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Radio Talk Show

  • Jason Smith - Photo by Neil Osborne at the 2021 NASPC show
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 559

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 559! Our featured interview tonight is with Jason Smith. Jason has lived in Cincinnati most of his life, and his first influence towards pipe smoking was from his grandfather who seemingly only didn’t smoke his pipe if he was sleeping. This is the ninth in our series of interviews with “Journeymen Pipe Smokers” – guys that have been smoking pipes between five and 10 years, and Jason has a great journey to tell us about. At the top of the show, Brian will have a review of Solani Blue Label Blend No. 369. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

  • Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 558

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 558! Our featured interview tonight is with Dr. Kyle Andrew a.k.a. “The Pipe Professor”. Kyle holds a PhD in the field of educational leadership. His “The Pipe Professor” YouTube Channel has 93 videos, and 2.3k followers, and he has been at it for eight years. He reviews all kinds of pipe tobacco, and does an occasional cigar review as well. At the top of the show we will have an installment of Pipe Smoking 101 covering the inside of the bowl, or the tobacco chamber. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

  • Steve-Davenport-cropped
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 557

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 557! Our featured interview tonight is with Steve Davenport. Steve is a geologist working in the field of environmental consulting. This is the eighth in our series of interviews with “Journeymen Pipe Smokers” – guys that have been smoking pipes between five and 10 years. At the top of the show we will have Jeff Gracik reporting on the “Battle of the Briar” pipe making competition that was held at the Chicago pipe show. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

Tobacco Reviews

  • Seattle Pipe Club Virginia Jazz Tobacco and Becker Pipe
    Seattle Pipe Club Virginia Jazz Tobacco Review

    It’s spring, finally, and the city itself is in bloom. Love is in the air, sidewalks are abuzz with folks eager to shed heavy winter coats and scarves, and there’s a racy adventurous feel to it all—a fitting time to rotate to a new blend, one suited to afternoon strolls in brisk spring chills or sipping coffee on cool nights with mysterious excitement in them. As mentioned in the last installment of this column, we’ll be getting to know the most recent offering from Sutliff’s Seattle Pipe Club Signature Series: Virginia Jazz, wherein Joe Lankford’s legacy blends continue to swing on. The chosen aural, and oral, accompaniments for testing, as directed by the tin’s ad copy, are a wide selection of era-appropriate tracks from the likes of Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Louie Armstrong, Billie Holiday and more, along with some piping hot coffee perfect for taking the edge from a nippy spring morning—Cafe du Monde and scalded condensed milk seemed to be most appropriate. From the tin: The 1920s Jazz Age changed America. The new music moved people. New Orleans, The Great Gatsby, prohibition, radio and a national urge to cut loose. Music and cultures mashed together. Our Virginia Perique starts with 10 year old mature red Virginias blended with a good amount of Cajun tobacco Acadian Perique. Add some tasty stoved Virginia, pressed and crumble cake cut. Virginia Jazz is an exceptional smoke and music to VaPer lovers. As Louisiana locals say, Pass a good time, cher! The tin note upon opening is emphatically Virginian: a waft of vinegar and raisin, turned earth, parchment, and sweet wood. Inside the tin are three wafers of crumble cake tobacco roughly the size and shape of English tea biscuits, all a uniform mahogany brown. Extra points to this blend for the presentation, as the cakes are easy to cleave a smoking portion from and are of a consistent cut and humidity to break apart easily for a quick air-dry during preparation. Loading up a few grams for sampling is likewise easy as can be, just gravity fill and go. Allowing some airing time for the biscuits to breathe, the overtones of the aroma bend at first toward sawdust then an earthy mustiness which gives way to cocoa, alluding to the stoved component as well as the fermented Acadian Perique. This condiment is quite restrained within the blend, and lacks the full fruitiness of its sibling from St. James parish. Once lit, the unassuming aromas begin to organize in much the same way a big band tunes, warms up, and falls into step with each other. The cadence of the smoke is indeed parallel to jazz of this era: a steady shuffle rhythm, a walking bassline of flavor with occasional solo flourishes of sweetness and sour; though one should take care not to puff at too frenetic a tempo—more “Blue Feeling” than “Take the A Train”, to put it in Ellingtonian terms. It begins with a standard Virginia refrain of woodsy, raisiny smoke that’s more than a little sweet around the edges, evidenced on the tip of the tongue. There is an inclination toward sharpness to this—although there’s plenty of aged leaf in it, it’s still relatively young in the tin—for after all, youth is a form of chemical madness, to paraphrase Fitzgerald. It will be interesting to circle back after a couple of years in the cellar on this one, as other crumble cakes I’ve stored have fared rather well; notably, early batches of H&H’s Anniversary Kake jarred for a decade plus. An occasional tingle in the nose once the ember is built up sufficiently announces the Acadian Perique, anxious to contribute its voice to the composition nearing mid-bowl, where it opens up a little with intimations of sweet and sour raisin and date notes. The voice is there, though not center stage, merely adding a bit of counterpoint to the otherwise steady core of the mature and stoved Virginias plodding along rhythmically to that leather and wood campfire tune. It’s modest enough that some may not even notice its inclusion, though its mildly sour tang definitely serves to color in the overall flavor of the composition. For the most part the arrangement stays steady through to the heel, evincing more of the sourdough bread and hay tones with just a hint of baker’s cocoa toward the end of the bowl. Interestingly, most bowls ended with a remainder of dottle no matter which pipe I used. Gravitating this time toward the Canadian and Lumberman section of my toolbox, all the chambers of the pipes were nearly the same size—a bog-standard ¾” by 2”—while the shaft lengths varied between 5 ¾” to a rather egregious 7 ½”, like the Becker Canadian pictured. The tobacco never suffered from too much moisture in the heel, it simply crossed the point of diminishing returns to try to keep an ember nurtured below the last quarter of the chamber. I can only chalk it up to my technique or the weather, and it was consistent, though not an issue that would detract points in my book. A few crumbs aside, three bowls an evening coincided exquisitely with the runtime of the 1920s jazz compilations employed in the making of this article. Overall the smoke, though uncomplicated, is quite a joy and hard to not be upbeat about—it’s a real toe-tapper with a crackerjack presentation in the crumble cakes. The sidestream smoke and room note is mild and dissipates rather quickly, not clinging to clothes or upholstery appreciably. If only we could still smoke in late-night jazz clubs, this would be the blend to bring; but alas, that age has passed.

  • Ashton-Guilty-Pleasure-Review
    Ashton Guilty Pleasure Tobacco Review

    Guilty pleasures—we all have them; whether it’s bingeing the latest water-cooler television show, midnight-snacking entire pints of ice cream, or devoting hours to an online debate that we’re sure we’ve won. Us pipe snobs (face it, if you’re reading this article, you’re likely past the point of no return into the hobby) often catch flack—or give flack—for full aromatic blends, mistakenly thinking them the piper’s equivalent of a bike with training wheels, or confections for filthy casuals. A true pipe smoker, such prevailing wisdom may say, can only find enlightenment in the most mephitic of concoctions, the kernel of bodhi within which they have unlocked through years of trial and sacrifice, with wonderful tastes that they alone know how to perceive, naysayers be damned! Well, that’s poppycock. As the holidays came and went, I thoroughly enjoyed working my way through the tins of the aromatic C&D offerings reviewed in the last column, finding subtle little hints of new flavors here and there with every bowl full; I was particularly saddened when I went to re-order them and found them sold out; perhaps my guilty pleasure of being an unabashed aromatic smoker was not so singular as I had presumed? Such it was that I found myself pondering as I navigated the streets of the Financial District and popped in to Barclay-Rex, the City’s oldest family-run tobacconist—and indeed one of the few left of its ilk anywhere. Perusing through their offerings for new review material, my eye was drawn to the jazz-age graphic of a couple of flamenco dancers mid-embrace on a rose-colored tin of Ashton’s Guilty Pleasure, a no-pretense aromatic manufactured by Kohlhase & Kopp for the Ashton brand. Sure, there were English and cigar-leaf blends aplenty, various Virginias as far as the eye could see, but my holiday sweet tooth had not quite yet been fully sated. “This glorious mixture of Cavendish, Virginia and Carolina burley carries an irresistible aroma of vanilla, mango, and exotic citrus,” reads the tin, promising an immodestly candied experience. Kohlhase & Kopp have produced many of my favorite aromatic blends, notably the erstwhile Peterson special editions, so I had great confidence that the tobacco would be of the best quality and not a waste of my time or money, as the price of tobacco in Manhattan is on the verge of requiring a bank loan. Popping the tin certainly confirmed this hypothesis; it unleashed a bright and floral confectionery sweetness that was sure to send the burliest he-man Latakiaphile running for the hills. The tobacco itself was that perfect melange of light-gold to dark-mahogany leaf of consistent cut that is a trademark of K&K blends in my experience. Parsing the aromas back in the laboratory, I kept searching for vanilla and mango—‘exotic citrus’ being indefinite enough to discount. Vanilla firmly chimes in as an overall binding aroma that the fruity notes couch themselves within, but I found mango or citrus aromas neither overt nor distinct in the blend; rather, they are verbal proxies for the overall sweetness and fruitiness with a decidedly floral bent of the bouquet; in fact the unique and unmistakable—though confoundingly unspecific—flavor of Necco wafers popped into my head as the best analog, a notion which would later prove to be shockingly precise. Even after weeks of an open-and-closed tin while sampling, the aroma remains quite strong and readily induces salivation. Not to say that it’s done with too heavy or indelicate a hand—the tobaccos are clearly highest quality and allowed to shine through the mix to shape the smoke, which is quite a bit more restrained than the tin note would suggest. Puffing through a half-dozen bowls in search of the best instrument, I found the smoke then to be quite good and much more rounded than merely aromatic, if perhaps lacking a little in real depth, particularly held up against the last review blends mentioned. Bowl after bowl it presented quite brightly on top and faded to a good sweet nutty Cavendish-burley by mid-bowl, and tapered down slowly through to the heel—a heel that was easily reached with slow sipping and temperature control as well as a few rest periods and relights, and not goopy at all. Once I’d honed in on the proper pipe, cadence, and drink pairing, it was sweet heaven through the end of the tin. As for the room note, it is sweet but rather tame compared to the tin note; I would place both flavor and room note on the bright and fruity side of mild-to-medium. While swapping out pipes to find a good mate for this blend I stumbled upon my cache of several years’ worth of Kaywoodie pipes from the holiday dinner and slow-smoke, to my good fortune. The straight billiards and clay cutty I started with weren’t really bringing out the full experience of the blend, tending to get too hot past top-bowl and not really hitting the mark on the aromatic notes while smoking. The delightful Shellcraft half-bent billiard pictured, handmade by Bill Feuerbach of very old-stock Algerian briar and vulcanite stem, nailed it like Mary Lou Retton on a floor routine—the perfect geometry of chamber to coax down a small ember, and the bend deep enough that the smoke could drift up to the nose easily for sidestream olfaction, all at barely an ounce of weight—as fine as any Dunhill in my collection, not to mention a repository of fond memories. There’s a lesson to be learned here: before finding just the right pipe, the blend would score below fair-to-middling; after, it was sweet euphoria. Finding the best drink pairing for such a sweet blend proved challenging as well. Sometimes the notions come to me and I test them out to find they work perfectly, other times it’s down to a more Edisonian approach: determine the prevailing notes and alkalinity, then find drinks to congenially act as foils or amplifiers through brute force trial and error. In general it’s a good start to look for mildly acidic drinks, […]

  • C&D Jolly Old St. Nicholas & We Three Kings
    C&D Jolly Old St. Nicholas & We Three Kings

    For one who generally trends toward the curmudgeonly, particularly around the holidays, this season finds me in an uncharacteristically cheerful frame of mind; though at times tumultuous, the year has brought many changes and challenges, and as the accounting goes I feel satisfied that my balance stretches into the black in all regards. With plenty to be grateful for and the prospect of yuletide gatherings ahead, a selection of seasonal aromatics further enhance my congenial mood and, hopefully, will be tolerated (if not appreciated) by the innocent bystanders at parties. The lineup for this month’s review are two blends eminently suitable for smoking amongst a crowd, holiday releases from Cornell & Diehl with the perfect combination of charming room notes and satisfying smokes: We Three Kings and Jolly Old St Nicholas—offerings that should intrigue even the grinchiest among us. Inspired by the first widely popular Christmas carol written in the U.S. (1857), We Three Kings alludes to the Magi who traveled to the nativity bearing exotic spices and treasures. Delivering rich Black Cavendish with equal measures of matured Red and Bright Virginias and specially sourced Katerini Turkish leaf, this magical holiday mixture delights with notes of allspice, cinnamon, and vanilla. So reads the tin description for C&D’s twist on a bog-standard aromatic formula, and it’s certainly spot-on in the tin description for its mild mid-range palette of decidedly tobacco-forward flavors. The Katerini leaf here is in fine form, taking cues from the light casing and further enhancing the spice profile rather than being just another leaf in the mix. Opening the year-old tin from its slumber releases a core of sweet Virginia aromas couched in complementary shades and tones: wine and parchment, sour fruit, pecan pie fresh from the oven, smoky cherry, furniture polish and a vanilla candle in the kitchen. Immediately apparent is that this is not in the category of goopy aromatics; the leaf is soft and lightly moist, and feels good in the fingers with its strands of ribbon, bits of tumbled flake, and thicker jet-black Cavendish leaving no sticky residue from handling during preparation. A few minutes’ drying time and the flavors transcribe from tin to palate admirably from the first light. The smoke is mildly sharp and tangy with the Katerini leaf evincing the strengths of the Turkish profile, leaning the flavors into the smoky end of the spectrum while being propped up by the natural sweetness of the Virginia and the subtle casing. Paired with a nice cup of Earl Grey or an after-dinner coffee, a couple of bowls close out an evening magnificently, enveloping the smoker and surrounds in a very cozy rustic aroma; it does lay a smidge on the astringent side, so exercise caution with repeated bowls. First introduced in 2014, We Three Kings was in stock at, and worth keeping a tin on hand even during the off season. [Editor’s note: This is sold out at time of publication, but check this link in the future.] A largesse of St. Nick’s personal smoking mixture, this magical blend combines the finest golden Virginias with mellow Black Cavendish and a whisper of genuine St. James Perique for complex tobacco flavor enhanced by notes of orange liqueur and hints of ginger – alluding to an early legend of Kris Kringle secretly gifting gold to a needful family. Fresh for this 2022 season, a revamping of the 2018 Christmas release Jolly Old St Nicholas, this time with a bit of St. James Perique in the mix. An aromatic twist on a solid VaPer base has been done before, calling to mind BriarWorks’ Sweet Tea among other concoctions; this one just hits all the right spots in all the right places. The tin aroma is especially alluring, considering it’s only a month old—Virginia hay-tone sweetness set against a mouth-watering orange liqueur, with creamy undertones of anise and ginger, building hearty chocolate-covered cherry overtones along with the familiar woody and leathery Virginia backbone after some airing time in the tin. The blend of leaf is a roughly even mix of light Virginia leaf and nuggety Black Cavendish and Perique, and like We Three Kings it is not heavily sauced, only slightly moist in the tin and needing a short fifteen-ish minutes’ dry time to prepare a bowl. [Available here.] The smoke itself does not carry over as much of the orange flavor as the tin note, instead shifting complexion to offer some nutty character reminiscent of burley—“chestnuts roasting on an open fire” certainly comes to mind—with a spicy melange wrapped around the core tastes of sweet Virginia and Cavendish. The Perique lends a wonderful earthiness to the tones even while accentuating the sweetness, presenting flavors of chocolate and bready treats, the citrusy spice of orange pomander balls, butternut squash, cinnamon latte and panettone. The sidestream smoke and room note are equally delicious, and have elicited nothing but compliments amongst friends. Burning easily and cool with small sips, an added bonus is the subdued aftertaste of Necco wafers when finishing a bowl. Smells delightful, lights easily, burns easily, delivers superb flavor with subtlety and complexity, no bite—this is easily the best aromatic blend I’ve had this year, and gives my all-time favorite, the erstwhile Peterson 2010 holiday blend made by Kohlhase & Kopp, a run for the gold; I would love to see this blend kept in regular production. Just in case it’s not, I’ll be stocking my cellar up in anticipation of Christmases future. Again reflecting on the relative luxury which I am afforded this year, I hope that all our readers have ample time this holiday to enjoy one of these blends or pull out a favorite from their own cellar, reflect on the past year with temperate eyes and count their blessings, and be pleased with the dividends while striving for a better tomorrow.


  • Tobacco-Leaves-by-Pease-01
    Bones to Pick

    It doesn’t happen very often – I’m usually a pretty laid back guy – but there are times when I can get really cranky. Usually, it’s over a driver performing stupid human tricks on the overcrowded California highways. Or it can be some loudmouthed wackadoodle, clearly unfettered by even a rudimentary knowledge of the pertinent facts, regurgitating preposterous propaganda. Most often, it’s something I’ve read on the interwebs about things I care deeply about that raises my ire. Maybe I’m not quite as Jimmy Buffett laid-back as I’d like to be. A brief holiday in Margaritaville might be in order, or a cheeseburger in paradise. If you haven’t sussed it, I’m proudly wearing my cranky pants today. Why? A friend made me aware of comments made by a self-styled expert in which a tobacco was described as “garbage.” No, it wasn’t one of mine; the manufacturer and the blend are irrelevant. What set my neck hairs on edge was the fact that this “expert” hadn’t even finished one bowl of the blend, and felt fully and righteously justified in proclaiming it as worthy only of being consigned to the rubbish bin. We’ve all seen similar comments; they’re all over the interwebs. A brief scan of the review sites for any kind of product reveals similar silliness; the web has made it far too easy for people to say all kinds of nasty things without the restraint of being eye-to-eye with someone when they do it. This sort of thing drives me crazy in general, but when it’s about pipes and tobacco, the twisting of my knickers is soon to follow.  I haven’t tried them all, but it’s highly improbable that any pipe tobacco being made today is deserving of this sort of damning. Every manufacturer of premium pipe tobacco on the planet carefully selects their leaf, and contrary to statements made by someone who should have known better, the leaf available to us today is as good, and in many cases better, than it’s ever been. By the time we make our selections, inferior leaf has all gone on to other products, and we’re choosing from high-quality, carefully aged tobaccos. All of us. We are actually afforded some slight benefit from the fact that our little corner of the overall tobacco market is a small fraction of what it was decades ago. The competition for premium leaf is not as high as it once was, so we get to choose from some really good stuff.  The leaf we’re offered is carefully managed from grower to supplier, is properly cured and aged. It’s then skillfully processed into thoughtfully considered blends. The finished product may not be to our tastes, but that’s okay. There’s a lot of stuff out there that I don’t care for; that doesn’t make it bad. Different horses for different courses. Making statements like, “This is just crap,” is not only insulting to the people behind the product, it’s also insulting to the many who might actually like it. Economic forces pretty much ensure that products would not survive long in a crowded market if there weren’t people buying and enjoying them. Garbage? I’d be hard pressed to find anything currently produced that deserves that appellation. But, the bigger deal, the thing that really gets me het up is this. I’ve said it a thousand times. Okay, maybe not, but I’ve thought it at least that many times. If we smoke a single bowl of any tobacco in a single pipe, we actually know very little about it. Last month, I talked about the ghosts of tobaccos past that haunt our bowls, and in a way, this is sort of an extension of that, and this morning’s bowl serves as an excellent example. I filled a great smoking pipe with some wonderful vintage leaf, and the resulting smoke damn near set my senses on fire, and not in a good way. There are a few factors that might have caused this: my own mood, or the way I packed the bowl, or the lingering effects of my morning java, or what I ate for dinner last night, or, I dunno, maybe cosmic rays or space alien mind-control experiments.  That very same tobacco smoked later in a different pipe was pretty darn marvelous. Neither of these two experiences reveals much about the tobacco itself. I’ll have finished the tin before I would be willing to tell its story, and, to be completely candid, there is not one tobacco that I’ve enjoyedl that hasn’t disappointed me in some way at least once along the road to grokking it. This doesn’t mean we have to smoke a dozen or more bowls of anything to discover whether or not we like it. But, putting something we don’t care for aside for a while, coming back to it another time still might not be a bad course of action. Tastes change, sometimes with the seasons or the years, and what suits us today may be very different from what brings us joy later, but most of us have a pretty good idea of what fits our tastes today and what doesn’t. I’m pretty confident in my own tastes after all these years, and if someone offers me a bowl of Cherries Jubilee, I can fairly accurately predict that I ain’t gonna like it, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s bad, and someday, I might change my mind and give it a fair shot. Pronouncing judgment without a trial would be in violation of the Pipe Smoker’s Constitution. (There isn’t one. Maybe there should be.)  If a tobacco is in a style we enjoy, and we decide to try it, don’t we owe it more than a few minutes of our time? More than a bowl or two? After all, for some reason, we were enticed by it enough to buy it. Fact is, no matter how long we’ve been at this, pipe smoking remains an art of exploration. It’s all about experiences, […]

  • Ghost Busting

    “O, begone ye ghosts of tobaccos past! Out, out, I say!” Obviously, I’m not talking about treasured memories of long-gone blends, but of the sometimes everlasting impressions left in the briar after years of smoking particular tobaccos. I feel like I’ve written a bazillion words about this. It’s somewhat fewer than that, but it’s something I’ve prattled on about many times, in columns, in articles, on forum posts. Years ago, I published an article about a drastic, but fairly effective way of exorcising smelly poltergeists from estate pipes using activated charcoal and the heat of an oven. It works, but carries some risks, and can’t be used on pipes with any sort of decorative application, so I have been reluctant to apply it to any pipe that was somehow special. I’ve talked about salt and alcohol, about boiling high proof spirits and using retorts to thoroughly cleanse a bowl. Hell, for all I know, I may have briefly mentioned engaging the services of  a young priest and an old one to perform certain arcane rites.  The fact remains, however, that for years, I’ve been pretty steadfast in my opinion that once a briar has been tainted with strongly aromatic tobaccos, there’s little hope of ever fully redeeming it, that it will always taint the smoke in a way that I would find objectionable. Have I changed my spots? Maybe a little. But, it has more to do with me, my expanding smoking tastes, and perhaps a tendency for greater acceptance than it does with the very long persistence of memory that pipes seem to possess.  My prejudice against aromatics started pretty early. The goopy, syrupy blends that were so popular at the local mall tobacconist just didn’t do it for me. Sure, they smelled okay, even kind of nice in the jars, or when someone else was smoking them, but to me, they delivered nothing beyond hot air and frustration with keeping them lit. I tried a lot of them with no real joy to be found, ultimately growing to almost loathe the stuff. When I ultimately cut my “adult” teeth on things like Dunhill’s Standard Mixture, Balkan Sobranie and Garfinkel’s fabled Orient Express #11, quite a few of my attitudes about what works for my tastes and what doesn’t were cast in mental concrete, nearly as persistent as the ghosts that haunt some of those old briars. So, for many years, I smoked almost exclusively Latakia mixtures, and when I encountered one of those aromatic-ghosted pipes, I’d recoil in horror. To my palate, the combination of heavy, cookie factory aromatic remnants and latakia is just wrong. Unpalatably so. Sure, there are excellent blends designed from the go with Latakia and some sort of topping, but cookie dough aromatics and classic mixtures work as well together as strawberry preserves on a fine steak. I love strawberry preserves. I love steak. I just don’t want them on the same plate.  My early relationship to Latakia felt almost like an arcane initiation into a secret society that would exile me if it was discovered that I’d strayed from the proscribed orthodoxy. I was not alone. Many of the cadre of pipe folk I socialized with at the time were equally dedicated to the smoky stuff. Sure, there were others who tried in vain to convert me to follow their ways, to lead me astray from my chosen path, but I remained steadfast, a knight of the cause. I was a Latakiaphile.  Admittedly, once in a while, I’d sneak a bowl or three of some VA blend, enjoying the interplay of the latent Latakia aromas and flavors from my pipe as they mingled with the sweetness of the Virginias, but I’d always return to my comfort zone before the smoke cleared. This went on for years. Had I saved all my old tins, those that once contained a Latakia mixture would outnumber everything else by a factor of hundreds.  When I finally began more studious exploration (largely fueled by developing my own blends—it’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years), digging my teeth into a broader palette of different blend styles, not to mention the pleasures to be found in so many non-Latakia vintage tobaccos, I slowly began to emerge from my rut, even taking real pleasure in other styles: Virginias, virginia/perique blends, burley blends, even some aromatics. The diversity and range available became somehow important to my pipe smoking journey, and diving deeper into those waters, I found these blends ticking boxes that I hadn’t even realized I’d missed. As the chains of Latakia mixtures loosened, I was exploring with a much more open mind, perhaps some epistemic humility, and ultimately enjoying the ride. I’ve even developed some aromatics blends. One thing that has not changed, mostly, is my opinion on aromatic ghosts, at least with respect to latakia mixtures. I still do not want strawberry preserves on my steak. Mostly. Going through some old, dusty boxes recently, I came across a lovely old Pierre Morel “Fleur” that I’d got years ago. Uncovering this gem, hoping for a nice bowl of some smoky goodness, I was immediately reminded of why it had been sequestered in that box in the first place. I recalled the hot summer day the pipe arrived, and my excitement when I opened the parcel to reveal my new treasure. The heat from being in the post truck liberated a scent that rose from the open box without warning. Years of strongly flavored aromatic tobaccos had left an indelible mark. Undaunted, I went to work, reaming it to the walls, cleaning the shank thoroughly with many pipe cleaners and 95% ethanol from the lab, followed by not one but three cycles of a 24 hour treatment of salt/alcohol. There was some improvement, but the ghosts still rattled their chains loudly, and even after quite a few smokes, it was still intense enough that I put the pipe in that now dusty box, and forgot about it. But, things […]

  • Lots of Pipe Bags Means Lots of Pipes
    You Have HOW Many Pipes?

    I actually don’t really know. I mean, I have some vague idea, more of a guess, a sort of order of magnitude dart throw. I swear, this isn’t a point of pride or some kind of bench racing brag, but rather something closer to embarrassment. As I wander through the boxes, racks, pouches, bags full of pipes, in an attempt to 1) get them into a semblance of order, and 2) think about thinning the herd a little, it’s feeling a little daunting. Worse, it’s not the first time I’ve been through this, and I’m afraid it might not be the last.  It all began at a time when I would answer the question, “How many pipes do you need?” with the ever so witty, “Just one more.” I know I’m not alone there. I sometimes feel like there should be a twelve-step program for the pipe acquisition afflicted. But, they’re such compelling little things; tiny works of functional art, where the beauty of the wood and the skill of the maker come together to yield something that’s too often hard to resist.  I easily recall my early days as a young pipe smoker, enthusiast, burgeoning collector, fanatic, whatever I was at the time. I was full of wild enthusiasm towards building up a good collection. It began with just wanting a nice seven-day set, so I could let my pipes rest a week between smokes as I was told was necessary for optimal smoking. That happened fairly quickly, though my seven pipes weren’t all anything to be truly proud of. Then, I wanted enough pipes for two weeks, because I began to think that if one week of rest was good, two would surely be better. After that, it really did seem a good idea to have different pipes for different types of tobacco. (I still adhere to this notion fairly strictly.) And, then there should be smaller pipes for shorter smokes, larger ones for the longer, leisurely periods. See where it starts? When we’re told that a seven-day “set” is an almost necessary practicality, at least if we’re going to truly enjoy smoking a pipe on a daily basis, “they” might as well give us the first one free. The seven-day, at least for me, quickly revealed itself to be a gateway drug, leading me by the hand down a dark corridor to a much more sinister affliction.  So, thus disordered over the years, I’ve found myself collecting brands, makers, pipes from specific countries, shapes, finishes – if there’s a way to categorize pipes, I’ve probably at some point had a sub-collection specializing in that particular categorization. I’m a pipe nerd; things like this are bound to happen. At some point in the journey, I had the bizarre notion that if I ever were ever to reach 100 pipes, I’d surely have enough, and I could stop looking for new ones. Or, perhaps better still, the collection could remain at or near that figure by careful selling and trading. This delusional strategy worked just fine. Until it didn’t. The collection continued to grow. More and more of the pipes in my collection began to take on some sort of emotional value.  I’ve mentioned in the past that pipes can be talismans of events, or even more importantly, of people. Recently, I was reminded of an old friend who sold me a very special Castello 55 from his own collection. He is no longer with us, but that pipe will always remind me of him, of his vast knowledge, freely shared, of Castello pipes.  I now have a lot of pipes like that. Some of them I smoke regularly, and the idea of parting with them never even occurs to me. Others, I don’t, for whatever reason, but when I think about putting them on the block, they whisper their stories in my ear, and back they go until the next round. The century mark has long ago come and gone. A bunch of years ago, I was fairly successful in weeding the garden a bit, selling off quite a few, and feeling quite proud of myself for thinking that, just maybe, I might once again find 100 pipes in my collection, this time coming at it from the other direction. I’m sure it’s no surprise that this hasn’t happened. What’s wrong with having so many, some would say too many pipes? It’s hard to find an answer I can really live with. I suppose perhaps the worst thing is that some of them, even the special ones, might be too-long ignored. Maybe this isn’t really a bad thing. Once in a while, there’s the opportunity to rediscover some old gem, listen again to the stories it might tell, put it into rotation for a while, and experience it all over again. Maybe it’s just keeping track of everything amidst my disorganized chaos, or finding suitable ways to display them all, while keeping them clean and dusted, or just finding them if they’re bagged up in their fancy leather gloves. Maybe it’s just me fostering feelings of excess, latent notions of decadent overindulgence. I should talk with my therapist about that. What I do know is that no matter how, or how many times I examine my “condition,” the same conclusion persists. I have a lot of pipes, and it’s highly likely that this will not only be an enduring condition, but it’s probably only going to get worse.  There are times when a particular piece just stops speaking to me, and even that can be a problem. In the past, I’ve too hastily sold off or traded a piece that no longer felt special, only to years later regret parting with it, wishing I’d kept it. Or worse, scouring estate pipe offerings looking for it, or at least a suitable stand-in. There was this lovely old Charatan Executive, you know, and a pair of Larsen bulldogs, one straight, the other bent, that were different from any seen […]

The Pipe Pundit

  • Some favorite blends that go well in spring, or anytime, especially when outside. (Photo: Fred Brown)
    Curing the Rough Edges

    Ahh, just the thought of April showers bringing May flowers is enough to demand a commune with flora and fauna, to look up and around and admire nature’s latest colorful canvas. And, likewise, May is the perfect time to roam the hills and dales with a fine briar and a pouch of your favorite blend. The weather is generally exactly right for walking and puffing (a pipe, that is, and not from an uphill huff and wheeze). The Pundit dons walking shoes each May, searching for some of the more elusive wildflowers in the mountains and the flatlands. It is a fun, rewarding, and energizing experience. Not to mention some needed exercise in the old-fashioned way—walking. Take the beautiful and elusive fire pink wildflower (Silene virginica) in the family Caryophyllaceae. This beauty of the wilds is a Pundit fav. Unfortunately, some reports say this gorgeous wild thing is becoming harder to locate. I have found that to be true as well. These Merry Month of May wildflower jaunts always go better with my pipe. That is especially true when I find a new wild plant with which I have never crossed paths before. Out comes my handy-dandy plant identifier on the old smartphone, take a seat in front of the new marvel and contemplate its history with a pipeful. Take time to enjoy your surroundings and savor the natural world around you, including the briar and leaf, another aspect of nature’s bounty. With this spring’s arrival, the Pundit has found new loves among freshly minted blends. At times, I do return to some old familiars—Sir Walter Raleigh, Half & Half, Prince Albert, etc., the drug store blends of yore. On a nostalgic note, the codger blends return me to college classroom days when many of my profs in English lit and history puffed the aforementioned tobaccos. I relish those fond memories and can even recall the herbal-like scent in the classroom as smoke sifted out over aspiring scholars. Now, some favorite offerings for out-and-about walks from the minds of Jeremy Reeves at Cornell & Diehl, say, or the mystical intellect of G.L. Pease, both of whom have fashioned some of the fine blends in the past dozen years. Pundit is just featuring a couple of the master blenders here. Lo, there are so many great tobacco blending gurus today that it would take a long shopping list of names to do the subject a deserved justice. So, just a couple the Pundit is trying as of this writing. Folklore: Ran across this blend from Reeves C&D Small Batch production last year. Cellared for a bit of aging and preparing now to break it out for the real test—outside on a “naturalist” walk, ahem and ahem! The original blend description said Folklore paid “tribute to the traditions and customs of cultures across the globe. . . Small Batch Folklore celebrates five distinct flue-cured varietals, elevated by delicate accompaniments of genuine St. James Parish Perique, lightly smoke-cured Kentucky, and exotic Kasturi leaf from 2015. “This solid-brick crumble cake is rich and elegant, with notes of sweet fruit, citrus, warming spices, and woodsy undertones.” The beautiful blend was also the first 16-ounce offering in the C&D Small Batch lineup. If you missed it, sorry. Sold out now at Next up is one of my absolute favorites, G.L. Pease and Drucquer & Sons First Amendment. Pundit is naturally attracted to this blend, not only for its fond farewell on the palate, but also because it is easy on the tongue and retro hales like a floral bouquet. Please excuse the long explanation snatched from here, but it has the history as well as the blend’s makeup: “Founded in 1841, Drucquer & Sons was a famed London tobacco shop that relocated to Berkeley, Calif., in 1928. The shop was more than just a tobacconist though; it was a community. It was where some of the greatest tobacco blenders in recent memory — like Carl Ehwa of McClelland and Gregory Pease of G.L. Pease — first plunged their hands into fragrant tobacco. The historic shop may be gone, but its rich history and brand of pipe tobaccos continues, reformulated from their original recipes by Gregory Pease (and made by Cornell & Diehl) for the modern smoker. “The First Amendment to the Drucquer catalog in 40 years, this blend celebrates the collective right to free expression with an enduring formula of Red and Bright Virginia tobaccos and fine air-cured leaf, seasoned with Cypriot Latakia and Louisiana Perique, then pressed and aged in cakes and sliced.” And a final note on another Pundit love, Cornell & Diehl: Sun Bear Mountain Flower. “Sun Bear Mountain Flower combines top-tier Bright Virginias with two distinct varietals of matured Oriental leaf. Natural casings of silver tequila and elderflower complement these tobaccos, alongside a drizzle of raw, unpasteurized honey to elevate the leaf’s inherent sweetness and floral notes.” Previous Sun Bear versions were sweetened with honey from a variety of farms or gardens, and even honey from Reeves’ honeybee hives. Some of the natural sweeteners were “ethically sourced wildflower and blackberry honey from a family-owned apiary in Morganton, N.C., the community in which C&D called home for over 20 years. The organic Mountain Flower honey complements Sun Bear’s tobaccos, elevating their fruity and floral notes for a bright, refreshing character and a creamy rounded finish,” according to the description. As the portrayal says, Sun Bear Mountain Flower is not an aromatic but a composite of Virginias and oriental flakes. My favorite tobacco reviewer, Jiminks, gave Sun Bear a four-star rating when this version of the small batch from Reeves arrived in 2022. And before departing our spring fling, here is a final pipe smoking notable for May: Harold Wilson, former United Kingdom prime minister. Born March 11, 1916, in Huddersfield, England, and died, on May 24, 1995, in London. I’m an optimist, but an optimist who carries a raincoat. Harold Wilson. And from the Pundit: Like fine tobacco and wine, […]

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    Je suis la pipe

    Let’s take a quick trip to the long, long ago. Back of the beyond, as the wanderlust mountain adventurer and pipe-smoking author Horace Kephart once said of a hiking trip into the deep woods and ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains. The time of this Pundit adventure was somewhere in the late 1940s or early 1950s on a peanut farm in the dust-covered and rutted red clay roads of South Georgia. My grandfather was a farmer of anything that would grow green, including tobacco, sorghum, peanuts, corn, vegetables, and on and on. He even kept pigs around for (uh) slaughter and butchering for his smokehouse. Pipe firmly clinched, grandpa, of course, performed the slaughtering and butchering while his grandchildren cringed on the sidelines. He smoked a corncob pipe, usually grabbing a browning barn-aging leaf from a hanging stalk. He’d crumble the leaf in his palms, stuff it into the battered and rim-carved cob, strike a kitchen match off a hip of his overalls, and puff contentedly. I tried an immature leaf once, just like my grandfather. Ripping the match up my backside and puffing. My pipe-loving friends, that is not recommended. I turned as green as a fresh tobacco leaf. I shan’t tell you the rest. You can imagine if you’ve ever experienced a seismic nicotine hit! And, ahem, I may have been all of 10 years old at the time. I figured anything my grandpa did was simply fine for moi! Again, not recommended. What has me in a reflective mood is the recent bulk and tin order from A nice 16-ounce bag of Gawith Hoggarth’s No. 25 Mixture accompanied by its beauty of a tobacco jar (it’s a tight-locking can) and a couple of small batch tins of Erik Stokkebye’s 4th Generation Resolution. One of my earlier years of sampling Gawith blends was the hefty 1792 flake. Brothers of the briar, I was slam dunked (please note the reference here to March Madness of bracket basketball and now the Final Four crescendo) once again with a volcanic nicotine eruption! And those of the Briar Brotherhood who enjoy a bit of history will recall that the Revolutionary Wars in France began in 1792. The conflicts of that era led to King Louis XVI losing his head (um, ah, via the guillotine in 1793). This was just one year after old Sam Gawith and Thomas Harrison, his father-in-law, moved the entire kit and kaboodle tobacco operation (snuff was big then) from Scotland to the Lake District of Merry Ol’ England. The ye olde tobacco equipment from the time of Louis XVI (with head firmly attached before the fatal blow) continues today in use for the famed Gawith and Gawith & Hoggarth tobacco blends. So the lesson here is to watch those muscular nicotine contents if you are a wuss, like the Pundit. However, I do enjoy the G&H aromatic mixtures, such as No. 25. Sweet, easy on the tongue, and the nic hit is not a blast of the sweats and other drastic bodily events. No. 25 is quite easy on the nerves and is an all-day smoke for the Pundit, as are many other G&H aromatics. I avoid twists, ropes, and plugs with strength ratings off the charts. I’m just not tough enough for these nicotine brutes but admire you pipe puffers who handle them, including something called a bogie, with little or no loud emissions from the netherworld. And here is trusting that my pipe-puffing pals enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day with your favorite Wearin’ O’ the Green and a pipe full of, mayhaps, Cornell & Diehl’s 2023 St. Patrick’s Day Reserve from the rich mind of talented and creative C&D master blender Jeremy Reeves. Of course shared with chums over an Irish pint or some Irish coffee, hopefully. And just because St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone doesn’t mean you can’t share a pint with your puffing pals. And now a note from a pipe-smoking Irish Bard, just to top off the day: Mistakes are the portals of discovery—Irish author James Joyce. From the Irish to the greatest of American pipe and cigar-smoking authors, Mark Twain. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, famously known to the world as Mark Twain, was born Nov. 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, and died April 21, 1910, in Stormfield, Redding, Conn. There are too many quotes from this greatest of authors, but here are just a couple of Pundit’s favorites: I have never let my schooling interfere with my education—Mark Twain Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been—Mark Twain And another tip of the hat to the French Wars mentioned earlier. Charles Pierre Baudelaire, a pipe-smoking French poet, was born April 9, 1821, in Paris, France, and died Aug. 31, 1867, in Paris. Baudelaire comes to mind since he penned a poem from the viewpoint of his pipe! This fell under the collection of Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil). Yes, that’s right. Just a few words from les poem, maestro, if you please: I am the pipe of an author; One sees. . .That my master’s a great smoker. Spring has sprouted (les Pundit is not les poet). That means days are longer and pipes and tobaccos have more time to bring much joy to our lives. And in our efforts channeling Baudelaire, Je suis la pipe d’un auteur. Until next time pipe-smoking friends.

  • A couple of "authors," better known as Savinelli 320s, worth packing with good leaf and topping off with a good book. Photo by Fred Brown
    The Pipes and Tobacco Life

    Ah, yes, March rolls in a-roarin’ like a lion and trots out like a sweet, innocent little lamb. So they say, whoever they are. Let’s not forget college basketball’s March Madness is also in this maelstrom. And Pundit is here to tell you that means only one thing, my pipe-loving amigos. The weather is getting about right and it’s time to grab a pipe and a new blend. And make certain the tele is in good working order for crazy Final Four Bracket hoops time. Just what the Pundit had in mind: a new pipe and a new blend for this mad, mad, mad month. But first, a bit of history. It will be brief for you non-history aficionados out there. Shame, shame. So, there was a day when the Pundit was a touch wet behind the ears (groan) and green as a freshly harvested stalk of green tobacco (better). One day in the deep iron and wheels of Atlanta while sauntering about and looking at pipes in a corner shop, well-known then for its fine offerings of Charatans and other legendary pipes, a veteran B&M and owner suggested I take a peek at his Savinellis. Now being a be-bopping college guy, Pundit said, “sure, is it parked outside?” and proceeded to look about for a snappy Italian sportscar. Let’s just say the B&M veteran pipe store owner tried to hold back a cheek-filling guffaw before sputtering, “you are kidding, of course!” Not to expose more ignorance, I just nodded and stared at a wall of pipes. Welcome to Pundit’s introduction to the famed Italian pipe makers of Savinelli. Today, Pundit owns quite a few Savinells, especially the “author” or the 320 KS, 320, and 321 series. All three have that pure “writerly” look to the Pundit’s eye. In a word or three, Savinellis are exquisite works of operatic tone and aura. Yes, most Savinellis are machined but are completely finished by hand, meaning artisans take over from the industrial side to finish things. So, Pundit was off and puffing with Savinellis, especially when he found the author group. Throw in a couple of Savinelli handmade Autographs and the mighty Hercules style of Roman and Greek mythology to sweeten the herd. While on mystical thoughts, the Savinellis—which ring with foreign intrigue for the Pundit—opened a brave new world for fresh pipe adventures. No longer a stranger in a strange pipelandia, basket pipes of questionable heritage, gave way to handmade wonders to behold. Oh, the Pundit fell in love with the singular Savinelli Autographs, but this also brought into focus other Italian pipe makers, such as Ardor, Ser Jacopo, and Claudio Cavicchi, among others. This of course led to the sky is no limit sort of thinking. Next arrived the Great Danes, such as Neerup, Bjarne Nielsen, Harcourt, Stanwell, and Erik Stokkebye 4th Generation. You’ll note that none of these brands were in the stratospheric price range, such as a Bo Nordh. Then came a whole array of exquisitely made English pipes, such as Dunhill, Ashton, and Peterson (in the Irish tradition, of course, in pipe making in Great Britain). Never mind independent pipe-carvers, who abound in our galaxy of wonder. This is just a quick history of loping down one pipe-puffing lane, as it were. This is to say, pipe smokers of today are blessed and afforded such magnificent pieces of briar for smoking, relaxing and just simply enjoying a day away from stress and worry. Looking at you, March Madness! Just to be transparent, as they like to say in today’s media frenzy, Pundit apologizes for not alerting you to International Pipe Smoking Day on Feb. 20. Oh, the horror! So a respectful roundup of pipes in the Pundit pack serves as a kiss and make-up for overlooking one of our global events enjoyed by millions. And, yes, more expensive pipes do smoke better in most cases. However, I have a couple of basket pipes that outperform some herd pipes in the posh and ritzy crowd. For any newbies out there, in an old-school B&M, you can still find decent basket pipes. Later you can reach for the stars of pipe making and tobacco blending. Pundit began stuffing Prince Albert, Granger, Sir Walter Raleigh, and non-descript drug store bulk blends into his first pipes. It was good enough for many of my college professors, so I thought it would naturally make me smarter if I mimicked the academics. That scheme didn’t work out as planned. But there is always hope and another pipeful. So, here is to more pipes, more pipe tobacco, and more pipe puffing enjoyment for the wilds of March, and beyond. Now for our pipe-smoking celeb for March: Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known simply as Dr. Seuss, legendary children’s author. He was born March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Mass., and died: on Sept. 24, 1991, in San Diego, Calif. Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one—Dr. Seuss And a philosophical note from The Pundit: Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus philosophized around 535 BC that “change is the only constant in life.” Pundit, a primordial pipelospher says “constant change in pipes and tobacco is the life.”