- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 489
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 489! Our featured guest tonight is Fred Hanna. Fred is a well-known pipe collector, author, and speaker at pipe shows. He has a PhD. in psychology and teaches the same at the Chicago Campus at Adler University. He is also author of the book, The Perfect Smoke. Tonight we have the launch of a recurring series with a long form discussion of a pipe or tobacco question. On this episode, Brian and Fred will discuss the many factors that cause some pipes to smoke cooler and other pipes to smoke hot. They dive deep into the topic for the entire conversation. In the “Pipe Parts” segment Brian talks about his new process for rubbing out flake tobaccos, and you’ll never guess what it is – never. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 488
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 488! Our featured interview tonight is with John Brandt. John is the owner of the Wilke Pipe Tobacco, which has been in existence since 1872. Wilke has a great history of pipe making and tobacco blending. John is the second owner, since 2017, after the founding family, and he continues to make some of the original tobacco blends from over a century ago. In the “Pipe Parts” segment we will have “Ask the Pipemaker” with pipe artisan Jeff Gracik. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 487
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 487! Our featured interview tonight is with Phil Morgan, the General Manager of the Missouri Meerschaum Co. Missouri Meerschaum has been making the original American-made Corn Cob Pipes for over 150-years. Phil is joined on the show by his daughter, Shannon Hock. She has been working at the company for several years and will be increasing her role there. We will also talk about Missouri Meerschaum’s take over of sales and marketing for Old Dominion corn cob and clay pipes, and the differences between the brands. In the “Pipe Parts” segment Brian will have a review of one our listener’s pipe collections. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- Peterson – Sunset Breeze Review
The holiday season has crept upon us again, and with it the urge, in me at least, to indulge in some unabashed aromatic smoking. In normal times, the holidays are a reason to enjoy feasting and the company of family and friends; aromatics of course make for a pleasant atmosphere for smokers and non-smokers alike, while the pipe itself hearkens to a sense of tradition and hearth concomitant with the season. In these uncertain days, while we may not be able to enjoy all of those things in the traditional manner, I do hope that our readers are able to find a reasonable facsimile thereof in some small measure. Looking back on this past year, I find something missing: Peterson special editions. It used to be I looked forward to them annually—summer, limited, and especially the holiday blend. Sadly, they are no longer, but some cellar diving did unearth a curiosity: a jar of Sunset Breeze dated 2014, my favored blend from their standard lineup, which it seemed only fitting to compare to a new production tin. With the K&P portfolio of blends being acquired by Scandinavian Tobacco Group in 2018, would it be the same old blend? Would it even still be palatable? My worries proved unfounded, as upon opening it, it smelled every bit as sweet and almondy as it should, identical in nature to a fresh tin, if only the slightest bit muted. Preferring the ideology of a tropical sunset to a winter’s chill, it all seems to come together perfectly for this smoke. Peterson tobaccos have never let me down, at least not in terms of smoking enjoyment. I am, however, more than a little heartbroken that their holiday blend series is a thing of the past. From my first tin in 2009 to the last, extremely difficult to obtain tin from 2019, the special editions were a sort of side adventure that I anticipated embarking on, both for the aromatic creations—some of which were remarkable, some wacky, some forgettable—but also for the tin art; tins that I now keep various trinkets, sewing kits, pens, and other odds and ends in, but which also encapsulate memories of those years within—the year I went to the Chicago show, the year I started writing for PipesMagazine, the year old Romeo passed on, the year I broke off an engagement. I daresay we pipe smokers tend toward being a sentimental lot, if anything. Just looking at the blood-orange red tin of Sunset Breeze evokes for me the sense-memory of its delicious amaretto aroma. The bouquet of the fresh tin as well as its color is, as expected, a bit more vibrant and bright as compared to the jarred sample, though the latter has retained the larger part of its aroma, if a bit more tempered and a smidge darker of leaf. Inhaling deeply nets a full bouquet of almond, orangey citrus, light cherry hints, and the faint nuttiness of the burley threading it all together. Pomander balls, those clove-studded oranges my aunt was famous for making, come to mind—recommending this blend suitably in the range of the traditional scents of the season. Speaking of the leaf, comparing the two vintages reassures me that STG has taken great care in its stewardship of the Peterson marque—aside from the darkening of the color, the cut and texture of the leaf from the samples are remarkably similar, and the aroma of the casing is spot-on the same. I see the same melange of lots of dark Cavendish with burley and Virginia crosscut, artfully arranged in the Peterson manner. From charring light to about mid-bowl, it’s all about the room note. The nose aroma for the smoker is enticing and spicy with a promise of sweetness, and is certainly a crowd-pleaser for bystanders—as prescribed, always an excellent choice to recommend for lighting up at any gatherings. Care and patience are rewarded with Cavendish-forward blends like these, for they can be a dangerous temptress, urging the smoker to puff a little too fast while chasing the translation of aroma to flavor, only to be rewarded with a sharply bitten tongue. To that end, I find that a double espresso, or at the very least a strong black coffee, makes a perfect accompaniment for tending the start of the bowl to balance out the alkalinity of the blend as well as a counterpoint to the flavors—perfect for the after-dinner cup. The second half of the bowl is the real reward for the patient smoker. The components of the blend by now have fully orchestrated and mingled into an earthy, slightly floral melange, redolent with the amaretto sweetness, and it is here the smoker will find those tastes they’ve been chasing while sharing them with the room. The nuttiness of the burley is perfectly suited to the almond casing, and is just slightly sour and sweet enough to satisfy the post-prandial craving. Smoked sparingly, it leaves a light and pleasantly soapy and nutty aftertaste on the palate, not unlike an almond in the shell. It’s always good enough to beg another bowl, so I’ll often find myself packing several in succession; usually smaller sized pipes, and there’s always a cob handy, which suits the blend well. I also find it does best prepared bone-dry for smoking. Enjoying the pipe after a holiday feast also makes a perfect time for contemplation. For my part, I’ll be spending what is likely the last holiday with an old friend, a companion for the past couple decades who’s been around the world and back with me, my cat Le Stryge. We’ll reminisce about the tastes of yesteryear, and not give too much thought to the year ahead, at least for now. We’ll give some thoughts to those who have left us, blessed us by their passing, and though it will be a quiet Christmas with just the two of us, we’ll be contented, him purring in my lap and fur smelling faintly of amaretto smoke.
- Cornell & Diehl Sunday Picnic Review
It’s been quite some time since I sat down to write one of these reviews, so naturally I turned to a blend that is an old favorite—Cornell & Diehl’s Sunday Picnic. Sunday Picnic, from C&D’s Simply Elegant series, was one of the first labels I really fell in love with when transitioning from whatever was offered in bulk at the tobacconist to discovering the world of “luxury” blends, and one that is well-represented in my cellar. While I wasn’t really aware of it then, it’s a blend that would come to exemplify my favored taste in tobaccos for the pipe—sweet Virginia body, counterpoint of Perique, and a dash of Oriental for spice and complexity. I tend to refer to these as “VaPerO” blends, although as an acronym that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. With tasting notes going back to 2010, I can readily quantify and qualify the variety of flavors and experiences I’ve had with this particular mixture. Spoiler alert ahead for those of you who are building your cellars: age certainly does work its magic on this blend, deepening the composition considerably after a single year and perhaps peaking after four or five, leveling out to a fine plateau. Let’s hope that age is so kind to me, in fact. Presentation points are earned first for the tin art, retaining the central figures of the classic Robb Pritchard artwork, now enlarged and further highlighted on the field of, naturally, Turkish blue. The fragrance in young tins tends very Virginia-forward, with brighter citrusy character and the familiar chocolate-covered raisin notes of Perique. Developing incrementally with age is a rounder, complex umami bouquet, evincing shades of truffle, black tea, lavender, waxed leather, pomander balls, sandalwood. The fresh flakes are dense and uniform, with a pleasing striation of color—light blond to leathery brown in young tins, rich supple reds to black in older ones. A bit moist straight from the tin, I generally prepare by taking out three flakes or so—enough for a couple group 3-ish pipes—allow for some air-dry time, and then roll gently in my hands to the desired consistency for loading, in this case fairly well shredded, as opposed to a more fold-and-stuff preparation. From the char, this tobacco always manages to take a light easily. The Izmir in the aged blend plays its characteristic role most noticeably in the top half of the bowl, with its particular nutty and slightly astringent tone readily recognizable—think Earl Grey, weathered oak, cedar campfire. The Perique too first announces its peppery-sweet character here in fine concert with the rest, offering a tingle in the nose and retrohale up front, quickly mellowing to tease out the umami in concert with the Virginia. Somewhat decreased with significant age are the young tin’s more prominent bready notes and high lemony tinge, those flavors having been tempered down to supporting roles with time. As mentioned, just a year in the cellar builds remarkable character in the blend. Enjoying this particular tin from my stash, dated June 11 2007 (from the first production run, or thereabouts) with a hefty fourteen-and-a-half years on it is, well, a not-so-guilty pleasure indeed. While the top of the bowl is mildly sharp with nutty, dusty overtones from the Turkish component—pecan shells, fine cigarettes—it quickly exhibits an exceptional kernel of sweetness in every puff, with the best comparison that comes to mind being a lychee wrapped in a campfire. Young tins of course highlight more of the lemony-peppery synthesis of the Virginia and Perique up front, somewhat pushing aside the Izmir until an equilibrium is achieved. Puffing is easy and light, with just the slightest draw able to keep the ember going. For my money, it makes a great accompaniment to pursuits such as curling up with a hefty book, hunkering down over a chess board with a friend, or a walk in the park to enjoy the autumn foliage; that is to say it does not demand much attention while smoking, nor is it so uninteresting as to be easily relegated to thoughtless background noise. The flavor composition reaches a crescendo mid-bowl, and manages to hold tempo through to the heel. While it may start off a bit sharp, the drier, more piquant notes begin to recede a bit and fall in step with the sweeter, richer Virginia-Perique structure once it’s warmed and a good cadence is established. Reaching into the mid-bowl, it becomes a colorful, complex harmony of flavors that speak well of the blender’s art—it’s not by accident that the Cornell & Diehl brand earned the reputation that it still enjoys. Individual notes are easily discernible, with none drowning out or overpowering each other; it’s a truly cohesive blending. With a tin this well-aged the sweetness is rich and pronounced, yet for all that not in a flavored aromatic sense by any measure—this is the supple sweetness of premium leaf. I prefer this particular flake in a pipe on the smaller side of medium—the ’65 Dunhill bulldog and K. Anastasopoulos freehand pictured both have chambers roughly ¾” wide and 1¼” deep, with straight sides. To note, the Dunhill sports an inner tube which can be finicky with too much moisture; with this blend it’s never a problem. Too large or tall a bowl, for me at least, seems to muddle the flavor profile, while too wide a taper ignores the top end and over-concentrates the bottom. In these group 3 sizes, it’s a perfect 40- to 60-minute smoke which in my estimation is best enjoyed with a coffee or wine that’s decidedly on the sweet side—think a large flat white in the cooler weather, or a nice Port, sparkling moscato, or ice wine in the warmer months. With its mild-to-medium strength profile it perfectly satisfies the nicotine craving, and makes both an exemplary morning coffee smoke and an after-dinner digestif. As for the room note and sidestream smoke, it’s fairly mild and conventional. Owing largely to the Izmir, it’s in the range of fine cigarettes—perhaps too smoky […]
- Vincent Manil Réserve du Patron Tobacco Review
Goodbye, summer—hello autumn. An interesting theory is summertime is only wildly and emphatically celebrated for one reason: for a long time, many schooling and education models were designed to both leave room for learning and then agriculture, so families could rely on help from their children during harvest season. When agriculture productivity changed, the several months of summers off persisted, and lo, we turned it into a “vacation.” It was the only time we believed we could, or should, take time off or enjoy ourselves. Thus is born a tolerance of soaring temperatures, scalding sun, unpredictable weather all for the sake of a few moments to extract as much skin-bearing joy as possible out of a lot of daylight. I never particularly understood it or enjoyed it. I’m an autumn guy, and I have been since I was a lad.
- Give it a Rest
Something somewhat out of character has been afoot in the House of Pease. For more than a week, I have been smoking the same pipe every day, sometimes twice. What’s the big deal? Lots of people do that. I’ve always been a rather outspoken advocate for the “Well Rested Pipe,” and I don’t mean just setting it aside for a day or two between smokes. Typically, after I’ve finished a bowl, I’ll give the pipe a solid fortnight, often longer, before picking it up again. This may strike some as little more than a convenient justification for maintaining a large collection, and I wouldn’t deny this benevolent side-effect of a well worn habit. But more importantly, at least to me, I’ve always found that pipes just taste much better when they’ve had a little R-and-R. Smoked too frequently, they tend to deliver a harsher, more astringent smoke than I prefer. I’ve known many pipe smokers who feel similarly, but over the years I’ve also talked to those who are equally dedicated to the notion that the whole “resting” thing is a load of rubbish, and are content to smoke their pipes as frequently as they like without experiencing any ill-effects. I once talked about this with Larry Roush, who insisted that a good pipe should be able to be smoked bowl after bowl, and it will still taste just fine as long as it’s kept clean. (Honestly, I’ve always thought this a bit nuts, but de gustibus non disputandum est.) How can there be such a difference in perception? And, which side is right? So, here I find myself doing the opposite of what has been my custom for nearly as long as I’ve been a pipe smoker, and doing so in a couple of ways. First, for much of the past year, I’ve found myself rummaging through the “cellar,” and smoking a lot of the aged and vintage VA blends I’ve accumulated, which is a bit out of character for me. I really like Virginias, but I’m primarily a pretty devout latakiaphile, and always have been so it’s been something of an interesting change of direction to spend so much time deeply exploring outside the comfort zone of the smoky stuff, and in doing so I’ve gained an even greater appreciation, especially for well-aged Virginias, with or without perique. It’s been great to expand the horizons in such a concentrated way. But back on topic. For over a week, I’ve smoked the same pipe day after day, sometimes more than once. I didn’t set out to do this; I was just continuously drawn back to this particular pipe, and figured that as long as it continued treating my tongue well, I might as well stay calm and carry on. To my surprise, neither pipe, nor smoker suffered at all from repeated encounters. In fact, bowl after bowl, I enjoyed it immensely. Finally, after many smokes, the flavors the pipe delivered were a bit less than ideal, but still far better than I expected. A quick swab with a pipe cleaner dipped in alcohol, and everything was again right as rain. Wondering, then, if my old habit might perhaps be more superstition than reality, I grabbed a tin of one of my most beloved full latakia mixtures, and carried out the same experiment with another well seasoned and long-favored pipe. Off to a great start, the first smoke was ambrosial. But within a few bowls, that same harshness I’d experienced in the past grabbed my tongue in its caustic tentacles like an ill-tempered Cthulhu rising from the murky depths of R’yleh. Fending off the demon, I gave the pipe a good scrub, and tried again. No joy. At least with those fuller-bodied latakia mixtures, resting the pipe seems essential for the optimal smoking experience. How many who claim not to like latakia mixtures might feel differently if they changed the way they treated them? This old dog may have been taught a couple new tricks. While I am reluctant to over-generalize, there seems to be some evidence that what we fill our pipes with may have a significant role to play in both how we smoke and how we treat our pipes, and in turn, how our pipes treat us. Virginias have shown themselves to be more forgiving both of the pipe in which they are smoked, and of what I once would have considered pipe-abuse. Latakia mixtures, not so much. Retrospectively, this seems to make some sense. Those fellows who insisted pipes don’t need rest were mostly Virginia devotees. So is Larry Roush. The ones who were on my side of the discussion? They love their latakias. I realize this is anecdotal; of course not all pipes, nor all pipe smokers, are guaranteed to behave the same way, so your mileage may vary, and there’s often a sort of mystical synergy between briar and leaf that we might never fully understand. But maybe this experience can pull up the covers and let the rest debate rest, at least in my own head. Which side is right? It seems both are. We all have our traditions, our rituals, our unique taste, but maybe it’s a good thing to relax our grasp on them once in a while and explore the alternatives. There are many ways to enjoy the pipe, and none of them is right or wrong. Seems like this might be some generally good advice for life, too. Photos by G.L. Pease
- The One that Got Away
Nearly forty years have passed since I produced my first commercial tobacco blend. It feels like yesterday. It also feels like a lifetime ago. I’d been working part-time at Drucquer & Sons, a well established Berkeley institution with a long and fascinating history. I sort of fell into the job by virtue of the fact that, in my student days, I spent as many of my moments as possible there, basking in the rich, smoky atmosphere, sampling everything they had on offer, looking at and handling the wonderful variety of new and estate pipes they sold, and annoying the owner and his well-informed staff with an apparently endless barrage of questions. I didn’t just want to know about pipes, I wanted to understand them, their place in culture, the stories behind them, what made one pipe so out-of-reach expensive, and another fairly easily obtainable. But, even more interesting to me were the tobaccos. The shop’s blends were well-known and highly respected by smokers far and wide, and they also carried a wide assortment of carefully selected tins from “the Old Country.”. What were all these different tobacco types? What made them different? Why were they blended the way they were? How did this all work? A thousand questions later, I was led by the owner into the back room, and shown the way their tobaccos had been hand-blended since the shop’s beginnings in London in 1841. He patiently introduced me to the different leaf varieties, the different shades and cuts, the processing methods behind each, and how their individual characteristics could be enhanced and augmented by careful blending, or turned into a disharmonious mess if approached thoughtlessly. He showed me the box of index cards that contained the recipes for all the house blends, and a thick bound book, its binding fragile and pages discolored from age, with all the custom blends the shop had done for special customers over the decades. In the weeks to follow, he taught me how to read the formulae, what the different tobacco codes were, and how to weigh out the ingredients, mix them, condition them to the proper moisture content, and operate the tinning machinery. There was something alchemical about the process. I was hooked, and continued to work in the shop on and off, part-time, as my schedule allowed. Finally, in the late 1980s, I was exploring an idea of what the “perfect” blend would be for me. Dozens of trial blends were made in small batches. It took time and many iterations to hone in on exactly what I was after, and still being relatively inexperienced, there was a lot of trial and error, a few near-misses, and a few not even near enough to miss, but the process was instructional and fun, and eventually, my final lob found its target. With the boss’s permission, I blended up a few ounces, and put a jar on the counter for customers to sample. It was well received, and Sublime Porte was born. Then, in 1998, when I started my first tobacco company, I dug out my old notes, and with a few small tweaks, recreated the blend as the short-lived but well-received Silk Road. In 2000 when the company was re-launched as G.L. Pease, a bit more refinement resulted in Samarra, a blend that, in a way, now has a nearly forty year history behind it. But, there’s a bit of an amusing backstory behind the backstory. During the development of Sublime Porte, I ended up with a lot of “tailings,” small amounts of the many blends that didn’t work. Most of the trial blends comprised a similar ingredient bill, Latakia, a few different orientals, perique, many grades of virginias, some dark and light cavendish, even a bit of burley. All of these ended up going into a jar, and before the final blend was done, the jar had become rather full, and interestingly delicious. I labeled the jar Byzantine Mixture, and stuck it in the back room. A few years after Sublime Porte made its debut, a friend had taken over managing the store. I was visiting him one day, and commented on the wonderful aroma of the tobacco he was smoking. “It’s something I found in the back. Cant’ find any record of it in the books. Just a jar labeled Byzantine Mixture.” I filled my pipe and we enjoyed a great smoke and a good laugh as I shared the story with him of this lost blend, one that can never be replicated, the one that got away. Photos by G.L. Pease
- Confessions of a Coffee Drinker
I love coffee. I always have. Even as a child, coffee had a strange attraction for me. Though I wasn’t allowed more than a sip or two for fear that it would stunt my growth, something which clearly did not occur, I loved everything about it. I can easily recall trips to our local java shop to pick up the week’s freshly roasted beans, still warm and fragrant. I’d walk home, clutching the bag to my chest, delighting in the rich aroma rising in the air to tantalize my senses, taunting me with the promise of the dark, forbidden nectar locked within. After dinner most nights, with the kettle on the cooker, filter cone folded for the Chemex, an old manual grinder filled with the proper measure of beans would make its journey round the table as many times as necessary, everyone having a few turns until the ritual was complete. The grounds were tapped from its light maple drawer into the filter, then water just off the boil was swirled over them, and the delicious liquor would first trickle slowly and then drip into the glass flask, each drop dancing enthusiastically as it landed on the surface below until the brew was ready to be shared. It was inevitable that the ritual of coffee, as much as the fluid itself, would follow me through life. When I went out on my own, I bought my first French press and my own grinder, and was well set on a path of coffee exploration. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before a new acquaintance, a self-styled member of a burgeoning movement of the coffee cognoscenti, told me I was “doing it all wrong,” that if I was ever to become a true connoisseur, I’d have to forgo my childish fascination with darker roasts, and seek out only exotic single origins beans, roasted to perfection, just enough to bring out each variety’s exotic nuances. And, that grinder would never do! It’s whirling blade didn’t actually grind the beans, but pulverized them into an inconsistent muddle of particles totally unsuited to the extraction of the more delicate flavor compounds. And so it began. I bought a spendy burr grinder, a new Chemex flask and a box of unbleached filter rounds. I began frequenting smaller roasteries, expanding my exploration to reach every new coffee I could find, from every part of the globe it was grown. (I still remember one particular batch of Sumatra Mandheling from a small roaster in Berkeley, an experience that has never since been duplicated.) I started researching the best water temperatures and grind size for different brewing methods. I used filtered water. I experimented with vacuum pots, all the various stove-top contrivances, different filter cones and materials. At one point, I constructed my own apparatus, a temperature controlled hot plate to heat the water to precisely the correct temperature, found through experimentation, bubbling it evenly over the waiting grounds. I learned how to “cup.” I took notes of all the different aromas and flavors I’d detect in each new coffee, each new preparation. I became, for a while, truly obsessed. It was fun, of course; this is just the sort of avocation that is well-suited to my temperament. For years, I chased the perfect cup, often coming close, but never quite reaching it. Through all this, there was just one troublesome little problem. Even though I was wildly enjoying the process, I wasn’t often enjoying the results. Fact is, I missed my dark, pungent French roast. If you’re into coffee, you’ll know that there’s a fairly negative association surrounding the darker roasts. Search the interwebs, and you’ll soon discover all the reasons you should avoid the stuff, that dark roasts are employed to mask off-flavors of inferior beans, that they have no “unique coffee taste,” lacking the “fruits and flowers” of lighter roasts, and, in the apparently rare case when good beans are used, the dark roasting ruins them, obscuring all the subtle notes of the beans and their complex sensory profiles behind the roast itself, leaving little behind but an earthy, smoky, bitter taste some call charred, others ashy. Some of this may be true, of course, and if you’re the cork-sniffing sort, it might even be something that matters a lot to you, but if, like me, you like a deep dark roast, who dares to say you’re wrong? And, there’s the rub. I like the dark, chocolatey, smoky aromas and flavors of a good French roast, brewed in a press pot, or a Chemex, or my faithful, well used Bialetti Moka. It makes me happy, and that’s what really matters. I still enjoy exploring the fancy beans wearing lighter robes, but my first love is the dusky stuff, and no one should dictate what we should or should not enjoy. But, what’s this got to do with pipes and tobacco? The other day, whilst enjoying my morning cup, an old pipe smoking friend rang up, squawking over the fact that he’d recently learned he’s been doing it wrong all these years. He’d apparently read a schooner load of commentary from the interweb pundits, and came to the realization that if he’s ever going to be a “real” pipe smoker (he’s had a pipe in his gob for more years than many of the “influencers” have not had a binky in theirs), he should be stoking his pipes only with the purest of tobaccos of a particular type, that everything else is for amateurs. Sound familiar? He’s tried many of these tobaccos more than once, often at my suggestion, and just hasn’t found much joy in them. He likes his sweet, aromatic blends, and he likes his cobs. So, he called to rant for a bit, and solicit whatever counsel I might offer, which set my mind meandering along the winding road of my own journey with tobacco, and with the dark French roast coffee in my cup. I’ve known this guy for a long time, have become […]
- A New Year: New Pipes and Tobacco
Here we are on the cusp of a new year. Like Satchel Paige, I am just a bit fearful these days to look over my shoulder. Something might be gaining on me. With apologies to the great baseball pitcher and Hall of Famer. Actually, the new year is getting off to a decent start. Now, to all you New Year’s Eve party hounds who whooped it up, I long ago left that part of the New Year to the amateurs, as an old colleague of mine once opined. We did very well amongst ourselves in various bars and wherever, however. The Pundit’s idea of a wild and wooly evening these days is trying out a new tobacco blend and watching a movie from the 1940s. At least, I can understand the plot and what’s being said. People seemed to speak a little clearer and slower then. Or it’s just that my hearing has moved to a granny slow gear. But it is refreshing to wipe the yearly slate clean and start anew, isn’t it? Especially when it comes to pipes and tobacco blends, eh? Now, let’s just say the Pundit has become very persnickety when it comes to adding to the pipe herd or ordering more tobacco. It has to be something special and a missing link in the herd for it to attract special attention. Not saying that a beautiful, must-have pipe or blend, won’t make it to the shopping cart, but I’ve decided this is the year that the Pundit will be very precise indeed. No more wild flourishes of just adding a basketful of pipes and tobacco and then later thinking, “What was that all about?” The reason? After 45-plus years of collecting pipes and tobacco and smoking my beloved pipes, it has come time to reflect on the future of the herd. Not to worry. Pundit will never give up his pipes voluntarily. And the Pundit tobacco cellar is well-positioned to manage things should the regulatory tobacco apocalypse hit tomorrow, perhaps collapsing the industry as we know it today in one huge wallop! At last count, the herd was well north of 200 pipes. The cellar is prepared for the worst possible outcomes, barring meteor strikes. So, it would seem the Pundit is primed for whatever curves the new year might toss out on the tobacco and pipes front. But who knows what might bubble up in other confusing situations Sapiens insist upon as the world turns. On a more important note, this month marks the 142nd anniversary of the birth of one of America’s greatest World War II heroes, who also happened to be an iconic pipe smoker. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was born on Jan. 26, 1880, in Little Rock, Ark. Most of the world recognizes the famous American general as the one who guided the South Pacific war in WWII. He left the island of Corregidor with his family under orders from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but then returned, as he said he would in his famous island farewell “I shall return” promise. He waded ashore in Oct. 1944, in the Philippines during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The general with the iconic long-stemmed corncob pipe had made good on his vow. Others will recall the general as the military leader who oversaw the Japanese surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Sept. 2, 1945. Probably one of the most famous photos of MacArthur is with his 5 Star General corncob pipe. He was rarely photographed without either holding or clenching that iconic large pipe. You can find the MacArthur 5-Star Corncob Pipe at Missouri Meerschaum, the legendary company that continues to produce the corncob pipe based upon a design the general sent to the renowned manufacture in Washington, Mo. That company has been making corn cob pipes since 1869. And if you haven’t fired up a cob, you are missing one of the sweetest smokes you’ll have. The Pundit, of course, owns several, including The 5-Star MacArthur General. To the Pundit’s way of thinking, that MacArthur is a 5-star smoke! Now for a couple of Pundit musings: As we contemplate a new season of possibilities, I am hopeful. Walking with my pipe in winter is a special moment. It seems to connect synergistically: nature to nature. Now, the Pundit isn’t the best at pontificating, but just being able to smoke my beloved pipes and tobaccos on a frosty winter morning on a brisk walk, seems to be a kind of connection that we all need. Let’s take a break from all the sad news and reflect on the good. For example, did you add to your pipe collection this past year, but long to see what talented pipe artisans have in store this coming year? The Pundit is chomping at the bit to see what’s on the horizon not only from pipe makers but also from the wizards of tobacco blending. Their pestle and mortar mixing various leaves of Nicotiana tabacum is such magic. It’s like having a tobacco apothecary in our midst to take care of our everyday needs in blends and information. In this time of discontent, the winter of our discontent—apologies to The Bard William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck for popularizing this famous quote—it’s time to look forward to all the goodness that is before us. Just think of all the new pipes and blends that hover on the horizons. Christmas and the New Year have come and gone. Presents unwrapped and parties are vague memories. But what is before us is more than what is behind us pipe smokers. Here’s looking toward a new year, new pipes, and tobacco blends. Here’s to new pipe smoking friends, and to you who keep our hobby so alive and interesting. Like you, the Pundit is aiming for brighter days and more pipes and tobacco. And now in parting, a quote from the general that may set the stage for our new seasons of 2022: “Life is a lively process […]
- Pax Vobiscum!
Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast—William Shakespeare Ahhh, yes, the hurly-burly holidays have fallen upon us with a vengeance. In this supply-chain-choke-hold-chaos of Thanksgiving and Christmas flapdoodle, it appears this holiday season will be a challenge to please kids into howls of delight, as well as surprise crotchety pipe smokers. Well, why is that you might ask? Good question. See, if you have been keeping up, gargantuan container ships are bobbing offshore somewhere in distant waters—that is unless their layer-cake cargoes are not tumbling seaward into storm-tossed oceans. As we all know, pipe smokers are notoriously picky about pipes and tobacco. Hard to shop for and would rather have the money to do their own pipe purchasing. I speak from experience. Nothing like getting a second-rate pipe with dried-out burley tobacco leaf that blazes, singing the mustache, and charring an untamed bowl. My, how I do digress. Let’s get reasonable, shall we? There are few things more rewarding than sharing Thanksgiving dinner at home with family gathered around a well-stocked/stuffed turkey and fixings (yes, it’s dinner time in “Sothron” speak. Dinner is noon meal and supper is the evening spread, for those who are uneducated in Sothron). Recall the nostalgia of pipe-smoking artist Norman Rockwell’s painting of Turkey Day feast with loved ones. And, of course, Christmas is not Christmas without the high-decibel squeals of youngsters being amazed and thrilled with opening presents. This year Christmas in a time of Covid could be quite different and even difficult. Shelves are emptying and even many preferred pipes are flying off online shelves quicker, mayhaps, than usual. But the ever-lightning-fast-thinking Pundit has shopped ahead. A couple or three purchases ago have taken care of Christmas delights for Pundit, ahem, and his pipe-smoking pals. See, the Pundit was once a Boy Scout. He’s usually, but not always, prepared for most of life’s curveballs. So, holidays handled, it’s on to other pressing matters. One of my favorite old-time actors was Edward G. Robinson, born Dec. 12, 1893. He was just so solid a performer. You got the notion that he was the character he portrayed on film—tough guy or good guy, he performed no matter the role. And just the mention of EGR this time of year brings to mind his timeless personal blend. The Edgar G. Robinson blend is as solid as his performances on the silver screen. His tobacco, proudly known as “Edward G. Robinson’s Pipe Blend” began production around 1946-47 once life began returning to something near normal in America after World War II. Robinson, who loved his pipes and built a nicely diverse collection, developed his blend with Greenfield and Winther, a San Francisco manufacturing company, at the outset. Sutliff Tobacco Company purchased the blend in the late 1960s and began producing the famous brand, which, according to Jiminks on Tobacco Reviews.com has never been out of production. Jim Amash, or Jiminks as we know him, highly regarded and award-winning cartoonist, and pipe tobacco reviewer extraordinaire, is largely responsible for the EGR blend’s longevity. A few years back, the blend was on the verge of disappearing, but Jim prodded and pushed his pipe-smoking pals (Pundit included) to encourage Sutliff to continue its production. (see the PipesMagazine forum discussion of the Edgar G. Robinson blend (it’s original name until changed to its current iteration by Sutliff) on PipesMagazine.com And, while you are perusing history, as it were, take a look at the very fine piece on Jim at Smokingpipes.com And, PipesMagazine.com has a great Radio Show, No. 95, when Jim discusses the Edgar G. Robinson blend, just in case you missed it. And now some Pundit thoughts of the holidays: Although gathering around the festive family dinner table for turkey, ham, all the sides and desserts, and the kids running like rabbits everywhere, is a fun time, it can be stressful. What better way to relieve the noise and chatter than to step outside, maybe find a nice creaky wooden rocking chair, and light up your favorite pipe and tobacco blend. I have found that a wee bit of downtime with my pipe and tobacco at the family gatherings always, always, counteracts the built-up pressures of the year that have just disappeared into the rearview. No doubt that this has been a difficult year for many. What with the presence of Covid19 hovering over everything, rising costs, supply chains snapping like cheap links, fires, floods, and willy-nilly storms, it has been anything but easy. So, take a deep breath. Write a few Christmas cards (yes, that’s old-school, but a rewarding experience in the current challenge of what is happening today). Pundit loves this time of year, actually, despite its pressure cooker tensions and demands. Take time to look around at the happiness and find that joyful spot on the front porch, or in your easy chair. Listen to the rapture and record the sounds in your heart. They will linger forever. Some favored tobacco blends and new pipes from left: L.J. Peretti 150th Anniversary Virginia Flake blend; new pipes L-R: Peterson XL02 Rua Fishtail (red fox) in a crimson-and-black contrast-stained sandblast and the Peterson Halloween 2021 System Pipe B42 P-Lip with its acrylic red and black stem and black sandblast; two Claudio Cavicchis, L-R, Lovat brown sandblast and CCC Canadian; two tobacco cans, Cornell & Diehl’s Autumn Evening and Sutliff Tobacco Co.’s Edward G. Robinson’s Pipe Blend. Photo by Fred BrownThanks to all pipe smokers for a great year, for which I am very thankful. Here’s wishing everyone a Happy Christmas with family and friends. And now closing quotes from some of our finest authors on Christmas: I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year—Charles Dickens Sir Winston Churchill, one of the best wordsmiths in any setting pegged Christmas: Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection. And what would be Christmas without a Henry David Thoreau thought on the special holiday: The way you spend Christmas […]
- An Upstart Crow’s Mincer Experience
Rummaging around the pachyderm-sized briar herd recently, I ran across old friends and one surprising ancient addition. You know how it is. For sentimental reasons, you begin to yearn for those dear memories and times. The Pundit is just a softy when it comes to pipes and tobacco reminiscences, which always lead to more stories. This particular pipe was a gift from an old newspaper reporter colleague. Clark Porteous, Memphis (Tenn-o-sea, of course) Press-Scimitar, was one of the best at the game of journalism. For instance, he was present when former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill Jr. from Boston coined the now oft-quoted political phrase in front of a gaggle of news types in Memphis, “All politics is local.” Clark didn’t miss a beat with that delicious description from a master politician. At the time, Clark was not only a veteran reporter but also a constant pipe smoker. I was, as Christopher Marlowe once referred to Shakespeare “an upstart crow” in the newsroom. I was in a room of giants and verily understood my place. Clark loved his pipes. From time to time he emptied an ember-glowing bowl into his trash can, setting the thing ablaze. There was a commotion, naturally, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was classic Clark. Years later, Clark came to me and asked if I continued to smoke a pipe. Of course, I said. Why not (still the upstart crow!) “Here,” Clark said, handing me what appeared to be a beat-up old jalopy of a pot-style pipe. “Well, thanks, Clark,” I said, taking the pipe with just two fingers, not wanting to touch the thing too closely. “It’s a good smoker,” Clark said. My question, of course, was, if that, why give it to me? “I wouldn’t be giving up this good smoker if my doc hadn’t told me I had to stop smoking.” Clark was nearing retirement, and so was his smoking, after maybe six decades of puffing furiously over countless stories on deadline. I took the pipe, of course. Stored it away, thinking maybe I might clean the drabby-looking wad of a pipe one day. And there it rested in a box for many years, until I ran across it and took it with me to a pipe show. I asked a knowledgeable old-timer if he knew anything about the pipe. “Looks like a Tracy Mincer Custom-Bilt to me,” he said. Well, okay, then, who is Tracy Mincer? It was then I discovered that Mincer was something of a legendary pipe maker of the 1930s and ‘40s. His rugged, heavily rusticated pipes became popular for a time. At one point, his pipes were identified “as individual as a thumbprint.” Who knew, right? At least, not an upstart crow. Never imagined such a thing in the pipe world. I cleaned the pipe and began smoking. Clark had been so right. This piece of ancient briar was indeed a marvelous smoker. No matter what I tossed into it, the Custom-Bilt (if indeed that is correct; you Mincer aficionados can correct me at will) performed like a mythical fairy emerging from the mists of folklore. Sublime aroma swirled from the pipe Clark had so graciously awarded me, for some odd reasoning that I still puzzle over. Soon after the gift, Clark retired, but then took up the editorship of a nearby community newspaper for a time. Of course, I treasure the Clark Porteous pipe. Even an upstart crow knows how to appreciate greatness. And speaking of greatness, we now turn our attention to one of the legendary figures of Tobacciana—Sir Winston Churchill, who was also once a wartime reporter. Yes, you read that correctly. Sir Winston interspersed his yearning for action as an early soldier and war correspondent. While in Sudan using his sterling contacts in London, he was able to attach himself to a campaign. And while at a war front, he also worked as a journalist for The Morning Post, a conservative newspaper in London. Then, as we all are aware, he became one of the most famous politicians, Prime Ministers, and larger-than-life legends in World War II when he took the English language to war. In fact, that quote is oft attributed to another news icon, Edward R. Murrow, who supposedly authored the quote: “Winston Churchill, mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born Nov. 30, 1874, and died Jan. 24, 1965. Now before you run me out of town on a rail, I am well aware that the PM, as they say in Merry Ol’ England, was a cigar smoker of renown and was rarely seen without his favored Romeo y Julieta or La Aroma de Cuba smokes. Occasionally he also puffed a pipe. I was once given the rare opportunity to interview Sir Winston’s grandson, Winston S. Churchill, a journalist, former war correspondent, and a member of the British House of Commons from 1970-97. He was in Knoxville, in 2006, to honor the 60th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s famed “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946. That speech, his grandson said, alerted America that the United States and the world faced Russia not as an ally, but as an enemy. It marked the beginning of the Cold War. One other premier newsman born in November was “Uncle” Walter Cronkite Jr., the 19-year-veteran anchor (1962-81) of CBS Evening News. Cronkite was born Nov. 4, 1916, and died July 17, 2009. During his time as a broadcast journalist (1937-81), Cronkite covered world events including World War II, Nuremberg, Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lennon. And, quite naturally, Uncle Walter was fond of his pipes and tobacco. Who can forget the finishing line to his famous TV news broadcasts: “And that’s the way it is,” Cronkite’s end of show catchphrase, which was followed by the day’s date. And a parting quote from PM Churchill: […]