- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 517
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 517! Our featured interview tonight is with pipe maker Robert Amundson. Robert might be the most northern pipe maker in the world. He lives in Alaska, and there is a town named North Pole, and it’s south of him. Like many pipe makers he has a background in carpentry. He was inspired to explore pipe making while buying a pipe in a store in 2014 and seeing a block of briar, which he also bought. Robert is a member of The Seattle Pipe Club, and he made their Pipe of the Year in 2021. In Pipe Parts, we will have an Ask the Tobacco Blender segment with Jeremy Reeves. Jeremy is the Head Blender at Cornell & Diehl, which is one of the most popular boutique pipe tobacco companies in the USA. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 516
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 516! Our featured interview tonight is with Dr. Charles “Matt” Watson. Matt holds a Ph.D in Quantitative Biology, an M.S. in Biology, and a B.S. in Wildlife Science with a minor in Forestry. He is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. In our opening Pipe Parts segment, Brian will offer advice on what to look for when buying old / estate tins of tobacco to tell if the seal has been compromised. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 515
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 515! Our featured interview tonight is with Jeremy Reeves. Jeremy is the Head Blender at Cornell & Diehl, which is one of the most popular boutique pipe tobacco companies in the USA. Jeremy has been a pipe smoker for over a decade and is passionate about pipes, pipe tobacco, and blending tobacco. Tonight’s discussion will focus on tobacco grading, and believe it or not, there are some funny things involved with this. Did you hear the one about the farmer’s daughter? In our opening Pipe Parts segment, Brian will discuss one of his favorite drink pairings with a pipe – coffee. He has four cups a day. Whoa. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- 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 […]
- Review: Cellar-Diving with GL Pease JackKnife Plug Vintage 2011
This cellar-diving kick is really paying off, considering the time and effort that went into stocking the coffers with tobacco meant to be enjoyed with some age on its side. This month’s candidate for review is a tin of JackKnife Plug dated 6th April 2011, among the first production runs of this blend from the New World Collection. Having done a release review for it and its fraternal twin JackKnife Ready Rubbed back in 2012, and seeing as this tin is just reaching its eleventeenth birthday, it seems a fitting time to revisit what Mr. Pease hath wrought. Opening the tin with no small amount of anticipation, one can really appreciate the way patience can pay off with tobacco. The aromatics release with a whoosh of pressure, itself an immensely satisfying sound while peeling back the lid. The scents fill the air immediately, strong and sweet tones that flood the entire room: up front, the rich bitter sweetness of a Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange, baker’s chocolate; developing over some time with nuances like rich mulched earth, brand new leather shoes, a phenolic tinge reminiscent of Dettol or pine tar, and an underlying meatiness of a lightly-charred steak. Over the course of a couple of weeks making my way through the tin, the aroma tempers down to a more familiar chocolate-covered cherry cordial with layers of parchment and a briney umami saltiness like soy or Worcestershire sauce. It’s tempting, with all this chocolaty aroma, to take a bite out of the brownie-like bar of tobacco, a feeling I’m surely not alone in contemplating. The presentation does however invite closer inspection of the tobacco, such a tangible thing when in bar form. This 11-year-old plug is only lightly dusted with the whitish ‘sugar crystals’ often found on aged Virginia blends, and peering into the layers from outermost to innermost there is a general uniformity of color and texture all the way through—again, and not to belabor the point, but the color is a rich, bitter dark chocolate-brown that perfectly mirrors the aromas. The composition of this blend is clearly no accident, no haphazard mashing together of leaf. Greg clearly set out with a goal in mind: exploring the breadth and depth of the character that could be created when working with the darling of the pipe tobacco world at the time, dark-fired Kentucky. Dark-fired enjoyed a bit of a heyday with the release of these GLP offerings, as well as a host of others such as MacBaren’s HH Old Dark Fired. Speaking on the composition of JK Plug versus Ready-Rubbed, he notes: The blend is identical, with one small exception. The plug is constructed with a core of brights, and the darker tobaccos surrounding it. This allows the brights, theoretically, to express themselves with more purity in the blend. They’re not under as great an influence from the fire-cured and red tobaccos. Doing this with the [Ready Rubbed] wouldn’t work well, because of the way the tobacco clumps, so the blocks are not stratified in this way. The same tobaccos in the same measures are just layered and pressed for the same length of time, then the blocks are sliced and tumbled. It’s the same technique used for the Old London mixtures. It was also clearly intended with aging in mind; again, in Greg’s own words: When I first designed the stuff, I had no idea what the future would bring. There was certainly no reason to think it would do anything but age wonderfully, but you never know. The plug form causes internal anaerobic fermentation, while the outer layers are still exposed to plenty of air. The other night, I opened an 8-month old tin of the final prototype. The aroma was intoxicating, and the smoke was HUGE. I think it’s safe to say it’s going to age really, really nicely. And quickly. I would have believed the tobacco in that tin to have been 5 years old already. With more than a decade under the hood waiting to prove or disprove this theory, the bar was sliced thin and thick, folded, rubbed, and stuffed into a variety of bowl geometries to tease out its flavors, and the results are resoundingly positive. The verdict? JackKnife Plug has the character and complexion of the heartiest of English blends, while being completely absent of Latakia or Oriental leaf. It ages like a peaty single-malt of the finest provenance, developing layers and depth that belie the relative simplicity of its ingredients. I quickly gravitated toward a wider, open-chambered pipe for tasting, one that I would generally use for English blends, as it naturally accommodated the finer nuances of the smoke—and the smoke is certainly huge. The top of the bowl starts with a piccolo-like overture from the Virginia-Perique nexus, with a peppery nose prominently laying the groundwork for what’s to come—think Shostakovich’s 6th, first movement (in fact, this piece is a good parallel overall; perhaps without quite as much of the bombast of later movements). The sweetness is surprisingly underplayed, however—the Perique quickly becomes a background spice, lending sour notes while falling in step with the harmony of the Virginia’s more leathery tones. The sharp edges are all well-rounded over here; far from being able to bite, this smoke develops a thick, steak-dinner mouthfeel almost immediately, one which lingers for a good while after the pipe is finished. By mid-bowl the full composition really comes together, with the darker smokiness of the Kentucky burley stepping center stage even while some of the sweetness sneaks back in. In fact, for beverage pairings I favor an extra-sweet iced tea or soft drink as personal preference. The umami of mid-bowl builds and builds through to the heel, as the chocolaty and nutty tones segue into barbecue woods and steak char, with a touch of Worcestershire still interwoven from the Perique’s spice. Somewhat surprisingly for such a stout blend, the nicotine does not overwhelm—it’s a solid medium-plus, though, best enjoyed after a meal. While my preference with the plug […]
- Cellardiving with GL Pease – GLP Westminster 2007 Review
Having been rather pleased with my last foray into the further reaches of my cellar, it seemed like a good theme to stick with for a bit. Last month’s Sunset Breeze was a pleasant surprise; honestly, I’d expected the aromatic to have faded into a shadow of its former self. That it hadn’t done so speaks highly of the blender’s art and quality of the ingredients. With that in mind, I went digging through my modest collection to find another artful blender’s offerings—the estimable G.L. Pease marque this time. The treasure I came up with is a tin of Westminster from March 2007, placing it amongst the first production runs of this blend, and what a treat it was to find. The blend itself is Pease’s homage to the fabled pre-Murrays London Mixture. While my own journey with pipes commenced much later than the halcyon glory days of many of these fabled 60’s-to-80’s-era blends, many of which continue to inspire new iterations with every generation of pipe blenders—such as The Balkan Sobranie, Three Nuns, and the panoply of the old House of Dunhill blends—I have had the good fortune to taste samples of many of these storied labels at various pipe club gatherings or from friends’ cellars, and a few have even found their way into my own collection; however, they are few and far between, and I am not a collector of them as a rule (excepting, of course, my precious vintage Escudo). Which is a rather long-winded way of saying that I am blissfully not tied to holding this up as a blend comparison, but rather able to freely enjoy it on its own merits, of which there are very many to be sure. Time has been much more than kind to this tin—in fact, I would say it has been downright magnanimous. As far as English blends go, Westminster certainly deserves its place as a modern gold standard. As the tin commends, it truly is a perfect every-day English: rich, but restrained; sweet, but just enough to offset the sour; mild, and easy on the palate. The end of a bowl simply begs for a refill, and it carries well at any time of day—with the morning tea, afternoon work, or evening contemplation. Peeling back the lid on this 15-year-old tin releases a whoosh of vibrant, colorful aromas: flat cola, well-oiled shoe leather, corn starch come to mind, along with the faint muskiness of hide glue, the sense-memory of pencil shavings (and perhaps even some chalkboard dust), and nut shells. Of that last one, indulge me some excessive specificity: having recently spent some time on a pecan orchard, I can testify without reservation that I can detect the scent of last year’s fallen and fallowed nuts from the tin. Don’t condemn the purple prose; consider that this is all just a very specific way to express the earthy, vegetal richness found in the opening bouquet. The Virginia in the blend certainly has given it long, sexy legs, all its earthiness aside. The rough cut is a departure from the vintage Dunhill presentation of fine ribbon, of course, but suited perfectly to the ingredients here in order to balance “breathing room” for aerobic activity against the tightly-pressed cuts and their more anaerobic endeavors. Allowing the tin some breathing room, the initial boisterousness of the Virginias unsealing settles down and the aroma attenuates to a more subtly complex, Scotch-like smokiness. The aroma of the prepared bowl from the charring light to the heel does not disappoint; it lights and puffs effortlessly, with breathy, easy sips from the bowl conjuring fall foliage, dusty libraries, spice bazaars, and warm summer rooftops, and of course all that earthiness that was prattled on about earlier. The tannic piquancy of the Cyprian Latakia is highlighted by the other Oriental components, weaving perfectly within the structure of the Red and bright base—yet there are no overbearing solo measures in this orchestration; every part is in equal and complementary proportion. It also holds a remarkable consistency of flavors from beginning to end, with the first light as flavorful and every bit as complex yet subtle as the last sips from the heel. Additionally, it has an exquisite smoothness on the palate, even after repeated bowls, with an aftertaste of steak and char. Recommended accompaniments are a sturdy English breakfast tea for morning or noon, veering toward a Scotch or Cognac for evening times. While some may find it too mild, for my taste that works in its favor. I personally tend to prefer the Latakia component on the restrained side, and Westminster is a masterwork of balance in this regard. Far be it for me to suggest one tamper with perfection, but in our hearts each of us is a tinkerer by nature, and so the blend does lend itself admirably as a base to add a pinch of this or that to; a common refrain one finds on the forums is adding a bit more Latakia to the blend, and I find that a pinch of Basma adds a nice creamy complexion to the smoke, and Drama adds…well, a nice amount of drama. By his own reckoning, Greg Pease embarked on the creation of Westminster as a way to recapture the experience of the pre-Murrays London Mixture, if not a re-creation of the blend itself. From his Briar & Leaf Chronicles: “In addition to being a delightful smoke, Westminster has allowed me to revisit, and in a way relive the past in a way that no other of my blends have. My old tins of London Mixture are magnificent, and are part of my little treasure box. One day, if all goes well, a few ancient tins of Westminster will take their place.” Since its release in 2007 it has been a mainstay of the brand, and as mentioned before is rightfully considered a benchmark blend against which others are held. Opening this tin from its 15-year slumber, and noting every flavor nuance as […]
- Heat Waves
I do not like hot weather. When the mercury pushes close to body temperature, my icy heart begins to melt, and when it reaches the point where I break out in a sweat as a result of the strenuous act of sitting upright, I consider calling around to see if I can book time in one of the refrigerated drawers at a local morgue. Heat and I just don’t get along well. We never have. Indulge my rambling, if you will; this really is about pipes and tobaccos. During the cooler months, I’m most often drawn towards fuller mixtures, rich with latakia, redolent of those wonderful aromas of campfires and leather and the smells of classic British sport cars and motorbikes that occupied so much of my youth. Seriously. It’s not the spice of orientals alone that brings comfort, but the warm blanket of latakia itself. These fuller mixtures recall some of my fondest smoking memories. I’m reminded of walks in the woods on cool, misty days, when the smoke would hang in the air, chilled by the moisture, its perfumed clouds delighting my senses, or evenings by the fire, accompanied by a wee dram of a fine malt, a comfortable chair and a good book. When the weather is all “hotting up,” though, I find latakia, in more than gentle seasoning proportions, to be too much of a good thing, almost overwhelming, so I turn to lighter mixtures and especially virginia blends, with or without perique. It’s something I’ve always found interesting, if occasionally vexing. Is it the temperature? The humidity? The pressure of the air molecules as they dance around, mingling with the tobacco’s smoke? Cosmic rays? Is it a subtle change in body chemistry that results from seasonal changes in diet? Set and setting? Or, is it some confluence of all these factors, and others not noted, that has such a profound influence on my smoking pleasure? I know I’m not completely alone; over the years, I’ve had conversations with pipe smokers who experience similar changes in tastes as the weather shifts. Interestingly, others insist that I’m delusional, that climate has no influence at all upon their choice of tobacco, and that they smoke the same tobaccos year round. Perhaps they live in relatively constant climates, or choose tobaccos with smoking characteristics that are less influenced by climate. Sometimes, I’m a little jealous of them; having my choices limited by something as intractable as the weather can be challenging to my inner control freak. But, the influence of climate on smoking can be subtle or alarming, and no amount of note-taking has led me to anything resembling actual understanding. Hold that thought. I first became aware of this phenomenon one cool autumn evening while waiting with some friends for a table at a popular restaurant. I had with me a lovely smooth Drucquer/LaCroix apple, one of my finest smokers at the time, and a tin of my recently discovered Benson & Hedges Finest Smoking Mixture[fn]The B&H was a beautiful mixture, produced by Gallaher, Ltd, and it came in a beautiful red and gold tin. Virginias, with a bit of latakia and perique, and it was this blend that inspired my own Piccadilly. Tonight, as I scribbled my final paragraphs, the weather was cool, breezy, and felt like rain might be coming; rumor has it there’s a storm developing off the coast. I’m enjoying that very combination that I enjoyed so much that evening so long ago. We’re all quite a few years older, tobacco, pipe and smoker, but the experience is no less superb, and the memories kindled, equally so.[/fn]. Knowing that we’d have at least a 45 minute wait, I had time for a bowl. That smoke was one of those memorable ones that always brings a smile when recalled. (How many remember when you could smoke a pipe in public without a torch and pitchfork brigade instantly forming a circle, insisting you are killing babies not yet conceived and chanting demands for your head? How far we’ve fallen in so few years.) It wasn’t the first time I’d smoked that tobacco in that pipe, but it was somehow different. It led me down a path of wonder just how much environmental factors can influence the enjoyment we take from burning a bowl of shredded leaves. One of the most dramatic examples of this that I can recall happened in August of 2002, while visiting friends in Denmark. There is a certain tabac, a Virginia flake loved by many, but one that I generally find tortuous; smoking it has always seemed to me to be the pipe smoking equivalent to sucking on the business end of a plasma cutter. I figured it was just a body chemistry thing. But when a friend offered a fill of this hell-spawned leaf, his regular smoke, I graciously accepted, rubbed out a flake, tamped it into the smallest pipe I had with me, and was astonished by the experience of a cool and enjoyable smoke. What? Figuring there must be some difference between the “home trade” tobacco sold in Denmark, and what was exported to the US, I bought a couple tins for further exploration. During my visit, I smoked through most of the first tin, enjoying every bowl, but when I returned to California, that very same tobacco, in the very same pipes, reignited my fear and loathing of the stuff. The temperatures at home and in Copenhagen at the time were not much different, so clearly something else was at play. If I were to throw a dart at the guess board, it would be that humidity was a factor. Another, albeit somewhat embarrassing anecdote might put a bit of meat to the bones of this hypothesis. One morning, some years ago, while still brain-fogged by insufficient sleep following a late night gig, I found myself coming to barely-waking consciousness whilst in the shower. Nothing odd there. But, the pipe clenched between my teeth at the time […]
- Pipe Mysteries
Each month, my brain fabricates a few good ideas for this column, and a lot of silly ones. Usually, one of them sticks, and things just sort of flow from there. Sometimes, though, all those thought trains get derailed by some random preoccupation that takes hold with the tenacity of a terrier. This is one of those, for what it’s worth. It started when, stimulated by reading a recent wonderful review in this very publication of my own Westminster, I just had to open a similarly aged tin. For no discernable reasons, I’ve spent the past several months smoking mostly Virginia dominated blends, some with perique, some without, some with orientals, some with just a pinch of latakia. Those who have followed my follies for any length of time will recognize this as somewhat anomalous, as I’ve almost always been a bit of a steadfast latakia-phile, especially in the cooler months that we’ve now left behind. But, all through the autumn and winter months of 2021/22, Virginias have dominated my puffing patterns. I’ve really enjoyed the jaunt, but it was time to book passage back home, at least for a while, and that review was all the fare that was necessary for the trip. I grabbed a tin of a big, full mixture, pulled the ring, and fastened my seatbelt for the ride. That first bowl, after so many months, was nearly transcendent. All those familiar aromas and flavors were just so comfortable, and at the same time so nostalgic. This is the stuff that pulled me to the world of the pipe all those years ago. Aromas of wood smoke and leather and exotic spices that dance in the air and on the palate, reminiscent of those early days when I first wandered into Drucquer & Sons and fell in love with pipes and tobaccos. Back then, Virginias never held my attention for more than a bowl. I’d tried many of them, of course, but again and again, after a bowl was finished, I wanted something more savory, more complex, more Balkan. Those were the blends that felt complete to me, then, that I had a deep relationship with, while the Virginas were just delightful dalyances, a bit of an amuse bouche in preparation for the main, the plat principal which would almost always follow. (And, to stretch that analogy, perhaps to its breaking point, that’s where I’d always stop; I’ve just never been much of a desert guy.) A few days into this rediscovery, I pulled a cherished sandblasted lovat from the rack, filled it from the tin, gently applied fire, and waited for the music to start. The first puffs were like the orchestra tuning up; all those notes from all those instruments were there, if somewhat cacophonous, but then things went sideways. At the second light, the conductor’s baton poised for the downbeat, most of the orchestra, en masse, got up from their chairs and walked off the stage. The relationship between briar and leaf is one of those great and wonderful mysteries to me, and is something I’ve written about before. (cf. The Pipe Doesn’t Matter.) It’s a discussion that often generates more heat than light, but it’s one of those vexing things that never seems to resolve. I’ll never understand those who insist that the pipe doesn’t matter, and this is just another example of why I continue to insist that it does. More on that in a minute or two. This particular pipe is a wonderful example that has provided many splendid smokes, always with Virginia dominated blends. It delivers a richly flavored, effortless smoke, cool and dry right to the bottom. Not this time. It didn’t taste bad or off; it simply attenuated the flavors I was expecting to the point of non-existence, delivering nothing more than warm air to a deeply disappointed palate. And, that’s the WTHH (What The Heck Happened) moment when the preoccupation mentioned in the opening paragraph began. Similar things have happened before, and as any sensible person would, I’ve just switched pipes, stayed calm, and carried on. I’m not always sensible, and this was one of those times, and this was one of the most extreme examples of this peculiar phenomenon I’ve ever experienced. So I chose, instead, to take the opportunity to see if I could learn something, beginning by isolating the obvious things. First off, I could rule out the geometry, the so-called “engineering” of the bowl and airway. The day before, I’d smoked the same tobacco in an almost identically sized, shaped and drilled pipe, and it was superb. To rule out the possibility of “dirty shank syndrome,” I cleaned it thoroughly with several pipe cleaners and some high proof alcohol, let it rest overnight and tried again. No bueno. Visiting the cake, which I prefer quite thin anyway, I reamed it almost to the walls. Ditto. The salt and alcohol treatment similarly had no effect. Neither did a visit to the lab oven with the bowl filled with activated charcoal. I tried drying the tobacco. No joy. Maybe it was me – some subtle change in body chemistry, or an interaction with what I’d been eating or drinking? Was my palate fatigued? Was the climate influencing things in a bad way? Another pipe, known to be more sociable with full mixtures, filled with the same tobacco quickly falsified those conjectures. Waiting a couple more days, I filled the thing from an old tin of UK-produced Capstan blue, and it performed absolutely brilliantly, like nothing odd had ever happened. A bowl of aged Fillmore the next day was equally engaging. Then, another bowl of the aged Westminster. Nothing but an hour of puffing on hot air. In my experience, more pipes form happy relationships with Virginias than with the fuller of the latakia mixtures. Not being much of an aromatic fan, I don’t have sufficient experience with these tobaccos to do more than speculate there, but I suspect they may behave a bit […]
- And Then There Were Three
The late Bill Unger, long-time secretary/treasurer of the North American Society of Pipe Collectors and editor of the Pipe Collector newsletter, was often quoted as saying, “If you have one pipe, you’re a pipe smoker. If you have two pipes, you’re a collector.” The question of what makes an aggregate of pipes an actual “collection” is something that I’ve often struggled with, and every attempt to pin things down has found me in the weeds. Collectors of most objets d’art tend to have some sort of focus, and to take the stance that my focus is on “pipes” has always felt a bit like a cheap way out. I have friends who collect a certain shape, or a certain maker’s work, or pipes from a specific country or era. One specializes in straight grain, always seeking the next incremental step towards perfection, while never accumulating too many pieces. I, on the other hand, have never been a specialist, but the term generalist doesn’t adequately describe my proclivity either. Over the years, as my tastes have changed and evolved, I’ve chased many different styles of pipe, resulting in an embarrassingly large gathering of briars that range from the most traditional to the frankly weird. Is it really a “collection” when the only thing that ties its elements together is not a thread but a mooring rope? Once, I was most interested in bulldogs, especially the squat bowl variant. One of my first good pipes was a GBD in this shape; so early along my collecting journey, I didn’t even know what the shape was called, but I was attracted by its almost UFO-like styling – I just found the shape engaging, Learning more about classic shapes, I began to look at other bulldog variants, and found myself gravitating towards the bent versions, especially rhodesians, with their round shanks, squat, voluptuous bulldog-esque bowls, and that wonderfully comfortable half-bend. I gathered quite a few of them, ranging in size from small to quite large, and thought I’d found my niche. Of course, this wouldn’t last forever, and soon other shapes caught my attention. The prince, long and elegant, with its wider bowl and gentle curve seemed like maybe it was the perfect shape. Its slender shank and long stem result in a light pipe that keeps the smoke out of your eyes. I’ve also often posited that there is no better “pointing pipe” than the prince. Then came the lovats. Their compact shape, short saddle mouthpieces and capacious bowls seemed to be my ideal. And, speaking of compact shapes, the little “brucianaso,” exemplified by the Castello #10, was so appealing, I found myself chasing them at a time when they were exceedingly rare. The billiard, at one time, seemed sort of boring to me, but it is such a classic shape, and when cut really nicely, has its own beauty and charm. Now, I have quite a few of them. And there are the apples, with their thick, curvaceous bowls that feel so good in the hand. And the Castello #55 pot, one of Carlo Scotti’s personal faves. Get the picture? Like a butterfly, I have always flitted from shape to shape, extracting the nectar of whatever form appealed to me at the moment before moving on to the next flower. But it was always the more classic shapes, the pipes from England, France, and to a degree, those from Italy that held my interest. Then, in the late 1990s, something changed, and I became attracted to some of the Danish styles, not so much the wild “freehand” shapes, but the modernist interpretations of classic pipe forms that came from the minds and hands of the early masters. The direction of Danish pipe making was born out of a functionalist design aesthetic, where minimalism and function, elegance and nuance held priority over the ornate. These makers took familiar forms and rendered them with sleeker lines, softer curves, and a more minimalist approach. Some were additionally inspired by nature, bringing new words to the vocabulary of pipe shapes. I was intrigued, and as more of these shapes found their way into my group, they scribbled another page of an increasingly disorganized book. They didn’t displace my beloved classics, but expanded my appreciation in yet another direction. Oh, and those crazy freehands? What can I say; some of those shapes are so wildly conceived, how could I ignore them? The butterfly finds flowers wherever they are. Mostly, I’ve just accepted, or ignored my rather mercurial tastes, but once in a while, something happens to bring my “strategy” into question. The other day, I was enticed by a beautiful piece by American maker Ryan Alden. I’ve known Ryan for years, and have bought a couple of his pieces, but this pipe lived outside of his norm, and mine. I had to have it. (It’s the sandblast piece in the accompanying photographs.) I’m not even sure I know what to call it. Urchin-esque? Squat apple? Cinnamon bun? Tomato? Nothing quite fits, but, as soon as I had it in hand, I realized that a couple other pieces I have bear similar profiles, like the pictured Bengt Carlson rusticated and bamboo-shanked piece by Taiwan’s Jerry Zenn. Will these three pipes become the cornerstone of a new direction, a new sub-collection? I’m not sure, but at the moment, I kind of hope so. I certainly have more than one pipe, so in deference to a dear departed friend’s memory, I’ll just try to accept his definition and find peace within my capricious nature. I am a pipe collector.
- More Is Better, Maybe!
Ah, the dog days of summer. Just think of your poor family dog who must endure the heat and humidity in a fur coat. The Pundit’s beautiful Golden Retriever just plops down on the floor exhausted and sleeps. A lot. And speaking of heat and humidity, a frightful thought on the global front, it is time to think of good summer tobaccos. Nothing too heavy, just a light little tap on the shoulder, so to speak. Maybe a Virginia-burley blend with a touch of Perique. I like the ribbon cuts for summertime smoking when the “livin’ is easy and the fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high,” with thanks to George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess opera. And, yes, back in the day, Pundit was quite the fly-tying, pipe-smoking, chest-wading, trout-hunting, crazy rod-toting, fly-fisherman. Corn cob pipes were for smoking when fat, high-flying trout were jumpin.’ Never one of those beautifully designed and lovingly hand-crafted pieces of old wood briar. No sir. No risks are taken when excited and shouting for joy with a large trout on the other end of the fly line. Only to note in the splashy chaos the magnificent briar leaped from mouth to the fast-moving stream and sped off downstream. But now back to dog days and pipe tobacco. Virginia-burley flakes are also a fav in the blistering days of summer. And let’s not bypass our light English blends. Or the noticeably light aromatics. Nothing drenched in dressing. A wee dram of topping will do. A few of the heavier Virginia-Burley blends, say from Cornell & Diehl, require patient puffing. Nothing rolling down the tracks at full steam sort of thing. Slow and easy with some of the heavier VaBurs. Especially if you are a nicotine wimp like the Pundit. A moderate nic hit is fine. But I have occasionally gone so far over the dark nic abyss with strong tobaccos loaded with nicotine so as to experience the onset of that most disconcerting sensation of falling, spiraling into the dark unknown, with cold sweats, hazy thinking, and hallucinations. “Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’ Poe’s “The Raven!” would then be the exquisitely apt verbal utterance we squeak out involuntarily when suffering the turbid depths of that awful green gills feeling. Okay, light up the Virginias with perhaps a little touch of perique and a dab of burley. Slow and easy on puffing, like hot evenings in the South. This next thought from the Pundit might be too much of an existential question, but here goes. Is it possible to own too many pipes? Have you successfully reached the end of pipe collecting and stuffing the cellar with more tobacco than you will ever consume? And do you then find this quiet realization quickly subsumed by a sudden and viral case of PAD, compelling one to add even more to the seemingly ever-expanding herd? Which then sends PAD sub-variants of TAD into whirls of ignition. Thus adding more pipes and tobacco to a sagging pipe shelf and a bloated tobacco cellar. How does one curtail the lifelong pleasure of collecting beautiful handmade pipes and artfully created tobacco blends? Cull and sell much of the overgrown collection, did I hear someone say! Nay, nay, replies Pundit. This is just not going to happen on Pundit’s watch. So, what to do? That’s a reasonable question. With perplexing problems that arise in every life, I fill a briar bowl with an aged blend of Virginia and puff away until a light goes on somewhere within the deep folds of the mind. No lights yet, but I’m working on it. Maybe a museum! Mayhaps my daughters will decide to keep them instead of tossing them (oh, the horror, the horror!). All suggestions toward a possible solution to this nagging problem will be greatly appreciated. No need to mention sales talk. It won’t compute. And now for a notable major cigar smoker and pipe personality from the past—Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. And commander of the “Birds” and other scary movies such as “Psycho,” both of which should not be viewed alone in the dark. Sir Alfred was born in Leytonstone, England, near London, on Aug. 13, 1899, and died in Los Angeles, Calif., on April 29, 1980. His legendary films collected 46 Academy Award nominations, including six wins, although he never achieved the award for Best Director despite five nominations. But he did earn two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! He was once referred to as a “young man with a mastermind.” And Sir Alfred was indeed the master of melodrama, suspense, and thrillers. Just the memory of “Psycho” gives Pundit the heebie-jeebies after all these years. A quote or two from the master of suspense: There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it A glimpse into the world proves that horror is nothing other than reality. And yes, boys and girls, Sir Alfred did indeed smoke pipes, despite his fearsome film noir. No less authority than guru tobacco reviewer Jiminks says the wizard of the thriller smoked Dunhill pipe blends. Amen to that. And one more notable consummate pipe smoker, former President Gerald R. Ford, who served our great nation from August 1974 to January 1977. The 38th President stepped up his vice presidential duties and guided the nation through its “long nightmare,” after Watergate took down his predecessor, President Richard M. Nixon. Again, Jiminks, says Ford reportedly smoked Field & Stream, Walnut, and also noted in a book publication he also puffed Edgeworth Ready Rubbed. The Pundit leaves you with one of his gems of thought: Pipe smokers are the mind workers of the world, an oft-repeated pipe proverb by the Pundit. We are an eclectic group that enjoys each other’s company and conversation. Those qualities seem to be in scarcity today. We need more pipe smokers, Quoth the Pundit.
- Law of Binding Energy
This may sound a bit over the top, but our pipe community is held together by some equivalent of the law of binding energy. So sayeth Dr. Pundit. Harrumph! Simply put, the law says the universe is held together by binding energy. Seen another way, the law explains in a blackboard full of Einsteinian math the energy it takes to separate us from the universe. Or something. Now, without getting too overwrought in the physics or chemistry of binding energy, let’s just say we are a bound community of pipe-loving groups. It would require a great deal of energy to separate us from our hobby. The Pundit has not run off the rails yet. See, our energy is connected through a community of pipes and tobacco, a village of individuals who enjoy just sitting around pontificating and puffing our beloved pipes. That’s binding and energetic. You get it if you have ever participated in a pipe club gathering. There is not enough energy to scramble one atom of our togetherness. That’s our law of binding energy. This short lecture is a windy opening to what is today’s reality in the pipe world, and our daily lives. Pay attention, class. There will be a pop quiz at the end of this discourse. Of late we have seen tectonic shifts in the “old normal.” The good old days, so it seems to the Pundit, have been pummeled by powerful events: the Covid pandemic virus and its many mutations of tragedy; supply chain choke holds; massive cargo ships becoming lodged in narrow river lanes like toy boats in a ditch; the Great Resignation spreading like a virus; a disastrous war in Ukraine and the threat of even more violence. Ok, the Pundit gets it. Enough of gloom and doom. Back to the original thought of our law of binding energy. It is similar to the law of supply and demand for pipe smokers. In simplest terms, when all other economic factors remain constant, the law of supply says that if prices go up, supply generally rises. But if supply remains constant, and prices continue to rise, demand generally drops. For us pipe smokers, supply and demand have been somewhat steady during these upside-down years. We have access to sufficient supply and, mostly, prices have not resulted in a bank shot off the charts. We pipe puffers have our own law of supply and demand, similar to our law of biding energy. Now, for the promised pop quiz. Pay attention, for another lecture of sorts is in order after this. Pop question: how do supply and demand affect pipe smokers? You in the back: “More supply means we have fewer pipes.” Wow, you weren’t paying attention. Ok, one more. You in the front row with your hand half raised: “We have too many pipes on cargo ships.” You fail, too. Correct answer: The Law of Supply and Demand may affect other segments of society, but not so much the pipes and tobacco community. There are too many of us in the demand side. No matter the prices. There, you have it. Now on to more important matters. Why do we celebrate Independence Day? If your answer is because some yokels in Boston tossed tea in an ocean, or it’s because we fly flags and blast fireworks into the night skies, one might want to dig a little deeper. Ok, so why do we celebrate? You there in the corner half asleep. “To celebrate independence from some king, or something.” Well, yes, but I was looking for a more profound answer. Such as, from whom did we snatch independence from the jaws of colonialism? In a more perfect union, the Fourth of July is the day the original thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, giving birth to a new America, and unbuckling itself from the nutjob King George III and Great Britain. America is 246 years young this July 4th. Ok, that was a little harsh about the royal nutjob. King Georgie suffered from insanity in spurts. History records that many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as those who penned the document, were tobacco farmers. This founding fathers’ fact, dear friends, gives pipe smokers bragging rights! So, the heart of all this is that after we’ve fired off that bucket full of fireworks to celebrate our precious independence, we can savor the notion that pipe smoking in America is not only patriotic but also historic. It’s that binding energy continuum thing. Tobacco formed the first cash crop of the British colonies. Think Jamestown and John Rolfe, the guy who married Pocahontas and was big in early Virginia politics. He also enjoyed tobacco and planted a crop of West Indies seeds, allegedly, in Jamestown in 1612. And on the money side, by the time of the runup to the American Revolution, just about all of the Southern Founding Fathers owed their wealth to the sale of tobacco. And to be historically correct, not all of them smoked tobacco. But tobacco smoking was common among the Founders, particularly using churchwarden-long clay pipes in the inns. See, many of the Founding Fathers (a tasty aromatic blend from Cornell & Diehl, just sayin’), were also pipe smokers. The author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was a tobacco farmer who puffed a pipe for a brief time. Benjamin Franklin was likewise a short-time pipe smoker while helping to edit the famous freedom document. We can forgive ol’ Benjy because floating a kite near lightning with a lit pipe might not have been a promising idea. Founders John Adams and James Madison, also tobacco farmers, knew a good pipe blend when they smoked one. By the way, Dolley Madison, wife of the fourth U.S. President, smoked a pipe and allegedly cigars as well. And now, dear friends, I hope by the time you read this epistle, you have had or will have a binding energy type Fourth. Finally, a message from our first U.S. President, […]
- A Trip to Tobaccoland
We are not in Kansas any longer, Toto. No. We are in Tobaccoland, nirvana, land of honey and Virginia, latakia, perique, and cavendish blended to a taste of the extraordinary. No, the Pundit hasn’t quite lost all of his faculties yet. He just puffed some of the C&D latest by the genius blender Jeremy Reeves, his Palmetto Balkan. If you haven’t grabbed a tin, you owe it to yourself to give it a go. It is a mite pricey, but ever so worth the price. Why is Pundit so over the moon? This is a superb blend, something out of the old school if you recall the old-time Balkans of yesteryear. Some of us old-time coots grew up on Balkan Sobranie. It was on the counters and shelves in about every bricks-and-mortar pipe store on Earth. There have been many an imitation, but few could match it. Now, I’m not saying Palmetto Balkan is an exact, leaf for leaf match. It just takes me back to the days when leisure was a pipeful of Balkan Sobranie, a good book, and time. A wonderful review of the new blend is found in Smokingpipes.com’s Chuck Stanion’s “Tobacco Talk” May 13. In his usual literary and enlightening prose, Chuck explains Cornell & Diehl’s latest small-batch creation from the fertile mind of Jeremy Reeves, head blender. Or should we say, virtuoso blender at C&D, or anywhere else. Reeves and C&D stuck to their sources in South Carolina in this production. Having spent a great deal of time near the Laudisi grounds during former vacations to the Grand Strand Low Country, and having attended college in South Carolina, my memories of the Palmetto State wear fondly in my heart. Now a quick trip into nostalgia for a bit of tobacco land backstory. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a fairly large Tennessee tobacco farm. Was that ever an enlightening event! The farmer who owned the acreage told me in that interview years ago that he wasn’t in tobacco farming for the money. “It gets into your blood,” he said. He grew up tobacco farming with his father and other family members. And in that day, tobacco was a significant portion of the family budget. But the work was neither easy nor short. A day went from before sunrise to after sunset. Lots of hands-on labor. Not until mechanization arrived, did tobacco farming become somewhat easier. Tractors and planters lessened some of the sweat, much better than urging a stubborn mule to plow long furrows. After all the demanding work of planting, harvesting, curing in his tobacco barn, and then transporting to a fall tobacco auction, the farmer said he made maybe enough money to give his family a good Christmas. Or pay down credit on equipment and taxes on the farmland that produced the tobacco. Remembering this event has gotten the Old Pundit to daydreaming about our tobacco blends today and how it all comes together for us pipe smokers. It’s not an easy process from field to curing to aging, blending, and then to the tin. After harvesting the tobacco leaf, the farmer (whose name has been lost in the mists of time) then had to bundle the leaf and haul it to the nearest auction barn. And like many other parts of our past, the tobacco auction barn has practically faded from the rural scenery, at least in Tennessee’s tobacco lands. So isn’t it a nice release to push aside all the chaos and calamity in the world today by just pulling out your pipe and loading with your favorite blend. Puffing on the good old times. Seems as if many of us are so submerged today in technology and hurly-burly that we sometimes fail to see our true realities. What brought me to this is looking at some of the old pipe smokers of the past. They had to deal with their everyday problems but hovering in the smoke plumes was a relief. Maybe we need more pipe smokers today, puffing away our troubles. I digress, of course. But with all the worldly problems, we need more pipes and tobacco, or as Mr. Einstein said: ”I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” Amen and amen. And now a couple of important dates of pipe smokers of the past: Shelby Foote, born Nov. 17, 1916, in Greenville, Miss., and died June 27, 2005, in Memphis, Tenn. Shelby was best known for his three-volume work, The Civil War: A Narrative, a deeply-researched and 20-year writing effort of the American Civil War. And, ahem, the Pundit purchased the volumes as they were published. I like this quote from Shelby that I believe is still relevant. It reminds me of the time he told me in an interview that unless we as Americans understand fully what took place before and during the Civil War, we can’t understand our country: The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things… It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads—Shelby Foote. And just to emphasize the work that went into his narrative of the great war, he wrote it out in longhand—no typewriter, no computer. He later typed the manuscript and never owned a computer. And one more great Canadian-American writer and pipe smoker of the past: Saul Bellow was born June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec, and died April 5, 2005, in Brookline, Mass. He was a three-time National Book Award winner, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, and a Nobel Prize in Literature winner. One of Bellow’s finest quotes: The best and purest human beings, from the beginning of time, have understood that life is sacred—Saul Bellow. A Pipe Pundit Parting Thought: Please remember our veterans this month. D-Day was 78 years ago, a day that changed the face of World War II and the world.