I have heard the phrases “pipe snob” and “tobacco snob” bandied about in forums and in pipe smoking videos on the internet, and I suppose that like any hobby, there are people who take a lot of pride in their discriminating taste in flawless briar and their search for the perfect blend (as you can probably tell by the title of this post, I am NOT a discriminating pipe smoker. I love all pipes and tobaccos equally). Sure, I love a good artisan blend as much as the next guy, but I also enjoy smoking those packets of tobaccos you buy at the cigarette shop, and everything in between. The enjoyment of a pipe for me is not finding the perfect pipe or the perfect blend. It is about the act of smoking a pipe, the ritual of the smoke, and everything that goes with it.
Now don’t think that I am trying to discount the importance of a good tobacco. After all, that is half the experience of pipe smoking, right? I have heard a lot of talk about what constitutes “good” tobacco. The reality is, saying that a certain tobacco is good is like saying “Jazz is good.” Me? I love Jazz. A lot of my friends? When the Jazz comes on, they start snoring. Like music, people like different tobaccos for different reasons. I have heard a lot of pipe smokers bash a lot of drug store blends and cheap aromatics, touting them as “Crap,” “Awful,” “Worthless,” etc. Drugstore classics have been around for decades for a reason: people out there like them, and they smoke them, and some people smoke them in pretty good quantity. I love buying drugstore tobacco because it is nostalgic. The first pipe tobacco that I ever bought came in that little pouch, and I remember ripping the tape on the pouch and unfolding it and smelling an intoxicating aroma, one that I found far more pleasant than the cigarettes all my friends smoked at the time. It evokes a pleasant memory, and not only do I like the ritual of a packet of tobacco, I think that a lot of them taste pretty darned good too. They are a little light on flavor, some may even have a slight bitterness, but I also enjoy the smell that they produce, and for me, the room note and the smell that lingers is half the fun for me.
The same thing goes for pipes. Again, don’t think I am trying to downplay the artisinal pipe makers and high quality factory pipes being made out there. I would love to own several, and the only thing stopping me from owning a few is the fact that, apparently, no matter how many times you specify you want the winning Lottery ticket, the clerk just can’t make that kind of guarantee. For me, a pipe serves two purposes: hold the burning tobacco and deliver the smoke produced by said tobacco to my mouth. Do some of the high dollar pipes enhance this experience? I have no doubt (I can’t really speak too much from experience. The nicest pipes I own are a hand carved pipe by a very gifted carver and a Savinelli that I bought as an estate. I will tell you with no hesitation that they are two of my best smokers). Do my pipes that do not have a name stamp or any markings offer a less pleasing smoke? Not in the slightest. My Medicos and Grabows smoke Boswell and Peterson blends just as well as my Savinelli and my hand carved pipe. If packed correctly and smoked correctly, they all offer a fine smoking experience, an experience that does not hinder the burn rate or the taste of the tobacco. It probably also helps that I am very particular about how I care for my pipes as well.
If you ARE a snob about your pipes or tobaccos, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you only get enjoyment out of smoking a hand blended tobacco using only the most quality product out of a pipe that is shiny, flawless, and with beautiful grain and no imperfections whatsoever, then by all means, keep doing what you’re doing. The point of pipe smoking, for me at least, is the satisfaction of the act itself, and if you can only get that with a high dollar pipe and a high end tobacco, then have at it. Me, on the other hand, I still enjoy smoking those bubble packaged pipes with the heavy stain and shiny lacquer, the ones that have bad rustication jobs and maybe the finish starts to bubble a little when it has been used a lot. I smoke a pipe because I want to, not because I have to, and if I didn’t enjoy it anymore, honestly, I don’t think that I would do it. There is an old addage out there for pipe smokers: Smoke what you like, and like what you smoke. I, for one, will smoke it all. G.L. Pease and Cornell and Diehl? Throw them at me, I love a lot of them. Captain Black and Borkum Riff? I love those too, send them my way. McClelland and MacBaren? Can’t get enough of them. Mixture #79?…OK, I have to admit, even I have my limits.
Maybe some day I will be a tobacco snob. Maybe a day will come when I will be older and wiser, more hardened to the ways of the world, and if I load my pipe with a blend that is anything less than pure bliss, I’ll toss it out with an upturned nose and say, “Pish posh! Does anyone have any Penzance in stock yet?!” But sadly, that day is not today, and that day may never come. Same goes for a pipe. There may be a day when I will not be satisfied until I have that meerschaum pipe that was carved into the shape of the Sydney Opera House (think for a second how cool THAT would be!), but again, that day is not today. And if you happen to be one of those people who finds Captain Black or Borkum Riff or Middleton Cherry or Half and Half “disgusting” or “garbage,” then feel free to send it my way. I’ll be happy to load it in my beat up old Medico and smoke it for you.