There are times, it seems to me when old lessons are the very best teachers. Like hard knocks. They just keep on tapping.
For example, listen to a few hoary catchphrases I created, found, or edited just a bit:
“If a thing can whip you, it will;
“Start out like you can old hold out. . . to the end;
“If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it well enough (with apologies to Mr. Einstein);
“Politicians are like the weather: you can complain about it or change channels;
“Never tell a man you don’t like his dog. He might bite you;
“There are three things in life that are worth every penny: a loving wife, a good pipe and a dog;”
It has been my experience that you can trust a man or woman who smokes a pipe. Who else has that kind of patience, but a trustworthy person?
“Tobacco these days seems to have collected a lot of enemies. My theory is to just wait it out and pack a bowl instead of your bags;
“It pays to know yourself before speaking out;
“Flying high is fun until the wind stops;
“Details are in the fine print, but the message is often writ large;
“Often a curve will straighten your course.”
I have run through many phases in my years of smoking a pipe.
There was a time when I smoked nothing but aromatic tobacco. Loved it and couldn’t get enough. Like a kid in an ice cream parlor wanting a lick of every flavor.
Then came the English blend discovery. It was like crossing the London Bridge and seeing Big Ben.
I smoked English blends until my tongue was part Latakia and Turkish leaf and I was spouting Shakespearean quotes.
Next came straight Virginia. My life changed after trying Samuel Gawith’s 1792 Flake. I thought I had swallowed a frog.
Mind you, I have eaten and still love fried frog legs (it’s a Southern thing), but this was far, far different.
My here-to-fore stainless steel stomach rejected my entire morning and noon meals.
You get the drift.
It was a good while before I tried Virginias again. But, being dedicated and stubborn, back to the Virginias I turned, this time to Astley’s sublime No. 44 Dark Virginia Flake.
And then, I fell in love with McClelland’s Virginia tobacco, ketchup fumes and all. Oh, lordy, was that great Virginia tobacco!
Then I arrived at the Virginia and Perique phase, followed by Burley and Perique chapter.
For a while there, I didn’t know whether I was a Va/Per or a Bur/Per.
Yes, the pun is very much intended.
Mind you, all this tobacco experimentation took more than four decades.
I never kept a tobacco tasting notebook but should have. I recommend that to young pipe smokers, because not only do your tastes change but so does your attitude toward certain blends and brands.
As you can see, my tastes have been all over the tobacco map.
But I have found certain manufacturers and blenders I know I can depend upon to “get it right.”
Mythical blender G.L. Pease quickly comes to mind. The legendary Russ Ouellette is a master. Expert blender Joe Lankford of Seattle Pipe Club fame is another artist of tobacco chemistry.
You must add Jeremy Reeves, head blender at Cornell & Diehl, part of the Laudisi-SmokingPipes.com talented pipes and tobaccosmiths.
As for manufacturers, I still believe we are in the heyday of singular producers of the leaf.
You must go no farther than the tobacco discussion on the Pipesmagazine.com forum to find the best in the business.
Start with Cornell & Diehl, Lane, Gawith and Hogarth, Samuel Gawith, Pipes and Cigars, Esoterica, Kohlhase & Kopp, Iwan Reis, Rattray’s, Fribourg & Treyer, Mac Baren, Peter Stokkebye, Sutliff, Wilke Pipe Tobacco, and on and on as far as the eye can see.
Thankfully, for as long as it lasts, I believe we are in a tobacco blending and manufacturing renaissance, an age of tobacco enlightenment if you will.
Returning to aromatic tobacco, I have begun to revisit my beginnings in pipe smoking.
This does not mean I have forsaken Virginias, English blends, Virginia and perique or Burley and perique.
I mix and match a great deal now. Or I simply strike out on an English kick, a pleasurable Virginia, or straight Burley run.
And in changing blends as much as I do in a pipe-smoking day, I have also learned to monitor my puffing pace.
Slowing down has given me the holy grail of tobacco tastes. I pull my lips back from the stem and sip the smoke.
Try that one day. You will be surprised, I think, as I. You will taste the blender’s secrets in that intermingling of rich leaf variety.
My attitude has changed as I try to understand my smoking self.
I no longer smoke as if this could be my last. I savor the flavors of the blends.
And like most of you, I have come to value my pipes in a way that a man loves his dog.
My pipe is a faithful companion. I am always gratified when I strike a match to a bowl and sift through the various smells and tastes.
And my pipes act as a brake on the stresses of my day.
I slow down and breathe, letting creamy smoke cover me in blessed silence.
Certain of my pipes are irreplaceable in terms of what they mean to me, what they do for me, how they comfort me.
These are not just chunks of wood pulled from the earth and fashioned into bowls.
No. My pipes are precious pieces of art, that fill my life with joy and a sense of accomplishment.
I feel as if I have climbed the mountain and have seen the break of dawn, the early light creeping over the rim of ancient lands.
Pipe smoking has given me a perspective on life that I would not have had otherwise.
We are who we are. I think; therefore, I am a pipe smoker, with apologies to Rene Descartes.
One of my favorite quotes is from the French existentialist, John-Paul Sartre:
“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give life meaning.”
We are pipe smokers. Therefore, we give ourselves meaning through our pipes.
A pipe is not just a pipe. It is life itself.
Fred Brown is a journalist who lives in Knoxville, TN. He will write this column for PipesMagazine.com monthly. He can be contacted at