All right, so we all know that pipe smoking is good for your attitude. And it’s brain food, right? It settles the nerves and puts you at peace with the world and those around you.
Yes, we know all that. That’s why we are pipe smokers in the face of an increasing opposing public, Political Correctness Police and Anti-Extremists, etc., who are now even taking out the old “drug store” blends from drug stores. Woe is me.
Okay, so here is where we are going. Today, despite immense downward pressure from the above mentioned corps of correction squads, more than ever before, there are dozens and dozens of new tobacco blends on the market, and more are on the way.
We live in a time of great tobacco blenders—G.L. Pease and Russ Ouellette to mention just two. There are others, of course, who also have a mighty hand when it comes to blending the leaf, such as Carole Burns at her Pipeworks & Wilke, a custom blender in Montpelier, Vermont; Rich Gottlieb at 4Noggins in Middlebury, Vermont; Cornell & Diehl in Morganton, North Carolina; SmokingPipes.com at Low Country Pipe & Cigar in Little River, S.C.; and PipesandCigars.com in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Don’t worry if your favorite blender is not in this list, which, of course, is not scientific, definitive, or even a top five or ten. It’s just-what-it-is, a list.
But two of the manufacturers listed here; C&D and PipesandCigars, agreed to talk about the many blends and “so little time.”
Why so many blends?
For example, C&D has an estimated 180 to 200 blends in its stable and P&C has roughly 70 house and “proprietary blends” that it serves up. And for P&C that does not include any of its other blends from big pipe tobacco manufacturers like Stokkebye, Mac Baren, McClelland and Samuel Gawith. Again, this is not an end-all list.
So, back to the original question: There is a blizzard of blends on the market today. Why?
Russ Ouellette took time out of his extraordinarily busy day to tackle the question about the numerous blends and others coming online soon.
“The reasons for the wide variety are manifold. Slight, subtle changes to a blend will make it appeal to a different consumer, and what each company wants is to find that ‘ideal’ blend for a consumer, to keep them coming back,” Russ said in an email.
“Another aspect might be to fill a gap in a product line. In our case (Russ is the blender for P&C), we also do blends for clubs and pipe shows, so we have to come up with something new for them."
“The final reason is a bit more complex. The boutique manufacturers established more than a decade ago that new releases spur an uptick in sales. This, in large part, is due to the online community.
“When Greg Pease or McClelland announce a new release, it goes viral in short order. The sales of the new blend are, obviously, very strong, but it also creates sales for some of the other existing blends.”
Chris Tarler takes another view. His C&D firm, launched by his late father, Craig Tarler, and recently merged the operation with Laudisi Enterprises (SmokingPipes.com) where he is a vice president for manufacturing, says that working through so many blends is like, well, like buying a car.
“I think pipe smokers find what they like by going to the reviews. They find a manufacturer and then find a family of tobacco they like. Then they pair up two or three blends with the manufacturer.
“For me, it’s like buying a car. I may like Ford, but may not like all models of the Ford. I might like a truck. Then I look at the size and the appointments on the truck.
“All blenders do things so much differently,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s like buying a car.
"What it gets down to, he says, is a matter of taste. But, the pipe smoker is still confronted with hundreds of blends.
Ouellette says he once tried to address the issue of so many evolving blends coming on line.
“I wanted to slow down new product introductions a few years ago, but when I did, sales across the board slumped a bit. When I brought out something new, the buzz carried over, especially after the news hit the forums.”
So, 2014 is a new year and here we go.
“This year, I will be bringing out two new products in the H&H (Hearth and Home) line, but I will also be making 11 tobaccos that will be sold under other brand names, to try to leverage the popularity of those marques.
“I guess that the essence of it is that the public expects new things to try, and it’s up to us to bring it to them.”
And even though he did not want to go there, Chris Tarler says C&D is working on “a couple of things.”
In today’s rapid-fire marketplace, it is more than ever evident that if you stand still you will get trampled.
Ouellette puts it another way:
“I can equate it to software. Back in the early nineties, I used Word Perfect. I could still use that program, and it would be more than adequate for my general needs.
“Most of the bells and whistles of the latest version of Microsoft Word are wasted on me, but I use it because of compatibility. The next version will add more stuff that I probably won’t use, but the odds are that I’ll purchase it. We all know that newer isn’t necessarily better, but it feels that way, so we take the jump.
“Soon, we will discontinue some of the slower-moving blends, but we’ll continue to come out with new ones because the market demands it.
“It adds layers of complexity to the business models, but it’s part of the landscape.”
And this is also a time of pipe making artisans, who turn out works of art and call it a pipe.
Are there too many pipes? Or can you have too many pipe makers?
The answer to those queries is a resounding, “No and no.”
“We are finding our creativity,” says Tarler.
“Pipe smoking is growing. Yes, it is a niche market, but it is growing.
“And, like anything else, it is about personal tastes: how you smoke a pipe has a lot to do with matching taste to a pipe maker and then matching the tobacco with that pipe.
“It is also about how you smoke a pipe, too,” he says. Not every pipe smoker smokes the same way. We all have different smoking habits.”
And the philosophy of matching pipe to tobacco translates easily into finding the right pipe for a particular tobacco blend.
Thus, more blends equals more pipes.
And more pipes means more blends to put in that pipe.
And, thankfully, there is no end in sight.
For, as we all know, pipe smoking lends itself to a more sanguine and contemplative approach in all human affairs.
With apologies for ripping off Mr. E=Mc2.