I discovered a few weeks ago that it's possible to buy high quality pipe tobacco in bulk online at a fraction of what it costs per tin. So, I ordered an 8 oz bag of McClelland's 2015 and another of 2035 from Mars Cigars down in Pennsylvania. When the two big zip-lock bags showed up at the house, I felt like Tony Montana.
The 2035 is really impressive--it's cut into big, flat, jagged black chunks that smell like ketchup and look like the shredded tire of an 18 wheeler. Apparently, the ketchup smell comes from the ongoing fermentation process of the sugary virginia leaf. This stuff is basically a bulk version of Dark Star, except the pressed flakes are gigantic. For days, I couldn't stop taking them out of the bag and playing with them.
2015 looks like a much more ordinary broken-flake virginia blend. There's perique in it too, but it's the same mottled brown colour as the virginia. From perique's reputation as a strong, spicy condiment leaf I figured it would have a distinctive tangy aroma, but 2015 actually smells quite bland in the bag, like bran flakes and apricots laced with a little vinegar.
The tobacco was wet, wet, wet. Both blends required about 8 hours drying time to become smokeable. They burned fine after that, but both had an acidic, "green" bite to them. One of the reasons why bulk tobacco is cheaper (at least in the case of McClelland's blends) is because it hasn't had much aging time. Needless to say, my dreams of sitting atop a pile of pipe weed like Smaug on his pile of treasure, smoking at my evil leisure, were dashed when I realized that this stuff will have to age for another 6 months to be really good.
My wife bought me a box of mason jars, which I filled with tobacco and labelled with names and dates. I put them all on the shelf in the closet, and just like that I had my very own tobacco cellar. I'm hoping I will be able to hang onto at least one of each jar for 5 or 10 years. Virginia ages well.
Lots of great companies sell tobacco in bulk, like GL Pease, Samuel Gawaith, Esoterica and the aforementioned McClelland's, and I think it's the way to go. I like the idea that one day, 10 years from now, I might pack a bowl of 2015 '07 and think back to a time when my son had just turned one year old, Stephen Harper was prime minister, styrofoam was still legal and I lived 400 meters from the U.S. border and could still get the old "Quebecois discount" on American contraband.
It's nice to have warmth, comfort, and a little something special, whether it's a cup of coffee, a bottle of wine, or a smoke of some kind or another. "The good life" sounds insufferably bourgeois, but it is, at least for now, a good life.
(Photo is of Mark Twain smoking a calabash, which is a pipe made from the dried gourd of the calabash vine capped with a meerschaum bowl).