Aging Pipe Tobacco
A lot of people have discovered that aging pipe tobacco can make for a more pleasurable smoking experience, but, as with many things about pipes and tobaccos, there are a number of misconceptions and a lot of misinformation out there, so let's look at some thoughts about aging tobacco.
First, what kind of pipe tobaccos benefit from aging? Virginia and Virginia/Perique blends probably are the ones that change most noticeably and generally become sweeter and smoother. One of the most surprising smokes I have ever had was from a 10 year old tin of McClelland Christmas Cheer. It had become so sweet that it reminded me of toffee. English and Balkan style blends will also be helped if you find the tobacco to be harsh or overpowering when fresh. Time mellows and takes the edge off the sometimes in-your-face flavor of Latakia. Burley blends and aromatics don’t seem to benefit much, if at all.
How does one go about aging tobacco? If you mostly purchase tins, the process is simpler but has its caveats. If you mostly purchase vacuum-sealed tins (the flat tins with screw threads or need to be popped with a coin), be aware that leaving the tobacco in that tin will allow it to age, but relatively slowly. The relative lack of oxygen in the tins means that most of the fermentation will be anaerobic, according to no less an authority than Greg Pease. The tins used by Cornell & Diehl, G.L. Pease and McClelland tobaccos are not vacuum-sealed, so the oxygen content of the tin will increase aerobic fermentation, followed by anaerobic.
If you are aging bulk tobacco, or are looking to age tobacco from vacuum-sealed tins, the preferred method is to use mason jars (like the ones used for jarring preserves and pickles), but the method is different than you would use for food products. Fill the jars about ¾ of the way, leaving enough air space to allow for maturation. Whereas you would usually put these jars in a bath of boiling water for food preservation, the extreme heat would change the tobacco, so draw hot tap water (temperature below 140° F) into your sink, and place the jars in the sink with some kind of weight on top, so that the water is about as high as the level of tobacco in the jar. Let them sit in the water for about 15 minutes, and screw the lids in place. Remove them from the sink, and as they cool, a light vacuum will pull the lids tightly into place. Some folks like to use a vacuum sealer and bags to age tobacco, but this will result in a similar situation as vacuum-sealed tins. Using ziplock bags or Tupperware type containers just won’t work as there will be too much air exchange, and the tobacco will dry out.
When you’re ready to finally smoke the aged tobacco, open the container and allow the tin or jar to remain open for an hour, or preferably longer, before loading a bowl, to let the air bring out the flavor.