Our tastes change - it's a fact. When I was little, I didn't like macaroni and cheese. As I grew older, I both came to like the concept of "pasta plus cheese", but also eventually found myself hating the boxed stuff with its powder packet, that I thought fine for a period, in favor for the stuff with a squeeze packet. Now as an adult, I loathe both of these and instead choose to make my own using a cream sauce thickened with a roux and comprising of cheddar, gouda, and often crusted with Parmesan breadcrumbs and baked to a golden, crispy crust. The stuff is heavenly, I think, but every once in a while I will be in the grocery store near the boxed varieties and feel a momentary temptation. This is probably rooted in nostalgia, and though experience has found that it tastes good for the first bite or so, distaste quickly sets in once again. For most of us, pipe tobacco goes through similar cycles. We might initially not like anything, but find ourselves drawn to heavily-marketed brands with mystery components before discovering small-batch, artisanal blends comprising of many different varieties and processes that express individual notes within the blend. In this way, it's easy to see a connection between the enjoyment of food and the enjoyment of pipe tobacco.
I was down in our retail store recently chatting with a customer I had helped out with discovering new tobaccos six years ago, and who has been a regular ever since. The gentleman had smoked the same blend for decades, and only decided to try something different back in 2006 after seeing our wall stocked with a couple hundred pipe tobaccos in open jars ripe for the picking. Samuel Gawith Full Virginia Flake made him toss aside the aromatic blend he had stuck to since typewriters were in every office and disco music was in its prime. Shortly after enjoying his first experiences with this blend, he ventured into other Samuel Gawith offerings before trying McClelland 2015 (a Virginia/Perique). I was very happy he found a new world of tobaccos, but couldn't help but to see a saddened look on his face that he wasted so many years on just one blend that had happened to be commonly available. It’s silly, really, because he enjoyed that tobacco every day. One never knows what is out there unless they search. Over the years he's been faithful to blends from a handful of different companies ranging from a few light aromatics to full English offerings, and found himself often changing what he smoked most frequently. As we reminisced the other day, he was puffing away on a bowl of Peter Stokkebye’s Luxury Bullseye Flake, and remarked that he often cycles between different blends nowadays. I asked about his old tried-and-true favorite, and he remarked that at some point he just stopped possessing a taste for it anymore. He said every once in a while he’ll get a taste for his old companion, but it doesn't seem to last more than one bowl.
Because we've totally updated the photographs for our bulk tobacco offerings, and have something around 900 different tinned and bulk blends combined (closer to 1,400 if you want to count repetition bulk and tin size), there are likely dozens of hidden gems waiting for you to discover - perhaps for the second or third time! I've written before about buying multiple tins so you can try one now and let others age a while. Quite a few change in flavor in as little as six months, while some Virginias, like a good whisky, can take close to a decade to fully mature. One precaution would be to not sell or trade all of you Latakia blends just because you've switched to Virginias (or vice versa). Who knows when your taste will change again, and you'll have a little set aside to pick up where you left off. They change in regards to pipes too, as is evidenced by the estate pipe market. Tonight you can find new offerings from Peter Heeschen, Satou, Benni, Ashton, and other brands, as well as six-dozen estate pipes. Who knows? You might decide to browse over the tobacco selection and pick up a few old friends as well as some new ones just to see if your tastes have changed. You might re-discover a gem or two.
Adam Davidson: Quality Control & Pipe Inspector