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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can a mason jars seal fail?

The easiest way to cellar tobacco that is NOT already sealed in a tin, is by sealing it in a mason jar. However, the seal on a mason jar CAN fail! There's no point in storing a jar of baccy for decades, and then finding out all you have left for your effort is a pile of dry tobacco dust.

Firstly, the term "mason jar" is applied to the SCREW TOP jars on this blog. There are also "bail top" mason jars, these have a spring loaded hinged lid that presses down on an almost comically large rubber washer. Bail-tops are NOT ideal for long term storage, they are fine (in fact, great) for short-term use. Their ease of opening makes it a quick task to pop open, load a pipe, and close back up. The wire springs loose tension over time, and the rubber gasket will also distort and could form gaps, allowing air leaks.

The screw-tops are the best for long term cellaring. These lids come in two parts, the LID and the RING. The ring simple tightens down the lid over the mouth of the jar. Most lids have a pop-up "nipple", this is not really a tamper-evident function, but an air-tightness alert. The rubber washer is thin on these lids, and soft. When jammed down, the rubber forms a tight seal by getting distorted and mashed down, effectively filling in all microscopic gaps. Once you open it, this seal starts to deteriorate. While fine for keeping things going as you combust the jar contents, avoid re-using lids. Danged things are less than a buck each - just get new lids (and mostly they come with matching rings)!

The pop-up button will only work when air is evacuated. In "canning" of foodstuff, the jar is boiled or cooked before the lid is put on, this process removes all air. With pipe tobacco we don't really want to cook the precious cargo. One good recommendation is to run the (new) jar through a dishwasher cycle - NO detergent, and with heated dry. Lids should NOT be washed. The dishwasher will wash icky things out of the glass jar, and the heater will dry it out as well as make the glass hot. If you quickly load in the tobacco, not allowing the jar to cool, then put the lid on and tighten - it will cause the popup button to be pulled in as the jar cools, and cools the air within, and reduces its volume thusly. As long as the seal holds, the button stays down. An easy way to judge the health of your cellared tobacco!

It is suggested that you leave a quarter inch or more of space at the top of the jar. Especially if you are packing (loose cut) baccy into the jar, as it will start to expand and could push up against the lid, possibly breaking the seal. And a wee bit of air is necessary for proper aging in any case. Another thing to watch out for are loose strands of baccy that could get between the mouth of the jar and the rubber on the lid. Leaving sufficient air space makes it easier to avoid this simple error, which leaves a nice air leak channel through the rubber seal. Periodically checking your jar collection for up-turned nipples is a good practice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Short term storage vs cellaring tobacco

Cellaring your tobacco collection is pretty simple. Mason jars, or factory sealed tins. Done.

But what about short-term storage of your baccy once you pop the seal after aging it to perfection all those years? If you had it stored in a mason jar, viola, just put the cap back - and open as needed until the contents of the jar are exhausted (or you are exhausted, whichever comes first).

Tins on the other hand, are a different animal. Several different animals really. Round screw on tins like Escudo are pretty good for re-closing. Even though the seal has been popped, you can still keep baccy fresh (while using it) for several weeks - simply by screwing the cap back on tightly. Care must be taken when popping the seal - use a dime or similar sized coin to ease the seal apart (giving the POP). Don't hammer the lid off and bend it, or it will not close back tightly again.

The GL Pease and C&D tins, with the pull off caps, will never seal air-tight with the supplied plastic "hat". Ditto with the rectangular/square tins such as Samuel Gawith. Both these kinds require a little ingenuity, and this idea comes from Greg Pease's posting somewhere, sometime ago.

Take regular kitchen aluminum foil. Tear off a piece that is much more than twice the opening of the tin you have popped. Yes, new foil only. Don't be cheap and try to reuse the foil from roasting your turkey. Fold the foil in half, so now you have a 2-ply sheet that is larger than the opening of the tin. Place this double layer of foil over the open tin, about centered so there is an even amount of slack all around. Take the lid, and jam it on (without tearing the foil). Magic, you just resealed the tin! This can last several weeks while you burn the contents of the tin. Note that each time you open/close this foil seal, you do weaken the foil, and it will become lesser and lesser efficient in locking in your baccy freshness.

Personally I also throw the whole tin into a suitable sized ziplock baggie (genuine ziplock only!) and zipper it shut. It may help keeping moisture from seeping in/out. Ziplocks by themselves are only good for keeping baccy fresh for a few days. But doubled with the foil ploy described above, I have retained opened tins for nearly a year this way without too much drying out occurring. An additional benefit of the ziplock is to protect the tin contents from an accidental "oops, I dropped it". Rather than have to sweep the contents of the tin off the floor (and smoking it anyways) - everything will be neatly collected within the retaining ziplock baggie. Now you can see why I often have twenty or more open tins at any given time!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Where to cellar your tins and jars?

Tobacco Cellar:
March 2, 2011
"(Useless?) Statistics
Total 300 Members with over 1,800 lbs (0.9 ton) of baccy!"

Mercy! Three hundred of us have almost a metric ton of tobacco cellared (as of now)!

Gotta love that. Well, were do we put it all? Newcomers to this hobby often ask 'do I store my tobacco in the cigar humidor'? And the answer is, NO. Sealed tins are stored as, well, sealed tins. Opened tins, or bulk baccy should be sealed into a nice clean glass mason jar. That's the easy part, but where does one put it? I currently have over 70 lbs (that's over 43 kg for the metric inclined, if my math is correct), and this question is a doozy.

Personally, I just toss tins and jar into large cardboard boxes. Where possible and known, I mark the "Target Year" on each box and stack them in a dark basement closet. And yes, tins to go into the wrong boxes quite often, and I do "lose" tins and jars often, only to rediscover them at a later date. This is not a perfect system, I have to admit. It is a nuisance to manhandle these large boxes, and there are a LOT of them. But a bigger concern that I'm starting to worry about is the "exploding tin" syndrome. Buried in boxes, which are buried under other boxes, there is no way I can visually inspect my cache of tins.

But wherever you put them, just be sure it is in a DRY, COOL and DARK place. Dry because tins may rust, and fall apart eventually. Cool because excess heat could over-ferment the contents and the tin may explode (a bulging bottom is a warning sign). And dark because sunlight and even indoor lighting may expose your precious cargo to heat and/or UV radiation.

A closet is good. But when things scale up to this volume, it will take a large closet. Or two. Or three. Keep that in mind as you build your cellar!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Long term tin cellaring issues

Factory sealed tins, usually, are perfect for cellaring as-is. However, three bad things could happen to tins during long term storage. The tin seal could get compromised, and thus result in dried out baccy after years of patient cellaring. Or the tin could catch rust and disentigrate, with the same dried out baccy results. Or the baccy inside could "over-ferment" and make the tin swell to the point of exploding. These bulging tins should be opened (carefully!) immediately and the contents, if not spoiled, transferred to a mason jar to resume their cellaring nap; or consumed expeditiously.

Different kinds of tin seals can be tested in different ways. Square/rectangular tins like Samuel Gawith stock are easy to check. They are basically held together by the vacuum of the seal, when compromised the lid just falls off. A light tug on the lid will quickly reassure the cellaree about the status of its seal. Round pop-off tins such as GL Pease's stock are much stronger in maintaining their sealed state - and it is easier to eyeball the pull-off cap to see if any gaps have opened in the seal/rim. Round screw on tins such as Escudo have probably the sturdiest seals. The only real damage these round tins can suffer is from blunt force impact (typical in snail mail shipping) that could deform the tin shape and pop the seal. Undamaged round tins such as these can also be re-sealed by hand closure during content consumption, remarkable technology.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cellaring in foil baggies

Tins, jars, mostly used for cellaring. What about the foil baggies, such as Esoterica Tobacciana's 8oz sacks? Keep in mind, these are vacuum sealed plastic and foil bags, not your run of the mill ziplock baggie.

Some discussion has taken place on boards, and apparently bags have survived several years of aging. I dissected a Stonehaven bag and posted on Puff about it:

"I was curious, and unlike the feline that met its untimely end due to it, I attempted to disassemble an Esoterica foil baggie.

The other discussion(s) about storage media had me thinking about this. Will such a bag really work for aging? Anecdotal accounts suggest so, and a post that I read some time ago by GLP suggested that several layers were used in these foil bags to provide the same air/moisture proofing as a tin or jar.

After I finished moving the contents of this baggie into mason jars, I cut out a chunk of the baggie, took a razor blade and attempted to separate the layers. Wasn't easy, this stuff is well night bulletproof.

I wish I had a good macro lens for the camera to take pics, but I don't, so here is a text only analysis.

There are indeed several layers. I found three. The inside is an almost clear plastic film, I would guess a mylar sheet 3mil thick (I've worked with these before in a previous life/career), its more rigid than a ziplock bag. Laminated to it is a metallic film, feels like a very thin sheet of aluminum foil (like the stuff you have in the kitchen) but it may be metallized nylon (like party balloons). On top of that (the outside of the bag) appears to be another laminant though I am unable to separate it (too damn thin). This is the classic yellow-ish color of the bag. The printing may be inside the top layer, I was unable to scratch the letters or the yellow off, I'm thinking reverse printed plastic film laminated onto the metallic foil. Or the top two layers may be a classic party balloon structure (one piece).

Mylar is used for airtight seals among other things. Party balloons (metallized nylon) are also somewhat airtight (they do go flat eventually, but I suspect it is the seal that gives on balloons). Does this combination work to keep both O2 and H20 molecules contained/isolated? Do we have a scientist in the house?"

 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Who (really) makes your favorite blend?

So who makes that blend you love so much?

Ah, the name on the label may not tell the whole story. Let us take a look at our friends at Villiger Stokkebye International. Villiger brand tins and Peter Stokkebye bulk blends? Oh yes of course, and ...
Orlik
W.O. Larsen
Stanwell
Erinmore
Escudo
Balkan Sasieni
Skandinavik
Sail
Troost

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself!

But wait, hold the presses. Check out the site for Scandinavian Tobacco Group (the name on your Escudo tin). The same names, and even more brands! I assume this is the parent company to Peter Stokkebye. But who actually MAKES the product? Your guess is as good as mine!

And more breaking news. On their homepage, the news release states:
"14 January 2011 - Scandinavian Tobacco Group A/S signs agreement to acquire Lane, Limited, which strengthens its US market position and global leadership."

Friday, January 21, 2011

The different kinds of tobacco that comprise a blend

As the commercial goes, "What's in your blend?" Or was that wallet?

There are quite a few basic types of baccy leaf that are, well, blended into our much loved blends. Often a topping is added to, well, top the mixture. The combination of tobacco types and topping(s) (if any) are what gives each blend its own uniqueness.

Virginia tobacco has a natural sweetness due to its sugar content, but tends to give "tongue bite" due to its chemical composition and burn characteristics. Mostly VAs are mixed with other types to reduce the bite, yet retain the flavor. Virginia ages well, cellaring results in a smoother smoke, especially after many years of aging.

Another technique used to tame virginia is to "toast" or "cook" it (called stoving), this results in the type called Cavendish. While more mellow than VA, the taste tends to be sweeter.

Burley is probably the most used tobacco type. Many aromatic blends use burley as a base, mainly because burley tends to take of the flavor of whatever it is added to. While simple aromatic blends do not age too well (the toppings break down and go poof), burley and virginia blends do indeed age very well. Esoterica Tobacciana's Stonehaven for example, ahhh heaven, at any age.

Perique is a condiment type leaf, depending on what it is blended with and how much, perique can go from a scorching spiciness to a figgy sweetness. Escudo, of course, is the flagship of a VA/Perique blend.

Oriental leaf adds a herbal/salty/spicy taste, depending on the type used. Latakia is technically a kind of oriental tobacco, but is flavored by burning herbs to give it the unique barbeque smokiness making it a different animal.

Aromatics are generally classified as blends that have an added artificial flavor topping that completely overwhelms the true flavor of the base tobacco.
 
 
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