This time out I thought I’d discuss some timely choices, alternatives or options that could be useful or appealing to you, dear readers. The first of these involves footwear and a bit of a seasonal introduction.
Snow, Hills, RWD, and Loafers: Recently folks living in the central plateau of Tennessee (properly known as the southern portion of the Cumberland Plateau) were warned by the National Weather Service of an approaching winter storm and the strong possibility of receiving a substantial snowfall.
Nashville, my current place of residence and business is smack dab in the middle of said plateau.
Three years ago, the winter I arrived here, it snowed every four days for about three weeks. It was "very unusual to have this much snow here". This I was told, every three or four days, during that entire period.
Nashville, though situated upon a plateau, is actually quite hilly – far more so than the flat Tidewater area of Virginia, my birthplace and home for the preceding 50 plus years.
Snow and RWD: I drive a high performance, great handling, rear wheel drive (RWD) car. I know how to drive on snow because, though Tidewater gets little snow, some does fall every year and I would practice skid pad driving, stopping and turning and skid recovery in empty parking lots when ever it did snow. I still do this every chance I get. It is a practical skill, safety insurance and, well, great bloody fun.
I can even coax my RWD car up a fairly steep hill in the snow. The basic skill involves maintaining a slow and steady momentum, gentle steering and brake input and never coming to a complete stop on an incline. Never. Ever.
This is because without effective snow tires, you have essentially no dependable traction or grip.
Snow and Hills in Nashville: Now it seems a very large percentage of folks here in hilly Nashville seem to lack this knowledge and these skills. After a moderate snowfall of say, two inches or so, it is quite common to see vehicles in our numerous ditches, overturned on interstate approach ramp embankments or several that have skidded into trees, poles and parked cars. These drivers just don’t have the skills, I guess.
So, … that first snowy winter here in Music City, I found myself wedged backward in a curbside snow bank, unable to free my car. I had been calmly trundling up the final long steep hill to enter my neighborhood when I came upon a genius at the crest of the hill, stopped dead at a flashing yellow light.
I had no choice but to begin gently tapping my brakes while frantically honking my horn. There was no movement from the SUV, stopped, still stopped, on top of my last hurdle towards home and a warm toddy and a nice pipe. Since clouds of exhaust and vapor were pouring from the tailpipe and the brake lights were illuminated, I could only assume they were not going to move in time, so I slowly came to a halt a couple of lengths behind.
I was about to launch into a very long, passionate and quite profane tirade about their parentage when my faithful ride began a slow, sickening downhill slide – backwards.
Quickly shifting into reverse and from profanity to prayer, I hit the emergency flashers, threw my right arm over the seat back and began to reverse-reverse steer backward down the hill avoiding the on coming traffic and honking like a goose on speed. Thankfully, I came to rest softly in the snow bank without hitting or being hit by the other drivers.
So there I was, a mile or more from my warm toddy and pipe, stuck fast along with several other hapless cars and trucks.
Snow and Loafers:
The snowfall that day was sudden and much heavier than anticipated, and this is how I found myself in six inches of fresh snow, far from home, wearing a nice pair of black loafers. Though a lovely pair of shoes, they are most ill suited for a long hike in ankle deep powder. Fortunately, I was rescued by someone with a four wheel drive vehicle. I retrieved my car the next day.
This experience flashed through my head when I heard the forecast for a possibly heavy snowfall. Somehow in my recent move I lost track of my snow boots, so I am currently without appropriate footwear for snow and slush. The past two winters were fairly mild snow – wise, so I haven’t yet acquired the requisite foul weather boots.
I would like to share with you some discoveries and ideas that I hit upon in my recent quest for these oh-so-handy items.
No Laces and Waterproof:
I ruled out all footwear that employ laces. I know that there are many fine snow worthy and waterproof boots and shoes that have laces, but I just can’t convince myself that they remain really waterproof, unless they are truly heavy duty pack boots or full on Arctic or hunting boots. So, for me, no laces.
Snow, Slush and Style:
I ruled out any footwear that was cut below the ankle, as I want to avoid snow, slush and water spilling into a low cut shoe. That leaves boots as my only choice. I also want to avoid anything that is overly large, clunky, brightly colored or camo clad. I am not a fireman, commercial fisherman or hunter. I just want a boot that is comfortable, effective and stylish. Finding comfortable, well made, warm and waterproof boots is not difficult. Finding all these qualities in a stylish boot was beginning to seem a futile quest.
I did, after trips to several shops and a few hours online, find some likely candidates. As usual, I recommend that one purchase the best quality one can practically afford. Well made footwear ( or any garment ) will last long enough to be economical in the long run if fairly conservative and well maintained.
All foul weather boots will require at least annual maintenance, especially if they haven’t been worn. In fact, going for a season or two without use is a guarantee for serious deterioration as materials harden up, dry out and crack producing weakened seams, fading leather and rubber, and leaks. So, look after your investment.
Light duty and Stylish:
Several well known brands produce boots that will serve in moderate to light snow, slush and rain. I show here two moderately priced Chelsea style boots by Cole-Haan and Blondo as they claim to be waterproof and look well enough to be worn with a suit and not draw curious glances. Though termed waterproof, I would definitely take them to a reputable shoe repair craftsperson and have a waterproofing treatment applied. Do this every fall, as even the best treatments benefit from a booster treatment. These are not purposed for prolonged cold weather protection.
Cole Haan Chelsea
Medium to Heavy Duty:
There are several offerings by brands such as Muck Boots, Bogs, LaCrosse and Red Head that seem quite comfortable, reliably warm and waterproof and still avoid looking too clunky and ugly. It may be a stretch to wear these with a suit though, unless you are in the middle of a very nasty snow fall period or you live in a true metropolitan slush belt. The advantages of these boots are true waterproof protection, reasonable traction on slippery sidewalks and very easy cleaning and maintenance.
Red Head Jobber Boots
My Favorite Candidate:
The one offering I thought would be the best compromise of style and function is a boot by Muck Boots with the unlikely name: Refresh Round Up Boot. Muck Boots is a well known brand with a good reputation for making a comfortable and durable boot. They don’t have quite the low temperature rating I’d prefer, but I don’t plan on taking any long hikes in the snow in such a boot. No, these are to protect my feet from water, moderate snow and slush for brief periods and still have the stylish look to work with almost any outfit. And no laces!
Muck Boots – Refresh Round Ups
Still, a Dilemma:
I must decide between something like the Red Head Jobbers and the Muck Boot Round ups. The Round Ups look well enough to wear all day and the uppers are leather. When a streak of snow or foul weather settles in, they would be a good "go to" choice.
The Red Heads are much less attractive and stylish and would probably live in the car for service as needed, or be move about much like one would an umbrella. They are also significantly less expensive than the more up scale looking Round Ups. I must decide which two legs of the stool are most important among quality, convenience or price.
Blenders and retailers tell me that aromatic tobaccos far out sell all other types and also that the majority of pipe smokers, world wide, are aro smokers. I fall into this category, so when I want a change of taste from my usual blends I go for a Balkan blend, a Vaper or some of the English blends. As an artisan pipe maker I have noticed it appears most of my (extremely intelligent and good looking) customers and collectors, friends and readers prefer anything except aromatics. This is also born out at pipe shows as well.
Seeking a change:
Recently I have been asked by a few non – aro smokers to suggest some aromatic blends they might try as a change of pace to their usual English and Virginia blends. (I swear I’m not making this up!) They have already tried the usual choice of a hybrid type aromatic – as I inaccurately term them – such as the Frog Morton blends from McClelland and are truly seeking a sweeter, fruiter or nuttier smoke: something more in the mainstream aromatic realm.
No Goop in the Bowl:
As I said, I frequently smoke aros, but I detest the stereotypical blends that seem to be a cross between a bad Christmas fruitcake and the cloying, smothering perfume favored by every elderly lady I meet ( it seems ) riding in an elevator. There are good quality, clean burning and subtle aromatics available from a number of fine blenders.
I will offer just a few blends that have found favor with those asking for recommendations. Ok, for those of you heretics still with me, here are three blends, all from McClelland as it happens, that you may find agreeable.
The first is my current favorite: Penman’s Choice
This is a ribbon cut with a mild flavor of coffee, nuts and a hint of caramel. When I open the tin, I am immediately craving some fine pastry or baked goods. Of course my impressions are subjective regarding flavor notes and such, but it does burn clean and dry and smokes easily without bite. It seems milder and richer in a larger bowl, although it is still very nice in my smaller chambered cuttys and acorns. I do not know the components of the blend.
My second recommendation : Master Penman
The second blend of the Penman Series from McClelland, this is also a ribbon cut and in most respects very similar to Penman’s Choice. The difference seems to be that it has a somewhat more robust flavor profile and leans more to a spicier taste and less like fine baked goods and pastry. It, too, has a lovely tin aroma and burns clean and dry. Master Penman is advertised as having a pecan flavor and Penman’s Choice as having that of the filbert nut. Both do have a nice, crisp and nutty, but not too sweet flavor.
My Third Choice is Tastemaster:
This is a coarse cut blend of Black Cavendish, Burley and Cavendish. It is flavored with cocoa. Tastemaster has been in the McClelland catalog for quite awhile and it is rather a sweeter and somewhat heavier smoke than the previous blends. It does have a trend towards some of the infamous bad habits that dog the reputation of aromatics. It is too moist, for me, right out of the tin and I believe it benefits from an overnight, spread out thinly on a white paper towel. It can also become somewhat bitter and hot in the last third of the bowl and may leave a rather moist dottle at the end. Judiciously smoked, it is quite good though and it has a great room note and delicious tin aroma. I have had good luck with it mixed 2:1 with a very plain black Cavendish that is well dry.
A Different Cigar:
For those cigar smokers or pipe smokers casting about for an injection of variety in their smoking diet, Mark Ryan, of Daughters and Ryan has an interesting trio of choices: Rimboche Blue, Rimboche Red and Picayune.
These filtered "large cigars" come twenty to the hard pack, just like Marlboro in the box. They are actually high grade Virginia pipe tobacco with a dash of Perique added and I love them. They differ by the percentage of Perique in each blend with Blue having the least and Picayune having the most, putting Red in between the other two. All are most enjoyable.
Personally, I notice little difference between Blue and Red, both are great. The Picayune is certainly the most robust and boldest and I prefer them after a meal, as I would a more robust cigar. Mark has really hit a home run with these, as literally everyone I know that has tried them likes at least one blend and most like them all. They are also quite reasonably priced. Way to go Mark!
the Gentleman Smoker’s Tip:
Now that the weather’s turned cold, many of us face the challenge of staying warm and comfortable when having a smoke outside. Nothing destroys the serenity and peaceful benefit of a good smoke like chattering teeth. Thus, I recommend this prosaic addition to your al fresco smoking routine: bring along the paper. Not to read, to sit on. Newsprint – ordinary pages from a newspaper, are a very effective insulator.
Just four pages (two complete sheets) of normal newsprint can insulate your posterior against the cold of the metal, stone, wood or any other surface you plant yourself upon for your smoke. And the more paper the better.
Why do you think the homeless make such extensive use of newspapers? It is the insulating property. They may be homeless, but that doesn’t mean they are stupid. So take this tip from the homeless – via the Gentleman Smoker – and keep warm with this simple, elegant method.
And, as it is the Christmas Season and winter cold as well, why not return the favor and donate time, food or money to a homeless shelter?
Or, if none is available, give a homeless person some older warm garments or a blanket. Remember, "There but for the Grace of God …"
Cheers and Merry Christmas,
the Gentleman Smoker
Steve Morrisette is an artisan pipe maker, relentlessly snappy dresser, and self-confessed Virginia gentleman. He makes artisan pipes for discerning collectors, and scours the internet and shops of all types seeking information and fine garments, hats, watches, shoes, and jewelry – anything related to the gentleman’s lifestyle. Steve also spent several decades as a working drummer and photographer/photojournalist. You can find his pipes at www.smpipes.com, and catch his style photos and latest pipes on Facebook and Instagram.