Just Old Tobacco…

10th August, 2007: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Enjoyment


Old tobacco is amazing stuff. I mean the really old stuff, the vintage tins that people talk about and pay astronomical sums of money for. By now, most of us are cellaring tins of our favored blends for the blessings that time bestows upon them, and, of course, we should keep doing this while we continue to explore the pleasures of getting to know tobaccos in their juvenescence, and at various stages of their development. In fact, some enjoy their smoke most when it’s still possessing the exuberance of youth, and some tobaccos seem to lend themselves particularly well to being enjoyed while young.

I’m talking about something different, though. I’m talking about those distinguished old blends, long unavailable; those marvelous and revered tobaccos that have been sitting on dusty shelves for years or decades, lying in wait as little hermetically sealed time capsules containing something of both our collective, and our individual pasts. There is sometimes much more in those tins than old weeds.

A few months ago, I attended a weekend “smoker” with a handful of friends. We all brought tobaccos from our cellars to share and discuss. My main contribution was an old 200g tin of Balkan Sobranie, probably from the mid-1970s.

The tin had been excavated from a box of similarly old tobaccos whilst I was involved in attempting a little organization of my “cellar.” When I discovered it, the label was exhibiting those nasty little brown spots that betray the presence of surface rust on the tin beneath them. I performed my usual ritual of hysterical non-destructive testing - shaking the tin, squeezing it gently, tapping on the top and bottom, gently probing the little rust spots - in an attempt to determine if the contents might still be in good condition, or if the rust had eaten through the tin years before, the resulting holes rendering the tin’s contents into little more than once valuable tobacco flavoured mummy dust. Things seemed okay, so I decided it would be a good candidate to share with my mates during our upcoming smoke-filled weekend. I grabbed a few other things as a backup plan, just in case all my “testing” had resulted in a flawed prognosis.

When I finally got to the party, anxious for some refreshment after hours of being at loggerheads with far too many drivers on far too little road, it was instantly apparent that any tobaccos I’d brought would be in celebrated company. There was a dizzying display of old and new blends alike, all ready to be sniffed, talked over, and smoked. There was stuff I’d never heard of, and even more stuff I’d heard of but never tasted. Though the Balkan Sobranie was a tobacco of legend, I hoped it would hold its own amongst such an elite crowd. We’d have to wait. There were cigars to smoke, foods to eat, wine to drink, music to listen to, and perpetual, lively conversation in every corner.

Finally, late that evening, well sated and probably at least mildly intoxicated, we decided to pull the top. Fortunately, the tobacco turned up in pristine condition, and released its magnificent aroma to the eager noses of those gathered round. The anticipation was thick. We passed the tin around, and several filled their bowls. We spoke in quiet tones, and an odd reverence briefly fell upon what had been a pretty unruly lot only moments before. It seemed more like some sort of arcane ritual of an ancient secret society than a bunch of bohemians gathered to celebrate smoke and drink and food.

Our host was a long-time devotee of the fabled Sobranie of yore, but hadn’t had any in years, so this would be a special treat for him. I waited to light up until he’d gotten his going. The obvious joy this tobacco brought him was its greatest gift. He talked of the memories rekindled, the places to which he was transported by the magic in those lacy wisps of smoke. That’s the true beauty, the real value of old tobaccos, I think.

When I was leaving Sunday, I left the rest of the Sobranie with him to enjoy, hoping it would conjure many more fond memories for him. It nearly brought tears to his eyes. I can only hope that, one day in the distant future, a tin of one of my own blends will bring similar happiness to someone, somewhere, whether or not I am still around to experience it with them.