This past weekend was a good one for me, as my wife "kidnapped" me on Saturday. I wasn't sure what we were doing, or where we were going, but admittedly found it a little suspicious that she didn't care that my hair was a mess or that I was going outside simply dressed in blue jeans and a gray T-shirt, but there I sat in the passenger seat of her car on our way to try something new. Because my birthday was May 11th, and she had to work all day long, we only had a little time together that day, and this one was making up for that. The sun was shining and I didn't ask any questions; figuring we were on our way to a nice breakfast or, perhaps, clothing store to make me look a bit more respectable. Two hours later I realized where we were going (her friends had suggested she blindfold me, but that's a bit intimidating in a car for such a long time). We crossed over the bridge and entered beautiful, historic, Charleston, South Carolina. After we parked the car, she couldn't hold her secret in any longer; we were going to spend two days in Charleston doing whatever I wanted; which meant a lot of good food and historical museums. As we waited for our reservation at HUSK, a fine establishment of Southern food and brainchild of celebrated chef Sean Brock, I sipped a 1780-recipe for punch (tea, lemon, whiskey or rum and a huge chunk of ice) while sitting on the front porch. This is what front porch relaxing is all about in the South.
Two days were spent exploring new restaurants and indulging in whatever sounded good. After dinner on Saturday, we went to a nice tobacco shop, which was different years ago, but now focuses on mainly wines, cigars, and only - sadly- a few pipes and tobacco selections. She really wanted to pack my pipe and tobacco, but thought I would get too suspicious, and I was hoping to buy an older tin of Virginia Flake and possibly a corn cob. When I asked the owner if he had any Virginia Flake tobacco, he said they did not, and really didn't even know what I was talking about. Choosing a nice Arturo Fuente maduro cigar, he clipped it for me and lit it (I had kindly asked if I could light it myself, and was a bit surprised when he firmly and dismissively said "NO"). He toasted the foot with a torch lighter, which is what I do anyway, and then practically stuck the cigar in my mouth asking me to puff as he blasted the foot with the torch (something which I prefer not to do is to puff on super-heated gases) because a Mr. So-and-So showed him how to light a cigar this way. Thankfully the cigar I chose could handle the excessive heat, and my wife and I retired to the chairs outside on the sidewalk; me relaxing with my cigar and she with a glass of wine. So many places in cities don't allow smoking, but it appears some sort of permit was grandfathered in at this place, so I was allowed to puff relaxingly as we people-watched. It was surprising how many folks passed by remarking how wonderful the cigars smelled. Next time I will be sure to take a pipe, though.
The weekend reminded me a lot of the time I visited Will Purdy and his wife Georgia in 2008. They are the kindest of people you could ever hope to meet, and we spent much of my visit eating oysters, drinking local brews, and taking in the splendor of the Rocky Mountains. We'd even had elk for dinner one evening in a mountain-top restaurant. After so many years of knowing Will and his pipes, we're thrilled to finally be able to offer his work for sale. Will Purdy pipes are unique, lovely, designed from his own mind, and - if you believe that a pipe carries with it some of that creative spirit and magic (I do) - will bring you quiet peace and relaxation. We've also a splendid selection of pipes from Lasse Skovgaard, Radice, Castello, and others going up this evening, as well as new tobaccos from Daughters & Ryan. For you cigar fans out there, we also have new smokes from St. Luis Rey. The weather is turning pleasantly warm, so we hope you can relax with a "punch" of your choice and take in some quality relaxation time.
Earlier this morning I heard Adam Davidson leading our marketing bullpen in a chorus of "Schoooool's out for Summer... Schoooool's out forevaaah!" Well, he was trying to, at least. I guess this marks the unofficial start of Summer, which here in Myrtle Beach means Bike Week, beach days, and the associated influx of tourists. More generally, in the Northern hemisphere at least, this means plenty of BBQ's and parties with an outdoor component, which of course also means plenty of time for social pipe and cigar smoking.
I was at a party just this last weekend, and a Star Wars-themed one at that. Unfortunately I neglected to bring a pipe, but pipe tobacco did come up in conversation (surprisingly quite organically with no prompting from yours truly). A buddy, dressed as Boba Fett in a business suit, mentioned that he had no interest in pipe smoking, but if he could he would "fill his whole house pipe tobacco just for the smell." This statement immediately took me back to the first time I walked into our Low Country Pipe and Cigar B&M, and how immediately transfixed I was by the fragrance of the place, and how since then I've often had the same sentiment as my friend, the sharply-dressed bounty hunter from a galaxy far, far away.
This has got me thinking, as I'm sitting here staring at my Red Velvet Cake-scented air freshener (no need to turn in my man-card; I bought it because I thought it would better blend with the smell of old smoke than other more fruity offerings, because it is black, and because I like cake)... Why has no one bottled pipe-smoke up and tried to market it? This is a fairly common sentiment among non-pipe smokers. In the realm of often musky or woodsy scents marketed towards men, I'd find the generic smell of aromatic pipe tobacco, as loosely defined as we all know this to be, much preferable. One of the more enterprising among you readers should take this idea and run with it.
This past weekend was Adam's birthday. Some of you may be wondering, "What do you give a man who can make his own pipes?" The answer is: You let him feed. That may not make much sense if you don't know Adam, and perfect sense if you do. Adam loves hosting, preparing meals for others, and getting people to try new things. And so that was, pretty much, what a bunch of us let him have free reign to do this weekend - yes, both Saturday and Sunday. If what Adam enjoys most is indulging his guests, that was precisely what we were going to indulge him in. Bear in mind, we aren't talking a plate of hors' d'oeuvres and some white wine here. I was with Adam on Thursday when he picked up the main courses: two steaks measuring about four inches thick and a foot across, and half a pig -- plus its head, which the butcher kindly tossed in for free. Literally. His exact words, in a New York accent I'd thought they'd stop issuing generations ago, as he lobbed it onto the pile of animal protein already filling up much of Adam's trunk: "And here's your kisser!" It's hard to find service like that these days.
Along with massive grilled steaks and even more massive amounts of grilled pork, there was of course also some great cheeses and IPAs, and he gave several of us our first chance to try beef-marrow and parsley on crisp toasted bread, which may be one of the most fantastic foodstuffs ever devised by man. In essence, it's as if some wonderfully mad alchemist distilled an excellent steak down to a concentrated, butter-textured essence. Along the way he also taught me how a sprig of parsley served with steak isn't just there for decoration: eating a little piece between bites cleanses the palette, keeping well-prepared beef's flavor as prominent and savory as the very first taste. It's a useful tip that I figure is worth passing on, especially if any of you happen to find yourselves, in the near future, facing such massively generous proportions as we did over the past two days.
And of course, given that this was a Smokingpipes family shindig, pretty much every minute we didn't spend eating, we spent sitting out on Adam's back patio, enjoying our pipes, good conversation, and fine weather. Hopefully you'll all get plenty of opportunities to do much the same this summer.
We'll do what we can to help make that possible, of course, in the way of offering plenty of the necessary materiel: pipes, tobacco, pipes, pipe accessories, and more pipes, of course. And so with that, we come to the meat of today's update. This Monday we roll out, appropriately first and foremost, new pipes from Adam Davidson himself, joined by briars from fellow American artisan Bruce Weaver as well. Following up you'll find loads and loads of other offerings, including fresh Dunhills, Petersons, Savinelli, Stanwells, Tsuges, Chacoms, Vauens, and Lucianos, plus of course plenty of estates. For cigar guys, we're introducing both several different sizes of Quesada's "Tributo", and QueAmerica's latest Oscuro. Finally, if you'd like a bit of summer reading, there's a new edition of Rick Newcombe's Still Searching for Pipe Dreams, which now includes two bonus chapters.
And so we're back. With boxes. Twenty-five boxes, to be exact. All of them filled with pipes, tablecloths, pipes, buttons, t-shirts, pipe stands, more pipes, tins of tobacco, notepads, pens, lamps, power cords, pipe bags, and tons and tons of pipes. It all needs to be unpacked. Soon. For now, however, I'm up here writing this intro. Because it needs to get written. Unraveling the aftermath of the great Chicago show can wait a spell -- serving our customers cannot.
Of course, I'm smoking my pipe as I write. A lovely aromatic from our friends at Mac Baren, in a Rhodesian design by a Russian fellow you may have heard of: Vladimir Grechukhin. As is true with so many things, time spent at a keyboard is best done with warm briar, under fragrant plumes of smoldering tobacco leaf. After a week of heavy smoking in a tiny hotel room, usually in the company of anywhere between three-to-fifteen other fellow pipe smokers, I made a promise to myself on the flight out of Chicago that I'd "take a break" from smoke for a few days. Just to reintroduce my lungs to some fresh air. Foolish? Absolutely. It didn't take.
Which is a good thing, because I'm just in time for our Dunhill tobacco special. From now until the end of the month we're pleased to announce that we're offering 10% off Early Morning Pipe and My Mixture 965 in loose leaf. You can find these timeless favorites under the Bulk Tobacco section of the site. Just like many of you, I'll be taking this opportunity and stocking up.
Coinciding with that, in today's update you'll also find new pipes from Kent Rasmussen and Werner Mummert, alongside fresh works from Ardor, Mastro de Paja, Savinelli, Neerup, Nording, and, last but not least, Peterson. And you can add to that seventy-eight estate pipes too, rounding out this afternoon's selection. Tons of briar, tons of fun -- and more on the way soon, with all that we picked up in Chicago! In concluding, now I suppose I'm off to help unpack!
I would love to say that I was prepared to take on whatever could be thrown my way, but that would be a drastic overstatement. You see, I’m a bit new to the business of tobacco pipes. I’ve enjoyed a pipe for over 3 years, but that only amounts to about half of a percent of the pipe retail world. When I said I was new to the business, I didn’t mean a few months on the job or even weeks. In fact, at the time we left for Chicago I could count the number of full days worked at Smokingpipes.com on one hand. At the end of my first week, I was whisked away to the Chicagoland Pipe Show for a week of total immersion in everything pipes and tobacco. It wasn't just sales and such going on, but the meeting and befriending of some of the finest pipe makers on earth, while trying not to look like a twit. I've had little exposure to people of celebrity status in my life. Sure, I've read about noteworthy people, but almost never come face to face with them. So imagine my reaction when Adam Davidson is now a coworker, and I've just ran into Benni and Lasse, Lars and Nanna, Tokutomi, Eltang, Armentrout, Lobnik, and so many more. Luckily, the great many pipe makers I talked with were most personable. They were accepting, and willing to answer the most basic of questions, ones they’ve been asked countless times. Interestingly enough, our conversations would frequently stray from pipes and arrive at subjects like photography, music and vinyl records, or the day to day of our home lives. If a week spent with pipe makers taught me anything, it taught me that this is not an industry of competing production, but a family of very talented craftsman and artists who are proud to have common ground.
As exciting as all of this was, there was the other side of the coin: the logistics of presenting Smokingpipes.com in the flesh. Moments before our departure, I was up to my neck in some of finest pipes I’ve seen, assisting in their safe transportation. Then was the task of creating a visual display that represents Smokingpipes in the same way you'd expect from viewing the website. No pressure, right?
When I came to Smokingpipes.com, I imagined I would use some of the skills I acquired as a Firefighter/EMT such as logistics, inventory control, and communications skills. I didn’t realize, though, that I would also make use of skills like working while sleep and food deprived, working under intense pressure, and organizing chaos. Fortunately, we had a dedicated group of people traveling, backed by some top notch folks at the home base, and a world-class shipping department, so as a team we overcame the obstacles and pulled off a great show. I enjoyed meeting those of you who came to visit us, and I'm looking forward to meeting many more pipe enthusiasts, carvers, and collectors. My door and inbox are open to those seeking answers or conversation, and my thanks go out to those who have welcomed me so warmly into this community. I'm happy to be the new Pipe Manager, I'm happy for the freedom to make this unique position my own, and I'm happy to be considered part of the Smokingpipes.com family.
The Chicago Pipe Show was held this past weekend, but it's much more than a two-day event for nearly everyone who attends. Pipe makers work until the last minute, not necessarily to try to finish all of their wares at the same time (though it happens to many), but more of them (guilty) in trying to finish just one more, often applying the final polish only hours before our flights. Retailers also always have a lot to do in preparation for the show, both in the office and on-location, and Sykes was the first to arrive in Chicago last Monday, later followed by many others on Tuesday or Wednesday. It's a great time to meet up with collectors, friends, and other carvers we may only see once a year.
The CPCC did a fantastic job organizing the show (as always!) and we want to express our deepest appreciation to all of the members for their annual hard work! If you've never attended the Chicago show before, we encourage you to try to attend next year. Many of the carvers we showcase on our site were in attendance and you can be sure we've purchased plenty of beautiful pipes for future updates, so stay tuned in the coming weeks. As I am writing this, some of the crew is currently arriving back at the office looking as though they attended a party that lasted four days (which, in part, is true).
Today you can find a wonderful assortment of briars from Maigurs Knets, J&J, Rinaldo, Castello, Radice, and dozens of other pipes from various popular brands, and remember we're running a 40% discount on all new Ser Jacopo pipes through the month of May. Even though a good chunk of our team was out of town for most of last week, the staff that stayed behind wanted to make sure there wasn't a dull moment in preparation for your enjoyment of this update. Enjoy!
It's that time again; the Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show now is upon us. For the uninitiated, this is the pipe event of the year. Nowhere else and at no other time is there such a large gathering of pipe smokers, makers, distributors, retailers, tobacconists... pretty much anyone with any relation to our great hobby.
Of course, Smokingpipes.com is in attendance. How could we not be? We're in room 1401 should you be around, and we'll have a few tables set up on the floor once the show opens Saturday. Make sure to stop by and say hello; really it's always great fun for us to chat with our customers. Plus we've got pipes -- lots of 'em! We're also posting updates and photos to our Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter feeds should you not be able to make it and want to see what all the fuss is about.
Unfortunately not all of us are able to attend. We've our own bi-weekly show to run. In fact, we have a pretty spectacular promotion beginning today: From the time that you receive this very newsletter through the end of the month all Ser Jacopo pipes are 40% off. Did we wait 'til upper management had left town to sneak this one in? I'll plead the fifth.
Many a time one or another of us here at Smokingpipes has started off a newsletter speaking of just how busy we've been during the preceding days. Sure enough, I could properly double-down on that theme this Monday, as between the Castello event (special offer still ongoing, for the record -- though tomorrow's your last chance at it), preparations for the Chicago show, unexpected visitors, and various projects, and so forth, we have, indeed, been very, very busy. And yet, blessedly, there have been a few opportunities to relax, as well.
This past Wednesday, for example, Brandon generously agreed to help me out with doing a little work on my old Lincoln. The plan was simple: We'd head over to his place after work, knock out the old, worn-out pins and bushings from my driver's side door, install new ones, and then I could return here to finish up my work on a project for his department. Fifteen minutes, tops, we figured. As luck would have it, however, either Ford spent the 1980s installing hinge pins made out of an alloy of truly phenomenal resilience, or just as likely, those on my car became magically fused in place at some point during the past twenty-plus years. Either way, fifteen minutes turned into three hours -- but an enjoyable three hours, I must say, as we variously hammered, chiseled, and filed in vain. Yes, in the end we counted ourselves lucky just to get the door back on straight on the first attempt, old pin and worn bushings still in place, but along the way there was plenty of camaraderie to be had. And since by that time it was too late to go back to the office anyway, we settled instead for sitting in his garage, smoking and shooting the breeze -- though not before enjoying a good home-cooked meal, courtesy of his wife. (She happens to be the sort of woman who will make guests eat, and, as fortune would have it, also the kind of cook whose offerings will make those same guests enjoy being made to eat.)
The next day, that of our Castello event, saw everyone from Sykes, to our IT department, to the guys in our brick & mortar abuzz with related activity. Those of us in marketing had by and large tied up everything we'd needed done on that project, but that of course meant immediately turning around to catch up on other work (such as that I had planned on having finished off the evening before, until Brandon and I had our chance meeting with the aforementioned, amazingly tenacious hinge pin). Once again, however, when all the effort and toil was complete, we found ourselves able to appreciate the onset of a bit of calm all the more sweetly. All loose ends in their place, I clocked out and headed up to the shop, spending the rest of the evening in the company of Sykes, Marco, Ted, Brandon, Bill, Dave, Vinnie, and all the customers both old and new who came in, relaxing, conversing, enjoying a bit of good food, and , of course, plenty of good smoke as well.
I recall a certain song from my teenage years, from which the key theme and verse was, pretty simply, "joy of labor set you free". Indeed it does, and these past couple weeks, I've seen plenty of very motivated labor indeed, something which of course comes only from people who are very motivated about what they're doing. But it also makes those times when the labor is done feel that much better as well; relaxation is always at its best when one has done all they can to earn it.
Fortunately, today as we all arose and began making our ways towards the office and the final preparations for this update, South Carolina's typically bright, sapphire skies decided to hammer down with a double-dose of rainfall. In other words, perfect pipe-smoking weather. This, naturally, is just what I'll be getting down to as soon as I've signed off on this newsletter. (No doubt many of you will have already beaten me to it -- to that, I say, good for you.) And after that? Well, there is this Thursday's update next on the calendar -- and it's certainly not going to get itself done.
And now that I've rambled sufficiently for one day, let's see what we can offer you today. This Monday brings us excellent artisanal briars by both Michael Parks and Gregor Lobnik, joined by English classics from the esteemed Dunhill. Following up comes a broad selection indeed, covering pipes by Peterson, Savinelli, Johs, Chacom, Stanwell, Tsuge, and Vauen -- plus three-dozen freshly restored estate pipes. Then on top of that, there are three new bulk tobacco offerings by C&D, sticks from Perdomo and San Cristobal, and a whole pile of Zippos to introduce, most notably those designed just for lighting up a good pipe.
The pretense was that what I’d be doing would involve work. But the truth is I went to Morganton, NC to play with pipe tobacco. I work in tobacciana (obviously), and so, technically, it would at least be work-related play.
See, I’ve visited Cornell & Diehl a couple of times now. Ordinarily I get to hang around the factory for two or three hours. Although one can see every part of the factory there is to see in about forty-five minutes, what goes on there is sufficiently complex that a few hours will only provide a very cursory understanding of what the folks at C&D do. My previous visits were enough to test the water only, so to speak. I was looking to get waist deep.
“What do you want to do while you’re here?” Chris asked over coffee shortly after my 9AM arrival.
“I want to work.” My delivery was as stern and ambitious as I could make it, like I was applying for a job.
“Good, because that’s all I ready had planned for you.” He followed up with his signature laugh.
Ten minutes later and I’m under Ted’s wing. Ted is 76 years old, but a spirited individual who doesn’t look a day over 60. Largely, he spends his time at C&D blending tobacco to fill orders, and the demand for C&D’s blends certainly keeps him busy. All the guys work from a small, tattered card catalog filled with handwritten tobacco recipes in a strange code of argot and numbers. For the most part, they’ve got all this committed to memory. For a newbie like me, there was no sense to it. Everything had to be explained to me through every step of the process. Like I was a baby. And to these expert old hands, I guess that’s pretty much what I was when it came to blending tobacco from scratch.
So it was that I spent the next five or six hours blending, saucing, bagging, tinning, and labeling tobacco for orders under their guidance. The Cornell & Diehl plant is like one humungous crafts project scaled into a formidable and efficient operation. I was warned that at the end of my shift I’d want to stuff all the clothes I was wearing into a bag and quarantine it from the rest of my laundry. And they were right. Even my hair smelled like Latakia.
Just as I was getting the hang of things (in my opinion, at least) my time was up. Although I did leave Morganton with a far better understanding than ever before of what the fine folks at Cornell & Diehl are up to each day, I figure I’ve still just barely scratched the surface. Looks like I’ll have to put together and polish a convincing argument or three as to why Sykes should let me go for a full week next year.
At Smokingpipes.com we always do our best to bring you the best pipes, cigars and tobaccos, but today, we are also bringing some extra-special pipe-related goodness.
This afternoon at Low Country Pipe and Cigar, our brick & mortar location, Smokingpipes is hosting a Castello pipe event. From 4:00 PM (EST) through 7:00, special guest Marco Parascenzo will be on hand from Castello. (Aside from his services to Castello, Marco also runs the widely renowned Novelli Pen & Pipe store in Rome.) The evening will be full of food, drink and conversation (about pipes, naturally).
Of course, not every one of our customers can make it here to sunny South Carolina for the event, and we don't want to leave anyone out. So, we are extending the event to the cyber-world via GotoMeeting.com and their virtual meeting software. All you need to do is go to GoToMeeting.com and download their free software. Instructions on installing the software and joining the meeting can be found at the top of our website -- just click on the "Castello Live Event" image at the top of our website after 4:00 o'clock and a snazzy pop-up window will offer you a step-by-step walkthrough. We're featuring an interview with Marco at 5:00, hosted by Sykes. You definitely won't want to miss that, and Phillip, one of our distinguished customer service reps, will be available for chat.
To help celebrate the event, we are also running a special with Castello pipes. With the purchase of any new Castello pipe, customers will also receive a Castello tobacco pouch, usually retailing at $70 value. That's not just one per order, mind you, but one free with each and every new Castello pipe. And that special is running right now, so you can beat the rush.