As I sit here, smoking my fine Peterson Churchwarden with its smooth Ebony finish and silver band, a question comes to mind: How the heck did we come to this, to an entire industry and culture of smoking dried leaves in a wooden bowl with a straw attached?
Sure, we know about the European explorers coming to the Americas and finding tobacco use amongst the natives, but I am talking about earlier than that. How did man first come up with the idea?
I imagine some poor schmo sent out to try a bunch of plants to see if they are edible. He comes across a tobacco plant, nibbles on a leaf, spits out the foul tasting weed and starts to move on. But then he notices something: a strange, yet pleasant feeling. (Remember, this is the first exposure for the entire human race. There are no genetic dispositions or any individual resistances to nicotine at all). He comes back to the bad tasting leaf, tries it again, chews and spits, getting a little kick.
Excited about the find, he picks a few specimens and makes his way back to the tribe. Hoping to impress all the other men with his find, he offers them some around the evening fire. However, unimpressed by the taste, they scorn him and toss the weeds in the flame. That might have been the end of it, but the unique scent of the burning leaves enchant the men, and perhaps the warm nicotine glow starts to make them feel unusually amicable. So the tribe starts using the leaves of the tobacco plant as a regular part of their evening fires.
As time goes by, the scent, and pleasant feelings produced by the smoke, draw them closer and closer to the fire, trying to attain more of this pleasing effect. But the fire is too hot to really enjoy cuddling up to. They try building smaller separate fires, but it is more trouble than anything else.
Finally, some smart guy carves a bowl, out of stone perhaps, and burns the weeds in that, being able to hold the bowl under his nose and inhale deeply. This is nice, but the smoke still stings their eyes, so another brilliant chap grabs some nearby reeds, trims it down and uses the hollow tube to suck in the smoke from the top of the bowl.
While some others take a shortcut, and begin rolling the first cigars, after all this, it is just one refinement and improvement after another until we're back to our briar stummels and vulcanite stems.
Of course, this is just a silly daydream, musings about the nature of our love of pipe smoking, and certainly should not be taken too seriously. Fact-checkers put away your red pens.
However, for our modern day tribesmen looking for a new bowl to inhale the pleasing effects of burning tobacco leaf, we have plenty of new pipes to choose from. There are pipes from Tokutomi Pipe Co. and Peter Matzhold, as well as updates from Mastro de Paja and Ardor. There are new lines from Savinelli and some new, or long lost, lines from Peterson as well. There are also updates from Johs, Brebbia and Neerup, and a whole slew of estates of various origins.
So, what do you use to light your pipe? Are you a Zippo type of person, with the oh-so-famous click? Do you like to live hot and dangerously with the torch lighter? Maybe just a simple Bic lighter is enough for you, or you like to do with the fancy Old Boy. On the other hand, you might like the classic appeal of plain matches. Did I cover just about everything? Yes?
Wrong. I have an alternative to all of these to recommend for you, but you have to keep your mind open. Okay, toss out all of your preconceptions about lighters and matches and what you think is best. Did you do that for me? Okay.
Most people tend to agree that a lower internal temperature in the tobacco chamber yields a more flavorful, more enjoyable, and (naturally) cooler smoke. There are two main ways of achieving this lower temperature: puff slower and don't over-light your tobacco. Many people tend to avoid the torch lighter because they have a higher temperature, which transfers more heat to the tobacco and thus to the smoke.
A Bic lighter, for example, burns around 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Butane torches frequently reach up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Propane lighters tend to get between 2,000 and 3,000 degrees. Matches, on the other hand, are composed of an ignition agent, such as sulfur or phosphorus, and wood. Once the ignition agent burns away, which typically disappears after two seconds or so, a match burns at about 1100 to 1500 degrees. While that is still ridiculously hot, that different of between 500 and 2,000 degrees can make a lot of difference on the temperature of the smoke.
There is another option that burns at an even lower temperature, is very affordable, and avoids most of the toxic chemicals associated with lighters or matches. That option is hemp wicks.
I first heard of this when I saw Dustin using it at the 2012 Chicago Pipe Show. I'll admit, it's strange looking to use. But since hemp is not a gas and is a less-dense material than wood, it burns at a lower temperature than both matches and wood. I did some searching, but could not find the exact temperature, though some rough guesses placed it well less than 1,000 degrees, closer to 500, actually. I cannot confirm that and will happily change my numbers if any of you find more exact information.
Every little degree can make a difference. From personal experience using hemp wicks to light my pipes, I can tell the difference. Well, at least I think I can. Sure, it's possible that it is entirely a placebo effect. However, we know that a cooler smoke often yields a better smoke, so I will happily use a different means of lighting my pipe to increase the ease of achieving that cool smoke.
So, go on, Try something new. I hear it's catching on...
Tuesday isn't particularly important for the Smokingpipes team. It's a graceful point in the week after the stress of Monday's update melts, and before the stress of Thursday arises. It's the hour of orange glow between night and day. It's a moment for us to slow down and recollect ourselves. For some, this could be turning the music up a little, or shooting rubber bands at one another. For many, it is an opportunity to pull out some nice tobacco and have a long smoke. Whatever your Tuesday therapy may be, there is something else to add to that routine, starting today: YouTues! (YouTube Tuesday) Today we bring you a video tour of Lasse Skovgaard's workshop, and a conversation between Sykes and Lasse about his first experiences with making pipes. There is more to this interview, which will be making its way to YouTues soon, along with many others from Eltang, Heding, and our recent visit with Michael Parks. We will post most of them here, but don't forget to follow our channel to stay up to date. So, without further delay, Happy Tuesday, and Happy YouTues!
Newsletter Introduction for Monday, March 25, 2013
-Posted by eric-
It's been a particularly eventful (and busy) weekend for several of us here at Smokingpipes. Adam Davidson, you see, has spent the last several days entertaining and collaborating with Canadian pipemaker Michael Parks, swapping ideas about technique and approach while working on some pipes destined for our website. And along with that, cooking, eating, enjoying lots of fine coffee and tea, as well as many a bowl of great pipe tobacco. I know this because I was graciously welcomed there in Adam's workshop for two days, soaking it all in for a future blog piece. John also joined us Sunday, to make sure we had plenty of photos of the two artisans at work. It was a learning experience for all involved, pipemakers included -- which is just as it was intended. Adam and Michael each learned about each other, as well as the ins and outs each other's practices and experiences in crafting artisanal briars, John and I learned from both, with loads of live demonstrations, and Michael learned more about us. And by "us", I mean Adam, John, and I as individuals, and the collective "us" of Smokingpipes and how we all operate together. In fact, he's here right now. Michael just finished going over some of the pipes he brought in this morning with John, and the two have vanished off into our photography room so that Michael can see some of what comes next.
But you'll be hearing plenty more about this special visit soon enough. For today, we have an update that needs rolling out. So, without further ado, here it is:
Newsletter Introduction for Thursday, March 21, 2013
-Posted by ted-
As we grow as pipe smokers our tastes change. I should say mine have, at least. Whereas once upon a time I cherished those full-bodied, handsomely dark latakia mixtures, for the last year I've settled into sweet Virginia blends almost exclusively. And I don't see myself going back anytime soon. This is just my trajectory, mind you. It's a unique journey for us all.
The sad part is this: my cellar is full of many, many pipe tobacco tins the contents of which no longer interest me like they did when I acquired them in such quantity. I suppose that one day my tastes are likely to evolve, or at least my fancy to wander, all over again, and that one day I might just decide crack open that tin of Mac Baren's Vanilla Cream Flake after all, but I find it unlikely. In the meantime, I've got a whole lot of tobacco just sitting there. I guess that's the point of a cellar anyhow -- if, when you do finally return to once-favored blends, they'll at least have had a chance to properly age.
The bright side is that as I steer away from old favorites in place of the unknown and potentially new flavors, I get to reinvent my tobacco cellar; build it up from the ground anew, as it were. That's one of the most fun aspects of our little hobby methinks. It's quite multifaceted. Besides, acquiring more tobacco never gets old. If nothing else, like a filled-out wine rack, a jam-packed cornucopia of tobacco tins produces a satisfying aesthetic. It's always good for inspiring curiosity in (smoke-friendly) visitors as well.
There was a small gathering at my home yesterday in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, which was something I'd been planning for a while. Whenever the opportunity arises to host some friends, and force-feed them like an Italian grandmother, I have a lot of fun. It all started when I purchased a ten-pound salmon on Friday, cut it in fillets and other pieces, cured it with salt and brown sugar over night, and slow-smoked it over hickory at a very low temperature for about nine hours. On top of this, two corned beef brisket tips and a dry-rubbed pork butt got the first kiss of smoke early Sunday morning for a long, slow, smoky experience. Eric pulled up to the curb a little after noon, so I gave him a tour of the place and workshop. Ted and his wife arrived soon afterwards, followed by Brandon's family. The idea for the day was casual relaxation in the warm sun, some leisurely snacking, and anticipation for the meats later. A blob of dough was rising in a bowl while a gallon of milk was slowly forming into curds on the stove. Guinnesses were poured, as well as red wine for the ladies, and everyone was hanging out in the garage (workshop) puffing their briars, taking sips, and engaging in various conversations. As things finished in the kitchen (mozzarella pulled into taut strings, rolled with olive oil, salt, and pepper came up first), everyone seemed to be enjoying the beautiful day. The salmon (especially the almost bacon-like belly) over sticky rice with sugar snap peas were handed out in little bowls, followed (hours later), by thin slices of smoky, succulent, pastrami-like corned beef and eventually crusty French bread warm from the oven with avocado oil and sea salt. Taking various breaks to sip my own Guinness and smoke a pipe with the fellas, I noticed my hands were developing a rather impressive pink 'smoke ring' from fiddling with grill and hickory chunks all day.
We all shared tobaccos -young and bright or wonderfully aged. Eventually, hours later, the others had to part, though, and it was just Eric, my wife, and I telling stories ranging from the discomfort of school busses (which my wife never experienced in Russia, as she always walked to school) to the ideal life we would live if money was no option. All well and good, but the pork was still not done. Eric didn't seem to mind, as he was sampling some 1997 Taylor Fladgate port, while on my part I opened the bottle of delicious red wine he'd brought. It's fun being a host for friends, especially when there is good fellowship and food. At 2:00 a.m., after 17 hours smoking on the grill, and two hours after even Eric (known for sleeping little) had to leave, the pork butt was finally finished and stored in the fridge. The day had been sunny and warm, it was definitely one packed with flavorful smoking and friendship.
Today we've got a number of impressive offerings for your smoking pleasure, including thirty-six estates and new offerings from Sergey Senatorov, Dunhill, P.S. Studio, and other brands. For cigar fans we're putting up Trinidad Paradox Robusto and Toro cigars, as well as a new Smoker's glass candle. Enjoy!
Newsletter Introduction for Thursday, March 14, 2013
-Posted by eric-
"Try new things," we are often told. And it's not bad advice. How else are we supposed to learn what we like, and what we can do without, after all? I've tried stress-fractures and sprained ankles, for example, and I can assure you that ever since I've been much more careful about doing without them. On a more pleasing note, I've also recently tried two things I have indeed found much to my liking: the Camacho Triple-Maduro, and 1792 flake. Somehow, I suspect that the ability to appreciate both of these is often overlapping.
For some time now I've favored maduros and strong Nicaraguan-leaf puros, both for their flavor, and the latter for their strength as well. While the Camacho Triple-Maduro is composed entirely of Honduran leaf, what it lacks in Nicaraguan-ness it more than makes up for in maduro-ness; filler, binder, and wrapper alike are dark, aged, fermented, and, in short, packing a whole lot of experience into a single stick.
Then there's the 1792: To some, famous. To others, infamous. I can understand either opinion. It isn't a blend for the faint of heart, or, as some might propose, any heart not rated to run off of diesel fuel. The flavor may be well-suited to anyone who appreciates those darker smokes, but as many of us already know, it isn't this blend's effect on the taste buds that so strongly divides those who've tried it between "love it" and "drive a stake through its heart and bury it far outside of town". It's a powerhouse. Even with my Nicaraguan puro habit, I have to be careful with this stuff. Paced right, however, a modest-sized bowl can keep your thoughts, and all the rest of the contents of your cranium, swimming like a dream (a febrile dream, perhaps, but a dream nonetheless) for a good, long, relaxing spell.
My point, in short, is try new things. You never know what you may enjoy, regardless of what others' impressions of it may be. Granted, you also never know what might result in you passing out on the couch, and yet waking up underneath it, possibly in an unfamiliar forest, but I ask you, are such adventures not what a full and rich life is made of?
Since our 2013 poster not only accompanied the most recent issue of Pipes and Tobacco Magazine, but was also promoted on our social media, and was announced in our newsletter, hopefully most of you have seen it by now. If not, the images can be seen HERE. But this isn't about the official images. This is about the folders full of various unofficial, behind-the-scenes photos that I believe should be seen too.
The first side of the poster features a step-by-step guide to making origami pipes (disclaimer to the more impressionable: please do not try smoking these). Since it was originally Ted's idea, he oversaw the process. It seemed like the entire marketing department was folding tiny papers into letters and figures for hours, but eventually they all came together. Katie (who made many of the tiny pipes and things) was asked to take the poster photo, and if you ask me she did a great job. Although the photos of this process don't lend themselves to blooper-type humor as those from the other side of the poster did, it was still a lot of fun.
The other half of the poster went through more of a journey, and I had the pleasure of taking the photos as we worked on it. Brandon's idea evolved from old-timey boxing photos to Monty Python-like taunting, from solidly black and white, to playing with slight color and saturation.
It spawned team-building exercises like rubbing hot pipe-ash on one another because "we need to look period-correct dirty," and, in one case, actual sparring that Brandon took way too seriously. What ensued made us realize that John, normally the most laid-back and cheerful person in the marketing department, is probably not to be messed with. And of course, we learned that it's hard to make a pipe (and yourself) look good while fighting and making menacing faces.
Hopefully we'll have time to put more of the blooper shots up in a Facebook album soon, but until then, you don't need fisticuffs and mustache wax to have fun smoking your pipe. Enjoy.
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. I think I have had a rather good run, but all good things must come to an end. I have come across a tobacco I don't like. This happens to every pipe smoker eventually, and I am sure that it probably happens sooner than later.
Since I've only been smoking a pipe for about half a year, I've had a chance to sample a large variety of tobaccos (at least in my opinion). Working here at Smokingpipes.com, surrounded by a variety of more experienced smokers, I get offers to try this blend or that flake. Overall, they've been positive experiences. I've favored some tobaccos more than others, but never tried one I didn't like.
I finally hit one, however. This one - and I am not going to name names because everyone has different preferences, and that's not the point here - actually made me sick to my stomach. The thought of it even turned me off my pipe for a while. In an attempt to be fair, I went back and tried it again, to make sure it wasn't a bad lunch that tainted my first try. While the effect was not as dramatic, it still was unpleasant.
The good thing about pipe smoking is that there are hundreds of different tobaccos. Sure, there are hundreds of cigarette brands, but beyond menthol and regular, the flavors don't vary much.
There are many variations and flavors with pipe tobacco, and blending can really fine tune the pipe-smoking experience. One bad experience is just a little bump in the journey.
Of course, here at Smokingpipes.com, we have a vast selection of tobaccos for you to choose from, in both bulk and tins. Why premiereing today in this very update is the highly-anticipated People's Choice Winner from the 2012 John Cotton Throwdown, manufactured by Leo. We're also adding three new bulk blends to the site from Lane.
When March rolls around, I think it's safe to say that everyone is ready for a change in the weather. Winter can be beautiful if a light blanket of snow covers the ground, and we actually had a thin layer a couple weeks ago (!), which isn't bad, considering I've only seen it happen two times in seven years. Our friends in the Midwest, my parents in Indiana, and even folks in Texas were being blasted with snow recently; proving, again, that Punxsutawney Phil (the official Groundhog Day groundhog) is not to be trusted.
March in most places is one of the the gloomiest months around. Mother Nature promises cold weather around the holidays in most areas of the country, but the way she's been playing with the temperature and humidity controls as of late has me thinking that she's been hitting the cider too regularly. Typically, this month shifts from cold temperatures one day, warm and sunny skies the next, only to slap us in the face with a cold and wet storm. Because summer and winter are the extreme temperature changes, fall and spring - being transitional - have been the favorite seasons for most people. Most guys here in the office smoke their pipes outside of work, but even the rather mild climate has made hanging out in the garage only slightly better than spending the slightly-above-freezing mornings and crisp evenings outside. Before you know it, though, a few weeks will fly by and we can all puff our chosen vessels in the comfort and beauty of nature.
Anyhoo, on to today's update. After a few months of waiting, we're thrilled to have six new Grechukhin pipes in stock! His pipes are innovative in form, finish, and overall design; truly one of the best artisan pipe carvers in the world. From Japan, five Tsuge Ikebana pipes are offered; and you can find a bevy of briars from Cavicchi, Ashton, L'Anatra, Randy Wiley, and Poul Winslow, while Nording, Savinelli, Peterson, and Brigham showcase affordable luxuries. For the estate fans out there, check out the selection for deals on smoked and unsmoked pieces!
To that end, we've got an exciting promotion going on until the end of this month (March 31st): All Dunhill bulk tobaccos are 10% off! Unlike some other promotions we've had, where the discounts show up in your shopping cart, the prices were reduced by 10% as soon as our big red "Update" button was pushed. Enjoy!
The walls seemed to be made of industrial tarps, and the roof appeared to be tin. The space itself was filled with wooden support posts and rustic round tables. It was as if I were sitting in a pub fabricated from an old carport that had been transplanted to the heart of the city. Three feet away, beyond the tarp wall, a cold mist was falling. I struck a match and took a few puffs, pulling the cool smoke into my mouth and savoring the moment. It had been a while since I last enjoyed a good bowl. I had recently made the journey to Nashville from South Carolina, land of tobacco and sunshine, in order to visit a few pipe carvers (Grant Batson, Bruce Weaver, and Pete Prevost). I sat, listening to Pete go through pint recommendations for the evening. We had what Pete called the “Nashville Experience,” which was a trip to a honkytonk and a PBR. Needless to say, it was fun. As the evening progressed, we mapped out the next day, which was to be filled with plenty of pipe enjoyment. Bruce was planning on working out of Pete’s shop that day, due to the construction of his new home and shop.
As I pulled into the drive, I was greeted by the sound of air compressed sandblasting. This is when it occurred to me that I was going to have the opportunity to witness Bruce perform his famous sandblast technique. It should be noted that witnessing certain sandblasting processes is much like witnessing a unicorn having tea with a mermaid… It’s a rare delight (So rare in fact, that it wasn’t captured on film for risk of destroying its soul. Just kidding of course, but seriously). Anyhow, I spent a good portion of my day simply soaking it in. Pete was to my left and Bruce to my right. Pete was working on a few new pipes, one of which was a volcano that I’m particularly fond of, and Bruce decided to take a break from his blasting to shape a blowfish.
Both carvers seemed to work in complete complement of one another, as if they were working on the same project. In a few painless moments, Bruce shaped his blowfish and handed it to me with a quick, “Take a look at that grain.” I slid down in my chair and admired both the grain and Bruce's ability to see it in a piece of raw briar. I could have stayed in that shop the entire day, but Grant Batson was expecting me soon, so I needed to be on my way.
“My house is the one with the pile of bikes in the drive. Just come through the garage.” simple and understandable directions. As one becomes familiar with pipe carvers, one quickly realizes many of their shops are based out of their home. This makes visiting them even more of an honor, because one is welcomed as family or a friend, and that’s exactly what the Batson family did for me.
I followed the instructions and soon found myself greeted by a bearded fellow. He was clinching his pipe between his teeth, with a leather apron strapped across his front, finishing up one of his Tormented Blowfish (Here’s a bit of a side note, but if you’ve yet to see these, you should soon remedy that). Grant and I chatted as if we’d known each other years ago and bumped into one another by sheer happenstance. It was as if we were simply catching up on life. He showed me some of the pipes he’s getting together for Chicago, we shared thoughts on tobacco, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
Grant’s priority in life is certainly his family. This was apparent and refreshing. Periodically, one or more of his children poked their head through the shop door to talk to him, or to ask for help with their geometry homework. It wasn’t long before Jill, his wife and a fantastic hostess, offered us some delicious cobbler and cream.
I placed the spoon in the empty bowl, lifted my pipe and lit it. Surveying the room slowly, I found myself in a moment I would not soon forget. To my left sat Grant in an arm chair, minus the arms, and directly in front of me were Jill and the kids sitting on the couch. The conversation was as rich as the cobbler. Worries seemed to melt away, and so did the evening. I was reluctant to call our evening to an end, but found it necessary considering my early flight.
As the Batson family walked me outside, I found myself wanting to make my way back to Nashville with my family soon, in order for them to meet our new friends, strangers only hours ago. Ah, the power of the pipe.
A few months back John and I were moseying through the office discussing the lack of wall art in the marketing department (I'm sure the lack of wall art comes as a surprise to all of you. You probably think we have pipes hanging from assorted fixtures and paintings of various pipe related scenes hanging on the walls. However, this simply hasn't been the case due to a few new building transitions and so on. Anyhow...). It was at this point we had an interesting idea. What if we created a 1920's-esque boxing poster? One like you would expect to see in the streets of New York, or better yet, what if you could've taken a snapshot of two gentlemen settling a dispute over a crooked game of cards with a bare-knuckle boxing match in some abandoned warehouse off of some darkened alleyway somewhere.
Well, that's exactly what we did, only we didn't simply put it on our wall, we put it in Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine as the official Smokingpipes.com poster for 2013. Now if you're not a fan of burley pipe smokers duking it out, then you should certainly check out the other side as it features some creative origami. Either way, I hope you're satisfied. And if you're thinking, "Hey, I might want such poster." then you're in luck; it's now available here at Smokingpipes.com too.
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