Ted, Susan, Bill and I returned from Las Vegas this weekend, after eight days of whirlwind inspection, sampling and buying of much of what the pipe, tobacco and cigar world has to offer. An exhaustive narrative of the show would be both extremely long and pretty boring, so I wanted to hit some highlights:
The Dunhill Room: 8am, Sunday morning: This deserves highlight status every year, but this is such an amazing experience that it deserves particular comment every year. Thousands of pipes were laid out for us to select from. We picked out about 150 and wittled it down to 132 before adding a bunch more and wittling down again. It took four people two hours to select and inspect the pipes; fortunately, that early in the morning on a Sunday, no one else was really all that interested in picking pipes, so we more or less had the entire room to ourselves.
Monday Morning 10:30am to 1:00pm: I don't know exactly how many pipes we collectively selected in three and a half hours, but the rush was on. We pick pipes first thing when the show opens: the pipes cease to be available, but the pipe tobacco and cigars don't change between Monday and Thursday, so pipes are our priority at the start. I hit the Tsuge booth first and picked out a mess of great Ikebanas, thence to the Savinelli booth where I picked out some great Autographs and ordered a crazy number of awesome pipes at a great price. Susan went straight for Stanwells and Winslows. Ted picked out Ser Jacopos and then L'Anatras. Susan and I met at Ashton to pick out upper end Petersons (we can pick things like the Spigots and Supremes at the show). Then I did a bunch of things that will, for now, remain a secret. They'll be hitting the site before long, though! All in all, well, if I had to guess, I'd say we ordered somewhere north of 2,000 pipes in three and a half hours. That's about a pipe every four seconds. It also sounds like less when you consider that's only about 6 weeks supply of pipes for Smokingpipes.com...
The Ashton Dinner, seated next to Tom Palmer and Michael Walters: Tom Palmer is the owner of Peterson of Dublin, that great pipe making establishment that has been in business since the 1860s. Seeing Tom is always a tremendous pleasure. I think very highly of both him and the pipes that he produces and discussing the finer points of pipe manufacturing with Tom is always an education. Michael Walters is the National Sales Manager for Ashton Distributors, which is most famous for the Ashton cigar, but also imports Peterson pipes into the US. Michael's perspective is a little different from Tom's, but thoughtful and quick-witted as he is, it's always a pleasure spending time with him also.
Dinner with Brian Levine and Dan More of Brigham Pipes: The four of us had dinner with our wayward ex-General Manager and his new boss at the Paris Hotel and Casino on the strip. Dinner was excellent, but the conversation, ranging from manufacturing and marketing in the pipe world to the broader matter of the recent increase in new pipe smokers, was superb. This was the first time I met Dan More and I couldn't be more impressed with him and his operation. As the evening wore on, some of his folks met us for drinks and silly pipe marketing ideas and wildly stereotypical jokes about both Canadians and Americans abounded. Much fun was had by all. Perhaps most importantly, these guys think really deeply about how to reach younger pipe smokers and potential pipe smokers. That sort of thinking is surprisingly rare and it was really refreshing to hear.
And much, much more. There are some amazing new blends coming, but I don't want to spoil that particular fun when they arrive. It was a hugely successful show for us and we had an absolute blast at the same time.
It's been a whirlwind here in New Orleans over the past few days. Providing any sort of logical, or even chronological, order is beyond me at this point. So, in addition to eating our share of beignets and drinking coffee at Café du Monde, though really, Brian ate his share and nine other shares, and listening to Jazz in the Quarter, we've actually done some work. Or, whatever it is we actually do that we pretend is work to the folks back home so that they don't know what a raucously good time we're having while we're away. Seriously, the show has been lot of fun, but we've also covered tremendous ground, literally and figuratively. Here are some highlights from Monday through Wednesday, picking up where we left off after the last IPCPR post, where we'd just finished up picking out tons of particularly pretty Dunhills...
Oh, and also, we'll have a bunch of videos when we get home. Our cunning plan to edit and push videos from the road has hit a technical snag or six, so I think we're surrendering on that particular front until we can use real hardware and software back at the office. We do have some seriously fun stuff, including videos with Soren Lundh Aagaard, Managing Director of Stanwell, Rocky Patel, and many others...
Monday afternoon we picked out a few dozen Castellos at the Castello pre-show event. Usually, we'll pick out months worth of updates of pipes, but we were a little more restrained this year because we'd just bought a ton of awesome Castellos when we were in Italy in late June. Still, we added some great pieces, especially Sea Rocks and Old Antiquaris, which were a little thin on the ground when we were at the factory eight weeks ago. You'll have to wait to see what we have, but there were some sandblasts that had Brian and me swooning...and Susan and Alyson rolling their eyes a little bit at our enthusiasm (though, secretly, they're super-excited too; they just pretend they're not sometimes; simply witness Susan's intent pipe selecting to the right).
That night, we met Kevin Godbee from PipesMagazine.com for dinner at Susan Spicer's restaurant, Bayona. As I might have suggested previously, and while I don't want to turn this blog into a restaurant review page, I have a bit of weakness for the culinary arts. And Susan Spicer is an artist. The food was excellent and the company was even better. We spent a great five hours talking about the growth in pipe smoking among younger men that we've all been noticing and what we could do to help foster that and ease their entry into the hobby.
The first morning of the show is always a mad dash for us. No one needs to particularly hustle to cigar booths: it'll be the same cigars later that afternoon, but for pipes, it's imperative that we get to pick early. I hit Tsuge immediately, while Brian and Alyson went to Savinelli, and Susan went in search of Stanwells. After selecting a dozen Tsuges, I dashed over to pick out two dozen (or thereabouts, counting and speed picking tend not to go together) awesome Paolo Beckers. He's been experimenting with a new wood that has properties very similar to briar, but is lighter and blasts beautifully. We'll have more on that later, though. We all ended up back with the Stanwells, and picked out lots while we were there, including, we think, some pretty interesting stuff.
From there, the entire crew visited the Ashton booths to select Petersons. There are a few really nice new lines that will be available over the coming months, including the new version of the Kapet with a nickel band and a fantastic new Mark Twain shape. Plus, of course, the Peterson Pipe of the Year, of which we've already received the first few, pictured to the right. They also had a particularly good selection of Spigots that we could select from this year, plus we finalized an amazing deal for some very special Petersons that we'll be able to share with you in about two weeks, but for now, I'll have to keep mum-- I promise it'll be huge, though!
Tune back in tomorrow evening for more notes from the show...including our discussions with CAO about Dunhill tobaccos coming back to the US...
We have some cigar experts here. Brian's been kicking around the cigar business for years, Ron knows his stuff. As do Kelly and Adam. I've deferred to the cigar knowledge of others for some time. The cigar business changes too quickly for me to keep up. So, while I think I write and speak knowledgeably about pipes and pipe tobaccos, I always feel like I'm on shakier ground with cigars, lest someone guess that I really haven't much idea what I'm talking about when I'm talking cigars. So, upfront on the cigar thing, I don't know much of anything about cigars. In theory, I've been in the cigar business for eleven years in one capacity or another. In reality, I've spent 97.5% of that time thinking about pipes and pipe tobacco. For serious cigar insight, I suggest talking with someone else here. That warning in place, read on if you want a pipe guy's musings on cigars...
That said, I am an occasional cigar smoker. And since even occasional cigar smokers like to pontificate about what they like to smoke, I feel like I'm equally equipped to share some thoughts on this. I tend to go in fits and starts with cigars. The pipe is a near constant companion, but I might go a month without smoking a cigar and then smoke a half dozen in a week and then go another month without smoking one. Lately, I've found myself smoking milder maduros. Not necessarily really mild, but I've always liked maduros, but found many (think Camacho, for example) just a bit too much for both a) my tolerance for that kind of nicotine, and b) my rather unsophisticated cigar palate.
Two have jumped out at me lately. Carlos Torano's Virtuoso line, specifically the Baton. I also like the Encore when I haven't the time for the super-long lancero shape (and, seriously, the Baton is the first lancero that I've ever liked; I'm normally a robusto/toro kind of guy). Anyway, this maduro has a lot going for it: rich and earthy, but not overwhelming, almost creamy at times, and subtly spicy here and there. I tried my first Baton at the IPCPR show almost two years ago and have returned to it over and over since then. They're also fairly reasonable price-wise, making them a solid choice for me, a guy who flinches slightly at the prospect of a ten dollar cigar.
Pricier, but not eliciting too much of a flinch, is Ashton's Aged Maduro No. 20. Soft, creamy, gentle, complex: I simply love this cigar. I also have this distinct impression that I might be the only guy in the country who smokes Ashton Aged Maduros. I think some of my more sophisticated cigar smoking brethren might turn their noses up at a mild, gentle maduro, but I think this is one fine cigar-- one that it too often overlooked next to its more famous brethren like the VSG (which, yes, I also like, but that's sort of like saying that I like chocolate ice cream: does anyone not like Ashton VSGs?).
I'm still very much exploring my way through the humidor, taking recommendations from those guys here who know cigars better than I do. It's a fun process. With pipe tobacco, I pretty much know what I'm getting into; yes, I get excited about new blends, especially ones that I think I'll like, but that narrows the exploratory field for me. With cigars, I feel like an early colonial lost in the wilds of Virginia, treading a path entirely unfamiliar. With pipe tobacco, it's sort of like hanging out in a neighborhood I've known my whole life. It's a totally different experience for me, and not just because the flavors diverge so wildly.
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