Pipe filters tend to get a bum rap, at least more so here in the States than abroad, particularly Europe. Countless times, I’ve seen threads on the forums in which a beginner asks about the filter that came with a brand new or estate pipe, only to be told that they are categorically without merit, and should be tossed in the nearest wastebasket. But how can this be? If they were so useless, why would major producers—companies like Missouri Meerschaum, Dunhill, Savinelli, Brigham, to name a few—continue to make pipes chambered for a variety of filters? Sure, we Americans are the rough and tumble sort, quick to eschew gimmicks and gadgetry in favor of pure performance, but surely there must be some segment of the populace that demands these devices, or the simple fact is that the market would no longer bear their production.
When pipe smokers watch someone smoking a pipe in a movie or on television, we instantly relate to that person, especially now that we have been lumped together with cigarette smokers and it is so rare these days to see anyone smoking a pipe.
As pipe smokers and pipe collectors, we know that what we do is very different from what cigarette smokers do. We do not smoke a pipe to get a "fix" of nicotine. We use our pipes as sources of contemplation and meditation. They help us relax, and, in my case, they help lower my blood pressure.
So when I was asked to give a talk at this year’s Chicago Pipe Show, I decided to pick out some scenes that I had remembered over the years from movies and TV shows that featured pipe smokers.
It might surprise you to learn that infographics have been around for centuries. They seem like a more modern phenomenon because they have proliferated in recent years through social media with the help of infographic generators. With them being all over the place, it’s only fitting to have an infographic for the pipe tobacco world. Ethan Brandt has been an occasional contributor to PipesMagazine.com, and he was kind enough to provide us with a well-thought-out infographic on helping you choose a pipe tobacco. It’s informational and entertaining. Click on the image for a much larger version.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article / info-graphic are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official recommendations of PipesMagazine.com
Kermit the Frog may seem the unlikeliest of inspirations for an article about the pipe-smoking hobby, but bear with me here. Though Kermit is more of a cigar aficionado than a pipeman…err, pipefrog…he is just the sort of sentimental, soft-spoken character that illustrates the best qualities of our ilk. He’s also very much the sensitive, heart-on-his-sleeve type, not wholly unlike myself, and as I ponder the problems we pipemen, pipewomen and pipefrogs face in these troubled times, I take my inspiration from Kermit’s seminal Top 40 hit, It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green:
It’s not easy bein’ green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re
Not standin’ out like flashy sparkles on the water
Or stars in the sky…
As another year draws to a close I sit, stoking my pipe in deep contemplation over the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne, that most famous of Burns’ little ditties.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne
The pipe I’m tending is a Missouri Meerschaum, and fittingly it’s an old one, from the late 60s or early 70s; it was a small token of appreciation from a client for a job well done a few years ago. An ‘auld’ acquaintance, one whom I may never see again in all honesty, but she is remembered every time I light the pipe up and think of the story of it coming from her father’s collection to me. He had been quite a piper, gone the way of all flesh, and she had long held on to many of his personal effects. The aroma of my pipe smoke as I took breaks from her apartment renovation touched a soft spot with her, and she even began to get a little misty-eyed when she offered it to me, relating the sense memory of sitting on his lap, wrapped in the warm and comforting aroma of his tobacco. It’s a small thing, a trifle, with no real monetary value, but this well-worn pipe is one of my most cherished, for within its chamber resides still the breath of a daughter’s father, and her love for him. I’ll not forget my time spent faithfully restoring her family’s landmark residence in Manhattan’s West Village; this pipe will forever bring it to mind.
I’m often asked, "How do you taste so good?" to which I reply that in a former life I was a chocolate éclair. Seriously, though, reviewing tobaccos for publication is a bit of work, but perhaps not as trying as one might think. People often tell me they don’t have as refined a palate as I do, or some other such nonsense, like, "I don’t know how to describe the taste; I only know what I like and what I don’t." To this I say poppycock and balderdash. If you can discern the difference between blend A and blend B, or hot dogs and chocolate éclairs for that matter, then your palate is refined enough. If you truly can’t, then stop reading right here and buy the cheapest tobacco available, because it won’t matter what you smoke. For the rest of us, our own rich experience is all the background we need for tasting—that, and a willingness to trust our own judgment.
To borrow a line from PipesMagazine.com’s own Brian Levine, we are all experts of our own opinion. The main qualifications in being such an expert are a confidence in one’s perception and the desire to define it, which I believe all of us are capable of doing when we allow ourselves to be. Whether you’re interested in simply keeping your own journal of tasting notes, chatting about the latest releases with the guys at the pipe club, or learning how to more effectively communicate to others for publication, you’ll find it remarkably easy to equip yourself with the tools and strategies necessary to fully interpret and profile your tobaccos. My own pipe taste-testing regimen is evolved and adapted from what I learned during my time in the specialty coffee industry, as well as a hobbyist’s experience with wine, spirit and food tastings.
When I tell people that I believe pipe smoking is a remedy for many modern ills, I get some pretty diverse reactions. Smoking pipes aren’t as popular now as they were 5,000 years ago, so it may be justifiable to call me old-fashioned, but old isn’t always bad. Allow me to persuade you that we’re talking about much more than a piece of wood with holes in it. We’re talking about a simple practice that strengthens relationships, improves a man’s disposition, and is just plain fun! I’d also like to contest that we are on the brink of a renaissance for pipe smoking. Get ready to bust out your grandfather’s old briar!
One day wandering the streets with a friend, I notice a lady selling tobacco accessories and ask to see her imported tobacco selection. She walks to the neighboring shop and, from a drawer under a display of jade jewelry, pulls out a small bag filled with maybe ten different varieties of foreign tobacco. Like most places, the bags consists of primarily Captain Black and Sunday’s Fantasy, the latter of which is for some reason the primary tobacco offered consistently around here. But there is also something a little different, two plastic-sealed corrugated-cardboard pouches of tobacco I’ve never seen before. On closer inspection they claim to be pipe tobacco from Shanghai. I haggle the owner down to around $5 for one pouch (there are two available, but I don’t want to get carried away). She’s angry with me and claims she’s selling them at a loss, which is disconcerting to me, because if that’s true she must be having a serious problem moving the stuff. But nonetheless I take home what I hope is a prize and not a shame.
Later, I’m sitting with this lime green pouch on my desk and my fellow American pipe-smoker friend is sitting next to me smelling the pouch and complaining it smells of peat moss.
Corrugated-Cardboard Pouch Note: Peat Moss.
Running a small and quiet bar next to a lake in the northernmost part of the city is an averaged sized vegetarian man in his sixties. Old Gan (as his friend’s call him) is the earliest pipe smoker I’ve met in Southwest China, having partaken of the hobby for close to twenty years. When asked if he really is the oldest pipe smoker in town he makes sure to spend a good bit of time telling me of the people in villages who have been smoking home-grown and hand-cured tobacco from pipes for hundreds of years in China. But that said, he believes himself to be one of the area’s earliest smokers of a Western-style pipe and imported tobacco. Before pipes he was a cigarette smoker but then made the switch when he heard pipe tobaccos lacked the chemical additives so common in cigarettes.
In a downtown market in the capital city of the southwestern-most province in China, Mr. Zhang shows me his extremely limited imported pipe tobacco selection. He jokes with me about a shop he ran a few years ago where he sold exclusively fake tobacco. He giggles a bit, it’s a short halting giggle suitable for a 75 year old man like himself, and says, "You just make more money when it’s fake."
Welcome to the world of tobacco in the earth’s most populous nation. A land where cigarettes sell for as little as a dollar a pack, or as much as several hundred dollars. A land with Great Wall brand cigars which taste more like a wall than anything great. And, much to my good pleasure, a land beginning to fall in love with the pipe.