- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 511
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 511! Our featured interview tonight is with pipe maker Nate King. Nate started smoking pipes in 2004, and starting making them in 2005. Prior to that he worked in the Indy race business where as a transmission specialist, precision and attention to detail is a high priority, and this carries over into his pipe making. Nate makes all kinds of pipes from the classic shapes, to whimsical. retro-inspired pieces such as a commission inspired by an old-style microphone. He has also participated in many collaborations on pipe designs, such as with fellow pipe maker Michael Lindner, and tobacco blender Gregory Pease. In Pipe Parts, Brian will have a pipe review, and at the end of the show we will have a guest rant. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 510
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 510! Our featured interview tonight is part three with Fred Janusek. He is a Doctor of Pipes, and professor of mathematics. Fred is in his early 80s, and he has been smoking a pipe since college in 1957. His first pipe was a very shellac-covered Yello Bole. These are some great stories of back in the day when pipes were everywhere. We will skip our usual opening segment as we have that much good material from Fred. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 509
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 509! On tonight’s show we have a new segment of what Brian calls “Inside Fred’s Head” with Fred Hanna. Fred is a well-known pipe collector, author, and speaker at pipe shows. He has a PhD. in psychology and teaches the same at the Chicago Campus at Adler University. He is also author of the book, “The Perfect Smoke”. This is the eighth in a recurring series with a long form discussion of pipe and tobacco questions sent in by our listeners. In the opening “Pipe Parts” segment, we will have a Father’s Day Gift Guide for pipe smokers and collectors. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- Review: Cellar-Diving with GL Pease JackKnife Plug Vintage 2011
This cellar-diving kick is really paying off, considering the time and effort that went into stocking the coffers with tobacco meant to be enjoyed with some age on its side. This month’s candidate for review is a tin of JackKnife Plug dated 6th April 2011, among the first production runs of this blend from the New World Collection. Having done a release review for it and its fraternal twin JackKnife Ready Rubbed back in 2012, and seeing as this tin is just reaching its eleventeenth birthday, it seems a fitting time to revisit what Mr. Pease hath wrought. Opening the tin with no small amount of anticipation, one can really appreciate the way patience can pay off with tobacco. The aromatics release with a whoosh of pressure, itself an immensely satisfying sound while peeling back the lid. The scents fill the air immediately, strong and sweet tones that flood the entire room: up front, the rich bitter sweetness of a Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange, baker’s chocolate; developing over some time with nuances like rich mulched earth, brand new leather shoes, a phenolic tinge reminiscent of Dettol or pine tar, and an underlying meatiness of a lightly-charred steak. Over the course of a couple of weeks making my way through the tin, the aroma tempers down to a more familiar chocolate-covered cherry cordial with layers of parchment and a briney umami saltiness like soy or Worcestershire sauce. It’s tempting, with all this chocolaty aroma, to take a bite out of the brownie-like bar of tobacco, a feeling I’m surely not alone in contemplating. The presentation does however invite closer inspection of the tobacco, such a tangible thing when in bar form. This 11-year-old plug is only lightly dusted with the whitish ‘sugar crystals’ often found on aged Virginia blends, and peering into the layers from outermost to innermost there is a general uniformity of color and texture all the way through—again, and not to belabor the point, but the color is a rich, bitter dark chocolate-brown that perfectly mirrors the aromas. The composition of this blend is clearly no accident, no haphazard mashing together of leaf. Greg clearly set out with a goal in mind: exploring the breadth and depth of the character that could be created when working with the darling of the pipe tobacco world at the time, dark-fired Kentucky. Dark-fired enjoyed a bit of a heyday with the release of these GLP offerings, as well as a host of others such as MacBaren’s HH Old Dark Fired. Speaking on the composition of JK Plug versus Ready-Rubbed, he notes: The blend is identical, with one small exception. The plug is constructed with a core of brights, and the darker tobaccos surrounding it. This allows the brights, theoretically, to express themselves with more purity in the blend. They’re not under as great an influence from the fire-cured and red tobaccos. Doing this with the [Ready Rubbed] wouldn’t work well, because of the way the tobacco clumps, so the blocks are not stratified in this way. The same tobaccos in the same measures are just layered and pressed for the same length of time, then the blocks are sliced and tumbled. It’s the same technique used for the Old London mixtures. It was also clearly intended with aging in mind; again, in Greg’s own words: When I first designed the stuff, I had no idea what the future would bring. There was certainly no reason to think it would do anything but age wonderfully, but you never know. The plug form causes internal anaerobic fermentation, while the outer layers are still exposed to plenty of air. The other night, I opened an 8-month old tin of the final prototype. The aroma was intoxicating, and the smoke was HUGE. I think it’s safe to say it’s going to age really, really nicely. And quickly. I would have believed the tobacco in that tin to have been 5 years old already. With more than a decade under the hood waiting to prove or disprove this theory, the bar was sliced thin and thick, folded, rubbed, and stuffed into a variety of bowl geometries to tease out its flavors, and the results are resoundingly positive. The verdict? JackKnife Plug has the character and complexion of the heartiest of English blends, while being completely absent of Latakia or Oriental leaf. It ages like a peaty single-malt of the finest provenance, developing layers and depth that belie the relative simplicity of its ingredients. I quickly gravitated toward a wider, open-chambered pipe for tasting, one that I would generally use for English blends, as it naturally accommodated the finer nuances of the smoke—and the smoke is certainly huge. The top of the bowl starts with a piccolo-like overture from the Virginia-Perique nexus, with a peppery nose prominently laying the groundwork for what’s to come—think Shostakovich’s 6th, first movement (in fact, this piece is a good parallel overall; perhaps without quite as much of the bombast of later movements). The sweetness is surprisingly underplayed, however—the Perique quickly becomes a background spice, lending sour notes while falling in step with the harmony of the Virginia’s more leathery tones. The sharp edges are all well-rounded over here; far from being able to bite, this smoke develops a thick, steak-dinner mouthfeel almost immediately, one which lingers for a good while after the pipe is finished. By mid-bowl the full composition really comes together, with the darker smokiness of the Kentucky burley stepping center stage even while some of the sweetness sneaks back in. In fact, for beverage pairings I favor an extra-sweet iced tea or soft drink as personal preference. The umami of mid-bowl builds and builds through to the heel, as the chocolaty and nutty tones segue into barbecue woods and steak char, with a touch of Worcestershire still interwoven from the Perique’s spice. Somewhat surprisingly for such a stout blend, the nicotine does not overwhelm—it’s a solid medium-plus, though, best enjoyed after a meal. While my preference with the plug […]
- Cellardiving with GL Pease – GLP Westminster 2007 Review
Having been rather pleased with my last foray into the further reaches of my cellar, it seemed like a good theme to stick with for a bit. Last month’s Sunset Breeze was a pleasant surprise; honestly, I’d expected the aromatic to have faded into a shadow of its former self. That it hadn’t done so speaks highly of the blender’s art and quality of the ingredients. With that in mind, I went digging through my modest collection to find another artful blender’s offerings—the estimable G.L. Pease marque this time. The treasure I came up with is a tin of Westminster from March 2007, placing it amongst the first production runs of this blend, and what a treat it was to find. The blend itself is Pease’s homage to the fabled pre-Murrays London Mixture. While my own journey with pipes commenced much later than the halcyon glory days of many of these fabled 60’s-to-80’s-era blends, many of which continue to inspire new iterations with every generation of pipe blenders—such as The Balkan Sobranie, Three Nuns, and the panoply of the old House of Dunhill blends—I have had the good fortune to taste samples of many of these storied labels at various pipe club gatherings or from friends’ cellars, and a few have even found their way into my own collection; however, they are few and far between, and I am not a collector of them as a rule (excepting, of course, my precious vintage Escudo). Which is a rather long-winded way of saying that I am blissfully not tied to holding this up as a blend comparison, but rather able to freely enjoy it on its own merits, of which there are very many to be sure. Time has been much more than kind to this tin—in fact, I would say it has been downright magnanimous. As far as English blends go, Westminster certainly deserves its place as a modern gold standard. As the tin commends, it truly is a perfect every-day English: rich, but restrained; sweet, but just enough to offset the sour; mild, and easy on the palate. The end of a bowl simply begs for a refill, and it carries well at any time of day—with the morning tea, afternoon work, or evening contemplation. Peeling back the lid on this 15-year-old tin releases a whoosh of vibrant, colorful aromas: flat cola, well-oiled shoe leather, corn starch come to mind, along with the faint muskiness of hide glue, the sense-memory of pencil shavings (and perhaps even some chalkboard dust), and nut shells. Of that last one, indulge me some excessive specificity: having recently spent some time on a pecan orchard, I can testify without reservation that I can detect the scent of last year’s fallen and fallowed nuts from the tin. Don’t condemn the purple prose; consider that this is all just a very specific way to express the earthy, vegetal richness found in the opening bouquet. The Virginia in the blend certainly has given it long, sexy legs, all its earthiness aside. The rough cut is a departure from the vintage Dunhill presentation of fine ribbon, of course, but suited perfectly to the ingredients here in order to balance “breathing room” for aerobic activity against the tightly-pressed cuts and their more anaerobic endeavors. Allowing the tin some breathing room, the initial boisterousness of the Virginias unsealing settles down and the aroma attenuates to a more subtly complex, Scotch-like smokiness. The aroma of the prepared bowl from the charring light to the heel does not disappoint; it lights and puffs effortlessly, with breathy, easy sips from the bowl conjuring fall foliage, dusty libraries, spice bazaars, and warm summer rooftops, and of course all that earthiness that was prattled on about earlier. The tannic piquancy of the Cyprian Latakia is highlighted by the other Oriental components, weaving perfectly within the structure of the Red and bright base—yet there are no overbearing solo measures in this orchestration; every part is in equal and complementary proportion. It also holds a remarkable consistency of flavors from beginning to end, with the first light as flavorful and every bit as complex yet subtle as the last sips from the heel. Additionally, it has an exquisite smoothness on the palate, even after repeated bowls, with an aftertaste of steak and char. Recommended accompaniments are a sturdy English breakfast tea for morning or noon, veering toward a Scotch or Cognac for evening times. While some may find it too mild, for my taste that works in its favor. I personally tend to prefer the Latakia component on the restrained side, and Westminster is a masterwork of balance in this regard. Far be it for me to suggest one tamper with perfection, but in our hearts each of us is a tinkerer by nature, and so the blend does lend itself admirably as a base to add a pinch of this or that to; a common refrain one finds on the forums is adding a bit more Latakia to the blend, and I find that a pinch of Basma adds a nice creamy complexion to the smoke, and Drama adds…well, a nice amount of drama. By his own reckoning, Greg Pease embarked on the creation of Westminster as a way to recapture the experience of the pre-Murrays London Mixture, if not a re-creation of the blend itself. From his Briar & Leaf Chronicles: “In addition to being a delightful smoke, Westminster has allowed me to revisit, and in a way relive the past in a way that no other of my blends have. My old tins of London Mixture are magnificent, and are part of my little treasure box. One day, if all goes well, a few ancient tins of Westminster will take their place.” Since its release in 2007 it has been a mainstay of the brand, and as mentioned before is rightfully considered a benchmark blend against which others are held. Opening this tin from its 15-year slumber, and noting every flavor nuance as […]
- Peterson – Sunset Breeze Review
The holiday season has crept upon us again, and with it the urge, in me at least, to indulge in some unabashed aromatic smoking. In normal times, the holidays are a reason to enjoy feasting and the company of family and friends; aromatics of course make for a pleasant atmosphere for smokers and non-smokers alike, while the pipe itself hearkens to a sense of tradition and hearth concomitant with the season. In these uncertain days, while we may not be able to enjoy all of those things in the traditional manner, I do hope that our readers are able to find a reasonable facsimile thereof in some small measure. Looking back on this past year, I find something missing: Peterson special editions. It used to be I looked forward to them annually—summer, limited, and especially the holiday blend. Sadly, they are no longer, but some cellar diving did unearth a curiosity: a jar of Sunset Breeze dated 2014, my favored blend from their standard lineup, which it seemed only fitting to compare to a new production tin. With the K&P portfolio of blends being acquired by Scandinavian Tobacco Group in 2018, would it be the same old blend? Would it even still be palatable? My worries proved unfounded, as upon opening it, it smelled every bit as sweet and almondy as it should, identical in nature to a fresh tin, if only the slightest bit muted. Preferring the ideology of a tropical sunset to a winter’s chill, it all seems to come together perfectly for this smoke. Peterson tobaccos have never let me down, at least not in terms of smoking enjoyment. I am, however, more than a little heartbroken that their holiday blend series is a thing of the past. From my first tin in 2009 to the last, extremely difficult to obtain tin from 2019, the special editions were a sort of side adventure that I anticipated embarking on, both for the aromatic creations—some of which were remarkable, some wacky, some forgettable—but also for the tin art; tins that I now keep various trinkets, sewing kits, pens, and other odds and ends in, but which also encapsulate memories of those years within—the year I went to the Chicago show, the year I started writing for PipesMagazine, the year old Romeo passed on, the year I broke off an engagement. I daresay we pipe smokers tend toward being a sentimental lot, if anything. Just looking at the blood-orange red tin of Sunset Breeze evokes for me the sense-memory of its delicious amaretto aroma. The bouquet of the fresh tin as well as its color is, as expected, a bit more vibrant and bright as compared to the jarred sample, though the latter has retained the larger part of its aroma, if a bit more tempered and a smidge darker of leaf. Inhaling deeply nets a full bouquet of almond, orangey citrus, light cherry hints, and the faint nuttiness of the burley threading it all together. Pomander balls, those clove-studded oranges my aunt was famous for making, come to mind—recommending this blend suitably in the range of the traditional scents of the season. Speaking of the leaf, comparing the two vintages reassures me that STG has taken great care in its stewardship of the Peterson marque—aside from the darkening of the color, the cut and texture of the leaf from the samples are remarkably similar, and the aroma of the casing is spot-on the same. I see the same melange of lots of dark Cavendish with burley and Virginia crosscut, artfully arranged in the Peterson manner. From charring light to about mid-bowl, it’s all about the room note. The nose aroma for the smoker is enticing and spicy with a promise of sweetness, and is certainly a crowd-pleaser for bystanders—as prescribed, always an excellent choice to recommend for lighting up at any gatherings. Care and patience are rewarded with Cavendish-forward blends like these, for they can be a dangerous temptress, urging the smoker to puff a little too fast while chasing the translation of aroma to flavor, only to be rewarded with a sharply bitten tongue. To that end, I find that a double espresso, or at the very least a strong black coffee, makes a perfect accompaniment for tending the start of the bowl to balance out the alkalinity of the blend as well as a counterpoint to the flavors—perfect for the after-dinner cup. The second half of the bowl is the real reward for the patient smoker. The components of the blend by now have fully orchestrated and mingled into an earthy, slightly floral melange, redolent with the amaretto sweetness, and it is here the smoker will find those tastes they’ve been chasing while sharing them with the room. The nuttiness of the burley is perfectly suited to the almond casing, and is just slightly sour and sweet enough to satisfy the post-prandial craving. Smoked sparingly, it leaves a light and pleasantly soapy and nutty aftertaste on the palate, not unlike an almond in the shell. It’s always good enough to beg another bowl, so I’ll often find myself packing several in succession; usually smaller sized pipes, and there’s always a cob handy, which suits the blend well. I also find it does best prepared bone-dry for smoking. Enjoying the pipe after a holiday feast also makes a perfect time for contemplation. For my part, I’ll be spending what is likely the last holiday with an old friend, a companion for the past couple decades who’s been around the world and back with me, my cat Le Stryge. We’ll reminisce about the tastes of yesteryear, and not give too much thought to the year ahead, at least for now. We’ll give some thoughts to those who have left us, blessed us by their passing, and though it will be a quiet Christmas with just the two of us, we’ll be contented, him purring in my lap and fur smelling faintly of amaretto smoke.
- Pipe Mysteries
Each month, my brain fabricates a few good ideas for this column, and a lot of silly ones. Usually, one of them sticks, and things just sort of flow from there. Sometimes, though, all those thought trains get derailed by some random preoccupation that takes hold with the tenacity of a terrier. This is one of those, for what it’s worth. It started when, stimulated by reading a recent wonderful review in this very publication of my own Westminster, I just had to open a similarly aged tin. For no discernable reasons, I’ve spent the past several months smoking mostly Virginia dominated blends, some with perique, some without, some with orientals, some with just a pinch of latakia. Those who have followed my follies for any length of time will recognize this as somewhat anomalous, as I’ve almost always been a bit of a steadfast latakia-phile, especially in the cooler months that we’ve now left behind. But, all through the autumn and winter months of 2021/22, Virginias have dominated my puffing patterns. I’ve really enjoyed the jaunt, but it was time to book passage back home, at least for a while, and that review was all the fare that was necessary for the trip. I grabbed a tin of a big, full mixture, pulled the ring, and fastened my seatbelt for the ride. That first bowl, after so many months, was nearly transcendent. All those familiar aromas and flavors were just so comfortable, and at the same time so nostalgic. This is the stuff that pulled me to the world of the pipe all those years ago. Aromas of wood smoke and leather and exotic spices that dance in the air and on the palate, reminiscent of those early days when I first wandered into Drucquer & Sons and fell in love with pipes and tobaccos. Back then, Virginias never held my attention for more than a bowl. I’d tried many of them, of course, but again and again, after a bowl was finished, I wanted something more savory, more complex, more Balkan. Those were the blends that felt complete to me, then, that I had a deep relationship with, while the Virginas were just delightful dalyances, a bit of an amuse bouche in preparation for the main, the plat principal which would almost always follow. (And, to stretch that analogy, perhaps to its breaking point, that’s where I’d always stop; I’ve just never been much of a desert guy.) A few days into this rediscovery, I pulled a cherished sandblasted lovat from the rack, filled it from the tin, gently applied fire, and waited for the music to start. The first puffs were like the orchestra tuning up; all those notes from all those instruments were there, if somewhat cacophonous, but then things went sideways. At the second light, the conductor’s baton poised for the downbeat, most of the orchestra, en masse, got up from their chairs and walked off the stage. The relationship between briar and leaf is one of those great and wonderful mysteries to me, and is something I’ve written about before. (cf. The Pipe Doesn’t Matter.) It’s a discussion that often generates more heat than light, but it’s one of those vexing things that never seems to resolve. I’ll never understand those who insist that the pipe doesn’t matter, and this is just another example of why I continue to insist that it does. More on that in a minute or two. This particular pipe is a wonderful example that has provided many splendid smokes, always with Virginia dominated blends. It delivers a richly flavored, effortless smoke, cool and dry right to the bottom. Not this time. It didn’t taste bad or off; it simply attenuated the flavors I was expecting to the point of non-existence, delivering nothing more than warm air to a deeply disappointed palate. And, that’s the WTHH (What The Heck Happened) moment when the preoccupation mentioned in the opening paragraph began. Similar things have happened before, and as any sensible person would, I’ve just switched pipes, stayed calm, and carried on. I’m not always sensible, and this was one of those times, and this was one of the most extreme examples of this peculiar phenomenon I’ve ever experienced. So I chose, instead, to take the opportunity to see if I could learn something, beginning by isolating the obvious things. First off, I could rule out the geometry, the so-called “engineering” of the bowl and airway. The day before, I’d smoked the same tobacco in an almost identically sized, shaped and drilled pipe, and it was superb. To rule out the possibility of “dirty shank syndrome,” I cleaned it thoroughly with several pipe cleaners and some high proof alcohol, let it rest overnight and tried again. No bueno. Visiting the cake, which I prefer quite thin anyway, I reamed it almost to the walls. Ditto. The salt and alcohol treatment similarly had no effect. Neither did a visit to the lab oven with the bowl filled with activated charcoal. I tried drying the tobacco. No joy. Maybe it was me – some subtle change in body chemistry, or an interaction with what I’d been eating or drinking? Was my palate fatigued? Was the climate influencing things in a bad way? Another pipe, known to be more sociable with full mixtures, filled with the same tobacco quickly falsified those conjectures. Waiting a couple more days, I filled the thing from an old tin of UK-produced Capstan blue, and it performed absolutely brilliantly, like nothing odd had ever happened. A bowl of aged Fillmore the next day was equally engaging. Then, another bowl of the aged Westminster. Nothing but an hour of puffing on hot air. In my experience, more pipes form happy relationships with Virginias than with the fuller of the latakia mixtures. Not being much of an aromatic fan, I don’t have sufficient experience with these tobaccos to do more than speculate there, but I suspect they may behave a bit […]
- And Then There Were Three
The late Bill Unger, long-time secretary/treasurer of the North American Society of Pipe Collectors and editor of the Pipe Collector newsletter, was often quoted as saying, “If you have one pipe, you’re a pipe smoker. If you have two pipes, you’re a collector.” The question of what makes an aggregate of pipes an actual “collection” is something that I’ve often struggled with, and every attempt to pin things down has found me in the weeds. Collectors of most objets d’art tend to have some sort of focus, and to take the stance that my focus is on “pipes” has always felt a bit like a cheap way out. I have friends who collect a certain shape, or a certain maker’s work, or pipes from a specific country or era. One specializes in straight grain, always seeking the next incremental step towards perfection, while never accumulating too many pieces. I, on the other hand, have never been a specialist, but the term generalist doesn’t adequately describe my proclivity either. Over the years, as my tastes have changed and evolved, I’ve chased many different styles of pipe, resulting in an embarrassingly large gathering of briars that range from the most traditional to the frankly weird. Is it really a “collection” when the only thing that ties its elements together is not a thread but a mooring rope? Once, I was most interested in bulldogs, especially the squat bowl variant. One of my first good pipes was a GBD in this shape; so early along my collecting journey, I didn’t even know what the shape was called, but I was attracted by its almost UFO-like styling – I just found the shape engaging, Learning more about classic shapes, I began to look at other bulldog variants, and found myself gravitating towards the bent versions, especially rhodesians, with their round shanks, squat, voluptuous bulldog-esque bowls, and that wonderfully comfortable half-bend. I gathered quite a few of them, ranging in size from small to quite large, and thought I’d found my niche. Of course, this wouldn’t last forever, and soon other shapes caught my attention. The prince, long and elegant, with its wider bowl and gentle curve seemed like maybe it was the perfect shape. Its slender shank and long stem result in a light pipe that keeps the smoke out of your eyes. I’ve also often posited that there is no better “pointing pipe” than the prince. Then came the lovats. Their compact shape, short saddle mouthpieces and capacious bowls seemed to be my ideal. And, speaking of compact shapes, the little “brucianaso,” exemplified by the Castello #10, was so appealing, I found myself chasing them at a time when they were exceedingly rare. The billiard, at one time, seemed sort of boring to me, but it is such a classic shape, and when cut really nicely, has its own beauty and charm. Now, I have quite a few of them. And there are the apples, with their thick, curvaceous bowls that feel so good in the hand. And the Castello #55 pot, one of Carlo Scotti’s personal faves. Get the picture? Like a butterfly, I have always flitted from shape to shape, extracting the nectar of whatever form appealed to me at the moment before moving on to the next flower. But it was always the more classic shapes, the pipes from England, France, and to a degree, those from Italy that held my interest. Then, in the late 1990s, something changed, and I became attracted to some of the Danish styles, not so much the wild “freehand” shapes, but the modernist interpretations of classic pipe forms that came from the minds and hands of the early masters. The direction of Danish pipe making was born out of a functionalist design aesthetic, where minimalism and function, elegance and nuance held priority over the ornate. These makers took familiar forms and rendered them with sleeker lines, softer curves, and a more minimalist approach. Some were additionally inspired by nature, bringing new words to the vocabulary of pipe shapes. I was intrigued, and as more of these shapes found their way into my group, they scribbled another page of an increasingly disorganized book. They didn’t displace my beloved classics, but expanded my appreciation in yet another direction. Oh, and those crazy freehands? What can I say; some of those shapes are so wildly conceived, how could I ignore them? The butterfly finds flowers wherever they are. Mostly, I’ve just accepted, or ignored my rather mercurial tastes, but once in a while, something happens to bring my “strategy” into question. The other day, I was enticed by a beautiful piece by American maker Ryan Alden. I’ve known Ryan for years, and have bought a couple of his pieces, but this pipe lived outside of his norm, and mine. I had to have it. (It’s the sandblast piece in the accompanying photographs.) I’m not even sure I know what to call it. Urchin-esque? Squat apple? Cinnamon bun? Tomato? Nothing quite fits, but, as soon as I had it in hand, I realized that a couple other pieces I have bear similar profiles, like the pictured Bengt Carlson rusticated and bamboo-shanked piece by Taiwan’s Jerry Zenn. Will these three pipes become the cornerstone of a new direction, a new sub-collection? I’m not sure, but at the moment, I kind of hope so. I certainly have more than one pipe, so in deference to a dear departed friend’s memory, I’ll just try to accept his definition and find peace within my capricious nature. I am a pipe collector.
Years ago a friend, knowing that I collect GBD pipes and related ephemera, gave me a lovely 7oz tin of GBD Black Cavendish Mixture, manufactured for them by Sobranie House. I’d never seen this tobacco, so it was certainly a welcome addition to the collection. The tin had been opened for some unknown length of time when he’d acquired it, and while the label and exterior of the tin were in fairly good shape, there was a lot of oxidation internally, and the contents had long since become drier than bones in the desert. I was reluctant to try it in that state, so it has remained displayed on a shelf until recently, when the curious chimp on my shoulder finally got the better of me. I grabbed the tin from the shelf, and gave it the once-over. The plastic overcap is discolored from age, but still perfectly pliable, and it pulled away without incident. A small paper label on the enclosed aluminum pull-top indicates that the tobacco was “Matured In Rum,” so that spirit was definitely used in some part of the process. A translucent paper disc under the pulltop reveals the pedigree of the tobacco’s Sobranie manufacture. The back label reads, “To obtain the full pleasure of majestic Virginia-the skill of hereditary craftsmen in London select the pick of the world’s finest tobaccos-then handle it with time tried care to produce the required richness and pleasantly deep satisfaction. Guaranteed entirely free of any adulterant or artificial flavouring. TOBACCO AT ITS FRAGRANT BEST” Clearly rum is considered neither an adulterant nor artificial. The original printed 200g weight declaration on the label had been covered by a paper sticker at import showing a net weight of 7oz, indicating this tin to likely be from the late 1970s or early 1980s. But, what about the tobacco? Black Cavendish means different things to different manufacturers. In the US, it’s a term usually applied to cut leaf that has been heavily sugared and steamed or roasted for hours at a relatively high temperature to darken it and partially oxidize and caramelize the sugars. Usually, additional flavoring agents, commonly vanilla, are applied after the heating process. But, as this was a Sobranie of London product, it was more likely moistened, hot-pressed in steam jacketed presses and held under pressure for days or weeks before being tumbled in a heated conditioning drum to return the leaf to ribbon form at the correct moisture content. My guess is that the rum was applied before or during the cavendishing process. Examining the contents revealed that much of the rust had fallen away from the sides of the tin, both as large and small flakes, and as countless tinier particles too small to see, let alone fish out with tweezers, so the first order of business was to find a way to get rid of as much of it as possible. Since rust is at least somewhat paramagnetic, a bit of grade school science came to the rescue. I spread the tobacco out in small quantities in a shallow bowl, picked out the larger rust flakes, and then carefully raked through it with a strong magnet, removing most of the smaller particles. The tobacco was then carefully sifted to remove a large amount of dust, and hopefully whatever tiny rust particles remained. At this point, a little over 110g of desiccated ribbons remained, so all that was left was to carefully condition the tobacco back to a smokable 12-13% moisture. Rehydrating tobacco this dry and frangible can be tricky business. It has to be done very delicately to avoid breaking the ribbons up even further, and in measured amounts to prevent over-moistening. In a dry environment, tobacco can give up its water very quickly, but it is much slower to absorb it, so just spraying it with water is ill-advised. My normal method would be to put it in a bowl covered with a damp towel and let the leaf take up moisture gradually; this can take days of monitoring, rewetting the towel as needed, and waiting. Feeling a bit impatient, I chose instead to put a carefully measured amount of water in a small atomizer, and began delicately misting and turning the ribbons until they were evenly coated. Then, it could be safely transferred to a jar and sealed until the leaf had time to take up the added water, a process that can take several hours. After an hour or so of messing about with the stuff, and a few more hours of impatient waiting, it was time to give it a try, of course, in a GBD pipe. I picked a sandblasted Sablée lovat that has always performed its best with virginias, and gave it a go. The verdict? It is delicious. Despite the years of abuse the tobacco had suffered, hints of rum punctuate a deep, rich virginia goodness. Background notes of stewed figs are present, and an earthy, almost malty sweetness, with an elusive tartness that keeps the palate interested. The room note is subtle and engaging, not at all cloying. There’s no way to know how far this rehydrated tobacco deviates from what it would be like had it never endured such abuses, but if I’m ever fortunate enough to find a sealed tin of this stuff, I’ll sure as heck give it a go to find out. Photos by G.L. Pease
- Law of Binding Energy
This may sound a bit over the top, but our pipe community is held together by some equivalent of the law of binding energy. So sayeth Dr. Pundit. Harrumph! Simply put, the law says the universe is held together by binding energy. Seen another way, the law explains in a blackboard full of Einsteinian math the energy it takes to separate us from the universe. Or something. Now, without getting too overwrought in the physics or chemistry of binding energy, let’s just say we are a bound community of pipe-loving groups. It would require a great deal of energy to separate us from our hobby. The Pundit has not run off the rails yet. See, our energy is connected through a community of pipes and tobacco, a village of individuals who enjoy just sitting around pontificating and puffing our beloved pipes. That’s binding and energetic. You get it if you have ever participated in a pipe club gathering. There is not enough energy to scramble one atom of our togetherness. That’s our law of binding energy. This short lecture is a windy opening to what is today’s reality in the pipe world, and our daily lives. Pay attention, class. There will be a pop quiz at the end of this discourse. Of late we have seen tectonic shifts in the “old normal.” The good old days, so it seems to the Pundit, have been pummeled by powerful events: the Covid pandemic virus and its many mutations of tragedy; supply chain choke holds; massive cargo ships becoming lodged in narrow river lanes like toy boats in a ditch; the Great Resignation spreading like a virus; a disastrous war in Ukraine and the threat of even more violence. Ok, the Pundit gets it. Enough of gloom and doom. Back to the original thought of our law of binding energy. It is similar to the law of supply and demand for pipe smokers. In simplest terms, when all other economic factors remain constant, the law of supply says that if prices go up, supply generally rises. But if supply remains constant, and prices continue to rise, demand generally drops. For us pipe smokers, supply and demand have been somewhat steady during these upside-down years. We have access to sufficient supply and, mostly, prices have not resulted in a bank shot off the charts. We pipe puffers have our own law of supply and demand, similar to our law of biding energy. Now, for the promised pop quiz. Pay attention, for another lecture of sorts is in order after this. Pop question: how do supply and demand affect pipe smokers? You in the back: “More supply means we have fewer pipes.” Wow, you weren’t paying attention. Ok, one more. You in the front row with your hand half raised: “We have too many pipes on cargo ships.” You fail, too. Correct answer: The Law of Supply and Demand may affect other segments of society, but not so much the pipes and tobacco community. There are too many of us in the demand side. No matter the prices. There, you have it. Now on to more important matters. Why do we celebrate Independence Day? If your answer is because some yokels in Boston tossed tea in an ocean, or it’s because we fly flags and blast fireworks into the night skies, one might want to dig a little deeper. Ok, so why do we celebrate? You there in the corner half asleep. “To celebrate independence from some king, or something.” Well, yes, but I was looking for a more profound answer. Such as, from whom did we snatch independence from the jaws of colonialism? In a more perfect union, the Fourth of July is the day the original thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, giving birth to a new America, and unbuckling itself from the nutjob King George III and Great Britain. America is 246 years young this July 4th. Ok, that was a little harsh about the royal nutjob. King Georgie suffered from insanity in spurts. History records that many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as those who penned the document, were tobacco farmers. This founding fathers’ fact, dear friends, gives pipe smokers bragging rights! So, the heart of all this is that after we’ve fired off that bucket full of fireworks to celebrate our precious independence, we can savor the notion that pipe smoking in America is not only patriotic but also historic. It’s that binding energy continuum thing. Tobacco formed the first cash crop of the British colonies. Think Jamestown and John Rolfe, the guy who married Pocahontas and was big in early Virginia politics. He also enjoyed tobacco and planted a crop of West Indies seeds, allegedly, in Jamestown in 1612. And on the money side, by the time of the runup to the American Revolution, just about all of the Southern Founding Fathers owed their wealth to the sale of tobacco. And to be historically correct, not all of them smoked tobacco. But tobacco smoking was common among the Founders, particularly using churchwarden-long clay pipes in the inns. See, many of the Founding Fathers (a tasty aromatic blend from Cornell & Diehl, just sayin’), were also pipe smokers. The author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was a tobacco farmer who puffed a pipe for a brief time. Benjamin Franklin was likewise a short-time pipe smoker while helping to edit the famous freedom document. We can forgive ol’ Benjy because floating a kite near lightning with a lit pipe might not have been a promising idea. Founders John Adams and James Madison, also tobacco farmers, knew a good pipe blend when they smoked one. By the way, Dolley Madison, wife of the fourth U.S. President, smoked a pipe and allegedly cigars as well. And now, dear friends, I hope by the time you read this epistle, you have had or will have a binding energy type Fourth. Finally, a message from our first U.S. President, […]
- A Trip to Tobaccoland
We are not in Kansas any longer, Toto. No. We are in Tobaccoland, nirvana, land of honey and Virginia, latakia, perique, and cavendish blended to a taste of the extraordinary. No, the Pundit hasn’t quite lost all of his faculties yet. He just puffed some of the C&D latest by the genius blender Jeremy Reeves, his Palmetto Balkan. If you haven’t grabbed a tin, you owe it to yourself to give it a go. It is a mite pricey, but ever so worth the price. Why is Pundit so over the moon? This is a superb blend, something out of the old school if you recall the old-time Balkans of yesteryear. Some of us old-time coots grew up on Balkan Sobranie. It was on the counters and shelves in about every bricks-and-mortar pipe store on Earth. There have been many an imitation, but few could match it. Now, I’m not saying Palmetto Balkan is an exact, leaf for leaf match. It just takes me back to the days when leisure was a pipeful of Balkan Sobranie, a good book, and time. A wonderful review of the new blend is found in Smokingpipes.com’s Chuck Stanion’s “Tobacco Talk” May 13. In his usual literary and enlightening prose, Chuck explains Cornell & Diehl’s latest small-batch creation from the fertile mind of Jeremy Reeves, head blender. Or should we say, virtuoso blender at C&D, or anywhere else. Reeves and C&D stuck to their sources in South Carolina in this production. Having spent a great deal of time near the Laudisi grounds during former vacations to the Grand Strand Low Country, and having attended college in South Carolina, my memories of the Palmetto State wear fondly in my heart. Now a quick trip into nostalgia for a bit of tobacco land backstory. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a fairly large Tennessee tobacco farm. Was that ever an enlightening event! The farmer who owned the acreage told me in that interview years ago that he wasn’t in tobacco farming for the money. “It gets into your blood,” he said. He grew up tobacco farming with his father and other family members. And in that day, tobacco was a significant portion of the family budget. But the work was neither easy nor short. A day went from before sunrise to after sunset. Lots of hands-on labor. Not until mechanization arrived, did tobacco farming become somewhat easier. Tractors and planters lessened some of the sweat, much better than urging a stubborn mule to plow long furrows. After all the demanding work of planting, harvesting, curing in his tobacco barn, and then transporting to a fall tobacco auction, the farmer said he made maybe enough money to give his family a good Christmas. Or pay down credit on equipment and taxes on the farmland that produced the tobacco. Remembering this event has gotten the Old Pundit to daydreaming about our tobacco blends today and how it all comes together for us pipe smokers. It’s not an easy process from field to curing to aging, blending, and then to the tin. After harvesting the tobacco leaf, the farmer (whose name has been lost in the mists of time) then had to bundle the leaf and haul it to the nearest auction barn. And like many other parts of our past, the tobacco auction barn has practically faded from the rural scenery, at least in Tennessee’s tobacco lands. So isn’t it a nice release to push aside all the chaos and calamity in the world today by just pulling out your pipe and loading with your favorite blend. Puffing on the good old times. Seems as if many of us are so submerged today in technology and hurly-burly that we sometimes fail to see our true realities. What brought me to this is looking at some of the old pipe smokers of the past. They had to deal with their everyday problems but hovering in the smoke plumes was a relief. Maybe we need more pipe smokers today, puffing away our troubles. I digress, of course. But with all the worldly problems, we need more pipes and tobacco, or as Mr. Einstein said: ”I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” Amen and amen. And now a couple of important dates of pipe smokers of the past: Shelby Foote, born Nov. 17, 1916, in Greenville, Miss., and died June 27, 2005, in Memphis, Tenn. Shelby was best known for his three-volume work, The Civil War: A Narrative, a deeply-researched and 20-year writing effort of the American Civil War. And, ahem, the Pundit purchased the volumes as they were published. I like this quote from Shelby that I believe is still relevant. It reminds me of the time he told me in an interview that unless we as Americans understand fully what took place before and during the Civil War, we can’t understand our country: The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things… It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads—Shelby Foote. And just to emphasize the work that went into his narrative of the great war, he wrote it out in longhand—no typewriter, no computer. He later typed the manuscript and never owned a computer. And one more great Canadian-American writer and pipe smoker of the past: Saul Bellow was born June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec, and died April 5, 2005, in Brookline, Mass. He was a three-time National Book Award winner, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, and a Nobel Prize in Literature winner. One of Bellow’s finest quotes: The best and purest human beings, from the beginning of time, have understood that life is sacred—Saul Bellow. A Pipe Pundit Parting Thought: Please remember our veterans this month. D-Day was 78 years ago, a day that changed the face of World War II and the world.
- Once More, Dear Lads, Once More
Ah, the joys of spring. April showers bringing May flowers, trees budding, birds flitting in fits of joy, and hope springing eternal. As our friend e.e. cummings said, “always it’s spring and everyone’s in love”. Ah, love, yes, above all love. Have you ever fallen in love? With a pipe, that is. Yes, dear brothers of the briar, a pipe so fetching you are mesmerized by its glimmering beauty. Let’s go back some years. The Pundit was in an Alabama brick and mortar pipes and tobacco shop (memory says it was The Briary in Homewood) when naturally, the subject of pipes and tobacco took center stage in the conversation. The genteel chap behind the counter asked me if I had ever thought of owning a Claudio Cavicchi pipe? Well, no. For back in those youthful days I’d never even heard of a Cavicchi pipe, let alone a Claudio Cavicchi. “Oh,” said the gentleman behind the counter, “we have only a couple here. One is a gorgeous Canadian.” The Canadian was a blond beauty. I was moonstruck with thunderbolt love and pulled out my thin wallet. I threw in a pouch of Virginia tobacco to break in my new beauty. “You won’t be disappointed,” he called out after me. That Cavicchi hit me like a dancing string of lightning. It was a shimmering slim magnificence, purity of line and spirit. I became fascinated and wanted to know everything I could about the actual Mister Claudio Cavicchi. Lo, he was but a humble Italian farmer. But upon studying nature in his daily life, and experiencing renewal and growth from the Earth, Claudio one day decided he could craft pipes as well as crops. He became an artisanal pipe maker, a craftsman of world-renown, a master of design. Dear reader, there is a world of science and physics involved in his pipe creations and immaculate stains that just make the pipe’s grain glow. His meticulousness gave rise to his unique grading system ranging from a single “C” to a quintuple of “Cs.” More “Cs” translates to higher grades of briar. Claudio also creates his seldom seen Perla as well as the extremely rare “Diamante,” both absolute zeniths of the Cavicchi line. But as youth are often unpredictable and sometimes dismay us elders with unique logic (strengths, my dear lads, for you usher in the new and keep us elders on our toes and we thank you for doing so!) so was I in those years so long ago. And for reasons I still cannot fathom, I let a pal talk me into trading my lovely Cavicchi Canadian for some sort of English pipe. Looking back in time from this wizened vantage, I must ask myself: what in the world was I thinking? “Nothing, apparently” is the only reply the universe has so far provided. That trade bothered me many years. Until this spring, that is dear reader. For reasons I cannot fathom, luck favored me again with the recent discovery of another beautiful blond Cavicchi Canadian. Yes, the price had gone up a bit, but that didn’t matter. I had to have the Canadian’s return to my precious herd. It was ordered along with another pouch of Virginia, just like the first iteration of so long ago. The new blond beauty smoked wonderfully well, just as did the original I let get away. Only this Canadian was a slightly better Cavicchi grade. Rest assured, it now holds down a permanent place in the Pundit rotation. I can see the wrinkles on your faces: But it’s just another Canadian, and why the Virginia tobacco to christen a new pipe? Well, my friends, if you have not yet tried a Cavicchi, it’s like the briar and leaf Meister behind that pipe and tobacco counter in Alabama said so long ago, “You won’t be disappointed.” For Claudio has that most sacred and, anymore at least, rare power: an agrarian connection to the land. A farmer who, to know success, attunes himself to nature’s rhythms and mysteries, beguilements, and cycles. As Pearl S. Buck said in The Good Earth, “and roots, if they are to bear fruits, must be kept well in the soil of the land.” For after all, what is briar but a root ball transformed by wood sculptors? If you need more encouragement, check out two wonderful pieces on Claudio: In The Workshop With Claudio Cavicchi June 22, 2016, by Shane Ireland in Makers and Artists …and Chuck Stanion’s A Closer Look At Claudio Cavicchi Dec. 17, 2018, in Makers and Artists at SmokingPipes.com I love these lines from Chuck’s insight into Cavicchi’s artistry: “This is a craftsman who knows pipes from many perspectives. He knows what makes a pipe smoke well and what makes a pipe look beautiful. He knows how to charm the briar to his bidding.” Now, concerning tobacco, if you wonder at Pundit’s preference for pure Virginia, please refer to the late and lamented McClelland No. 5100 Red Cake. I learned the Virginia break-in trick from a veteran pipe smoker, a medical doctor in fact, who taught me to always break in a new pipe with Virginia because of its ability to rid a new bowl of any lingering baddies and thereby prepare it for just about any sort of future tobacco blend you throw at it. His choice was McClelland’s 5100 Red Cake. That’s because Virginia tobaccos (along with burleys, perique, and Cavendish) play such a significant role in today’s blends. In olden times, pipe smokers pulled out a pouch of pure burley, loaded up, and smoked through the day. Today’s blenders are magicians, true chefs of tobacco blends. Now the Pundit is no tobacco blender, but I’m at least smart enough to abide the advice of veterans. If you’ll allow me to linger on the topic of blends, I’ll share with you by way of the Chicagoland Pipe Show that Virginia slices are a good choice when breaking in tobacco blends as well. And dear reader, […]