- Kevin Godbee
- Aug 19, 2013
- 0 min read
Written by Kevin Godbee
View all posts by: Kevin Godbee
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- December 6, 2021 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
- December 3, 2021 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 […]
- November 30, 2021 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 481
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 481! This week’s show is a unique holiday themed show with Brian’s Zoom Pipe Club looking at pipes and tobacco in a Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ sort of way. The guys will talk about pipes and tobaccos of the past, present, and future. Joining the discussion with Brian will be Fred Hanna, Tad Gage, Barry Goldstein, Ronni B, Rich Esserman, Fred Janusek, Brad Pohlmann, Dave in LAX, Rob Cappuccio, Dino Argyropoulos, and several others. At the top of the show in Pipe Parts, Brian found some old tobacco ads, which you can find at this link – Almay.com. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- November 23, 2021 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 480
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 480! Tonight we have Rich Esserman back with us for an epic show. Rich is quite well known in the hobby. He has been smoking, collecting, and writing about pipes for over 40-years, and he is best known for collecting large-size Dunhill pipes. We will have Brian and Rich discussing the different types of pipe collectors. Find out which one you are … or are you just a “pipe accumulator”? This episode will go right into the conversation, and bypass the usual Pipe Parts segment. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- November 16, 2021 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 479
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 479! Our featured interview tonight is with pipe maker Brian G. Rowley of Growley Pipes. Brian is also a leather crafter and produces handmade merchandise in that area as well. He makes all types of pipe shapes, including some of the classics, but leans more towards the Danish freehand styles. He takes commissions on pipes as well. At the top of the show, We’ll have our “Ask the Pipemaker” segment with artisan pipe maker, Jeff Gracik. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- November 11, 2021 Veterans Day: We Get To Win This Time Sir
A faded Synoptic Weather Chart for the morning of Saturday, July 1, 1916 read “Light to moderate breezes between East and North, fair to dull. Some showers and mist.” A low-pressure system passing over the English Channel and onto the continent pushed a break in the rain on that first day of July. Bright yellow rays punched down into No Man’s Land and alighted on what poet Siegfried Sassoon described, as a “sunlit picture of hell.” That morning, as the winds changed direction, in the hour when the last mist still clung to the meadow, the whistles blew 8 divisions of British troops into the valley of the shadow of death. Overconfidence in the previous day’s bombardment led officers to conclude that enemy resistance would be minimal and that the allied troops would need their shovels and full 50-pound packs to reinforce captured German positions. General Sir Henry Rawlinson had given the command that the infantry should advance toward the enemy at a walking pace, in evenly spaced lines, some evidence suggests that this command was ignored. German soldiers would later report that the offensive looked more like a mass suicide than an assault, writing that they didn’t even have to aim, “We just fired into them, and they kept falling.” That first day marked the bloodiest battle in British history with 57,470 casualties and 19,240 deaths. Military historian John Keegan would later write, “[For the British] the battle was the greatest tragedy. . .of their national military history,” and, “marked the end of an age of vital optimism in British life that has never been recovered.” In 1914, Major-General Ernest D. Swinton was a journalist covering the front lines of the “War to End all Wars.” Exposed to a wide-ranging view of the newly deployed tactic of trench warfare; he happened upon an idea. He began to sketch out a design for an armored vehicle, mounted on tracks like the one he had seen on a Holt Tractor from the United States. Early adoption of the idea was slow with Lord Kitchener canceling one of his first meetings on the pretense that he was, “Too busy.” The introduction of slow-moving armor was a hard sell to the Gentleman Officers who placed supreme faith in the swift, mounted charge of British Cavalry. The project languished unfunded for over a month before Sir Winston Churchill in control of the Admiralty, made the unusual move of allocating money out of a Naval fund, for what he would call his, “Landships.” Swinton would later write, “Thus, at a time when the machine gun destroyer scheme had for six weeks been lying moribund at the War Office, abandoned as an impossibility, here was born on the other side of Whitehall a special organization, well supplied with the sinews of war for its support….In May [Churchill] severed his connexion with the Admiralty, though retaining an active interest in the landship project.” Tanks would eventually be deployed during the Battle of the Somme; but not until mid-September after the rains had intensified. If one were to calculate the delays in the project, the problems of cancelled meetings and intransigent officers; the tally would amount to at least 3 months. Had the idea not faced such an uphill battle; the armored “Landships” might have been available that fateful morning when the whistles blew. A German report of the psychological impact of the tank once deployed against their troops reads as follows: “The monster approached slowly, hobbling, moving from side to side, rocking and pitching, but it came nearer. Nothing obstructed it: a supernatural force seemed to drive it onwards. Someone in the trenches cried, “The Devil comes!” And that word ran down the line like lightning. Suddenly tongues of fire licked out of the armoured shine of the iron caterpillar…the English waves of infantry surged up behind the Devil’s chariot.” It’s hard not to wonder what a difference that factor could have made on the first day of July back in 1916 This Thursday, on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, we celebrate Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of hostilities in the Great War. In the 1950s the Congress of the United States changed the name to Veterans Day to continue the extension of gratitude to Veterans of later wars; but they saved the connection to the Armistice of the Great War as a lingering message of remembrance. The lessons learned in that war were short lived; and it was little time before the sons of those fallen on Flanders Field would find themselves a long way from Tipperary, once again. The lesson of the importance of armor was quickly established by the younger men who survived going over the top and battlefield tactics and minds were changed. Except for Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who commanded the Allied Forces on the Western Front. The embittered old Commander would take his faith in mounted Cavalry to the grave. In 1926 Hage wrote that he, “Believe[d] that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse—the well-bred horse—as you have ever done in the past.” One hundred years later, Staff Sergeant USMC [Ret] Jeremy Stafford walked into the famous gun room at Taran Tactical in Simi Valley, slapped his pipe roll down on the table and smiled. Stafford is well tanned after a summer working the streets of Los Angeles in an LAPD cruiser. Stout and trim, the 49-year-old veteran of the Iraq War is built like a college fastback, with shoulders as wide as a door frame. A sleek 1990s style USMC tattoo on his bicep occasionally peeks out from under the sleeve of his shirt. Unraveling a leather chord from his pouch he removed a stout, rusticated billiard […]