I have writer's block. It happens sometimes. When Norman Rockwell couldn't think of an interesting subject for the cover of one issue of the Saturday Evening Post in 1938, he painted a picture of himself in front of a mostly-blank canvas scratching his head. Since it would be nearly impossible for me to take a picture of myself staring at a blank computer screen with 'Newsletter Introduction" on the screen and blank space below, I decided to have someone else write it (assuming they were willing). Ted left early not feeling well. So did Susan. Sykes is out. Eric is busy. Alyson isn't here. Katie is opening new shipments of pipes. Lisa is in a meeting, and Pam is working on the entire update. Aside from other employees downstairs or in other buildings, I'm stuck with the task. Usually I look forward to writing, but I'm just drawing a blank today, despite that we have great pipes from all over the world hitting the site this week. Peter Heding, Tsuge, Ardor, and other brands all have great pipes, but the newsletter is typically about something different. The weather is dull and rainy - which isn't very interesting. This is going to be a very exciting weekend, but that will be a topic for next week.
I can't think of anything. Sorry, folks. After discussing my idea with Lisa and Pam, we figured that the cat outside would do a better job if, by being lured inside my office with food, he might happen to walk across the keyboard. I'm really allergic to cats, so hopefully he [or she - I have no idea and don't plan on checking] will write something unique. I hope it doesn't have rabies, a nasty attitude, or a serious case of 'your face is going to be my scratching post'. Time to hold my breath, put on gloves and toss the white and brown fur-ball on my desk.
-The stray cat living under the building
|Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector|
Last week music lost a living legend and I lost a hometown hero. Pinetop Perkins, a blues pianist legendary of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, passed away at his home in Austin, Texas. Willie Perkins was born on July 7, 1913, in a small town with a rich blues heritage called, Belzoni, Mississippi. Belzoni is also the town where I grew up. There I was introduced to the blues culture of the Mississippi Delta region and Pinetop. Perkins began playing blues in the late 1920s. He is regarded as one of the best and most enduring pianist in the blues genre. He was originally a guitar player and switched to the piano primarily because it was louder than a guitar (this was before the electric guitar was invented). However, he also suffered an injury to his left arm. The injury made it difficult for him to fret the guitar, but not the piano.
During the 1930's and 1940's, he mainly played around the Mississippi Delta, including a three-year stint with Sonny Boy Williamson on the King Biscuit Time radio show on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. Then in the 1950s, he worked with musicians such as B.B. King and Earl Hooker on Sun Records in Memphis (1953) “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie”.
I admit that if I stopped here, this would be an impressive resume. However, we have forty years or more to go. Pinetop played piano for the Muddy Waters band for over ten years taking the place of Otis Spann in 1969 (yet another musician with Belzoni roots). He backed Muddy Waters from 1969 to 1980 touring and playing keys in the band, and in 1980 he and several members left to start a new group (Legendary Blues Band).
He had a wonderful personality and a familial demeanor. For instance, one of my favorite quotes is when he told the New York Times, “I remember the days when I played at chicken fights and your only pay was the dead chicken... now I can’t retire even if I want to. Everybody’s calling me.” According to his biography, "the irony of Pinetop’s career is that he didn’t blossom as a headliner until his eighth decade." That just goes to show it is never too late. Mr. Perkins and John Lee Hooker did a cameo in the Blues Brothers movie. They are outside Aretha's Soul Food Cafe. John Lee Hooker says, “...that is a song called Boom Boom I wrote in the 50’s.” Pinetop’s jumps up to say, “Naw you didn’t! Naw you didn't! Naw you didn't!"
Other achievements and awards include:
- National Heritage Fellowship, from the National Endowment of the Arts (2000).
- Piano Blues, directed by Clint Eastwood for the Martin Scorsese PBS series, The Blues, featured Mr. Perkins.
- He won the Blues Music Award for best blues piano so many consecutive years that in 2003 he was retired from the running. The award was renamed the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year. My good friend Eden Brent won and accepted the award from Mr. Perkins in person last year. (2010)
- He accepted a well deserved Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2005 and Pinetop won Best Traditional Blues CD for Joined at the Hip Grammy in 2010 for his work with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.
In addition to live shows and session work Pinetop Perkins has a large selection of solo recordings. Here are just a few:
- After Hours
- On Top
- Portrait of a Delta Bluesman
- Live Top
- Eye to Eye
- Born in the Delta
- Legends (with Hubert Sumlin)
- Live at 85! (with George Kilby Jr)
- All Star Blues Jam (with Bob Margolin)
- Ladies Man
- Joined At the Hip (with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith)
Best Traditional Blues Album for his collaboration on the “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas
The Pinetop Perkins Foundation
The Pinetop Perkins Foundation is a tax-exempt non-profit organization. Its mission is to provide encouragement and support for youth and young people at the beginning of their musical career; and help provide care and safety for elderly musicians at the twilight of their career.
I have been a little sad this week - and I guess that is why they call it the blues. Therefore, here is a tribute to Pinetop Perkins, a blues legend and one of my hometown heroes.
Willie “Pinetop” Perkins
July 7, 1913 - March 21, 2011 at age 97.
Here is Pinetop with BB King doing a song called Down in Mississippi that mentions Belzoni.
In addition to Perkins and Spann, other blues artists who were born in or near Belzoni or who lived there include Denise LaSalle, Boyd Gilmore, Eddie Burns, Paul “Wine” Jones, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, and Elmore James.
This week is very exciting for some people here at Smokingpipes.com. I'm taking a vacation day tomorrow to work on pipes in my shop and it's actually planned around my wife's work schedule. As it happens, Tuesday is also the day when some of the staff begins pipe inventory. New pipes, estate pipes, and maybe even tobacco and cigars are all getting counted, checked, accounted for, and tracked down. I'm really not sure to what extent this is happening, even though I've been here for five years and have tackled inventory extensively before. I look at this almost like being a senior at my fraternity house; which means the newer recruits did the busy work. Pam had to remind me two times about writing this introduction for today, as I was under the false-impression that nothing was supposed to be done this week, and was planning to install a kiddy-pool in my office with a floating lawn chair which would comfortably allow me to sip mojitos while playing Dave Matthews Band on my computer. This is Spring break for many people, right? We are not supposed to get any new pipes to put into the system, so I completely misunderstood that other things were still happening around here. My mistake.
Writing the introduction is often fun, though. Sometimes they are topical to happenings on the site, in the office, or the weather (which is in the upper 30s and raining [yuck] after being around 80 last week). It's supposed to be sunny and warmer tomorrow, though. Thank goodness I'm taking a vacation day (which really ends up meaning I work all day anyway). Hopefully the employees keeping track of everything will get some pizzas and have fun. This is a lot like spring cleaning and everyone will feel better when it is completed.
Today we have pipes from Dunhill, Luciano, Savinelli, Peterson, and Vauen. Please take a look!
|Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector|
Many are the wonders of renting an apartment in a building of dubious nature - the heavily twanged, if not particularly deep conversations which come muffling through the walls, painted-shut windows (readily fixed with a flathead screwdriver or sturdy knife, at least), the painted-over peephole on the front door, the painted-over bathtub, and of course, a handyman whom you suspect isn't so much speaking remarkably confused English, but rather merely making what he believes are English-sounding noises at you in the hopes that they will serve in place of some form of actual communication. Though it must be said that these are all quite meaningful elements contributing towards creating a fully novel experience, perhaps the most perfect feature is being able to smoke whenever you want (and judging by some of my neighbors, whatever you want) within the privacy of your own rooms. Regardless of however diligent I must be to ensure that other inhabitants of my building don't get any funny ideas about being too neighborly, I am well aware of the fact that I am free to enjoy a simple luxury - smoking my own pipe in my own apartment - which many other men living in far fancier digs are denied, be it by signed leases or significant others. As a refugee of not one, but two different states which have enacted invasive anti- smoking laws even so small a liberty as this does not go unappreciated. I may be a bit of a crank, and a consummate loner, and a man who drives a car far too long and fuel-inefficient for just one person - but like being a pipe smoker, those are things I am by choice.
And speaking of choice, today's update of course presents plenty of it for you, too: Savinelli and Peterson are represented in plentiful supply, with Stanwell making an appearance as well, there's Johs providing affordable handmades, and L'Anatra, Randy Wiley, and Ashton offering their own unique qualities. As for the icing on the cake, Ted's gone over a dozen high-grade briars, split evenly between America's own Rad Davis and that celebrated Dane, Tom Eltang.
|Eric Squires: Copywriter|
We have a good customer who is a regular in our brick and mortar store come in today and he got to talking with Tom Marsh (one of our pipe restoration guys) about his pipe. He has a nice billiard with a large bowl and hand-cut cumberland mouthpiece, but always has difficulty with the draw. After taking a look at the pipe and performing a pipe-cleaner test (just to see if there was blockage), I noticed that the airway at the button was just really small.
Nearly all hand-cut stems are chucked up in the lathe and drilled from the tenon side nearly all the way to the button side and then a smaller bit pops through. When I make a stem, I use a tapered 5/32" bit for the first inch or two (depending on the length of the stem), continue with a tapered 9/64" bit about 3/4" from the button, and continue through with a bit slightly smaller than 1/16". This small area gets widened into a V-shape before it’s filed slightly larger which allows for a thin button and comfortable airflow. Regarding our customer’s pipe, I could see a partial V-slot, but it didn't extend all the way down. In the past we've fixed this kind of problem by chucking up a bit in a hand drill, throwing safety to the wind, and concentrating while holding our breath. Luckily, we found use #7 for our metal lathe: opening a slot.
By chucking up a drill bit that was slightly larger than 1/16", we turned on the lathe to a really high speed. I carefully held the stem in my hand, pushed it onto the spinning bit (spinning so fast it grinds more than it cuts), and slowly pulled up the stem at an angle to cut the sides to a V. While maintaining the integrity of the slot shape and thickness, and after rotating the stem and doing this from the other side, an open slot was made noticeable. Tom ran a pipe cleaner through the modified stem to clean it up.
I haven't seen the pipe since. From what I'm told, the customer is puffing away on it downstairs with ease for the first time since he's owned the pipe. While this is something I definitely do not suggest you try at home unless you have the proper tools and technique, quite a few pipe repair men, or maybe even shops, might be able to make your restricted pipes smoke better than they ever have.
Yesterday was the first day of spring. Sure felt like it too. Besides the fact that it was sunny and shining out all day (at least where I live) my wife Shelly and I spent the better half of the afternoon cleaning our home; we dusted and vacuumed, laundered our winter clothes, put away our heavy blankets and aired out each room of stale smoke by keeping the windows open and cranking up the ceiling fans.
You see, Shelly doesn’t mind the smell of pipe smoke and is generous enough to allow me to smoke inside. This is especially welcome during the colder season, as you might imagine. However, after months of keeping up this behavior our home now receives us with the kind of dank, musky odor that results from having smoked too many bowls of English tobacco blends in a small, poorly ventilated space. When I got home from work Friday I was slapped in the face with this frightening funk. It means the weather has changed and it’s time to take the pipe back outside.
So we cleaned up everything. Spring cleaning on the first day of spring. We washed the walls, sprayed down a lemon scented cleaning product on every piece of wood furniture, burned candles, lit Lampe Berger, and, of course, opened up all the windows. And I did all of my pipe smoking outside yesterday.
I can’t complain. This time of year in South Carolina is gorgeous. And when the weather is right, the only thing nicer than smoking a good tobacco in the comfort of a warm home is puffing away under the clear sky of a beautiful day. Welcome spring!
Today we introduce Brigham pipes to the website, a Canadian company that has been around since 1906. We’ve also new pipes from Castello, Radice, and Savinelli, as well as new works from Peterson and Vauen. Take a look!
|Ted Swearingen: Sales Manager|
We have a new brand of pipe added to the site starting Monday (March 21). However, Brigham is not a new company. In fact, Roy Brigham established the company in 1906 after serving as an apprentice to an Austrian pipe-smith. His son, Herb, and later his grandson, Mike would carry the torch of the Brigham Brand into the 21st century.
In addition to an array of shapes, sizes, and finishes, Brigham pipes have a unique feature.
The Brigham Rock Maple 'Filter' SysteThe Brigham system was developed in response to a common complaint of pipe smokers - tongue bite. Eliminating this burning sensation created by the tars and acids of the burning tobacco (especially in wet and aromatic blends) became a consuming passion of ours. We found the perfect taste-neutral and effective material in natural, untreated Rock Maple.
Each filter is made by hollowing out the inside diameter of a 3.5” Rock Maple dowel and pressure-fitting a special metal cap to its end which helps the filter fit snugly inside the pipe while making removal simple. The manufacturing process of the filter uses no chemicals or adhesives to guarantee a taste-neutral system.
By design, the Brigham system extends into the stem, providing an extra inch of wood through which the smoke passes. Consider that in most other pipes, smoke spends half of its time passing along a plastic or rubber channel which can add negative flavor to the smoke while providing no benefit of its own.
This combination of reduced exposure to plastic and rubber, drastic reduction in tongue bite, elimination of gurgle and flow-back as well as the ease of use has made Brigham Canada’s pipe of choice for generations.
- Drastically decreases tongue-bite (the burning sensation on the tongue)
- Virtually eliminates gurgle and moisture
- Does not impede airflow - you can pass a pipe cleaner through it - Does not impart any flavor of its own
- Improves the smoking characteristics of even the wettest tobaccos
- Decreases the amount of contact smoke makes with the stem
- Filters are easily replaced and can even be rinsed, dried and reused several times
Here is a sample of the pipe we will have for you to consider
We are glad to have another quality brand of pipes available to our customers. Look for Brigham in the new pipes section of Smokingpipes.com.
As many of you may know (or perhaps all of you, as far as I know) Sykes and Alyson recently adventured to Ireland in order to shake hands with the lovable folks at Peterson of Dublin. Just as we were receiving our shipment of Peterson’s St. Patrick’s Day pipes here at Smokingpipes.com, the two were touring the Peterson factory, snapping pictures and shooting video.
I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by spending the evening whipping up this rather ‘decontextualized’, though no less engaging, web featurette on the best Irish pipe company in history.
Today is St.Patrick's day, which is the biggest holiday in Ireland and for many people scattered around the globe. When living in Indiana I would celebrate the day with friends from work. The guys would come over around 6:00 pm and were surprised there wasn't just pizza waiting in the fridge, but also really good food. With permission from my landlord I constructed a grill out of bricks my parents had which held together with clay from the garden and wood ash. The form was square [2.5'x2.5'] and had a brick-domed top that was about as tall as me. A fire was started in the base with hickory logs, which was later raked out and separated so they would smoke like crazy. After partly braising the corned beef in the oven with Guinness, it was hung in the smoker for hours, alongside salted salmon and pork. Thin slices of this complemented with crusty bread, blue cheese smashed red potatoes, Irish cheddar, and enough pints of Guinness to fill a bathtub made for a hearty feast while watching Boondock Saints.
Now that I'm married and live in South Carolina I no longer have the brick smoker. My buddies don't come over after work and watch the classic underground movie. If I were to compare things now to how they were six years ago, I might miss the food, but I much prefer the company of my wife. After work, we're going to go to some Irish pub and have a couple pints, hopefully some good food, and make our own traditions.
Needless to say, Peterson pipes or Irish clays rule the day in the office. I'm fond of the new Peterson 3 P's plug tobacco, Ted might favor Old Dublin, and Eric would probably go for the Whiskey. No matter what background we have, today we're Irish. Even my wife, who is 100% Russian.
There are a lot of pipes that make up tonight's update, including pieces from Ireland, Japan, and introductory works by Ernie Markle. Whatever your plans are for tonight, we hope you have a great time!
|Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector|
You just have to love Peterson pipes; I know I do. Actually, I know you do too as we just recently put up our ten-thousandth Peterson pipe offering through Smokingpipes.com. And what’s even better was having the opportunity to actually visit the Peterson factory (or “shop” as Tom Palmer calls it) in Dublin just last month. While we have a bunch of videos that we are going to post in the near future, I thought I would put together a few photos I took while roaming the facility and hanging out with Tom. Enjoy!
I've been given another sample of tobacco and can clearly see finely-cut ribbons in the bag. It appears to be about 60% dark tobacco and 40% golden. Still keeping it in the zip bag, I can tell it's moist, but not overly so. Time to open it. Sweetness of sugary-fruit and soft spice (cherry, vanilla, and others) take over my nose. My olfactory senses take me back to opening a plastic container of Play-doh (not sure why), but maybe it just has that marzipan quality about it. Not overly candy-like, but a noticeable aromatic. This appears (and feels) like a Peter Stokkebye product, though my betting chip would also be on the line of Gawith Hoggarth. From what I can see, feel, and smell, this is a quality aromatic that won't gunk up a palate or pipe (at least it appears this way).
The thin ribbons load very easily into my Ashton XXX, and the interlocking ribbons keep it all in place. This lights very easily with just one match, and tamps evenly without effort. I can hear some crackling in the bowl, hinting that flavorings or oils might be popping from the leaf. Unlike my experience with most aromatics, I can actually taste some delicious flavors! Gently puffing coaxes sweetness out of the blend, and I think pitted fruits linger in the air. Cautious as I am with all tobaccos, especially aromatics, slow puffing is yielding the best results with no blistering palate to worry about. There is some heat on my tongue, though, and this could be from the steam in the tobacco, alcohol-flavorings coming through, or my eagerness to puff more regularly after the delicious first few minutes. Like nearly all aromatics, there is that lingering 'flavor' in the smoke. When tasting food grilled over charcoal, the lighter fluid flavor doesn't completely go away, and agents in aromatics have something similar that lingers, though it's not lighter fluid, of course. You understand what I mean. I would guess this to be a mix of black cavendish, golden virginias, and don't believe any burley to be in the blend. Better tobacco flavors concentrate after half a bowl, but the lingering sweetness from the beginning is still a ghost. Toward the last third, it all but fades away. This would be nice to try in a Peterson System pipe, meerschaum, or gourd calabash, I think. I dumped the last third after all of the flavors went away (except for that lingering one which stuck with me until a fresh cup of coffee could overtake it) and wet dottle fell out. Not bad, but it started off with greater promise than it ended with.
Having lollygagged long enough (and, for the record, attempted to cheat only once) today I packed my Luciano dublin with this week's mystery blend and lit up. Immediately I was greeted by something light and sweet, which just as quickly retreated to the background, a subtle golden note to the easy smoothness of this blend. A hint of vanilla and/or caramel appears to be lingering in there somewhere, poking its head out now that the initial shot of sweetness has receded. This blend seems very light to me - lighter even than the straight Stokkebye virginia I often smoke when breaking a pipe in. This may be due simply to the blend's coolness, and the fact that it takes some deliberate puffing to get even the beginnings of tongue bite. Either this blend burns quite easily, or I packed it too light, but I was through the first third of the bowl before I knew it. Whatever this is, it's for the most part a very easy smoker, though I it did develop a bit more bite mid-bowl, only to smooth out once more, with the vanilla/caramel flavors gaining more weight to compensate.
Just looking at the tobacco I’d say it’s not something from the U.S. The strands of tobacco seem too uniformly long to be so. I’m leaning towards Danish or German, but this is a guess. After a good long whiff of the tobacco I’m terribly reminded of Sillem’s Black. It’s a very similar topping. Again, I’m thinking this is German.
Looks like black Cavendish, latakia, bright Virginia and possibly an oriental leaf of some kind. It’s dry enough for me to smoke, so I’ll do that now.
Lights up easy enough. I can taste a lot of sweet casing right off the bat, but it eases off pretty quick. The sweet flavor kind of reminds me of Lane tobacco, actually, but only for a moment. I sense an oriental presence and a subtle latakia component that adds depth and texture to the blend. The dark, sweet, creamy flavor moves in and out of focus, each time reminding me of the kind of Cavendish-style tobacco the Danish and Germans use.
This is pretty good stuff. If I had to class it I’d call it an aromatic, or perhaps a cross-over blend. I wish the latakia element were a little more robust and the sweetening additive a little less pronounced.
Seems like Adam was closest this week. I was way off. This stuff is Peter Stokkebye's Optimum. It's certainly an aromatic and the product description reads thus: One of our most successfull blends. Developed from the fields of the flue-cured tobaccos of Zimbabwe, Malawi. Blended with sweet processed Black Cavendish and mild Burley tobaccos. Medium to coarse loose cut.
Anyone at home have any of their own thought's on this aromatic blend?
Kelly can choose any cigar he wants in our walk-in humidor when he feels a craving, so what puts him in the mood for a particular stick? The Padron 7000 Natural is one of his all-time favorite go-to smokes. When the afternoon allows hustle and bustle in the store to wind down a bit, the medium-bodied cigar calls like a Siren. Part of smoking a cigar is about sitting back and relaxing. While smoking a small one will do, firing up a large 6-inch by 60 ring stogie will allow for a lot more contemplation time. Superbly constructed with an even draw, the smoke delivers coffee bean notes, as Kelly says, and never disappoints. Later in the afternoon, this is something you will find Kelly savoring more than many others. If you've never tried one, he suggests you give it a shot.
The Devil's Ballroom, Amundsen's team called it. The last great obstacle in their path to the South Pole, a deceptive terrain - a glacial plateau littered with hidden crevasses of deadly depth disguised beneath thin crusts of ice. '"Oh, as usual," they shouted back; "no bottom." I mention this little incident just to show how one can grow accustomed to anything in this world.” Amundsen wrote in his memoirs. It had taken months to reach this point - a long and perilous time for men at the end of the earth, who had no civilization to fall back on but that which they carried with them. Amundsen's careful, not to mention covert planning had not only well and thoroughly gotten the drop on the English, but had given his team the direction and decisiveness in spirit, training, and equipment to advance more rapidly.
Amundsen's and Scott's teams could hardly have been more different: The first was small, agile, and composed and equipped with a single focused purpose. The other was large (65 men, though only 5 were meant to try for the Pole), burdened by competing goals (not expecting to be in a race, Scott had set achieving the South Pole as only one of several objectives), and equipped lavishly but with questionable focus; though his plan called for men to haul their own supplies for most of the trek to the Pole, he still had not only dogs, but ponies and even three mechanical sleds, an unproven technology (one would fall through the ice upon being unloaded, the other two would suffer mechanical failure and be abandoned). Amundsen's team were all experienced skiers who had not only trained rigorously for the journey to the South Pole, but who also counted amongst their number Olav Bjaaland, a champion skier specifically taken on to set their pace in the Antarctic. In contrast, Scott's men had not even been required to train beforehand, and by and large didn't begin learning how to ski until they were actually attempting to do so in the Antarctic. Finally, there was the choice of location: For the sake of his scientific goals, Scott's expedition made base camp at McMurdo Sound, whereas Amundsen's own team wintered in the Bay of Whales, specifically because it allowed them to sail a full 60 miles closer to the Pole, while also providing a plentiful source of fresh meat.
Another key element for Amundsen's team would be his focus on dogs. Amundsen had correctly assessed that dogs would be capable of traversing any terrain required of them, and his planning was so purposeful as to even include using the weakest of the pack as food both for the surviving dogs and for his men, saving precious weight in supplies that would otherwise need to be hauled along. (Not to mention that the dogs, unlike ponies or machines, could be sustained by meat and fat from the local penguins and seals.) The fate which would ultimately befall Scott and the four other men from his team who marched to the Pole would be all the more tragic, given the explicit advice he had received from none other than Fridtjof Nansen, the famous explorer who had initially conceived and first commanded the Fram herself. His advice had been simple: “...dogs, dogs, and more dogs”.
The Antarctic winter had been a time of preparation, the laying out of supply caches along planned routes, and the practiced discipline necessary to keep men so isolated from the world functioning as a team, yet it had also been a time of inventiveness and improvised entertainments. The team from the Fram had barely set foot on solid ground (or at least, ice) before they set about doing what great explorers often do best, what truly tends to separate them from the, shall we say, not-so-great ones: they innovated and adapted like mad. Bjaaland, the team's carpenter as well as lead skier, redesigned the sledges and sledge cases on the spot, drastically reducing their weights, while Oscar Wisting designed and assembled new tents from windcloth, each weighing nine pounds less than those originally purchased for the expedition. The team had even built a one-man sauna consisting of a shell which left only the occupant's head exposed, and which was heated by paraffin lamps. Once a man had enjoyed his turn inside, the shell was lifted off over him by ropes and pulleys, and he would be left to sprint naked through the Antarctic cold to reach the nearest tent - this became a regular Saturday night ceremony.
Trials, tribulations, comical larks, internal squabbles, endless waiting followed by endless traversing of the barren Antarctic landscape, and most of all preparation, preparation, preparation; Amundsen's key guiding principle to a successful life of exploration... all leading to this - this Devil's Ballroom, a terrain utterly unpredictable in its deadliness. But it was precisely because of Amundsen's focus on preparation and purpose that he and his men were now still fit, determined (despite the effects of a drastically increased altitude), and sound enough to meticulously pick their way across the Ballroom, probing the treacherous ice.
Amundsen's team conquered the Devil's Ballroom, or at least navigated it in one piece, that is, and at 3:00 PM, on Friday, December 14, 1911, Amundsen called out for them to a halt. They had reached the South Pole. In a sign of solidarity, each put their hands to the Norwegian flag as together they planted it at one of the farthest ends of the earth - the geographical Southern Pole. Thereafter, following several days of observation, they were able to return safely and without casualty. On the 17th of January, Scott's own five-man team would also reach the Pole, anguish at seeing they had been beaten, and ultimately be lost to a man in their attempt to return. While Amundsen and his men had diligently built a trail of cairn's and caches spaced regularly, each containing a note with its location and the direction to the next marker, Scott's own were placed irregularly and with little consideration for navigation during obscuring weather. Like their markers, Scott and his five-man improvised polar team disappeared into the endless Arctic white. Eight months later, the bodies of three of those men, including Scott, would be found frozen inside a tent only 11 miles short of one of their team's supply caches.
"Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” Amundsen wrote in The South Pole. Yet despite all their differences, and though he and his men conquered where Scott and his own perished, Amundsen too would one day vanish as well, far to the north.
On the 25th of May, 1928, the purpose-built Polar exploration airship Italia smashed into the Arctic ice, shattering her control cabin, and then, relieved of its weight, drifted upwards once more. Several members of her crew were left stranded upon the ice, while the rest slowly rose towards the firmament in an aircraft now beyond any means of control. In a final and desperate act of heroism, Chief Engineer Ettore Arduino, still aboard the rising airship, tossed everything he could lay his hands on to the men upon the ice below. When word of the Italia's sudden radio silence and disappearance reached Amundsen, he immediately volunteered to lead a rescue operation. Alas, when the Norwegian government approached that of Italy, then under the control of Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party, they were rebuffed. As the Italian government dithered and interfered, Amundsen and others raced to the rescue regardless. On June 18th, Amundsen, along with pilots Leif Dietrichson and Rene Guilbaud, and three other men, were on board a Latham 47 "flying boat" en route to the rescue operations when it went down in the Barents Sea. Though most of those whom the Italia left stranded upon the ice would survive long enough to eventually drift to land (in large part thanks to Ettore Arduino's quick thinking), Amundsen, his fellows, and their Latham, like Arduino, the Italia, and the rest of the airship's crew, would never be seen again.
Last Saturday was very unusual for me. My wife was at work, I had all day to myself and I was master of my domain. This wasn't the unusual part, as we have varying work schedules, but I did something that had been pecking at my brain relentlessly for the last few months. The thought would never leave. This had to be the day to do it. My wife would cry with disbelief if she knew what I was going to do: I cleaned my workshop.
Proud is an understatement, so I don't know what words to use, really. After picking Lera up from work, I walked her outside to take a peek (which she did partly to see if I was telling the truth). With my work schedule and hers, multiple errands, and such, I don't get as much time - uninterrupted time - in my workshop as I would like. I remember cleaning up the area a little bit when Alex Florov and his wife came to Myrtle Beach before the CORPS show. They arrived at the end of September and I was still working on the pipes I was taking to the show. The usual floor sweep took place, as did taking out the trash and arranging the cluttered mess on the workbench into neat stacks. It's amazing how laying down a few pencils perfectly parallel to each other on a clean square foot will give the illusion of an entirely organized shop. When Jeff Gracik and Tokutomi came down for a day after the pipe show I did the usual sweep again, and lit a candle. If it looks clean for a second and smells like a country kitchen it will seem clean, right?
The fact is, a clean workspace equals a clean mind. Much like a kitchen, a workshop can be clean one moment and then look like tornadoes hit after a few short hours. It's not as easy as one would think to just sweep up the floors and throw scraps away. "What is this little button-sized thing on the floor? Oh, that's mammoth ivory! Better put that in the tray." I had to just throw some stuff away. Like most men, I will hold on to things that I'm sure will be utilized one day. So many odd screws, cut boards, empty containers, and scraps of leather. The buffalo horns I've had for five years hit the trash since they aren't solid pieces to work with. Other things got swept up, thrown out, and all of the benches were vacuumed neatly. I found a bill from three years ago, some vehicle insurance forms equally as old, and things Toku or Jeff might have forgotten on their recent visit and signs that they were there. No pipes were made over the weekend, which is never my goal, but darned if cleaning and organizing the workshop didn't make me feel great. It took a full day, which is equal to making a pipe, but was well worth the effort.
Today we have pipes from Dunhill, Luciano, Savinelli, Peterson, and Vauen, plus Gloredo pipe cleaner sleeves, tobacco pouches, and pipe cases. Please poke around and see what you might find.
|Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector|
Is there a difference between a habit and a hobby? Habit sounds bad, or at least unpleasant or gross in a bodily way. Doesn’t sound as bad as addiction. Unless you’re a real special person you’re probably not addicted to cutting your toenails. It’s just one of those base hygienic habits we all carry around. Not something I’d sweat through my shirt to get to do. Just a habit. Like tying a shoe. Something easy and comfortable that's done in a few unconscious ritual gestures which allows the mind to wander. That’s a habit.
Here’s something to talk about. Pipe Smoking: Habit or Hobby? It’s obviously a hobby, even if the pipe smoker doesn’t know it. He’s passionate about his pipe and about what he smokes and why and when he smokes even if the world doesn’t know this about him. This is a hobbyist’s passion; a worship of the details. The source is the smoke and from that everything is subsequent. This is where the habit is born.
The habit is a dance perfectly timed. Mastered after years of practice, it is evident in the way you browse through your carefully racked selection of pipes with the ease of a librarian, select your last pipe for the night, and rub-out a tricky flake set to dry the night prior. This is what you’ve learned from smoking. You’re dancing without thinking about dancing. As you smoke, now nearly unconscious of doing so, you are simply tasting the smoke, indulging the sensation, and allowing your mind to move fluidly, whether that be from task-to-task in an office, behind a treasured book, or with your very thoughts.
Pipe smoking is a habit the same as it’s a hobby. The words just look so similar. They’re related. Granted, the word habit tends to conjure a mindless autonomic process. But it’s a habit to think that way. If you keep up your hobby you will stop and adjust a habit and replace it with a new one. Explore your hobby relentlessly, examine your habit routinely, and in the process you refine a pipe-smoking craft.
While we are on the topic of exploring your hobby, we’ve got five dozen fresh estate pipes hitting the site tonight. Keep an eye out for something different. Also this evening we’ve available new works from Danish pipe maker Benni Jorgensen, American pipe-man Randy Wiley and the venerable Japanese firm Tsuge. Additionally, new pipes from Cavicchi and L’Anatra, as well as Ashton, Peterson, Stanwell, Johs and IMP are featured tonight. Big update.
|Ted Swearingen: Sales Manager|
I was processing the photos for today's update and was struck by an unusual entry. The Ashton group of pipes has a unique individual among the ranks. A pipe with a wind cap (wind shield). The first thing I thought of was the many bikers (motorcycles not 10-speeds) around our area. Then other users came to mind: lumberjack, ocean fishermen, campers and outdoorsmen of all types. Actually, a back yard gardener could call on the silver cover of this pipe in high wind. Since March is the month for wind swept conditions, you might want to grab this one quickly. Oh… and I guess test it - while flying a kite.
There are a few tobacco blending and tinning companies that get talked about so often that the subsequent noise washes away from the horizon many other excellent producers. Esoterica is one of them.
By now many of us realize why. Without mentioning those two blends that seem to get hailed rather loud and clear by the hundreds of voices of pipe smokers in cyberspace, Esoterica delivers some terrifically good blends.
Esoterica Tobacciana is essentially the brain-child of American pipe-man Mike Butera and Master Blender Robert Germain of J. F. Germain & Son. Mike’s talent is as without question as is his contribution to the contemporary pipe community. Germain’s reputation is undeniable. Together these two have dreamed up some incredible stuff. And of their top four offerings, ‘And So To Bed’, somehow is not among them.
This doesn’t surprise me. The blend is not up-front. It doesn’t get in your face with a unique, bold sensation. Fresh from the tin it’s downright boring. Timing is important with this English; the mix starts shining when the tin has been opened once or twice over eight months to cool off.
|Like most Esoterica blends, 'And So To Bed' is a bit moist straight from the tin. It will smoke just fine for most folks this way. However, this blend really comes alive when given the opportunity to breath and dry off|
Esoterica blends are usually packaged a little wet and smoke great with some moisture. In this way not all blends are created equally. But the quality can be deceptive. Every Esoterica blend does better dried out. Particularly this one. The butcher paper wrapper has to be soft and damp from top oils and the contents have to be a variety of degrees of moist. This is where the magic starts. Open the new tin, but hold off from smoking it just yet.
‘And So To Bed’ is gentle because it’s so well balanced. I’ve read that this particular offering from the Esoterica line consists of a Maryland component, which I find likely. Often processed in a way similar to Cavendish, this leaf is buttery like burley. Delicately rich Maryland, added with Virginia for depth and sweetness, starts the show with an earthy, easy smoking base. As always, a Cyprian latakia inclusion is easily detected, here lending a smoky, leathery hand to the brew softened only by a quiet Oriental presence. All the players are working together; none have the strength to overwhelm the other. If you’re looking for something dumbfounding and powerful you won’t find it here. Not dynamic, but dimensional.
It’s a complex blend that takes some patience. ‘And So To Bed’ needs a good long stretch and yawn before it will fully open up and share itself. In time I’ve found it to be as fantastic as some of the crown jewels of the Esoterica line. Like many of their labels it’s far too underrated, at least.
We thought we’d play a game: a blind tobacco tasting. I’m not too sure what the exact objective of this game might have been other than to see if Adam, Eric, Sykes and I were up to the challenge of trying to identify the exact components, blender, or even blend picked out for us by Susan. She handed to each of us little zip lock bags labeled ‘Mystery Tobacco’. With some trepidation, we all got to work smoking. Here’s what we came up with:
I was given a little baggie of 'mystery tobacco' and immediately poured the contents on a piece of white paper in an even layer to see the flecks of dark chocolate and tobacco-brown equally mixing. The cut is rather medium with some larger pieces in the mix and crumbs here and there and on the dry side. Not really a ribbon cut, but more of irregular-shaped flakes similar to fish food. I like this, actually, as it's rather easy to pour into the bowl of my Ashton XXX Pebble Grain Dublin.
The moisture - or lack thereof - seems perfect for my taste. Filled to the top of the bowl and puffing with one match, the tobacco rose about half an inch, which was easily tamped down to a level coal. No relighting was necessary. While I mainly smoke Virginias (and probably because of) I can detect richer flavors in this blend. Initially I thought it might be Latakia, and it might be, though soft. The flavors during the first few minutes of puffing remind me more of cigar leaf. Not Connecticut or Maduro, but more like a Gran Habano or La Gloria Cubana. There was just a hint of sweetness at first, most likely from a Virginia, but they are securely behind the veil of pronounced cigar-flavors. Once in a while there is a bit of peppery-spice at the back of my throat, even though I'm not inhaling the smoke. Also like a cigar, my palate seems dry, but in an expected way. I used another match mid-bowl after I tapped out loose ash. Most of the ember fell out too; probably because the irregular cut couldn't hold it within an upside-down bowl. There haven't been any sweet flavors since just after the initial light, which I miss, and the musty-essence seems to intensify. I get no nicotine head-spin at all, so believe this is rather mild. For me, this bowl was just too deep for the developing flavors. Perhaps this would be better - for me - in a smaller bowl or not dried out as much.
About the same time as Ted and I reviewed Distinguished Gentleman, Susan handed Ted, Adam, and I each a small ziplock bag labeled only "Mystery Tobacco 02/17/11". As you can tell, we put smoking it off a bit, though in our defense I must say that if I've given any of the women in our offices a reason to take up the ancient art of poisoning men, it's probably Susan. Probably. Having said that, for Susan's Mystery blend, I chose the same large Luciano dublin as I used for the Distinguished Gentlemen review. Upon first light the blend seemed slightly sweet, with a very, very subtle note of fruit - apricot, for some reason, was the first to come to mind. These flavors merely lay under the stronger, toasty main flavor, however. The smoke was smooth, and rather cool as well (latakia?), and burned quite readily. By Ted's visual assessment the blend appears to be largely virginia with a bit of latakia, possibly with a touch of burley as well. This would explain the combination of easy and mild smoking qualities, as well as the hints of sweetness. My beginning-of-the-bowl apricots remain inexplicable, however. The room note is additionally rather pleasant, so long as you aren't sticking your nose right into the middle of a smoke plume, at which point I found my sinuses receiving more than a mere tickle (again, latakia?). Overall the blend is mild, honestly more so than I really favor, with the sweeter elements so subtle that I easily lost them at times, and the latakia, if that is what it is, offering a bit of cooling but not much else. Bear in mind I have quite an insensitive palette - those of you with a sharper sense of taste may find considerably more to this blend than I ever could. On a more definitive note however, can say with absolute certainty that I have not been poisoned in any way, for which I am genuinely thankful towards Susan.
Featuring a lovely mix of colors, from a nice red virginia, to the black of some latakia, plus some lighter virginias and what I think is just a little bit of oriental leaf, this English smells lovely in the bag. It's certainly an American manufacturer. I'd guess it's made by Altadis or C&D, but that still leaves open a ton of possible different brands. I'm not going to even try to guess at the blend, but it does remind me a little of a couple of the English blends from G. L. Pease.
I don't smoke a lot of English blends; I'm more of a straight Virginia / Virginia/perique kind of guy, so this is a little bit of a departure for me. Still, when I do smoke blends containing latakia, I prefer lighter Englishes. I'm not a more is better kind of guy with latakia. I think latakia should sit comfortably in the background, serving as a condiment to a well-constructed blend rather than be the central theme. At first, that seems the case here; the smokiness from the latakia enhances and supplements the other flavors, rather than supplanting them. The sweetness from the Virginias shines through nicely, providing a soft bed for the other flavors.
As I move through the bowl, the latakia seems to be increasingly pronounced. I'm still enjoying it, though. It hasn't hit that point of latakia overload for me. All in all, I'm quite impressed. It's balanced and well-constructed. The nicotine hit was pretty heavy, a little much for my taste, as I moved towards the end of the bowl. A lovely English with a surprising kick. Once I find out what it is, I'll return to it, I'm sure. It won't be an everyday smoke (I'm spinning just slightly right now), but it will be a good postprandial choice.
I waited for this stuff to dry out completely before I packed it. This blend was definitely topped with something which was sweet and tangy that reminded me of Altadis. The cut also reminds me of Altadis or C&D. This is certainly an American tobacco. Upon lighting, I picked up on the smoky latakia first, although the leaf isn’t really playing a forward part in the blend. There’s a peppery spice here somewhere which has me inclined to identify a perique content (or perhaps cigar leaf). I was really feeling this in the back of my throat. To my taste, this element is driving the blend. Towards the middle of the bowl I seem to detect some orientals; nothing sweet, perhaps Turkish or Macedonian. I’m picking up some kind of nicotine here which has me thinking this blend contains some burley. Reexamining the tobacco, I want to say that I see some, but I do not taste it. Maybe I’m imagining things. All-in-all, this is a fairly medium bodied smoke, with a light flavor, but the perique is just way too strong for me.
Conclusion: The blend? Cornell & Diehl's Bayou Night. Who got it right? Well, none of us. But come on, that would have been nearly impossible. As far as I'm concerned, I was closest, having identified both the strong perique content and the burley. But that's easy for me to say because I'm putting together this post. So there!