The older the better

Ancient Capstan

± 90 year old Capstan Medium Navy Flake

I still can remember the first time I bought tinned pipe-tobacco about 3½ years ago. I checked the tin for the expiration date and could not find it to my surprise. My (twisted) mind went like: Tobacco is a leaf, leaves are like vegetables and they can’t be kept good for a long period (I still remember the withered cauliflower in my fridge started quoting Shakespeare..). So where was the damn date?? At that time I did not know that it is with most tobaccos like it is with most wines, the older the better. My eyes were opened by a story from GL Pease in which he tells that the owner of a store he used to work (Drucquer & Sons) used to age certain blends and sell them later at a higher price. At that time I also became active at some international fora and saw that especially in The States it is quit common to stock up on blends you like. Being a cheap Dutchman, this made me think. Every year the prices of tobacco go up here because of the bloody taxes. So to be able to smoke tobaccos at yesterdays prices and have the benefits from ageing… *big grin*

time_tobaccoBut first of all, very important, it is no guarantee that ageing a tobacco will make it better. A shitty blend will never become ambrosia for your taste buds. It is not a certainty that a tobacco which should age well will actually do so. Having said that, what actually happens when you age a blend? Time makes sure the various components of the mixture will marry, blend together into a more consistent whole. Also lot of tobacco species contain sugars which are needed for fermentation. That process transforms, changes the leaves used. It provides a less sharp, mellower but richer and more complex taste. So the more sugar in a tobacco leaf, the better it will ferment and the richer it will taste after ageing.

fermentationThere are 2 types of fermentation: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic fermentation happens in the American-style pull-lid tins (which contain more free oxygen) and in mason jars with bulk blends. Anaerobic fermentation is what occurs in the European-type vacuum sealed tins. Because there is more air in the American style tins the ageing dynamics are different. It is not so much that they age faster than the European-style tins than that it is just a matter of.. Difference. Experienced cellarers: please let me know that precise difference! Thanks! And when an old tin is opened of course new changes will begin to take place just like a wine is “breathing”.

Let’s take a look at the different species of tobacco and how they react to ageing:

virginia_tobaccoVirginia: Ages the best of all the tobaccos because of their high sugar content. If you have a blend with a lot of Virginias in it you have a good chance it will become more yummie with time. Within half a year you should notices the first changes and within 1 to 5 years it should really begin to shine. After those first years the speed of change will become slower, more gradual, but the blend will continue to improve. How long? I guess it will take 30 to 40 years before the mixture will go over the top and a certain descent might begin. But even then the smoke can be absolutely sublime.

oriental_tobaccoOriental: A high sugar level (just below Virginias) is also present in oriental tobaccos. Because of this they also age very well with the same ageing-expectancy as Virginias.

latakia_tobaccoLatakia: Mixtures with latakia reach their summit in about 5 years and then begin to decline more rapidly. Latakia does not really age but gets softer, loses its edge with time. So if a blend depends on the smoky, leathery and spicy taste of latakia you should not stash away the tin for too long. But if there is good layering of other tobaccos underneath the dark leaf (hello Virginia and orientals) the blend still can deliver a fantastic smoke. Even though it will transform into something more harmonious, something less pungent. The old Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture is a good example of this. It still tastes wonderful despite some pipe-smokers prefer the newer version because of the fresher latakia.

burley_tobaccoBurley: This leaf is low in sugar so there is not much fermentation going on. Just as with latakia it will become more smooth and blend in with the other tobaccos like sweet Virginias who get better with time as I told above. The delicious Estoterica Stonehaven is a prime example of this and will age very, very well.

perique_tobaccoPerique: Because of the pressure-fermentation process with making the peppery leaf it will not change much over the years. But as with burley the combination with Virginia is a golden one. The thought alone of well-aged Escudo makes my mouth water.

cavendish_tobaccoCavendish: In a way the same goes for cavendish as for perique. Because of the double fermentation process it will not really age.

aromatic_tobaccoAromatic tobaccos: Sweetened aromatics do not seem to age well. These tobaccos often have quite a bit of Propylene Glycol in them which serves as a humectant and carrier of aromatic flavours. So over a long time frame, they are pretty stable. The biggest change is that the aromatic components and characteristics can degrade or change over time. So what you find in a tin 5 years from now may not be as pleasing as it is today.

Here are some tips and facts about ageing and cellaring your precious tobaccos:

Sierra Exif JPEG– Preferably tobacco should be left in the original sealed tin. So check it out before storing to make sure it is not damaged. Look for damage to the tin, bumps, pin holes etc. Just make sure the vacuum seal is good. Then you can store it in a cool, dark place without a lot of fluctuations in temperature. An ideal temperature would be in the range of 15-21°C. So DON’T put tobacco in the refrigerator or freezer! That may cause damage to the cell structure of the tobacco. Also pay attention to the humidity, even though the tobacco is in airtight tins. High levels of humidity can cause corrosion and/or rust to the tin-metals and could compromise the seal. You also do not want to store your tobacco where it is exposed to light for long periods of time. Besides the light itself it often means heat, which can cause all kinds of unwanted chemical processes in tobacco. So do not try to speed up the ageing process by heating up your tins or loose tobacco.

Exif JPEG– I would recommend mason jars for the storage of bulk, loose and opened tins of tobacco. I prefer glass because it is a non-porous material and can be disinfected very easily. Airtight plastic containers are also ok but I still prefer glass. I just don’t feel ok with plastic. It’s a personal thing. If I do use plastic I make damn sure that it is brand new and that the tobacco is the first thing to hit the virginal bottom ever. The good thing is, mason, ball and bail top jars are pretty inexpensive and can be bought almost anywhere. They also come in a variety of sizes. That way you can use a small one to put some tobacco in that you regularly smoke and a large one for tobacco that you really want to age. Preparing the jars for storing/jarring/canning/whatever is one of the most important steps in the process of storing. Make sure that you sterilize the jars before you use them. I wash the mason, ball and bail top jars (including the rubber rings) with boiling water. I never use soap or something like that because I am afraid there will be a residue somewhere and my tobacco starts to smell like Lakeland-style blends. Then I dry the jars and rings with clean paper towels and the tobacco can be put inside. It is advisable to label each jar with the contents and put a date on them before storage. Some people prefer to place the filled jars in boiling water to heat them up and then place the lids on to create a vacuum seal. I have never done that and I have had no problems at all. My older jars have created their own vacuum while in storage. Just one more thing, the rubber rings will start to smell like the tobacco inside. So if you want to refill the jar with an aromatic after having smoked a for example latakia-heavy blend out of it, just make sure you replace the rubber ring. Nothing can get the smell out of it..



– Vacuum sealing is great for many things but is pretty useless for tobacco. Tobacco needs some air to maintain the ageing process. A perfectly vacuum sealed bag or container will probably keep the contents fresh, but it may not really age the way you expect it to. So.. Having said that I realize that vacuum sealing is ideal for aromatics! One tip from a Dutch forum member: do not vacuum loose tobacco in a seal-bag. It will destroy and break up the tobacco strands.. Preferably put the tobacco in an unused tin, put that in the bag and vacuum the hell, ehmm, air out of it.

Wish I was able to buy more of these..

Wish I was able to buy more of these..

– When you find a blend you like it is always a good idea to buy 1 tin to smoke now and 1 (or more) to cellar. That way your collection will keep growing with tobaccos you like and you have the benefits of ageing. A win-win situation.

pipe_cigar– Do not store pipe tobacco and cigars together. Cigars are like little sponges and they will eventually absorb any moisture, aromas, and flavours that are nearby.  Having said that, do not store pipe tobacco in a (cigar) humidor. 1. The cedar in humidors absorbs moisture and it will suck all of the moisture from your tobacco like a vampire. 2. It will absorb the aroma of the tobacco blend. 3. The cedar could also add a cedar aroma and flavour to your tobacco.

Aged full Virginia flake © Hermit

Aged Full Virginia Flake © Hermit

– Sometimes you can find so called “sugar crystals” on aged tobacco. Mr. Pease has done some rudimentary playing with them, though no full-scale analysis, and found them not sweet, not very soluble, and not very likely to be sugar. Probably they are organic acids that have surfaced as a result of pH or other changes in the chemistry of the leaf as it ages. But good new, the presence of these crystals usually indicates something good has happened to the tobacco that hosts them! member cgrd took some neat pictures of the crystals on a flake of Stonehaven from under a microscope which you can see here.

My Marcovitch with a lot of mould on top of it.. Argghh!!!!

My Marcovitch with a lot of mould on top of it.. Argghh!!!!

– Mould is the enemy of (aged) tobacco. How do you know it is there? Well, if there is a spider-web like, hairy substance on your tobacco. Bad news… Your nose will offer the second clue. Tobacco with mould stinks in a way that is difficult to describe but once you have smelled it, you’ll never forget it. Imagine the aroma of the sweaty feet of your girlfriend combined with the scent of over-ripe French cheese..

nicot– Nicotine has nowhere to go and it does not seem to break down through ageing. But ageing can change the pH of the smoke which will change how readily the nicotine is absorbed. The more alkaline the smoke, the more nicotine you will get into your bloodstream. My personal experience is that older tobaccos are stronger. Or they just made them stronger in the ol’ days. When men were more manly!

internet– There is a free site where you can fill in all the data about your tobacco collection. This way you can show off to your friends what you precisely have:

± 90 year old Capstan "fresh" in the tin!

± 90 year old Capstan “fresh” in the tin!

In my Pleasures of life in Belgium 2014 blog-post I told you about my ± 90-year old knife-cutter tin of Capstan Medium Navy Flake that was opened by Martin. For more pictures see below.  Astoundingly the condition of the tobacco inside the tin was perfect! Which is a testament to the quality of the old “knife lid” or “cutter top” tins. I had a few of those: a tin of Craven Mixture from the 1930’s, a St. Bruno Flake tin from the 1960’s and the Capstan Medium Navy Flake tin from the 1920’s. All of them were a bit corroded from the outside but clean as a whistle from the inside. Spotless!

Ancient Capstan in a mason jar

Ancient Capstan in a mason jar

Back home from the meeting I had the chance to properly gaze at the ancient Capstan. Unfortunately all the flakes were more or less stuck together because of the age so I had big difficulties keeping them whole. I am well acquainted with the current production and compared to that the old flakes were pretty dark and very thin. In fact I have never seen such thinly cut flakes, only Esoterica’s Stonehaven comes close. The smell from the tobacco was instantly recognizable. Typical (current day) Capstan, but somewhat diminished. I could smell more tobacco than topping/casing. And that was also the case with the taste when I lit up my pipe. The current production leans on the topping/casing while with the old version those flavours had degraded somewhat over the years. Instead the aged Virginia tobaccos had taken the reign and transformed the flakes into an exceptionally smooth mouth-watering whole. But in all honesty, I did like the contents of my 1989 Capstan tin better. That one had the best of both worlds: still intact topping/casing flavours and aged tobacco.

So buy those blends you love and start your own old treasure tobacco collection!

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I quit smoking…

Stop-Smoking…cigarettes years ago. To be precise I stopped in January 2006. In my “Humble Beginnings part 2” post I told how I started the addiction. Yes, I really believe smoking cigarettes is an addiction. I tried for years not to give in, told myself that I could quit at any time. But when I almost panicked one evening, when I realised I had very little shag (rolling tobacco) left and the stores were already closed for that day and the next, I knew lady nicotine had me fully in her grasp..

nicotSo what is nicotine exactly? Nicotine is the natural protection of the tobacco plant from being eaten by insects. Yes, insecticides were made from it. It is a very, very strong toxin. It is more lethal than strychnine or rattlesnake venom and three times deadlier than arsenic! Yet amazingly, pure by chance, this natural insecticide’s chemical signature is very similar to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylwhat?? Please look it up on wikipedia as my chemical knowledge is almost non-existent.. But once nicotine is inside the brain it fits a host of chemical “locks”. Thus permitting it direct and indirect control over the flow of more than 200 neuro-chemicals, most importantly dopamine.

dopamine-300x311Ok… And what the hell is dopamine? It is the brain’s primary motivation neurotransmitter (a chemical substance that transmits nerve impulses across a synapse). The dopamine pathways of the brain serve as a built-in teacher. It uses a desire, yearning or wanting sensation to get our attention when it wants to pound home a survival lesson necessary to keep us humans alive and thriving. Ever wondered why it is so hard to go without eating? To actually starve yourself to death or to die of thirst? Why do we seek acceptance from other people, want companionship and desire a mate or sexual relations? Why do we feel anxiety when bored and an “aaahh” sense of relief when we complete a task? Remember that “aaahh” sensation? That was dopamine, the satisfaction of your wanting, craving to succeed. The deep inner primitive brain is hard-wired via dopamine pathways, to keep us drinking liquids, fed, together (there’s safety in numbers), while achieving and reproducing.

FoodBrainHungerSatisfactionBut there our brain does not stop. It makes sure that we don’t forget those activities so that in the future we pay close attention to them. The brain records how “wanting” was satisfied in the most durable, high-definition memory the mind may be capable of generating. It does so by hard-wiring dopamine pathway neuro-transmissions into our brains conscious memory banks.

400415-5227-10This is what nicotine does: Once introduced into the bloodstream, it is small enough to pass through the protective blood/brain barrier. And then once inside the brain it is somehow able to activate and turn on our mind’s dopamine pathway circuitry. Thus hijacking the mind’s priorities teacher. So with continuing chemical use (read: smoking) this results in the person becoming totally yet falsely convinced, that using more nicotine is as important as eating food. Very simplified it comes to this: Hunger for food, hunger for nicotine. Food craves, nicotine craves. “Aaahh” wanting satisfaction while taking bites, “aaahh” wanting satisfaction while re-filling nicotine reserves. Welcome to the addicts world of nicotine..

willpowerheaderAll does not explain why users initially continue using nicotine, prior to a growing pile of dopamine pathway high-definition use memories begging them to use more. Nor does it explain why most regular nicotine users get hooked but not all. Every person is different, it is a question of genetics and of willpower. Because how strong our brains tells us to do something, we can still choose to ignore it. How difficult that may be..

iStock_000015887056XSmall[1]And difficult it was in my case.. Like I said in my “Humble Beginnings part 2” post I grew tired long ago of the nicotine addiction. When I went away from house I checked my pockets for my wallet, shag and lighter. If one of those elements were missing I head back, no matter where I was. If I knew I was going somewhere where smoking was not allowed I tried to smoke as much as possible in advance. If I thought there was even a slight possibility of running out of shag I brought a spare pouch along.  When I had a cold I did not smoke through the worst part but as soon as I got even a tiny bit better I lit up a cigarette. In that time I still lived with my parents who “luckily” allowed indoor smoking despite my father being a hart-patient! I smoked in the living-room, in my hobby-room and sometimes even in my bedroom. Ab-so-lu-tely nuts when I think of it now..

1993-509|1993-509/1|10411689I also did not like the damage I was doing to my body. I practised fitness quite a lot in those days so my physical condition was pretty good. Despite that I gradually developed an annoying smokers-cough. I also sang a lot and when each year of smoking passed by I noticed that my vocal range got worse and my voice got tired sooner. One time when my mother wanted to air my pillow she saw a big brown stain on it. Apparently I was drooling in my sleep and my saliva was polluted with tar..

Lately I watched a video from the History Channel about tobacco. I saw how cigarettes were made, please watch the fragment below:

I was flabbergasted when I saw what exactly was inside a cigarette.. So much junk! And then to think you inhale that smoke deep into your lungs.. I am not saying that smoking pipe is good, smoking is bad, but it is a lot better than smoking cigarettes! Actually I already knew there was garbage in a cigarette. Last year when I visited the DTM factory in Lauenburg, Germany I talked with masterblender Andreas Mund. He smoked rolling tobacco he made himself, he actually gave me a big bag (which I gave away to friends who still smoked cigarettes). “Here”, he said, “much better than cigarettes made elsewhere. There’s real crap in those, this rolling tobacco just exists of pure Virginias, nothing else!” I was curious so I rolled a cigarette and lit it, of course I did not inhale. Yuk, gross!! I only tasted the rolling tobacco paper and barely anything else. I could not imagine I smoked that for years and years. From those still smoking friends I heard the DTM rolling tobacco was a bit harsh but very smokeable.

cutting1A big reason beside the other ones for me to stop smoking cigarettes was my first girlfriend. I always have been a late-bloomer. And she was absolutely disgusted with my habit. “Yuk, it’s just like licking out an ashtray!” she used to shout at me when we kissed. I can’t say I blame her, she was right of course. Just after New Year 2006 I decided to get rid of the addiction. But I felt I needed something more, something that could serve as a threat. As it happened to be my ex also had a nasty habit which I hated, she used to cut herself. So we made a deal, I said to her “If you stop cutting yourself I stop smoking. When one of us has a relapse the other must smoke or cut in front of the other..” A kind of sinister pact but we both agreed. Needless to say I smoked my last cigarette in the car on my way to the office the next morning and never relapsed. I had stopped cold turkey.

smokingThis is not going to help someone who wants to quit smoking, but my first week of stopping was pure hell.. At work I made an announced to my colleagues that I no longer smoked and brought lots of candies with me to “survive” the days. You see, quitting does not make you fat, it is all the stuff you eat afterwards! Also your taste buds are becoming better again so food just tastes better and you eat more of it. Anyway, those first days my mind and body just were on survival mode. Do not smoke.. Do not smoke.. I’ll have a candy.. Aahhh…. Do not smoke.. Do not smoke.. I never had so much trouble to not do something. At the end of the first week I almost relapsed when I cycled past the shop where I always bought shag. Only the thought of my ex cutting herself in front of me held me back. After the first week the worst was over. The nicotine was out of my body and the cravings coming out of my mind were getting lesser. I won the fight…

536275_3503874926667_1448439497_n…Until I lit up my first pipe years later. What a dumb-ass a lot of people will think, he quits and starts again! Yes, but not with cigarettes, with pipe-smoking. With cigarettes you inhale the smoke, so the intake of nicotine is much higher than with pipe-smoking where you let the smoke come in your mouth and no further. Well ok, nicotine is still being absorbed by the oral membranes but its effect is less, it is more controllable. So the big difference is that now I choose when I like to smoke. The cravings are gone. No time? Don’t smoke. In a place where you are not allowed to smoke? Don’t smoke. Just not really feel like smoking? Don’t smoke. As simple as that. When I now smoke I get real pleasure out of it most times. Of course the tobacco can not be so good, I can be (without knowing) at the beginning of a cold etc. etc. Point is, I now smoke because I like to, not because I have to.

cold-turkeyI don’t want to say that you cigarette smokers must stop smoking. Your life, your body, your choice. I only want to say that for me smoking pipe works and that I am glad to be rid of cigarettes. If you decide to stop, stop cold turkey. All those stop-smoking-aids one can get are just an extension of your “suffering”, of your craving for nicotine. You only put money in the pocket of the companies who make those “aids”. And they prefer you not to stop smoking because then they can make money out of you again with your next attempt. Think about it and good luck!

Humble Beginnings part 2.

In part 1 of this blog I described my influences, the people that lead to me picking up a smoking pipe a couple of years ago.
But my connection with tobacco began earlier, much earlier.

Drum shag pouch.

Drum shag pouch.

When I was born my father smoked cigarettes. Shag to be precize, Drum shag. And I hated it.. I got sick when I smelled the smoke.. However, when I put my nose in the pouch I was delighted! I loved the odour of the dark Kentucky and bright Virginia.
Sadly around his 50th birthday my father got a heart attack and was forced to quit smoking. But he kept his last Drum pouch and occasionally sniffed the aroma of the contents.

Around my 14th year I got an interest in smoking. I was in love with a girl that played in the orchestra I also was playing in and she smoked. So when she offered me a cigarette I couldn’t resist it. I wanted to impress her but did not inhale the smoke. Not yet.. Unfortunately she fell in love with another member of the orchestra but my interest in smoking was aroused.

At that time I did not dare buying tobacco myself. But my father still had his last Drum pouch. So one time when my parents were away I managed to roll a cigarette (not easy for a beginner!) and smoked it. Also not over my lungs. What I did not knew at the time was that nicotine is also absorbed by the mucous membranes in the mouth. The result was that I got very sick. The world seem to spin around me and I hurled the contents of my stomach into the toilet. I solemnly vowed to never ever smoke again. Of course two weeks later when my parents were away once more I smoked again.

During the next years I started smoking more and more. First I managed to keep it hidden from my parents but soon got busted because my mother smelled the tobacco in my bedroom. They were far from happy but did not forbid it. After a while I began with smoking over my lungs and from year to year my cigarette consumption increased.

Rolling tobacco.

Rolling tobacco.

I liked smoking shag. Never ready rolled cigarettes. I liked the ritual of putting fresh tobacco in the rolling paper, roll it and then smoke it. I liked the pure taste of it, I never smoked with a filter. Brands that I smoked a lot in those years were Drum, Samson, Jakobs and my Sunday smoke was Javaanse Jongens. But what I not liked was that a cigarette only lasted for a short time. 5 minutes and then it was gone. I always wished for a never ending cigarette.

My shag smoking habit continued for several years until I was 29. At that time I had a girlfriend who hated smoking. I was madly in love and already grew tired long ago of the nicotine addiction and the damage I did to my body. So I quit from one moment to another. Not easy, but I did it.

For years I lived a smoke-free life until I started smoking again. No cigarettes this time, but pipe. Continued in part 3.