Tuesday, 25 July, 2006
What Are We Waiting For?
More and more often, I read about someone buying a few tins of a new blend, only to put them aside for “at least a year” before trying them. Certainly, I’ve always been an outspoken proponent of cellaring and aging tobaccos, of laying in a store of our favorite blends to enjoy for years to come, but the idea of buying something and not spending some quality time with it in its youth robs us of one of the great joys of aging tobaccos; we lose the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy its youth.
Like wines, our pipe mixtures undergo dramatic changes during their infancy, the first months of their “bottled” lives. When first blended, the personality of the blend is still lurking somewhere in the background, while the individual components are right up front, competing with one another to be heard. Within the first couple of months, the flavors begin to integrate, and new flavors, new aromas will emerge. The integration will be more or less complete sometime within the first year, but the blend won’t reach its real maturity until two to three years have passed, and the changes during that time are quite noticeable, and sometimes surprising. Things slow down, then, but by the five or six year mark, we’ve left childhood and adolescence behind, and are really dealing with the adult stage of the blend. But, we all know this.
The point I’m getting at is that I really enjoy experiencing a blend at different stages of its development. Of course, mature blends have their charms, and it’s always worth cellaring a sufficient quantity of anything to enjoy it some years in the future. But, why not develop a cellaring plan that affords the opportunity to explore all these wonderful stages?
When I discover a wine that I like, if I can afford it, I’ll put a case or two aside, and taste it a couple times over the first six months. I can get a decent idea of when the wine will peak, and plan my cellaring strategy accordingly. (Sadly, space and available cash are often limiting factors. I just finished the last of a case I’d put away six years ago, and wish I could have managed to buy another somewhere along the way, as I think the wine still has some great life in it.
This is similar to how I explore a new pipe blend. I’ll open a tin right away, and lay a couple more aside for future tasting. If I like what I find in that first tin, I’ll put a couple more away, and then begin my cellaring strategy. Usually, this is simply the purchase of one to cellar for every one that is consumed. In other words, when I finish a tin, I’ll buy two; one to smoke, and put one aside. This way, the cellar is growing at an appropriate rate, and I’ve got something to enjoy now. After a year, I’ll have tins in various stages of development, and by the end of five years, I’ve got some real choices.
At some point, the pipeline is full enough, and I’ll simply replace what is consumed with another, fresh tin. The beauty of this method is that it is somewhat self-regulating, and I don’t end up with a great many tins of something that I like occasionally, and not enough of something I like more frequently. Of course, tastes change, and if our tastes deviate dramatically, it can toss a spanner into the works, but no system is perfect. Besides, aged tobaccos, especially if they’ve become unavailable, a sad occurrence that seems to happen more and more often lately, have a higher value on the market, and can always be traded or sold. In some cases, this can be an excellent investment, though I certainly wouldn’t recommend speculating on tobacco futures…
Earlier today, I puffed on a bowl of Fillmore that’s been in the tin for about a month and a half. Already, it’s showing amazing character. The richness has been enhanced, and there are subtle, fruity notes that are more prominent than in the blend when freshly packed. This is a blend with long legs – one that will age beautifully for many years. I’m looking forward to getting to know it over the next decade or so.
Try it! Pick something new, buy a few tins, and explore it month by month. It’s fun, it’s educational, and it can enhance our appreciation for the wonder and beauty of those little shredded leaves we stuff into our pipes.