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30 September 2010

Party Time At Smokingpipes.com

       -Posted by ted-

Here we are, on the eve of the Richmond CORPS show, hosting a small get together of friends, family, and special guests. We've had a wholesome supper of 'Southern' food and for dessert Jeff made peach cobbler. Excitement is in the air. We're passing the time telling stories and talking about pipes. Tokutomi has even dusted off his guitar for the occasion.

Tokutomi warms up his guitar in the bulk tobacco room.
Brian plays with his strange, pipe smoking brown bear.








Posted by ted at 9:12 PM | Link | 0 comments


Pipe People descend on Little River
 Pre-Richmond Festivities...

       -Posted by sykes-

The weeks before and after the Richmond Show are a big deal here in Little River, SC. Right now, we have pipe makers Hiroyuki Tokutomi and Jeff Gracik, plus pipe collector and writer Tom Looker and PipesMagazine.com owner Kevin Godbee visiting. We'll have a bunch more stuff up on the blog as the weekend progresses, plus, I'm sure, videos and whatnot as we have time to edit them. In the meantime, here are some photos...

Tokutomi explains the finer points of a pipe shape to Ted Swearingen.
Tokutomi and Jeff Gracik.

And the star of the show...
The Smoker.
Big chunks of Pig.







Posted by sykes at 4:20 PM | Link | 0 comments


27 September 2010

Video: Interview with Alex Florov: Part I
 Sykes and Alex's Pipe Musings

       -Posted by ted-
Today we were lucky enough to have pipe maker Alex Florov and his wife Vera visit with us over here at the Smokingpipes.com campus. After a thorough tour and a fine lunch, we got to sit down and pick the man's brain.








Posted by ted at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment


25 September 2010

Video: Tatuaje Cigars with Pete Johnson
 Brian interviews the brains behind one of our best loved cigars

       -Posted by sykes-

Alright, I confess, I'd sort of forgotten that we still had some great footage from the IPCPR show in New Orleans in August. We took a lot of video at the show and with fully three of us behind the camera at various times, I sort of lost track of what all we had. The upside is that trolling through the raw footage is sort of like a treasure trove, as I eliminate video of me tripping over my own words, or Alyson and Susan not realizing that the camera is rolling and continuing their discussion on how silly the boys get when presented with all of the smokable goodies at the show (which, I might add, took place while they themselves were enjoying Kristoff coronas, so I think they have little room to stand on when mocking Brian and me).

Anyway, there's still lots of good stuff left, not least of which is this great interview with our friend Pete Johnson. When Pete launched Tatuaje, we were early, enthusiastic fans of the luscious Tatuaje Brown Label, rolled in Miami. Since then (perhaps a little more than five years ago), Tatuaje has continued to occupy a hallowed place in our humidor and continues to be a disproportionately popular brand both in the store and on Smokingpipes.com.








Posted by sykes at 3:16 PM | Link | 0 comments


24 September 2010

Countdown to Kickoff
 The Dreaded 9-Letter Word

       -Posted by lisa-
Sunday Inventory is like Sunday football: People cry
There’s a word here at Smokingpipes.com that brings horror to the face every employee: INVENTORY.

On Sunday we will be conducting our quarterly inventory. This unwelcome event takes place on the last Sunday of every quarter. It also so happens that we are now into football season, which in my house means Sunday afternoons are booked indefinitely. My husband and I make total couch potatoes of ourselves, unless, of course, we are forced to go to the local sports bar when our team’s game isn’t televised. And, no, Direct TV is not available in our neighborhood – that’s another subject, entirely.

In preparation for this daunting task called inventory, we will spend the next couple of days ensuring each department is organized before entering the count into our system on Sunday. Keep in mind that we are very heavy in inventory as we are just coming out of our annual purchasing trips in Italy, Denmark, and New Orleans. In fact, I was just downstairs in our retail store to find Kelly wrestling in the humidor with cigars that seemed to be growing from every nook. Ron is keeping his cool, but muttering, secretly “What were they thinking, ordering all these cigars before inventory!?” I noticed Jennifer is reorganizing our bulk tobacco room to accommodate all the new shipments we’ve recently received. Over in the shipping department I found Janice on the floor surrounded by tins of tobacco. Janice is equivalent to the team equipment manager of an NFL team. Organization should be her middle name. Pam and Alyson are busy on the 2nd floor in our pipe library organizing new arrivals. Adam is checking-in all the estate pipes. He isn’t making donuts for us this week. We need to keep our game weight down. No training room or weight room here at Smokingpipes.com, only stair steps.

After reviewing his playbook and holding a team meeting, Brian has assigned players to starting positions; teams for a Sunday kick off at 10:00 am. They are as follows:

Sykes (Team Owner) and Pam: Estates
Brian (Head Coach) and Alyson: New Pipes
Susan and Ted: Tinned Tobacco and Accessories
Ron, Kelly, and Lisa (me): Cigars; Ron will be playing with an injured left ankle; we may have to wheel him around the humidor. No injured reserve list here at Smokingpipes.com. How convenient for me; all the cigars are down in the store where we have a couch and a television.

There will be a halftime lunch with 1st half assessments by Sykes and a motivational speech by Coach Brian. Hopefully we don’t go into overtime! We will definitely have some Monday Morning Quarterbacking (aka: the dreaded missing-pipe list). Sykes will be crunching numbers and reviewing the stats.

While many of you will be home watching football this Sunday, think of me counting: 1 cigar, 2 cigars, 3 cigars, etc...







Posted by lisa at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


22 September 2010

Piping Revisited
 Pursuit of a Pipe Dream: Part 3 of 3

       -Posted by ted-
Four and a half days of bleak nothingness.

September 2nd. Nine days ago, my wife and I moved to South Carolina from California. We drove for 2,790 miles (or what Google called 46 hours) over a period of 4.5 days. Our soundtrack consisted largely of the Beatles, having chosen to forego boxing and loading into the moving truck such LPs as “Help”, “The White Album”, “Sgt. Pepper’s”, and “Magical Mystery Tour”. We plunked along to this soundtrack at 55mph in 14 hour intervals. Doing double duty both hauling our personal clutter and pulling our Jetta, the moving truck burned through $800 in gas before it was over. We slept in cheap, seedy motels along America’s less favored Main Street, Interstate-40, without any sense of the fashionable irony for which our generation is known. We jackknifed the hitch in Texas. We lost Mable, our cat, in a truck-stop in Oklahoma. On the road we beheld deserts, mountains, swamps and forests. At a tortured pace, we made our way along the vast country.

In early July, Sykes Wilford, President and Founder of Smokingpipes.com invited me out to their company headquarters in Little River, South Carolina, to see if I might be well-suited for a career in pipes and tobacco. Specifically, he was looking for an individual with a passion for both pipes and writing, yet a strong sales background and possibly some experience in staff management was all but a requisite as well. Fortunately for both of us, I met his criteria.

Initially, we’d started discussing such an employment opportunity back in May, but I never let the possibility get me too excited. Then he offered to fly me out. He even said he’d pay for my hotel.

When Sykes met me at the airport the night I flew into South Carolina, I was immediately impressed with his firm handshake and eager grin. As he chauffeured me to the hotel, Sykes shared freely his ideas concerning the future of the company, his vision of the big picture, and what a job for me would look like if there was one to offer. As much as he wanted someone to be involved in high-touch sales, he also wanted to bring in someone who could get heavily into the writing side of things. He really wanted to get their blog going. The opportunities suggested by his ideas had me excited.

The following day, and after eight hours of exploring the Smokingpipes facility, I’d handled more pipes than I had ever before seen. They’ve thousands of pipes from some of the most reputable manufactures and talented craftsmen around the world tucked away into hundreds of shelves spread throughout every room in both of their buildings. I was even privileged enough to smoke a bowl of Brian Levine’s secret-stash of eight year old Luxury Twist Flake from a Hiroyuki Tokutomi pipe, which I suppose I could have brought back to California had I available the $6,000 in cash. Thus far, it had been a winning day for this humble pipe smoker.

Then, during a tense dinner at a local Thai food restaurant, Sykes made me the offer.

“We think you should come work for us.” He had said, doing his best to hide a knowing smile behind a straight face. Obviously, I agreed. After dinner, Brian gave me a Rocky Patel cigar which I puffed victoriously. We hammered out a time frame for my debut. I would start on September 6th. That’s now four days away.

Shelly and I have yet to unpack a thing.

~~

September 6th. It’s day one at my new pipe dream job. I’m very over-dressed. Note to self: jeans to work - OK. Very awesome.

~~

September 9th. Sykes calls me into his office and asks that I start thinking about my first blog entry. “Write about getting out here,” he suggests, and so I will.

~~

September 22nd. This is my third week at Smokingpipes.com and my fourth week as a Southerner. I could tell a story about my time here as filled with surprise and expectations defied, but that’s just not the truth. The real truth of the matter is that being here, working here doing all this; it’s exactly what I imagined it to be. From the moment I sat down to write a resume that could have been read just as easily as it could have been thrown in the trash, I had a feeling that something important was about to happen to me. I had a feeling that a real career with Smokingpipes.com would be one of those rare dreams that manifest. And it’s been just that.

So here I sit, behind a new desk, at a new computer, at my new, no-longer-just-a-dream job as Sales Manager for Smokingpipes.com, making a livelihood writing things like this for your reading pleasure. A man can smoke his pipe all day long at my new job and, yes, right now I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Thank God for good tobacco, and don’t let anyone tell you it does you no good.








Posted by ted at 12:00 AM | Link | 3 comments


21 September 2010

Piping Reverence
 Pursuit of a Pipe Dream: Part 2 of 3

       -Posted by ted-
Low Country Pipe & Cigar - July 9, 2010
Today is July 8th. After a couple of months of discourse with the heads of Smokingpipes.com, they’ve arranged for me to fly out to Little River, South Carolina, to see if I might like working here. I suspect, just as true, they’re wondering if they might like having me work for them.

It’s 11:30 p.m. and after a five-hour flight I’m just settling down at the hotel that they’ve been kind enough to put me up in. Immediately, besides obvious topographical distinctions, South Carolina is remarkably different from California. A random pedestrian waved at me as I was finding my way out of the airport. The front clerk at the hotel didn’t ask to see my ID when I checked in. In the elevator, strangers talked to me in a strange dialect. And yes, it is very humid. Very humid. I’d heard people talk about how muggy the South could be, but I wasn’t ready for the real experience. Having spent my entire life in a climate as dry as California I don’t think there was any way I could have been.

I’ve just made a quick call to my wife Shelly, just to let her know that I’ve arrived.

~~

July 9th. Last night I only slept four hours because a thunderstorm startled me out of bed obnoxiously early. The locals tell me that an early morning storm of rain, lightning and thunder is a normal occurrence during this time of year; this is summer weather out here. Fortunately, I only have a short distance to walk from the hotel to Low Country Pipe & Cigar, the brick-and-mortar tobacco emporium where Smokingpipes.com has made their headquarters.

As I reach the broad, Edwardian-era brick building, I work diligently to straighten up my suit before swallowing the nervous lump in my throat. Opening the side-door (to which I’d been referred prior), I find a warm reception and a round of introductions by the few staff that make it to the office before 10 a.m. on any given Friday. While I wait for Sykes Wilford and Brian Levine to show, I help myself to a cup of fresh coffee that’s kept readily available around here and pack a bowl of Pembroke into the Dunhill I’m travelling with. The tart coffee and the creamy flavor of cognac and latakia helps to keep muzzled my frenzied nerves.

Their work space is relaxed and inviting. The offices are soft lit with 70 watt bulbs rather than the usual, awful overheard fluorescents. The walls are dressed in moss green with soft brown crown moulding and the floors are hardwood instead of the universal dingy gray indoor/outdoor carpet. The music of Stevie Ray Vaughan is issued softly from some hidden stereo speaker. Alyson and I strike up a conversation about her cats. What a pleasant first impression…

I don’t have to wait too long before Sykes arrives. When we sit down to chat I find I’m nervous all over again. However, his casual demeanor and tremendous laugh go a long way to put me at ease as he quips effortlessly, sharing anecdotes from the ten year history of the company, as well as his schooling and familial background.

“Ready for a tour?” he asks eventually, smiling generously.

Although I don’t say it, I’ve been waiting to take a good long look around this place for a great long while.

After I’ve spent the day “getting a feel for things”, playing with pipes I’ll never afford, watching the staff work and share ideas, and glimpsing some of the fundamental mechanics of an enterprise that has, until now, only existed in my imagination, I realize my intuition is ultimately confirmed: the whole operation is incredibly fantastic and I have to find my way here. The sense of team and purpose can be discerned in their every endeavor, their every update, their every newsletter; everyone loves what they do and is proud to be here. To be surrounded by this kind of talent and passion (and this many pipes!) is a royal opportunity.

Sykes has invited me to dinner. Brian will be there too. I get the feeling that this dinner will be one of those with expensive food sandwiched on the outsides and either really good news or really bad news stuffed in the middle. Obviously, I’m now eagerly hoping for the former.








Posted by ted at 12:00 AM | Link | 3 comments


16 September 2010

Video: Mac Baren Rope Tobaccos
 Per Jensen shows us the rope tobacco process at Mac Baren

       -Posted by sykes-

Mac Baren rope tobaccos-- Dark Twist, Roll Cake and many others-- are some of the best loved blends by the famous Danish manufacturer. One of my favorite processes in the Mac Baren factory is the process of making ropes, which are then cut into coins. This video is longer than most we've posted (at just over eight minutes), but I think it's definitely worth it!








Posted by sykes at 7:13 PM | Link | 1 comment


15 September 2010

Piping Reverie
 Pursuit of a Pipe Dream: Part 1 of 3

       -Posted by Ted-
My great-great grandfather Buck and his grandfather

It is May 15th. I notice for the first time on the Smokingpipes.com website a link: Work For Us. Literally and figuratively, this is a pipe dream. Nevertheless, grinning stupidly, I mention the discovery to my wife. For the next five days she lovingly pesters me to produce a resume.

~~

May 20th. After three days of writing, formatting, and tinkering, I’ve finally finished a worthy resume. I’ll wait until Monday to email the thing, I decide. Monday is the best day to send a resume.

~~

Monday, May 23rd. After several hours of determining how to convert my resume “.wps” doc into a coherent and stylized html email, I’ve sent into cyberspace my plea for gainful employment many hours later than I would have preferred. It doesn’t matter anyhow. This is a pipe dream. A lark.

My wife makes me promise, dutifully, to follow up with the submission if too many days have passed before we’ve heard a response. We discuss a time frame. I know what it is to sift through the garbage of employment inquiries, but she’s ever hopeful and eager, and would see me follow a path of tenacity rather than caution. We agree to wait for three weeks. She makes me note our agreed follow-up date on my calendar. She watches me do so. Now I will have to follow-up.

~~

Three days pass. It is now Thursday of the same week. It’s a sunny, crisp Californian spring afternoon. I am sitting at our balcony, smoking Virginia Cut Plug from a straight billiard, listening to Abbey Road echoing quietly from the living room behind me. When the phone rings I do not answer because the reported number is very unfamiliar. What a very curious area code. “843”?

Seconds pass before the phone silences. My distracted mind lazily returns to the fragrant smoke, keen to its lingering taste of honeysuckle and wheat berry. After several moments my relaxation is again agitated by a harsh chime which indicates the arrival of voicemail.

I jam the pipe into my mouth, freeing both hands, slap the OFF button on the stereo’s remote, grab my phone and dial into the voicemail system. “Hello, this is Brian Levine from Smokingpipes.com. I’m looking at your resume and I’m interested in talking with you.”

~~

It’s the middle of June. Brian said that Sykes Wilford, President and Founder of Smokingpipes.com, might eventually call, but one of the last things he said to me before we hung up was, “Don‘t quit your day-job.”

We had spoken at length of our interest in pipes and pipe tobacco, our distress regarding the availability of some of our favorite brands, and of the various facets of the pipe community in general. I felt boyish when he asked that I speak of my own very small collection of very common pipes. Yet, talking with Brian had, for the first time, made me feel like the possibility of moving to Little River, South Carolina was a real one. This is a dangerous feeling. This is a pipe dream.

My wife is too excited about all of this. It makes me nervous. On the night I’d spoken with Brian, Shelly and I made an agreement to wait three weeks before I started sniffing around again. “No less than three weeks.” I had said adamantly. “Brian only said Sykes might call. He said, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’” After two weeks of patient waiting, Shelly’s begun to nudge daily about my scheduled “follow-up”.

“How many days?” she asks, smiling knowingly, and bright.

“Three days. I call in three days. But maybe I’ll email.”

“I think you should call.”

~~

Today is July 8th. On June 25th, I was supposed to call Smokingpipes.com. Were they interested in hiring me or were they not, I’d ask. Of course, I had no intention of putting it to anyone quite so bluntly, but that was the gist of it. In a nutshell, so to speak. Instead, Sykes Wilford, President and Founder, called me on June 24th.

Shelly and I are headed to the Sacramento airport. Sykes is flying me out to see the operation and to get a feel for things. I’ll only be in Little River for one full day, so I’ve packed light, bringing only one pipe, a Dunhill 4103, and a small pouch of Pembroke by Esoterica. The thick mixture of thrill and anxiety is rather nauseating. I'm actually flying out there. I can hardly believe this is happening. This is crazy.








Posted by Ted at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment


14 September 2010

30 hours of panic; or how to survive a DDoS attack
 A very atypical day and a half in the life of Smokingpipes.com

       -Posted by sykes-

As you may have noticed, Smokingpipes.com has been singularly unresponsive during the past twenty-four or so hours. At 1pm yesterday, we were hit with a DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service). Since then, with a nice stretch of working between 3am and 8am this morning (yeah, hardly a peak site traffic time), our servers have been slammed by millions of bogus requests from thousands of IPs. We've come up with a temporary solution, by moving Smokingpipes.com to another server and just serving up a flat html page from there, which redirects to the full site's web server on our old servers, which handles legitimate traffic normally.

We've also discovered that we are one of at least four major premium tobacco retailers (with the other three being major cigar retailers) to be hit with a DDoS attack in the last 24 hours. This appears to be directed against purveyors of tasty, high quality smokables. These are targeted attacks. Still, in the Wild West that is the internet, the good code slingers are winning this particular round over the bad ones with our stop gap measure; we shall see how it progresses over the next few hours.

So, what is a DDoS attack and what have we done to make the site available?

Normal: Happy users visit Smokingpipes.com and see a bevy of beautiful briars

In our wildly simplified diagram, this is how things are normally. Happy pipe smokers go to Smokingpipes.com, read about or purchase or drool over pictures of pipes, pipe tobacco and cigars. Your computer asks our web server (by way of various servers in between) and our server nicely responds by serving up lots of fun pictures, images, tons of wonderful information, all stored on either our database server or our assets server.


A DDoS Attack: Lots of Zombies trying to get in the door makes it impossible for the regular user to access the site.

When someone initiates a DDoS attack against us, they've used thousands of slaved computers (think of them as zombies, perhaps) to remotely make http requests to our servers, specifically to the Smokingpipes.com domain. Our servers, though they are shiny and fast, are utterly unable to serve up the information fast enough and end up getting completely bogged down trying to contend with all of the bogus traffic. The thousands of computers are innocent bystanders too-- more than likely they were infected with a trojan that causes them to make these requests at the behest of the master (evil!) computer, much like zombies at the behest of some wicked puppet master.


Keep in mind that this traffic doesn't do anything to us except just ask us questions. We've not been hacked, nothing has been compromised, everything is safe. All is normal, except that thousands of extra computers are asking our servers for information and we just can serve it up fast enough.

Our Solution: behind the splash page (bouncer) life is normal, but the bouncer is there to keep out the bogus traffic.

Part of the problem is that our regular servers, sort of like our store staff at Low Country Pipe & Cigar, like to greet folks with lots of fun stuff, show them what's new, and point out interesting odds and ends. That first page people reach is filled with dynamic content, pictures and other things that, in the normal running of things aren't taxing at all for our servers, but multiply that normal load times fifty or a hundred and things slow to a crawl or stop altogether. So, it's sort of like Ron, Kelly, Vince and Jennifer in the store all trying to show pipes to a thousand customers simultaneously, most of which really just want to stand in the middle of the store and not really do anything. Obviously, as good as our store staff is, they're going to grind to a halt in a hurry if they had to contend with this.


So, what do you do if you have this problem in real life? You hire a bouncer. Our digital bouncer lets in anyone who asks nicely, but doesn't try to help anyone or be particularly nice about his greeting. It makes it much easier for him to keep up with the multitudes. He then lets in anyone who asks nicely, and inside the store, the customer experience (and our poor, harried store staff in the metaphor) return to normal. The digital bouncer, our splash page, does this by serving up the simplest code possible (a bunch of explanatory text) and letting in those who click the link to enter Smokingpipes.com. We'll leave the bouncer out front until we're confident the throng of zombies has passed and just normal good folks are trying to get to the site again.


So, we very much appreciate your patience and kind words as you've waited for us to return. Hopefully, we'll be able to drop the splash page in the next few days and return everything completely to normal. Brian and Ted will cover the phones until 10pm tonight to accommodate extra call volume. I, however, having been at this for almost all of the past twenty four hours, will go take a shower and get some sleep!












Posted by sykes at 4:24 PM | Link | 7 comments


09 September 2010

Where pipes and donuts collide...
 Exploring the finer points of donut aesthetics...

       -Posted by sykes-

At times, Adam demonstrates a brilliance that far surpasses my wildest expectations. Recently, he's been making homemade (or, I guess, office made) donuts in our office kitchen. Who, my dear reader, other than Adam, would think that a) bringing a massive cast iron wok to work, and b) frying donuts in it, would be a normal thing to do at ones job. Granted, this is not a work environment devoid of eccentricities, not least of which are my own, but Adam is the current champion of office eccentricity. It's a good eccentricity, however.

Today, I happened to be in the kitchen when he was frying up another batch. Somehow we got talking about making pipe-shaped donuts. I took first crack at this and my pipe-shaped donut looked like, er, not a pipe. Let's just say that it has been safely eaten and will not be photographed. Let's also suggest that, were it presented on broadcast television, the FCC would likely fine me. Adam's, as one might expect from a pipe maker of his caliber, was rather impressive. It even had a chamber, though no draft hole. One of the most talked about aspects of sandblasting among pipe makers is the trade off of shape integrity and sandblast depth. Well, those pipe makers should try shaping in dough and deep frying; that'll seriously screw up your shape's lines...

Having crafted this magnificent shape, Brian walked in and immediately recognized the pipe-donut for what it was: an interpretation of Alex Florov's Callalily. Now, while it is generally common for pipe makers to borrow ideas from each other, it is less common to render each others work in deep-fried biscuit dough.

Of course, this also gives a whole new meaning to "Fresh pipes served daily". Suffice it to say that, our tagline notwithstanding, there will not be a baked (er, fried) goods section on the website, pipe shaped or otherwise...








Posted by sykes at 6:02 PM | Link | 3 comments


06 September 2010

Video: Brian Interviews Yadi Gonzalez-Vargas
 Flor de Gonzalez video

       -Posted by sykes-

Yesterday, I put up a post indicating that we were having some technical problems posting the video. Well, it seems to have quasi-magically righted itself, so here's the promised video of Brian Levine interviewing Yadi about the new cigars from Flor de Gonzalez, Qban and 90 Mile.








Posted by sykes at 5:17 PM | Link | 0 comments


05 September 2010

Video: Brian's Pipe Primers, Video I
 Cleaning your pipe after each smoke

       -Posted by alyson-

This is the first in a series that Brian and I will be working on that covers pipe basics. In this video, Brian talks about his cleaning routine after each smoke. We'll have more coming, covering a range of basic pipe smoking topics, so check back often!

Oh, and while the product placement was entirely accidental (or, at least, Brian did that while I wasn't looking), you can find a Peterson ashtray, and Gloredo pipe cleaners in their respective homes. No one, including Brian, is quite sure where he got that tamper/tool, but you can find lots of tampers with picks here, and the cool older four-dot Sasieni is Brian's and he's not giving it up...








Posted by alyson at 6:58 PM | Link | 3 comments


St. Petersburg, Russia
 History, beauty, and a pipe

       -Posted by adam-

My wife and I recently went to Russia for a vacation, and to spend time with her family and friends. We landed in Moscow on the hottest day in the city's recorded history (102F), and then took a train ride up to St. Petersburg in the early evening. I may seem a little biased because I've never traveled outside the United States before this trip, but St. Petersburg must surely be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Granted, something founded by a ruler with such wealth is sure to have amazing architecture and splendor. We spent four days there, having plenty of time to walk around, visit museums, partake in amazing foods, and relax. I'll spare you from an entire blog post of our time spent there, but wanted to share some things about what we saw.

St. Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on May 27th, 1703. Sparing the details of empire expansion, the main idea of this city was to open Russia to the great cities of Europe, and the rest of the world (by having direct sea travel). This would allow for a better flow of ideas and goods into, and out of, the expanding empire. In 1705, Peter first mentions building a palace near the sea to oversee ships of war and trade. In 1714, two years after moving the capitol from Moscow to St. Petersburg, construction (based on his own drawings) began on his summer palace: Peterhof (you can see the picture I snapped of the grand fountains that look toward the sea). Like any shrewd ruler, Peter wanted to show the world the majesty and beauty of Russia and, by extension, the strength of his rule. This city, indeed, is considered by many to be the most European, and perhaps the cultural gem of Russia.

As in many of the great ports in northern Europe, tobacco and fish were heavily shipped and traded. And with the presence of the imperial court, this helped to bring in architects, artisans, and merchants competing for favor. While my wife and I did not enter the Summer Palace, we did walk the extensive grounds. Strolling along the paths, people were dressed in period clothing for pictures, but I was more relaxed to stroll and think about Peter the Great taking steps in the same place that I was. While we did see many statues of Peter, one in particular really made me take notice - he was sitting on a cannon holding a pipe! This was not on the grounds of Peterhof, but was one of the beautiful pieces in the center of city where we purchased a few smoked fish, beers, and relaxed in the evening air. It would make sense for him to be smoking a pipe - but I wondered what kind it was. Clays were the most common in his day, and briar pipes were not made at the time. I suppose the sculptor didn't want to make a tiny pipe, but the fact that he is sitting there smoking it is really cool.

During our trip, I was able to enjoy my own pipe outdoors, and even saw others enjoying their briars. Sometimes, though, I simply chose to buy one of the hundreds of smoked, salted, fish to taste with some of the exquisite Russian beers. As you can see in the picture, there was a lot to choose from. I actually got in trouble for taking pictures of smoked fish in a supermarket there, but it probably did look rather silly or suspicious now that I think about it.

Peter the Great passed away in 1725, but while he lived, he enjoyed food and drink to the fullest. So, while I sat in the city with my smoked fish, beer, or countless other gastronomic delights, it came to mind that so many people can have something in common. For most of us, it's the joy of pipe smoking. For others, sharing foods can be equally enjoyable. Smoking during the evenings in St. Petersburg will be one of my fondest memories of a city, a pipe, and a large dose of enjoyable history.








Posted by adam at 5:57 PM | Link | 2 comments


02 September 2010

Video: Mac Baren 7 Seas
 Per Jensen & Frank Blews talk tobacco

       -Posted by sykes-

In this video, Per Jensen, product specialist and all round evangelist for Mac Baren, and Frank Blews, brand manager for the US importer, Phillips & King, talk about the new 7 Seas blends from Mac Baren. This is the first serious foray that Mac Baren has made into American style aromatics. Watch the video to learn more!








Posted by sykes at 6:28 PM | Link | 5 comments


Smokingpipes.com September Giveaway!

       -Posted by alyson-

So what happens when we have a meeting scheduled but nothing to talk about? We assume that there is nothing important going on, we need more work to do and we make some stuff up to keep ourselves amused. This is how we came up with “The Smokingpipes.com September Give Away”.

This month we are giving away an amazing leather pipe/messenger bag, the Urban Pipe Bag by Neil Flancbaum. This bag is made of high quality deer hide and has room for six or twelve pipes (in three pockets on each side of the interior), pockets for a lighter and pipe tool and tons of interior space for tobacco or anything else you may need to haul around. This bag retails for about $450 and, yes, we are giving it away for FREE!


There are two ways to win…

Every pipe purchase is automatically entered to win. Place an order for any pipe in the month of September and that’s it!

Alternatively you can also enter by mailing us a S.A.S.E to Smokingpipes.com September Give-Away, 2 Highway 90 East, Little River, SC 29566

The drawing will take place on October 10th, 2010 and the winner will be notified by phone, snail-mail or email.

Good Luck!









Posted by alyson at 5:00 PM | Link | 1 comment


01 September 2010

Comparing Edges
 Trying three Rocky Patel cigars

       -Posted by adam-

I've written my praise of Rocky Patel cigars here before, but this is something hard to ignore. We had a recent video blog about their 15th anniversary cigar, and I smoked one with great pleasure. This brand is awesome. A few weeks ago, Bill Westfield (one of our estate crew), decided he wanted to try some cigars to expand his horizons. Since Bill wasn't sure about what kind of cigar he wanted, and was open to all possibilities, I suggested he try a few and go from there.

Walking down to our humidor, Bill's eyes were scanning the rather large selection while trying to find something in the size he wanted. With so many boxes, wrappers, bands, and aromas, I suggested he attack his craving with some order. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the Rocky Patel Edge Light is one of our best selling cigars. Not surprisingly, the Edge Corojo and Edge Maduro are also very popular smokes. This isn't the first time I've talked with an employee, or customer, and suggested they try one of each. While I have been known to smoke more than one cigar at a time, smoking them the same day (assuming there is time) is a great way to compare two or more. While this can be done with any cigar, these Edge cigars are all the same size (5"x 48 ring gauge), all have similar long-fillers (Nicaraguan and Honduran) and binders (Nicaraguan) with the difference being the wrappers. Connecticut shade dresses the Edge Lite with a creamy, caramel-colored leaf; the Edge Maduro has a dark, oily wrapper from fermentation that really adds a rich, smokey element like a bold cup of espresso; and the Edge Corojo (often neck and neck in sales with the Lite) has a flavor somewhere between the two others, with a deliciously spicy element.

When able to compare these cigars in the same day, it's best to begin with the lighter of all three, and work your way up to the Corojo and eventually the rich Maduro. Just like tasting cheeses, starting with something mild will allow room for additional richness without overpowering the palate. Tasting a mild cheese before working up to a blue Stilton is much the same as working up to a maduro.

Given that these cigars are so similar, this allowed Bill to better understand what makes a cigar taste the way it does. Many people are surprised that a thin layer of wrapper can change a cigar so much, but it makes a bit more sense that there are flavors absorbed on the lips that add to taste not found in the smoke. While they are all unique cigars, each has an excellent draw and consistency from box to box. One of the last steps to sorting cigars is by color, so every stick in the box is an identical shade.

The experiment resulted in Bill liking all three, but favoring the milder wrapper of the Edge Lite. Since our little experiment, Bill has enjoyed quite a few of these, and also understands that a torpedo is a very comfortable cigar in his teeth.

So, whether you decide to smoke these all on the same day or not, comparing can be a wonderful experience and help you better understand why you like something so much.








Posted by adam at 6:01 PM | Link | 4 comments


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