By Bob Tate
Pipes and Tobacco. Tobacco and Pipes. You can’t really have one without the other to enjoy all of the pleasures that pipe smoking has to offer. There are some exceptions when it comes to pipes though, as I know of people who don’t really smoke their pipes and just buy them for the art that they are and the collect-ability factor. There is nothing wrong with this, but I don’t consider these people as pipe smokers, I consider them pure collectors.
Pipes are wonderful and I enjoy them immensely. I love looking at them and, like most of you I presume, some of them just call out to me. Some of them are pure works of art that demand attention and respect for the carvers’ abilities. But for as much as I enjoy pipes, I can’t say that they are my passion.
Although I enjoy looking at them, buying them, and smoking them, I never get really passionate or obsessed with them. I don’t pour myself over the pipe inspecting the grain, the stem, the symmetry, and other things that the people who are really passionate about the actual pipes do. I more or less look at the pipe as a whole and the overall look and feel of the pipe. If I like it, I like it. If I don’t, I don’t.
Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all of the aspects of a fine pipe; from the grain pattern, all the way down to the bit of the stem. I just don’t get really passionate about them the way that some others do. I appreciate the works of art that some of the artisan pipes are, the classic shapes, and all aspects of a well made pipe; especially the internal engineering that makes a pipe smoke well. I really appreciate all of the work that goes into making a pipe and the skills that are required by a carver to do so.
I do love pipes, but I REALLY love tobacco. My true passion in this hobby is the tobacco. I can spend hours and hours reading about different blends, different tobacco varietals, and basically all things tobacco. I love the massive variety of blends that are available. I love to read the tin descriptions, look at the tin art, and imagine what the blend is going to taste like. I get really excited about tobacco. When I get a new blend that I have never smoked before, I feel like a kid at Christmas time being full of anticipation waiting for the chance to smoke it.
I love how all tobacco varietals taste different. I also love the way that even the same kind of tobacco, or blend, can taste different depending on how it is prepared. Take for example a Virginia flake. There are changes in the flavor depending on how you prepare it for smoking. Rubbed out, cubed cut, and fold and stuff all offer different flavor profiles even though it is the same blend. Sometimes the change in flavor is very subtle and sometimes it really hits you in the face with the difference.
I love how one difference in the type of tobacco can change the entire flavor profile of a blend. There are many genres of tobacco blends out there, and there are endless ways to create great tasting tobacco blends. There are tons of different flavor combinations that can be made. In my opinion, tobacco blenders are like chefs. They take a lot of different individual flavors and combine them to make unique, extraordinary, and endless varieties of flavors. There are good ones and there are great ones, and to be honest there are some not-so-good ones.
I am so passionate about tobacco that I even enjoy smoking blends that the majority of smokers have written off as absolutely horrible. I am curious to see if the blend is really that bad, and if it is, to find out why the blend may have turned out that way. I am a true believer that there are really no horrible tobacco blends, just different tastes for different people.
Take Mixture 79 for example. A lot of people absolutely hate it, but there are also a lot of people that enjoy it. I have smoked it myself, and while I wouldn’t call it a great blend, I certainly wouldn’t call it the worst blend that I have ever smoked. They have been selling it for decades, so there must be a lot of people smoking it. If people weren’t buying it, they would have stopped making it.
Are there bad blends out there? Well, that is a tough question to answer. I would have to say that it depends on who you ask. Everyone is going to have an opinion about what blends that they think are bad. But those same blends may be the favorites of others. I have smoked blends that I absolutely can not stand and did not like at all, but some of them are very popular blends amongst the general pipe smoking populace. This is just one more thing that I love about tobacco; the fact that tastes are subjective.
One of the main differences between pipes and tobacco for me, and the main reason why I really love, and am much more passionate about, tobacco is this; No matter how great a pipe carver is, they are always going to be limited by the piece of briar or wood that they are working on. Don’t get me wrong, some carvers can do amazing things with a piece of briar, but they are always going to be limited by it in some way, shape, or form.
Tobacco blenders are only limited by their own imagination. There are so many different flavor combinations out there, that if a blender has a good imagination and can grasp the concept of the different flavors that can be made, there are no limits for them. They can add more of a certain leaf, remove some of a leaf, tweak this, tweak that, etc. Everything can and will change the way that a blend tastes.
Earlier I said that tobacco blenders are like chefs, but I think that a better analogy would be that tobacco blenders are actually more like winemakers. Tobacco resembles grapes in so many ways that I find it simply amazing. Just like grapes, there are numerous varietals of tobacco. The growing region, soil, and environmental factors (among other things) from year to year all have an affect on how that crop will turn out in both grapes (wine) and tobacco in a particular year. And all of the different factors will also have an affect on the flavor of the tobacco from year to year.
If you stop and really think about, with all of the different factors that have different affects on each years crop, it is amazing that blenders can put out perennial blends that have a consistent flavor year after year. Heck, you even store tobacco the same way that you store bottles of wine. I could go on forever about tobacco, but I think that you get my point.
As you can see, I really love tobacco and am really passionate about it. It is my passion in this hobby. I am very interested to hear what all of you have to say.
So I ask you,
Pipes or Tobacco – What’s Your Passion?