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Stonehaven Bloom Under the Microscope

(39 posts)
  1. cgrd

    cgrd

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    I've had 8oz of Stonehaven aging in a mason jar for just over one year. I visually check on it periodically to ensure all is well, and recently had a concern it was beginning to show mold (you can read about that adventure here).

    Thankfully, there wasn't any mold, but I did end up taking some neat shots of the tobacco's bloom under a microscope. They aren't going to win any prizes, but considering I rigged this up with some clamps, a "helping hand" tool, a pocket microscope, and an LED flashlight, they're not bad. However, I figured the piping community would enjoy them.

    Anyway, enough blither blather, here's the pics:





    Posted 3 years ago #
  2. deathmetal

    deathmetal

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    It's awesome to be able to see the crystalline structure. Thank you for posting these.

    "My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey." -- William Faulkner

    The Metal Mixtures
    Posted 3 years ago #
  3. bentmike

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    That is interesting. Thanks for sharing the pics.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  4. python

    Bob

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    +1. Those are amazing pics that show the detail of what is happening!

    "When the Government Fears the People, There is Liberty;
    When the People Fear the Government, There is Tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson
    Posted 3 years ago #
  5. misterlowercase

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    TOTALLY FRIGGIN' AWESOME!!!!!!!

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DOING THIS AND SHARING THE RESULTS!

    I love this.

    Stellar post and wonderful images!

    Very very well done.

    Stonehaven bloom is a thing of delight,
    I took a few photos from inside the jar:
    http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/pictures-of-pipe-tobacco/page/2#post-863029
    ...but your images really really highlight just how incredibly beautiful that mysterious crystalline stuff is.

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing.

      Thank You.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  6. brudnod

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    I have a Carl Zeiss microscope with all the bells and whistles from my research days that has dark field, separate light source and built in camera with 100x magnification. I doubt I could have taken more dramatic shots. Great work with minimalist equipment!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  7. pipestud

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    I reckon that Stonehaven is so good that even the bloom's pretty. (-:

    Pipestud
    Posted 3 years ago #
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    pilotage16

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    Great post...very interesting, thanks.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  9. hawke

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    Awesome pics! Thank You!

    Are those Tobacco Brownies?
    Posted 3 years ago #
  10. jkrug

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    Very cool pics indeed, especially with the rig you used. Well done!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  11. cobguy

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    That's really cool ... Thanks for posting those!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  12. cortezattic

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    Fantastic pix! Thank you so much for making the effort to share this with us.
    Are we pipe geeks or what?!

    I find myself sitting idly on the line dividing past and future,
    as if I could kill time without injuring eternity. -- Thoreau
    Posted 3 years ago #
  13. peteguy

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    Amazing photos - thanks for this!!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  14. randelli

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    Amazing pics!

    Please excuse a novice question; but what is bloom, what causes it, and is it a bad or good thing?

    "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way" - Mark Twain

    KG5QDZ
    Posted 3 years ago #
  15. gloucesterman

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    Great work, very ingenious solution in taking the pictures. Well done and thanks for sharing.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  16. shaintiques

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    Yes very cool, great idea.

    I know what I need, smoke, I can't recall the last time I tasted it....Gandalf in the mines of Moria.

    "we shall have to share pipes, as good friends must at a pinch'....'I keep a treasure or two near my skin, as precious as rings to me. Here's one: my old wooden pipe. And here's another an unused one...He held up a small pipe with a wide flattened bowl, and handed it to Gimli. 'Does that settle the score between us', said Merry. 'Most noble hobbit, it leaves me deep in your debt."
    Posted 3 years ago #
  17. philobeddoe

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    Very cool pictures...Thank You Very Much!

    "So it goes." - K.V.
    Posted 3 years ago #
  18. didimauw

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    Yes, I'm completely unaware of what this is...

    "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."
    Posted 3 years ago #
  19. hiplainsdrifter

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    Nom nom nom

    Posted 3 years ago #
  20. arno665

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    Great pictures!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  21. cgrd

    cgrd

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    Thank you all for the kind words, I'm glad everyone's enjoying the pics!

    @randelli & @didimauw

    Bloom, or plume is a natural phenomenon that occurs on some tobacco as it ages. It looks like a white dust on the tobacco, and is considered to be a very positive sign of a) good aging and b) quality tobacco.

    There's been some debate over what exactly it is...sugar, nicotine oils, even mass spectroscopy can show it to be different (link 1, link 2). It can also be confused for mold, especially if you haven't seen it before or (as in my case) it seemed excessive and clumped together.

    Hope that helps!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  22. misterlowercase

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    ...another good read which delves into the plumey bloom would be this:

    An old post over at ASP

    selected extracts:

    I don't think the crystals that form on tobacco are sugar. A long time
    ago, I did some messing around with some of the crystals I discovered in
    a tin of Virginia, a little analysis, and they did not behave like any
    sugar that would be in tobacco. They were not even soluble in water! At
    the time, I could neither harvest enough of them, nor did I have access
    to the necessary equipment to get a read on what they might be.

    But, it does lead to some interesting questions. Whether they are or are
    not sugar, why are crystals forming? They could be precipitating out
    because of a change in the overal pH, or whatever solvent that held them
    captive has transformed into something in which the relative solubility
    is different.

    Even if they are sugar, there is no chance in hell that the solvent
    content, even good old H2O in the tobacco could be anywhere near
    saturated.

    There are many aspects of the aging process that are not understood. I'm
    trying...

    -glp

    Crwydryn added this:

    >>But I have to wonder: if vacuum-sealing retards aging, why do so many people
    >>pay so much for vintage vacuum-sealed tins?
    >
    >It's a partial vacuum. Greg's insights on the topic are too dense for
    >me most days, so I don't finish reading them, but I think the basic
    >gist of it is that there's two kinds of microbes that are working
    >during aging: aerobic and anaerobic. One works in a vacuum (I think
    >anaerobic), and the other works only in the presence of air. So you
    >need a little air to kick-start the process, and then once the air is
    >"used up" in some way, the anaerobic microbes go to work.

    er...well, close I guess. Here's a summary for the layman (hopefully
    minus Greg's detailed and wonderful density, but still containing the
    germ of the idea...so to speak )

    Unlike people, not all bacteria need oxygen, and in fact some find it
    positively poisonous.

    Aerobic bacteria can use oxygen. (basically all living things except
    for anaerobic bacteria are aerobic)

    Anaerobic bacteria typically don't like oxygen very much.

    When the tin is first packed, there is air in the tin, and the air
    naturally contains oxygen. The anaerobic bacteria go dormant, sealing
    themselves up in spores to protect themselves because to them oxygen
    is a poison. The aerobic bacteria are happy, though, and go to work
    on the tobacco. To process things in the tobacco into energy, the
    aerobic bacteria need oxygen, just like people do. As you know, if
    the environment is sealed, the oxygen gradually is used up and
    converted into carbon dioxide (among other things). To imagine what
    is happening to the aerobic bacteria, think of why the big plastic
    bags furniture gets wrapped in are boldly labelled "keep away from
    children" - essentially the bacteria uses up most of the oxygen and
    starts to suffocate. Luckily, aerobic bacteria can seal themselves up
    and go dormant too, and that's exactly what they do.

    Once enough of the oxygen has been used up, it's safe for the
    anaerobic bacteria to come out of "hibernation" and go to work.
    Unlike the aerobic bacteria, the anaerobes have a metabolism that
    doesn't use oxygen, so they're just fine, and are very happy digesting
    your tobacco in the oxygen depleted environment. This continues until
    the tin's seal is broken, at which point oxygen gets in again, and
    things go back to the way they were before.

    >
    >This is also apparently why you shouldn't open a tin partway through.
    >You'll stop the aging process right at that point, and start a new
    >process when you seal it again.

    I have trouble agreeing with Greg about the idea that aging stops at
    this point - there is no reason whatsoever that you couldn't begin the
    process all over again by simply resealing the container. However, I
    do think that odds are good that the result will be different than if
    you had left the container sealed for a variety of reasons I won't go
    into.

    HOWEVER (you can stop reading now if you like - I'm going to get
    technical and argue with Greg)

    I personally question how much of the process is really attributable
    to the bacteria. Consider: if bacteria get into a bottle of wine it
    doesn't get better, it gets nasty. Also I don't know of a species of
    bacteria that can survive life in 40% ethanol solution, yet whiskey
    and brandy get better with age.

    There are all sorts of chemical processes going on without needing to
    give credit to bacteria. There definitely are bacteria present in
    tobacco, and this probably does contribute, but my feeling is that
    normal oxidation and other inorganic processes can easily explain the
    phenomenon we call aging. In fact, I think that the primary culprit
    in the aging process of tobacco is probably a combination of diffusion
    and purely inorganic oxidation.

    Greg mentioned that he doesn't think the crystals reported by some are
    sugar. Well, I think it probably is sugar in some cases, but in most
    cases it is probably a combination of volatile organics that have
    migrated out of the tobacco leaves as oxidation and other processes
    consume water, break down cellulose, that sort of thing. And of
    course the action of bacteria contributes to the gradual dehydration
    of the tobacco leaf as well. This is what I suspect, of course, not
    having done any experimentation really. The main reason I suspect
    these things is the simple fact (that I'm taking on faith) that
    packing tobacco with a good vacuum retards aging. Unless the aerobic
    portion of the process is much more important than the anaerobic
    portion (in which case truly long term aging is meaningless) this is
    not what I would expect.

    Another issue is pressure build up: if bacterial populations are a
    major component of the process, I would expect to see gas build-up in
    aged tins fairly quickly. Having studied microbiology in university,
    and having worked with a variety of commonly occuring bacteria, I
    would be very surprised by a culture that *didn't* produce gasses as a
    by-product.

    Yet another point is the apparent resistance of "cased" tobaccos to
    aging. I have yet to see any convincing reasoning why these should be
    resistant to aging by bacteria, but would like to see the thinking.
    Have there been any detailed posts on the subject on ASP? I don't
    remember any.

    I would love to see experiments that compare standard packing with
    nitrogen packing (eliminating the oxygen without producing a vacuum),
    sterilized packaging and vacuum packing. All three would have to be
    repeated with sterilized versions as well of course.

    I would also like to see "rate of aging" comparisons; does the process
    stabilize at some point?

    It's a very interesting question, and one I'd like to see more detail
    on.

    GLP responds:
    > I have trouble agreeing with Greg about the idea that aging stops at this
    > point - there is no reason whatsoever that you couldn't begin the process
    > all over again by simply resealing the container. However, I do think that
    > odds are good that the result will be different than if you had left the
    > container sealed for a variety of reasons I won't go into.

    Indeed. If the microbe hypothesis has any basis, the aerobic bugs are
    consuming carbon, mostly in the form of dextrose, I suspect, and
    producing their metabolc byproducts, good little machines that they are.
    While they are sucking up the O2 in the tin, and coughing out CO2,
    they're essentially posioning themsleves. (And, not all bacteria are
    spore-forming. There's a good chance that those that we're concerned with
    simply die when they run out of gas, so to speak.) When the anaerobic
    bugs wake up, they go about their business until there's nothing left to
    consume, therefore, nothing left to do. They'll either sporulate or just
    die, depending on conditions.

    So, if you stop the process, the ecology of the contents is dramatically
    different from when it was first sealed. It's unlikely it can be
    "restarted." The conditions that started the whole process are different,
    the bugs that jump-started it are gone, the pH of the environment is
    different, and their food source is likely dramatically depleted.

    > HOWEVER (you can stop reading now if you like - I'm going to get technical
    > and argue with Greg)
    >
    > I personally question how much of the process is really attributable to the
    > bacteria. Consider: if bacteria get into a bottle of wine it doesn't get
    > better, it gets nasty. Also I don't know of a species of bacteria that can
    > survive life in 40% ethanol solution, yet whiskey and brandy get better with
    > age.

    It's certainly more than microbes, though I do figure they play a
    significant role. Yeasts are likely involved, and may be the bugs that
    start the whole thing, fermenting the sugars. Fermentation stops when the
    ethanol level reaches the point where the yeasts can no longer survive in
    their vegetative state.

    Then, there are purely chemical processes that can take place - the
    conversion of alcohols and acids to aldehydes, ketones, esters, that sort
    of thing. Wine, whiskey and brandy are reacting both with the chemicals
    in the wood of the barrel and also undergoing some gas exchange. Once
    bottled, whisky and brandy do not improve, though wine does. I suspect
    that some of what's going on in the wine *is* bacterial in nature, and
    some is likley due to the very controlled gas exchange through the cork.
    In wine, the alcohol concentrations are much lower, and are, in fact,
    lower than when the yeasts originally died. Alcohol is hygroscopic, so
    it'll absorb water in from the air, and it's volatile, so it'll
    evaporate. (Bottles of 190 proof grain alcohol are not 190 proof for very
    long once they're opened.) The alcohol content of tobacco after
    fermentation is likely very low. If yeasts are involved, they're more
    likely to suffocate in their own CO2 than to die from alcohol poisoning.

    > There are all sorts of chemical processes going on without needing to give
    > credit to bacteria. There definitely are bacteria present in tobacco, and
    > this probably does contribute, but my feeling is that normal oxidation and
    > other inorganic processes can easily explain the phenomenon we call aging.
    > In fact, I think that the primary culprit in the aging process of tobacco is
    > probably a combination of diffusion and purely inorganic oxidation.

    It's both. It's got to be.

    > Greg mentioned that he doesn't think the crystals reported by some are
    > sugar. Well, I think it probably is sugar in some cases, but in most cases
    > it is probably a combination of volatile organics that have migrated out of
    > the tobacco leaves as oxidation and other processes consume water, break
    > down cellulose, that sort of thing. And of course the action of bacteria
    > contributes to the gradual dehydration of the tobacco leaf as well. This is
    > what I suspect, of course, not having done any experimentation really. The
    > main reason I suspect these things is the simple fact (that I'm taking on
    > faith) that packing tobacco with a good vacuum retards aging. Unless the
    > aerobic portion of the process is much more important than the anaerobic
    > portion (in which case truly long term aging is meaningless) this is not
    > what I would expect.

    During aerobic respiration, as the bacteria consume hydrocarbons (sugar)
    and O2, they'll produce CO2 and H2O as byproducts. They're not likely
    dehydrating the tobacco. If anything, they'll increase the free water
    content to some extent. Clearly the crystals are precipitating because of
    a change in the concentration of their solvent. Solubility constants
    change with pH, with the concentration of other solutes, and so on.
    Anything can be precipitating out. The fact that what I observed was
    insoluble in water indicates that it's very likely NOT sugar. I question
    why a volatile organic would crystalize without some precipitous change
    in the chemical environment. If they're bound up when the tobacco is
    tinned, why would they suddenly volatilize, only to precipitate in the
    surface. I'm not sure I buy that. More likley, changes in pH and solvent
    concentrations are just causing something to come out of solution and
    crystalize.

    Aging seems to change over time. I've experienced tobaccos that are
    clearly "over the hill." At some point, improvement, or what we consider
    improvement, stops, and degradation begins. Or, perhaps it's always a
    race, and things begin to degrade fairly early, just at a slower rate.

    The thing that is fascinating is that tobacco stored in bags changes very
    little over time. Certainly, there's some "melding" as the volatiles
    mingle and dance and sit back down where they will, but that wonderful,
    funky aroma associated with long age just never appears. If those esters
    are being formed, they're finding their way out of the bag. If the race
    condition is a reasonable hypothesis, over time, we'll get the
    degradation with none of the benefits of age. That, is a sad thing.

    I've never quite looked at it this way, and if there's any truth to this,
    storage in permeable membranes is not only not going to help, it can
    actually be bad for the tobacco over time. Another experiment calls...

    > Another issue is pressure build up: if bacterial populations are a major
    > component of the process, I would expect to see gas build-up in aged tins
    > fairly quickly. Having studied microbiology in university, and having
    > worked with a variety of commonly occuring bacteria, I would be very
    > surprised by a culture that *didn't* produce gasses as a by-product.

    O2 + sugars -> CO2 + H2O. I've wrestled with this in my head over and
    over. I can't think of an answer.
    >
    > Yet another point is the apparent resistance of "cased" tobaccos to aging.
    > I have yet to see any convincing reasoning why these should be resistant to
    > aging by bacteria, but would like to see the thinking. Have there been any
    > detailed posts on the subject on ASP? I don't remember any.

    Many species of bacteria are extremely sensitive to their environment.
    Changes in pH will kill them. PG, being basically an alcohol, is likely
    quite toxic to many bacteria. (I believe some have claimed that PG is
    sometimes used as a preservative in tobacco. This could be true.)

    > I would love to see experiments that compare standard packing with nitrogen
    > packing (eliminating the oxygen without producing a vacuum), sterilized
    > packaging and vacuum packing. All three would have to be repeated with
    > sterilized versions as well of course.

    That would be interesting. I often wish I had a full lab here. There's SO
    much I'd love to investigate...

    > I would also like to see "rate of aging" comparisons; does the process
    > stabilize at some point?
    >
    > It's a very interesting question, and one I'd like to see more detail on.

    Indeed, it is. Everything I've written could be wrong, though I suspect
    there's more than a little "germ of truth" in it. That's the nature of
    hypotheses. Through these "arguments," the worst thing that can happen is
    that more understanding will emerge. *g*

    Cheers,
    Greg

    see also:
    http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/plume-finally

    Posted 3 years ago #
  23. janosh

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    Amazing pictures and great experiment!

    Sorry for my poor English. Keep in mind, that you can't speak Hungarian...
    Posted 3 years ago #
  24. misterlowercase

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    bump

    This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen!

    I have a Carl Zeiss microscope with all the bells and whistles from my research days that has dark field, separate light source and built in camera with 100x magnification. I doubt I could have taken more dramatic shots. Great work with minimalist equipment!

    That's a great quote Spencer,
    dramatic is the correct word for those photos.

    And also,

    Stunning.

    Jaw dropping.

    Mesmerizing.

    The crystalline glisten has never been better captured!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  25. woodsroad

    woodsroad

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    Very kewl......

    Posted 3 years ago #
  26. hawke

    hawke

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    Inspired by the pictures posted by cgrd, I couldn't resist trying my hand at such close-up magnified images with primitive tools. Thought I would share so others may be inspired by Mr Cgrd's creativity. I have no plume to capture but I was amazed at what could be done with a camera and loop! The far right is at 12x Optical zoom by my camera and looking through the jewelers loop. The tobacco is a plug of my HIM.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  27. samcoffeeman

    samcoffeeman

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    Wow, those crystalline shots are incredible! I might download one for my phone as a background.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  28. samcoffeeman

    samcoffeeman

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    Done:

    Posted 3 years ago #
  29. hawke

    hawke

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    Very cool samcoffeeman. I wonder if anyone will ever say, "I know what that is"?

    Posted 3 years ago #
  30. cigrmaster

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    That is just plain creepy. I feel like I am in the Fantastic Voyage movie.

    I just checked my 2007 Stonehaven and yes it has lots of bloom. It reminds me of so many aged cigars I had that used to bloom the same way.

    I read some of that book that was posted and I have my own theory. Just like cigars, pipe tobacco will continue aging even if it hits air and then is resealed. Cigars hit air all the time opening and closing a humidor, yet they still age brilliantly, and they have lots of bloom on them. So why is aging pipe tobacco any different. So this whole theory about aging then resetting to me is nonsense and is justs a way for the science guys to show how smart they are.

    ps. Anyone who does not agree with me, is a neophyte.

    Harris
    Posted 3 years ago #
  31. misterlowercase

    misterlowercase

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    After closely examining the crystallographic data, I have concluded that the structural changes in the tobacco had numerous aspects, including but not limited to: the separation and degradation of the casing layer, the formation of inorganic precipitates, formation of a sugar phase, volatile gas and vesicle formation, and surface etching.

    The carbon matrix of tobacco ranged from a homogeneous amorphous character at younger thresholds to then develop a heterogeneous mixed micro-crystalline structure at older vintages with domains of plume sheets, fullerenes, and other various good stuff.

    These findings however, offer no conclusive evidence as to the impact of ozonic interruptions in the stabilized field, but they do most certainly indicate that this shit is very very complicated.

    So this whole theory about aging then resetting to me is nonsense and is justs a way for the science guys to show how smart they are.

    ps. Anyone who does not agree with me, is a neophyte.


    ...that was a fun thread!


    http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/the-theory-behind-aging-tobaccco

    Posted 3 years ago #
  32. cigrmaster

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    mlc, that is just plain gross, you are a freak. Take your microscope and stick it up your ass, see what kind of pics you get, probably a gerbil running around. lol

    Posted 3 years ago #
  33. okiescout

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    Fan freakin fantastic pictures, Cgrd.

    :

    "Work as if you were to live a hundred years. Pray as if you were to die tomorrow."
    Benjamin Franklin
    Posted 3 years ago #
  34. misterlowercase

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    mlc, that is just plain gross, you are a freak. Take your microscope and stick it up your ass, see what kind of pics you get, probably a gerbil running around. lol


    LOL

    No, no, no.
    Not gerbils,
    those don't age very well.

    I only use my fine ass to cellar Stonehaven!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  35. jpmcwjr

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    Serious q if I may: Is bloom gonna happen if the tobacco is on the dry side? One point of reference: I just got a sample of this very tobacco from a fine fellow member, and it weighs in with moisture at 92% RH @ 70 degrees. That's about the highest moisture content of any new tobacco I have measured!

    I know that you believe you understood what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
    Posted 3 years ago #
  36. misterlowercase

    misterlowercase

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    Serious q if I may: Is bloom gonna happen if the tobacco is on the dry side?

    I'm not sure how it works.

    Do hope that someone here may offer some answers.

    Stonehaven is usually very very moist, and it is one the best pluming baccies I've ever known.

    Otherwise, most my crystallized baccy has been experienced in very old tins.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  37. iamn8

    Nate

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    Seriously wicked cool. One of those "I totally should've thought of that" moments. Glad you did! Till now, I've only seen bloom on my cigars, a signal that all is well. It never occurred to me that pipe tobacco would show the same.

    Nate @ Moody AL
    Posted 3 years ago #
  38. hawky454

    hawky454

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    Oh wow, that's amazing! I'm jealous, as I have to different stashes of Stonehaven in my cellar both several years of age on them and I see hardly any bloom. My Penzance stash is another story, it has beautiful sugar crystals all over. I few years ago when I first discovered it I thought it was mold and I almost tossed it! What a shame that would have been, thank God (or Gore) for the internet! Amazing pictures and they're making me salivate!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  39. lonestar

    lonestar

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    You could have told me those pictures were from a really good fireworks show, and I would have believed you.

    -Ryan Alden
    Posted 3 years ago #

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