- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 585
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 585. Our featured interview tonight is with Glen Whelan. Glen is the Director of Sales for Peterson of Dublin. Peterson is a family tradition for Glen. His father worked in the factory for 50 years, eventually serving as Factory Manager. Although Glen now serves as Director of Sales, he started as a part-time retail associate in the Peterson store at the age of 16. After more than a decade in Peterson retail, Glen joined the sales team in Sallynoggin. At the top of the show, we will have an “Ask the Pipemaker” segment with Jeff Gracik.
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 584
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 584. We have a special show tonight where there will not be an interview, but we will have Jon David Cole as co-host. JD is the Owner/Tobacconist at The Country Squire in Jackson, MS, and he is the former co-host of the now discontinued podcast, Country Squire Radio. Country Squire Radio ran for 10-years and is still one of the most popular pipe-niche podcasts. Brian and Jon David will be talking all things pipes and tobacco, and we will get an update on what’s new at The Country Squire. We will be preempting our usual first segment to start right off with JD. We will have the usual music, mailbag and rant at the end of the show.
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 583
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 583. Our featured interview tonight is with Tanner Halligan. Tanner is from Columbus Ohio, and makes the Butterbone Briars line of pipes. He first tried pipe smoking in high school with some friends, and enjoyed it on and off. About a year ago he began making pipes part-time, but was struggling until he decided to buy some pipe making kits by RawKrafted. The kits are made at Smoker’s Haven in Columbus. Tanner went into the shop and was immediately hired by shop owner and pipe maker Premal Chheda. With Premal’s mentoring, Tanner’s pipe making skills took a big leap forward. At the top of the show, we’ll have a Pipe Smoking 101 segment on flake tobaccos.
- Seattle Pipe Club Down Yonder Review
Hot off the presses, quite literally: Seattle Pipe Club’s Down Yonder is our subject for perusal in this installment. Continuing Joe Lankford’s legacy blends with the Signature Series, this tin contains a deceptively simple tobacco: nothing but well-stoved Brazilian-grown Virginia leaf, pressed into crumble cakes. While it still feels a little young in the tin to my palate, with a little bit of time this stuff doubtless has great potential to open up. Advance sneak-peeks of review blends are truly a treasure to tickle the senses. The opportunity to boldly smoke what no-one (or at least only a select few) has smoked before is like Christmas in August. That it was a forthcoming SPC blend that had mysteriously appeared in my mailbox was a double joy. From the tin, adorned with Grant Wood’s American Gothic couple poking out of the roundel: In the country, Down Yonder is far away, often beyond the horizon. And a wish for simpler times. This delicious pure Virginia just might take you there. Rare Brazilian Virginia leaf is remarkably smooth from the unique stoving process. Slow steam and heating ferments and darkens the tobaccos. The aroma is heady and rich with hints of sweetness. Stoving was one of Joe Lankford’s favorite methods. So travel Down Yonder and back to a bygone era. It will be worth the journey. So what is this mixture about? Well, like the rather rustic name, it’s plain yet evocative. On peeling back the lid from this one-week-old tin, the dark mahogany leaf seems almost trepidatious, unsure about releasing its aroma. When it does, nothing so much as dark, overripe prunes dominate initially, but after catalyzing in oxygen for some time the more subtle nuances of the leaf begin to tease out. The ruddy black color is an indication of where the aromas lie: prune and raisin, paste wax, belt leather, burned coffee, fresh cut maple wood, turned earth, dry milk chocolate. The sweetness, in fact, doesn’t develop in the aroma as one might anticipate from the richness of the leaf; at least not yet, anyway. There is something very classic about the bouquet: it’s the scent of the tobacco stores of yesteryear. It’s almost too easy to smoke, in every regard. The crumble cake presentation is at once both hearty and efficient: the big, chunky logs remind me of filet mignon tips, while breaking them apart and packing up a bowl is effortless. Speaking of filet mignon, it’s perfectly suited to a pre- or post-steak (or burger, or roast, etcetera) smoke—the range of flavors complements meat quite well. Straight out of the tin it’s a bit moist, so give it time to breathe. The flavors of the smoke translate synonymously from the aromas. It takes occasional tending to keep the ember where you want it, but is otherwise as uncomplicated as the flavor. After the charring light, it settles in and delivers the prune and leather and coffee satisfyingly over the palate. The ad copy does not lie when it claims to be remarkably smooth—it decidedly is, leaving a comfortable, treacly flat-cola aftertaste on the tongue. If pushed it may tend toward souring, but is easy to manage and never evinced a hint of bite, even so young as it was. The stoving certainly rounds and enriches the leaf, exactly as touted. Perhaps the only thing better than receiving pre-release tobaccos is sharing them with an old friend. Near the end of my taste-testing week, my old buddy Carlos flew into town, and I was delighted to include him in the tasting regimen. We loaded up our pipes and headed out-of-doors, breaking the law ever-so-slightly to enjoy catching up on a bench in Central Park. After comparing tasting notes, our talk of course drifted to pipes and pipe makers; Carlos had found the perfect traveling pipes in Eltang Basics, and I will admit to just a tinge of jealousy and the onset of a mild case of PAD. I was enjoying one of my old Chacoms, a suitably simple Canadian that always treats Virginias well, this Down Yonder being no exception. We caught each other up on our lives, apperceptive of the lost pandemic years. The weather was perfect and the conversation flowed as easily as the smoke, lasting nearly an hour from a standard bowl, and helping us work up an appetite to continue our conversation over dinner. Though this entry in the SPC Signature Series is not a blend per se, it’s a delicious addition to the lineup both on its own merits and as a component in one’s own blending endeavors, as was Joe’s custom. A pinch added to a bright Virginia blend serves to mellow and smooth everything over gratifyingly; as a base which to add some whole-leaf Basma I happened to have laying around after the last review, it made for an incredible bedtime smoke. On its own it may be a one-note song, but a very good note it is—solid, tasty, old-timey tobacco flavor done right, consistent from start to finish. The room note is mild and, as mentioned, redolent of every tobacco shop there ever was. It is also best enjoyed with old friends to reminisce with, sharing talk of those times gone by, and times yet to come.
- G.L. Pease géométrie Review
Of course the tin caught my eye, how could it not? I’ve oft-professed my love of Modern art, particularly the era of Cubism and Brutalism and Neo-Plasticism, going so far as to foist it on you good people of the pipe-smoking public on occasion – The Pipe in Art: Juan Gris. So what was this pastiche of color on the tobacconist’s shelf? A new GL Pease blend, you say? Not only that, but a plug-cut, Virginia-Oriental blend? And it’s called ‘géométrie’? Well, you had me at Cubism. Moving past the lovely artwork adorning géométrie, the second installment of the ‘Zeitgeist’ collection, the description on the tin tells me that I’m practically guaranteed to fall in love with this blend: Overlapping planes of vintage, sun-cured Basma and Izmir leaf reframe the malty, natural sweetness of mature red Virginias in this modern expression of the classical Virginia/ Oriental archetype. Aged in cakes to deepen and enrich the flavors, this structured, plug-cut tobacco is poised to engage and intrigue all of the senses. Basma is a variety I’ve been fond of for some considerable time, since obtaining a pound of it from a fellow named Mark Ryan many years back. What I found in Basma was the component I didn’t know I’d been looking for—it turned my Virginia and Virginia-Perique blends into veritable malted milkshakes of tobacco-flavored goodness, imparting in them new textures and frames of reference which I hadn’t known existed. For this reason I’ve always kept a jar of it on hand for home blending and dressing-up familiar blends to give them new life. The flavor profile of Basma when smoked by itself is lightly sweet, mild, and floral, but in the absence of other leaf to play off of (and regulate burn) it quickly devolves into a rather bitter bouquet; “too much of a good thing…” being pertinent advice here. However, when added in slight percentage to almost any blend, magic happens every time. Sweet, sugar-laden Virginia profiles at once become couched in a creamy aspect that rounds all the sharp edges yet still allows the original tobaccos to express their individual voices. Basma’s own floral sweet and sour notes prove to be the perfect adjunct to all the common flavors and aromas in many blends: filling them out, amplifying or tempering them, and imparting its own color and a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel. Take any old Virginia-based blend that has grown dull from repetition, add some Basma, and you’ve got magic on your hands; I’ve even gone so far as to commit heresy by mixing it with vintage Escudo—and consider it only an improvement on perfection. In géométrie it is a relatively minor player, primarily softening the Izmir and providing a soothing counterpoint to the Red Virginia. Izmir, also known as Smyrna, leaf is of course well-known as a base constituent, used in most cigarette blends; its name is practically synonymous with the ‘Oriental’ or ‘Turkish’ tobacco flavor that dominates that market and is a good percentage of the pipe blends spectrum. Sourced from the Aegean region whence it is named, grown in rocky volcanic soil with ample drainage, Izmir’s flavor profile tends toward a slightly sharper shade of sweet and sour; lightly floral yet tangy, somewhat woody and nutty, mildly acrid with resinous overtones—think frankincense and myrrh. It’s used here with meticulous proportion, meted out in just the right measure so as to shepherd but not to overwhelm the blend entirely. Together with the Basma, the Orientals control the burn, temper and direct the sweetness, enrich the earthy notes, and give the entire composition a cohesive character. Opening the fresh tin, evidence of the Virginias’ anaerobic fermentation dominate: deep raisin, the umami of ketchup, gumdrop, green grape must, and dry leather. From the Orientals there are hints of pine: fresh spruce sap on the sweet end and creosote on the sour end; the earthy aroma spectrum also evinces potting soil, marigold, and occasional honeysuckle highlights. After some days exposed to air, the plug’s bouquet is more melded, emanating essences bready and woody and nutty: cinnamon-raisin bagel, walnut shell, old leather, stale red wine. As the days went by, I noted the overall impression of the nose sweetened, softened, and yet gained nuance all the same—some new scent-impression would seem to appear every time the tin was opened for a whiff. In the bowl, géométrie is exactly the malty, tangy concoction I’d anticipated. To prepare it I first went for a cube cut, which gave an excellent feel for the overall composition, but little separation of flavors. I then sliced a few flakes, though their inconsistency is testament to my failing eyesight—slight rant here, but if Mr. Pease continues to come out with amazing plug tobaccos, he could at least have the decency to also start selling little tobacco guillotines to go with them. Nonetheless, the preparation proved to allow the interplay of those layers to really emerge and give the impressions that we’re going for. Again and again, when speaking of GL Pease blends, one marvels at the absolutely perfect balance that is struck with the mixtures. Everything in its place, and a place for everything. Though it took some tending, the smoke really opened up with a fold & stuff method. Flavors would come alive, lend their voice, and then recede; there was a dynamism and rhythm that was absent from the cube-cut bowls. Often the character of the smoke veered to the spicy hints of shade-leaf cigars, with notes of allspice, clay, and tannin. In a few moments of just leaning back to daydream about the smoke, it was easy to envision slow walks amongst dusty library stacks, and paint drying on canvas. Perhaps above everything else, this is an easy blend to smoke. Light, yet full of flavor; sweet, yet tempered with spicy sour; rich, yet smooth and dry on the palate. It has all the complexity and nuance for meditative, ruminative smokes, yet is mild enough for revisiting a few times in a day. […]
- Ashton Gold Rush Tobacco Review
While it may seem like an easy gig to review tobacco, I assure you it is harder than it looks. Admittedly it’s no chore to enjoy a new blend on a regular basis. I would wager it’s an exceedingly low percentage of the PipesMagazine.com readership that limits themselves to a single tobacco to the exclusion of the panoply of concoctions available to us in our current golden age. Clearly there is no obstacle to finding another blend; the difficulty comes in making tobacco an essentially new experience, each and every time, to write about. With a limited variety of subject matter, finding and describing the unique nuances of flavor, particularly when wrapped in the familiar, can be a daunting proposition. Effectively, every new blend is a conversation to be had, a discovery to be made, and there is certainly art to this conversation. “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested.” Carnegie was paraphrasing a maxim attributed to the Hellenistic quipster Publilius Syrus and it certainly holds true as an agit of wisdom that has stood the test of time. It is fortunate that tobacco somehow holds a never-ending fascination for me. And so it is that I am continually (and pleasantly) surprised by the conversations I have had with the Ashton blends of late. They fly just a wee bit under the radar, eschewing the special editions and gimmickry that’s so common in the market now (not to imply those are bad things at all, mind you); a small stable of solid, everyday blends done well is a comfortable niche for them to occupy. It’s fitting for the marque, now manufactured by Kohlhase & Kopp, as the brand was built on genuine craftsmanship and refinement in flavor. In March we indulged our Guilty Pleasures, while this month’s installment will be a timely look at Gold Rush, a straight Virginia blend perfectly suited to warm weather smoking. The tin, in a lovely orange-gold hue and sporting a halftone graphic of miners toiling away, natch, promises a medium-bodied, easy smoke, “accented by traces of lemon and honey”. High marks for truth in advertising there. Though the burn characteristics perhaps require a bit more attention than is alluded to in the label copy, the flavor and aroma notes are spot on. Particularly when opening the fresh tin and in the first several smokes, a bright lemony note tempered by a background of honey sweetness prevail. The casing is moderate and pitched perfectly to the tobacco—this is by no means in the aromatic category. The leaf inside, mainly ribbon with some broken flake mixed in, is soft and of a uniform cappuccino brown. With some airing out time, the aroma moves through a spectrum of Meyer lemon rinds to white grape must, settling after some time with clear overtones of milk chocolate-covered raisin—who doesn’t love Raisinets?—along with the brighter citrusy and lightly floral notes, despite the lack of burley in the mix. Noticeably absent, or at least relegated to faint background chatter, are many of the more typical Virginia notes: when it speaks of grass, it’s more lemongrass than fresh cut hay, and the leathery notes are equally subdued, more ‘leather-bound book’ than ‘fresh-oiled saddle’. “It is one thing to speak much, another well.” Sophocles sure hit that nail on the head; it would make a fitting tagline for this blend. The tobacco and I found our common ground quickly and began gabbing away like old chums. While the top of the bowl is a faithful translation of the light and sweet tin note, once the ember is stoked and settled the conversation really picks up. In mid-bowl, the honeyed tones indicated on the tin come to the fore, and gentle waves of spice and green-wood campfire blend into the wildflower top notes deftly. The draft and mouthfeel are perfectly aligned and mild, with no bite unless carelessly overheated. It’s sober, restrained, light. There are no loud pronouncements from the tobacco, no argumentative constituents vying for center stage; but don’t mistake its simplicity of topic as boring or uninteresting. It’s a really good, straight-shooting Virginia flavor with shade, nuance, and turn of phrase, all while retaining a modest humility. Though it’s “just” a straight Virginia, it does this one thing oh, so well. In a literary callback to the last review, Gold Rush is much more Hemingway than Fitzgerald—simple thoughts stated simply, the profound import left to you. Speaking of light and sweet, I highly recommend this as a morning coffee smoke. The daily return to conscious enterprise has never been a favorite process of mine. I simply don’t function until I’ve had the first pot of coffee, fine motor skills and other higher functions generally rejoin at some point toward the end of the second pot, and I usually don’t smoke until well after dinner time. Something about this blend, though, recommends itself to breaking the fast: the uncluttered flavors, the facile smoking, the light dose of nicotine to gently waken and invigorate the senses. To borrow a phrase from another Hellenistic writer, silence is indeed one of the great arts of conversation, and sitting with the morning brew and a pipe of Gold Rush qualifies that gracefully. It is in these moments of meditative silence that I find the tobacco speaks its volumes. My one disappointment with the blend is the rather dull aftertaste, another point in favor of coffee to wash the palate. The room note is likewise mild and not very indicative of how good the flavor is, though it dissipates quickly. All in all, I’m chalking this up as another win for the Ashton brand, and look forward to my next confabulation with the line. Special thanks to Kevin at Davidoff’s midtown flagship location for the always-brilliant assistance, and conversation, about the blends.
- Musings on Pipe Clubs and Pipe Sizes
Saturday, I spent a wonderful day at Ohlone Cigar Lounge in Fremont, CA, sharing the stage with the ever charming Joe Fabian, who was doing a “Trunk Show” of Savinelli and Peterson pipes, which evolved into being as much of a pipe club experience as it was a sales event. It was a great opportunity to spend time with a bunch of folks talking about pipes, tobacco, food, cars, the joys of rigid-frame mountain bikes, and pretty much anything else that came up. To me, this sort of fellowship is one of the best things about pipe gatherings, and I certainly look forward to doing more in-store events in the future! At one point some of us had a conversation about why we tend to prefer one size or bowl shape to another, and we all had different views to share. Some choose pipes for their weight or their balance, others for their aesthetics, still others for capacity. This got me thinking about my own collection. While some may have very specific criteria, and their pipes exhibit a certain sort of “sameness,” my collection exhibits a pretty broad range of shapes and sizes from tiny to cavernous, and each has its place. For me, choosing the pipe I want to smoke is often as much a practical decision as it is one of whim and whimsy. On the practical side, one thing that often comes up for many of us is whether or not there is time to spend with a large bowl. For me, a certain irony arises in that decision process all too often; I think I don’t have time for a long smoke, but end up burning two small bowls instead, consuming as much time as the larger bowl would have, if not more. My whacky brain is now swirling with something almost too geeky to discuss, but I’m going to anyway. If you had, let’s say, a finite amount of tobacco and wanted to maximize your smoking time, would you be better off with smaller bowls or larger ones, especially wide, squat bowls vs. narrow, tall ones? How would you choose which pipe or pipes to smoke? Tall, narrow bowls filled with the same weight of tobacco seem to have a slight edge over wide, squat ones, at least with respect to time alight. As an informal experiment tonight, I chose a Castello 55 weighing in with a chamber diameter of 23mm and depth of 35mm, and my Sea Monster bent, with its 18mm x 53mm chamber. I chose these two because they are both exquisite smokes, and have similar chamber volumes. Each was filled with the same 2g weight of a VA tobacco, packed with a gravity fill followed by a very light tamp. The Castello gave up after 32 minutes. The Sea Monster lasted 40. I guess if you were stranded on that often discussed island, and maximizing your smoking time was an important consideration, you’d be better off with the tall, narrow bowl. But smoking time is certainly not all there is to consider in selecting a pipe to smoke; other differences are at least, if not more important, especially if maximizing enjoyment is the intention. Not surprisingly, the taste of the same tobacco from each of these two bowls was quite different. The smoke from the pot was a little sweeter, a little more complex, while the taller bowl delivered a brighter, more zesty flavor. In this case, both were delightful, but that hasn’t always been true. Is there such a thing as “the right” bowl geometry for any given tobacco type? Opinions are as varied as we are, but for me, flakes tend to sing in wider bowls, delivering nuances of flavor that can be somewhat attenuated in a narrow one. Yes, this is counter to the “conventional wisdom” that pipes with narrow, tapered bowls are “Flake pipes,” and large bowls are better suited as “English mixture pipes.” Though I’d never question another’s preferences, I’m comfortable taking the contrarian position here with respect to my own. Years ago, when I was developing my first VA/Perique flake, I did what I always do, and smoked the prototypes in a variety of bowl geometries. One of the pipes I chose during my exploration was a GBD 9493, a lovat-like pot with a wide aperture and conventional billiard height. The tobacco took the center stage spotlight and sang arias in that pipe. Since, I’ve repeated the experiment many times, always with the same result. If you want to experience everything a flake has to offer, try it in a pot. Wide bowls also offer something to the burly aficionado, bringing out some of the more subtle nuances of that leaf while keeping the smoke cool. Things get perhaps more interesting when it comes to bowl height. Since tall bowls tend to concentrate more of the distillates that form when tobacco burns, they can be both harder to keep lit at the bottom, and can intensify some flavors. This can be a good or a not so good thing, depending on the tobacco type, and the smoker’s preferences. I love shag cut tobaccos in tall bowls, while flakes are just too often challenging. Too, I find that fuller latakia mixtures deliver their best in medium and smaller bowls. This might have more to do with “palate fatigue” than the smoking dynamics of a particular pipe’s bowl geometry. (Truth told, unless I’m really focused on the process, I rarely could be considered a “slow smoker,” and as my cadence rises, so does the intensity of some of latakia’s less friendly characteristics, especially as the bottom of the bowl is reached. Combine that with a tall bowl, and my tongue just gets fuzzy.) But, I’ve known many who enjoy gigantic bowls of heavy lat-bombs. Maybe this is one reason the “conventional” medium billiard bowl is, and has always been so popular. It’s kind of the middle-ground – not too tall, not too wide, and does pretty […]
- The Ones that Got Away
There are some who would assert that this whole pipe collecting thing is some sort of disorder, and there are days when I’d scramble to be first in line to admit that they might be right. I’ve tried many times to yank the doors off their hinges and free myself from this affliction, but to date, there hasn’t been more than the slightest shift in the neural pathways hardened, almost fossilized over the years against any and all attempts to guide them in other directions. Fortunately, mine is a relatively harmless case. I’ve never gone without food or shelter in order to have another pipe, though I’ve considered, more than once, forgoing another vice, like coffee for a year in order to accommodate an acquisition outside of my spending range. It’s never come down to anything so extreme. (People who have experienced my Hyde-like demeanor when in a state of caffeine withdrawal will attest that I become profoundly grouchy if more than a couple days pass without my morning java.) When something is that far out of reach, I generally just walk on. And, the truth is that while it could be much worse, the current state of the affliction did kind of sneak up on me gradually. I easily remember a time when I held a very small collection. A seven day set was just the thing, a pipe for each day of the week. I was briefly satisfied with that. But, then, why not two weeks worth, so each pipe could rest well before being smoked again? At some point, along came the idea of dedicating pipes to different tobacco styles, then, at least for a while, to specific tobaccos. And, different shapes accompany different moods. See where this is going? It wasn’t long before I calculated that 98 pipes would be a great number to have, allowing for seven pipes and seven blends, with at least two weeks of rest for each pipe between smokes. Might as well round that up to 100. It took several years, but eventually the collection reached that number. But, what about different sizes? Surely, there are times when a long, lingering smoke is wanted, and other times when a brief puff is just the thing; one hundred pipes wasn’t likely to be the end of the journey… As a result of this, for nearly as long as I’ve been a pipe smoker, I’ve bought, sold and traded pipes with an eye towards building and improving my collection. There have always been core pieces that, once acquired, would remain in my forever collection. Some of those have significant stories behind them, or are in some other way special to me, but alongside those have always been the transients, those pipes for whom my collection was only a temporary domicile, a place of rest and refuge until their forever home was found. Some of those may have originally scratched some aesthetic itch, to be moved along when my tastes shifted and interest in a shape or size switched gears. Others have been obtained specifically for the purpose of future trade fodder; those are usually easy to part with. One thing that is consistent, though, is that the trend line of the collection’s size and scope has always, for four decades, pointed north. Several times I’ve embarked on a significant “herd-thinning,” sending a batch of pipes off to a dealer for sale or trade credit, treating them as a sort of currency in a generally poor performing savings account. It’s how I’ve gotten most of my higher-end pipes. Break the piggy filled with a few years worth of “lesser” acquisitions, and two goals are simultaneously accomplished; I get something I want more than what I’m parting with, and the cardinality of the group decreases, if only temporarily. By my reckoning, if I’d kept every pipe I’ve ever had, several thousand, I’d be overwhelmed, inundated with the things. I have known of people with collections of that magnitude; I have both envy and compassion for them. Usually, I’ve divested myself of pipes that I’d either lost interest in, or that just didn’t smoke well for me. In the latter case, often as not, the new owners of my ex-acquisitions have thought I was pretty far off base. In a potential trade, the question “How does it smoke?” often arises. I’m always truthful. “For me, not so great,” only to later learn that it ended up a favorite in its new owner’s collection. I always figured it was something I was doing, something different with my technique, my packing style, my puffing cadence, or that some pipes just like tobaccos that I don’t, and don’t like tobaccos that I do, or that I’d just lost patience with it too soon, or something else entirely. Beyond a cursory glance over my shoulder, I’ve never looked back. Mostly. With all the rationalization and pragmatic dust swept under the rug, I do sometimes find myself lamenting some of the “ones that got away,” even if there was always sound logic behind their departure. Maybe a pipe was too big, or too small, or it was uncomfortable for me, or the shape no longer held my eye, or it just was one that I’d simply lost interest in. Sometimes, it was an opportunity to get something I wanted more than the ones I was trading. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s too often easy to forget the reasons behind the decision, and find regret years after the fact. With some of those trades, I figured I could replace one piece with another, “better” example in the future. That has backfired more than once. I recall a pair of Larsen bulldogs, one bent, one straight. They didn’t exhibit the best grain, but were wonderfully unique, wide, squat and futuristic things, like starships with stems. Gorgeous shapes. I’ve never seen another like either of those two, and remembering that I had them both at the same time brings up more […]
I’ve never owned a four-square billiard. I’ve had plenty of pipes with paneled sides, but this venerable classic has always eluded me. Truth told, I’d always considered it something of a remedial shape, a pipe to be made when a conventional billiard exhibited too many flaws, or when the lines went wrong. And, I considered them too “simple.” For as long as I’ve been smoking pipes, this quaint but cunning shape has held little interest. Then, something conspired to disabuse me of my prejudices all at once. One day, a few months ago, an Instagram friend taunted me with photos of a beautiful example of the shape that he’d just gotten. I was instantly smitten. Then he showed another. And another. As I looked at his photos, I saw things in the shape I’d never really noticed, sending me down the rabbit hole to look at hundreds of photos of as many examples I could find. It turns out it’s far from the simple shape I’d thought it to be, but rather one that’s clearly challenging to execute well. While it shares the overall profile and proportions of a conventional billiard, including the slight forward cant of the bowl, those panels have to be even, perfectly square, and, importantly, must not destroy the balance of the shape. If the bowl doesn’t have that very slight forward tilt, it looks like it’s falling backwards. Too much tilt, and it’s just weird. If the panels are cut too deeply, the walls could become too thin, and at its worst, it makes the thing look like a cube on a stick. The cut and gentle curvature of the four vertices are as important as the panels themselves. The shank, too, must be carefully and consistently square along its length, as must the taper of the stem. Though based on the classic billiard, it became clear looking at Frank’s pipes, and so many others, that if it’s going to be successfully executed, the pipe maker has to start out with the four-square in mind, rather than using the shape to “fix” a billiard gone wrong. As a bonus, the panels and facets exhibit the briar’s grain in a unique and interesting way. There’s also the practicality of the shape; the bowl has good capacity coupled with light weight. I had to have one, and so began my quest. A Dunhill EK would be nice, but finding one in good shape that wasn’t more than I was willing to spend turned out to be something of a fool’s errand. I went looking for a more modest example, maybe something French. After weeks of searching, I came across a “shop pipe” stamped for Garfinkel’s, an old Washington DC tobacconist that has always held deep significance to me. In the 1980s, a friend in our local pipe community introduced me to Garfinkel’s by way of their magnificent Orient Express #11 mixture. Produced for them by Sobranie, to this day I consider it the finest example of genre ever created. The balance of Virginias, orientals and Latakia were absolute perfection, resulting in a rich, complex and always fascinating tobacco. I started buying a pound of it every month, eight 2oz tins, until the tragic day when Larry Garfinkel called me to ask if he could send me two pounds that month. “Sure, Larry. Why?” It was his last two pounds. It was this tobacco that was the most significant inspiration on my own blending journey. I have no idea what magic was performed to make it so special, but it was, and it is. Garfinkel’s may be gone, but the memories linger. There were other spectacular blends in the Garfinkel’s catalogue, including a range made my Robert McConnell. The Olde Scottish Cut Cake #6 seen in the photos was another special one. In those days, I wasn’t much interested in Virginias, so I never explored them very deeply, but if I had, I would have squirreled away a lot more of this one, too. This is the last of only a few tins I’ve had over the years. And then there was Shottery, Armon, Ridgeway and Marlowe. I wish I had many tins of all of them. I digress. This Garfinkel’s four-square seemed perfect, a bit of serendipity, and it was made in France. I got the pipe for a good price, and waited for its arrival. When the package reached me, I tore into it quickly; my enthusiasm instantly collapsed when I got to the pipe itself. The pipe was covered with flaking and blistered shellac, and wore a bit of road rash from careless handling. The panels, while cut fairly evenly, were not flat, but comically concave. The top was badly scratched, and the stem was crusty, dull, and in need of serious restoration. Perhaps worse was the condition of the airway. Ironically, though the bowl had been reamed almost to bare wood, I don’t think the thing had ever seen a pipe cleaner, and it was tough work just to get a thin one through it. And, it wasn’t just the shank – even the stem was heavily caked with thick, tarry goop. The wretched stench, too, from ages of cheap aromatic tobacco was epic. But, there were no visible fills, the overall size, shape and proportions were good, and under the years of grunge, there might be some pretty nice wood hiding. Time to get to work. It took a lot of alcohol, and dozens of pipe cleaners to get the airway clean. The drilling through the shank was okay, but it was very tight through the stem, so a little blueprinting was in order, funneling the tenon, smoothing out the transitions, and opening things up to a more consistent cross section. The shellac had to go. Since the pipe was destined to be completely refinished, I sanded the whole pipe smooth, spending a little extra time on the scratched and chafed top and ensuring that the stem and shank were well mated. […]
- A Mile High and Connected
This will be a bit of a stretch, a hill, a ridge too far for some of my pipe-smoking friends. Let’s just say the Pundit continues to suffer from being a mile too high. On a recent trip to Colorado, I traveled up and across Berthoud Pass, a mere 11,106 feet skyward, and later returned over the Continental Divide. Up and down, over, and beyond! Berthoud Pass is 1.4 billion years old, give or take a million. And the Continental Divide is a mere 70 million years old. Please, no jokes about Pundit’s age. It’s not in the millions. Just sayin’. Cutting across the Great Divide in Colorado—which slices through some 21 counties in the Centennial State since it earned statehood in 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence—Pundit was stunned by massive, and ever-hovering rock structures. And whether or not you are into geology and rocks, you might like to know that a couple of famous geologists (and presumably rockhounds) from way back were pipe smokers. There was John Muir, naturalist, botanist, writer, and author, who traipsed across the nation on foot! Make that a 1,000-mile trip afoot! You might recall that after viewing the phenomenal natural beauty stretched out before him in Yosemite, he convinced ol’ Rough Rider U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt to join him on a camping trip to see the land in all its geological beauty. Muir’s influence was instrumental in getting the land preserved. A natural loveliness we enjoy today, just as it was in Muir’s and Teddy’s time. And Muir had this to say of his early stint in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the heart of what is now Yosemite National Park: When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe—from his book, “My First Summer in the Sierra,” 1911, page 110. John Muir was a pipe smoker. Then there is John Wesley Powell, a naturalist-geologist, like Muir. He was one of the first to float the upper Colorado River and to give the Grand Canyon its name. And from one of his observations of the canyon and its marvels: The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. John Wesley Powell too was a pipe smoker. He even swapped pipes with some of the Native Americans he encountered in the great canyonlands and elsewhere as he explored ranges and valleys. Now just hold on a bit more. I hear the boobirds in the audience trying to drown out the vistas. I see all the eye rolls. Those craggy Colorado mountains, the famous Rocky Mountains just right there nestled up to roads cut through immense solid rock structures, reminded Pundit of the beautiful sandblasts some of his pipes show off. I know, a stretch. But what is life without imagination and art? Imagine rock arrangements wrinkled in layers and stacks, lines etched into massive configurations that once reposed on the bottom of seas that once existed and have since disappeared. Returned and faded into geologic history once again. That’s right. Crags and even the look of plateau briars (that knobby rough rim of the bowl). For a better understanding of plateau shapes just head over to SmokingPipes.com. I can even hear now the loud chorus for someone to get out the stage hook on that one. But if you have ever had the opportunity to scrutinize those magnificent monoliths, you might arrive at a better understanding of the “craggy” aspect of a pipe’s outer sandblasted skin. Not to mention the pure natural beauty of our pipes and the artisan’s imagination. One of Pundit’s favorite pipe writers, Chuck Stanion at SmokingPipes.com has some wonderful stories on sandblasting. But those gigantic rocks of the ages have more lessons. They just didn’t appear in Colorado. They went through billions of years of emerging and disappearing. Oceans came, went, and returned. Some of the table mountains reminded me of a few of my Sherlock Holmes Petersons, especially the Holmes original with its calabash design. Up, flat, curved. Mark Irwin, another of the pipe world’s finest authors, has a delightful piece in his Peterson Pipe Notes about the Holmes and the history of the Peterson calabash. Which brings us to a final thought. Our pipes are born in nature as are we. We are all “hitched” together to everything else in the universe, as John Muir said. And master pipe artists provide us with a view of the past and present in their marvelous constructions. Layered, craggy, smooth, stained as is the earth in all of its past iterations. We enjoy such rich pleasure smoking these pieces of history with that fragrant leaf, tobacco in its many forms. Connected. Sometimes traveling a mile high into the great Rocky Mountains not only takes your breath away but gives us insight into other parts of our lives.
- Falling Leaves and a Pipe
At last, maybe, summer’s hot breath is fading into fall’s blessed currents that chill the morning air and put a lively step in the morning walk. Fall mornings are ready-made for a pipe and a walk. Especially if you have a dog tagging along, or leading the way. Of course, the Pundit is the proud owner of a beautiful Golden Retriever. Best dog on the planet hands down. There might be an argument or two on that little brag, but in the Pundit’s world, nothing quite matches the Golden. The fact that she is European in heritage (all Scottish from paws to ears) is another plus. Give that a moment to sink in. I’m thinking pipes and tobacco with that marvelous European heritage as well. Ok. Dog school is adjourned. On to fall and pipes and tobacco. When the crispness of autumn arrives, Pundit usually goes to one of the older pipes in the herd, one that has been through the toils and tremors of life. And offered comfort, resolve, and relaxation all of what a day presents, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of my best companions on cool mornings are a couple of Ashtons and Petersons, and just maybe a special meerschaum that has logged many a mile with me. Or, one of Ian Walker’s Northern Briars English pipes, especially his Countryman, a Charatan shape. You can find Ian on his web page. I first encountered this master craftsman at a pipe show, which one escapes me now. It was either the big Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show extravaganza or in Richmond, Va., at the Conclave Of Richmond Pipe Smokers. A “Southron” adventure. Ahem and harumph! I was intrigued by Ian’s pipe-making history and the superbly made pipes. His grandfather, George Walker, began Northern Briars in 1958 but had been creating pipes since 1922. Ian began in his grandfather’s shop and worked up from sweeping the place clean to working with silver to repairing. He later went on his own with Northern Briars, absorbed in an extraordinary pipe-making atelier. And just to add to this unique artisan’s history, a note from his web page points out that: “Ian lives with his wife, Catriona, on a traditional style narrow beam canal boat in the heart of England. His workshop on the 70-foot boat is inspired by the lifestyle of the working boats of Britain’s industrial heritage. With over 2000 miles of rural waterways to meander through, Ian has combined all the essentials of home and work into a practical, mobile reality.” The Pundit owns several of Ian’s wonders. And the tobacco? That would have to be a Virginia blend or a really good Virginia with Perique. And some English to lighten and brighten up the day a bit. Some burly, mayhaps, or a little velvety Kentucky burly aromatic, Scandinavian Group-Lane Blended sweetheart of a tobacco. Just right for a pipe, coat, dog and morning walk. I also especially enjoy one of William Faulkner’s favorite pipe blends, My Mixture 965, now blended by Peterson. Smoking “My Mixture” reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Huzzah! An old and now departed friend once showed me his special mixture: Half and Half, Bugler, with a dash of Sir Walter Raleigh. It was strong enough to stop a buffalo in full stampede mode. His pipes looked as if they had endured trench warfare. And perhaps they had. That friend, who will go unnamed here, was an author and erstwhile political publicist. He, too, had been through many a battle, political and otherwise. I never saw him without a lit pipe. I took a clue from him—leave tobacco blending to the experts. That was after I tried his blend. Let’s just leave the rest to your imagination. And that is one good reason I purchase tried and true brands by the masters. You know who they are. My attempts at blending resulted in something on the order of blah and bah, humbug. So, some of my choices for brisk fall mornings or the evening chill are Capstan Blue Flake, now under the Mac Baren tobacco blending umbrella, Plum Pudding (Seattle Pipe Club), Escudo under the A&C Petersen flag, and Orlik Golden Sliced by Orlik. And many a C&D Tobacco from its master blender Jeremy Reeves, a true chef of tobacco blends. These are just a few of Pundit favorites (see photo for more Pundit favs). Don’t get me started running down the list I enjoy on snappy fall days. It would take us a while, like sitting around listening to ancients smoking and solving the world’s problems, warming achy bones at a pot-bellied stove in a country grocery store. Just sayin’! And now a couple of literature’s finest authors and pipe smokers of the past: Evelyn Waugh, English novelist, and author/journalist was born Oct. 28, 1903, and died April 10, 1966. And P.G. Wodehouse, also an English author, was born Oct. 15, and died Feb. 14, 1975. For just a superb piece on P.G. Wodehouse, his literary legacy, and his love of his pipes and tobacco, be sure to check out Chuck Stanion’s Pipe Line at SmokingPipes.com, Aug. 20, 2021. Outstanding writing about one of English literature’s greatest storytellers by Chuck Stanion, one of pipes and tobaccos finest writers. A parting thought: Here’s to a spectacular fall in all its beauty with a fine pipe in hand.
- Road Forks and Observations
This is the fun time of the year, methinks. Major League Baseball is winding down into its playoff madness when the Boys of Summer become the Boys of October. High school football warms up those chilly stands under Friday Night Lights. Nothing quite matches this slice of Americana. Then college football’s television spectacle on Saturdays takes over the mania button on the remote. Ah, yes, these magical Saturdays of gridiron wonder. Thank the lords of sports that we can discard for a time recent diversions. Well, sort of, weather permitting. And then, by Jove, we arrive at what the Pundit describes as “Pull up a chair, kick off the shoes, light a pipe, and open your favorite adult beverage. It’s football time in America with a dash of baseball wrapping around the keystone event of the sports seasons, The World Series!” And just so you know, the Pundit was once a hard-working pipe-smoking sports writer in the press box high above the fields of play. Puffing away and typing furiously on a portable typewriter (a what?). Yes, there were many jokes about my pipe whilst my colleagues smoked cigarettes continuously. “That pipe stinks. What are you smoking in that thing?” I heard that enough times to give me a nervous twitch and delusions. But dare I say, some of sports greatest minds were puffers of the grand aged leaf. Think of Billy Martin on and off with the New York Yankees as a player and manager. Captain Black if you please. And another baseball superstar, Sparky Anderson, smoked his pipe even in the dugout. He skippered the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, winning championships with both teams. This time of the year always puts me in a mood of contemplation. Sports, yes sir, and of our championship pipe makers worldwide, as well as those special tobacco blends that seem to arrive around now. It takes a champion-like spirit to harness oneself to the tools of griding pipes into art and blending tobaccos to grace those works of art. Long ago, the Pundit visited the old Cornell&Diehl blending area when the company was located in Morganton, N.C. Small quarters then, which later had to be enlarged. And enlarged again. Then as history rolled on, C&D joined Laudisi Enterprises company (aka Smokingpipes.com) in 2014 in Longs, S.C., and quickly outgrew that blending and production area. And, yes, the kit and caboodle had to move into larger digs to satisfy supply and demand for those lovely tobaccos in creative tin art. Laudisi Enterprises, by the way, has a network of shops in it’s A-Z distribution tobacco and cigar shops across the nation. Just so you know. Ahem. Jeremy Reeves, C&D’s head blender and tobacco maestro, says the sky’s the limit, maybe even the stratosphere and beyond. The company, he says, “will continue growing as long as pipe smokers want our products. We keep trying to find our limits.” With C&D’s Small Batch production with uniquely sourced tobaccos, there isn’t likely to be a retraction of growth. Just sayin.’ Take, for example, Jeremy’s and C&D’s latest Small Batch, Steamworks Small Batch, released on Aug. 22, and sold out within hours, if not minutes. Little wonder. The Smokingpipes.com website defines it as a “unique Virginia/Oriental/Perique flake (that) utilizes two proprietary stoving processes and some of the rarest tobacco varietals in the world. “A study in flue-cured leaf, Steamworks presents six top-tier, Old Belt Virginia grades — ranging from dark Mahogany to brighter Lemon/Orange — in unstoved, partially steamed, and blackened formats, resulting in a deep, natural sweetness and mature flavor right out of the tin. “Elevating that flue-cured foundation is a selection of exceptionally rare 2005 Black Sea Sokhoum, 2005 Izmir, and 2006 Katerini Oriental grades, as well as a modest portion of pure 31 Farms Perique — grown, harvested, and fermented at the Roussel family farm in St. James Parish.” Makes your mouth water, right? You had to be quick on the draw to nail this latest C&D Small Batch. It disappeared in a flash. Of course, your erstwhile Pundit was quick on the draw, doncha know! The Pundit works on the dictum given to him long ago by his first city editor, the beloved Arthur Cobb in Pensacola, Fla., at the old Pensacola News-Journal. “First in, last out.” That’s been a powerful journalistic engine driving the Pundit. So, snagged four tins, two to puff, and two to cellar. And now a Pipe Smoker of the Past: Billy Martin: Born on May 16, 1928, in Berkeley, Calif., and died on Dec. 25, 1989, in Johnson City, N.Y. Martin managed the New York Yankees five separate times between 1975 and 1988. In that span, he and the Yankees won the 1977 World Series title. And now from the Baseball Almanac, a Martin quote: “All I know is (as a Yankees Manager), I pass people on the street these days, and they don’t know whether to say hello or to say good-bye.” Martin’s choice of tobacco, as most know, was Captain Black. He even made television commercials and magazine advertising for the blend. So, it is somehow fitting that we end this yarn with a couple of quotes from the great baseball Zen master, Yogi Berra. His baseball records are still in play for today’s sluggers. Yogi played as a youngster for the famed New York Yankees (please, hold the boos), managed them for a while, and even did a stint managing crosstown rival, New York Mets. My two favorite Yogisms: When you come to a fork in the road, take it. And one of his most inciteful philosophical thoughts for all times: You can observe a lot by watching.