The Blends of Summer
    May 3rd, 2011

By G. L. Pease
There’s more than a little irony to be found in the notion that, as I begin to write an article about seasonal smoking, and especially summer smoking, the sky is spitting rain at my windows, the wind is laughing behind my back, and it’s not particularly warm. Of course, last week, it was hot and blue, a welcome relief from the protracted spell of dreary days we’d been having, which is why the thought for this came to me in the first place. I probably should have begun writing then, but being infamous (at least to our illustrious publisher) as a procrastinator (I call it being busy), that wasn’t going to happen. The idea germinated, at least, and now that it’s time to actually do the writing, I’ve probably all but forgotten at least half of the little pearls of brilliance that formed in my oyster when the idea first came to me… What’s a boy to do? Onwards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Affordable Luxury
    April 1st, 2011

By G. L. Pease
Recently, the "market value" of some vintage, no longer produced blends seems to have skyrocketed to record-setting altitudes.
A 2oz tin of a once popular English tobacco was sold at auction for over $400, nearly twice its previous record-high, and not long before that, another often talked-about blend achieved similar levels. By my reckoning, $400 for two ounces of tobacco translates to about $20 per bowl. It’s a lot of money, but is it really as extravagant as it first appears? Perhaps not for the person who paid the money, but what about the rest of us? Let’s look a little more closely.

Read the rest of this entry »

Making it Real
    March 6th, 2011

By G. L. Pease
Pipe smoking today is often a solitary affair. We are too frequently accompanied only by a good book, good spirits, and our thoughts when striking the match, putting flame to leaf. But, it wasn’t always this way.
It’s not hard to conjure ancient visions of taverns or club rooms, filled with smoke and jovial camaraderie; places where men would gather, filling long, unwieldy clay pipes with the strong tobaccos of the time, and spending their smoking time in the company of like-minded fellows, at least as regards their enjoyment of the pipe. We can easily find antique wood-cuts, paintings, and prints to reinforce these romantic images of the smoking life of the distant past.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Stuff of Legend
    February 1st, 2011

By G. L. Pease
Memory tells me it was the summer of 1977 or 1978. Giants game at the ‘Stick. I was in the bleachers with a friend who didn’t smoke a pipe, and his brother, who did. When he lit up, the air was perfumed with an intoxicatingly fascinating aroma. Prior to that day, with a few exceptions, I hadn’t paid much attention to pipes. In high school, one of my favorite teachers puffed Borkum Riff whenever he was in his office, and when I was still younger, a friend of the family, who had an impressive collection of meerschaums, smoked aromatic tobaccos by the pound, and was always willing to talk about his pipes. Then, there was an obnoxiously vicious uncle who manically stunk up my aunt’s house with a pipe he never cleaned, filled with some vile weed that was more brimstone than tobacco, and with whom I would no sooner choose to talk about pipes than jump feet first into a cholera epidemic. And, of course, there was the occasional fleeting scent of the pipes of passers by on the occasions when they actually did pass by. But, mostly, I didn’t think much about pipes, or about pipe tobacco.

Read the rest of this entry »

Saving for a Rainy Day
    January 2nd, 2011

By G. L. Pease
In the early 1980s, when I first took up the pipe seriously, aging tobaccos wasn’t something many smokers talked about. Most pipe smokers simply bought their tobaccos from their local shop, smoked it, and thought little of it. In fact, older literature often suggests that tobaccos should be enjoyed relatively fresh.

Charles Rattray, for instance, in his Disquisition for the Connoisseur (date unknown), wrote, "Tobacco is a vegetable that lives and breathes: it does not improve by being imprisoned in an air-tight compartment." (He later retreats somewhat, writing about his mixtures that, "they improve with keeping, and the last pipeful or two of a pound of tobacco tastes the best.") Somewhat ironically, old cutter-top "prisons" of Rattray’s blends are some of the most highly coveted and revered blends amongst today’s cognoscenti.

Read the rest of this entry »

Shapes of Things
    December 2nd, 2010

By G. L. Pease
It’s almost universally accepted that different pipes can smoke differently and taste unlike one another. Much talk about wood sources, curing methods, airway diameters, stem funnels and cycles of the moon as they affect the way our favored tobaccos taste can be found scattered all over the Interwebs, and even, occasionally, in the darkened back rooms of our local tobaconnists’ shops.

But, what about pipe shapes? Many of us develop a preference for a certain shape, or at least a family of shapes. When thinking about the influences that lead me to grab a particular pipe in a given situation, it occurred to me, rather late in my career as a pipeman, to question whether my preference for shape is dictated by the way that shape smokes a certain tobacco, or if my taste for that tobacco was cultivated because of the pipe’s shape. (I’m addressing mostly classic shapes, here, with the idea that most examples of any classic will have fairly similar bowl geometries. For modern shapes, it’s what’s bored out of the wood that we’re interested in for the purpose of this discussion.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Think of a Purple Giraffe
    November 1st, 2010

By G. L. Pease
In some ways, what follows is sort of a continuation of my last column, The Fickle Nature of First Impressions, so if you haven’t read it, it might be a good idea to give it a look. Basically, I discussed how our perceptions can be somewhat capricious when exposed to novel things, especially within the context of something as seemingly simple, yet deceptively complex as pipe smoking. There are many variables - the pipe, the tobacco, the smoker’s mood, the weather, what we’ve eaten, to name just a few - converging on that last puff from a great smoke, and a change to any one of these things can affect our experience in surprising and sometimes surprisingly significant ways. Amongst those myriad variables are all the things related to discernment, and that’s what we’re going to look at here.

What’s the difference between the expert taster and the neophyte? Experience and focus, mostly. We all have roughly similar hardware, and our innate abilities are close enough for jazz, yet how we perceive things can be markedly different. (Of course, some people are born with a greater than average ability to taste or to smell, but unless those native abilities are cultivated, even the super-taster has no real edge over us.)

Read the rest of this entry »

By G. L. Pease
I’ve always wondered a little about guys who claim to know everything they need to about a tobacco blend from only a single bowl, or, in some cases, even less. What do they know that the rest of us don’t? When I worked in a tobacconist’s, I marveled at the occasional customer who would walk in, fill his pipe (singular) with blend after blend from the jars at the tasting bar, strike a match, offer a few powerfully puffed clouds to the breeze, bang the still smoldering mass into the ash tray, and go on to the next jar. This is a skill I did not possess then, and, apparently, still have not acquired. In fact, from my perspective, and this is likely to raise a few hackles, it’s simply not possible to know much at all about a tobacco blend without giving it a much more thorough shakeout than can be found in a few puffs or a single bowl.

Read the rest of this entry »

By G. L. Pease
It’s happened to most of us at least once, and if it hasn’t, it will. We dive into our collection for some tobacco we’re looking forward to smoking, open the container, whether tin, jar or plastic pouch, and find that the contents have been entombed just long enough and at just the right conditions to have been rendered as dry as mummy dust, and just about as appealing. As we fight back our dismay, and attempt to delicately extract the contents, hoping to somehow rescue a decent smoke from the rubble of our disappointment, the desiccated stuff just crumbles between our careful fingers, and we’re left with powder where we wanted ribbons.

Read the rest of this entry »

What is a Balkan Blend?
    July 30th, 2010

By G. L. Pease
In the on-line pipe communities, there is often passionate conversation about the classification of blend types, and in these discussions, the most impenetrable clouds of mystery seem to swirl around those blends containing Latakia. What is an "English" mixture, and how can one be distinguished from a "Balkan" style blend?
The problem is that both of these terms, despite broad usage, are somewhat ambiguous, at best, and, worse, the commonly held notions of what they mean is just plain backwards. And, yes, I’ll admit up front to being one of the early champions of this wrong-headedness. What? Read on.

Read the rest of this entry »