars with wide mouths for ease of filling (and un-filling!). Pint-sized jars will hold approximately 4 ounces of ribbon-cut tobacco, whereas Half-Pint jars are perfect for 2 ounces. Typically I use Pint jars for larger quantities of tobacco that I plan to age long-term, and the Half-Pint jars for my "working supply" or simply when I wish to have more practical amounts open at a given time.
It is always a good idea to periodically check the seals on both your tins and jars. Simply tighten the lids of any jars that have become loose, and if you find that a seal has been compromised on a tin, you will want to either enjoy the tobacco immediately, or transfer it into a jar. I also keep a pack of blank peel-off address labels and use them to label my jars with the blend name, quantity in the jar, and date added to my cellar. Fill your jars loosely, make sure no tobacco bits are on the rim before sealing to ensure a proper seal, and store them. The idea that jars should be heated in water in order to create a "seal" is unnecessary and stems from certain "canning" recipes which are intended for use with food, not tobacco. A little bit of air is a good thing, and jars of pipe tobacco will actually "seal" themselves after a short time. I would also avoid using paraffin wax or similar substances to further seal the lids of the jars as it is also unnecessary and can be quite messy when the time comes to enjoy the contents.
Cellaring pipe tobacco is really that simple. Just buy what you like, keep it safe, and enjoy. Still searching for those cellar-worthy blends? Check out our Tobacco Locator and let us know which blends are best represented in your own cellar! If you have any questions about the Locator itself, take a look at Jeremy's recent post for a quick breakdown of how to use the tool.