By Bob Tate
I would like to talk a little about the information that novice pipers will come across. The reason that I named this article “Reading Between the Lines”, is because I want to impress upon the readers that you should read between the lines and take all information about pipe smoking with a grain of salt. This even includes anything that I have written. Everything that I read or hear, I always take with a grain of salt. This includes the so called ‘Professionals’ that work at B&M’s, but I will talk a little more about that later.
There is very little in pipe smoking that I consider hard set ‘rules’. Yes, there are some ‘rules’ that should be followed very closely. Such as cleaning your pipes after every smoke and having a good rotation, but even that is debatable. Does cleaning your pipes after every smoke and having a good rotation help the enjoyment of pipe smoking? In my opinion, yes it does. But back before pipe smoking became a hobby and there were a lot more people smoking pipes, a lot of them smoked the same pipe every day and did not clean them after every smoke. They certainly seemed like they enjoyed their pipes just as much as I do. Am I right and they were wrong? Or were they right and I am wrong? The answer is neither. Pipe smoking is all about enjoying YOUR pipes, tobacco, and smoking.
I do not put much value into those who consider themselves ‘Expert Pipe Smokers’. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not including pipe makers and tobacco blenders in this discussion of being an expert. They are obviously some form of an expert because they have studied the art of pipe making or tobacco blending and they apply their knowledge in their trade and make a living from it. So they have to know quite a bit about what they are doing are they wouldn’t be able to make a living doing what they do.
The ‘Expert Pipe Smokers’ I am referring to is, the people who say; “I have been smoking a pipe for so many amount of years and I have all of this knowledge and this is how you are supposed to smoke a pipe”. In my opinion, the individual person finds their own way to smoke a pipe. If you enjoy smoking a pipe the way that you smoke it, you are doing it correctly. Once again, that does not mean the so called ‘experts’ are wrong, because they are not. They are enjoying their pipe smoking as well.
I do always listen to and read every bit of information that becomes available to me because I am always learning. There is almost always some bit of information that I was not previously aware of. Sometimes the new info or tip helps me to enjoy my pipe journey better and sometimes it does not. I keep using the things that work for me and do not use the things that don’t work. I do not discard any info whether it works for me or not because it might help out a fellow piper even though it did not work for me. A prime example is the fold and stuff method with flake tobacco. I know that a lot of people use that method with much success, but I can not use that method. I do not get satisfactory results from it although others do.
This applies even more to tobacco reviews. Remember that every one has different tastes and what tastes good to me, might not taste good to you and vice versa. When I write a review, I keep that in mind and try to remain objective. I really hate when I read a review and the reviewer tears apart a blend that he doesn’t like just because he doesn’t like it without any explanation of why he doesn’t like it. I have seen reviews of aromatic blends and the reviewer starts his review with, “Let me start by saying that I hate aromatics.” And then proceeds to bash the tobacco. Well if they hate aromatics and can not be objective, then why are they reviewing an aromatic?
When I read reviews of a tobacco that I have not had before, I look for certain things in the review. I tend to disregard the reviewers personal taste as far as the blend goes, unless I know the reviewer and know what their tastes tend to be. Here are some of the things that I look for when reading a review; what type of tobaccos make up the blend, what type of blend it is, does it sound similar to a blend that I have smoked and if so did I like it or dislike it, if it had a lot of bite to it, etc.
Now back to when I mentioned B&M’s. Just because someone works in one, does not mean that they know what they are talking about. There are two B&M’s that I used to go to frequently. I still occasionally go to one, but I do not go to the other one at all. The first one, the one which I do not go to at all anymore, the clerk was a little knowledgeable about pipes, tobacco, and cigars; but they used to lie all the time instead of telling the truth or simply saying “I don’t know”. Anything that they didn’t carry, they would claim was inferior, was overpriced, was discontinued, or another of many other excuses.
Here are a few examples of what happened to me there.
One time I went in and asked if they had any Cornell & Diehl tobaccos. They told me that C&D tobaccos were not very good and people would not buy them so they stopped carrying their products. Needless to say, this was bull. I have become a fan of C&D tobaccos and they make great blends using top notch tobacco. Another time I went in there and asked if they had any Peterson University Flake. They told me that Peterson discontinued that blend, another lie. The last time that I went in, I asked if they had any Opus X cigars and they told me that Fuente didn’t allow the state of Maryland to sell any Opus X cigars, another lie. That was the last time that I went there. This happened when I was relatively new to pipes, about 4 years or so ago. Except for the lie about Opus X, that was about 1 year ago. So you see, with me being new to pipes, I assumed that they knew what they were talking about and telling the truth. I found out a few weeks after each incident that they were in fact, not being truthful.
The second B&M has a clerk that is just totally ignorant to anything pipe, cigar and tobacco related in general. One time I went in there and was looking at Meerschaum pipes. I asked him who the manufacturer of a particular pipe was and he said Meerschaum. I said I know it is Meerschaum, but who makes it. He said that Meerschaum WAS the manufacturer. I had to explain to him that there were in fact many manufacturers of Meerschaum pipes. He got angry and walked away. I left shaking my head.
Another time I went in there and the same clerk was working. He was showing some people some nasal snuff and obviously didn’t know what it was nor did the customers. He told them to put a pinch of it in their mouth and that is how you are supposed to use it. After the people put it in their mouth and said that they didn’t taste anything, I had to laugh and I explained to them that it is nasal snuff and is supposed to be used in the nose. I have also had to explain to other customers that his info on pipe smoking was incorrect and explain to them why his information was wrong and what they could do to fix the problem that they were having. I still go there occasionally because they have a great selection of stuff, but I do not deal with that particular clerk.
So like I said at the start; read between the lines and take everything with a grain of salt. Keep building your knowledge and try many different things. You will come across things that don’t work for you. But when you find something that does, it will make your pipe smoking a little more enjoyable. Find out what works for YOU and smoke your pipes the way that YOU enjoy them, not the way that someone else said you should because they are a supposed ‘expert’.