Grog Locker: Part 2. Long Term Storage of Tobacco

The Grog Locker: Tobacco

‘Now where are me boots, me noggin, noggin boots, all sold for beer and tobacco.
for the soles they were thin, and the tops were letting in, and the heels were lookin’ out for better weather.’

The Legendary Tom Crean: One of the toughest men in the history of Polar Exploration.

Putting up rope tobacco for trading: Long-term storage.

Tobacco has its place when life gets hard, dark, cold and dangerous. In the field, smoking the occasional pipe of tobacco can settle the mind, encourage a friend, or even be a life saver. Unlike other drugs, a pipe of tobacco is at once soothing and stimulating. You tend to be more alert without being impaired mentally, especially if you’re exhausted and haven’t slept for a day or two. When you see photos of the great polar explorers, note how many are smoking a pipe.

Some years ago three Inuit hunters got lost in a storm. Without food they marched until they were at death’s door. They came across a cabin. It didn’t have food but there was some tobacco. They smoked. Their spirits revived. They hung on until a search party found them. One of the men told a reporter, “That tobacco saved us.”

For myself, I stopped smoking tobacco in the 1970’s with the annual exception of watching whales, usually alone, for a few weeks in late fall. The big bears were still out. I’d sit in the tent door at night, with a can of pepper spray in each hand, a shot gun at my elbow and smoke a pipe. In those moment’s you can be Tom Crean.

I’m not talking about cigarettes. Wouldn’t smoke one for a hundred dollars. It’s in the same vein as we live mostly on wild salmon and halibut here but wouldn’t touch fish farm salmon or tilapia.

In addition to smoking or chew, tobacco has medicinal and ceremonial uses. Or you can boil some in water then spray the liquid on bugs that are eating your vegetables. Most important, it’s worth its weight in gold when there’s none in the shops. Don’t forget to put up a few pipes. Cheap corn cobs will do fine. In fact, don’t use your good briar pipe, which you’ve broken in to other flavors, with strong rope tobacco because it will ‘ghost’ the pipe. That is, it will change the flavor.

A few boxes of pipe filters and cleaners are also worth having.

Why Rope Tobacco?

Problems with storing tobacco long-term are that it can dry out, go stale, grow mold, or otherwise degrade. Looking for a solution I wasted a lot of time on the internet until the day I wondered what they did on the old-time sailing ships when they spent years away from tobacco shops.
What they did was rolled and twisted tobacco leaf (rope is also called twist) into ropes and coiled the ropes into boxes. [This is an art.] They’d take a piece out, cut off a coin, break that up and tamp it into a pipe. Turns out sitting in the hold in boxes for long periods not only kept the tobacco, it improved and grew sweeter and more flavorful. So, Dick went looking for rope tobacco.
After reading many reviews, ‘Brown Bogie’ made by the venerable English firm Gawith and Hoggarth, was what I settled on. Reviews say it is for ‘the experienced smoker’. Which is to say it’s potent, flavorful,with a high nicotine load. Turns out it’s also expensive, and in the U.S. prices can be doubled from one state to another because states have different tax laws on tobacco. Worse still, it’s really hard to come by.

Price, taxes, the wait, and the laws

500 grams of Brown Bogie rope tobacco used to be sold in a distinctive wrapped package. You still see those on the internet but now it comes in zip lock bags. So don’t freak out if the package doesn’t look like you thought it would.

500 grams is a little more than a pound. It may cost anywhere from $100 to $220 depending on what state you get it from. That sounds ridiculous though it’s still cheaper by weight than cigaretts if that makes you feel better. As noted, the price difference is because different states put different tax burdens on tobacco sales. Some are huge. Because of this, if you put in an order some shops require a full or partial payment to at least cover the taxes. You may have to wait up to a year. It will sell out in no time. It’s the days we live in. Supply chain delays again.

Online shops all over the country advertise Brown Bogie. You get excited. Then you see they’re ‘Out of Stock’. Even when it’s in stock some shops have a maximum amount you can order. Come to think of it, that may be the reason for G&H changing to zip lock bags. That way the shop can sell it by the ounce.

The take aways are: shop around, find a state where the taxes aren’t huge. Get on a list to be notified when it comes in. See how much they’ll sell you. If they want the money up front, make sure they’re on the up and up. Then go for it.

Something you’ll want to check before you have tobacco mailed from another state is what are the shipping laws where you live. In Washington state, for example, it’s a felony to have tobacco mailed to you. Yes, that’s wacky. Probably no one at the post office is going to catch it, anyhow. But that’s something I never would have thought of.

Storing your tobacco

Five pounds and change of rope tobacco. The gizmo at right is the vacuum attachment to the food saver.

This picture above is a little over five pounds. As I say it comes as a long rope. Curl the rope tightly as you can into a pint mason jar. About a half pound will fill a jar.Cap it. Don’t add an oxygen absorber or desiccant.  Vacuum seal. Put a date on the lid. Store where it’s cool, dark, and dry.

Rolling your own rope tobacco.

If you’re after a viable supply of rope tobacco, don’t want to pay a ton of money, don’t want to wait for months, and have time and inclination to do things yourself, it turns out you can buy leaf tobacco for  a much lower price than some of the commercial products. There are YouTube videos of how to roll your own rope tobacco. Here’s one:

And below are two links on where to buy leaf courtesy of G&P Fine Tobaccos in Anchorage, Ak.

You’ll want to research what blends will come close to the type of smoke you’re after.

*Among his exploits, Tom Crean made the 800 mile open boat voyage with Shakelton across the Southern Ocean from Elephant Island to South Georgia after the Endurance was crushed by Antarctic Ice. In winter he returned to Elephant Island with Shakelton on the steam tug Yelcho,  piloted by Chilean Naval officer Luis Pardo, to rescue the rest of Shakelton’s crew. As they rowed a small boat towards the cheering men on the beach, Tom was in the bow tossing them packets of tobacco.