Raising Orlik

Swaddled Orlik

When time meets Virginia tobaccos, the results are smooth, deep, and delicious flavors, and few things are more enjoyable than opening a decade-old tin and experiencing the olfactory goodness it produces. Notes of figs and molasses greet the nostrils, prompting the mouth to water as the chamber is filled with delicately rubbed out flakes. Likewise, the smoke is a sensational mix of sweet chocolate and dried fruits, transporting the smoker into tasteful bliss unmatched by newly minted tins.

The purpose of cellaring tobacco, though, isn't merely to age the leaf; it's to mature it. Not only does the color of the tobacco itself darken, but the flavors deepen and grow into something otherwise not experienced before the touch of time. By adding years to a blend, one can dramatically enhance the quality and pleasure of certain tobaccos. Why else do certain, long-aged blends sell for $80 a tin? They are, quite simply, better.

The same is true for us humans: We age and mature with time and experience, becoming (hopefully) better people as we're tested and tried over the years. We gain wisdom, our character deepens, and, provided we don't succumb to cynicism, we grow into more pleasant people.

This maturation doesn't occur in a vacuum though. It requires learning and experience, often in the form of pain. Like metals forged in a fire, the tribulations we suffer throughout life harden our constitution but, at the same time, mold us into something much stronger than before.

Could this, then, be implemented with tobacco? If I put tobacco through similar rigorous acts, would it age even better and faster, or would the stress cause it to harden, the leaf becoming senile and impertinent when smoked? If I went too far, the results could be detrimental — like a child who suffered too much in his youth may grow into an adult as unforgiving and coarse as the those who raised him. I would have to be a good parent.

I jarred a tin of Orlik, my "child" as it were, and for five years, I reared it as any child should be.

Every morning before leaving for work, I turned on a playlist of only the best classical music. For eight hours, Orlik was surrounded by the intricate, intelligent compositions of Bach, Chopin, Brahms, and Mozart. Once I returned home, the jarred tobacco exercised, rolled back and forth across the living room, and when the weather permitted, Orlik spent time in the backyard, helping me mow the lawn, garden, and read in the shade.

Every night before bed, we selected the tobacco's favorite stories. From Dr. Seuss and the Barenstain Bears, we graduated to Roald Dahl and the Hardy Boys; from The Chronicles of Narnia to The Lord of the Rings. Eventually, evenings were spent with Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Plato, Vonnegut, and Hemingway. (Orlik developed a particular fondness for Mark Twain, and we read his complete works over the course of a year.)

Reading to Orlik

I convinced a pipesmoking friend to bring over jars from her cellar for a play date, and they and Orlik passed the time together every Saturday afternoon, watching movies, reading comics, and playing board games. Orlik learned how to share and interact kindly with other tobaccos — the tobacco was maturing.

I introduced it to more modern, influential music — The Beatles, Elvis, Johnny Cash, U2, the Stones — and I could tell it was maturing.

Orlik watched me cook; I showed him how to shave without cutting his jawline and taught him how to throw a perfect spiral. (He never got those last two down, but he learned the concepts nonetheless.)

Once the tobacco grew a little older, Orlik joined me at my friends' and my monthly poker night, learning to discern bluff from value bet and understanding the difference between Kings full of tens and tens full of Kings.

If I went too far, the results could be detrimental — like a child who suffered too much in his youth may grow into an adult as unforgiving and coarse as the those who raised him. I would have to be a good parent.

It wasn't all sunshine and roses though; there were hardships too.

Once I accidentally knocked Orlik off the counter and the jar cracked severely from top to bottom. With delicate hands and numerous apologies, I transferred the tobacco to a fresh, new jar. Another time, I forgot where I had placed the jar, and Orlik spent the next three days alone in the dark garage while I searched frantically. There were times when I forgot to roll down the windows in the car, and the tobacco baked in the sun. And on more than one occasion, Orlik almost drowned in the pool.

All these experiences, I hoped, would mature the tobacco well, like plants that are read to flourish more robustly or children that are disciplined out of love live more responsibly.

Eventually, it was Orlik's fifth birthday. I baked a small cake and lit five candles, blowing out the candles myself, of course. After finishing the cake (also entirely myself), it was time to see if my (and the tobacco's) hard work had paid off.

Seated at the kitchen table, I twisted open the mason jar, the air hissing out from the pent up pressure. Immediately, sweet notes of dates and syrup erupted into the room, and I slowly rubbed out a flake, packing my pipe's chamber.

Orlik playing Poker

I paused suddenly, lighter suspended just above the pipe's rim. I'd be lying if I said I didn't think this a little sick and twisted — having spent years maturing this tobacco, only now to burn it to ash for my enjoyment.

That feeling quickly faded though as I reassured myself that Orlik was simply inanimate tobacco, not a sentient, feeling organism that I loved.

That didn't keep me from shaking just a little bit in anticipation, however. The lighter's flame wavered as my hand started to tremble. This was the moment I had been waiting for, but I wasn't sure what the outcome would be. Orlik had spent five years in a jar, but would the lifestyle I had created for it be enough to mature the tobacco better than the simple span of time?

All these experiences, I hoped, would mature the tobacco well, like plants that are read to flourish more robustly or children that are disciplined out of love live more responsibly.

I smoked the bowl in silence, unmoving from my seat, testing my hypothesis and hoping my hard work would yield positive results. The flavors were incredible, everything I had hoped for — smooth, deep, and delicious — yet they weren't any more or less special than other five-year-aged jars of Orlik I had smoked. I had failed.

Tamping out the remaining ash and dottle, I was tempted by anger: What an utter waste of time. I had given everything to Orlik, and yet the tobacco hadn't matured any more than the other tins sitting lazily in my cellar. These flakes of Orlik had experienced and learned so much more, yet they showed nothing for it.

I was more than a little disappointed, but then a sense of relief replaced my dissatisfaction. What if my test had worked? What if the paces I had put Orlik through did dramatically improve the tobacco compared to the jars that sat idly? I would've had to commit myself to this same process for years to come, never content with any tobacco that wasn't raised properly.

Breathing a comforted sigh, I sat back in the chair, thankful that the past five years would never have to be repeated. I could just put tobacco aside, forget about it, and reap the benefits down the road. All it took was patience, and I could still experience the best that aged tobacco had to offer.

I re-sealed Orlik and placed it back in the cellar. Another five years would do wonders, and this time, I wasn't going to work for it.


    • Chris Sivillo on August 20, 2019
    • I always remembered it as BarenstEin Bears...

      Another great read regardless :)

    • Dan H. on August 23, 2019
    • Sometimes I get a little hacked off by how often some of the popular VA flakes are out of stock. Then I remember you can't hardly take a step in a tobacco shop (or a click in a virtual shop) without stumbling over a tin of Orlik Golden Sliced. Orlik Golden Sliced is delicious. And available. And budget-friendly. I don't know what else you could want out of a tobacco.

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