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Radio Talk Show

  • Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 524

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 524! Our featured interview tonight is with Russ Hicks. Russ is a sketch artist and long-time pipe collector / smoker. Russ is a returning guest helping us kick off a new series of discussions regarding which current production pipe tobaccos he is aging. In Pipe Parts, Brian will discuss seasonal weather changes, and how they affect him, and his pipe smoking. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

  • Professor Kelly Jolley
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 523

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show. Not only is it the 523rd episode, it is also the 10th anniversary of the show! We never thought we’d go this long. Our featured interview tonight is with Professor Kelly Jolley. Kelly is a Professor at Auburn University in the areas of religion and philosophy. These are certainly contemplative areas, so it is quite fitting that he smokes a pipe as well. He has four books that you can check out on Amazon. In Pipe Parts, Brian will have Part I of a review of a quite large pipe collection. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

  • Pipe Maker Jason Patrick
    Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 522

    Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 522! Our featured interview tonight is with pipe maker Jason Patrick. Jason is from the Chicago area, and he started making pipes in 2019. Some of his earliest memories are of his grandfather smoking a pipe. He started pipe smoking in his early 20’s, and soon decided that he wanted to make them. He started with standard shapes, and then branched out into Danish-style freehand designs. He likes to listen to our show while kayaking. In Pipe Parts, we will have an Ask the Tobacco Blender segment with Jeremy Reeves. Jeremy is the Head Blender at Cornell & Diehl, which is one of the most popular boutique pipe tobacco companies in the USA. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!

Tobacco Reviews

  • Davidoff Flake Medallions Review
    Davidoff Flake Medallions Review

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

  • Fribourg & Treyer Blackjack Review

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

  • Jack Knife Plug with Dunhill Poker
    Review: Cellar-Diving with GL Pease JackKnife Plug Vintage 2011

    This cellar-diving kick is really paying off, considering the time and effort that went into stocking the coffers with tobacco meant to be enjoyed with some age on its side. This month’s candidate for review is a tin of JackKnife Plug dated 6th April 2011, among the first production runs of this blend from the New World Collection. Having done a release review for it and its fraternal twin JackKnife Ready Rubbed back in 2012, and seeing as this tin is just reaching its eleventeenth birthday, it seems a fitting time to revisit what Mr. Pease hath wrought. Opening the tin with no small amount of anticipation, one can really appreciate the way patience can pay off with tobacco. The aromatics release with a whoosh of pressure, itself an immensely satisfying sound while peeling back the lid. The scents fill the air immediately, strong and sweet tones that flood the entire room: up front, the rich bitter sweetness of a Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange, baker’s chocolate; developing over some time with nuances like rich mulched earth, brand new leather shoes, a phenolic tinge reminiscent of Dettol or pine tar, and an underlying meatiness of a lightly-charred steak. Over the course of a couple of weeks making my way through the tin, the aroma tempers down to a more familiar chocolate-covered cherry cordial with layers of parchment and a briney umami saltiness like soy or Worcestershire sauce. It’s tempting, with all this chocolaty aroma, to take a bite out of the brownie-like bar of tobacco, a feeling I’m surely not alone in contemplating. The presentation does however invite closer inspection of the tobacco, such a tangible thing when in bar form. This 11-year-old plug is only lightly dusted with the whitish ‘sugar crystals’ often found on aged Virginia blends, and peering into the layers from outermost to innermost there is a general uniformity of color and texture all the way through—again, and not to belabor the point, but the color is a rich, bitter dark chocolate-brown that perfectly mirrors the aromas. The composition of this blend is clearly no accident, no haphazard mashing together of leaf. Greg clearly set out with a goal in mind: exploring the breadth and depth of the character that could be created when working with the darling of the pipe tobacco world at the time, dark-fired Kentucky. Dark-fired enjoyed a bit of a heyday with the release of these GLP offerings, as well as a host of others such as MacBaren’s HH Old Dark Fired. Speaking on the composition of JK Plug versus Ready-Rubbed, he notes:  The blend is identical, with one small exception. The plug is constructed with a core of brights, and the darker tobaccos surrounding it. This allows the brights, theoretically, to express themselves with more purity in the blend. They’re not under as great an influence from the fire-cured and red tobaccos. Doing this with the [Ready Rubbed] wouldn’t work well, because of the way the tobacco clumps, so the blocks are not stratified in this way. The same tobaccos in the same measures are just layered and pressed for the same length of time, then the blocks are sliced and tumbled. It’s the same technique used for the Old London mixtures. It was also clearly intended with aging in mind; again, in Greg’s own words: When I first designed the stuff, I had no idea what the future would bring. There was certainly no reason to think it would do anything but age wonderfully, but you never know. The plug form causes internal anaerobic fermentation, while the outer layers are still exposed to plenty of air. The other night, I opened an 8-month old tin of the final prototype. The aroma was intoxicating, and the smoke was HUGE. I think it’s safe to say it’s going to age really, really nicely. And quickly. I would have believed the tobacco in that tin to have been 5 years old already. With more than a decade under the hood waiting to prove or disprove this theory, the bar was sliced thin and thick, folded, rubbed, and stuffed into a variety of bowl geometries to tease out its flavors, and the results are resoundingly positive.  The verdict? JackKnife Plug has the character and complexion of the heartiest of English blends, while being completely absent of Latakia or Oriental leaf. It ages like a peaty single-malt of the finest provenance, developing layers and depth that belie the relative simplicity of its ingredients. I quickly gravitated toward a wider, open-chambered pipe for tasting, one that I would generally use for English blends, as it naturally accommodated the finer nuances of the smoke—and the smoke is certainly huge. The top of the bowl starts with a piccolo-like overture from the Virginia-Perique nexus, with a peppery nose prominently laying the groundwork for what’s to come—think Shostakovich’s 6th, first movement (in fact, this piece is a good parallel overall; perhaps without quite as much of the bombast of later movements). The sweetness is surprisingly underplayed, however—the Perique quickly becomes a background spice, lending sour notes while falling in step with the harmony of the Virginia’s more leathery tones. The sharp edges are all well-rounded over here; far from being able to bite, this smoke develops a thick, steak-dinner mouthfeel almost immediately, one which lingers for a good while after the pipe is finished. By mid-bowl the full composition really comes together, with the darker smokiness of the Kentucky burley stepping center stage even while some of the sweetness sneaks back in. In fact, for beverage pairings I favor an extra-sweet iced tea or soft drink as personal preference. The umami of mid-bowl builds and builds through to the heel, as the chocolaty and nutty tones segue into barbecue woods and steak char, with a touch of Worcestershire still interwoven from the Perique’s spice. Somewhat surprisingly for such a stout blend, the nicotine does not overwhelm—it’s a solid medium-plus, though, best enjoyed after a meal. While my preference with the plug […]

Fireside

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

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

  • Benson & Hedges Pipe Tobacco and Drucquer & Sons Pipe
    Heat Waves

    I do not like hot weather. When the mercury pushes close to body temperature, my icy heart begins to melt, and when it reaches the point where I break out in a sweat as a result of the strenuous act of sitting upright, I consider calling around to see if I can book time in one of the refrigerated drawers at a local morgue. Heat and I just don’t get along well. We never have. Indulge my rambling, if you will; this really is about pipes and tobaccos. During the cooler months, I’m most often drawn towards fuller mixtures, rich with latakia, redolent of those wonderful aromas of campfires and leather and the smells of classic British sport cars and motorbikes that occupied so much of my youth. Seriously.  It’s not the spice of orientals alone that brings comfort, but the warm blanket of latakia itself. These fuller mixtures recall some of my fondest smoking memories. I’m reminded of walks in the woods on cool, misty days, when the smoke would hang in the air, chilled by the moisture, its perfumed clouds delighting my senses, or evenings by the fire, accompanied by a wee dram of a fine malt, a comfortable chair and a good book. When the weather is all “hotting up,” though, I find latakia, in more than gentle seasoning proportions, to be too much of a good thing, almost overwhelming, so I turn to lighter mixtures and especially virginia blends, with or without perique. It’s something I’ve always found interesting, if occasionally vexing. Is it the temperature? The humidity? The pressure of the air molecules as they dance around, mingling with the tobacco’s smoke? Cosmic rays? Is it a subtle change in body chemistry that results from seasonal changes in diet? Set and setting? Or, is it some confluence of all these factors, and others not noted, that has such a profound influence on my smoking pleasure? I know I’m not completely alone; over the years, I’ve had conversations with pipe smokers who experience similar changes in tastes as the weather shifts. Interestingly, others insist that I’m delusional, that climate has no influence at all upon their choice of tobacco, and that they smoke the same tobaccos year round. Perhaps they live in relatively constant climates, or choose tobaccos with smoking characteristics that are less influenced by climate. Sometimes, I’m a little jealous of them; having my choices limited by something as intractable as the weather can be challenging to my inner control freak. But, the influence of climate on smoking can be subtle or alarming, and no amount of note-taking has led me to anything resembling actual understanding. Hold that thought. I first became aware of this phenomenon one cool autumn evening while waiting with some friends for a table at a popular restaurant. I had with me a lovely smooth Drucquer/LaCroix apple, one of my finest smokers at the time, and a tin of my recently discovered Benson & Hedges Finest Smoking Mixture[fn]The B&H was a beautiful mixture,  produced by Gallaher, Ltd, and it came in a beautiful red and gold tin. Virginias, with a bit of latakia and perique, and it was this blend that inspired my own Piccadilly. Tonight, as I scribbled my final paragraphs, the weather was cool, breezy, and felt like rain might be coming; rumor has it there’s a storm developing off the coast. I’m enjoying that very combination that I enjoyed so much that evening so long ago. We’re all quite a few years older, tobacco, pipe and smoker, but the experience is no less superb, and the memories kindled, equally so.[/fn]. Knowing that we’d have at least a 45 minute wait, I had time for a bowl. That smoke was one of those memorable ones that always brings a smile when recalled. (How many remember when you could smoke a pipe in public without a torch and pitchfork brigade instantly forming a circle, insisting you are killing babies not yet conceived and chanting demands for your head? How far we’ve fallen in so few years.) It wasn’t the first time I’d smoked that tobacco in that pipe, but it was somehow different. It led me down a path of wonder just how much environmental factors can influence the enjoyment we take from burning a bowl of shredded leaves. One of the most dramatic examples of this that I can recall happened in August of 2002, while visiting friends in Denmark. There is a certain tabac, a Virginia flake loved by many, but one that I generally find tortuous; smoking it has always seemed to me to be the pipe smoking equivalent to sucking on the business end of a plasma cutter. I figured it was just a body chemistry thing. But when a friend offered a fill of this hell-spawned leaf, his regular smoke, I graciously accepted, rubbed out a flake, tamped it into the smallest pipe I had with me, and was astonished by the experience of a cool and enjoyable smoke. What? Figuring there must be some difference between the “home trade” tobacco sold in Denmark, and what was exported to the US, I bought a couple tins for further exploration. During my visit, I smoked through most of the first tin, enjoying every bowl, but when I returned to California, that very same tobacco, in the very same pipes, reignited my fear and loathing of the stuff. The temperatures at home and in Copenhagen at the time were not much different, so clearly something else was at play. If I were to throw a dart at the guess board, it would be that humidity was a factor. Another, albeit somewhat embarrassing anecdote might put a bit of meat to the bones of this hypothesis. One morning, some years ago, while still brain-fogged by insufficient sleep following a late night gig, I found myself coming to barely-waking consciousness whilst in the shower. Nothing odd there. But, the pipe clenched between my teeth at the time […]

  • Dunhill Lovet Pipes with Capstan and Westminster Tobaccos
    Pipe Mysteries

    Each month, my brain fabricates a few good ideas for this column, and a lot of silly ones. Usually, one of them sticks, and things just sort of flow from there. Sometimes, though, all those thought trains get derailed by some random preoccupation that takes hold with the tenacity of a terrier. This is one of those, for what it’s worth. It started when, stimulated by reading a recent wonderful review in this very publication of my own Westminster, I just had to open a similarly aged tin.  For no discernable reasons, I’ve spent the past several months smoking mostly Virginia dominated blends, some with perique, some without, some with orientals, some with just a pinch of latakia. Those who have followed my follies for any length of time will recognize this as somewhat anomalous, as I’ve almost always been a bit of a steadfast latakia-phile, especially in the cooler months that we’ve now left behind. But, all through the autumn and winter months of 2021/22, Virginias have dominated my puffing patterns. I’ve really enjoyed the jaunt, but it was time to book passage back home, at least for a while, and that review was all the fare that was necessary for the trip. I grabbed a tin of a big, full mixture, pulled the ring, and fastened my seatbelt for the ride.  That first bowl, after so many months, was nearly transcendent. All those familiar aromas and flavors were just so comfortable, and at the same time so nostalgic. This is the stuff that pulled me to the world of the pipe all those years ago. Aromas of wood smoke and leather and exotic spices that dance in the air and on the palate, reminiscent of those early days when I first wandered into Drucquer & Sons and fell in love with pipes and tobaccos. Back then, Virginias never held my attention for more than a bowl. I’d tried many of them, of course, but again and again, after a bowl was finished, I wanted something more savory, more complex, more Balkan. Those were the blends that felt complete to me, then, that I had a deep relationship with, while the Virginas were just delightful dalyances, a bit of an amuse bouche in preparation for the main, the plat principal which would almost always follow. (And, to stretch that analogy, perhaps to its breaking point, that’s where I’d always stop; I’ve just never been much of a desert guy.) A few days into this rediscovery, I pulled a cherished sandblasted  lovat from the rack, filled it from the tin, gently applied fire, and waited for the music to start. The first puffs were like the orchestra tuning up; all those notes from all those instruments were there, if somewhat cacophonous, but then things went sideways. At the second light, the conductor’s baton poised for the downbeat, most of the orchestra, en masse, got up from their chairs and walked off the stage.  The relationship between briar and leaf is one of those great and wonderful mysteries to me, and is something I’ve written about before. (cf. The Pipe Doesn’t Matter.) It’s a discussion that often generates more heat than light, but it’s one of those vexing things that never seems to resolve. I’ll never understand those who insist that the pipe doesn’t matter, and this is just another example of why I continue to insist that it does. More on that in a minute or two. This particular pipe is a wonderful example that has provided many splendid smokes, always with Virginia dominated blends. It delivers a richly flavored, effortless smoke, cool and dry right to the bottom. Not this time. It didn’t taste bad or off; it simply attenuated the flavors I was expecting to the point of non-existence, delivering nothing more than warm air to a deeply disappointed palate. And, that’s the WTHH (What The Heck Happened) moment when the preoccupation mentioned in the opening paragraph began. Similar things have happened before, and as any sensible person would, I’ve just switched pipes, stayed calm, and carried on. I’m not always sensible, and this was one of those times, and this was one of the most extreme examples of this peculiar phenomenon I’ve ever experienced. So I chose, instead, to take the opportunity to see if I could learn something, beginning by isolating the obvious things. First off, I could rule out the geometry, the so-called “engineering” of the bowl and airway. The day before, I’d smoked the same tobacco in an almost identically sized, shaped and drilled pipe, and it was superb. To rule out the possibility of “dirty shank syndrome,” I cleaned it thoroughly with several pipe cleaners and some high proof alcohol, let it rest overnight and tried again. No bueno. Visiting the cake, which I prefer quite thin anyway, I reamed it almost to the walls. Ditto. The salt and alcohol treatment similarly had no effect. Neither did a visit to the lab oven with the bowl filled with activated charcoal. I tried drying the tobacco. No joy. Maybe it was me – some subtle change in body chemistry, or an interaction with what I’d been eating or drinking? Was my palate fatigued? Was the climate influencing things in a bad way? Another pipe, known to be more sociable with full mixtures, filled with the same tobacco quickly falsified those conjectures.  Waiting a couple more days, I filled the thing from an old tin of UK-produced Capstan blue, and it performed absolutely brilliantly, like nothing odd had ever happened. A bowl of aged Fillmore the next day was equally engaging. Then, another bowl of the aged Westminster. Nothing but an hour of puffing on hot air.  In my experience, more pipes form happy relationships with Virginias than with the fuller of the latakia mixtures. Not being much of an aromatic fan, I don’t have sufficient experience with these tobaccos to do more than speculate there, but I suspect they may behave a bit […]

The Pipe Pundit

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

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

  • L-R: Missouri Meerschaum Southport Ferryman from Cornell & Diehl to honor the company’s Carolina history; Northern Briars Countryman, group five, handmade by Ian Walker in his Northern England shop. (Photo: Fred Brown)
    More Is Better, Maybe!

    Ah, the dog days of summer. Just think of your poor family dog who must endure the heat and humidity in a fur coat. The Pundit’s beautiful Golden Retriever just plops down on the floor exhausted and sleeps. A lot. And speaking of heat and humidity, a frightful thought on the global front, it is time to think of good summer tobaccos. Nothing too heavy, just a light little tap on the shoulder, so to speak. Maybe a Virginia-burley blend with a touch of Perique. I like the ribbon cuts for summertime smoking when the “livin’ is easy and the fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high,” with thanks to George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess opera. And, yes, back in the day, Pundit was quite the fly-tying, pipe-smoking, chest-wading, trout-hunting, crazy rod-toting, fly-fisherman. Corn cob pipes were for smoking when fat, high-flying trout were jumpin.’ Never one of those beautifully designed and lovingly hand-crafted pieces of old wood briar. No sir. No risks are taken when excited and shouting for joy with a large trout on the other end of the fly line. Only to note in the splashy chaos the magnificent briar leaped from mouth to the fast-moving stream and sped off downstream. But now back to dog days and pipe tobacco. Virginia-burley flakes are also a fav in the blistering days of summer. And let’s not bypass our light English blends. Or the noticeably light aromatics. Nothing drenched in dressing. A wee dram of topping will do. A few of the heavier Virginia-Burley blends, say from Cornell & Diehl, require patient puffing. Nothing rolling down the tracks at full steam sort of thing. Slow and easy with some of the heavier VaBurs. Especially if you are a nicotine wimp like the Pundit. A moderate nic hit is fine. But I have occasionally gone so far over the dark nic abyss with strong tobaccos loaded with nicotine so as to experience the onset of that most disconcerting sensation of falling, spiraling into the dark unknown, with cold sweats, hazy thinking, and hallucinations. “Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’ Poe’s “The Raven!” would then be the exquisitely apt verbal utterance we squeak out involuntarily when suffering the turbid depths of that awful green gills feeling. Okay, light up the Virginias with perhaps a little touch of perique and a dab of burley. Slow and easy on puffing, like hot evenings in the South. This next thought from the Pundit might be too much of an existential question, but here goes. Is it possible to own too many pipes? Have you successfully reached the end of pipe collecting and stuffing the cellar with more tobacco than you will ever consume? And do you then find this quiet realization quickly subsumed by a sudden and viral case of PAD, compelling one to add even more to the seemingly ever-expanding herd? Which then sends PAD sub-variants of TAD into whirls of ignition. Thus adding more pipes and tobacco to a sagging pipe shelf and a bloated tobacco cellar. How does one curtail the lifelong pleasure of collecting beautiful handmade pipes and artfully created tobacco blends? Cull and sell much of the overgrown collection, did I hear someone say! Nay, nay, replies Pundit. This is just not going to happen on Pundit’s watch. So, what to do? That’s a reasonable question. With perplexing problems that arise in every life, I fill a briar bowl with an aged blend of Virginia and puff away until a light goes on somewhere within the deep folds of the mind. No lights yet, but I’m working on it. Maybe a museum! Mayhaps my daughters will decide to keep them instead of tossing them (oh, the horror, the horror!). All suggestions toward a possible solution to this nagging problem will be greatly appreciated. No need to mention sales talk. It won’t compute. And now for a notable major cigar smoker and pipe personality from the past—Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. And commander of the “Birds” and other scary movies such as “Psycho,” both of which should not be viewed alone in the dark. Sir Alfred was born in Leytonstone, England, near London, on Aug. 13, 1899, and died in Los Angeles, Calif., on April 29, 1980. His legendary films collected 46 Academy Award nominations, including six wins, although he never achieved the award for Best Director despite five nominations. But he did earn two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! He was once referred to as a “young man with a mastermind.” And Sir Alfred was indeed the master of melodrama, suspense, and thrillers. Just the memory of “Psycho” gives Pundit the heebie-jeebies after all these years. A quote or two from the master of suspense: There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it A glimpse into the world proves that horror is nothing other than reality. And yes, boys and girls, Sir Alfred did indeed smoke pipes, despite his fearsome film noir. No less authority than guru tobacco reviewer Jiminks says the wizard of the thriller smoked Dunhill pipe blends. Amen to that. And one more notable consummate pipe smoker, former President Gerald R. Ford, who served our great nation from August 1974 to January 1977. The 38th President stepped up his vice presidential duties and guided the nation through its “long nightmare,” after Watergate took down his predecessor, President Richard M. Nixon. Again, Jiminks, says Ford reportedly smoked Field & Stream, Walnut, and also noted in a book publication he also puffed Edgeworth Ready Rubbed. The Pundit leaves you with one of his gems of thought: Pipe smokers are the mind workers of the world, an oft-repeated pipe proverb by the Pundit. We are an eclectic group that enjoys each other’s company and conversation. Those qualities seem to be in scarcity today. We need more pipe smokers, Quoth the Pundit.

  • Law of Binding Energy

    This may sound a bit over the top, but our pipe community is held together by some equivalent of the law of binding energy. So sayeth Dr. Pundit. Harrumph! Simply put, the law says the universe is held together by binding energy. Seen another way, the law explains in a blackboard full of Einsteinian math the energy it takes to separate us from the universe. Or something. Now, without getting too overwrought in the physics or chemistry of binding energy, let’s just say we are a bound community of pipe-loving groups. It would require a great deal of energy to separate us from our hobby. The Pundit has not run off the rails yet. See, our energy is connected through a community of pipes and tobacco, a village of individuals who enjoy just sitting around pontificating and puffing our beloved pipes. That’s binding and energetic. You get it if you have ever participated in a pipe club gathering. There is not enough energy to scramble one atom of our togetherness. That’s our law of binding energy. This short lecture is a windy opening to what is today’s reality in the pipe world, and our daily lives. Pay attention, class. There will be a pop quiz at the end of this discourse. Of late we have seen tectonic shifts in the “old normal.” The good old days, so it seems to the Pundit, have been pummeled by powerful events: the Covid pandemic virus and its many mutations of tragedy; supply chain choke holds; massive cargo ships becoming lodged in narrow river lanes like toy boats in a ditch; the Great Resignation spreading like a virus; a disastrous war in Ukraine and the threat of even more violence. Ok, the Pundit gets it. Enough of gloom and doom. Back to the original thought of our law of binding energy. It is similar to the law of supply and demand for pipe smokers. In simplest terms, when all other economic factors remain constant, the law of supply says that if prices go up, supply generally rises. But if supply remains constant, and prices continue to rise, demand generally drops. For us pipe smokers, supply and demand have been somewhat steady during these upside-down years. We have access to sufficient supply and, mostly, prices have not resulted in a bank shot off the charts. We pipe puffers have our own law of supply and demand, similar to our law of biding energy. Now, for the promised pop quiz. Pay attention, for another lecture of sorts is in order after this. Pop question: how do supply and demand affect pipe smokers? You in the back: “More supply means we have fewer pipes.” Wow, you weren’t paying attention. Ok, one more. You in the front row with your hand half raised: “We have too many pipes on cargo ships.” You fail, too. Correct answer: The Law of Supply and Demand may affect other segments of society, but not so much the pipes and tobacco community. There are too many of us in the demand side. No matter the prices. There, you have it. Now on to more important matters. Why do we celebrate Independence Day? If your answer is because some yokels in Boston tossed tea in an ocean, or it’s because we fly flags and blast fireworks into the night skies, one might want to dig a little deeper. Ok, so why do we celebrate? You there in the corner half asleep. “To celebrate independence from some king, or something.” Well, yes, but I was looking for a more profound answer. Such as, from whom did we snatch independence from the jaws of colonialism? In a more perfect union, the Fourth of July is the day the original thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, giving birth to a new America, and unbuckling itself from the nutjob King George III and Great Britain. America is 246 years young this July 4th. Ok, that was a little harsh about the royal nutjob. King Georgie suffered from insanity in spurts. History records that many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as those who penned the document, were tobacco farmers. This founding fathers’ fact, dear friends, gives pipe smokers bragging rights! So, the heart of all this is that after we’ve fired off that bucket full of fireworks to celebrate our precious independence, we can savor the notion that pipe smoking in America is not only patriotic but also historic. It’s that binding energy continuum thing. Tobacco formed the first cash crop of the British colonies. Think Jamestown and John Rolfe, the guy who married Pocahontas and was big in early Virginia politics. He also enjoyed tobacco and planted a crop of West Indies seeds, allegedly, in Jamestown in 1612. And on the money side, by the time of the runup to the American Revolution, just about all of the Southern Founding Fathers owed their wealth to the sale of tobacco. And to be historically correct, not all of them smoked tobacco. But tobacco smoking was common among the Founders, particularly using churchwarden-long clay pipes in the inns. See, many of the Founding Fathers (a tasty aromatic blend from Cornell & Diehl, just sayin’), were also pipe smokers. The author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was a tobacco farmer who puffed a pipe for a brief time. Benjamin Franklin was likewise a short-time pipe smoker while helping to edit the famous freedom document. We can forgive ol’ Benjy because floating a kite near lightning with a lit pipe might not have been a promising idea. Founders John Adams and James Madison, also tobacco farmers, knew a good pipe blend when they smoked one. By the way, Dolley Madison, wife of the fourth U.S. President, smoked a pipe and allegedly cigars as well. And now, dear friends, I hope by the time you read this epistle, you have had or will have a binding energy type Fourth. Finally, a message from our first U.S. President, […]

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