By Bob Tate
A lot of pipers wonder if and how they can store their pipe tobacco. There are ways to store your tobacco and it will last for years and if done properly, it will allow the tobacco to age and this is a good thing. Aging a tobacco allows the blend to ‘marry’ together for awhile longer sometimes creating a slightly different taste than what the blend originally started off as. But seeing as this article is not about aging, but storing, let me begin.
Storing tobacco is economical for pipe smokers as it allows you to buy tobacco in bulk which is cheaper than buying in tins. Storing pipe tobacco is not hard at all, it is actually pretty simple. Remember to take your location into consideration. If you live in a region with high humidity, the tobacco will stay moist longer than in regions that are dry and arid. Also keep in mind that the proper RH (Relative Humidity) of pipe tobacco is only in the range of 10-18%. It doesn’t need to be very moist and actually too much moisture or humidity will encourage mold growth.
Let’s start off with what NOT to do when storing pipe tobacco.
•Do Not Store Pipe Tobacco and Cigars Together
If you also smoke cigars do not store your pipe tobacco and cigars together. Cigars are like little sponges and they will eventually absorb any moisture, aromas, and flavors that are in their vicinity. So if you store the two together, you will eventually infuse your cigars with the aroma and taste of your pipe tobacco. The last thing that I want is to grab a nice cigar and when I light it, it tastes like Dunhill Nightcap or some other pipe blend. I want my pipe blends and cigars to taste the way they are supposed to taste.
•Do Not Store Pipe Tobacco in a Humidor
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that storing pipe tobacco in a cigar humidor is a good thing as it keeps the moisture in the tobacco. This is false. If you store your pipe tobacco in a humidor a lot of negative things can and will happen. The cedar in humidors actually absorbs moisture and it will suck all of the moisture from your tobacco. It will also absorb the aroma of the tobacco blend and you will not be able to use that same humidor for cigars for a very long time. The cedar could also impart a cedar aroma and flavor to your pipe tobacco. If you do try to store your pipe tobacco in a humidor the same way as cigars, by introducing humidity by using a humidity device, it will make the tobacco too moist to smoke. Remember 10-14% RH. Leave humidors for their intended purpose, storing cigars.
•Do Not Add Moisture to Tobacco When Jarring it for Long Term Storage
In my opinion, adding moisture to tobacco before jarring it up for long term storage is not a good thing to do. It can cause mold growth on the tobacco during storage and that will render the tobacco only suitable for the garbage. There is nothing worse than going to open 8oz of tobacco a year or two later and find it all moldy and un-smokable. I would rather jar it up a little on the dry side than too moist. It should be stored in an airtight container so you will not lose any more moisture anyway. I always jar my bulk tobacco as soon as I get it. The moisture level is normally spot on or a little on the dry side which, in my opinion, is perfect for storing.
•Do Not Use Old Pickle Jars for Storage
The reason why you don’t want to do this is; even though the glass itself does not hold odors, the rubber in the lid does. It is impossible to get rid of the pickle smell from the lid of pickle jars. Trust me, I have tried. The smell left in the rubber of the lid will invade the jar not long after the lid is replaced on the jar making the jar smell like pickles again. But if you don’t mind a pickle flavored tobacco, you can give it a try.
Now we will move on to what to do and what you can do with no adverse affects to the tobacco. Storing tobacco is kind of like storing wine and actually most pipe smokers refer their tobacco as their tobacco cellars the way that wine enthusiast have wine cellars. This does not mean that you have to have an actual cellar like you do for wine; you just have to keep it stored in the proper conditions.
You want to keep an eye on temperature, humidity, and light. Ideal storage for pipe tobacco is a cool dark place without a lot of temperature fluctuations. Ideally you want the temperature to be in the range of 60-70 Degrees F. Humidity is a factor as well, even though the tobacco should be in airtight containers. High humidity can cause corrosion to metals and it could compromise the seal by causing rust to the tobacco tin or the metal lid of mason jars. You do not want to store your tobacco where it is exposed to light for long periods of time.
Tins will keep for very long periods of time with out having to do anything at all as long as the vacuum seal is not broken. If you are going to store them for long periods of time, check them out to make sure they are not damaged. Look for damage to the tin especially pin holes that have occurred. Make sure the vacuum seal is good and then store it away for later.
Airtight glass jars are preferred for long term storage (anything over 2 months) of bulk, loose, and opened tins of tobacco. Glass is used because it is a non-porous material and can be disinfected very easily. Some people use airtight plastic containers for short term storage, I have done it myself in a pinch, but I still prefer glass. If I do use plastic, I make sure that it is new and has never contained anything before, especially food. I also leave my tobacco in the bags that it came in and place the bag of tobacco in the plastic container. I prefer to use glass Mason or Ball jars or glass bail top jars with an airtight rubber seal.
Mason and Ball jars are relatively inexpensive and can be bought almost anywhere. They also come in a variety of sizes from 2oz up to 1 quart in size (a 1 quart size jar holds about 8oz of tobacco). That way you can either jar and store a whole quart of tobacco or get the smaller 2oz jars and store your own tin size containers. That way when you want to smoke a particular blend, you won’t have to open up 8oz of it. So make different sizes of tobacco to enjoy at later dates.
Preparing the jars for storing/jarring/canning is one of the most important steps in the storage process. Make sure that you sterilize the jars before use. With Mason and Ball jars, I wash the jars, lids and rings by hand with hot soapy (dish soap) water and then place the rings and jars in the dishwasher by themselves on the hottest setting to sterilize them. You can not place the lids of Mason and Ball jars in the dishwasher, so just wash them very good with dish soap in the hottest water that you can stand. I then dry the excess water off of all the pieces with clean paper towels and then jar up my tobacco. Some people boil the jars and rings in boiling water to sterilize them. This is a good idea if you don’t have a dishwasher. Since most dishwashers get the water so hot, I do not boil them.
I then place the tobacco in the jars and screw the lids on tight. I then label each jar with the contents and date and put them in storage. Some people prefer to do the whole canning process of placing the filled jars in boiling water to heat them up and then placing the lids on to create a vacuum seal. I have never done that and I have had no problems. I have found that some of my older jars have created their own vacuum while in storage. With bail top jars, I wash them the same way and then place the tobacco in the jar and clamp the lid shut. I then label the contents and put it away.