Ask Hank 16: Fist Fights

A. Miller
Today I wrestled a small pack of skunks for ownership of my backyard.
At first it started with a lot of staring and some hissing. Mostly instigated by them. But today I learned, when you scream and run at a pack of skunks, they call your bluff.

My bluff has been called.

I don’t think my wife is going to let me back in the house for a while, but the joke is on her, as I keep my tobacco collection in my garage. Yes, it’s February, but nonetheless somehow strangely warm outside. I think I’ll be okay sleeping on this cold slab of concrete.

We’ll see how this plans out. I’m entirely unclear. But enough about me, let’s get to your questions.

Dear Hank,

A disagreement broke out at work today about what restaurant had the best burger in town. It was a rough conversation and everyone left with some amount of bodily harm.

As a person who doesn’t particularly care for burgers, this was difficult for me to understand. But then this evening I came to actual blows with a friend of mine over what the best straight burley blend is (I’ll leave the two blends in question to the reader to guess).

I’m writing to ask, is there a way to settle such important controversies, preferably without bodily harm?

Slightly scarred, but in body only, my ego is unaffected,
AJ in Tucson

Dear AJ in Tucson,

There are few things in life worthy of getting in to an actual fist fight. I will, however, I’ll provide you with the list from least important to absolutely-must-fight:

5) The proper way to prepare and cook a steak.

4) Protecting your super awesome daughter (or your not-super awesome daughter—she’s your daughter for crying out loud).

3) The amount of time a man can spend on the toilet without being harassed by his coworkers in the morning—especially you Steve, leave me the hell alone, there are other stalls for crying out loud.

2) Which tobacco is in fact, objectively, the best.

1) Who caught the bigger fish.

Yes. Tobacco is in the top two. So if you’re being intentional about choosing your battles, you’re at least choosing your battles well. That said, you really should put your fists down, and head out to the lake with hooks and rods. Because if you’re going to fight someone, being prepared with sharp objects and long blunt objects is a way better idea. I mean, come on.

Pierced ears are way cooler if you pierced them in a fishing accident,

Dear Hank,

A series of unexpected and painful events caused me to go about three weeks without a moment for my pipe. Immediately following that, another series of events caused me to be left alone with two aromatic Lane blends. I don’t normally smoke aromatics, and I have a particular dislike for Lane blends (something about the top dressing). Worse still, these were repackaged by a local B&M and renamed in to something I don’t understand, so I can’t even tell what I’m smoking—nor can I look up reviews by other smokers (a normal part of my routine with new blends).

I’m home now and my large cellar of quality non-aromatic blends is available to me and I shudder with relief each time I light up a bowl of something fantastic and try to forget the last few weeks.

After my long-painful experience, my question is this, how is it that so many people are in love with aromatic blends?

Finally back off the wagon,
Brandon Handel

Dear Brandon Handel,

I’ll see your question, and raise you another question. Why does Coke exist when whiskey is a thing?

See what I mean?

Dear Hank,

Who gets to name tobacco blends? Some I get, like Nightcap, but others puzzle me. For example Bailey’s Front Porch; who is Bailey and why do we want to set fire to his porch? Just pondering on a thoughtful Thursday.

Confused in Columbus

Dear Confused in Columbus,

There is a large group of pipe-smoking monkeys working at the back of every blending house. They have access to the left-over budget blends and failed aromatics. It sounds awesome, but while they’re capable of smoking a pipe, none of them have been trained sufficiently to clean a pipe so it’s really quite sour and terrible.

Anyhow, these monkeys sit there smoking in these huge rooms around big round tables and throw scrabble pieces at each other. Meanwhile, there are large cameras above them in the ceilings and—using the latest in machine learning with some of the most powerful computers known to man—complex algorithms sort through the words for possible word combinations that make sense phonetically (but not necessarily grammatically).

These word combinations are then spit out in to a large excel sheet. At this point executives from these organizations gather in a room for hours each week (all while smoking new and interesting blends that will never be released for public consumption) and pour over every possibility to narrow the options to just a few names for a new blend. Finally, the last few remaining options are funneled down to a marketing team. This marketing team has their pipes forcibly removed from their hands before they’re shoved in yet another room and told they wont be allowed to smoke again until a blend name is chosen.

Those marketing folks—being just people after all—quickly spiral in to a panic (I mean, without nicotine for a time can we blame them?) and the decision making process is briefly interrupted by a game of survival akin to the Hunger Games.

Finally, someone looks around the room and names an object either in the room, or from a picture on the wall in the room. These names are always entirely unrelated to the first few steps of the process, but it allows the marketers to leave the room with a solution and an excuse to once again consume our favorite weed.

So there you have it. The answer to your “who” question begins with “monkeys playing scrabble” and ends with “a mistreated marketing team.” Don’t tell me you’re surprised.

Well, either it’s that or the blender uses all the names he has in his journal from High School labelled “Great names for a band.”

I’m sure it’s one of the two.

French Afternoon Riviera Bookstore Flake,

Dear Hank,

I’ve fallen in love with VaPer (Virginia Perique) blends, and I cant seem to get enough of them. I’ve tried everything from Escudo to Marlin Flake and Haddo’s Delight. It feels like I have an uncontrollable urge to try every single VaPer ever produced, and I just keep buying tins, loving them, but feeling insatiable.

Will this feeling ever pass? Is there a cure to my endless need to have sampled and rated every single VaPer?

I tell myself I’m not at all an addict,
Rusty Williams

Dear Rusty Williams,

Will the feeling ever pass? Is there a cure?


Sorry for the excellent news,

Dear Hank,

Do cobs require “breaking-in?” I’m getting frustrated with my MM after 2 smokes–only hot smokes that seem to ruin the flavor of my leaf. Same experience I had with a MM I bought probably 10 years ago and never gave a second chance. Should I try “mudding” the inside? I made a cob pipe from a cob I picked up in a field in South Dakota and loved it.

Matt in Brisbane, Australia

Dear Matt in Brisbane, Australia,

You’re speaking to an obsessive lover of Missouri Meerschaum, so I apologize in advance for the words of obsessive love I’m sure I’m about to speak.

Short answer: Kind of.

There is a little piece of wood from the shank that sticks in to the bowl and often burns with the tobacco during the first few smokes. Push through though. The best thing that could ever happen to you is an afternoon with good cob or twelve.

Longer answer: Mudding is a great sport. The idea of making people run complex obstacle courses while drenched in mud is clearly purely American, and I highly advise trying mudding out. Most of the bigger mudding competitions wont allow you to smoke a pipe while participating, but if you have a cob in your hand it seems unlikely they’ll venture out in to the mud and ask you to stop mid-competition.

Also, it’s counter intuitive but stick to a really strong Latakia blend (maybe something with some cigar leaf) when smoking while exerting yourself. The subtlety of a Virginia or even a light aromatic when you’re running means it’s likely you’ll puff harder than you want to. A good strong Latakia will announce itself as it enters your mouth and you’ll find yourself chimney-ing at an appropriate level while army crawling on your elbows under ropes and climbing over slippery-with-mud walls.

If your pipe gets a little mud on the inside, I wouldn’t worry about it. Nothing a little lakeland essence can’t take care of.

And if you think South Dakota corn is good, wait till you try a good 35 year old MM. Your head will explode with delight.

Briar is cool too I guess,

Have a good month. And may your pipes ever be clean.

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