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Radio Talk Show

  • Tim Beaumont
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 533

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 533! Our featured interview tonight is with Tim Beaumont from Papa Bear’s Pipes. In 2018, Tim quit his job to pursue his passion of wood-working, and began making furniture. He had a piece of walnut wood that looked like it would make a nice pipe, so he made one. Next, he made one from the more traditional briar. Then he made another, and another and so on. We’ve heard similar stories before. Tim’s pipes are beautiful works of art in classic, and freehand shapes.  At the top of the show, Brian will have his annual gift giving ideas for pipe smokers. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

  • Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 532

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 532! Our featured interview tonight is with Sergio Castello, a pipe smoking enthusiast from Mexico. He lives in the capital city of Sonora, Hermosillo, near the border with Arizona. He is a vintner by profession, growing table grapes in his family’s business, Viñedos 2000. His grandfather, a doctor, smoked a pipe, and although he never saw him smoke, he did see the pipe rack in his office as a kid, and would play with them and pretend he was smoking. When he was 18-years old he got into cigars, and then pipes. At the top of the show we have a tobacco review of a surprise gift that went missing for a year and a half of an L.J. Peretti blend. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

  • Yiannos Kokkinos
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 531

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 531! Our featured interview tonight is with pipe maker Yiannos Kokkinos. Yiannos is from the Mediterranean island country of Cyprus. He studied Graphic Design in Greece and Fine Arts in Italy and used to work as a designer. His pipes are completely handmade from Mediterranean briar. At the top of the show in Pipe Parts, we will have an “Ask the Pipemaker” segment with Jeff Gracik. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

Tobacco Reviews

  • Give Me Liberty Tobacco Review
    Give Me Liberty Review

    A notion that’s been on my mind of late is legacy; what remains from one’s hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage? I suppose it’s a not-uncommon preoccupation as one gets older and more mature—neither of which I’ll admit to readily, by the way. So it’s fitting that this month’s review is an appraisal of Give Me Liberty, the latest entry in the Signature Series from the Seattle Pipe Club blends produced by Sutliff, and the legacy of departed brother of the briar Joe Lankford, whose passing in September lessened the pipe world. Though I did not know Joe personally, I came to know of him through his blends for the Seattle club, as did many of us in the community. Joe created blends with such a sterling reputation that many of them, like Mississippi River and Plum Pudding, are already assured places in the pantheon of all-time great smokes. The man had many talents, and we are fortunate to have benefited from his passion for pipe tobacco. Virginia tobacco is the queen of leaf, to be certain; the backbone around which the lion’s share of blends are built. Give Me Liberty as well as its sister plug, Hogshead, (released in May) is an homage to this, as well as recognition that the cultivation of tobacco played such a central role in the establishment of America as a nation—tobacco was so important a crop that it functioned as a primary currency in the colonies for its first couple of centuries. Having had the pleasure of reviewing a few of the SPC blends over the years, I’ve personally found them to be remarkable for their individuality. Liberty is no exception to this: a hefty and hearty four-ounce brick of Old Belt Red Virginia from North Carolina tempered with stoved Brazilian leaf is packaged in the cardboard tin, which naturally features a stylized version of the Currier & Ives lithograph of Patrick Henry uttering his famous entreaty. There’s something special about a plug—the stoutness of it, the craftsmanship of it. For me it calls to mind woodworking or chefing; manipulating something with your hands, forging a thing into shape, has a very visceral appeal. Evidencing a shortish time in the press along with a good amount of moisture, Liberty when sliced easily crumbles into a tumble of evenly-cut leaf of a mahogany brindle, making for easy preparation and packing. The tin aroma when fresh is quite tart, high on the citrusy scale with that ketchupy tang of well-aged VA; with some time acclimating to oxygen it tempers down to a stewed cherry richness, with hints of cocoa, string beans, fresh-cut hay, and fallen autumn leaves. Noticeably absent are very woody overtones or much in the way of the oily leather aromas that one often finds with pure Virginia blends. This leads me to believe that a very particular care was taken in selection of leaf for the blend, and builds the anticipation of lighting it up. Smoking a well-dried first bowl of Liberty at first is deceptively subtle and mild. There are initial tart notes on the tongue, and a bit of the softened woody tones that seemed absent from the tin bouquet—light wood; think willow or beech, as opposed to more commonplace tannic oak or bitter walnut. True to labeling, and despite the tingling on the tongue, there really is no bite in the smoke at all, down through to the heel of repeated bowls. Liberty starts to develop some complexity mid-bowl; as I find I’ve tended toward over-drying it in my preparation, a light but steady cadence with some breath smoking to gently add some hydration back into the bowl opens the bloom of flavors. This blend is all about the subtleties—a diaphanous mouthfeel, with tastes of woody char, fresh white bread, and mild-mannered sweet and herbaceous notes in the range of soft grilled citrus and burnt lemongrass, as well as a faint umami of wild game, predominate. The bowl requires a bit of tending as well, with several relights and close attention from the tamper and pick—not at all a detractor from the experience, though, as it demands that the smoker slow down, dedicate the time to focusing on the task at hand, and remain contemplative to get the full feel of it. My main testing implement for this blend was an early 19th century cutty in meerschaum and amber with a rather capacious bowl. I found it best to pack it only half-full, allowing plenty of air and room for cherry tending, and the pipe itself demanded I pay attention as it’s decidedly not a clench-and-forget piece. This blend is not about trumpets blaring, neon lights flashing, or explosions of flavor in your mouth—it’s about settling in for some quality rumination and reverie. While the flavors certainly build over the course of a bowl, they never shout, never overplay their hand. Heading toward the heel, each performance ends with a perfect denouement redolent with the taste of burnt ends and much more of the woody, vegetal, and tarry notes so concealed from the onset. Overall a mild-medium flavor and aroma profile, as well as nicotine content; the sidestream smoke is equally mild and quickly dissipates. To note, drink accompaniments were tricky to pair with this, as overly sweet or sour drinks really tend to drown out the flavors of the smoke; I recommend a very light tea or simply a sparkling water to be best. Another recommendation for accompaniment is a reading of the book of Ecclesiastes. While personally not a religious man, I accept great wisdoms wherever they may be written. Give Me Liberty is an earthy smoke that really calls out for measured reflection; and meditating on the passing of a season, and the passing of a friend to us all, is worthy pursuit indeed. The heart of pipe smoking is that it is an act of remembrance, through its self-contained rituals and appurtenances. Along with everything else he will be remembered for, Joe […]

  • Davidoff Flake Medallions Review
    Davidoff Flake Medallions Review

    Looking for that 4-leaf-clover The late summer weather has been a glorious oven to bask in, for those of us who enjoy the heat. It’s led me to spend quite a bit of time in concerted pursuit of quality lollygagging in the local park to enjoy my tobaccos, for one thing. Having focused so much on old tobaccos lately, it seemed like a good time to switch up the menu with a recent production tin of Davidoff Flake Medallions. An afternoon found me puffing idly in a field of grass, killing time without injuring eternity, pondering what makes this pursuit of flavors such an always-new endeavor. As any good chef knows, you eat with your eyes first. Presentation begins before we even get to the tobacco, whether we admit it to ourselves or not—the name, tin art, and reputation of a blend all begin to shape opinion well before the flame touches the leaf. Davidoff’s offerings, while not extensive, represent a solid range of tobaccos for the pipe smoker, in the vein of the erstwhile luxury brands Dunhill and Nat Sherman. Perhaps more well known for their cigar bands, their quality and consistency positions them as a well-regarded marque in pipes, pipe tobaccos, and cigarettes as well. That said, the presentation here begins with the tin, a regal label in crimson with gold filigree lettering—simple, straightforward, and très classy. Opening the tin releases a fresh bouquet of rich sweet dried plum, dry grassy summer hay, moist fig, and hints of sweet chocolate, with light leathery and woody undertones. After some time airing out to settle, the earthy and woody range of aromas dominate, though still with the hints of sweetness around the edges. The coins themselves are gorgeous and uniform, with the brindle of lemon-yellow to dark mahogany leaf surrounding the core of ebony Cavendish. So far, everything about the presentation speaks of care and craftsmanship in the process; whether it’s called curly cut, spun cut, roll cut, or rope, this particular style of tobacco is also one of the most expensive and time consuming to produce, and Flake Medallions certainly represents well here on all points. While there are a few other fairly well-known takes on the coin cut presentation, we’ll steer clear of direct comparisons here. My preferred preparation is to rub out a couple coins rather than folding and stuffing, though I will admit to occasionally enjoying placing the Cavendish centers strategically in the middle and top third of the bowl. From the light to the heel, the blend smokes cool, smooth, and steady, with few relights and not a hint of bite, even from this fresh tin. The balance of the tobaccos here is exquisite. The Virginia base is solid and well-tamed, Perique is restrained to a supporting role as a condimental spice, and the Cavendish balances the two, rounding it all out and adding depth and sweetness to the structure. This is definitely on the (mildly) spicy and savory end of the VaPer spectrum, with just a bit of tang at the top of the bowl which, upon reaching the heel, has transformed into a well-measured umami, with a great mouthfeel and excellent aftertaste. To confirm my initial impressions, I spent some time in the kitchen matching up the aromas to the flavors represented. The primary aromas and flavors of fig are spot on, and decidedly on the side of black Mission figs; the tempered sweetness here is more honey than the Mediterranean varieties (which tend more toward a floral or fruity bent), while still structured around a very earthy vegetal profile. Whichever preparation was used, bowl after bowl found a varying cadence that also drew out the familiar raisin / plum / date / prune notes, drying hay, toasted bread, brewer’s yeast, fresh cut oak, and turned earth in the secondary and tertiary aromas. The sidestream smoke, which was commented on from a passerby as being “rustic”, is generally mild and lightly touches all of the aromas well, making it a not unpleasant experience for the bystander. Also evidenced bowl after bowl was the satisfying flat-cola aftertaste it leaves, like a memory of sweetness. Overall the blend is superb, and I could kick myself for not having dozens of tins already socked away in the cellar.Again, there are more than a few representative entries in this style of blend, and for my money Davidoff Flake Medallions certainly deserves its own particular niche within the field. What strikes me most about the blend is the balance that it achieves, which sets the flavor slightly apart from any of its direct competitors. Mild on the nicotine, mild to medium on the side smoke, and remarkable consistency and refinement in the smoking itself. With a reasonable price point it’s worthy of the all-day smoke category, while the presentation makes for a classy choice when out on the town or for special occasions. It has certainly found a place in my cellaring list. Speaking of coin cut tobaccos, special occasions, and summertime…. I picked up my tin of Flake Medallions on the way to the most recent New York Pipe Club meeting. I’d been missing in action from the club for a few years; work became a bit all-consuming to the detriment of social activities for a while, followed by a couple years of relocation far afield. Enjoying this blend at the meeting got me thinking about what to bring to our upcoming annual picnic at the end of the month; it had to be something that was as refined, classy, and memorable. Unfortunately I didn’t have any well-aged tins of Flake Medallions to bring, so I went with the next-best thing: a cutter-top tin of Escudo from the 1950s. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a little disappointed at first. The tin had lost its integrity sometime in the last five years and as many moves, to my eternal regret. Fortunately it was at least kept with other tobaccos in sealed plastic bins, so […]

  • Fribourg & Treyer Blackjack Review

    Cellaring tobacco happens in a few ways; some intentional, others incidental. As any member of this forum could certainly attest, adding a few more tins than one can smoke in a reasonable amount of time to an order (or even just one more tin to hit that free shipping threshold) is a by-product of being consistently engaged in the hobby (or pastime, or however you think of this thing we all do). Hopping on the hype train for a new blend, a limited seasonal release, or small-batch experiment from the blending houses is certainly to blame for more than a few stockpiles—it’s easy to become mesmerized by the dizzying variety of superb product available to us today. Frequently it’s the draw of a well-timed sale coinciding with a surplus in discretionary funds—I can’t be the only one who somehow ended up with 115 pounds of Mixture 79 in their cellar, can I? Now and again it’s something as simple as lovely tin art, or a name that conjures a fond memory, or just boredom with our current rotation that inspires an irregular purchase of a random blend. Thus the discovery of a lone tin of Fribourg & Treyer’s Blackjack circa 2011 in my own collection falls somewhere around the last example. My preferred lane in pipe blends decidedly tends toward Virginias, and this purchase was something that I assume I had picked up for breaking the routine of my old standards in that genre. This was also obtained at a time slightly before I had been keeping a detailed tasting journal, so although I know I’d smoked it before and recall it as a solid performer, no notes of the experiences I’d had previously were recorded. Nevertheless, I was excited to embark on that journey of re-discovery, expecting to find a new standby or a lost gem. Fribourg & Treyer is a top-notch marque of the estimable Kohlhase & Kopp house, perhaps a bit underrated in the States, and by and large deliver solid value with quality and variety aplenty in their portfolio. A tin of any Virginia tobacco with a decade under its lid is a treasure to hold, with the promise of a monk-worthy satori waiting on just the other side of that lid. What wonderful things may time and chance have created? This is the heart of cellardiving—the possibility that old blends can become new again, perhaps something entirely other than their younger selves, much like we as people do. Sometimes, with a bit of luck and a lot of chance, a tobacco can even become a transformative experience, that holy grail of substances, manna from heaven. What wonders lay in store for me behind the old-fashioned black and white lid? What wondrous alchemy has transpired while unattended? Waiting for just the right time, with just the right pipe, I readied myself to be floored by the decadent treat inside…. The seal was good, the tobacco inside still quite moist, and its bouquet was full of notes of fresh cut spring hay, sharp tangy oak, and flat diet cola, which tempered down to include dry raisin and a hint of chocolate overtones after some days’ air time. Moving on to the smoke itself, it was good—very good in fact, for one who enjoys an unassuming, unadorned Virginia. If I were tasting it blindfolded I’d have guessed it had some small bit of Izmir in it, as the smoke leaned heavily into that Turkish flavor profile, but careful inspection of the leaf seemed to reveal only the ingredients as advertised: a ready-rubbed pure Red Virginia flake of excellent quality, well-tumbled and rather uniformly chestnut brown. The blend is good, undeniably—it hits that sharp, tangy note that it should, burns easily, has a pleasantly light mouthfeel with no bite; almost all the things a solid Virginia should have, if lacking in any definable sweetness or much in the way of a citrusy cast. The flavor profile intones old familiar Virginia notes—grassy vegetal shades that in this instance were more mellowed into the territory of silage, with the sharpness of a Wisconsin cheddar and a hint of burned rubber when overheating the mid-bowl—but it was still just…very good. No angels appeared with trumpets, no out-of-body experience, no whirlwind of emotions, no fireworks or fanfare…just a solid, steady, straight Virginia smoke. Perhaps it was the pipe? Testing out a variety of pipes, all similarly dedicated to light Virginia blends, yielded results that were only remarkable for their similarity. My packing technique, though it may lack grace, seemed adequate to keep it burning with only a light or two throughout an entire bowl, so that shouldn’t be the issue. Time of day, accompanying beverage, pre- or post-meal, it was always the same blend. No, I had to face it: at issue were my preconceptions and expectations for the tobacco itself. I had gone fishing for Moby Dick, and turned up only herring. The greater part of my consternation at being underwhelmed by the experience lay in my own expectations and assumptions regarding aged tobacco in general. To be fair, I have had some enlightenment-grade tobacco experiences. A larger percentage of moderately- to well-aged blends, at least in my reckoning, are decidedly wonderful—sometimes dancing around the edges of sublime: sometimes merely far superior to a fresh batch, sometimes becoming something entirely different and unique, but generally very, very good. Another, perhaps larger, percentage show little to no change, and another small percentage show marked decline. By all indicators, this tin should have been something special…shouldn’t it have? Perhaps. As it was, it fell squarely in the percentage of little change. And it took me a couple days to reconcile myself with being alright with that, and hoping to learn from it. “Things aren’t different. Things are things.” So opines Wintermute, the hidden protagonist of Neuromancer, a novel I re-read with alarming regularity. The kernel of truth here is that with one’s perceptions, it’s somewhere between being a matter of perspective and a […]

Fireside

  • Peterson Silver Spigot 107
    Breaking it In

    Predictably, the Vegas pipe extravaganza of 2022, the first pipe show I’ve attended since 2019, was an absolute delight. I met up with old friends, made some new ones, and just had a complete blast. If you didn’t make it this year, I hope you’ll consider coming in 2023. If you were there, I hope we had at least a few minutes to chat. If we didn’t, see above. One of the most heartening things to me was meeting so many young people, new to the hobby, who brought an infectious enthusiasm with them to the show, and with it hope for a new generation of pipe smokers to keep the embers going in years to come. There were so many beautiful pieces on exhibit, both old and new, and any list I attempt to cobble together would be embarrassingly incomplete, so I’ll stop with that. I came home with only three pipes, though it was very nearly four and easily could have been ten times that number. Two of these are new, one from a maker I met for the first time, the third is an estate piece. Then, there’s the one that got away. I’d spotted a bamboo shank beauty that I really wanted. I was on my way to make it mine when I was briefly distracted. Those few seconds might as well have been an eternity during which the universe conspired against me; as I rounded the corner on my way to this maker’s table, I watched as my pipe was tucked into its bag and put into the hands of another. “Scoundrel! You bought my pipe!” Just as in horse racing, those few seconds were all it took. Those few seconds represented the difference between taking home the purse or going home empty. It’s okay. It’s just a pipe. There will be another. There will always be another. The three of us had a bit of a laugh over it, and in time, yes, I’ll get a similar piece from this maker, maybe one I like even more, and the balance of the universe will be restored. Since returning home, its new caretaker, its maker and I have had a bit of good natured banter over it, as it should be. That pipe stimulated two new relationships more valuable than having the pipe would have been. (Yeah. I’m being philosophical here. Truth is, I’ve been fomenting plans to lay siege to this fellows pipe fortress, nick that pipe, and replace it with an accurate simulacrum produced on my friend’s son’s 3-d printer. In truth, who’s to say that hasn’t already happened?) The two new pipes I brought home are, first, a beautiful Peterson silver spigot 107, a classic stout billiard. Everything about it just called to me – the wood, the silver, the shape – and as I was already working out a trade deal with its vendor, the transaction was painless. Yes! The second is a delightful modern interpretation of a bent bulldog from Dustin Franc, a maker new to me, but one I’ll certainly be watching closely. Dustin’s work is inspired, playful, interesting, and exciting. If you haven’t seen his pipes, look him up.  Both of these pipes have shown themselves to be wonderful smokers, too, but this month’s chat  is really about that third pipe, a beautifully made little sandblasted, squat bulldog by Mike Burkes. Mike is a mechanical engineer by profession, and it shows in the precision of his work. The pipe had been nicely restored, the price was right, and had to have it. The only problem, revealed later, is that its previous owner had enjoyed some pretty powerful aromatic tobaccos. Smoke what you like, of course, I’m all for that, but to my palate, the specters of aromatics past brutally interfere with my enjoyment of the unflavored blends I generally prefer. Some ghosts just don’t play well with others. (I know some feel similarly about Latakia, or even Perique. Such heresy will not be accepted!) So, when I got home, the ancient and sacred rites of exorcism began. I lit candles, drew a small  triangle and a large circle surrounded by mysterious symbols on the floor, turned the lights down, donned ceremonial robes, and lit the censer filled with a consecrated incense of pure Latakia and Perique. I placed my ancient copies of Alfred Dunhill’s The Gentle Art of Smoking, and Georges Herment’s The Pipe (a serious yet diverting treatise) upon an altar made from a bale of nearly petrified tobacco leaves procured from Sobranie House just prior to its shuttering. I take this stuff seriously. Carefully reaming the bowl back to the walls and cleansing the shank thoroughly, I prepared the pipe for its subsequent anointing with holy alcohol and salt purified by the light of the full moon. After carefully placing the pipe on the altar, I began chanting from the sacred tomes, fascinated as diaphanous wisps screeched and howled, attempting to distract me as they were compelled to fly through the smoky air into the prison of the magical triangle. By sunrise, the first part of the ritual was complete. What is this foolishness, Pease? In less esoteric terms, the alcohol helps to dissolve and pull the goo from the wood; the salt serves as a new home in which the goo can take up residence. This method doesn’t reach the deeper layers, of course. Smoking a pipe is a dynamic process, and the temperature gradient that results from smoldering tobacco creates an environment in which the capillaries of the wood can transport oils and aromatic compounds more deeply into its core, and back out when you least expect, or want them. The rest? Theater or madness. You decide. It’s never a 100% cure, but it can really help, and in this case, the ghostly roar was reduced to a whimper that I hoped would dissipate over time as I broke the pipe in to begin its second life. Since I now have essentially three […]

  • State Express Pipe Tobacco
    Are You Experienced?

    It might be hard to believe, but there was a time, not all that long ago in the timeline of pipe smoking, when people didn’t even think about aging tobacco. It was a consumable commodity – something to buy, to smoke, and to buy again. Even in the early 80s, we never thought about something going out of production, or changing formulae, or, more germane to today’s topic, benefiting from resting for many years in the tin. Then, one day,  the world changed. I wandered into Drucquer & Sons, as I often did during breaks from classes, and had my mind just a little bit blown.  Robert Rex, owner of the shop at the time, was usually pretty reserved, but as I walked through the doors, I noticed he was rather animatedly talking about the tin of tobacco in his hands. Five years before, he’d put away a selection of several of the shop’s blends to experiment with the effects of aging on them. Robert was also a winemaker, and so no stranger to the idea of aging things. The tobacco we tasted that day was Red Lion, and the experience is one I’ll never forget. It was already one of my favorites in the shop’s repertoire, but those five years, the tobacco sequestered in its tin and forgotten about, had transformed it into something deeper, richer, more complex, and beautifully integrated. I have no idea if Robert was the first tobacconist  to intentionally do this, but it certainly felt like something of a revelation that day. Over the next few weeks, many of the Drucquer’s hangers-on had similar opportunities to taste the old stuff that Robert was opening, and just like that, a movement was afoot. We all started visiting tobacconists wherever we traveled, asking if they had any old stock in the back room. Sometimes, we’d score. A buddy of mine came back from one of these adventures with several dusty old tins of Three Nuns, long forgotten. The shopkeep even offered him a discount because, “Nobody else is going to buy that old stuff.” There were many similar stories. It seems that to most, aged tobaccos just weren’t a “thing” in the 80s.  Historically, too, there seems to be little written about the aging of blended tobaccos. Charles Rattray touched on it in a little booklet, his Disquisition for the Connoisseur, where he wrote, “Never departing from the old time methods, my mixtures depend solely upon the natural oils of the leaf: they improve with keeping and the last pipeful or two of a pound of tobacco tastes the best.” That clearly wasn’t meant as long-term aging, but rather the length of time necessary to finish a pound. He also wrote that tobacco should never be “Imprisoned in an air-tight compartment,” and drew comparison with cigars packed in boxes “from which the air has not been excluded.” Hermetically sealed containers, he felt, were only for shipment to “tropical countries where there is great humidity.” It seems in those cases, it might have been more important to keep the moisture out than to keep it in. Again, it’s obvious he didn’t have years in mind between the first and the “last pipeful or two.”  Anyway, the Red Lion Affair is what got me, and several others “cellaring” tobaccos, and buying up old stock whenever we could find it. I discovered Garfinkel’s in Washington DC, and learned that Larry had a large stash of tins, including the fabled, and one of my all time faves, Orient Express #11, produced for the shop in the late 1970s by Sobranie House before they sold out to Gallaher in 1982. I placed a diary order for a pound every month that stood for over a year until, one day, I got the call.  “Gregory? It’s Larry Garfinkel. Would it be okay if I send you two pounds this month?” Hmm. At $3.50 a tin, an extra eight wouldn’t break the piggy bank. “Sure, Larry. Any particular reason why?”  “Well, yes. It’s just that it’s the last two pounds, and I thought you might want it.” I shouldn’t have been shocked. All things have their end. State Express London Mixture, Bengal Slices, Capstan Blue, the Dunhills, the Dobies mixtures, the Four Squares, and the blends from McConnells and Sullivan Powells. The list goes on. While we could still get them, those of us “in the know” would buy three or four tins at a time, one to smoke, the rest to the cellar. None of us held any notion that twenty or so years later, those tins would command astronomical prices. Of course, some rationalized our peculiarity as a pecuniary hedge against inflation, but mostly, we just wanted to always be able to smoke old tobaccos. I don’t think this took hold on a broader scale until things started changing or disappearing completely. Balkan Sobranie changed. The Dunhills changed. State Express was taken off market, as was Bengal Slices and so many others. That’s when the hoarding began, and to some extent, continues to this day. Another topic for another time. To be clear, I didn’t then, and don’t now, always smoke the aged stuff. Just like with wines and whiskies, there are times when vibrant exuberance and the charm of youth has its appeal, and other times when only the sophistication and complexity that comes from maturity will do. But, I do like having the choice, and always want to have those aged beauties close to hand.  Of course, there are some risks that come with cellaring. I’ve opened many vintage tins and vintage bottles, and have had my share of disappointments with both. Just as with wines, while some seem almost immortal, not every blend is destined for magnificence over the long haul, and may even go a bit lifeless after decades in the tin. Too, seals can fail, something the vacuum packed rectangular tins are especially prone to, or rust can eat away the tin; no matter how careful […]

  • Pipes from the Author's Collection
    The Good Old Days?

    It’s no secret that I love old pipes. Like a well broken-in pair of jeans, there’s something they bring with them that makes them sort of special. They carry an unspoken history with them; the places they’ve been, the tobaccos they’ve seen. Sometimes, this history is evidenced by the knocks and dings they show, or the aromas and tastes of tobaccos long since forgotten. Depending on how poorly it’s been treated, this can make an old pipe rather less than desirable, but a well cared for briar from eras past can be, or can become, a cherished favorite. Some collectors I’ve spoken with have insisted that old pipes are better than new ones. How often have we heard, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to?” There may be some validity to this, but I’m not convinced this sort of universal statement is true, or even necessarily a positive one. Let’s look a little closer, first at pipes of olde, and see if we can make some informed speculations. At the zenith of the pipe’s history, at least with respect to popularity, pipes were made and sold by the millions. Manufacturers across all quality levels procured briar by the ton, not by the piece, and the best makers performed whatever magic they felt appropriate to ensure a good smoking result, always with an eye towards differentiating their pipes from those of their competitors. Some air dried their briar for long periods, others force-dried their briar more quickly in klins. The final processes of sorting, grading and finishing was sometimes a closely guarded secret amongst makers, with only the finest pieces finding their way down the line to being sold as top grade pipes. Additionally, various techniques were often employed after the pipe was machined, such as Dunhill’s famous “oil curing,” used as part of the finishing process for their legendary “Shell” sandblasts. Sasieni was said to “oven-cure” turned bowls, subjecting them to tortuous heat over a prolonged period; those that survived the ordeal were reputed to be very dry smokers. Of the more budget friendly brands, the Dr. Grabow “pre-smoked” pipe, employed what is likely the most dramatic “curing” method. Using a technique developed by Louis B. Linkman in 1933, finished pipes were filled with tobacco, smoked gently to the bottom by his Automated Smoking Machine, the process repeated several times. This was, if nothing else, a stroke of marketing genius. Inexpensive as they were, the briar used to make Dr. Grabows was arguably not especially consistent or well cured, which would result in at least some pipes tasting bad out of the gate. The smoking machine could mitigate the potential harshness of those early bowls without suffering the torment a human smoker would, allowing lesser quality briar to be made into acceptably good smoking pipes. One thing is certain. Of the millions of pipes made each of those golden years, some were certainly exquisite, many were likely dreadful, and the majority fell somewhere in between these extremes. Pipes then, especially those in lower price categories, were seen as tools, simple items to buy, use, and occasionally discard. It’s probable that the worst of them simply never survived to share their horror with us today. Even if a pipe was good and smoked heavily, it would eventually reach the end of its useful life, either through just being “smoked out,” or suffering a broken tenon or bitten through stem or other misfortune, and find itself cast aside. Only “special” pipes, the favorites, the best of the best, would be lavished with sufficient care to allow them to survive the decades in relatively good nick. So, when we find old pipes, at least those from the makers with good reputations, they are more likely to be accidentally curated specimens rather than overall representative examples. If we add to the equation the fact that old pipes, again, if well cared for, have already been thoroughly broken in, we are likely to find some true gems amongst the antiquities.  So, are old pipes really “better?” What about today’s low volume pipe makers who operate in a rather different environment? Because today’s demand for briar is significantly lower, suppliers can be more careful in choosing and cutting burls. They’ll cut blocks to maximize their quality, or at least their grain consistency, rather than to achieve the burl’s greatest yield. Too, they can spend more time ensuring that the wood they sell is carefully boiled and dried sufficiently to deliver consistently good smoking.  The pipe maker can then do whatever is in their bag of tricks to further increase the probability that the pipe they make is an exceptional one, lavishing great care on all the subtle details of its creation. Additionally, with today’s ease of information exchange, and perhaps somewhat less of a tendency towards competition, a lot of experimentation has been performed and shared, along with some pretty detailed analysis of what has worked in the past, and what may not have. The result is that more is probably known today than ever before about what makes a great pipe, and what doesn’t, which certainly benefits us as pipe smokers. In terms of artistry, witnessing the exploration some makers have taken in creating new shapes and forms can be a remarkable adventure in its own right. And, there are more choices to be found for interesting stem materials, including improved vulcanite that is less resistant to oxidation than much of what was available in the past, and custom-cast acrylic that presents the smoker with more choices of color and style than ever before. Though probably not universally true, even amongst “high volume” manufacturers, today’s lower demand can result in greater care in briar selection, with advances in technology arguably creating increased consistency in construction. There are many factory pipes at affordable prices that rival the best the past had to offer.  I’ve got a lot of beautiful old pieces in my collection that are brilliant smokers, including the one I’m puffing […]

The Pipe Pundit

  • From L-R: The Rich Lewis Custom Bill NASPC 2014 POY atop a fresh tin of Low County Atalaya a ready-rubbed blend combining Red and Bright Virginias from 2019 with C&D's proprietary Red Virginia Cavendish. Peterson’s Grafton System Pipe Travel Case specifically designed for Peterson System pipes, with matching leather pipe stand and a green suede tobacco pouch. Front: Peterson's Thinking Man pewter tamper, attributed to Peterson’s 1905 slogan, "The Thinking Man Smokes a Peterson Pipe." Far right: Fresh tin of C&D Low Country Edisto blend, Red Virginias pressed and sliced into flakes. Photo by Fred Brown
    Of Pipes and Dancing Elves

    For the old Pundit, who has been puffing pipes since his college days in the 1960s, this time of year is what is known here in Punditland as the “in-betweens.” It’s the downhill sleigh ride into the real season of November and December, with the Sagittarian month being a primer. Well, the old centaur is supposed to have bliss and happy times in November, if his sun is right with Mercury. Or some such. Anyway, the explainer for all this weirdness: October is for the kiddies late in the month with spooky things lurking about and little hands stuffed with all sorts of junk moms don’t want them to have—candy, gum, peanuts, and more of the same. The Pundit is all in on Halloween, which has its origins in Scottish myths, celebrating with bonfires the dying of the light as harvest time ends and the winter months begin. Pundit just loves to spoil the kiddies and smiles a knowing, friendly pipe-clenching smile to the parents hovering at the door as spooks and hobgoblins bounce about. November brings family birthdays and the Big Turkey Day. In the Southland, Thanksgiving is something on the order of the divine, producing a treasure of lasting memories gathered around a bountiful table with crazy uncles lurking about. Later, the old guard settles into easy chairs, rub their bellies, and lights a pipe of special Thanksgiving-ordered tobacco blends. We are thinking of you C&D! Then arrives December, the real month of giving and days with families over meals of legendary proportions. More crazy uncles abound. And of course, the giving part brings up pipes and tobacco. The Pundit loves both November and December for all the above-mentioned events, coursing on down to Christmas. To Pundit’s pipe-smoking friends, they are charted in on the Christmas list to receive tobacco tins or a pipe. And that has me thinking of the late William (Bill) Unger, who was a formidable presence in the North American Society of Pipe Collectors. I met Unger at a long-ago Chicagoland Pipe Show. He convinced me to sign up for the NASPC Newsletter and then asked me how many pipes I owned. At that moment, the Pundit pipe population was roughly 50 or so. “Oh, so you are a pipe collector,” Unger said. “Well, maybe,” was my response. “Never really thought about collecting pipes.” And Unger spake (sic, yes from the Middle English), the phrase for which he was resolutely so famous: “If you have one pipe, you are a pipe smoker. If you have two pipes, you are a pipe collector,” if memory serves the Pundit. I followed Unger and was quite excited the year NASPC decided that its 2014 Pipe of the Year would be a design Unger preferred, the old Custom-Bilt (I have but one in the herd now). Unger died in 2013 from Leukemia, so the job of the NASPC POY for the collectors was handed to Rich Lewis of Minneapolis. Minn., one of the premier pipe-makers in the nation. Knowing Unger’s penchant for the Custom-Bilt pipes, Lewis fashioned a straight panel Lovatt. Of course, the Pundit was among the first for the 29 or so created by Lewis. The pipe carried the quite proper nomenclature of “Custom-Bill.” The Pundit gave it to himself to handle his gift which included November birthdays, Thanksgiving mythic meals, and Christmas spirit, sans crazy uncles. For you collectors, you can read about Bill’s book, The Custom-Bilt Pipe Story, if you can locate the spiral-bound published in 2001. Amazon once listed Bill’s book. A quick check shows it is unavailable now on that jumbo book site. For those who want to enrich their pipe knowledge Rich Esserman has written an excellent article about William Unger, and his “Custombilt” book. And now for a parting quote or two: First up is Uncle Walter, that’s CBS’ Famous Evening News broadcast journalist, Walter Cronkite, of course. He was born Nov. 4, 1916, in St. Joseph Missouri, and died July 17, 2009. Probably the one quote most people recall occurred each evening as the legendary broadcast journalist signed off: And that’s the way it is. Walter, a consummate gentleman, and pipe smoker, also said, Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles. And then there is the legendary Sir Winston Churchill, born  Nov. 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, and died Jan. 24, 1965, at Hyde Park Gate, London. Choosing just one quote from the Prime Minister who led England and the world through World War II with his words and actions is impossible. So, here come a couple to whet your appetite for learning more about the soldier, journalist, prolific author, politician, and political leader: Oh, and, yes, although Sir Winston was most famous for his love of cigars and brandy, he also was an occasional pipe smoker and artist! To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to change often. The price of greatness is responsibility. Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. Here is wishing all a grand November, leading into December, that month of months of precious memories and dancing elves!

  • Autumnal Comings and Goings

    October is that deep-breath month we take when the sizzle of summer begins to fizzle and fades into the joys of autumn. The month always puts me in the mood for a walk in the mountains. With pipe, of course. Fall colors depend upon weather, shorter days, and cooler nights. These events limit sunlight, starving deciduous trees of chlorophyll, its sugary food. So, following the natural chemistry of deciduous trees leads us down a trail of transformative annual colors. Greens change clothes from green to reds, yellows, purples, and a painter’s palette of art-worthy other hues, showcasing special autumnal moments in the natural world. And no, the Pundit is not a arborist. He just thinks he is. Each fall deciduous trees in the mountains do their best to festoon hills and ridges with so much beauty. When the mists rise over the ridges, and lift away, beneath lie the changing hills and valleys. During this short, in-between season of nature in its rainbow of natural blush, it seems as if the slopes rust from tiptop to their root tips, in nature’s full kaleidoscopic fashion. Back in the Pundit’s flyfishing days on burbling mountain streams in fall, it was de rigueur to make sure pipe and tobacco pouch were firmly housed safely in flyfishing vest. On one of these precious long ago days, Pundit waded an Arkansas mountain stream, a beautiful four-mile stretch of water known as the Norfork. The river was a tailwater of the famed White River, a trout fisherman’s paradise. Here rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout frolic for a variety of watery bugs, such as hatching mayflies. I had just purchased a special  German-made trout knife that hung around the Pundit’s neck for quick access. The shiny blade was housed in its nice leather pouch, sans button-down leather flap to hold it secure. Pitching a fly line into this water one fall day with knife—and a pipe clenched tightly—Pundit found a willing customer nibbling one of my special hand-made ties. Excited, I fought the big trout and watched it leap in attempting to dislodge the fly hooked in the trout’s hard upper lip. There was wild acrobatics swooshing up and out of the stream with more leaps and frantic tail flapping. And—as the Stoics warned, do not become attached to things, for they are not forever—I hastily leaned over to haul in the big boy with my net when suddenly, away into the wine-dark water flew my lovely knife vanishing ‘neath the billows like Odysseus’ Ino (Goddess of the Sea) veil. With sincere apologies to the ancient Greek poet Homer. Like our mortal hero lost at sea, I yelled expletives. So aghast I was, I believe I heard dark Poseidon himself reply, “Go! Go, rove your high seas if you must, and take your blows!,” for right then I lost my most precious pipe as “a wave suddenly took it and Nymphe Ino’s hands received it” away into the fast-running water. Dear reader, pause a moment if you will, and imagine my shock at the burbling, green-blue stream so immediately thieving away my treasures, along with the now dislodged trout as if for good measure. Just a moment earlier I was a placid hunter in the god-loved lands of the Phaeacians. Now I was a forlorn man. A complete loss! Total discombobulation. In addition to losing the big one that got away, Pundit lost a fine German-made trout knife and a very pricey pipe. Lesson one: Never purchase a German-made blade and hang it around your neck in an open leather pouch while flyfishing fast-moving trout waters. Lesson two: When flyfishing fast-moving trout tailwaters below power-producing rivers, smoke only inexpensive cobs—they’re the best smokers for the money. And if they drop into the “sucking ebb sheeting with foam” of our finest fast-moving trout waters, at least you haven’t lost expensive blade and pipe, which continue to float in the mists of dreams to this day! These days, Pundit is content to stroll about in the color sensation of the moment in mountains, pipe firmly in hand. Flyrod left at home. My enjoyment today sitting next to mountain cascades is watching others wade the streams, whilst I confidently puff and marvel at the splashy canopy of colors. Which reminds old Pundit of one of his favorite poems by one of his favorite poets, Robert Frost. A couple of lines if you please, maestro, will do here: From the poet’s autumnal poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay: “Nature’s first green is gold,  Her hardest hue to hold.” If you are a poetry, buff, ahem, you can read the short poem at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/148652/nothing-gold-can-stay-5c095cc5ab679 Now for a few more short takes. This time of year, I enjoy pure Virginias. Okay, call me flaky, that’s perfectly fine. I love Virginia flakes as well when ridge-chilled winds rush into the valleys. I am among those who bemoan the demise of the cherished McClelland blends, most especially the famed nonpareil 5100 Red Cake Virginia. And, of course, the much-lamented loss of McClelland’s annual Christmas Cheer of outstanding broken flake Virginias. I first found this fabulous blend in 1992. One more to whet the tobacco appetite is Iwan Ries IRC slices, another favorite this time of year. This is a fine Old Belt flue-cured Virginia flake with a dollop of perique. You can find its review at https://www.tobaccoreviews.com/blend/2725/iwan-ries-irc-slices Now, a couple of old pipe smokers of the past: Günter Grass, Nobel Prize winner in Literature and a prolific German author of novels, poems, plays, and graphic art. He was born, Oct. 16, 1927, and died April 13, 2015. And Evelyn Waugh, British journalist, novelist, and travel writer, was born Oct. 28, 1903, and died April 10, 1966. A parting quote from Waugh sums up the autumnal comings and goings: “Change is the only evidence of life”–Brideshead Revisited Photos by Fred Brown

  • Old friends of the Pundit Precious Herd. From left to right a vintage Peterson St. Patrick’s Day, a 1960s basket Dublin, a Michel Deluxe Lovat Made in England of unknown purchase date and a Dunhill 5103 Amber Root, also of unknown purchase date. Photo by Fred Brown
    Truer than True, a Thing or Two

    Call me an Anglophile. That’s okay. I become all misty-eyed when I think of the British Isles. Now, don’t get Pundit wrong, I’ve visited France and Germany and enjoyed tripping about in these destinations as well, especially Paris. We will always have Paris, kid! But when I consider the pipe community connections to Great Britain, as well as family ancestry, it just puts a lump in the throat. And our pipe history, of course, has consequential connections to the Indigenous people of America. Tobacco was in use by Native Americans ages before Europeans discovered the luscious leaf. Here are a couple of links you can check out to bone up on your pipe smoking history. Just sayin’. https://www.fumerchic.com/en/content/17-the-origins-of-the-smoking-pipe https://www.tobaccopipes.com/blog/tobacco-pipes-history-looking-back/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipe_smoking#History The European influence, as well as the Native American tobacco history, has huge meaning for us today. Native Americans were smoking tobacco leaf eons before our European brethren found out about the pleasures of pipe tobacco puffing. And then there is our link to the Revolutionary War era when farmers planted tobacco and puffed away in inns and taverns. Our relations, both personal and global, with Europe, however, serve us so well today. Just think of our many hand-carved pipe purchases or else manufactured in Europe, giving us some of the finest smoking instruments on the planet. What has me thinking about my pipe collection is that 99.9 percent were crafted by European artisans. Not to say that I ignored our fabulous American pipe makers. Indeed, some of my finer smokers are American-made. Now, before you run screaming out the door, let Pundit explain a bit. I am enamored of Sir Winston Churchill, the famous cigar smoker, and an occasional pipe puffer. I’ve mentioned my fascination with the man who “took the English language” to war in WWII in this space many times. But other influential Europeans have also guided my pipe buying decisions, such as authors C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, the ground-breaking philosopher, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, of course, and the list could continue into the night, if you get the Pundit’s drift. Not to be overlooked, of course, is the ultimate pipe-smoking maestro of the written word, Mark Twain, who consumed cigars and pipe tobacco in massive quantities and wrote some of the finest fiction and non-fiction in our literary history. If you’ve never visited the Twain home in Hannibal, Mo., then that is a shrine you need to put on your bucket list. The Pundit wanted to move to Hannibal after a visit. Let’s not forget the Southern iconic author William Faulkner who loved his Dunhill 965 tobacco and Prince Albert when he depleted his 965 stash. And of course, the Pundit has visited Faulkner’s idyllic farm home near Oxford, Miss. Took the requisite tour and was astounded to see the Nobelist author’s tweed coat hanging on a hook in a hallway. A docent told me they found a pipe and a can of Prince Albert in the coat and left it hidden in the pocket. You know the Pundit asked to search the pocket, but the docent turned a cautious eye toward me and shook his head in a vigorous, unmistakable, and resounding, “no!” So, where is all this leading? Glad you asked! Europe for the Pundit, who has visited many an American military cemetery in France, is special. Here lie American soldiers who gave up all for freedom. Plus there is nothing that quite matches a walk down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland. And then stopping off at Sandy Bell’s famous folk pub. The Pub, which is like a social club in Scotland (you pick your Pub early in life and mostly stay with it to the end), is just the place for a pipe, and ale or stronger, and a song. Traditional music from the United Kingdom, and Ireland, of course. But a wee dram or a pint or two will do ye. And, for goodness sakes, don’t attempt to drink it up with the pros. You lose every time. As living proof, I tried to learn the bodhran, an ancient Celtic drum that takes some bouncy rhythm thing in your bones to play well. All the while, clenching a new Peterson Pipe with some very strong leaf. Add too much Guinness Extra Stout and you will be hobbled like a Colorado cowboy lassoing a wild calf on the plain. Walking in the sunshine the other morn, with pipe firmly clamped, these thoughts began rummaging around in my pipe dreaming mind. You get the picture. But it is also fond to recall younger days, traveling, walking, and now today having to find sunny morns for pipe and footfalls. Pipes hold treasured memories and that is why the Pundit is in sort of a pensive mood. I’m going through the precious collection and wondering what to do. A nagging notion has invaded the Pundit’s thoughts. Perish the thought of selling some of the precious herd! But, what to do? I thought I would never reach a stage in life to think of such a thing as parting with a single pipe. I still have my first pipe, as well as my last purchase. The herd is well over 200 pipes today. In all these 45-plus years of smoking my beloved pipes, I have only traded one for a new pipe, which I regret to this day. I rummage through my pipes like you would a family photo album. You recall places and times, smiling faces, birthday events, weddings, births, vacations, and on and on. That’s the way it has become for me and my collection. Each pipe springs forth a memory long ago lost at a crossroads. Pundit may be pushed into parting with a few of his pipe treasures just to thin out the herd for future purchases, perhaps, or having to downsize in other areas of life, i.e. books, newspapers, magazines, do-dads, etc. Mayhaps pensive is too soft a word for my thoughts on this crossroads of time […]

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