The Jarmidor: Performance Monitoring

I was up at Pet Smart buying cat food since the cats have managed to eat us out of house and home yet again and I happened to be looking at the reptiles.

Suddenly, inspiration struck. Reptiles need the right temperature, because they are cold blooded, but they also live in a humid, humid rainforest. What else lives in a tropical climate?

Free range cigars, that’s what.

I wandered over to the reptile aisle and sure enough there were enough hygrometers to monitor every planet in the solar system. (About 9). Now, people commonly complain the hygrometer in their humidor is crap and can be as far as 10% off. To figure out if we’re buying a good one or not we need to compare. Instrumentation is one of those things where you don’t need to test it to make sure it works, the majority of it merely has to agree. In other words, if the standard deviation is small, then we know the instrument is probably mostly correct and we know about how far off they can be. For this trick, we try to buy one representing the mean value.

In my case, out of 9 of these, 8 of them agreed the humidity in the store was between 40% and 42%. One of them said 50%, so this one obviously is in error. Upon tapping them, the needle would typically settle back into the same place, so we know none of them are stuck like this and the needle is free floating. I tried to power up a digital hygrometer but it was disabled. Comparing it to the one the store uses in their cages, the humidity was 41%. I was willing to accept any hygrometer that read between 40% and 42%, which was almost all of them.

For $5 and a sample size large enough to find the ones obviously misadjusted, it’s a steal.

The Jarmidor: One Week Later

The Jarmidor at one week is working well. I wish I had a hygrometer, but the smaller ones which are accurate (read: digital) are expensive ($25+), while you can find big ones for $7 – but you can’t calibrate them or fit them into the jar. I’ve resigned to “do it by feel”.

Since I have a fair bit of pipe smoke (cheap – 4oz costs $10 most places, which is a lot of tobacco) I decided it would be my guinea pig.

The edges of it got a bit dry, but I chalk this up to stabilization of the jar rather than any mysterious force. Pipe tobacco is notoriously “wet”, so I expected the edges to dry out a bit to go down to 70% RH. For all intents and purposes, a jar of this size with this much poly glycol should be stable within three days. Since the pipe stuff seems like it’s there – just a touch sticky – it’s OK. The cigars needed to go the opposite direction since they had been in the fridge. They needed to come up to the right humidity. You know it’s the right humidity in there when the cigars are springy without being brittle. Since I have a hand-rolled one (I haven’t tried yet), this was my barometer cigar, and he’s fine.

The only way to find out though, is to smoke it.

I have a churchwarden made from meerschaum which I use as a tasting pipe since the meerschaum won’t absorb the tobacco oil like briar pipes do. While I could thoroughly clean the briars by soaking them in alcohol and rubbing them in salt, if you use a clay pipe the smoke is a bit hotter but the flavor doesn’t absorb.

So what are we looking for anyway? The tobacco has to have enough humidity that you get lemon-water in the bowl. This is where briars get “smoked in” – the combination of ash and water dropped from the cooking tobacco works it’s way into the body of the pipe through absorption. You let a pipe “rest” between smokes and especially before cleaning so it has a chance to do this. After the pipe cools it won’t absorb much more so you clean it then.

The second requirement is that it tastes good. Why risk jaw cancer if it doesn’t taste good? Pipe smoke is a lot like the hookah smoke where if you don’t overdo it (looking at cigarette smokers) you’re not in a risk group. If you’re like me and you smoke once a weekend, you’re definitely not in the risk group. Or look at it this way – you’re in the same risk group as alcohol consumption. But back to the topic of taste, I have some golden cavendish (think of this as unflavored – or cigar flavor), and some Afternoon Delight (house blend). A quick note on flavors. There’s blends and there’s casings. Casings are things like fruit rollups that fell on the floor. They’re not tobacco but rather flavor it. Generally if it’s “aromatic”, it’s got casings, but if it’s nonaromatic, it’s simply blends of tobacco. This isn’t a hard and fast rule. Do keep in mind that tobacco with casing tends to be “wet” (over 70% RH) while tobacco without casings tends to be dry (under 70% RH).

The test here was to take the Afternoon Delight, pack a reasonable bowl, and see how it was after a week in the jarmidor. If I had let it sit out, it would have been dry and terrible. On the other hand, if it gets much above 70% RH, you can’t taste anything because it’s soup. This was one of the problems I had when I got it, and I had no idea why it sucked. My process to pack a pipe is to fill the bowl with tobacco and smash it down. Repeat two or three times until the draw is constricted but not impossible. Try to keep it uniform. Then sprinkle a bit on top and don’t pack it down as much, which gives you something to light. Hold a lighter over the whole thing and puff until you have an even burn. Tada, you win at pipe lighting.

To taste the stuff, try waiting until combustion and condensation leave some juice in the bowl (like a hookah), or you can draw very slowly. The tip of your tongue generally only gets “hot” flavors, but the middle of your tongue is where the actual tasting goes on. As such, unlike a cigar, try moving the end of the stem to the middle of your tongue and then drawing. Notice that drawing isn’t inhaling, inhaling is a quick trip to vomittown on the puke express. Also lung cancer. In my case when I did the middle-of-the-tongue trick, I got brown sugar, molasses, and ginger bread. Good stuff.

I would say the jarmidor is working great.