While one might think that the life of a tobacconist is one of simple problems, every great once in a while one is posed a true conundrum. Specifically, what happens when you have but a handful of tins of a new blend that you know you could sell 1,000 of in three days?
That is exactly the problem posed to us by a shipment of a truly tiny quantity of Balkan Sobranie. Yes, you read that correctly, Balkan Sobranie. Now being made by J. F. Germain (and imported by Arango), it is available once again. Or, at least, available in theory because so little has made it to the market that it is, for all intents and purposes, not available.
Determining a fair and reasonable way to distribute it as widely as possible proved elusive. Visions of hordes of angry pipe smokers descending on Little River, SC to torture and kill us in new and interesting ways proved unappealing. I've managed to go thirty-something years without hanging by the foot from a rope above a pit of hungry alligators; I'm not particularly intent on ending that track record.
We also figured that just smoking it ourselves was, while tempting, probably not the best course of action here.
We are simply going to limit purchases to one per customer until we run out. Given that we expect that to take only a few minutes.
So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to invite you to purchase a tin of Balkan Sobranie. Good luck!
Yesterday was Inventory Day here at Smokingpipes.com, that special part of the season wherein half the office staff (including Sykes himself) celebrates by hand-counting every single one of our thousands of pipes, both here in the "pipe library" as well as those downstairs in the display cases of Low Country Pipe and Cigar. This is, sufficed to say, an extra-late work day for all involved... which, fortunately, neither Adam nor myself are not, beyond our office space becoming temporary host to these festivities. All through the day, he and I were accompanied along in our usual duties by the metronome-like call-and-response of Sykes and Ted as they saw to The Great Pipe Count.
A few hours into it, Sykes noted that this year's counting had, however unintentionally, resulted in the convergence of all of the second-floor staff's pipe smokers into a single room. Looking up from my work I noticed that this was indeed the case, and, as you might very well expect, the room's atmosphere had taken on a good and proper fogginess - the timeless and traditional sign of a room thoroughly occupied by men. This accomplishment was greatly aided by the fact that all three of the others, Sykes, Ted, and Adam, were smoking McClelleand's Wilderness, a Latakia mixture each of them have taken a particular liking to lately. Serving both to provide plentiful smoke, and to keep any and all female co-workers from having any desire whatsoever to enter the now quite aromatic pipe library, it was perfectly suited to the task of maintaining the inadvertent boys' club ambience we had achieved. In the end, it was a win-win situation; the entire day passed without either Pam or Susan coming in to surprise me with last-minute additions to the next update, while in return I, for once, went an entire day without walking down the hall to deliberately provoke them on their own turf, content as I was to remain as I was. What we had created was, in a sense, a fog of peace.
And should you wish to try creating your own, we'll be more than happy to help you along with today's update. In that spirit we present to you: Brebbias, Neerups, Nordings, Savinellis, Petersons, and Stanwells; beautiful artisnal pieces from Ardor and Ser Jacopo; and a variety of exquisite designs by Tokutomi, Heding, and Heeschen. Then there is, of course, the full seventy-two count selection of estates for your perusal. Finally, we just received a batch of Hearth & Home's "Black House" blend, winner of the 2011 Balkan Sobranie Throwdown.
With only a handful of days left to show for September, it would seem that the holiday season is in fact just around the corner. I’m already spotting Halloween costumes and jumbo bags of candy for sale at the most reputable of all-purpose retailers, which can only mean that this particular evening of spooky festivities will be upon us before I’m completely prepared. Then comes Thanksgiving. Then Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Festivus. Every year this snowball of celebrations gathers trampling momentum in the same speedy way, and every year I’m caught off-guard, surprised at how quickly the last 365 days have come to pass. Maybe I’m just dull-witted in this capacity. Then again, maybe it's just because of the way the "holiday season" seems to keep expanding with compound interest, making for an earlier starting date with every passing year.
Nevertheless, we are certainly thinking about the holidays around here. Along with putting everything together for our annual Peterson pipe tobacco giveaway, we’re already discussing this year’s Smokingpipes.com “Pipe of the Year”. Plus, Adam has begun burning his seasonal Yankee Candle. For the next few months our office building will smell like a mix of pipe tobacco smoke and a confectioner’s kitchen. No complaints here.
But the best part of this upcoming time of the year are all the grand excuses I can seem to whip up in order to justify the purchase of more pipes, tobacco, and pipe-related-accessories. And considering all the cool new stuff we continue to add to the site, I have fewer reasons not to break out the money clip each Monday and Thursday.
For instance, we’re introducing new pipe racks from the esteemed Two Cousins tonight. Yeah, I’ll certainly get one of those. The new John Aylesbury pipe tool? I’ll be needing one of those as well, please. We’re bringing back a handful of fresh estate pipes for our Monday updates (eighteen this evening, to be exact). I’ll be sure to browse through that selection, I’m sure. And finally, I might just have to pick a few pieces out of the ten brands of pipe makers we’re featuring here tonight: Chacom, PS Studio, Radice, Castello, Dunhill, Vauen, Savinelli, Peterson, and Sebastien Beo. We’re putting up 189 pipes tonight, folks; I’m sure that the arrival of the holiday season is as good a reason as any to buy a pipe. Or maybe I’m just dull-witted in this capacity as well.
I didn't smoke a pipe previous to living in South Carolina, which I think is rather understandable when you take into account the cities which defined the areas in which I had lived, and in which free time was likely to be spent. In New Jersey, that was of course New York, which is a crowded, bustling place, and something so leisurely and involved as keeping a briar going does not combine well with dodging or plowing your way amongst the masses, who go themselves about either looking at their feet or pretending not to see you.
As for when I lived in Ohio? Forget it - I lived near Youngstown. In my time there I saw things stolen I wouldn't have imagined anyone even considering worth stealing. I can imagine a nice pipe being swiped, ergo; it surely would have been, inevitably. Even the expired license plates off of a car I left there were stolen - something I only discovered when I received a parking fine for the stolen car they found their way onto. Why not steal valid plates? Why not steal my car? Why not-steal anything, instead? Why grasp for rational explanations when dealing with what are obviously willfully foolish people?
Ah, but the South, now this is a different matter altogether. With Charleston to the south, and Wilmington to the north, beautiful historical districts are readily at hand. While the former is more up-scale and gentrified, and the latter more relaxed and even somewhat bohemian, both are gorgeous. Both contain a great wealth of beautiful architecture, from long before the time so many designers and planners decided obliterating Western culture from publicly visible spaces was the wave of the future. Both are full of polite people who walk slowly, and who acknowledge the presence of other human beings as something other than obstacles, and the contents of a stranger's pockets as a private affair, and not a grab-bag of mystery prizes free for the taking. Furthermore, let it certainly not be said that they lack any sense of humor. Southern cities are, quite simply, the perfect places for a stroll, and a stroll is the perfect time for a pipe.
Now that I've rambled sufficiently enough to constitute an update intro, what else, but to carry on with the update itself? Today we have for you: most excellent offerings from Vladimir Grechukhin, Tom Eltang, Tsuge, and Paolo Becker; artisanal beauties from L'Anatra, Randy Wiley, Poul Winslow, Kevin Arthur, and the maestro Claudio Cavicchi, as well as English classics by Ashton and charming Italian numbers from Ascorti; a veritable cornucopia of Savinellis, Petersons, and Stanwells; and lastly, seventy-two estate pipes cleaned, inspected, and ready for new homes.
We've been making pipe and tobacco related videos for over a year now. There are a handful that particularly stick out for me, either because of occasions they commemorated or the quality of the interviewee or some particularly good editing work (by Ted or Alyson; my editing work is abysmal). I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my favorites. I have a ton that I really like, but in the interest of not going terribly overboard, I'll keep it to just four. Enjoy!
The first one is the interview with Trohls Mikkelsen, factory manager at Orlik, talking about tobacco varietals. His explanation of these things sheds considerable light on the subject. And getting it from such a knowledgable source is particularly special.
I love this set of two videos for a whole host of reasons. Jeff and Adam are excellent interview subjects, the editing by Ted is great, and the sentiment Tokutomi shares is just lovely.
Here's the video from our visit to the Peterson factory in February. I think this short, music-only vid is just a ton of fun.
For the most part, I'm a Virginia or Virginia/Perique smoker these days and have been for about ten years. When first taking up the briar in college, trips to the local B&M usually took place on a Saturday where there the nice lady, Betsy, would greet me with a smile as I walked in. After glancing at the dozen-or-so tins on their counter, I always headed straight to the jars of bulk tobacco where I would commence removing the lid of each one at a time with a twist of the wrist and inhale its aroma down to my toes. Betsy didn't smoke a pipe but she knew what sold. Her most popular blend was "River Crisp", which was a blend of aromatics designed by a local customer. When someone could smoke something flecked with brown and black that smelled like the classic pipe tobacco we all think about, why change it up?
After going through a lot of these tobaccos and scorching my tongue on anything that had a label resembling pie ingredients, I decided it was time to explore. Being the self-proclaimed foodie that I am, exploring new textures, aromas, and tastes is what drives me. Looking again at Betsy’s flock of tins, I picked up Dunhill Standard Medium and took it home. Breaking the seal with a coin and folding back the paper insert to prepare for the initial waft of aroma left me a bit puzzled. Loading a pipe on the front of my fraternity house and taking a few puffs made my eyes bug out (a look similar to someone taking a swig of beer from a bottle that has been used as an ashtray). This was my first dance with Latakia. I took the tin back and she gave it to someone else. Apparently I wasn't ready for such flavors yet. During the same visit, I purchased a tin of McClelland Dark Star and from then on I knew what I wanted to smoke: Virginias; especially dark ones.
Fast-forward a decade and you will find me an employee here at Smokingpipes for almost six years. I've sold many tins of English tobaccos and memorized what makes them good (by other consumers’ descriptions) but never felt the desire to try them. Part of this is because I primarily smoke only three pipes at work, and they are all dedicated Viriginia pipes. I didn't want to foul one up with a ghost. Ted has been trying to get me to try some of his favorite English blends for a year now and recently I acquired a Dunhill 3109 estate that had a small crack on the shank that we couldn't sell. To his delight, I walked into his office and said it was time for me to explore Latakia. Ted's reaction was a bit like someone saying "OK, Adam. Let me try those marrow bones you just roasted. I also want to try all of those curries, scrapple, Russian fish things, and lye-cured Duck eggs from the Asian market." These are things that I love that make people look at me funny.
Ted brought in a tin of Wilderness he had at home. Only about a bowl and a half was left. It was quite an experience; lighting the bowl with a match, watching blue smoke dance with an orange flicker while filling my palate with the subtle flavors of this exotic blend. Smokey? Yes. Sweet? Oddly, yes (but not cloying). Spices like cloves and cinnamon at times? YES! After going downstairs to purchase ten tins of this wonderful tobacco and writing Fred Hanna (the designer of this blend for McClelland), I wondered what took me so long. This tobacco is wonderful and I would encourage all of you to try something different every once in a while. With so many tobaccos on the market, I'm freshly excited about the huge amount I never before gave a chance.
For your consideration today, you will find Dunhill, Caminetto, Luciano, Posella, Johs, Brigham, Savinelli, Peterson, and Vauen. We are also introducing Vallejuelo cigars and Vauen Filters for smokers of 9-millimeter pipes.
I confess it. I have fallen totally in love with Mac Baren Navy Flake. It's weird, though. I've smoked it here and there for years; if a friend offered a bowl when I'd run out of tobacco, or when I was offered tobacco at the Mac Baren factory, or even just because there happened to be an open tin around the office, but I'd never embraced it with any particular alacrity. The change in my approach was first set in motion when I was in Denmark a few weeks ago, and while visiting the Mac Baren factory, asked Per Jensen for something to smoke. Earlier, as I was first getting out of the car to head inside and see him in his office, I had realized that the only tobacco I had on me was a famous blend from a famous competitor, and had decided it would be really poor form to whip that out while there. He offered me a couple of options from sealed tins he had handy and I took the Navy Flake. At the time, I just thought of it as a solid, safe choice, something I knew I kind of liked, but not something that excited me unduly.
Fast forward to the end of the trip. A few days after I got home, I polished off that tin. And then bought another 100g tin of it. A couple of weeks later, that tin is almost gone. I've smoked almost nothing else at the office. I've smoked other things at home (including some really special much-aged tobacco), but I've found myself wishing I'd brought home a tin of Navy Flake. No other tobacco lately has been hitting the spot. The combination of the almost grassy start and the rounded, well-bodied richness, with just a hint of sweetness, has just been perfect lately.
So, where am I going with this, except to extol the manifold virtues of this most lovely of flakes? Taste in tobacco is just weird. I've smoked this blend here and there for years, but without any great excitement, and then, suddenly, it seems like the best thing in the world to me. I've always thought that it was good-- everything Mac Baren does is high quality and consistently well executed-- but it had just never grabbed me before. But lately it has grabbed me and now it just won't let go. Nothing else has really changed with me. I don't have a cold. No food tastes any different. And I think we can be fairly certain I'm not pregnant.
And while it's great stuff, I'm not necessarily saying that this is some sort of Grail tobacco. My point is simply that there's a certain mystery to why we like certain tobaccos and it behooves us to explore and try different things. That process is also fun; it's a central part of what this hobby is all about.
And in today's update you'll find bunches and bunches of great pipes to choose from, all of which are ready for whatever blend it is you choose to smoke. You'll find more great pipes from Peter Heeschen, along with awesome entries from American pipe maker Rolando Negoita. Joining them, you'll find Ser Jacopos, Ardors, Brebbias, Petersons and much, much more. Enjoy!
One of the things I love most about the '85 Ford Ranger pickup I bought a few months ago is its front license plate cover. It illustrates in full (albeit somewhat washed out) color depiction a noble lone wolf atop a desert hill howling at a magnificently brilliant full moon. Cheesy? Maybe. Okay, certainly. But then again it never even occurred to me to remove it from the low-hanging front bumper, either. As far as I’m concerned it lends to the overall appearance of the vehicle a sense of the mystical that it would lack entirely otherwise. Apparently my neighbors agree.
That’s why Hilda, a middle-aged woman who lives down the way from our place, gave me a dream-catcher yesterday. She said she could just picture me in the truck smoking on my pipe when she purchased the novel thing (complete with feathers, turquoise beads and wind chimes) from a second-hand store a few days beforehand. She told me it would be “perfect” to hang from the Ranger’s rear-view mirror. She confessed that I look “so distinguished!” when I pull into the drive way each evening led by a lonesome, howling wolf, and a pipe hanging from my jaw.
I felt somewhat obliged to install on the spot my new dream-catcher over the truck’s mirror. Hilda stood by and watched with barely-bottled excitement and a carefully pursed smile. It looks really tacky and brings the Ranger to a new height of post-modern self-awareness, but I kind of dig it. I’m not sure if it’s actually going to capture any dreams or day visions, but it will at least bring some magical companionship to the solitary wolf on my bumper. And I believe my pipe adds sufficient enough dignity to my appearance as I roll around in my truck, so as that I can afford to humor a bit of others' whimsy from time to time. So, no complaints from this guy.
Speaking of magic, we’ve got a pretty enchanting update coming up this evening. New works from Radice and Castello freshen up the site, along with pipes from the likes of Vauen, Savinelli, Peterson and Sebastien Beo. You will also find two new lighters from IM Corona designed by Matt Booth, and, as a last-minute addition, two fresh, sweet aromatic blends from Peterson.
Ted Swearingen: Sales Manager
[Editor's note: We would be remiss not to note that the truck also pairs well with the various beards Ted tends to grow throughout the course of a year.]
Having eschewed our regular Spring Cleaning this year on account of the miserable heat and humidity, my wife has recently decided that we will be dusting walls, mopping floors, waxing ceilings, scrubbing bushes, bleaching furniture, and boiling the bathroom this weekend. What a bummer for me. Not surprisingly, I like to spend my weekends smoking my pipes, reading while pipe smoking, watching a little TV (as long as I’m smoking a pipe), organizing my tobacco cellar and cataloging my tins of tobacco (maybe while enjoying a little sample or two to help me along), and cleaning my pipes between smokes. I’m typically pretty easy going in my pursuits. But not this weekend.
And so, in preparation of this great scrub down and complete time-suck, my wife has begun taking stock of “all the things that need to go” as she so delicately puts it. So far it’s been useless junk that I don’t care about. I haven’t been paying attention, honestly.
Until this morning when I found taped to my pipe sanctuary (which is a bookshelf filled with pipes, tobacco and related accessories) a note that reads:
“Consider whittling down your pipe collection some.”
Brothers, I hear your collective moan and feel your common cry. However, fear not. I have a plan.
I’m selling some of my pipes off to Smokingpipes.com. It’s really the only solution available to me. I know she’d like me to “gift” some of these to my friends, family ("or Goodwill with the rest of your junk," she says) or something as charitable, but I’m too crafty for all that poppycock. Like any customer, if I sell my pipes to Smokingpipes.com I’ll get 55% in trade value towards the purchase of new pipes, estate pipes, pipe tobacco, cigars, and accessories (like a new pipe rack or maybe a pipe-shaped catnip toy for Caswell). This is what we call WIN-WIN, people. Pipes disappear today for the benefit of my little homemaker, I’ll accumulate store credit tomorrow, and in no time (gradually, so as not to draw suspicion) I’ll send new briar back to the rank of my pipe sanctuary. So smart.
In the meantime, like you, I will be perusing tonight’s selection of fine new pipes and estates alike. We’re offering a choice medley of works by Savinelli, Ascorti, Posella, and L’Anatra, as well as Stanwell, Winslow, Peterson and Ashton. And as if that weren’t enough we’re also featuring new pipes by Hiroyuki Tokutomi, Benni Jorgensen, Peter Heeschen, Claudio Cavicchi and Randy Wiley in addition to a whole smattering of estates from around the world. All told that’s 198 pieces tonight, folks. Be like me and have some fun.
I go to Denmark on business once a year. That's what I'm there for; at least that's what I tell people in the office. I try to make it sound as onerous, exhausting and generally miserable as possible. I make it abundantly clear that it is only through tremendous personal sacrifice that I bring all of these great pipes home.
I mean, we can't have them thinking that their fearless leader (well, fearless except of the extremely large mosquitos that inhabit my backyard; those things scare the crapola out of me) is off galavanting across a beautiful country, looking at some of the world's best pipes, eating extremely well, hanging out with old friends, smoking great tobacco, and generally having a blast, can we?
While I was there, I spent a night at Peter Heeschen's house. I've done this every year for six years now. We were sitting in his workshop and he showed me a really pretty sandblasted (but as of yet unfinished) pipe. And then he showed me the hole in the bottom of the shank that opened up when he sandblasted it. Since it was obviously unsellable, he joked about it being really expensive firewood and the conversation meandered on. A few minutes later, I asked him if I could have it since he was just going to pitch it. I started smoking it. It's smoked very well (through either the stem or the bottom of the shank) until moisture started dripping out of the hole onto my shirt. Peter decided to add a screw (the general household variety) to plug the hole, so we did that and it worked rather well. Thereafter, I decided to finish the stem (it just needed some more sanding and polishing) and we stained it a hideous yellow color, much in keeping with the rest of it. It's sort of like rescuing a three-legged cat at the shelter; it ain't pretty, but it's all the more precious because I'm now the proud owner of a truly unique (though not in a good way) pipe.
I've been back a little over a week now, settling into my old routine. Pipes from the trip will start arriving soon. I can't wait to see them. For the most part, I've just seen the ones I picked out half-finished. They're a lot prettier when they're stained and have stems. And Heeschens much better than my new one will be here soon, so keep an eye out on the site for those.
In today's update, you'll find the second round of pipes for our big Dunhill Estate Sale. The first round was an amazing success; I hope there's something here that grabs your attention too! You'll also find new pipes from Dunhill, great deals on some Caminettos, plus pipes from Johs, Brigham, Savinelli, Vauen and Peterson. Enjoy!
Apparently, and according to various Danish pipe makers, Denmark has had its wettest summer since Cnut the Great, then prince of Denmark, invaded and conquered England in 1016, only to be sorely disappointed that the weather was no better there.
While I missed the flooding of Copenhagen, though I was regaled with stories, pictures and, yes, YouTube videos thereof, it did rain almost constantly during my trip, with one afternoon's exception at Lars' house, where, as far as my experience goes, the weather is always perfect. I've been to Denmark at least once a year for six years now to visit pipe makers. Summer in Denmark can be a truly magical experience. And sometimes one completely understands why the Vikings of yore opted to go conquer countries with better weather. I'd have made a bee-line for Sicily too.
I'm still puzzled as to how a nation of grizzled Vikings became such world leaders in design, but I won't argue with it: I'd rather hang out with them, have some pickled herring and black bread, and look at pipes than have my village pillaged and burned. More seriously, I'm a big fan of Danish design in all its incarnations. To say that I love Danish pipes would be redundant at this point. I've spent my entire adult life as an evangelist for the world's best pipes and, especially, the Danish style artisanal pipe. But I also love the same approach to design applied elsewhere. I bought my wife some beautiful modernist candlestick holders while I was there. I'm not normally the kind of guy who gets excited about candlestick holders. In fact, as a single man, I didn't have any. Or any candles to put them in. But, as objects unto themselves, these were beautiful, polished stainless candlestick holders. Now that I'm writing it, it sounds really silly. I'll just go back to the half-truth that they were really just for my wife and what she would have wanted.
Every year, going to Denmark to visit all the pipe makers is a special experience and this year was no different. Spending time with the greats of Danish pipe making is a truly remarkable affair. It's also a great time for me to be able to hang out with my friends from that small, sometimes rather rainy, but beautiful country that sits between the Baltic and the North Sea.
Today's update is very nice. From Denmark, you'll find pipes from Lasse, Neerup and Stanwell. A host of beautiful Italians comprise most of the balance, including pipes from Becker, Ardor and others. Estates abound too, of course. It's a big update at almost 200 pipes; go check it out!
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