What Is Pipe Tobacco Cellaring?
In short, the concept of cellaring tobacco is much like the process of storing wine or even cigars. While it doesn’t necessarily replicate cellar conditions, it implies that pipe tobacco is stored in a carefully engineered and consistent environment.
As you will learn in this guide, there are many different ways to achieve this depending on the desired results. For instance, we have already covered how pipe tobacco can be placed in short-term storage for daily use.
However, cellaring distinguishes itself in that it’s a process where the tobacco stored for several years. Consequently, the tobacco will evolve and age over time.
Before you continue, it’s crucial to bear in mind that cellaring is a highly personal process that significantly depends on individual preferences.
Unlike cigar storage, which has a consensus despite some minor disagreements, pipe tobacco cellaring can be quite elusive. Indeed, almost every tobacco pipe enthusiast has their own method.
Therefore, we will endeavour to provide you with the fullest guide possible based on our own experiences and research. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if you learn different or even contradictory processes from other sources!
Can You Age Pipe Tobacco?
Pipe tobacco is very similar to wine and cigars in that it improves with age. Arguably, pipe tobacco has a far greater potential to age over more extended periods of times than the other two examples.
As pipe tobacco is a blend of different varieties, it can slowly marry its flavours over time. This is one reason that it’s recommended not to store similar cigars together. Yet, this is actually quite beneficial for pipe tobacco.
Indeed, pipe tobacco rests for a brief period after its production. Therefore, it doesn’t realise its full potential. If pipe tobacco is given sufficient time to age and the flavours to infuse together, the blend becomes richer, mellower, and overall more harmonious.
For instance, Virginia tobacco improves the most with age, thanks to its high sugar content. When properly preserved, the sugar undergoes a chemical process similar to alcoholic fermentation. In fact, Virginia tobacco can be aged for an almost unlimited period and still continue to improve.
Similarly, Latakia and Oriental varieties, which are known for their pungent spiciness, will become more refined and mellow over time. Therefore, this process would be highly beneficial for people who prefer complexity rather than intense flavours.
Of course, to achieve this, the tobacco needs to be kept in optimal storage conditions. Should the environment in which it’s stored be slightly off, the tobacco may deteriorate. This can be particularly heart-breaking if you have been trying to preserve the tobacco over several years!
Finally, some cased aromatic tobacco includes large doses of other ingredients for flavouring. Therefore, just be mindful that this doesn’t always improve with age. In fact, sometimes it may actually be harmful to the tobacco, so it’s worth periodically testing now and then.
Where To Cellar Pipe Tobacco
As we highlighted in our guide to storing pipe tobacco, there are plenty of different storage solutions that you can use. While the majority are excellent for short to medium-term storage, they aren’t necessarily suitable for years of storage.
Controversially, we put forward cigar humidors as an excellent storage solution for pipe tobacco. Provided that there aren’t any cigars in there too, a humidor is perfectly suitable for pipe tobacco. Furthermore, humidors are far more versatile than people realise, and they can be adapted to your preferred humidity level with the right seasoning technique.
However, when ageing pipe tobacco for long periods, a humidor may actually be quite inconvenient as they do require some maintenance.
Typically, most pipe smokers will cellar their tobacco by merely filling a cardboard box with their tins and putting it somewhere in their basement. While this process probably yields fair results, we feel that it’s a little too rustic and doesn’t anticipate any issues.
For instance, basements can be quite humid environments. If the relative humidity is too high, the tobacco will be exposed to too much moisture. Even if you’re cellaring unopened tins, they will take on rust, and the seals may degrade.
Nevertheless, a basement, if relatively consistent throughout the year, will be the best place to keep your cellaring container.
Cellaring Tobacco In Jars
In most cases, pipe enthusiasts will cellar unopened tins that still have an airtight seal. However, if your tobacco was supplied in a pack or a ziplock bag, it will be vulnerable to the elements. Although this isn’t much of an issue if it’s for a short time, it can irreversibly damage tobacco that’s being aged for several years.
Consequently, we suggest transferring your tobacco to an airtight container. For short-term storage, we’re quite fond of using tupperware. Yet, this can stain the plastic over time and may cause an exchange in chemicals.
Given that we’re talking about years of storage, we’d be reluctant to use even our preferred Sistema 1870 Klip-It, which is made from 100% virgin plastic and free of BPA phthalate.
Therefore, a glass receptacle would be the best solution as it won’t interfere with the tobacco. We’re quite fond of mason or canning jars for short-term storage, and they’re ideal candidates for ageing tobacco too.
In our opinion, the best jars are made by Le Parfait, and they come in a variety of sizes. Thanks to a metal locking mechanism and a rubber gasket, your tobacco will be secure and in an airtight environment.
The smallest jars easily contain a whole tin’s worth of tobacco. Meanwhile, other sizes can be used to ageing larger quantities.
Nevertheless, we do advise that the jars are then introduced into your primary storage solution to add another level of protection.
Storage Containers & Coolidors
If you’ve read our guide to short-term tobacco storage, you may recall that we talked a fair bit about tupperware. As mentioned above, tupperware shouldn’t be used to store loose tobacco. However, it’s an excellent option for holding the tins and jars in one place. We often refer to these as tupperdors when storing cigars.
Yet, we would argue that a tupperware may not be sufficient when ageing a decent quantity of pipe tobacco. Instead, we would suggest that you build a coolidor. Coolidors are indeed very similar to tupperdors and are effectively identical except that they’re on a much larger scale.
An added benefit of coolidors as that since they’re often made from coolers, they also offer thermal insulation. This can be particularly useful if your basement or storage location is occasionally subjected to temperature variations.
However, since we’re quite confident in the temperature consistency of our own basements, we’re happy with using storage containers. Nevertheless, the storage container must offer a rubber gasket with an airtight seal. For instance, we’re very fond of the Iris USA Remington containers that you can find on Amazon.
Even if your tobacco is kept in airtight jars or unopened cans, this extra level of protection is essential. This provides you with a second barrier for their internal environment as well as protection from UV light and temperature variations. Additionally, it keeps the fragile glass jars safe from accidents!
Additionally, you will then be able to control the humidity level inside the container and create the best possible environment for your tobacco.
Pipe Tobacco Cellaring Conditions
As we cover in our pipe tobacco storage guide, it’s fundamental that you create a consistent environment for your tobacco. When ageing your tobacco over several years, this is even more important. Given the incredible length of time that your tobacco will be cellaring, an unstable environment could irreversibly damage your collection.
Therefore, we will now discuss ways to ensure that your pipe tobacco is kept safe and secure so it can adequately age. Before we go further, it’s essential to keep in mind that tobacco requires a dark place like a basement or cellar as it’s sensitive to sunlight.
Additionally, it ages best with consistent temperatures of 10°C (50°F) to 15°C (59°F). Meanwhile, the best relative humidity for pipe tobacco varies according to the blend and your tastes. However, it tends to be somewhere in the 55% RH to 75% RH range.
How To Maintain Humidity For Pipe Tobacco
The humidity of your basement or storage location may vary, and not all of them are suitable for ageing pipe tobacco. Even if your tobacco is kept in airtight containers, jars, or unopened tins, you may want to introduce some devices to help control the humidity.
As with regular tobacco storage, the most adapted devices are Boveda humidity packs. Unlike most humidifiers, they offer two-way humidification. Therefore, rather than continually releasing moisture, they work at a set level and begin to absorb it when the humidity goes over a set threshold.
As mentioned above, different blends require various levels of humidity. While you could create separate containers for each type of blend, we suggest using 62% RH packs inside your main container. Afterwards, if you have already established your preferred levels, you can create microclimates.
For instance, their smaller packs can be introduced into your jars if you want to create additional microclimates for different tobacco blends.
Should you only be cellaring unopened tins, Boveda packs can still offer several benefits. Not only will they prevent the tins from rusting, but they will also alleviate their stress, given the humidity difference between inside and outside the tin.
Finally, Boveda produce packs of different sizes. As mentioned above, the smaller packs are great for your jars. However, you can also invest in the large 320-gram packs for your containers. Indeed, single 320-gram offers stable humidity for a whole cubic foot of storage space.
Monitor The Cellaring Process
Like regular storage, we highly recommend that you develop a method to track the ageing process. This can be as simple as a hygrometer and a notebook. However, there are other, more convenient methods too.
Firstly, ensure that you use a digital hygrometer. These are more accurate than their analogue counterparts and require less frequent calibration. They also display the temperature too.
Alternatively, we’re quite keen on using smart sensors such as the Boveda Butler. Not only do they send the readings directly to your phone, but they also track it and give your historical data.
Therefore, you can easily track any variations, which can warn you about temperature spikes, leaks, or the need to replace your humidity packs. Feel free to learn more with our guide to smart sensors.
Given that ageing is a delicate process, you may want to sample their progress occasionally. With unopened tins, this can be challenging as trying the tobacco will break the seal. Therefore, it’s worth having several on-hand. An added benefit of a proper storage container with humidity control is that you can actually return the opened tin without too many consequences!
When sampling the tobacco, consider keeping a notebook handy. As a result, you’ll be able to take note of any developments in flavour, whether the tobacco is too dry or humid, and how much more time you think it may need.
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