Tasting - How To?

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gerryp

Preferred Member
Oct 8, 2018
707
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Arabi, LA
Jiminks should weigh in, his palate for pipe tobacco is insane. IIRC, I read one of his reviews in which he could tell that the blend he was reviewing's rum topping was Jamaican. I'm usually like, "Uh, booze I think..?" in those situations.

I think reading reviews help because they can guide you towards flavors to look for that are repeated by a number of reviewers. Power of suggestion can come into play though. On the other hand, sometimes people will talk about a certain flavor you can't detect, then one day it'll pop right out at you.
I had read something about Hyde Park having a bit of Lakeland scent. I called b.s. until one day, out of nowhere, I got a faint but distinctly floral Lakeland-type aroma. I don't notice it every time I smoke Hyde Park though.
 

sablebrush52

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Jun 15, 2013
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You've asked some good questions and received some good answers, especially from maduromadness and F4RM3R. Smoking a pipe isn't rocket science, but there is a learning curve and a technique to it. Think of it this way. Smoking a pipe is not like eating a meal. It's like cooking and eating the meal simultaneously.

As with fine dining there's a lot of prep that goes into the ingredients before they've combined into an entree, and the same is true with blending and with prepping the blend for smoking. Practice is required to become proficient with prep.

As for the foul act of smoking itself, there's a little bit of technique to be learned, and while the basics are pretty standard across the board there is some variation that works better on an individual basis.

Granted, I've only been smoking pipes for 48-49 years, so I'm only getting out of the apprentice stage. But I'll share some of what little I know on the topic.

Your prep is foundational. Moisture levels and packing are the foundation for an excellent smoking experience.

Too much moisture masks the flavors in a blend As a general rule, tobaccos deliver the most flavors at about 10% relative humidity. Some people use hydrometers to ascertain when their tobacco is at 10%. I do it by feel.

Since 95% of what I smoke are Virginias and their variants, Va/Per, Va/Bur, Va/Or, Va/Per/Bur, etc, I look for the tobacco to be just shy of bone dry before I pack it to smoke. I want the tobacco to be try to the touch when lightly squeezed while still pliant. If there's any physical sensation of moisture against my fingertips when squeezed, it's not ready.

Other types of blends are more forgiving when it comes to moisture, especially English/Balkan/Oriental blends because they are largely comprised of highly pungent aromatic leaves. You can have a rudimentary level of technique and still be rewarded with a highly flavorful smoke. You can also get more out of these blends if you find their optimal moisture levels.

Aromatics, which I define as blends noticeably topped with a flavoring such as vanilla, cherry, anise, maple, honey, or any of hundreds of different flavorings, are a little tricky to get right. Too much moisture and the blend can be difficult to keep lit, not develop the flavor that it has in the tin or bag, or burn you tongue. Too little moisture and much of the topping dissipates. You experiment to find the balance that works for you.

Experimentation is a large practice for successful smoking.

Packing is also fundamental. Too tight a pack will make smoking difficult, frustrating, and wreck flavors. There are a lot of ways to pack and I won't go into them here as you can find them by doing a Google search using "pipesmagazine packing" as the key words. Most of them revolve around different ways to get a pack that is firmer on the top than on the bottom. However you do your packing, drawing air through it needs to be effortless. If you can feel the pack restricting your draw, you've packed too tight.

Assuming that your tobacco is properly prepped, you're ready to enjoy a bowl. Puffing is reserved for lighting the tobacco. After you have an even light across the top, slowly sip the tobacco. The goal is to keep it barely simmering, just at the edge of going out. The flavors you're getting are from the moisture evaporating from the tobacco adjacent to the burning tobacco. To use a food analogy, you're tasting a reduction rather than a watery sauce.

A slow sipping cadence rewards you with the best flavors. It takes some practice to learn how to keep the tobacco simmering from beginning to end. For me it's effortless, but I've been at it for a while. If the tobacco goes out, just relight. Smoking isn't a stunt. There are no gold stars handed out for smoking a bowl without relights.

Regarding the snork, or retrohale, you have many more flavor receptors in you schnoz than in your mouth. Once you learn how to do this properly you will sense more nuances in what you are smoking. Indoor smokers are smelling their smoke, whether they realize it or not. But even under that condition, snorking will provide a much stronger interaction with the flavor in the smoke. I only smoke outdoors, so the benefit of snorking is quite obvious. Snorking is not blowing the smoke out of your nostrils. It's the very gentle, slow passing of the smoke through your schnoz. Close your eyes and focus on the flavors while easing the smoke out. You'll be surprised at what many blends deliver.

Neutralize your palate before lighting up. A slice of apple works well, as does water.

There's a lot more to this, such as smoking blending component tobaccos to become familiar with them, which helps you understand the alchemy that happens in a well made blend.

Patience and practice yield results. There is no shortcut.
 
Oct 4, 2018
132
229
Evanston, IL
^^ "A slow sipping cadence rewards you with the best flavors."

If I had to point to only one thing that contributes the most to yielding the fullest range of "flavor" from your tobacco, imo, this is it.

If you have ever lit a bowl and was amazed by the first 15 seconds of smoking and then spent the next half hour slowing down to capture that initial burst of flavor, you have been given a strong hint what you should be doing.
 

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anotherbob

Preferred Member
facts
I haven't found the retrohale to help much just yet. There is *some* increase in flavor, but not noticeably so. I typically retrohale just a few times per bowl though...maybe I'm not doing it enough?
I don't bother with it and find it the opposite of helpful. Ironically for me it seems to do the opposite and makes the worst most acrid qualities of a blend go way out front. That said allowing a wisp of smoke to trail up out of my mouth and kind of tickle my nose seems to enliven the good and tasty parts of the smoke. But this retrohale thing just does not work for me and it dries out my sinuses which is probably a big part of why it is a no go for extra taste.
I was thinking about this a lot of people seem to think they have to develop a Jim level of nuance tasting if they're going to start writing reviews. I think his vast eminence as nuance noticer means quite the opposite that avenue is already covered and means if you want to do useful reviews find something else to report on. His reviews do one thing for me they tell me what a blend tastes like, that's an important part of it but what I am least interested in reading I'd rather find that out myself. That discovery is part of the fun. I've found sometimes giving up on something actually helps one do it. Maybe just focus on enjoying what you can and not worrying about it and then one day it just seems to happen after focusing on just enjoying each bowl as much as you are capable of doing. Suddenly you're noticing things that seemed so esoteric before. Sometimes the trick is to just get out of your own darn way.
 

anotherbob

Preferred Member
Jiminks should weigh in, his palate for pipe tobacco is insane. IIRC, I read one of his reviews in which he could tell that the blend he was reviewing's rum topping was Jamaican. I'm usually like, "Uh, booze I think..?" in those situations.

I think reading reviews help because they can guide you towards flavors to look for that are repeated by a number of reviewers. Power of suggestion can come into play though. On the other hand, sometimes people will talk about a certain flavor you can't detect, then one day it'll pop right out at you.
I had read something about Hyde Park having a bit of Lakeland scent. I called b.s. until one day, out of nowhere, I got a faint but distinctly floral Lakeland-type aroma. I don't notice it every time I smoke Hyde Park though.
that's great when you pick up on something so far back in the blend it seems strange to even see it. It's especially nice when someone else confirms it for you.
 
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SoliDeoGloria

New member
Nov 18, 2020
34
72
Bluegrass, KY
Think of it this way. Smoking a pipe is not like eating a meal. It's like cooking and eating the meal simultaneously.

Granted, I've only been smoking pipes for 48-49 years, so I'm only getting out of the apprentice stage. But I'll share some of what little I know on the topic.

Your prep is foundational. Moisture levels and packing are the foundation for an excellent smoking experience.

The flavors you're getting are from the moisture evaporating from the tobacco adjacent to the burning tobacco. To use a food analogy, you're tasting a reduction rather than a watery sauce.

Snorking is not blowing the smoke out of your nostrils. It's the very gentle, slow passing of the smoke through your schnoz. Close your eyes and focus on the flavors while easing the smoke out. You'll be surprised at what many blends deliver.

Neutralize your palate before lighting up. A slice of apple works well, as does water.

Man...truly some golden advice here! The above are my favorite takeaways, although all of what you wrote is worthy of consideration and examination.

Cheers!
 

renfield

Preferred Member
Oct 16, 2011
1,651
6,675
“Chew” the smoke, let it roll around in your mouth.

Retrohale occasionally.

Both these techniques force smoke more onto the olfactory sensors where much of your sense of flavor really resides.

Keep your palate hydrated throughout the session and occasionally breathe fresh air in and out through your nose.

All of these will increase your sensory acuity.
 

HitchensDog

Member
Jul 22, 2020
132
478
Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Great posts, so not much to add. I've been a cigar smoker and (on and off again) pipe smoker for around 25 years now and feel like I'm still learning and discovering. What I find fascinating, is how different everyone's palate is. Whether it's wine, beer, whiskey, food, etc. The ambiguity you mention, may not be that there is an issue with your palate, or that you need to do something in order for you to detect something that others do. That ambiguity may just be what you are going to get out of that particular blend. There are tobacco's that people on here rave about, that just do nothing for me. While other blends really hit that spot for me and I can pick up all kinds of complex, wonderful flavors. Once you have your sipping technique mastered, and you've tried a full range of tobacco's, you'll eventually dial in where your palate is and what works for you. The journey is definitely an enjoyable process.
 
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tambakusevankarta

New member
Nov 25, 2020
5
18
Pune, India
Excellent thread!

Am a new pipe smoker and have so far stuck to My Mixture 965 only. Am only half a dozen bowls old though. I like the smoky flavour I get. I do smoke like the proverbial 'freight train'. Slowing down does improve the flavour profile. However owing to my unrefined palate, I don't know what to look for, other than the smoky flavour.

Or will I know the difference only when I have tried other English blends or other blend types?
 
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