Watch for Updates Twice a Week

Radio Talk Show

  • Steve Fallon
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 598

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 598. Our featured interview tonight is with Steve “PipeStud” Fallon. Steve has one of the most popular consignment-auction businesses for estate pipes and vintage tobaccos that he’s been running since 2006. If you know Steve, you know he’s a big fan of the original Dunhill blend, Royal Yacht. The last time Steve was on the show was in 2020, so we’ll see what’s new with him, and the estate pipes and vintage tobaccos business. At the top of the show, Brian will discuss what to do with the tiny bits of tobacco at the bottom of the tin.

  • Charles Lemon
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 597

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 597. Our interview on tonight’s show is with Charles Lemon. Charles does pipe repairs and restorations, and is the author of the new book, “Brigham Pipes, A Century Of Canadian Briar”. It tells the story of the first 100 years of Brigham pipes, and includes an extensive shape chart with actual photos of the pipes. The book lays out not only the chronology of Canada’s most prominent pipe-maker but also never before compiled information on the pipes themselves, including the stamps, grading schemes and pinning patterns used between 1906 and 2006. In Pipe Parts, Brian talks to Jeremy Reeves, the head blender at Cornell & Diehl about growing, curing, fermenting, and aging tobacco.

  • Tyler Edwards
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 596

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 596. Our interview on tonight’s show is with Tyler Edwards from Levoy’s Leathers. Tyler is a commercial truck driver from Amarillo, TX. When he is not driving, he follows his passion for making handmade leather goods. The leather pipe accessories include pipe cleaner holders, valet trays, and leather pipe socks. He also has wallets, drink coasters, and passport holders. They all look beautiful and are reasonably priced. At the top of the show, we will have a Pipes 101 segment to discuss long pipes which include three of Brian’s favorite shapes.

Tobacco Reviews

  • McCranie's Roanoke Tobacco with Becker Pipe
    McCranie’s Roanoke Tobacco Review

    The winter winds are really whipping at the windows here in the northeast, lashing out the last gasps of the season. Not the best weather for outdoor pipes, frankly. Luckily here I am, snuggled tight inside next to a purring cat and a cozy heater, with a mug of warm chai, a book filled with adventures in tropical realms, and a pipe full of the taste of warmer climes. This month the particular blend in question is McCranie’s Roanoke, a delicious two-ounce serving of summertime-in-a-jar. A tobacco house patterned after the classics, McCranie’s is well known locally to Charlottians, and to pipe tobacco aficionados the world over. From its humble beginning as an Edward’s franchise back in 1979, its current incarnation is led by its third-generation namesake Matthew McCranie, who was interviewed by our very own Brian Levine on the radio show not too long ago. (Interview here.) Ask any veteran piper about McCranie’s Red Ribbon or Red Flake and they’ll likely get a wistful, far-away look in their eye as they recall the singular nature of those monumental marques that will unfortunately never be repeated.  The McCranie’s story is intricately tied to the McClelland story. McCranie’s landmark blends Red Ribbon and Red Flake, which showcased exceptional single-crop, single-year, local Carolina offerings, were processed and tinned by McClelland, and with the passing of that blending house a vacuum was created that was felt far and wide across the tobacco world. Not to be deterred, Matt McCranie dusted off the family blending cap and set about sourcing leaf and creating a whole new legacy for the brand. So it was that while shopping for review blends I navigated to the McCranie’s website and decided to sample some of their new offerings—and am I ever glad that I did. As I get older I find that it sometimes takes a more conscious effort to break out of habit and routine; I’ve hoarded plenty of Red Ribbon and Flake tins in my own cellar, yet had only tried one other of McCranie’s offerings, the also-erstwhile Murdock’s Pipe (a delightful blend, but not to my general preference). Well, it was high time to rectify that situation. The first thing of note is the presentation: McCranie’s own-label blends are now being offered in glass jars holding a full two ounces of leaf. As a matter of course I generally buy tobacco with the intent to set the majority of it aside to age while I whittle my way through a tin or two, and stocking up with glass jars makes me feel better about that investment in future enjoyments. The jar itself sports a simple label bearing the McCranie’s logo, the name of the blend, and a portion of the William James Linton engraving The Lost Colony, referencing the famous lost colony of Roanoke located in Dare County, on the Outer Banks. From the website we find the description of the blend: McCranie’s Roanoke is a rich and complex blend made of Red, Gold, and Dark Virginias with a helping of Louisiana Perique, perfect for Virginia Perique lovers. The Red Virginia provides a sweet and tangy flavor that complements the bold and spicy notes of the Perique. It’s a tobacco meant to be savored slowly to fully appreciate the flavors that develop throughout the bowl. Simplicity is what McCranie’s does best, and Roanoke is a perfect example of that simplicity in all its glory: a Virginia-Perique blend par excellence. Unscrewing the lid releases a burst of a sweet, tart bouquet that immediately carves out its own place in the genre. Top notes of raspberry jam and buttered toast hint of the tobacco’s sugary richness, and are a tantalizing departure from the more common lemony complexion of most VaPer blends. Some airing time brings mid-tones of driftwood and clay soil—a natural allusion to its namesake—along with more typical VaPer notes of mulled wine, ketchup, stone fruit, milk chocolate, and leather, along with the telltale nose-tingling that accompanies a healthy portion of Perique. The leaf still feels a little young at times, with the tiniest of edges and errant notes on occasion—this does, however, bode well for its future in the cellar, and did not intrude on the smoking experience negatively. The supple, chocolatey ribbons come at a perfect humidity for packing directly or allowing a short drying time, and the jar keeps a clear concentration of the aromas contained like a brandy snifter, without the cardboard or paper wrapper in tins that can color the aromas, if ever so slightly. In the bowl, Roanoke is a midwinter’s dream. Smoking lightly and effortlessly despite its obvious richness and youth, the first ounce disappeared within a week, before I’d even finished my tasting notes. It’s an easy one to recommend as an all-day blend—my own smoking habit has decreased significantly in the past several years and leaves me readily susceptible to a too-sharp Virginia tongue bite, but this never even nipped at the edges. On the contrary, it delivered a rich and colorful smoke bowl after bowl in the same pipe, with a flat-cola mouthfeel and aftertaste better than any blend in recent memory; I’d place it alongside an aged Escudo or Sunday Picnic in a heartbeat. The Perique component is at a good amount, alluringly drawing out the complementary flavors of the variety of Virginias employed and providing a finely nuanced cohesion to the overall. Repeated rations in the same pipe were never an issue, and in fact seemed to improve the flavor of each subsequent helping. For all its flavor it’s notably mild in nicotine, and the room note, though it lacks the richness of the direct smoke, casts a pleasant afterglow that doesn’t linger overlong. This blend certainly tells me that McCranie’s is still a name that carries its weight in the pipe world. Not many tobaccos make me want to plan a pilgrimage to their source. (I wonder what the airfare to Charlotte is this time of year…?) Also a blessing and a curse […]

  • Christmas-in-a-Can
    Christmas in a Can

    Try as one may, getting caught up in the Dreaded Holiday Rush is inevitable. So many errands to run, plans to be made, commitments to extend, and lots of traveling to do, to and fro; the whooshing sound that deadlines make as they fly by. Fortunately, we pipe smokers have a secret weapon against the onslaught of anxiety that such times can induce: kicking back with a bowl and a favorite blend, and savoring our time. Such it is that I finally get around to this deadline-busting installment of tobacco reviews, discovering three new blends peculiar to the season: Pipe Force Episode VI, Cringle Flake Holiday Edition 2023, and Plum Pudding Christmas Spirit, all brought to us from the house of Sutliffe Tobacco. Santa, eat your heart out. Pipe Force Episode VI A woody, tangy mixture of select Virginia leaf is elevated with Stoved Katerini, adding dark berry and spice. Dark-Fired Kentucky and St. James Perique enrich the base with earthy notes, pepper, and a light smokiness. Episode VI is a savory, vinous evolution from the natural sweetness and dark flavor of the Virginia/Perique genre. Richness with nuance all the way down. A passion project collaboration with Sutliffe, the Pipe Force line of the Per Jensen Signature Series certainly speaks to sci-fi nerds of my ilk, both in concept and execution. Like the Birds of a Feather series preceding it, the conceptualization begins with ‘unique ingredients’ as the canvas on which to build; in this incarnation, a delightfully stoved Katerini is the star of the show, supported by the doo-wop duo of dark-fired and Perique singing backup over the baseline of Virginia. This is Per Jensen freestyling, Jackson Pollock-esque strokes thrown wildly against the canvas. Opening the tin, the bouquet of the tightly-pressed crumble cake is centered on rich fruit and a tart background, with more than a hint of furniture polish—a slightly vinegary, tannic note of light oak overlaid with lemony vanillin edges and beeswax. Once the blend acclimates to its unsealing, the vinegary aldehydes dissipate to leave familiar Virginia fruit-and-leather base notes with top-note aromas straddling sweet and savory. In its place is a rather complex melange of impressions: bitter and powdery baker’s chocolate, green wood, dried apricot, mesquite barbecue. In the smoke, the chocolate fades demurely to the background, upstaged by the tangy dryness in the Katerini and peppery piquancy of the Perique. The stoved Katerini imparts a particular voice as it steers the blend; in turns the meaty sweetness of a Medjool date, or earthy and a tad gamey like seared rabbit tips. It is not the rather floral and bright version of the leaf I am accustomed to, and carries itself differently in the company of the other constituents in this blend. The complexion of the smoke drifts and varies refreshingly—indeed, sometimes erratically—over the course of the bowl, giving it enough interest to recommend as a repeat visit to further explore the nuance of the novel ingredients. Overall the blend is every bit as chaotic and unexpected as the theme and tin art would suggest. As the blends are limited small-batch runs, they’re very much worth the effort to seek out and try. Cringle Flake Holiday Edition 2023 Mark Ryan’s 2003 Vintage Perique leads the way again for this year’s Cringle Flake. Stoved Katerini has been added to the blend combined with decade old Red Virginias to create one of the most unique blends available today. The whole leaf is then pressed and sliced into broken flakes. Continuing with the experimental treatment of the Katerini, Cringle Flake 2023 makes use of it to even greater effect in this year’s holiday release. Revealing the thickly-sliced loose flakes of gingerbread-brown tobacco, the initial bouquet is familiar VaPer territory, with just a little something extra—high dry wine notes, bright tart hops, mild astringent, pine soap, and incense fill out the bouquet. The fruit notes here are more pineberry than the usual stewed plum or raisin, with a light floral lilt that translates deliciously into the smoke. The flakes break effortlessly, and are at perfect straight-from-the-tin humidity. A brief nose of lemon-lime soda on the charring light segues to a bready croissant in the top bowl; the mid-bowl depth emerges with a rich umami, the condimental leafs coaxing sweet spice in the range of nutmeg, orange peel and rose hips that continues to a smooth finish, never getting too heavy. The Katerini is, for me, better expressed here than in the previous blend; in full disclosure of bias, VaPers with Orientals are very much to my smoking preference, and this is easily one of the most intriguing I’ve had the pleasure of packing in a bowl. It smokes clean and light after repeated bowls, almost effervescent; piquant, complex, and full of intrigue, with a wonderful nose on the retrohale and waft from the bowl—and all perfectly tempered from the well-aged constituents. For my money, this is an all-star blend. Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Christmas Spirit Nothing says Christmas Spirit like Plum Pudding. The traditional centerpiece of holiday celebrations since the 17thcentury. America’s most popular Balkan, Christmas Spirit is Joe’s gift to luxury tobacco fans everywhere. Delight in our limited 2023 edition of Plum Pudding Special Reserve aged 30 days in charred oak Apple Brandy barrels, pressed and crumble plug cut. A chunk of the barrel rests in every tin. Merry Christmas from the Seattle Pipe Club. The original Plum Pudding is a towering achievement of a pipe blend, and I would have to agree with the assessment that it’s America’s most popular Balkan. This special holiday presentation, aged in apple brandy casks, manages to make perfection just a little bit better. The familiar is there, along with added highlights: strong oak campfire notes form the backbone, wrapped in parchment, grenache grape, Port wine, Lapsang souchong tea. The plug presentation is not as tightly compressed as others, so cutting portions off to crumble the darkly mottled leaf comes handily. The smoke is much lighter in weight than the […]

  • Down Yonder Tobacco Featured
    Seattle Pipe Club Down Yonder Review

    Hot off the presses, quite literally: Seattle Pipe Club’s Down Yonder is our subject for perusal in this installment. Continuing Joe Lankford’s legacy blends with the Signature Series, this tin contains a deceptively simple tobacco: nothing but well-stoved Brazilian-grown Virginia leaf, pressed into crumble cakes. While it still feels a little young in the tin to my palate, with a little bit of time this stuff doubtless has great potential to open up. Advance sneak-peeks of review blends are truly a treasure to tickle the senses. The opportunity to boldly smoke what no-one (or at least only a select few) has smoked before is like Christmas in August. That it was a forthcoming SPC blend that had mysteriously appeared in my mailbox was a double joy. From the tin, adorned with Grant Wood’s American Gothic couple poking out of the roundel: In the country, Down Yonder is far away, often beyond the horizon. And a wish for simpler times. This delicious pure Virginia just might take you there. Rare Brazilian Virginia leaf is remarkably smooth from the unique stoving process. Slow steam and heating ferments and darkens the tobaccos. The aroma is heady and rich with hints of sweetness. Stoving was one of Joe Lankford’s favorite methods. So travel Down Yonder and back to a bygone era. It will be worth the journey.   So what is this mixture about? Well, like the rather rustic name, it’s plain yet evocative. On peeling back the lid from this one-week-old tin, the dark mahogany leaf seems almost trepidatious, unsure about releasing its aroma. When it does, nothing so much as dark, overripe prunes dominate initially, but after catalyzing in oxygen for some time the more subtle nuances of the leaf begin to tease out. The ruddy black color is an indication of where the aromas lie: prune and raisin, paste wax, belt leather, burned coffee, fresh cut maple wood, turned earth, dry milk chocolate. The sweetness, in fact, doesn’t develop in the aroma as one might anticipate from the richness of the leaf; at least not yet, anyway. There is something very classic about the bouquet: it’s the scent of the tobacco stores of yesteryear. It’s almost too easy to smoke, in every regard. The crumble cake presentation is at once both hearty and efficient: the big, chunky logs remind me of filet mignon tips, while breaking them apart and packing up a bowl is effortless. Speaking of filet mignon, it’s perfectly suited to a pre- or post-steak (or burger, or roast, etcetera) smoke—the range of flavors complements meat quite well. Straight out of the tin it’s a bit moist, so give it time to breathe. The flavors of the smoke translate synonymously from the aromas. It takes occasional tending to keep the ember where you want it, but is otherwise as uncomplicated as the flavor. After the charring light, it settles in and delivers the prune and leather and coffee satisfyingly over the palate. The ad copy does not lie when it claims to be remarkably smooth—it decidedly is, leaving a comfortable, treacly flat-cola aftertaste on the tongue. If pushed it may tend toward souring, but is easy to manage and never evinced a hint of bite, even so young as it was. The stoving certainly rounds and enriches the leaf, exactly as touted. Perhaps the only thing better than receiving pre-release tobaccos is sharing them with an old friend. Near the end of my taste-testing week, my old buddy Carlos flew into town, and I was delighted to include him in the tasting regimen. We loaded up our pipes and headed out-of-doors, breaking the law ever-so-slightly to enjoy catching up on a bench in Central Park. After comparing tasting notes, our talk of course drifted to pipes and pipe makers; Carlos had found the perfect traveling pipes in Eltang Basics, and I will admit to just a tinge of jealousy and the onset of a mild case of PAD. I was enjoying one of my old Chacoms, a suitably simple Canadian that always treats Virginias well, this Down Yonder being no exception. We caught each other up on our lives, apperceptive of the lost pandemic years. The weather was perfect and the conversation flowed as easily as the smoke, lasting nearly an hour from a standard bowl, and helping us work up an appetite to continue our conversation over dinner. Though this entry in the SPC Signature Series is not a blend per se, it’s a delicious addition to the lineup both on its own merits and as a component in one’s own blending endeavors, as was Joe’s custom. A pinch added to a bright Virginia blend serves to mellow and smooth everything over gratifyingly; as a base which to add some whole-leaf Basma I happened to have laying around after the last review, it made for an incredible bedtime smoke. On its own it may be a one-note song, but a very good note it is—solid, tasty, old-timey tobacco flavor done right, consistent from start to finish. The room note is mild and, as mentioned, redolent of every tobacco shop there ever was. It is also best enjoyed with old friends to reminisce with, sharing talk of those times gone by, and times yet to come.


  • Greg-Pease-Jumble-of-Pipes

    “Don’t you have enough pipes? Why do you need another one?” It’s a fair question, though one I’m never happy to hear, especially when it’s coming from a voice in my own noggin. I mean, sure. I have enough pipes. More than enough. By any rational measure, probably far too many. But, pipe collecting isn’t about being rational. Pipe collecting is about passion.  When a pipe speaks our name, calls to us through the mists, singing its siren song, how can we mere mortals resist? Unless we’d have to go without eating for a month, or risk losing the roof over our heads, why shouldn’t we buy “just one more?” Maybe the food thing wouldn’t be so bad (I could stand to lose a few pounds), but it’s the middle of winter. It’s been pouring rain for a week, and I’m pretty fond of having a place with a roof to keep me and my pipes dry. Maybe when the weather changes, I could forgo that luxury for a while too, if it meant answering the call when it came. Scratch that. That’s just silly.  It is a fact that most of us really don’t need another pipe. Most of us probably don’t need as many as we have. No one needs more than a couple pairs of shoes, either, or a week’s worth of socks. Some laughingly refer to it as Pipe Acquisition Disorder (PAD), making it sound like some sort of affliction, worthy of inclusion in the next revision of the DSM and requiring some sort of therapy, or at least an intervention. I don’t. Even after all these years, and, I still find immense pleasure in the hunt for the next addition to the herd. Getting a new pipe just feels good and makes me happy, and that should be enough. Despite this, I do sometimes find myself going through fits of passionalization. There are times when a pipe acquisition hasn’t quite scratched the itch. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I spy the mad jumble of briars that I loosely refer to as my “collection.” There are many that continue to speak to me, and some have for many years, bringing me a great deal of pleasure when I look at them, hold them, smoke them. Some are pieces of profound artistry and beauty, others, simple, comforting objects of sublime utility. Either way, they’re sources of joy. Why wouldn’t I want another?  But, there are more than a few that, instead, make me scratch my head. Confessing this isn’t easy, but there are pipes in my possession that I’ve acquired for entirely the wrong reasons.  I have more than once been guilty of getting a pipe because of the “trendiness” of the shape or the maker, because I should like it, not because I do. I’ve smoked them, probably dozens of times, enduring the persistent voice in my head telling me all the reasons I should find it the best pipe ever, that one day, I’ll learn to understand it, acclimate to it, and become one with the kool kids. This rarely goes well. It turns out there’s little traction in getting a pipe in the hopes that one day it will ice pick its way up the ladder to the lofty status of being tolerated. Another side to every coin. There have been times I’ve not bought a pipe that I really liked because silly rationalizations planted themselves firmly in the middle of the road and wouldn’t let me pass. In the very early days of my collecting, a particular shape that I was very much drawn to, and still am, was looked down upon pretty much en masse by many veterans of the pipe community. Though there were a few outliers, and we did talk amongst ourselves about this peculiarity, the majority seemed to meet the shape with abject disdain. I don’t know why and will never understand it; the shape had been around for decades. Why would it continue to be in catalogues if so universally reviled? But, as a young, somewhat insecure newbie angling to be accepted by the old guard, I was afraid to put my own preference ahead of that of the taste-makers, and resisted the urge to acquire certain pipes for fear of having my membership blackballed. Ridiculous? For sure, but it felt pretty real to a pup trying to hang with the old dogs. (We’re lucky to live in more accepting times, I think.)  There were times, too, I may have passed on a piece or ten because the brand/maker wasn’t à la mode. “Those pipes are nice looking, sure, but the briar is young and inferior, and they lack the pedigree of the maker having been around since before the Big War, and you’ll never be able to sell or trade it later. What you really want is something from Y. Now THAT’S a good pipe.” (Funnily enough, some of today’s desirable brands were yesterday’s pariahs, trading hands for relative peanuts because they weren’t from the grown-up firms. I wish I’d bought a bushel of them!) One fellow even told me that I should only chase pipes pre-1920 because, I’m not kidding, “The old vulcanite tastes better when it oxidizes than the modern stuff.” That was one tidbit I did not pay much mind to, though it was, and is amusing to think about. Don’t get me wrong; I learned a great deal from my early influences, and I’m grateful for every shred of knowledge they shared with me. Fortunately, now that I’ve become one of the old dogs, I’ve outgrown the need to impress anyone, and chase what I like solely because I like it, ignoring any real or projected judgment from the taste makers. Many good lessons have come along with the ride from there to here, along with, I admit, a whole lot of pipes, good and bad. Maybe, too many. I refuse to count them. Remember the mad jumble […]

  • Problem Child

    I’ve had a bunch of pipes through the years. A few have been superstars right out of the starting blocks, many took some time to find their stride, eventually developing into fabulous smokers, most have taken their place comfortably in the middle of the pack, and a scant few have been stinkers that never made it across the finish line. Once in a while, I’ve ended up with a pipe that I’ve wanted to love, but that has refused to love me back. Tonight, I had an encounter with one of those, a pipe I’ve had for several years. It’s beautiful. It’s elegant. I’ve had many pipes from the same maker that have consistently delivered the groceries. Not this one. This one is a problem child. This one was germinated and raised from a demon seed. This one is the Rosemary’s baby of the pipe world. I first met it at the Kansas City show in, I think, 2017. A friend had it on his table, unsmoked, and when I showed interest in it, he offered it to me for a very attractive price. The shape appealed to me. The bowl size was within my preferred range. The finish was beautifully done, the stem nicely cut, the drilling perfect. It had everything I look for in a pipe, but for some reason, I passed on it.  As the weeks went by, I found myself suffering from a case of “non-buyer’s remorse.” I couldn’t stop thinking about that pipe, wondering why I hadn’t just paid the price and taken it home with me. The longer I thought about it, the more I wanted it, to the point where I was almost obsessed.  I gave my friend a call to ask if, by any chance, he still had it. He did. The deal was struck, and after a few days, the pipe was in my hands. It was everything I remembered, and more.  When I get a new pipe, I’ll sometimes spend some time in a sort of courtship with it. I’ll hold it gently while gazing lovingly at it from every angle, whispering sweetly into its bowl, asking what tobacco it would like to experience first. It’s one of those peculiarities that some find charming, but most think is just weird. But, my pipe, my fantasy. Leave us alone. After a couple weeks it finally felt right to introduce my new friend to a nice Latakia mixture. I chose a well aged tin, used just a bit of extra care to gently fill the bowl, gave it a delicate tamp, tested the draw and struck fire. Teasing the strands of tobacco with the flame, the first sips were delicious; they always are. Before the tobacco warms, before the briar becomes engaged in the process, before the flow dynamics of the “system” becomes important, all we get in those first moments is the delightful incense of the tobacco’s volatile aromas and a subtle wisp of smoke being drawn through a soda straw. But those first sips offered hope for an hour of reverie as I enjoyed the first bowl in my new pipe.. Charring light complete, fluff gently tamped, it was time to get things going. After a few promising puffs, everything changed. At once, my hopes were shattered as the gates of hell opened, my senses assaulted in a stygian nightmare as hot, acrid fumes flowed over my tongue. Hoping this to be just a transient anomaly, some sort of first bowl mischief, I persevered. The torment persisted to the last tortuous puff. Of course, the first bowl in a new pipe will never be as good as later ones when the pipe has “broken-in” to the owner’s habits of smoking style and tobacco choices. Experience tells me that those early bowls are not always indicative of things to come. One more bowl. Then another. This went on for several days. With only a little improvement after the tenth bowl, I was nearly ready to give up on it, but I desperately wanted this one to be a great smoker, or at least a good one.  Over the next several months, I tried everything – different tobaccos, different cuts, different filling, different smoking techniques. I’ve tried smoking the hell out of it, and giving it plenty of resting time. I performed deep cleanings, hoping to coax out and exorcise the demons lurking within the briar’s walls. I even carefully drilled out the shank in the off chance that some noxious substance was hiding there. Nothing helped, yet I refused to give up hope. While it got better, sometimes delivering a decent smoke, even at its best, it was no friend to my tongue, so I finally put it up and did my best to forget about it. This evening, I found myself thinking about that pipe. Bolstered by hope, I pulled it from the racks to try again. I’ve been smoking through a tin of Regent’s from the first release that’s been delicious, and figured I’d give Rosemary’s baby a chance to redeem itself. No bueno. It wasn’t as bad as my memories of it, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Often when I have a “bad smoke,” I leave open the possibility that it might just be me. Maybe my palate is fatigued, or something I’ve eaten has resulted in my tongue being overly sensitive to harshness or off-flavors. I’ll grab another pipe, maybe a different tobacco, in a combination I know to be a winner, and see if I can get a reset, or at least forget the tortuous smoke. I grabbed a pipe that is quite new to me, barely on the road to being broken-in. It was wonderful. I put the troublesome pipe back in the rack. “I’m really sorry, my friend. It’s not me, it’s you…”  Why keep trying? Why not just be rid of the accursed thing? Maybe someone else would have better luck taming the hellspawn lurking within the wood. I […]

  • Spiral Carve Castello KK 55 and Sea Monster Bent (Photo: G.L. Pease)
    Musings on Pipe Clubs and Pipe Sizes

    Saturday, I spent a wonderful day at Ohlone Cigar Lounge in Fremont, CA, sharing the stage with the ever charming Joe Fabian, who was doing a “Trunk Show” of Savinelli and Peterson pipes, which evolved into being as much of a pipe club experience as it was a sales event. It was a great opportunity to spend time with a bunch of folks talking about pipes, tobacco, food, cars, the joys of rigid-frame mountain bikes, and pretty much anything else that came up. To me, this sort of fellowship is one of the best things about pipe gatherings, and I certainly look forward to doing more in-store events in the future!  At one point some of us had a conversation about why we tend to prefer one size or bowl shape to another, and we all had different views to share. Some choose pipes for their weight or their balance, others for their aesthetics, still others for capacity. This got me thinking about my own collection. While some may have very specific criteria, and their pipes exhibit a certain sort of “sameness,” my collection exhibits a pretty broad range of shapes and sizes from tiny to cavernous, and each has its place. For me, choosing the pipe I want to smoke is often as much a practical decision as it is one of whim and whimsy.  On the practical side, one thing that often comes up for many of us is whether or not there is time to spend with a large bowl. For me, a certain irony arises in that decision process all too often; I think I don’t have time for a long smoke, but end up burning two small bowls instead, consuming as much time as the larger bowl would have, if not more.  My whacky brain is now swirling with something almost too geeky to discuss, but I’m going to anyway. If you had, let’s say, a finite amount of tobacco and wanted to maximize your smoking time, would you be better off with smaller bowls or larger ones, especially wide, squat bowls vs. narrow, tall ones? How would you choose which pipe or pipes to smoke? Tall, narrow bowls filled with the same weight of tobacco seem to have a slight edge over wide, squat ones, at least with respect to time alight. As an informal experiment tonight, I chose a Castello 55 weighing in with a chamber diameter of 23mm and depth of 35mm, and my Sea Monster bent, with its 18mm x 53mm chamber. I chose these two because they are both exquisite smokes, and have similar chamber volumes.  Each was filled with the same 2g weight of a VA tobacco, packed with a gravity fill followed by a very light tamp. The Castello gave up after 32 minutes. The Sea Monster lasted 40. I guess if you were stranded on that often discussed island, and maximizing your smoking time was an important consideration, you’d be better off with the tall, narrow bowl. But smoking time is certainly not all there is to consider in selecting a pipe to smoke; other differences are at least, if not more important, especially if maximizing enjoyment is the intention. Not surprisingly, the taste of the same tobacco from each of these two bowls was quite different. The smoke from the pot was a little sweeter, a little more complex, while the taller bowl delivered a brighter, more zesty flavor. In this case, both were delightful, but that hasn’t always been true.  Is there such a thing as “the right” bowl geometry for any given tobacco type? Opinions are as varied as we are, but for me, flakes tend to sing in wider bowls, delivering nuances of flavor that can be somewhat attenuated in a narrow one. Yes, this is counter to the “conventional wisdom” that pipes with narrow, tapered bowls are “Flake pipes,” and large bowls are better suited as “English mixture pipes.” Though I’d never question another’s preferences, I’m comfortable taking the contrarian position here with respect to my own. Years ago, when I was developing my first VA/Perique flake, I did what I always do, and smoked the prototypes in a variety of bowl geometries. One of the pipes I chose during my exploration was a GBD 9493, a lovat-like pot with a wide aperture and conventional billiard height. The tobacco took the center stage spotlight and sang arias in that pipe. Since, I’ve repeated the experiment many times, always with the same result. If you want to experience everything a flake has to offer, try it in a pot. Wide bowls also offer something to the burly aficionado, bringing out some of the more subtle nuances of that leaf while keeping the smoke cool.  Things get perhaps more interesting when it comes to bowl height. Since tall bowls tend to concentrate more of the distillates that form when tobacco burns, they can be both harder to keep lit at the bottom, and can intensify some flavors. This can be a good or a not so good thing, depending on the tobacco type, and the smoker’s preferences. I love shag cut tobaccos in tall bowls, while flakes are just too often challenging.  Too, I find that fuller latakia mixtures deliver their best in medium and smaller bowls. This might have more to do with “palate fatigue” than the smoking dynamics of a particular pipe’s bowl geometry. (Truth told, unless I’m really focused on the process, I rarely could be considered a “slow smoker,” and as my cadence rises, so does the intensity of some of latakia’s less friendly characteristics, especially as the bottom of the bowl is reached. Combine that with a tall bowl, and my tongue just gets fuzzy.) But, I’ve known many who enjoy gigantic bowls of heavy lat-bombs. Maybe this is one reason the “conventional” medium billiard bowl is, and has always been so popular. It’s kind of the middle-ground – not too tall, not too wide, and does pretty […]

The Pipe Pundit

  • Peterson-Pipes-for-St-Patricks-Day-cropped
    Of Dear Friends and Pipes

    Fair warning: Pundit is coming in lukewarm: There arises a day, methinks, when it’s time in Pipelandia to thin the herd. I always look to February for the thinning stint to begin. Don’t recall why February, but it just seems another gloomy wintry month is as good a time as any. Of course, this is a moment for additions too, doncha know! It’s not possible to conduct one operation without the other. Especially in dark February, which even attracted the Bard of Stratford-upon Avon: Why, what’s the matter that you have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness?—from “Much Ado About Nothing.” Emptying is not an easy task. Take, for example, the dilemma of a senior member of Pipelandia. Ahem, yours truly, who has imbibed in our lovely hobby for 40-plus years. Over that span, one becomes attached to those beautiful instruments of briar and leaf. Artifacts of art, perhaps? Yes, I realize we are talking four decades in Pundit’s Pipeworld, but it has been a fun and learning experience, bringing relief to stressful moments, and joy of new celebrations in life and job and conquered horizons. Quite naturally, time has loaded spare rooms with pipes and the cellar with luscious aging tobacco blends. Taking a recent accounting was rather startling. Pipes on top of pipes resting in racks across desks and stashed in old shoe boxes. Gee, it has been a long, enlightening trek. As well as confusing at times. Such as, “What was I thinking when I picked up this pipe and that tobacco plug?” That particular strong plug of Virginia just about put Pundit out on the floor! So in Pundit fashion, I began the February process of thinning. But “ay there’s the rub,” says Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I came across some old and dear friends. How does one turn one’s back on those deep-rooted companions, who shared good times and bad with Pundit? Impossible, but necessary. It’s akin to putting a veteran soldier out to pasture. “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  A legendary speech by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in his farewell to the U.S. Congress in 1951. And as we know, the general loved his Missouri Meerschaums (cobs). You can read an excellent history of the cob and the general at Yes,  I hear it now about the dilemma of thinning. “Oh, choices can be hard in life.” Erm, yes, true. But we are speaking about old heartthrobs, old loves (talking pipes here, so don’t go making assumptions). The thinning out has always been difficult. Some are in much need of repair and others are still fit for action after deep cleaning. No Dunhills, Petersons, Cavicchis, Ser Jacopos, or Ashtons (William Ashton Taylor era), Savinellis are represented in the thinning group. That collection of pipes is precious and holds a special rank in the herd. You just can’t bid adieu to an Ashton pipe presented to you by the late, great Bill Ashton Taylor, renowned British pipe crafter. His pipes in the Pundit collection are sacrosanct, if not divinely righteous. That leaves, of course, some old lovelies in tucked-away boxes. You get the notion: It is difficult to say goodbye to longstanding allies in life’s many turns. Some in the herd date to earlier days when pipes were not as expensive as today. But economies of time and scale appear to even out over the decades. What seemed rather pricey, say in the 1960s-1980s, would be mega bargains today. I am not fond of this phrase, but it’s all relative. So, the reduction has begun, of course, to make room for more. I know, I am shrinking the assemblage just so I can add more to the crowd. Yeah, that makes sense. Once a pipe collector always a pipe collector, the Pundit says. However, the late Bill Unger (see Kevin Godbee’s Jan. 1, 2013, obituary) said it far better: If you have one pipe, you’re a pipe smoker. If you have two pipes, you’re a collector. Out go some old timers, and in arrive the newcomers. And now time for a pipe smoker from the past: One of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck, novelist, former journalist, and longtime pipe smoker gets the mention this month. And, by the way, there is a first-rate story about the Nobel Prize-winning Steinbeck by Zachary Podl in the Sept. 15, 2023, “Pipe Line.” Steinbeck was born Feb. 27, 1902, in Salinas, Calif., and died Dec. 20, 1968, in New York City. Many of his novels centered on his experiences growing up in Salinas where he worked as a manual laborer in many jobs. What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness― John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” And this from one of his quite different works: Men really do need sea-monsters in their personal oceans― John Steinbeck, “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” But before we go, there is one more pipe smoker of the past who needs to be mentioned here. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist, and friend of Mr. MC2 (Albert Einstein, of course, another physicist pipe smoker) was a cigarette and pipe smoker. He is quite often seen in photos with his pipe. And from what I can find, he smoked Walnut in his pipe. Now, if you are wondering why Oppenheimer, well there is a pretty simple answer: The movie, “Oppenheimer,” is about to haul in a load of Academy Awards when the Oscars are handed out in March. And the great scientist who brought us the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project, died 56 years ago this February. A couple of quotes: Genius sees the answer before the question. Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful. One last huzzah from Pundit: A friend over time is dear. But a pipe is dear every time.

  • Bringing in the New Year with the old and something new (Photo: Fred Brown)
    New Resolutions, New Pipes

    A new year and the great titans of Pipelandia are firing up their imaginations, and perhaps cleaning out leftover dust and detritus from 2023’s production. At this new juncture, deities in the workshops and at tobacco blending tables are calling upon the gods and goddesses of Pipelandia to calm the surging tides and bring new wisdom to the design benches and tobacco vats. The quantum minds are at work, fashioning a new year that will find a place on New Year’s resolutions: Promises of new pipes and new tobaccos. Okay, so Pipelandia is maybe a Pundit bridge too far. But you surely get the idea here: New Year, new pipes, new tobacco blends. All is right in Pipelandia world! Pundit is right there with you. I can hardly wait to see new offerings, to appreciate what artisan carvers bring forth from aged ebauchons or blocks of ancient meerschaum stocks. I know pipe puffers don’t take the creation of pipes in stride. We much appreciate the talent and time it takes to produce the pipes we love. The same is true on the other side of our passion for pipes—those prodigious and precious tobacco blends that arrive from the brilliant blending minds who toil to create just the right formulae for a particular taste. Pipes and tobaccos just don’t burst forth like a new year at the drop of a sparkling ball and exploding fireworks. This art we treasure takes time, training, experimentation, and hard work. I believe that’s why in this new year we should support, as often as budgets allow our tireless artisans who much of the time, work away unnoticed until a new pipe arrives at a bricks and mortar retail outlet, or a favorite internet retailer. Pundit remembers a time when a pipe was simply a pipe, a smoking instrument. Nothing too special, except for the occasional Dunhill that made you drool. Tobacco blends were old-timey, mostly, something our grandfathers smoked. Looking back through misty time, say six decades ago, Pundit could walk into a local tobacco shop, or drug store, and purchase a pipe for under $20 along with a pouch of tobacco. Most of the pipes then were machined, and tobaccos relied on burly and Virginias in various forms and flavorings. Yes, it was quite easy to blister a tongue. Pundit apologizes for this brief history review, but we are fortunate today to have dedicated artisans turning out masterfully handcrafted pipe shapes and tobacco blends, which are made to seem not only beautiful but also in some ways simply personal to yours and my tastes. Just as if we ordered it specially concocted and turned on the workbench or blended to our specific notions. That’s why Pundit gets revved up at a New Year: visions of pipes and tobaccos dancing in his head. It is always exciting to see and read about the latest offerings from the many talented artisans in Pipelandia. Perhaps an often dreamed of  historic pipe purchase is in the New Year for you. Pipe dreams are made of such. And now a Pipe Smoker of the Past to kick off the new year is J.R.R. Tolkien, born Jan. 3, 1892, and died, Sept. 2, 1973. Tolkien, good friends with author C. S. Lewis, both dons of literature at Oxford University, Oxford, England, is of course the Hobbit of Hobbits. His Lord of the Rings series continues along its mythical and magical popularity. Tolkien and Lewis (of Chronicles of Narnia fame) were pipe-puffing pub pals who enjoyed bowls of Three Nuns and Capstan tobacco over pints in the Eagle and Child tavern in the 1920s. And one other Pipe Smoker of the past is Joseph Rudyard Kipling, born Dec. 30, 1865, and died Jan. 18, 1936. Kipling was a puffer from an early age and was especially fond of meerschaum. So fond in fact that he authored a poem, The Maid of the Meerschaum. If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten—Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works And, just so you know, Pundit still has some of the old-school about him. I continue to mix and mingle some of the grandaddy blends, i.e., Prince Albert, with an aromatic, or a bit of perique. Just so that I don’t lose touch with my past, doncha know. Here is to a great New Year to all my pals in Pipelandia. New Resolutions, new pipes, and tobacco!

  • A Norman Rockwell Pipe Gift Set from a Pundit Christmas Past (Photo: Fred Brown)
    Merry Christmas and Happy Pipes and Tobacco

    By now you are aware that it is Christmas time in the city, the burbs, and the outback. Or it’s close to hour for the heavily bearded roly-poly fellow stuffed inside a bright red suit, flying about in a sleigh overflowing with toys. Of course, the jolly fellow’s pipe is burning brightly, and the lead reindeer’s red nose is glowing across the starlit skies. Ah, yes, Christmas. And since Pundit is in a charitable sort of mood, here are a few of the things you might consider giving as gifts to your favorite pipe smoker. Think of new and beautiful pipes, especially those great Peterson Christmas 2023 pipes, if you can still find them. And, if you are in an overly generous mood, Pundit’s favorite Peterson Pipe shape is the singular B42 Darwin bent apple, released in 2009 on the sesquicentennial of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Just sayin’. Hint, hint. And what would Christmas be without the wonderful creations from Cornell & Diehl and its masterful blender Jeremy Reeves’ holiday offerings? Two Pundit favorites are Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and Golden Days of Yore. Both are just right for the season if you can find them. My first stop would be C&D, which lists retailers who stock these fine blends. There are, to be sure, many other great tobacco blenders in the pipe world. I am very fond of the late Joe Lankford’s Mississippi River and Plum Pudding blends. From the first pipe full of Mississippi River, I knew I was in the hands of a genius tobacco blender. I have never looked back and keep an order going for anything Joe Lankford created. As Chuck Stanion said in the Sept. 8, 2022, obituary he wrote on Joe (who died Sept. 3, 2022), “but at least we have Mississippi River. We have Deception Pass and Plum Pudding and Seattle Evening to smoke while remembering Joe, who with quiet grace made all of our lives better.” So, with a few Christmasy gift ideas, go ahead and surprise your favorite pipe smoker with Pundit’s best Christmas wish. Christmas is always a fun time around Punditville. There are heaps of pipe tobacco and pipes. It just goes with the season of family, gifts, and Christmas carols. And tables bursting with loads of fine food. Make that tons of fine food. It takes Pundit several weeks to recover from the Christmas table, ahem. I’m in good company, though, right? Pundit views this special time of year as a period of peaceful gatherings. A time of giving, which really is more fun than receiving. What could be more, er, serene than a scene of Grandpa in his favorite chair, smoking his favorite pipe and tobacco blend while the kids and grandkids run around joyfully squealing about presents beneath the Christmas tree? And how about that tree smell as it merges with the beloved pipe blend of the day? Just kidding about the kids. It’s a time of the year when they have the run of the place to rip away colorful ribbons and wrapping paper and yelp with delight. Not to mention the sweetly smiling and joyful faces at the Christmas dinner table. This Norman Rockwell-like scene brings back those good memories of Christmases past. A Charles Dickens quote is apropos here, methinks: Remembrance, like a candle, burns brightest at Christmastime. I know Pundit is a bit mushy here, but it is important to recall those good moments and family get-togethers. They go by very quickly. Yes, it’s a dose of nostalgia, but that’s all in order this time of the year. Like a classic Norman Rockwell painting of the family around a table overflowing with food and cheery faces. Hard to do better than that picture. Unless of course, it’s a Rockwell painting of the jolly old Saint Nicholas himself. And to my fellow pipe smokers, keep in mind that giving is the true joy of the season. Receiving is exciting, of course, but to see an old friend’s face brighten at the sight of a new pipe is unforgettable. Here’s hoping all out there in Pipes and Tobacco world can find joy and peace in the beautiful song by the late Bing Crosby, legendary pipe smoker, and his “Dreaming of a White Christmas.” Just as the old crooner’s pipe, a long-shanked, long-stemmed billiard, symbolizes the famous singer and actor, so does the fabled pipe bring home memories of wonderful Christmases past. And a final quote from the author who gave us a legendary Christmas story, The Ghost of Christmas Past, a character in  the Dickens novella, A Christmas Carol. “Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!” Happy holidays, and here’s hoping everyone has a safe, merry, and happy smoking Christmas with family and friends.