By: John St. Mark Spanish wines have established a strong reputation for unique character and a remarkably favorable quality-to-price ratio. (Click for a Larger View of Spanish Wine Regions) […]Read more
By: John St. Mark You may have heard about Robert Mondavi’s passing last year, just as his 95th birthday was approaching; he was much celebrated for his many accomplishments, including […]Read more
By: John St. Mark There are literally hundreds of wineries in the Napa Valley, and although I will be mentioning a few landmark wineries as points of reference, my goal […]Read more
By: John St. Mark The Napa Valley has a big reputation, but if you’ve been there you know that it is not such a big place. In fact, of all […]Read more
By: John St. Mark Wine and cheese. The combination is ubiquitous, so they must go together … right? Wine and cheese do have a great deal in common. Both are […]Read more
By: John St. Mark Wine Aromas Wine Flavors The label mentions "blackberry, cassis, mocha and clove." … You take a sip … it tastes like wine … You […]Read more
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- September 21, 2023 Sparking Up Your Pipe with a Rattray’s Lighter
Recently, on the Pipes Magazine Forums, a user asked an open question about the Rattray’s Grand Lighter. I had not used or spent much time looking into those, so I thought it would be a good time to pick one up and do a review of it. When I do my lighter reviews, I generally like to do some deep digging and get in touch with the manufacturers such as IM Corona (Old Boy) or Tsutobo (Peterson, Kiribi), but in this case, there is scarce information available. Rattrays is distributed in the US by Sutliff, and you’ll find their lighters on SmokingPipes.com and other great retailers. I pinged Jeremy over at Sutliff to help me get in touch with the folks at Rattrays/Kopp and he got me connected to Oliver Kopp who was able to answer a few of my more detailed questions. The lighter that I chose to review is the Rattray’s Grand “Squares” lighter, which features a square line design on a highly polished stainless steel lighter. The Grand lighter was introduced about three years ago, and the Bel lighter was released about five years ago for context. It features a 45-degree soft flame, which helps (but not completely) keep build-up off the striker wheel – a problem that seems to plague my other lighters. These lighters fall square in the same competitive market of the Old Boy and the Kiribi, with a retail price of around $105 to $120. Some of their other lighters, like the Bel, retail for slightly less, around $82. Unboxing, you can see a few provided flints, which, upon inspection, are very similar to zippo flints if you’re looking for future replacements. The box contains instructions and warranty information and has silver foil inlaid text and decoration. Rattray’s states that their lighters are designed by them in Germany. But until I received it, I had no idea where it was actually made—China. That said, Oliver tells me that the Bel lighter is the same lighter used for Pierre Cardin and that the manufacturer they chose to go with also manufactures the Dupont Jet lighters. On the bottom of the lighter is a flip-up cover with Rattray’s name etched into it, which protects the refill valve and adjustment screws. The cover, though, you can see by the pictures, is less finished and does not quite feel as quality as one would expect for a $100+ lighter. But I do appreciate the cover. Zooming in, you can see the butane nozzle is angled out to the left from the spark wheel. The top flint section slides back on a spring load, but I warn you the tiny mechanism on the side is a bit of a pain to release the catch holding it back. But this feature is unique in that you can visually always see how much of the flint is left for when you have to replace it. That’s right, there’s no need to unscrew something; just slide the bar back, it locks into place, and then drop the new flint in. You need to put your fingernail between the thumbslide and the tiny metal catch, and the thumbslide will slide back into place. If you don’t do this, the top will not close. You can also see in this picture where the flame hits the metal area, which can be wiped away, but it’s due to the shorter nozzle. The lighter features a long “ignition” wheel, which is great for guys with big thumbs. It rotates quite easily and sparks well. I find that the lighter is taller than many other lighters and a bit slimmer at 2.76 in. / 70.21 mm in height and 0.39 in. / 10.07 mm in width. It weighs about 2.6 oz or 73ish grams. On the front-facing side it has the Rattray’s logo on the bottom right corner. It produces a nice soft flame that works like a champ to light your favorite tobacco. The internal tank is a plastic tank, but this is very common in many new lighters manufactured today. Before Rattrays introduces a new lighter, they actually send it (the prototype) to the repair shop that they use for all warranty services to review the lighter and make sure that it’s of high quality. Oliver tells me the return/repair rate for all of their lighters is low, and that is also because they concentrate on flint-style lighters as they are considerably more reliable than the electro-jet flames. The official repair center for these lighters is located here. Vintage Styling Now let’s talk about inspiration because the first thing one of my pipe club members said when I showed him the lighter was, “Wow, that looks like a Dupont.” As mentioned earlier, it’s the same manufacturer that makes one of the lines for Dupont as well as Pierre Cardin, so you can assume some shared styling. Borrowing ideas for lighters is nothing new; the “Old Boy” was originally a Dunhill lighter style. But when thinking about styling, we also look at the name – Dupont has a lighter named “Le Grand.” The Le Grand features both a soft flame and a torch flame for use with pipes and cigars. Now, price-wise, an ST Dupont lighter will set you back $1,500 and is geared squarely toward the luxury gentlemen’s market. That said, S.T. Dupont lighters have been around since the 1940s and are as much of a jewelry piece as it is lighter. When flipping the cap of most of the Dupont lighters, you get this resonating “ping” sound that is synonymous with them, and unfortunately, the Rattray’s Grand does not emit that type of sound. Kirby Allison did a great review of many of the ST Dupont lighters here, and its quite possible you will see a review from me at some point covering the best Dupont lighters for pipes and including some buying tips on the used and new market. In Summary There are some pros and cons to […]
- September 19, 2023 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 575
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 575. We have a special show tonight to celebrate the start of our 12th year. In lieu of an interview, Brian will be joined by another popular pipe podcast host – Jon David Cole. JD is the Owner/Tobacconist at The Country Squire in Jackson, MS, and he is the former co-host of the now discontinued podcast, Country Squire Radio. Country Squire Radio ran for 10-years and is still one of the most popular pipe-niche podcasts. Having these two pipe and tobacco brainiacs bouncing off of each other for over 45-minutes will be a blast. We will be preempting our usual first segment to start right off with JD. We will have the usual music, mailbag and rant at the end of the show.
- September 12, 2023 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 574
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 574! Our featured interview tonight is with Michael DiCuccio. Michael is the President of TinBids.com, “The Pipe Collector’s Auction Site” where you can buy and sell vintage and rare tobacco tins, tobaccos, pipes and accessories. He has been collecting for over 30-years, and has a personal pipe collection of over 1,100 pipes. Michael also has his own IT company and is a self-proclaimed “computer geek”. At the top of the show we’ll get caught up on a backlog of emails and messages from our listeners with some great questions and comments. We will still have our regular mailbag segment at the end of the show as well.
- September 5, 2023 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 573
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 573! Our featured interview tonight is with J.B. “Brandon” Frady. Brandon is a new pipe maker making the Ash Cooper line of pipes which just launched earlier this year. His pipes are freehand and artistic shapes and designs. He is also a freelance writer for any type of project, but has been published for music reviews, concert reviews, and a single anomalous video game review, and other writings in a couple dozen professional publications. His full time job is with State Farm Insurance. At the top of the show we will have an Ask the Tobacco Blender segment with Jeremy Reeves. Jeremy is the Head Blender at Cornell & Diehl, which is one of the most popular boutique pipe tobacco companies in the USA.
- September 5, 2023 Obsessions
I’ve never owned a four-square billiard. I’ve had plenty of pipes with paneled sides, but this venerable classic has always eluded me. Truth told, I’d always considered it something of a remedial shape, a pipe to be made when a conventional billiard exhibited too many flaws, or when the lines went wrong. And, I considered them too “simple.” For as long as I’ve been smoking pipes, this quaint but cunning shape has held little interest. Then, something conspired to disabuse me of my prejudices all at once. One day, a few months ago, an Instagram friend taunted me with photos of a beautiful example of the shape that he’d just gotten. I was instantly smitten. Then he showed another. And another. As I looked at his photos, I saw things in the shape I’d never really noticed, sending me down the rabbit hole to look at hundreds of photos of as many examples I could find. It turns out it’s far from the simple shape I’d thought it to be, but rather one that’s clearly challenging to execute well. While it shares the overall profile and proportions of a conventional billiard, including the slight forward cant of the bowl, those panels have to be even, perfectly square, and, importantly, must not destroy the balance of the shape. If the bowl doesn’t have that very slight forward tilt, it looks like it’s falling backwards. Too much tilt, and it’s just weird. If the panels are cut too deeply, the walls could become too thin, and at its worst, it makes the thing look like a cube on a stick. The cut and gentle curvature of the four vertices are as important as the panels themselves. The shank, too, must be carefully and consistently square along its length, as must the taper of the stem. Though based on the classic billiard, it became clear looking at Frank’s pipes, and so many others, that if it’s going to be successfully executed, the pipe maker has to start out with the four-square in mind, rather than using the shape to “fix” a billiard gone wrong. As a bonus, the panels and facets exhibit the briar’s grain in a unique and interesting way. There’s also the practicality of the shape; the bowl has good capacity coupled with light weight. I had to have one, and so began my quest. A Dunhill EK would be nice, but finding one in good shape that wasn’t more than I was willing to spend turned out to be something of a fool’s errand. I went looking for a more modest example, maybe something French. After weeks of searching, I came across a “shop pipe” stamped for Garfinkel’s, an old Washington DC tobacconist that has always held deep significance to me. In the 1980s, a friend in our local pipe community introduced me to Garfinkel’s by way of their magnificent Orient Express #11 mixture. Produced for them by Sobranie, to this day I consider it the finest example of genre ever created. The balance of Virginias, orientals and Latakia were absolute perfection, resulting in a rich, complex and always fascinating tobacco. I started buying a pound of it every month, eight 2oz tins, until the tragic day when Larry Garfinkel called me to ask if he could send me two pounds that month. “Sure, Larry. Why?” It was his last two pounds. It was this tobacco that was the most significant inspiration on my own blending journey. I have no idea what magic was performed to make it so special, but it was, and it is. Garfinkel’s may be gone, but the memories linger. There were other spectacular blends in the Garfinkel’s catalogue, including a range made my Robert McConnell. The Olde Scottish Cut Cake #6 seen in the photos was another special one. In those days, I wasn’t much interested in Virginias, so I never explored them very deeply, but if I had, I would have squirreled away a lot more of this one, too. This is the last of only a few tins I’ve had over the years. And then there was Shottery, Armon, Ridgeway and Marlowe. I wish I had many tins of all of them. I digress. This Garfinkel’s four-square seemed perfect, a bit of serendipity, and it was made in France. I got the pipe for a good price, and waited for its arrival. When the package reached me, I tore into it quickly; my enthusiasm instantly collapsed when I got to the pipe itself. The pipe was covered with flaking and blistered shellac, and wore a bit of road rash from careless handling. The panels, while cut fairly evenly, were not flat, but comically concave. The top was badly scratched, and the stem was crusty, dull, and in need of serious restoration. Perhaps worse was the condition of the airway. Ironically, though the bowl had been reamed almost to bare wood, I don’t think the thing had ever seen a pipe cleaner, and it was tough work just to get a thin one through it. And, it wasn’t just the shank – even the stem was heavily caked with thick, tarry goop. The wretched stench, too, from ages of cheap aromatic tobacco was epic. But, there were no visible fills, the overall size, shape and proportions were good, and under the years of grunge, there might be some pretty nice wood hiding. Time to get to work. It took a lot of alcohol, and dozens of pipe cleaners to get the airway clean. The drilling through the shank was okay, but it was very tight through the stem, so a little blueprinting was in order, funneling the tenon, smoothing out the transitions, and opening things up to a more consistent cross section. The shellac had to go. Since the pipe was destined to be completely refinished, I sanded the whole pipe smooth, spending a little extra time on the scratched and chafed top and ensuring that the stem and shank were well mated. […]
- September 5, 2023 Road Forks and Observations
This is the fun time of the year, methinks. Major League Baseball is winding down into its playoff madness when the Boys of Summer become the Boys of October. High school football warms up those chilly stands under Friday Night Lights. Nothing quite matches this slice of Americana. Then college football’s television spectacle on Saturdays takes over the mania button on the remote. Ah, yes, these magical Saturdays of gridiron wonder. Thank the lords of sports that we can discard for a time recent diversions. Well, sort of, weather permitting. And then, by Jove, we arrive at what the Pundit describes as “Pull up a chair, kick off the shoes, light a pipe, and open your favorite adult beverage. It’s football time in America with a dash of baseball wrapping around the keystone event of the sports seasons, The World Series!” And just so you know, the Pundit was once a hard-working pipe-smoking sports writer in the press box high above the fields of play. Puffing away and typing furiously on a portable typewriter (a what?). Yes, there were many jokes about my pipe whilst my colleagues smoked cigarettes continuously. “That pipe stinks. What are you smoking in that thing?” I heard that enough times to give me a nervous twitch and delusions. But dare I say, some of sports greatest minds were puffers of the grand aged leaf. Think of Billy Martin on and off with the New York Yankees as a player and manager. Captain Black if you please. And another baseball superstar, Sparky Anderson, smoked his pipe even in the dugout. He skippered the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, winning championships with both teams. This time of the year always puts me in a mood of contemplation. Sports, yes sir, and of our championship pipe makers worldwide, as well as those special tobacco blends that seem to arrive around now. It takes a champion-like spirit to harness oneself to the tools of griding pipes into art and blending tobaccos to grace those works of art. Long ago, the Pundit visited the old Cornell&Diehl blending area when the company was located in Morganton, N.C. Small quarters then, which later had to be enlarged. And enlarged again. Then as history rolled on, C&D joined Laudisi Enterprises company (aka Smokingpipes.com) in 2014 in Longs, S.C., and quickly outgrew that blending and production area. And, yes, the kit and caboodle had to move into larger digs to satisfy supply and demand for those lovely tobaccos in creative tin art. Laudisi Enterprises, by the way, has a network of shops in it’s A-Z distribution tobacco and cigar shops across the nation. Just so you know. Ahem. Jeremy Reeves, C&D’s head blender and tobacco maestro, says the sky’s the limit, maybe even the stratosphere and beyond. The company, he says, “will continue growing as long as pipe smokers want our products. We keep trying to find our limits.” With C&D’s Small Batch production with uniquely sourced tobaccos, there isn’t likely to be a retraction of growth. Just sayin.’ Take, for example, Jeremy’s and C&D’s latest Small Batch, Steamworks Small Batch, released on Aug. 22, and sold out within hours, if not minutes. Little wonder. The Smokingpipes.com website defines it as a “unique Virginia/Oriental/Perique flake (that) utilizes two proprietary stoving processes and some of the rarest tobacco varietals in the world. “A study in flue-cured leaf, Steamworks presents six top-tier, Old Belt Virginia grades — ranging from dark Mahogany to brighter Lemon/Orange — in unstoved, partially steamed, and blackened formats, resulting in a deep, natural sweetness and mature flavor right out of the tin. “Elevating that flue-cured foundation is a selection of exceptionally rare 2005 Black Sea Sokhoum, 2005 Izmir, and 2006 Katerini Oriental grades, as well as a modest portion of pure 31 Farms Perique — grown, harvested, and fermented at the Roussel family farm in St. James Parish.” Makes your mouth water, right? You had to be quick on the draw to nail this latest C&D Small Batch. It disappeared in a flash. Of course, your erstwhile Pundit was quick on the draw, doncha know! The Pundit works on the dictum given to him long ago by his first city editor, the beloved Arthur Cobb in Pensacola, Fla., at the old Pensacola News-Journal. “First in, last out.” That’s been a powerful journalistic engine driving the Pundit. So, snagged four tins, two to puff, and two to cellar. And now a Pipe Smoker of the Past: Billy Martin: Born on May 16, 1928, in Berkeley, Calif., and died on Dec. 25, 1989, in Johnson City, N.Y. Martin managed the New York Yankees five separate times between 1975 and 1988. In that span, he and the Yankees won the 1977 World Series title. And now from the Baseball Almanac, a Martin quote: “All I know is (as a Yankees Manager), I pass people on the street these days, and they don’t know whether to say hello or to say good-bye.” Martin’s choice of tobacco, as most know, was Captain Black. He even made television commercials and magazine advertising for the blend. So, it is somehow fitting that we end this yarn with a couple of quotes from the great baseball Zen master, Yogi Berra. His baseball records are still in play for today’s sluggers. Yogi played as a youngster for the famed New York Yankees (please, hold the boos), managed them for a while, and even did a stint managing crosstown rival, New York Mets. My two favorite Yogisms: When you come to a fork in the road, take it. And one of his most inciteful philosophical thoughts for all times: You can observe a lot by watching.