The Pipe Tobacco Aging, Storage and Cellaring FAQ

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Bulk Storage Issues

  1. Generally, which storage containers should be used for aging?
  2. What kind of container should I use for bulk tobacco?
  3. How well do bail-top jars work for long-term storage?
  4. How well do vacuum-sealed plastic bags work for long-term storage? Why are vacuum-sealed tins different?
  5. How well do commercial opaque tobacco pouches work for long-term storage?
  6. Is there any advantage to storing bulk tobacco in one large container, or many small containers?
  7. I have a large pack of tobacco I would like to sub-divide into smaller containers. Should I do this sooner or later?
  8. What can I do to prevent mold contamination when jarring my own bulk tobacco?

1 ~ Generally, which storage containers should be used for aging?

This is a critically important topic. I took some editorial license here and separated out Mr. Pease's findings into this first "general" question because I believe that they deserve to frame the discussion which follows.

I recently completed an experiment wherein the same tobacco was cellared, after blending, in heavy bags, glass jars and sealed tins. There is a slight, but perceptible difference between the tobacco aged (a mere 6-months) in the jars and in the tins, but a distinct difference between the bagged tobacco and the other two samples. This supports a theory which I have posited in the past that gas exchange is not advantageous to long term aging. The tinned/jarred tobacco had become much richer, with a lovely complexity not found in the bagged sample, even though the bagged sample had not lost significant moisture.

These results demonstrate that plastic bags are not optimal for long term storage or aging of tobacco, but that canning jars are nearly as good as tins, as long as they are left sealed, and in an environment which is not hostile to the contents.

In any event, use quality jars with good rubber seals. These seals do have a limited life expectancy, but that life is several, if not many years. I recently bought a couple of antique jars, and while I have no idea how old the rubber seals were, they were quite brittle and useless as seals. I've kept some tobacco in modern jars for upwards of 7 years, with no sign of deterioration of the seals, so good quality rubber will last at least that long, if kept in a cool location. High heat, extremely dry conditions and UV from sunlight are definite no-nos.

G.L. Pease, 1999-05-04

For almost as long as I've been smoking a pipe, I've bought nothing but tinned tobaccos. I like aged tobaccos, and I'm too damn lazy to do anything else but cellar tins. I've certainly experimented with mason jars, and other types of containers, but for me, the 2-oz tin is the ideal package. If stored in a cool, dry place, it should keep the tobacco in perfect condition for many, many years. I've had tobaccos dating back to the 1940s, and they were delightful.

Jars certainly work great, as long as they are absolutely clean before you put the tobacco into them. If the tobacco is tinned, though, leave it alone. Why take it out of one sealed container just to put it in another?

G.L. Pease, 2005-08-20

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2 ~ What kind of container should I use for bulk tobacco?

A perennial topic of discussion on ASP. A number of people have given their advice, and I replicate the best of it here.

When it comes to bulk blends the consensus seems to be to put the tobacco in an air-tight container. The main concerns here are to keep the tobacco from drying out and to avoid mold. Understand, that most "air-tight" containers are not completely air-tight, some air exchange will happen. Again this is where a proper environment (as mentioned above) will aide the process. I have also read that you should not give in to the temptation to open these containers during the aging process, doing so will prevent the magic that is "aging" and invite mold into the equation. If you wish to sample them at different stages, I suggest separate samples be put back for each stage that you wish to try them.

G. W. Fletcher, 2001-05-10

I've done some short-term experiments with various forms of packaging, and will say that tobacco that's been put away in heavy plastic bags for 1-2 years shows only a slight change, while the same tobacco, from the same batch, aged in tins had undergone significant change for the better. I'm quite convinced that sealed, non-permeable containers, whether tins or glass jars, are essential for proper aging.

G.L. Pease, 2001-01-18

If you buy fairly fresh tobacco, no matter what the packaging, break it up, and repack into sealed jars, you're good as gold.

G.L. Pease, 2003-10-28

Mason jars are the choice of many, many ASPers.

For bulk tobacco storage mason or Ball [brand] jars with good rubber seals work very well as they are air tight and keep the contents from drying out. I would suggest keeping the jar in a dark place (closet, drawer, etc.).

Bob Pelletier, 1997-11-23

I use Mason jars exclusively. I use the large ones (Quart) for ageing, and I usually put 8 oz in these. You could fit more with tight packing, but I like them at 8oz.

Joe LaVigne, 2004-10-11

Jars are a better choice, as glass is less permeable than any plastic. The best thing is to fill the jars nearly full, as minimizing the air will improve the aging. So, press that tobacco into the jars, and put those lids on tight! If you warm the jars before putting on the lids, it will form a slight vacuum, which is also beneficial, both to keeping the lids tight and aging the tobacco.

G.L. Pease, 1997-10-14

Glass is also kinda neat in that you can see how the color has changed over the years. The tobacco in the jar I'm referring to was golden brown when new, but now is almost black.

Greg Sprinkle, 1997-11-23

A reminder from Mr. Pease that some bulk containers from aging-sensitive producers will work just fine!

[The G.L. Pease 8oz] bags are designed for aging, and for storage, they will be fine for years, though for long term, I still recommend the tins, for a couple of reasons. First, the tins *may* age more quickly, in the same way that wine in fifths ages faster than wine in magnums. While I've done some testing of the bags, that testing represents no more than two years of aging.

Once you open the bag, the process pretty much stops. The bag can be resealed, and will hold the contents in good condition for a long time, but transfer to jars is probably the safest thing.

As an aside, I put some tobacco in one of these bags, folded it over several times, and taped it up, just to see what would happen. Even without a true seal, the contents aged, and were in perfect condition when I opened it 18 months later. It's a darn good bag.

G.L. Pease, 2003-02-11

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3 ~ How well do bail-top jars work for long-term storage?

In addition to mason-type jars with their familiar two-piece lids, these kinds of cannisters have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages which have been thoroughly discussed.

I have a half dozen of these, that have held various blends for more than 6 years, without ill effect.

Terry Hagley, 2000-05-12

The bail top jars are better suited to being opened frequently since the gaskets on the canning jars are very thin. For long term storage I (so far) prefer the canning jars. I've had at least one bail top gasket split in many places (over time), and no longer trust them where I can't see them.

Fred Latchaw, 1999-08-21

I use the wide mouth jars that have large rubber gaskets and wire cages. Based upon my experience with some Gawith and Hoggarth Dark Birdseye Shag, tobacco is good for more than a decade in the aforementioned containers.

Irwin Friedman, 1997-11-32

I once did an experiment in which I took the same tobacco, tinned 2oz, put 2oz in a bail top jar, put a bunch in a double-thick, heavy plastic bag. The tinned and jarred tobaccos aged nicely after just six months, while the stuff in the plastic bag showed only the improvement one can expect from melding, even though the moisture content was unchanged.

G.L. Pease, 2001-07-04

One thing to keep in mind is that the rubber gaskets used with [wire cage] jars will deteriorate. If left alone, they'll probably last 20 years. If opened after about five years, the re-seal may not be reliable. The current rubber gasket material used for Mason jars seems to be a very durable rubber compound. I have some that are about 20 years of age and they're still functional.

Buddy, 1998-11-05

A comment on the bail top jars. I have been using them to cellar tobacco for the past few years. The tobacco I have stored seems to be picking up the smell of the rubber gasket.

Jim Kooy, 2000-05-08

There are a couple of different sorts of gaskets available, and I have noticed that some seem to possess more "rubber smell" than others. A couple of the jars I have have a silicone gasket which has little detectable aroma to it, though I don't know where these would be available individually.

G.L. Pease, 2000-05-08

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4 ~ How well do vacuum-sealed plastic bags work for long-term storage? Why are vacuum-sealed tins different?

Now this... this has been the subject of much experimentation and debate over the years. Recently, debate has subsided more often in strong favor of the "aging needs air" contingent. Nevertheless, there remains a contingent of people who still have all that vacuum seal equipment laying around and use it to seal up their bulk. They seem to find it beneficial.

Fully evacuated plastic pouches: Up until about two years, these work fine at sealing the tobacco. However, minimal aging takes place, probably due to the lack of oxygen. The pressure compacts the mass into a fairly firm block, nothing like a real pressed flake, but pretty solid as the pressure continues over a period of years. I found the apparent effects of this "pressing" the best aspects of the method of storage. Unfortunately, somewhere between two and three years, enough H2O vapor escapes to begin a drying process, usually noticable around the edges of the tobacco mass, which begin to feel crispy through the plastic. Note that the vacuum remains tight--the plastic used apparently passes H2O more easily than O2, N2, or other atmospheric gasses. Bottom line: not recommended if you want to age the tobacco. I recommend double bagging and double sealing.

Toren Smith, 2001-07-25

No problems, just less real aging. Some air is necessary to start the whole process off. It's been shown that sucking out the air will "preserve" the tobacco in its current state, and that little or no change will take place over time. So, while it may be fine for storage, it's not going to provide the advantages of age. Toren's experiments, interestingly, also demonstrated that vacuum sealed tobacco can dry out, while still maintaining the seal! Apparently, the plastic used in the vacuum sealers is somewhat permeable to H2O, but less so to atmospheric gasses. Different materials provide a good barrier to different types of molecules, while being permeable to others. Not knowing what material the bags are made from, I can't comment on why this happened, but Toren's experimental methods are quite sound.

G.L. Pease, 2001-08-16 (revised 2003-12-23)

Vacuum sealing is a bad idea. (I read an ancient Rattray's catalogue on tobacco, in which was presented a short discourse by Charles himself. Old Chuck had some pretty strong words to say against vacuum packing, and experiments conducted by myself and others, notably Toren Smith's recently published findings, bear this out.)

G.L. Pease, 2001-08-15

There is a difference between an air tight tin and a vacuum sealed bag with all the air evacuated out. A sealed tin still has a small amount of air left in it. This allows the tobacco to age; the chemical reactions that take place in aging require some air to get going. A plastic bag with all the air removed will not have enough air left for the reactions to start.

Mark Hogan, 2003-05-21

The vacuum used to seal tins is minimal. Foodsaver type vacuum pumps are quite weak, but they do a very good job of evacuating a great deal of the air from the bags they use [which therefore prevents substantial aging from occuring].

G.L. Pease, 2003-07-06

None other than Charles Rattray himself first wrote, in his "Disquisition for the Connoisseur" that vacuum sealing tins is NOT ideal. Prior to the more recently common flat tins, such great old brands as Balkan Sobranie, Rattray, McConnell, Drucquer & Sons, and many others were put in tins similar to what we use today. All the old knife-lid tins were sealed at normal atmospheric pressure, not vacuum packed. Still today, quite a few producers continue with the "old school" method of atmospheric sealing. Vacuum sealing is the new fangled method that is done by producers who rely on assembly line techniques to speed production and reduce costs.

I've explored the virtues of aged tobaccos throughout my 25 years as a pipe smoker, having been introduced to aged tobacos by Robert Rex during my pipe smoking infancy. While many wonderful experiences have come from well-aged tobaccos vacuum-sealed in hockey puck tins, the most memorable have always come from the old-time, "conventional" containers. Vacuum sealing is certainly not necessary, and I'll stick to the notion that it is not ideal. After all, who am I to argue with Chas?

G.L. Pease, 2005-04-18 on Knox Cigar Boards

Vacuum sealing, while quite popular, is simply a waste of time, and may actually be detrimental to the overall aging potential of the tobacco. Certainly the plastic materials that are used with home-vacuum sealers are NOT high-barrier films, and while they'll keep most of the water in, they'll let much of the goodness out.

G.L. Pease, 2005-08-20

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5 ~ How well do commercial opaque tobacco pouches work for long-term storage?

Not many high-grade, cellar-worthy tobaccos are sold in this form (in the USA, anyway) these days, but it's an interesting question.

I have some english blends that are 5 yrs old in pouches and they are fine.

Ben Ciccarelli, 2005-04-05

The other evening, I opened a sealed pouch of vintage Amphora which has to be at least eight years old. This is the old Amphora pouch prior to the USA ban and it was just slightly dried. It smoked wonderfully.

Fleep, 2005-04-05

The problem with pouches is they are not completely air-tight.

Whether the tobacco will dry out or not depends on the humidity where it is stored. If relative humidity is 65 percent or somewhere near that, the tobacco should not become dry out much. If you live on the edge of the Mojave Desert, you will likely have a problem unless your storage area is humidity-controlled.

The second potential (and often real) problem is that tobacco will absorb any aromas in the air that comes in contact with it. Pouches allow some ambient air to enter, and the tobacco will pick up whatever aroma is in that air. If you store a half dozen or dozen tobaccos in the same place, they will all acquire a little taste of all the others. And if the aroma in the area is not real tasty when mixed with tobacco, you will have a problem.

The Mason/Ball canning jar with a lid that will keep a near-perfect seal for many years is best for long-term storage.

On the other hand, there are a number of drugstore tobaccos that contain enough humectant they will never dry out, and the chemical flavoring is so stable and strong you will never notice admixture of anything short of skunk oil. It is not uncommon to read of someone "losing" a pouch of Borkum Rif or Amphora behind the couch for a decade, and finding it to be just as good (or as bad!) as when new.

James D. Beard, 2005-04-05

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6 ~ Is there any advantage to storing bulk tobacco in one large container, or many small containers?

An issue of practicality, preference, and your puffing pace.

One of the reasons, probably the most important one, that I recommend smaller packaging for long-term aging, is that, in my opinion, the delicate flavours that result from the aging process begin to dissipate as soon as the package is open. Volatilization, oxidation, other chemical processes take place, and the stuff changes. My belief is that once an aged tobacco is opened, it should be smoked fairly quickly, to enjoy it at its best. So, buying the 8oz bags, breaking them up into smaller quantities, and sealing them in jars is a reasonable alternative to the tins.

G.L. Pease, 2003-10-28

Keep an eye on things once you put it up. Better to do lots of small jars than a few large ones, so you can taste them over time. Keep notes. You'll learn a lot about the aging process this way. It's great fun.

G.L. Pease, 1998-03-08

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7 ~ I have a large pack of tobacco I would like to sub-divide into smaller containers. Should I do this sooner or later?

A fine question in the age of 8 oz. tins and bags.

Your best bet would be to re-package it now, as once you open an "aged" tobacco, the little biosphere in the package will be forever changed, and things just won't be the same afterwards. It won't be BAD, but it will certainly be different.

[Very occasional smokers] might even consider repackaging into smaller than 2-oz quantities. Personally, I find that aged tobaccos deteriorate rather rapidly once opened. Again, they don't get BAD, but they lose a lot of the beautiful aroma they've developed over the years. Personally, I have always found the first bowl out of an old tin to be the most delightful. (Others feel that even a well aged tin must breathe a little before it's smoked. To each his own.)

That said, the bags are actually quite good for storage, and for keeping the tobacco in good shape after you've opened them. Refold the top several times, compressing the leaf somewhat, and put a rubber band around the whole thing to hold it tight, or use a binder clip on the folded part of the bag. I've got a bag of Robusto from the first run that I dip into every once in a while. It's not the same now as a freshly opened tin from the same vintage, but it's still very nice.

G.L. Pease, 2005-01-07

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8 ~ What can I do to prevent mold contamination when jarring my own bulk tobacco?

The dreaded mold! A lot of folkore surrounds this topic. Read the following responses and perceive some general guidelines. Some people have resorted to sacrificing chickens and goats, but the jury is still out on those "advanced" techniques. Meanwhile, the wisdom of ASP:

Mold spores are literally everywhere. Whether or not they begin to bloom is a bit of a mystery. I've lost a jar of Balkan Sobranie, some Penzance, a jar of Perfection and a tin of F&P Templar to mold. Just use very clean (boiled) jars and pray for the best. The only 100% sure way to get spore/mold free tobacco would be to use a heavy dose of gamma radiation, but it sounds a bit overkill. ;-)

Tapio Pentikainen, 2000-10-22

Actually, there are enough mold spores around that any tobacco not in an air-tight sealed container will have some in it. But mold requires free water to thrive. The spores can survive for eons in a dry environment, but they cannot grow. Just let there be free water (not chemically glomed onto something else) and the stuff flourishes. [...] I would suggest drying the tobacco until it is at the low end of the acceptable moisture range for you, and then store it far, far from your other tobaccos (just in case). It may be you will be able to smoke all remaining before the mold gets enough water to wreak havoc.

James Beard, 2000-07-26

Vinegar won't disinfect [jars]. It'll kill alkalophiles, in sufficient concentration, but that's just not enough. Try bleach. (Another reason not to use plastic containers - they'll hang on to the bleach "aroma," and be nearly forever tainted.) Just add a little bleach to your hot, soapy water, and wash with that. Rinse thoroughly, and allow the container to air dry. (The last thing you want is to transfer whatever is on that dishtowel to the jar once you've gone to all the trouble to make it disease-free.) The bleach smell will dissipate, and the jars will be quite mold-free. You could also heat-sterilize the jars, using a pressure cooker, but that seems like SO much effort.

G.L. Pease, 2002-01-11

Containers can definitely contain mold spores. Once mold is in a container it must be sterilized very aggressively. With glass containers its easier to accomplish. I would just toss a plastic container if it were me. Not worth taking a chance. They are more permeable, or absorb aromas and spores.

Terry McGinty, 2000-06-22

Propylene glycol will prevent mold growth. It's possible a small amount in distilled water will serve the purpose without affecting the smoking quality. I routinely use a very small amount when rewetting moistening disks, and I haven't noticed any bad effects in English-type blends.

Buddy, 1998-09-11

Everybody keeps blaming the climate at the point of storage for causing mold. Not so. While climate conditions can accelerate or discourage mold growth, the real question is how heavy a live mold spore burden the tobacco carries. Sterile tobacco will never grow mold, no matter what the storage conditions are. Most people do not store or handle their tobacco in such a place/manner that would introduce a lot of new mold spores, so my guess is that the spores are almost always already present when the tobacco is purchased. It also makes sense that people are reporting particular blends as being more suspectible to spoilage; between differences in final moisture content and handling conditions during production and packaging, you would expect that particular blends (and especially particular batches) would experiences more problems than others. You would probably find a good correlation with the geographic region and/or the particular wholesaler if you cared to do enough research. I smell a PhD thesis here!

L.M. Spitz, 2000-10-19

Too much moisture seems to be the culprit; that and being in an enclosed environment. I had mold in years past, but not recently. I am inclined to let my tobacs dry a bit if there is any feeling they are too moist. [...] Since I prefer my tobacco a little on the dry side, I have a habit of letting the tin set with the lid off for awhile before I put it in the humidor. Perhaps this helps. I think it is because mold was more a problem for me years ago, before I watched the moisture level.

Terry McGinty, 2000-10-23

Distilled water makes no difference. In fact, most municipal water is chlorinated to some extent, which MIGHT help to minimize mold. Did you get the tobacco too wet? Probably, but mold can even form on pretty dry substrates.

G.L. Pease, 2002-02-26

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