By Bob Tate

tobacco-or-pipesPipes and Tobacco. Tobacco and Pipes. You can’t really have one without the other to enjoy all of the pleasures that pipe smoking has to offer. There are some exceptions when it comes to pipes though, as I know of people who don’t really smoke their pipes and just buy them for the art that they are and the collect-ability factor. There is nothing wrong with this, but I don’t consider these people as pipe smokers, I consider them pure collectors.

Pipes are wonderful and I enjoy them immensely. I love looking at them and, like most of you I presume, some of them just call out to me. Some of them are pure works of art that demand attention and respect for the carvers’ abilities. But for as much as I enjoy pipes, I can’t say that they are my passion.

Although I enjoy looking at them, buying them, and smoking them, I never get really passionate or obsessed with them. I don’t pour myself over the pipe inspecting the grain, the stem, the symmetry, and other things that the people who are really passionate about the actual pipes do. I more or less look at the pipe as a whole and the overall look and feel of the pipe. If I like it, I like it. If I don’t, I don’t.


Luciano Bent Rhodesian - Smooth/ClearNow don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all of the aspects of a fine pipe; from the grain pattern, all the way down to the bit of the stem. I just don’t get really passionate about them the way that some others do. I appreciate the works of art that some of the artisan pipes are, the classic shapes, and all aspects of a well made pipe; especially the internal engineering that makes a pipe smoke well. I really appreciate all of the work that goes into making a pipe and the skills that are required by a carver to do so.

I do love pipes, but I REALLY love tobacco. My true passion in this hobby is the tobacco. I can spend hours and hours reading about different blends, different tobacco varietals, and basically all things tobacco. I love the massive variety of blends that are available. I love to read the tin descriptions, look at the tin art, and imagine what the blend is going to taste like. I get really excited about tobacco. When I get a new blend that I have never smoked before, I feel like a kid at Christmas time being full of anticipation waiting for the chance to smoke it.

I love how all tobacco varietals taste different. I also love the way that even the same kind of tobacco, or blend, can taste different depending on how it is prepared. Take for example a Virginia flake. There are changes in the flavor depending on how you prepare it for smoking. Rubbed out, cubed cut, and fold and stuff all offer different flavor profiles even though it is the same blend. Sometimes the change in flavor is very subtle and sometimes it really hits you in the face with the difference.

I love how one difference in the type of tobacco can changethe-smoke-shop-008 the entire flavor profile of a blend. There are many genres of tobacco blends out there, and there are endless ways to create great tasting tobacco blends. There are tons of different flavor combinations that can be made. In my opinion, tobacco blenders are like chefs. They take a lot of different individual flavors and combine them to make unique, extraordinary, and endless varieties of flavors. There are good ones and there are great ones, and to be honest there are some not-so-good ones.

I am so passionate about tobacco that I even enjoy smoking blends that the majority of smokers have written off as absolutely horrible. I am curious to see if the blend is really that bad, and if it is, to find out why the blend may have turned out that way. I am a true believer that there are really no horrible tobacco blends, just different tastes for different people.

Take Mixture 79 for example. A lot of people absolutely hate it, but there are also a lot of people that enjoy it. I have smoked it myself, and while I wouldn’t call it a great blend, I certainly wouldn’t call it the worst blend that I have ever smoked. They have been selling it for decades, so there must be a lot of people smoking it. If people weren’t buying it, they would have stopped making it.

Are there bad blends out there? Well, that is a tough question to answer. I would have to say that it depends on who you ask. Everyone is going to have an opinion about what blends that they think are bad. But those same blends may be the favorites of others. I have smoked blends that I absolutely can not stand and did not like at all, but some of them are very popular blends amongst the general pipe smoking populace. This is just one more thing that I love about tobacco; the fact that tastes are subjective.

One of the main differences between pipes and tobacco for me, and the main reason why I really love, and am much more passionate about, tobacco is this; No matter how great a pipe carver is, they are always going to be limited by the piece of briar or wood that they are working on. Don’t get me wrong, some carvers can do amazing things with a piece of briar, but they are always going to be limited by it in some way, shape, or form.

Tobacco blenders are only limited by their own imagination. There are so many different flavor combinations out there, that if a blender has a good imagination and can grasp the concept of the different flavors that can be made, there are no limits for them. They can add more of a certain leaf, remove some of a leaf, tweak this, tweak that, etc. Everything can and will change the way that a blend tastes.

Earlier I said that tobacco blenders are like chefs, but I think that a better analogy would be that tobacco blenders are actually more like winemakers. Tobacco resembles grapes in so many ways that I find it simply amazing. Just like grapes, there are numerous varietals of tobacco. The growing region, soil, and environmental factors (among other things) from year to year all have an affect on how that crop will turn out in both grapes (wine) and tobacco in a particular year. And all of the different factors will also have an affect on the flavor of the tobacco from year to year.

Vineyard Grapes and Tobacco Field

Vineyard Grapes and Tobacco Field


If you stop and really think about, with all of the different factors that have different affects on each years crop, it is amazing that blenders can put out perennial blends that have a consistent flavor year after year. Heck, you even store tobacco the same way that you store bottles of wine. I could go on forever about tobacco, but I think that you get my point.

As you can see, I really love tobacco and am really passionate about it. It is my passion in this hobby. I am very interested to hear what all of you have to say.

So I ask you,

Pipes or Tobacco - What’s Your Passion?




32 Responses to “Pipes or Tobacco – What’s Your Passion?”

  1. clanobucklin said:


    Great article Bob. I love them both for different reasons. I really get the winemaking and tobacco analogy. I love tobacco. But sometimes I just love holding a pipe and looking at it, feeling the wood in my hands, tasting the unique flavors a certain brings to the fore. Like you I get excited about trying something new and finding a wonderful new blend to smoke.

    While I collect pipes - I don’t make a big deal out of it - with must have this pipe or that pipe to complete my collection. I just buy whatever strikes my fancy.

    As far as tobacco goes - I love anything that is well made period.

  2. daveinlax said:

    PIPES! Tobacco I’ve got, lots of it. It’s finding the next perfect pipe for the collection that gets me excited.

  3. papipeguy said:

    Great article. I have about 40 pipes and they cover the gamut of value. For me, however, it is all about the tobacco. When I started smoking a pipe I was at the B&M 3-4 days a week buying different blends and experimenting. That was 40 years ago.
    Today with the incredible amount of creative blends available to us I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I always have a list of blends for the B&M to order for me.
    People are always expressing concern that our hobby is on the decline and verge of disappearing. I disagree wholehaertedly with that opinion and the number of new blends debuting every month bears witness that pipe smoking is alive, well and growing.

  4. Dave Whitney said:

    Great article. While I love my pipes - the vary from recycled “orphans” to some high-enders - I am absolutey head over heels in love with old briar, pipes that at 30, 40, and 50 years or more older. I like to fill these old briars with any blend found on the market and many of my own that are combinations of other blends or simply store blends complimented by the addition of periques, latakias, burleys and Virginias that I buy in bulk for the sole purpose of enjoying their smoking qualities. Every smoke is an adventure although I lean towards the English side of the scale. There are a few aromatics that I find enjoyable, but my primary love is for the endless taste treats of the various concoctions I prepare.

  5. nmbigfoot02 said:

    Excellent article. I’d say I enjoy the tobacco more as well. I view my pipes similar to the same way I view a hammer: as a tool to do a job. Most of my pipes are estate drug store and basket pipes. They’ll never win any beauty contests, but they smoke just fine.

  6. baskerville59 said:

    Like you said at the beginning of your article, you can’t enjoy one without the other. I really don’t have a passion for either, I just enjoy smoking my pipes.

  7. punkpiper said:

    Excellent article. My love is tobacco, experiencing its characters and many forms. I think you’re very correct that theres no bad tobacco, since if it were truly horrible they wouldnt make a product that they cant sell. To me the pipe may have beautiful artistry, but it would mean nothing if the tobacco in it dosent sing. Of course different pipe bring out different experiences, but it would mean nothing if the inside werent working, so I think maybe like an engineer or scientist and go for those I know will smoke well.

  8. Lawrence said:

    Another great article Bob.
    While I have a modest collection of pipes, I’m not a pipe collector.
    So, but default I have to opt for “Passionate for Tobacco”.

    I’m with Clanobucklin on this one; when it comes to pipes.
    I just buy what “strikes my fancy”.
    As for tobacco, I make it a point to try something new when I head to the local B&M.

  9. dougc905 said:

    I started out with a strong focus upon pipes and rationalised smoking them by saying that since I owned them, I might as well smoke them. I held this opinion for many years and only gave it up in the last few years. I did this because I think that the collectable pipe market has gone nuts. Older brands have lost their panache while ‘new’ carvers are leaping in and demanding (and getting) instant credibility. This is all pushed along by a few people expressing an opinion and a lot of people blindly following along. While these new carvers may be producing excellent pipes, I feel that the money that they are asking and getting for their work is on the high end. I simply cannot afford to spend those dollars on pipes. Perhaps if I could get to a pipe show to actually touch and inspect these pipes my outlook would be different. However, not everyone can afford the cost or time to attend shows. So I content myself with purchases off eBay along with some budget pipes off of websites.

    Now I have a core collection of older pipes that I really value and another collection of pipes that are not as highly valued. I have come to realise that these budget pipes off of eBay and web retailers smoke just as well as my collectables. This in turn devalues my collectables as smoking instruments (or increases the value of my budget pipes).

    In the meantime I have been buying tobacco and hoarding it away to the extent that I now have a fairly large collection of tobacco that is 10+ years old. And I find myself really enjoying smoking it. Far more than I ever did in the past. Even when I open a newly purchased tin to try I find myself enjoying the smoking experience over the tactile experience from the pipe.

    So I’d have to respond to Bob’s query by saying that I’m more about the tobacco - at this point in time!


  10. Kevin said:

    Short answer: Tobacco.
    Longer answer - Recently I have been appreciating some of my pipes more. I have a handful that I really love and have been smoking more than others. Over time I have been learning how to appreciate a pipe more. In the beginning it was just a tool to get a job done.
    Now I have times where I look at the pipe while smoking it and admire it along with the tobacco. Overall though, without tobacco, the pipe wouldn’t have a reason to exist. It is all about the taste and flavor experience for me. I pick out the tobacco I want to smoke first, then I decide on the pipe to smoke it in.
    There are many similarities to wine as well and I was glad to see that mentioned. That discussion could almost be an entire article itself. I am constantly comparing pipe tobacco to wine, especially when I an trying to explain the pleasure and variety of experiences pipe smoking brings when talking to a non-smoker and they think tobacco is tobacco and it’s all like mass-produced cigarettes.
    I love pipes and I really, really love tobacco.

  11. classicgeek said:

    Tobacco, but as an occasional smoker I don’t go through enough! I’m constantly fighting the TAD monster, knowing that even my modest stash is enough to see me through more than a year, probably two or three. I keep telling my wife I gotta smoke more.


  12. lordofthepiperings said:

    I’ve never really thought of which I’m more passionate about. Right now I’d have to say I’m more passionate about my pipes than my tobacco. Sure I am obsessed with Connoisseur’s Choice, but I think what makes me more passionate about the pipes is that I find myself more often saying “I have to save up and buy that pipe” instead of “I have to save up and buy that tobacco”. I pretty much view all of my pipes as a life long friend to share good and bad times with. It’s like a marriage except better because the pipes can’t tell me to “Stop watching hockey” or “Do the dishes”.

  13. lordnoble said:

    Tobacco. I love all the different blends that are out there.


  14. oldmaus said:

    I appreciate the differences and beauty of pipes…..but my passion resides in the tobacco and blend varieties. Nice job on the article as usual!

  15. oldtom said:

    For me it’s also both but my financial abilities now restricts me to tobacco more than pipes. Thankfully before I retired I was able to purchase enough pipes of different price ranges to keep me satisfied for some time to come.
    It’s a simple fact that with proper care, a pipe will last for some time, perhaps even a lifetime, but tobacco is gone once you set fire to it.
    I Do enjoy looking at pipes and I especially enjoy trying new tobacco blends and even my old favorites.
    Whenever I travel I always try to find a nearby tobacco and pipe shop to check out their offerings. Just another joy of pipe smoking.

  16. schmitzbitz said:

    Although I respect the beauty of a well carved piece of briar or meerschaum, I take true joy from tobacco. I love nothing more than identifying a flavour component that fleetingly whisps away; I love how no two bowls ever taste *exactly* the same. I could spend all day reading about different leaf, cuts, blends, casings and toppings. I suspect this is reflected in my “stable”, with 23 unique tobaccos on the go, with but 8 briars and a bakers dozen cobs to smoke them through.

  17. stacen said:

    Great article Bob! It is fun to think on the question you have posed. I think for me the answer is both, in the “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” sort of way. From my perspective pipes could exist on their own and still be interesting. To me pipes hold appeal even if they are not used as smoking instruments; their admirable qualities are the same as any piece of art work. Similarly pipe tobacco, while it needs a smoking vessel by definition, could be enjoyed in all the ways you describe in your article above, and could be a completely satisfying source of pleasure if you were limited to smoking in only one 5 dollar clay pipe. However for me the greatest pleasure comes from the action taken as a whole. Choosing a blend, selecting a pipe and then consciously focusing on the pleasure of consuming the tobacco and enjoying the pipe I am smoking with. However I add this, my favorite aspect of the hobby is the vastness of the pleasure it can provide. There is so much room to explore. You can collect pipes and their accessories, collect and cellar tobacco, delve into the history of pipes and tobacco, make friends, (with what I have found to be a very warm open intelligent and fun group of people), enjoy the art of smoking (you can become absorbed in packing perfectly, managing the burn of the bowl, smoking with the correct temperature and cadence), or you can just puff away as you like, you can blend tobaccos, read talk and think about pipe smoking for as long as you wish…. The list can go on indefinitely!!!! It really is a load of good fun and the experience is enhanced by those like yourself who provide food for thought. Cheers again and have a good one!

  18. dustyz said:

    great article. and as a sommelier, i’m happy that someone makes the comparison to winemaking, i’ve been saying it for a long time! :) tobacco growing, blending, aging, and often tobacco’s chemical behavior has a lot in common with how grapes are treated to make wine. and i’ll be honest, the results are also equally enjoyable. that said, if i had to pick a favorite, i’d pick the pipe. (but truly, what is one without the other???). i love the craft of pipe making and the incredible variety of results of that can be extracted from one piece of wood.

    there is one comment on the article that i disagree with:
    “No matter how great a pipe carver is, they are always going to be limited by the piece of briar or wood that they are working on… Tobacco blenders are only limited by their own imagination.”

    this is not a solid argument for why one is better than the other. i understand what bob is getting at but mediums are not limitations. that would be like saying because writers only have words to work with they are more limited than, say, an artist who has different paints and surfaces to work with or an architect who has a variety of materials available, etc. there is an endless variety of books but they all only use words from the same 26 letters. and conversely having unlimited options is not recipe for success. as with wine, messing too much with some of the classic combinations (tried and true and experimented with over centuries) often leads to blending disasters.

  19. hobie1dog said:

    The pipe is a material item, a tool. The heart of the experience is all dependent on the tobacco, and it’s never ceaces to amazed on how many different tastes there are in the world of tobacco.

  20. hauntedmyst said:

    Great article Bob! You and I stand on different sides of the fence though - for me the passion is the pipes. A well made, beautifully made briar pipe has an intrinsic beauty that isn’t found in any thing else that I have seen. They are small bits of wonder, art, craftsmanship and joy. Don’t get me wrong, your analogy to blenders being like vintners was spot on and I enjoy a variety of tobaccos but if I had to give up buying one or the other, it would be the tobacco. Thank goodness, the two go together!

  21. Bob said:

    Great comments everyone! Reading everyone’s different perspective is really interesting and enlightening as to why each person favors one or the other, or if they even do favor one or the other.
    @ dustyz
    You bring up a great point and explanation for the differences in limitations. I was not really trying to say carvers are less creative than blenders. I am glad that you understood what I was getting at. After re-reading that statement, I can see where my words my be misconstrued.
    I will try to make it a little clearer on what I mean. What I mean by that statement is this:
    If a carver has the idea to make a certain shape pipe (i.e. bulldog, billiard, etc.) the particular block of briar or wood that they are using may not lend itself to making that particular shape. There could be flaws in the wood or a factor of other things that may not allow them to use that particular block of wood for that particular shape. From what I understand; a good carver lets the block of wood dictate what shape will be made from it and the carver listens to the wood and flows with it. There is a great amount of creativity, knowledge, and understanding of the art of pipe making that goes into making a well designed pipe. There are even times when a carver gets well into the making of a particular pipe and finds a severe flaw which will deem that piece of wood useless and they have to throw that particular piece of wood in the garbage and start over with a new piece of wood. This is what I mean when I say that they are limited by the block of wood.
    However, when a blender has an idea for a blend, they are not limited in the same way (except for perhaps Syrian Latakia). They can take the different tobacco varietal components and adjust the blend so that it will taste how they want it to taste with few, if any, limitations.
    Once again, great comments and discussion everyone! Keep the comments coming!

  22. unclearthur said:

    I love all the fine tobaccos available but, as an artist/craftsman it’s pipes in the huge variations of shape, form and finish where my passion lies.

  23. marc said:

    It’s all about a good burley smoke for me, whether I smoke it in a drug store pipe or a Dunhill, doesn’t matter. Pipes are nothing more than a medium for burning my favorite burley blend, I’m a pipe smoker, I enjoy tobacco.

  24. seanz said:

    Personally its the tobacco for me i love experimenting with casings and blend. dont get me wrong i still drool over a fine looking pipe, but its the baccy that draws me in. take right know i am making a homebrew casing to have a play with some virginia and burley leaf. Its unfortunate i smoked all the primo leaves in ciggarettes but am looking forward to next growing season and taking it seriously to try and get some nice product for my pipes, who knows? New Zealand grown and blended might be on a shelf near you some day :)

  25. clanobucklin said:

    To continue…if we use the wine making analogy. I like to think of the Tobacco being the wine that can be aged…while the barrel (that is usually toasted inside) as the medium the wine/tobacco can be aged in. Being in the wine biz for 5 years - I learned that the better the barrel quality - the better the wine.

    I really thinks this fits with tobacco and pipes. The synchronicity of the 2 adds to the whole of the smoking the experience. While my passion is both - great tobacco and great pipes - I understand this marriage. So I still adhere that my “passion” is the hobby itself - which is pipes & pipe tobacco.

  26. cortezattic said:

    Thanks for yet another thought provoking article that illustrates the diverse interests encompassed by this hobby. So many of the above comments, and some ideas from each of them, resonate so well with me that I needn’t belabor the points they make.
    I appreciate collectible pipes; but if I had to choose between the artistry of the pipe, and that of tobacco blending, then I would hope the latter would flourish. This is because Time has had a way of distilling my priorities. My choice in pipes is now dictated more by performance and comfort than by aesthetics; but my engagement with new tobaccos (and the reliable old standards as well) still elicits a youthful excitement and the sense of awe that has fueled my interest in this hobby for almost 50 years.
    :) Judging by the number of comments and their depth, I’d say you knocked another one out of the park, Bob. Kudos.

  27. fullbent said:

    Great article.Before I joined this site,I leaned towords pipes.After you gentlemen,turned me on to all types of blends,brands,tobaccos in general,I find myself enjoying the tobaccos more.There’s still something about holding the pipe in my hand,looking it over,the grains,the craftsmanship.I have to say,that I love one as much as the other.I have never smoked a bad tobacco,but I have had blends that were better than others.Thanks for the article,I grow stronger in knowledge, daily, by this site.

  28. bootlegbonvivant said:

    Awesome article, Bob! I’ve had these thoughts plenty of times over the years. I started out with a little Bent Bob pipe and it turned into a research frenzy finding the next best pipe. I didn’t get most of those pipes I’d seen, but just learning about the pipes, and history of their makers is a great passion, even now. I’ve been introduced to all kinds of tobacco blends and I’ve only had the opportunity to sample a handful of them so far. But what I love about tobacco, is like you say, it’s comparative to the wine industry, and I’d even say any alcohol variety. My passion for tobacco is new, but I’m learning just as much about the leaf as I have about the pipes.

    I honestly cannot say which one I prefer over the other. I’ve been into art and architecture most of my life, so craftsmanship and creativity blows my mind quite a bit. With tobacco, I’m a bon vivant, or conoisseur of many pleasurable things, so it stands to reason for me that I want to sample and try as much tobacco as time permits.

  29. marmal4de said:

    A healthy helping of each for me please, Bob!

  30. zunismoke said:

    For starters, you cannot have one without the other. I love looking at a nice pipe. I love looking at the shape and looking at the grain. I also love tobacco. I love getting old tins and calculating how old the tobacco is when I am smoking it. I love all the different blends I have. I cannot really say that I like one more that the other. I love smoking a pipe and what is in it!

  31. atwageman said:

    My passion is BOTH

    All total I have somewhere around 300 pipes. Now many of those I don’t smoke…..many of you are aware that I collect vintage Yello Bole’s, Kaywoodie’s etc and have a website that shows off that collection. As far as mid to high grades are concerned I have about 60 pipes in my rotation and about 50 or so that are unsmoked that I purchased just mearly to enjoy the artistic value of or for collectability reasons.

    My passion for tobacco is considered extreme by many…..there are pics of my cellar on this site that rival many B&M’s. I enjoy trying different tobacco’s like a wine drinker likes to try different wines. When I find a blend I like, I stock up on it…..why buy one tin or one pound when 10 or more will do…LOL

    This is a great hobby we have and most are really cool down to earth people. SMOKE WHAT YOU LIKE, AND LIKE WHAT YOU SMOKE.

  32. macnutz said:

    I am very new to pipe smoking but so far it is the tobacco that has caught my interest. I have one ‘good pipe’, a Peterson system pipe (rusticated bent billiard) and a couple of corn cobs that allow me to rest the Peterson. I know that I will be buying more pipes but the real interest is tobacco.

    I have always loved the smell of cigars and pipe tobacco and the smoke there of. I do enjoy good cigars but the price is beyond me for regular consumption.

    I’ve become fascinated by the many, many varieties of tobaccos, curing processes, and blends. Being a former cigarette smoker I’m not used to the idea of tobacco actually tasting and smelling so good.

    While I do spend a lot of time looking at and reading about pipes and looking at pipes for sale, it is the tobacco reviews and articles about the tobacco itself that get my attention and inspire me to search for and try new types and different blends.

    For me, if the pipe smokes well, the real joy is in the tobacco.



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