- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 575
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 575. We have a special show tonight to celebrate the start of our 12th year. In lieu of an interview, Brian will be joined by another popular pipe podcast host – Jon David Cole. JD is the Owner/Tobacconist at The Country Squire in Jackson, MS, and he is the former co-host of the now discontinued podcast, Country Squire Radio. Country Squire Radio ran for 10-years and is still one of the most popular pipe-niche podcasts. Having these two pipe and tobacco brainiacs bouncing off of each other for over 45-minutes will be a blast. We will be preempting our usual first segment to start right off with JD. We will have the usual music, mailbag and rant at the end of the show.
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 574
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 574! Our featured interview tonight is with Michael DiCuccio. Michael is the President of TinBids.com, “The Pipe Collector’s Auction Site” where you can buy and sell vintage and rare tobacco tins, tobaccos, pipes and accessories. He has been collecting for over 30-years, and has a personal pipe collection of over 1,100 pipes. Michael also has his own IT company and is a self-proclaimed “computer geek”. At the top of the show we’ll get caught up on a backlog of emails and messages from our listeners with some great questions and comments. We will still have our regular mailbag segment at the end of the show as well.
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 573
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 573! Our featured interview tonight is with J.B. “Brandon” Frady. Brandon is a new pipe maker making the Ash Cooper line of pipes which just launched earlier this year. His pipes are freehand and artistic shapes and designs. He is also a freelance writer for any type of project, but has been published for music reviews, concert reviews, and a single anomalous video game review, and other writings in a couple dozen professional publications. His full time job is with State Farm Insurance. At the top of the show 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.
- Seattle Pipe Club Down Yonder Review
Hot off the presses, quite literally: Seattle Pipe Club’s Down Yonder is our subject for perusal in this installment. Continuing Joe Lankford’s legacy blends with the Signature Series, this tin contains a deceptively simple tobacco: nothing but well-stoved Brazilian-grown Virginia leaf, pressed into crumble cakes. While it still feels a little young in the tin to my palate, with a little bit of time this stuff doubtless has great potential to open up. Advance sneak-peeks of review blends are truly a treasure to tickle the senses. The opportunity to boldly smoke what no-one (or at least only a select few) has smoked before is like Christmas in August. That it was a forthcoming SPC blend that had mysteriously appeared in my mailbox was a double joy. From the tin, adorned with Grant Wood’s American Gothic couple poking out of the roundel: In the country, Down Yonder is far away, often beyond the horizon. And a wish for simpler times. This delicious pure Virginia just might take you there. Rare Brazilian Virginia leaf is remarkably smooth from the unique stoving process. Slow steam and heating ferments and darkens the tobaccos. The aroma is heady and rich with hints of sweetness. Stoving was one of Joe Lankford’s favorite methods. So travel Down Yonder and back to a bygone era. It will be worth the journey. So what is this mixture about? Well, like the rather rustic name, it’s plain yet evocative. On peeling back the lid from this one-week-old tin, the dark mahogany leaf seems almost trepidatious, unsure about releasing its aroma. When it does, nothing so much as dark, overripe prunes dominate initially, but after catalyzing in oxygen for some time the more subtle nuances of the leaf begin to tease out. The ruddy black color is an indication of where the aromas lie: prune and raisin, paste wax, belt leather, burned coffee, fresh cut maple wood, turned earth, dry milk chocolate. The sweetness, in fact, doesn’t develop in the aroma as one might anticipate from the richness of the leaf; at least not yet, anyway. There is something very classic about the bouquet: it’s the scent of the tobacco stores of yesteryear. It’s almost too easy to smoke, in every regard. The crumble cake presentation is at once both hearty and efficient: the big, chunky logs remind me of filet mignon tips, while breaking them apart and packing up a bowl is effortless. Speaking of filet mignon, it’s perfectly suited to a pre- or post-steak (or burger, or roast, etcetera) smoke—the range of flavors complements meat quite well. Straight out of the tin it’s a bit moist, so give it time to breathe. The flavors of the smoke translate synonymously from the aromas. It takes occasional tending to keep the ember where you want it, but is otherwise as uncomplicated as the flavor. After the charring light, it settles in and delivers the prune and leather and coffee satisfyingly over the palate. The ad copy does not lie when it claims to be remarkably smooth—it decidedly is, leaving a comfortable, treacly flat-cola aftertaste on the tongue. If pushed it may tend toward souring, but is easy to manage and never evinced a hint of bite, even so young as it was. The stoving certainly rounds and enriches the leaf, exactly as touted. Perhaps the only thing better than receiving pre-release tobaccos is sharing them with an old friend. Near the end of my taste-testing week, my old buddy Carlos flew into town, and I was delighted to include him in the tasting regimen. We loaded up our pipes and headed out-of-doors, breaking the law ever-so-slightly to enjoy catching up on a bench in Central Park. After comparing tasting notes, our talk of course drifted to pipes and pipe makers; Carlos had found the perfect traveling pipes in Eltang Basics, and I will admit to just a tinge of jealousy and the onset of a mild case of PAD. I was enjoying one of my old Chacoms, a suitably simple Canadian that always treats Virginias well, this Down Yonder being no exception. We caught each other up on our lives, apperceptive of the lost pandemic years. The weather was perfect and the conversation flowed as easily as the smoke, lasting nearly an hour from a standard bowl, and helping us work up an appetite to continue our conversation over dinner. Though this entry in the SPC Signature Series is not a blend per se, it’s a delicious addition to the lineup both on its own merits and as a component in one’s own blending endeavors, as was Joe’s custom. A pinch added to a bright Virginia blend serves to mellow and smooth everything over gratifyingly; as a base which to add some whole-leaf Basma I happened to have laying around after the last review, it made for an incredible bedtime smoke. On its own it may be a one-note song, but a very good note it is—solid, tasty, old-timey tobacco flavor done right, consistent from start to finish. The room note is mild and, as mentioned, redolent of every tobacco shop there ever was. It is also best enjoyed with old friends to reminisce with, sharing talk of those times gone by, and times yet to come.
- G.L. Pease géométrie Review
Of course the tin caught my eye, how could it not? I’ve oft-professed my love of Modern art, particularly the era of Cubism and Brutalism and Neo-Plasticism, going so far as to foist it on you good people of the pipe-smoking public on occasion – The Pipe in Art: Juan Gris. So what was this pastiche of color on the tobacconist’s shelf? A new GL Pease blend, you say? Not only that, but a plug-cut, Virginia-Oriental blend? And it’s called ‘géométrie’? Well, you had me at Cubism. Moving past the lovely artwork adorning géométrie, the second installment of the ‘Zeitgeist’ collection, the description on the tin tells me that I’m practically guaranteed to fall in love with this blend: Overlapping planes of vintage, sun-cured Basma and Izmir leaf reframe the malty, natural sweetness of mature red Virginias in this modern expression of the classical Virginia/ Oriental archetype. Aged in cakes to deepen and enrich the flavors, this structured, plug-cut tobacco is poised to engage and intrigue all of the senses. Basma is a variety I’ve been fond of for some considerable time, since obtaining a pound of it from a fellow named Mark Ryan many years back. What I found in Basma was the component I didn’t know I’d been looking for—it turned my Virginia and Virginia-Perique blends into veritable malted milkshakes of tobacco-flavored goodness, imparting in them new textures and frames of reference which I hadn’t known existed. For this reason I’ve always kept a jar of it on hand for home blending and dressing-up familiar blends to give them new life. The flavor profile of Basma when smoked by itself is lightly sweet, mild, and floral, but in the absence of other leaf to play off of (and regulate burn) it quickly devolves into a rather bitter bouquet; “too much of a good thing…” being pertinent advice here. However, when added in slight percentage to almost any blend, magic happens every time. Sweet, sugar-laden Virginia profiles at once become couched in a creamy aspect that rounds all the sharp edges yet still allows the original tobaccos to express their individual voices. Basma’s own floral sweet and sour notes prove to be the perfect adjunct to all the common flavors and aromas in many blends: filling them out, amplifying or tempering them, and imparting its own color and a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel. Take any old Virginia-based blend that has grown dull from repetition, add some Basma, and you’ve got magic on your hands; I’ve even gone so far as to commit heresy by mixing it with vintage Escudo—and consider it only an improvement on perfection. In géométrie it is a relatively minor player, primarily softening the Izmir and providing a soothing counterpoint to the Red Virginia. Izmir, also known as Smyrna, leaf is of course well-known as a base constituent, used in most cigarette blends; its name is practically synonymous with the ‘Oriental’ or ‘Turkish’ tobacco flavor that dominates that market and is a good percentage of the pipe blends spectrum. Sourced from the Aegean region whence it is named, grown in rocky volcanic soil with ample drainage, Izmir’s flavor profile tends toward a slightly sharper shade of sweet and sour; lightly floral yet tangy, somewhat woody and nutty, mildly acrid with resinous overtones—think frankincense and myrrh. It’s used here with meticulous proportion, meted out in just the right measure so as to shepherd but not to overwhelm the blend entirely. Together with the Basma, the Orientals control the burn, temper and direct the sweetness, enrich the earthy notes, and give the entire composition a cohesive character. Opening the fresh tin, evidence of the Virginias’ anaerobic fermentation dominate: deep raisin, the umami of ketchup, gumdrop, green grape must, and dry leather. From the Orientals there are hints of pine: fresh spruce sap on the sweet end and creosote on the sour end; the earthy aroma spectrum also evinces potting soil, marigold, and occasional honeysuckle highlights. After some days exposed to air, the plug’s bouquet is more melded, emanating essences bready and woody and nutty: cinnamon-raisin bagel, walnut shell, old leather, stale red wine. As the days went by, I noted the overall impression of the nose sweetened, softened, and yet gained nuance all the same—some new scent-impression would seem to appear every time the tin was opened for a whiff. In the bowl, géométrie is exactly the malty, tangy concoction I’d anticipated. To prepare it I first went for a cube cut, which gave an excellent feel for the overall composition, but little separation of flavors. I then sliced a few flakes, though their inconsistency is testament to my failing eyesight—slight rant here, but if Mr. Pease continues to come out with amazing plug tobaccos, he could at least have the decency to also start selling little tobacco guillotines to go with them. Nonetheless, the preparation proved to allow the interplay of those layers to really emerge and give the impressions that we’re going for. Again and again, when speaking of GL Pease blends, one marvels at the absolutely perfect balance that is struck with the mixtures. Everything in its place, and a place for everything. Though it took some tending, the smoke really opened up with a fold & stuff method. Flavors would come alive, lend their voice, and then recede; there was a dynamism and rhythm that was absent from the cube-cut bowls. Often the character of the smoke veered to the spicy hints of shade-leaf cigars, with notes of allspice, clay, and tannin. In a few moments of just leaning back to daydream about the smoke, it was easy to envision slow walks amongst dusty library stacks, and paint drying on canvas. Perhaps above everything else, this is an easy blend to smoke. Light, yet full of flavor; sweet, yet tempered with spicy sour; rich, yet smooth and dry on the palate. It has all the complexity and nuance for meditative, ruminative smokes, yet is mild enough for revisiting a few times in a day. […]
- Ashton Gold Rush Tobacco Review
While it may seem like an easy gig to review tobacco, I assure you it is harder than it looks. Admittedly it’s no chore to enjoy a new blend on a regular basis. I would wager it’s an exceedingly low percentage of the PipesMagazine.com readership that limits themselves to a single tobacco to the exclusion of the panoply of concoctions available to us in our current golden age. Clearly there is no obstacle to finding another blend; the difficulty comes in making tobacco an essentially new experience, each and every time, to write about. With a limited variety of subject matter, finding and describing the unique nuances of flavor, particularly when wrapped in the familiar, can be a daunting proposition. Effectively, every new blend is a conversation to be had, a discovery to be made, and there is certainly art to this conversation. “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested.” Carnegie was paraphrasing a maxim attributed to the Hellenistic quipster Publilius Syrus and it certainly holds true as an agit of wisdom that has stood the test of time. It is fortunate that tobacco somehow holds a never-ending fascination for me. And so it is that I am continually (and pleasantly) surprised by the conversations I have had with the Ashton blends of late. They fly just a wee bit under the radar, eschewing the special editions and gimmickry that’s so common in the market now (not to imply those are bad things at all, mind you); a small stable of solid, everyday blends done well is a comfortable niche for them to occupy. It’s fitting for the marque, now manufactured by Kohlhase & Kopp, as the brand was built on genuine craftsmanship and refinement in flavor. In March we indulged our Guilty Pleasures, while this month’s installment will be a timely look at Gold Rush, a straight Virginia blend perfectly suited to warm weather smoking. The tin, in a lovely orange-gold hue and sporting a halftone graphic of miners toiling away, natch, promises a medium-bodied, easy smoke, “accented by traces of lemon and honey”. High marks for truth in advertising there. Though the burn characteristics perhaps require a bit more attention than is alluded to in the label copy, the flavor and aroma notes are spot on. Particularly when opening the fresh tin and in the first several smokes, a bright lemony note tempered by a background of honey sweetness prevail. The casing is moderate and pitched perfectly to the tobacco—this is by no means in the aromatic category. The leaf inside, mainly ribbon with some broken flake mixed in, is soft and of a uniform cappuccino brown. With some airing out time, the aroma moves through a spectrum of Meyer lemon rinds to white grape must, settling after some time with clear overtones of milk chocolate-covered raisin—who doesn’t love Raisinets?—along with the brighter citrusy and lightly floral notes, despite the lack of burley in the mix. Noticeably absent, or at least relegated to faint background chatter, are many of the more typical Virginia notes: when it speaks of grass, it’s more lemongrass than fresh cut hay, and the leathery notes are equally subdued, more ‘leather-bound book’ than ‘fresh-oiled saddle’. “It is one thing to speak much, another well.” Sophocles sure hit that nail on the head; it would make a fitting tagline for this blend. The tobacco and I found our common ground quickly and began gabbing away like old chums. While the top of the bowl is a faithful translation of the light and sweet tin note, once the ember is stoked and settled the conversation really picks up. In mid-bowl, the honeyed tones indicated on the tin come to the fore, and gentle waves of spice and green-wood campfire blend into the wildflower top notes deftly. The draft and mouthfeel are perfectly aligned and mild, with no bite unless carelessly overheated. It’s sober, restrained, light. There are no loud pronouncements from the tobacco, no argumentative constituents vying for center stage; but don’t mistake its simplicity of topic as boring or uninteresting. It’s a really good, straight-shooting Virginia flavor with shade, nuance, and turn of phrase, all while retaining a modest humility. Though it’s “just” a straight Virginia, it does this one thing oh, so well. In a literary callback to the last review, Gold Rush is much more Hemingway than Fitzgerald—simple thoughts stated simply, the profound import left to you. Speaking of light and sweet, I highly recommend this as a morning coffee smoke. The daily return to conscious enterprise has never been a favorite process of mine. I simply don’t function until I’ve had the first pot of coffee, fine motor skills and other higher functions generally rejoin at some point toward the end of the second pot, and I usually don’t smoke until well after dinner time. Something about this blend, though, recommends itself to breaking the fast: the uncluttered flavors, the facile smoking, the light dose of nicotine to gently waken and invigorate the senses. To borrow a phrase from another Hellenistic writer, silence is indeed one of the great arts of conversation, and sitting with the morning brew and a pipe of Gold Rush qualifies that gracefully. It is in these moments of meditative silence that I find the tobacco speaks its volumes. My one disappointment with the blend is the rather dull aftertaste, another point in favor of coffee to wash the palate. The room note is likewise mild and not very indicative of how good the flavor is, though it dissipates quickly. All in all, I’m chalking this up as another win for the Ashton brand, and look forward to my next confabulation with the line. Special thanks to Kevin at Davidoff’s midtown flagship location for the always-brilliant assistance, and conversation, about the blends.
I’ve never owned a four-square billiard. I’ve had plenty of pipes with paneled sides, but this venerable classic has always eluded me. Truth told, I’d always considered it something of a remedial shape, a pipe to be made when a conventional billiard exhibited too many flaws, or when the lines went wrong. And, I considered them too “simple.” For as long as I’ve been smoking pipes, this quaint but cunning shape has held little interest. Then, something conspired to disabuse me of my prejudices all at once. One day, a few months ago, an Instagram friend taunted me with photos of a beautiful example of the shape that he’d just gotten. I was instantly smitten. Then he showed another. And another. As I looked at his photos, I saw things in the shape I’d never really noticed, sending me down the rabbit hole to look at hundreds of photos of as many examples I could find. It turns out it’s far from the simple shape I’d thought it to be, but rather one that’s clearly challenging to execute well. While it shares the overall profile and proportions of a conventional billiard, including the slight forward cant of the bowl, those panels have to be even, perfectly square, and, importantly, must not destroy the balance of the shape. If the bowl doesn’t have that very slight forward tilt, it looks like it’s falling backwards. Too much tilt, and it’s just weird. If the panels are cut too deeply, the walls could become too thin, and at its worst, it makes the thing look like a cube on a stick. The cut and gentle curvature of the four vertices are as important as the panels themselves. The shank, too, must be carefully and consistently square along its length, as must the taper of the stem. Though based on the classic billiard, it became clear looking at Frank’s pipes, and so many others, that if it’s going to be successfully executed, the pipe maker has to start out with the four-square in mind, rather than using the shape to “fix” a billiard gone wrong. As a bonus, the panels and facets exhibit the briar’s grain in a unique and interesting way. There’s also the practicality of the shape; the bowl has good capacity coupled with light weight. I had to have one, and so began my quest. A Dunhill EK would be nice, but finding one in good shape that wasn’t more than I was willing to spend turned out to be something of a fool’s errand. I went looking for a more modest example, maybe something French. After weeks of searching, I came across a “shop pipe” stamped for Garfinkel’s, an old Washington DC tobacconist that has always held deep significance to me. In the 1980s, a friend in our local pipe community introduced me to Garfinkel’s by way of their magnificent Orient Express #11 mixture. Produced for them by Sobranie, to this day I consider it the finest example of genre ever created. The balance of Virginias, orientals and Latakia were absolute perfection, resulting in a rich, complex and always fascinating tobacco. I started buying a pound of it every month, eight 2oz tins, until the tragic day when Larry Garfinkel called me to ask if he could send me two pounds that month. “Sure, Larry. Why?” It was his last two pounds. It was this tobacco that was the most significant inspiration on my own blending journey. I have no idea what magic was performed to make it so special, but it was, and it is. Garfinkel’s may be gone, but the memories linger. There were other spectacular blends in the Garfinkel’s catalogue, including a range made my Robert McConnell. The Olde Scottish Cut Cake #6 seen in the photos was another special one. In those days, I wasn’t much interested in Virginias, so I never explored them very deeply, but if I had, I would have squirreled away a lot more of this one, too. This is the last of only a few tins I’ve had over the years. And then there was Shottery, Armon, Ridgeway and Marlowe. I wish I had many tins of all of them. I digress. This Garfinkel’s four-square seemed perfect, a bit of serendipity, and it was made in France. I got the pipe for a good price, and waited for its arrival. When the package reached me, I tore into it quickly; my enthusiasm instantly collapsed when I got to the pipe itself. The pipe was covered with flaking and blistered shellac, and wore a bit of road rash from careless handling. The panels, while cut fairly evenly, were not flat, but comically concave. The top was badly scratched, and the stem was crusty, dull, and in need of serious restoration. Perhaps worse was the condition of the airway. Ironically, though the bowl had been reamed almost to bare wood, I don’t think the thing had ever seen a pipe cleaner, and it was tough work just to get a thin one through it. And, it wasn’t just the shank – even the stem was heavily caked with thick, tarry goop. The wretched stench, too, from ages of cheap aromatic tobacco was epic. But, there were no visible fills, the overall size, shape and proportions were good, and under the years of grunge, there might be some pretty nice wood hiding. Time to get to work. It took a lot of alcohol, and dozens of pipe cleaners to get the airway clean. The drilling through the shank was okay, but it was very tight through the stem, so a little blueprinting was in order, funneling the tenon, smoothing out the transitions, and opening things up to a more consistent cross section. The shellac had to go. Since the pipe was destined to be completely refinished, I sanded the whole pipe smooth, spending a little extra time on the scratched and chafed top and ensuring that the stem and shank were well mated. […]
- Relearning Latakia
“Harry, I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have the definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.” –Special Agent Dale Cooper In my pre-coffee state of mind this lovely, blessedly cool morning, I wanted something a little different. I’ve been on a mostly steady diet of Virginia blends for a while, and wanted a change of pace. I grabbed a favorite pipe from the rack, well suited to the tobacco I’d chosen, a wonderful, well-aged, full Latakia mixture, packed the bowl, struck a flame, and experienced what can tactfully be described as an unexpectedly dreadful smoke, as though the fires of hell had engulfed the tobacco. Seriously. What happened? It’s safe to say that Latakia is one of, if not the most polarizing of tobacco types. Some love it, others loathe it; few seem to be indifferent. Those who enjoy its exotic nature might report that it reminds them of campfires, saddle leather, incense, peated whiskies or even stewed fruit. It can sometimes evoke black cardamom, anise, or amplify the delicate floral notes of oriental leaf when used in small quantities. Its detractors, on the other hand, might be inclined to use rather less complimentary descriptions like tire fires, creosote, brimstone, or burning camel poop, and can’t abide it in even the tiniest percentages. (Addressing that last thing, I’ve said many times that the only smoldering dung is that used to fuel the myths about Latakia. It’s actually a variety of herbs and woods that are used in the fumigation process, though I suppose the camel dung thing might be considered awkwardly poetic by some.) Personally, I’ve had a long and happy relationship with Latakia, and that continues to this day, especially in the cooler months. When the mercury rises, I do gravitate towards either lighter mixtures, or other types of blends entirely, but after all these years, my deep appreciation of this delightfully exotic leaf remains steadfast, and it isn’t likely to die anytime soon. I will reluctantly admit that if my first experience with Latakia mixtures had been similar to this morning’s, however, I might have been inclined to throw the whole kit in the fire and give up pipe smoking entirely, and that could be exactly why some people are so vehemently opposed to the stuff. Fortunately, my long history with both this blend and briar precludes one anomalous experience from catalyzing such rash behavior. Latakia is really one of the most fascinating of tobacco types, wonderfully aromatic and profoundly multi-faceted. As a subtle spice, it can add unique depth and dimension to a blend. In higher percentages, its assertive flavors and aromas make a bolder statement. And, yes, it can certainly have a tendency to steal the spotlight if used in large amounts, and very heavily laden blends can possess a sort of “sameness” that robs them of interestingness, but there’s a broad spectrum of mixtures between the extremes that I’ve always enjoyed exploring. But, what happened this morning? It wasn’t the pipe, and it certainly wasn’t the tobacco; both are reliably stellar performers, and generally get along famously with one another. The answer lies in two or three things that, in my decaffeinated state, I had neglected: The tobacco was too moist, I’d neglected to clean the pipe when I last put it up, and I was a bit too eager in my lighting. To age well, any tinned tobacco blend needs to have some moisture, but to deliver its best smoke, a Latakia mixture should be fairly dry. While Virginia blends rely on a bit of moisture to carry their sweetness through the smoke stream, that same moisture content can result in a harsh smoke with most mixtures. Also, it’s been my experience that Virginias are, in general, a bit more forgiving of a pipe that’s less than spotlessly clean. (There are some who believe, in fact, that Virginia blends actually improve if the shank is allowed to get a little tarred up. I won’t go that far, but caveat fumator.) Finally, while all tobaccos respond best to gentle lighting, this is especially true of Latakia mixtures. I know the smoky stuff isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. If you don’t like the stuff, or don’t think you do, but can maintain an open mind, I’d like to suggest trying a couple of things before casting all these wonderful blends into a personal oblivion. There are many “styles” of Latakia mixtures to explore. Some are structured on a foundation of Virginia leaf, others will present a richer orchestration with dominant oriental components, and some may have additional condiment tobaccos added, like perique or dark-fired Kentucky. Each has its own personality, and different styles suit different moods and different tastes. And, “fullness” has less to do with Latakia content than many believe. When blended with orientals, Latakia will tend to make a more powerful statement than when the same amount is blended solely with Virginias. Additionally, while these mixtures tend to be “strong” in flavor, they tend to be “mild” with respect to nicotine. So, if you haven’t tried a Latakia mixture and are curious about them, or if you have and had a less than wonderful experience with them, some tips that I found myself re-learning today might be of value, and a little exploration might lead you to a new favorite, or at least expand your repertoire a little. The mechanics are pretty simple. First, choose an appropriate pipe. I prefer smaller bowls in general, especially for more robust mixtures, and that’s where I’d start. If the pipe hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned, a few pipe cleaners lightly moistened with the alcohol of your choice, followed by a couple dry ones will get the shank ready for the new experience. (When I don’t have lab-grade ethanol on hand, I like the highest proof vodka I can find for this.) Then, let the tobacco dry out a bit more than you think is right. I’m not […]
- Pipe Therapy
Last week, I had one of those days when things just don’t go quite right. I’d ordered some specialty coffee from a supplier I’d heard good things about. Specifically, I ordered a pound of Sumatra Mandheling in a dark roast, one of my faves. I ordered whole beans, as I always do, or at least I thought I had ordered whole beans. Perhaps from overly enthusiastic fingers, or maybe it was just because it was still early and I hadn’t yet fueled up on high octane and my neurons were misfiring, I pulled the “Buy Me” trigger without carefully reading the description. Two days later, nicely packed and delivered to my door was a pound of pre-ground coffee. I don’t buy pre-ground coffee for a couple reasons. First, as soon as the beans are ground, flavor and aroma begin a race against time. Some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) created during the roasting process is trapped within the bean. This actually has the beneficial side-effect of slowing down oxidation. Once ground, this trapped CO2 will dissipate quickly, and the coffee will begin to oxidize. Additionally, many of the aroma and flavor components trapped in the beans are volatile, migrating out of the grounds more quickly than they do while still encapsulated by little chemical shells within the bean. Sadly, this combination of oxidation and dissipation of volatiles results in ground coffee losing much of its more delicate and interesting character fairly quickly, and there’s nothing to be done to stop it. Time always ultimately wins that race. Equally important, at least to my weird brain, is that whim often takes the driver’s seat in the morning when I’m choosing which method I want to use for my morning cup. Chemex? French press? My cherished mini Bialetti? Each method works best with a different grind, and with pre-ground, I’m stuck with whatever granule size I would find in that bag. Right, then. I called the company. They listened compassionately, and very kindly offered to replace the unopened bag of pre-ground with one of freshly roasted whole beans, once returned, but, considering it would cost me postage plus the time packing it up and making a trip to the post office, I decided it didn’t make economic sense. And, I was perilously close to running out of beans, so, I just ordered another pound, this time of the right stuff, and decided to give the pre-ground a go. Freshly opened, it was quite nice in the press pot, less so in the Moka. We’ll see how long it holds onto its goodness. If you’re questioning my sanity at this point, you’re in good company; I often do. But, I know coffee heads who are far more obsessive about their brew than I am. Why not get a Keurig and be done with it? Not going to happen. There’s something deeply comforting about my morning coffee ritual—preparing the apparatus, bringing a measured quantity of water to temperature, weighing and grinding the beans. It’s one of the little routines that anchors me to the reality of waking consciousness, especially on those mornings when the night’s dreamscape was particularly vivid and fascinating. (To be truthful, I’m really not a morning person. In a chat with an east-coast buddy, I was amused by the fact that his 3am rise time is about two west-coast hours before I’m even thinking about sleep.) Plus, in today’s world of immediate gratification, instant communication, and so many things being driven into a frenzy by technology’s incessant interruptions, I enjoy things that slow life’s pace a little. Like making coffee. Like cooking. Like smoking a pipe. Admittedly, I’m equally impassioned with my pipe smoking rituals. I like to take time selecting the pipe that I want to smoke, and pondering the blend I want to fill it with, sometimes selecting a different pipe if the first one doesn’t “feel” like the right fit for the blend. This process sometimes goes through a couple more iterations, and on the most indecisive of days, can take almost as long as smoking the thing. Bonus if the tobacco happens to be a flake, or especially a plug, since I then get to think about how to prepare it, and in the case of plugs, it’s a good excuse for playing with knives. It’s all part of the process, part of the experience that makes each smoke just a little bit more special. As pipe smokers, we’re pretty fortunate. We’ve always got a go-bag at the ready when we need a temporary escape from the Island of Instancy. Pipe smoking is not a hurried thing. It’s something we can count on to bring moments of sanity and solace in an increasingly crazy world. It gives us a good excuse for taking a little time to focus on pure pleasure. It’s a delicate thread that connects us abstractly with a long and colorful history, with many great thinkers, artists, scientists, literary giants, and with each other. It’s a little bit like magic. Sometimes, it even helps us forget that we pushed the wrong button. -glp Photos by G.L. Pease
- Road Forks and Observations
This is the fun time of the year, methinks. Major League Baseball is winding down into its playoff madness when the Boys of Summer become the Boys of October. High school football warms up those chilly stands under Friday Night Lights. Nothing quite matches this slice of Americana. Then college football’s television spectacle on Saturdays takes over the mania button on the remote. Ah, yes, these magical Saturdays of gridiron wonder. Thank the lords of sports that we can discard for a time recent diversions. Well, sort of, weather permitting. And then, by Jove, we arrive at what the Pundit describes as “Pull up a chair, kick off the shoes, light a pipe, and open your favorite adult beverage. It’s football time in America with a dash of baseball wrapping around the keystone event of the sports seasons, The World Series!” And just so you know, the Pundit was once a hard-working pipe-smoking sports writer in the press box high above the fields of play. Puffing away and typing furiously on a portable typewriter (a what?). Yes, there were many jokes about my pipe whilst my colleagues smoked cigarettes continuously. “That pipe stinks. What are you smoking in that thing?” I heard that enough times to give me a nervous twitch and delusions. But dare I say, some of sports greatest minds were puffers of the grand aged leaf. Think of Billy Martin on and off with the New York Yankees as a player and manager. Captain Black if you please. And another baseball superstar, Sparky Anderson, smoked his pipe even in the dugout. He skippered the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, winning championships with both teams. This time of the year always puts me in a mood of contemplation. Sports, yes sir, and of our championship pipe makers worldwide, as well as those special tobacco blends that seem to arrive around now. It takes a champion-like spirit to harness oneself to the tools of griding pipes into art and blending tobaccos to grace those works of art. Long ago, the Pundit visited the old Cornell&Diehl blending area when the company was located in Morganton, N.C. Small quarters then, which later had to be enlarged. And enlarged again. Then as history rolled on, C&D joined Laudisi Enterprises company (aka Smokingpipes.com) in 2014 in Longs, S.C., and quickly outgrew that blending and production area. And, yes, the kit and caboodle had to move into larger digs to satisfy supply and demand for those lovely tobaccos in creative tin art. Laudisi Enterprises, by the way, has a network of shops in it’s A-Z distribution tobacco and cigar shops across the nation. Just so you know. Ahem. Jeremy Reeves, C&D’s head blender and tobacco maestro, says the sky’s the limit, maybe even the stratosphere and beyond. The company, he says, “will continue growing as long as pipe smokers want our products. We keep trying to find our limits.” With C&D’s Small Batch production with uniquely sourced tobaccos, there isn’t likely to be a retraction of growth. Just sayin.’ Take, for example, Jeremy’s and C&D’s latest Small Batch, Steamworks Small Batch, released on Aug. 22, and sold out within hours, if not minutes. Little wonder. The Smokingpipes.com website defines it as a “unique Virginia/Oriental/Perique flake (that) utilizes two proprietary stoving processes and some of the rarest tobacco varietals in the world. “A study in flue-cured leaf, Steamworks presents six top-tier, Old Belt Virginia grades — ranging from dark Mahogany to brighter Lemon/Orange — in unstoved, partially steamed, and blackened formats, resulting in a deep, natural sweetness and mature flavor right out of the tin. “Elevating that flue-cured foundation is a selection of exceptionally rare 2005 Black Sea Sokhoum, 2005 Izmir, and 2006 Katerini Oriental grades, as well as a modest portion of pure 31 Farms Perique — grown, harvested, and fermented at the Roussel family farm in St. James Parish.” Makes your mouth water, right? You had to be quick on the draw to nail this latest C&D Small Batch. It disappeared in a flash. Of course, your erstwhile Pundit was quick on the draw, doncha know! The Pundit works on the dictum given to him long ago by his first city editor, the beloved Arthur Cobb in Pensacola, Fla., at the old Pensacola News-Journal. “First in, last out.” That’s been a powerful journalistic engine driving the Pundit. So, snagged four tins, two to puff, and two to cellar. And now a Pipe Smoker of the Past: Billy Martin: Born on May 16, 1928, in Berkeley, Calif., and died on Dec. 25, 1989, in Johnson City, N.Y. Martin managed the New York Yankees five separate times between 1975 and 1988. In that span, he and the Yankees won the 1977 World Series title. And now from the Baseball Almanac, a Martin quote: “All I know is (as a Yankees Manager), I pass people on the street these days, and they don’t know whether to say hello or to say good-bye.” Martin’s choice of tobacco, as most know, was Captain Black. He even made television commercials and magazine advertising for the blend. So, it is somehow fitting that we end this yarn with a couple of quotes from the great baseball Zen master, Yogi Berra. His baseball records are still in play for today’s sluggers. Yogi played as a youngster for the famed New York Yankees (please, hold the boos), managed them for a while, and even did a stint managing crosstown rival, New York Mets. My two favorite Yogisms: When you come to a fork in the road, take it. And one of his most inciteful philosophical thoughts for all times: You can observe a lot by watching.
- A Mile High Looking for Pipes and Tobacco
If you ever venture out to the mile-high city of Denver, Colo., and you are seeking a unique smoking experience (not in the sense of the word that rhymes with seed), travel five miles south to Englewood. It’s like one continuous sprawl from Denver. There you will encounter the Edward’s Pipe & Tobacco Shop sitting squarely at 3441 S. Broadway. On a recent visit to the mountains and plains of Colorado, the Pundit wandered over to Englewood and found this delightful and colorful pipe shop. This sort of square box store, roughly 3,000 square feet in size with a back door that reminds you of an old farm home, is quite possibly one of the oldest tobacco shops in the entire state. The building, says shop owner Nick Perry, was constructed sometime in the 1920s. Perry, 37, purchased the store about three years ago from its previous owner, Bryan Reid, and the last owner, Reid’s son, Bryn (cq) Reid. Perry, a mechanical engineer who said he worked in New Orleans, La., on the “drilling, exploration, and sales side of things.” He graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 2009. “Born and raised in Lakewood, the first city west of Denver,” he said. He was an Edward’s customer for many years before he left “big oil to go to big tobacco.” His next entrepreneurial adventure, Perry says, will be his “trifecta. Big logging.” The Edwards shop has gone through many iterations in its 100-year-old history: from grocery, and appliance stores, to at one point a farrier shop. In 1969 the shop became an Edward’s Pipe Shop, switching from horses and hooves, perhaps, to pipes and tobacco. Today, the store sports two smoking parlors and a large outdoor patio where patrons can enjoy pipes and cigars. Cigars, by the way, account for about 70 percent of the shop’s business, Perry says. However, pipes and veteran blender Tom Young’s mixtures, some of which date to his beginnings with the shop in 1969, where he has been since its opening. When asked his age, Tom says, “I’m old enough to know better, but don’t!” And this note about Tom’s self-described shop title: “I’m the Colonel of the Urinal.” Enough on ages and titles. Perry says his shop is not connected to the old Edwards franchise, but the name was retained because it was so well known in the Denver metro area. “We do a very good pipe and tobacco business. And we are seeing the younger guys coming to it as new pipe smokers. It’s always good to get them converted to the pipe,” Perry says. Of course, one of the curious things about tobacco shops today in the state is the so-called “head” shops in which cannabis is sold legally. “You would not believe that people come in here and think we are a ‘head’ shop,” Perry says. No, he says, no glass pipes. No ‘weed.” “We send them down the road where there is no shortage of head shops.” Doc Thomas, 38, is the shop’s manager, master blender, and pipe repairman. He says the shops old oak floors are “nice and creaky.” He says the shop probably has one of the largest selections of pipes and tobacco products in the state. There is a large walk-in humidor in the main portion of the shop with shelves stuffed full of cigar boxes. Another huge humidor in the basement stores boxes of cigars to age for about one year. That’s not only to mature the cigars but also to acclimate the stogies to the mile-high altitude of the area. “If you get a cigar from Florida shipped here and open it,” says Doc. “It will almost explode.” Voila! Thus the aging and climatizing process are necessary. The walls are brick and overhead high wooden wall shelves brim with some long-ago tins no longer available. But there are Tom’s formula blends for Bishop’s Burley, Black Watch, the store’s top seller, Scottish Moor, a non-aromatic version, Buccaneer Black, English Supreme, Ed’s Oriental Supreme, and Good Companion. One of the shop’s fav Young blends, Doc says, is his Raspberry Creek blend, half-and-half raspberry, and peaches. And, Doc says, the shop does a comparatively good business with mail orders for Tom’s tobacco blends. “We have a Rolodex full of customers around the country,” he says. And just a bit on Edward’s Pipes and Tobaccos. I began smoking Edward’s while in college and later worked as a journalist in Atlanta. The Edward’s shop in the Big A was a delight. Free coffee, and a few tobaccos to try out. And of course walls of pipes, including Edward’s specially cured Algerian briar. I still have my Edwardian Canadian, one of the sweetest smoking pipes I have ever owned. Later after a move to Arkansas to run a small five-day-a-week newspaper, I was on a steady order for Edwards’ premier tobaccos. And, of course, more Edward’s pipes. Kevin, PipesMagazine.com publisher and founder, has an excellent story of how he was introduced to Edward’s Pipes and Tobaccos. And now, a notable pipe smoker of the past: Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, was born Aug. 13, 1899, in Essex, England, and died April 29, 1980, in Los Angeles, Calif. He is famously known as the “Master of Suspense,” (think “Psycho” and “The Birds.”) It is thought the famed film director smoked Dunhill pipe blends. In 1980, the ailing Hitchcock was appointed a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE). Quote: “Ideas come from everything.” ― Alfred Hitchcock
- Dreams of Independence, Freedom, and Pipes
June was a busy month for Pundit in preparation for the nation’s 247th birthday and the fresh air of freedom and liberty for all. A visit to historic Philadelphia satisfied a desire from old high school days. My little country school wasn’t able to enjoy those big senior trips to the nation’s famous cities. Philadelphia has always been rummaging around in the back of Pundit’s mind. It has to do with the Founding Fathers and the audacity of those folk to break away from England, an act that set the tone of patriotism for all Americans then and now. Philadelphia’s skyline is a jagged beauty of skyscraper designs and glass. Philadelphia at night is to dance in a wonderland of awe at such modern structural art. And now, hoping the center will hold and you will stay with the Pundit, here is the reason for such adoration. Let’s just say this is one of those historical bucket lists trips you get to check off. Mine was an excursion to Philadelphia and its historic district. The Pundit was over the moon with joy treading in some of the same footsteps as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and other Founding Fathers. Just being inside Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were proposed, written, debated, and approved, was simply exhilarating. That’s the historic building, first known as the Pennsylvania State House, in which the Continental Congress appointed Washington Commander in Chief of the Continental Army on June 19, 1775. He faced the tough task of confronting England, the world’s greatest military force. Huddling into Independence Hall with a gaggle of tourist, suddenly I saw it, looming larger than I thought it would be: the famous armchair from which Washington observed and presided over the proceedings during the Constitutional Convention’s writing, debating, and eventual passing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. The stately, and well varnished Chippendale, created in 1779 by John Folwell, still seemed to command respect and order, its stunning “Heralding Sun” painting still lovely despite the passage of time. Franklin took care to describe this small, but significant painting as featuring not a setting sun but rather a “rising sun.” An explanation on the National Park Service Museum Collection website and another version on the Mount Vernon web explains Franklin’s concern. “Washington watched over the convention from a chair that had a sun painted on the back of it. Benjamin Franklin was unsure during the convention of which direction the sun was going. As the constitution was being signed, Franklin was famously quoted as saying, ‘I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.'” Now, before you begin grumbling the Pundit has really lapsed into his dotage on you, what made me gaga over the history just related is so Americana. It is both America’s first breaths of freedom and perhaps a nod to the promise of a new important cash crop: the planting and selling of tobacco. While staring about the Assembly Room in which the Founders dipped quill pens into silver inkstands (the ink was made of tannic acid and scraps of iron nails—let that sink in a moment) to sign those historical documents Pundit’s eye settled on another notable sight. Right there on the surface of one of the replica tables, resting beside the inkstand and quill pen was a white clay pipe. Fresh in appearance, but vintage 1776, of course. The short stem pipe was awaiting a Founding Father to pack the bowl with, say, some fresh tobacco leaf, and begin puffing as the proceedings of freedom and liberty unfolded. It was a Eureka moment for me. There on the table was not only proof the heroes of liberty grew tobacco but smoked pipes as well. Yes, pipe pals, the signers of liberty and freedom for all smoked their clay pipes. At least history does record many of the Founding Fathers were tobacco farmers and also liked to smoke their tobacco before selling it to Great Britain. Let that little bit sink in as well: first war and independence, then turning to the tobacco trade with Great Britain. The colonies under General Washington had defeated King George III’s military and was now ready to move forward in the brave new world. Not to push this too much further, but this amazing trip back in time was just a real minute for Pundit, a history lover, to be in the presence of the nation’s beginnings. Now for a pipe smoker of the past: Naturally, American poet and Pulitzer Prize Winner Carl Sandburg is fitting here. Sandburg, who penned themes of the heart and soul of America, was born Jan. 6, 1878, in Galesburg, Ill., and died July 22, 1967, at his home in Flat Rock, N.C. Sandburg won three Pulitzers, two for poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. President Lyndon Johnson addressing a memorial service at the Lincoln Memorial on Sept. 7, 1967, in Washington, D.C., said, “Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America.” And a quote from the famed poet, historian, and author, who not only loved his pipe but cigars as well: Nothing happens unless first we dream—Carl Sandburg Like the dream of independence, freedom, and pipes. Pundit wishes to you and yours a joyous Fourth of July, as we acknowledge our nation’s founding and freedoms.