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.
When I started pipe smoking, there was a lot I wasn't familiar with. I was just learning about pipes, and was admiring my brand new Savinelli Qandale Churchwarden when I realized that I had no idea what to put in it. Yeah, tobacco, I knew that much, but I didn't realize how many different kinds of pipeweed are out there. For a new pipesmoker, it was quite daunting. Between different aromatics, strengths, flakes, blends, and the use of terms like Burly, Latakia and Virginia, tobacco was a new world to explore.
Fortunately, sitting in the offices at Smokingpipes.com surrounds one with plenty of experts and aficionados. Next to me, Adam suggested McClelland Walnut Liqueur. Since this sounded like a good starting point, I headed up the store to get some. While there, I also bought some McClelland Creme Caramel.
I tried the Walnut first, followed by the Caramel a day or so later (I am by no means a heavy smoker, enjoying my pipe only once or twice a week). Both of these made for a fine introduction to pipe tobacco. Over time, I was offered bowls of this or that, and I can't say that I found any that I didn't enjoy. However, the real surprise came with the suggestion that I get some Gawith Hoggarth & Co. Bob's Chocolate Flake.
What really got me about it was how the smoke coated your tongue with a silky layer of chocolate. It was as if you had popped a piece of Hersey's into your mouth and just let it melt on your tongue. That was great, but even more surprising was how it reduced the lingering tobacco aftertaste, which I found very pleasant. So, I started to experiment, mixing in a little Bob's with my next Caramel bowl. Just as they go in the food world, Chocolate and Caramel seem to be made to go together in the tobacco world as well.
It was then that I threw in some of the Walnut Liquor, and I really began to enjoy the blend of the three tobaccos. It is currently my go-to bag when I desire a smoke, and have begun to call it my "Snickers" blend. Of course, it was all made with a bit of this and some of that, so I can't give you a recipe, but it is more Walnut Liquor and only a bit of Chocolate with a helping of Caramel in the middle. Bob's is very light but goes a long way in reducing the aftertaste. Adam has also suggested McClelland Just Plain Nut for a more accurate "Snickers" blend, should anyone be interested in experimenting further.
Of course, after a month or so of this mixture, I am starting to look around for new tobaccos to blend. So, off I go to the tobacco jars; the adventure continues.
Tobacco has always been about ritual and presentation for me. Well, mostly ritual, but I like to think that I struck an imposing figure when I would walk boldly into a bar, draped in my leather trench coat, and with a quick flick of the wrist brought my Zippo to life and let the flame light my features for an extra long moment before lighting a waiting Newport. (Yeah, I have a rather overpowering imagination steeped in noir.)
But it was the rituals that I really enjoyed. Waking up on a cold winter's morning, taking a hot cup of green tea and thick blanket out onto the porch to greet the sun with the first cigarette of the day. A similar ritual said good night, although it was usually included something stronger than tea. Of course, each ritual took several cigarettes to get through.
Of course, there were other less defined "rituals," Chain-smoking while driving, the after-dinner cigarette, the reward cigarette(s) for finishing up an article on deadline.
However, the problem with cigarettes is in time and numbers. Their length never really provides enough smoke and 20 in a pack seems to demand you smoke them all before they go stale.
During the times I had "quit," I had often wished that I could smoke one or so every once awhile but I knew this would lead me back to regular smoking. The option that often came to mind was a pipe.
However, pipe smoking wasn't much of a presence in my "culture" at the time; it was something wizards and detectives did. And as cool as that was, it never really solidified as a real option in my mind. I had no relatives that smoked pipes or any other experience. My only attempt at pipe smoking around this time was trying to smoke a crushed menthol in the bowl of a brass and steel tomahawk/peace pipe ordered out of a Museum Replicas catalog. The project turned into a effort requiring drilling out the hole some, using hot glue to seal the axe head/bowl to the wooden haft/stem. It was not a pleasing encounter.
It would be several years (six of those as an "ex-smoker"), nearly 700 miles exactly and a new job before I had my real chance to try smoking a pipe.
That pipe was a Savinelli Qandale Churchwarden with some McClelland Walnut Liqueur (I have since added a Tsuge bent Pot to my collection, for a bit more practical smoke while I work). And from the moment I started to prepare the tobacco and pack the bowl, I knew I was on the right track. This was the ritual I was looking for. And while it might seem strange to others, I smoke only about once or twice a week or so, enjoying the processes involved.
So, as I start off on this new adventure into the world of smoking, it seems a shame that I wasted so much time thinking about it instead of trying it (for real). And pipe smoking might not be for everyone, but if perhaps your interest has been piqued, leading you to our site and this blog, and have never before smoked a pipe, then I say give it a go. The variety of options and tastes available may be daunting, but it also means that there is probably a combination out there that will fit right into your personal rituals.
As if this holiday season couldn't get any better, what with all the exciting, fresh offerings we seem to have been able to release in the last few weeks, we're pleased to announce today the launch of a whole new line of pipe tobacco: 4th Generation. This new line, consisting right now of four blends, is the brainchild of Erik Stokkebye, and it celebrates, as the name implies, four generations worth of passion and toil in the world of luxury pipe tobacco, having begun in Denmark in 1882. Though Erik has been in the tobacco business his entire life, and while he played a role in helping his father Peter develop some of the world’s most popular (and tasty) pipe tobacco blends, 4th Generation represents the first four blends that he's created solely.
This is high quality tobacco, folks. And it promises to be beloved right out of the gate. So be sure and act now. I know I'm dying to get my hands on some! Who doesn't love new pipe tobacco?
Tomorrow morning I fly home to the States. Right now, I am rather happily ensconced in a smoking room at the Holiday Inn walking distance from Terminal 2 of the Cologne-Bonn Airport, which is where I need to be at 5am tomorrow morning. But this little missive isn't about airports or hotel rooms in Germany. It's about pipe tobacco. Or, at least, my very disappointing quest to purchase some this afternoon. The irony of it all, of course, is that I was just at the Dortmund Inter Tabac Fair. Indeed, this very morning, I chatted with folks from both Mac Baren and Samuel Gawith. And at about 2pm, I didn't have any pipe tobacco left.
I had brought most of a tin of lovely, aged GL Pease Haddo's Delight with me on the weeklong trip. I had thought that I also had a tin of Mac Baren Navy Flake with me, completely forgetting that it wasn't in my laptop bag because Alex Florov and I smoked the last of it last weekend on the way home from Morganton, NC, where we were (along with Alex's wife, Vera, and Susan Salinas from Smokingpipes.com) for Craig Tarler's funeral. Suffice it to say, that if I had been at home, that much Haddo's would probably have seen me through the five days I have actually been on the ground in Germany (apparently even I don't fly enough with Delta for them to let me smoke my pipe on the plane). But this trip was all about pipes and pipe tobacco and I have had a pipe in my mouth pretty much permanently since Wednesday morning when I arrived. I spent my first two days here with a dear friend and fellow pipe smoker who lives in Cologne. While neither of us are particular intemperate pipe smokers individually, you put us together for a couple of days and we can consume some pipe tobacco.
Then came the Dortmund show, and the smoking continued apace. Friday night, I had dinner with folks from Brigham pipes from Canada at a place that was supposed to allow smoking, but didn't. They were irritated and disappointed we couldn't smoke. My tongue was actually a tiny bit relieved.
Last night and the previous night, I stayed a few kilometers from the Dortmund show because I'd procrastinated in booking my hotel room and all the nearby hotels were sold out. This really wasn't such a big deal, though. I was rather enjoying the twenty minute drive to and from the show. It gave me a chance to collect my thoughts and smoke my pipe (don't tell Avis). This morning, I realized that I was rapidly nearing the end of my supply of Haddo's. The situation was dire; I had maybe two bowls left. But, not to worry, I was going somewhere with pipe tobacco; I'd have a ready supply at the show.
My first stop at the show this morning was to have a quick word with the folks from Mac Baren. While I was there, I loaded half a bowl from their sample jars, and proceeded to chat with them. Now, if I'd had the inclination to ask Per Jensen for enough Navy Flake to make it through the day, he, I am quite sure, would have happily obliged. I just don't want to be that guy. I just didn't want to ask Per, again, to solve my tobacco emergency for me (I admit it, this isn't the first time I've planned poorly in the pipe tobacco department while traveling).
But, I wasn't terribly worried. This is Germany after all, isn't it? Doesn't Germany consume more pipe tobacco than any other country? Per capita, it has something like five times as many pipe smokers as the United States. Surely, I'd find pipe tobacco at a gas station on the way to the airport. Since it's Sunday, and since Germany has laws prohibiting most retail on Sunday, a side trip into Cologne to go by Peter Heinrich's wonderful shop to buy some pipe tobacco wasn't in the cards.
I figured there was a decent chance I'd find some Mac Baren Navy Flake even or maybe some of the Virginia Ready Rubbed we can't get in the States. At the very least, I thought, I would find some Mac Baren Mixture or Virginia No. 1. I know epically vast quantities of Mixture are smoked in Germany and figured it'd be the corner store standard. And while there are a couple of Mac Baren blends I'd reach for before Mixture, Mixture is really good. I'd have been perfectly happy.
Alas, such was not the case. I stopped twice, perused the tobacco offerings and didn't see any pipe tobacco in either case. I was a little surprised and a bit miffed with the first stop, but figuring it was an aberration, a little hole of pipe tobacco sadness amidst the riches of such that one would expect of Germany, I stopped a second time. Again, no luck.
I got to the hotel and checked in and was pleased that they could give me a smoking room, until, of course, I realized I had nothing to smoke. I took it anyway, hoping at least that I had a bowl's worth of in the pipe tobacco crumbs at the bottom of my briefcase.
A little later, I took my rental car back to the airport and walked on back to the hotel. Within easy walking distance of the route was another gas station. I figured I'd take one more shot at it. I peruse the tobacco selections and again see nothing. I begin to despair. I tentatively ask (I speak almost no German) "pfeifentabak?" The woman behind the counter looks at me funny; I'm not sure if it's because my accent is so bad that she couldn't make out what I was saying or that being asked for pipe tobacco is just not something that she is accustomed to. But, she suddenly gets it and turns around. I expected her to point towards the selection of pipe tobacco that I had just failed to see. A small ray of hope was beginning to break through the clouds. My personal sound track began playing something rather inspirational, like the chorale from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. She turned back around and slapped a pouch of Exclusiv Royal on the counter. The rather celebratory music suddenly screeched to a halt like someone knocked the needle across the record.
At this point, I just sputtered. All pretense of German ended and I blurted out, in English, "Is that it? Is that all the pipe tobacco you have?" I was so disappointed. And the woman, who is perhaps the only person in Germany who does not speak English, looked at me perplexed and slightly offended. She eventually figured it out from my tone and general exasperation and rather exasperatedly pointed at the pipe tobacco section. Which had exactly one facing. I bought the pouch of Exclusiv Royal. What else could I do?
I pondered, extremely briefly, not buying it. I could make it through thirty-six hours without tobacco; no problem. But I had this smoking room at the hotel that was desperately needing to be smoked in. And I pictured myself with a very sad face sitting in the Atlanta airport smoking lounge tomorrow with nothing to smoke. Seriously, I really enjoy being the only guy I ever see who smokes a pipe in the Atlanta airport smoking lounges. So, I relented and plopped my 6.25 Euros on the counter. At least it was pretty cheap. Any other European country and the taxes would have made it 10 Euros.
I mean, I expect that sort of selection in the US. A gas station, if they have any pipe tobacco at all, has maybe a pouch of Captain Black and a pouch of Half & Half for sale. But this is Germany, Dammit! I held Germany in a sort of pipe tobacco esteem. My vision of this country involves rolling hills, buxom blond girls in traditional German outfits carrying large beers, and a good pipe tobacco selection on every corner. I've spent a lot of time in Germany over the years and realized that the first two images weren't really all that true, but I'd never tried to purchase pipe tobacco outside of Peter Heinrich's shop ever before. The last piece in my slightly irrational vision of German greatness was dashed.
But, I'm smoking the Exclusiv Royal as I write. It really could be a whole lot worse. I vaguely remember carrying it eight or so years ago, but I don't think I ever tried it at the time. It's lightly flavored straight virginias with sort of an odd square cut (it says 'granulated' on the pouch). It's smokable. But definitely not Mac Baren Mixture. Tuesday morning, when I'm back in the office, I'm buying a small stack of tins of Mac Baren Navy Flake and sticking them in my briefcase, my rolling carry-on luggage and the garment bag I usually check. We will not have a repeat of this little adventure.
When I first arrive in the morning, I'll most often walk down the hall to get a cup of coffee, load my personal pipe with some tobacco (Orlik Golden Sliced recently) and check my emails and a few other sites to see what the news is of the day (with regard to pipes and tobaccos). I was reading a pipe forum this morning and came across a thread about Burley tobaccos, and so decided to read some posts as to have a better understanding of what smokers around the world are discussing. Interest in Burleys seems to have lately increased among smoking circles that have previously focused mainly on Virginias or English blends - just look at the extreme popularity of the newest MacBaren Dark Fired offering. In this thread about Burley tobaccos however, it was Prince Albert, McClelland bulks, and Cornell & Diehl's Old Joe Krantz that were the main focus.
In the past few years, it seems like I was hearing this name a lot. The way people have compared it to other Burley offerings, it seems like it's not only a convenient staple in many cellars and carry-with pouches, but as good as or better than famous blends from yesteryear. With a moniker that sounds like a man that could play a slow, yet soulful and growling acoustic guitar along the likes of Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, the name certainly strikes a chord. I also knew a farmer growing up as a kid whose last name was Krintz. He looked like he could have been plucked right out of any year between 1860-1940 and we called the always-dusty Santa Clause doppelganger "Old Mr. Krintz". There certainly is something trustworthy in a name like that.
So...after reading yet another post about this tobacco that seemed to have so many fans, I finally decided to try a bowl. Admittedly, I rarely try new tobaccos. Perhaps only a few times a year do I drift away from my Orlik Golden Sliced or Samuel Gawith Full Virginia Flake, but I had the itch to see what Old Joe Krantz was all about. Picking up a Luciano pipe and heading down to the store, I located the jar next to all of the other Cornell & Diehl offerings. Burley, in general, is not the most exciting tobacco to look at. Eye-catching black and yellow ribbons that other blends have are traded for simple medium-brown leaf and nothing else. The tobacco is somewhat flaky and dry to the touch with irregular ribbons and chips of tobacco. But, noting a tantalizingly nutty and slightly sweet scent, I loaded up my pipe.
Don't let the rough look fool you: this is a tobacco that lights easily by the slightest touch of flame and tamps down with ease. The initial puffs lend something sweet and nutty. Not cloying by any means, but a flavor similar [to me] of a subtle chocolate-covered-peanut that wakes up the taste buds, accompanied by a smoke that wafts up to bring a bit of spice to the nostrils in a most pleasant way. There are also lingering, slightly sweet spice aftertastes (hot cinnamon and nutmeg) that make me realize why this is so popular. Old Joe Krantz is as easy burning and flavorful - yet contemplative and interesting - as any blues man worth his ribs would be. I'm glad I finally tried it.
As many of you likely know by now, Sykes and I were in Denmark a couple of weeks ago to visit pipe makers, look at pipes, buy pipes, and talk about the current state of pipedom. Because I fail at math, and because it was a pretty hectic trip, what with having missed another flight on top of the sheer number of people to see and things to do, when Sykes says we saw eleven pipe makers in five days, I believe him. It was a whirlwind. And it was awesome (in the not over-used, absolutely literal sense of the word).
Certainly one of the highlights of the trip was whisking away to tour the Mac Baren factory, as I've long been an ardent fan of many of their blends. Plus, factories are cool. Sykes and I sat down with CEO Simon Nielsen and Product Manager Per Georg Jensen and talked pipe tobacco (only a slight deviation from the normal conversation to be had on the trip), new pipe tobacco blends, and the current state of pipe tobaccodom. Then Per guided us through the warehouse and factory, paying attention especially to those things pertaining to Mac Baren's latest creation, HH Old Dark Fired. Thankfully, we had the presence of mind to bring a camera...
There are certain tobacco blends which, due to the importance of some difficult to acquire ingredient, the need for just the right leaf, or the key role of a particularly involved special process, are available only in limited batches - no matter how high they've been rated or how popular their approval. Fortunately, when such a blend does reappear, ready for the market, you can count on Smokingpipes to be one of the very first to make it available. Isn't that's why we issue these special, seat-of-the-pants, irregularly-scheduled updates, after all? Well, having said all that, there's only one more question to ask: Mac Baren's Old Dark Fired, anyone?
Selecting a new pipe is a different process for almost everyone, but there are a few categories that most people tend to fall into at one point or another, sometimes changing from day to day.
The Impulse Buyer – We all know this feeling, especially those of you who get email updates from Smokingpipes.com. A new pipe pops up on your screen and, for no rhyme or reason, you must have it. There might not even be anything in particular that you can describe as to why you must own this piece, but deep down inside, you know that you will have it.
The Impulse purchase is not a bad thing, though those of us who suffer from Pipe Acquisition Disorder (or P.A.D.) have often felt the tug when we have promised ourselves that we will not purchase anything else. “No more!” we say defiantly, usually after clicking the Confirm Purchase button on some pipe website. Without fail, however, there will soon be some other temptation that breaks our vow of pipe-celibacy far sooner than we intended.
Those few of us who remain strong will surely fall into another category.
The Collector – This individual has limited himself to a certain scope of the pipe world, though how large a range that is varies wildly. Sometimes it is one artisan in particular, or one geographical area, or even a particular shape, or possibly a particular shape from a particular artisan, maybe even from only one year!
Regardless of what the limitation, this individual passes up the impulse purchases, at least more often than not, but cannot resist when a prime example of his specified interest finds its way to the For Sale section.
I tend to try to limit myself to the Collector area, but I am weak. My weakness means that I have many different collections going on at once. For example, I collect bamboo blowfish pipes, the Rubens Rhodesian shape from G. L. Pease, di Piazza, and Radice, and all Russian pipes. With so many areas of interest, some much larger than others, it is easy for me to justify an addition purchase to myself.
The Novelty Aficionado – This particular pipester is interested in unusual shapes and concepts. If a shape that has never existed before suddenly spawns into existence or a well-established pipe maker tries something that he has never attempted before, this individual will be at the front of the line. Also in this group are those who assemble pipes in collections, such as Pipes of the Year, Christmas pipes, and so on.
This method of collecting is similar to purchasing first edition books. There is something appealing about owning one of the earliest models of anything: cars, comic books, pipes, etc. While a more unusual collecting method, it often yields one of the most impressive and distinctive collection.
The Hoarder – I have been asked many times when enough is enough. While some people are able to place a limit of ten or twenty pipes, I always feel inclined to answer that enough pipes is always one more than I currently own. While this can be a treacherous path in the eyes of some, I view it as healthy. Pipes make me happy, very happy, so why should I place an arbitrary limit on my collection. Is 101 pipes so much worse than 100? If not, than why would 102 be worse? (I am also curious how many of you get the picture to the right. Please post in the comments here if you actually get the reference!)
The Limited Supplies – These people are on the flip side of the hoarder. They limit themselves strictly to a certain number of pipes. I do understand the reasoning of those who place such limits, as it makes them spend a great deal more time contemplating each and every purchase and appreciating each pipe to the fullest.
This, however, is the one section where I cannot place myself. I see the pipe world as too wide-ranging, too vast, too incredible to limit myself. To those who do, however, I give my highest respect.
I am sure we all see ourselves a little in at least one of these, but that's a good thing. It means that you are enjoying the hobby. Keep enjoying it!
If you’ve had the chance to try Mac Barens’ 7 Seas “Black” you’ll easily understand why we’re so elated having received just today this tasty, sticky sweet blend of Virginia tobaccos in 16 ounce bag offering. So far, the fourth addition to Mac Baren’s line of classically inspired aromatic style pipe tobacco blends have proven to be endlessly popular with old smokers, new smokers, and those smokers that supposedly disdain aromatics. I guess that’s what happens when you take an estimable company like Mac Baren and add some of the highest quality tobacco available on the market.
And as if that weren’t enough, we’ve got 7 Seas “Red” available in both 16 ounce bags and loose leaf bulk options. “Red”, an intriguingly dark cherry flavored number, is Mac Baren’s latest edition to the 7 Seas catalogue. If you’ve been as impressed as we have been so far with all that 7 Seas has to offer, dive in on and enjoy!
Yes, that says what you think it says. It's the dessert menu from dinner three days ago. It literally reads "Chocolate fondant cigar 'cru Acarigua' with sweet Scandinavian style pipe tobacco ice cream". I didn't even read the rest of the menu. I had to have it. Alyson and I split it; it was fantastic, but the ice cream wasn't quite as pipe-tobacco-y as I would haved hoped. Still, for an evening after a day visiting the Castello factory, it was the perfect conclusion to the perfect pipe day!
In the past three days, we've visited Castello, Radice, and Sébastien Beaud, owner of the Genod pipe factory and maker of the Sébastien Beo line of pipes available on Smokingpipes.com. We promise to blog about those visits over the next few days.
If you’ve recently purchased some pipe tobacco from us, chances are you’ve received a complimentary sample of Mac Baren’s Highland Blend, their latest addition to the HH series.
From the pouch you’ll find pieces of medium-brown, broken flake tobacco, interspersed with a few bright ribbons split from the flake, and a small portion of dark leaf. Mac Baren cites the recipe as ready-rubbed burley, matured Virginia, latakia, and their signature Cavendish. From what I understand the whole thing is cased (or topped) with 30-year old Glenfarclas, a single-malt whiskey from the Highlands of Scotland. Hence the name.
Up front and right away, Highland Blend is smooth, sweet with Virginia and lightly seasoned with the spice of Syrian latakia. The blend develops rather quickly into something extraordinary and complex, savory of spring grasslands, bitter of peat, and with a whisper of whiskey musk. The blend is light on the mouth and incredibly balanced. Highland Blend would indeed pair excellently with a quality single-malt Scotch. It’s certainly very different and definitely special.
Highland Blend will be released officially at this year’s CPCC show and will be available in tins shortly thereafter. In the meantime, we still have samples available. You should get in on this early. Highland is just too good not to try right this very minute.
Last Thursday Sykes, Susan and I drove up to visit the Cornell & Diehl operation in Morganton, North Carolina. I’m told that this is something we do every year. We make a ten hour round-trip by car in one day to spend only a few hours with Craig and Patty Tarler, their son Chris, Keith Toney and company. It’s a long time to spend cooped up in a car for such a short visit, but I’m really excited that this year I had the opportunity to check out their very awesome facility. And besides, the drive was a beautiful tour of North Carolina. The folks at C&D (who are all very warm, welcoming people) even had lunch waiting for us: barbeque, slaw, hush puppies and cookies. Good stuff.
Having remembered to bring my camera, I managed to shoot some pictures while Craig showed me around the factory. It was pretty outstanding.
In the first place, I’m not a huge fan of Haddo’s Delight. This is probably because I’m not terribly crazy about Perique. I find the blend a little
harsh on my throat and have some trouble spotting the nuances so many others tend to describe. But because I love pipe tobacco, and will smoke just
about anything at least a few times, I gladly agreed to smoke a bowl of eight-year old Haddo’s from Sykes’ personal stash when he offered it.
As far as I’m concerned, something truly magical has happened to the contents of this tin as it sat marinating in Sykes’ cellar all these years.
This much was evident at first puff. Whereas previously I found the Virginia leaf and Perique component rather disparate, here they taste delicately
wedded to a unique, peppery sweet flavor. Previously, I found the vinegar notes from the fermented leaf distracting, but here it was cooled, and
pleasant. I might even buy a few tins to open in a decade!
Here’s what Eric had to say on this aged tin:
After very conveniently leaving the bit of Haddo's Delight Sykes handed me in a not-quite-zip-locked Ziploc bag overnight, this G.L. Pease mixture
was at just about the perfect point, dry-but-not-too-dry, to stuff it into a fresh pipe and light up. While the blend in its natural, non-combusting
state may indeed have an aroma of cocoa and dried fruit, from the first puff the smoke hit me with an easy, pleasant, but very definite nutty/raisin
flavor. Sweetness was detectably at work here as well, but only as a component of the flavor as a whole - much the same way you know there's sugar in
dark chocolate, though it is by no means central to the flavor, nor obvious in any independent way. Given this is a blend advertised as heavy on
Virginias, I had expected at least a little tongue-bite might be expected, but the Perique seemed to do its job just fine, adding a bit of spiciness
while simultaneously keeping the Virginias civil. As I made my way through the bowl, the nutty/woody elements seemed more dominate, though the fruit/raisin notes did stay around, making things interesting by generally milling about and catching my attention now and then as it
apparently suited them. A full exhale tended to reveal their presence more in the "aftertaste", as did likewise exhaling through the nose. In reaching
the last third of the bowl, fruit/nut/raisin flavors became a touch richer, and an extra hint of sweetness made itself known as well - the Perique's
spiciness appeared happy to stay where it was, however, making the rest of the flavors all the more easily enjoyable.
Welcome to another round of 'Mystery Tobacco' where the winning prize is simply bragging rights. Let's see how Eric, Sykes and I did this week with Susan's mysteriously labeled little baggy.
Susan picked us a fairly simple looking number - an ultra-fine shag of what appears to be darker Virginias, and/or possibly burley as well. One thing for certain is that the darker leaf is the dominant element, with only a small
fraction of the blend being of a lighter, golden Virginia. As you might expect, it packed easily, and lit up with no effort at all. From first puff the very subtle sweetness of the Virginia leaf kept well beneath the main body of the
blend, which was what I could only describe as a rustic "woodiness". My attempt to cheat by asking Pam to describe the room note was a wash - she said there wasn't one at all. It may be I packed too lightly, easy to do given the
readily-deceptive springiness of a shag cut (which can make a bowl feel more densely tamped than it actually is), but this blend smoked fast if I wasn't careful. With a slow, easy draw, it was enjoyable and civil enough, but too much
puffing quickly brought out a noticeable bite - it may have been something in the blend, or from a build-up of heat as the leaf rapidly combusted. Towards the end of the smoke, that low-profile sweet note and the main, woody element
seemed to coalesce, creating a unified flavor which I found more pleasurable than the earlier two-piece arrangement, while at the same time a nice, mellow nicotine buzz came rolling up to say hello. Possibly it was a little too nice, as
I began replacing my "i"s with "o"s as I typed up the final lines of this review.
From look and feel alone, it's immediately clear that this is an
unscented blend from Gawith, Hoggarth & Co. My first thought was Dark
Birdseye, but closer inspection and the first puff put that guess to
rest pretty quickly. The cut is fairly fine, as GH&Co's ribbon cuts
tend to be; they're thicker than cigarette tobacco by quite a bit, but
thinner than most pipe tobacco cuts. The medium slightly mottled brown
color is attractive, but does little to suggest what to expect. From
look alone, I'm having trouble pinning down the contents. I'd guess
lots of dark fired burleys, but we shall see...
My burley guess proved correct, I think. It's either straight dark
fired Kentucky, or nearly so. The subtle nuttiness of the Kentucky
leaf certainly shines through. The nicotine load is pretty good,
certainly at the upper end of the range that I find pleasant, without
quite kicking my butt. It's a little monochromatic to my taste.
There's that nuttiness, a little grassy-ness, but not much else going
on that I can discern. For the fan of burley heavy blends, I think
this would be a great choice. For me it's a bit too much of a good
Oh, and I'm pretty sure (though not positive) that it's Gawith,
Hoggarth & Co.'s Kendal Kentucky.
This is definitely a Gawith & Hoggarth product. There’s a Lakeland aroma and flavor at work here, but not as noticeable as that taste of something like Ennerdale Flake. No, this is a lot more subtle. Not to mention that this is a
very fine, shag cut mix (and not a flake). The blend is dark tasting, but smooth. I’d call it burley or Virginia. I’m going out on a limb, but is this Kendal Kentucky?
So, yeah.... The blend, was in fact G&H's Kendal Kentucky. Hey, we're pretty good aren't we? I certainly did a lot better than last time. In all fairness, though, I've smoked a lot of this blend fairly recently!
When we were ‘blessed’ with second coming of Dunhill tobaccos last Thanksgiving most of us were as concerned about whether or not we would see another dry spell as we were elated at the return of this luxurious line of fine tobacco. Obviously, we were right to worry.
And so we blew through our inventory of nearly 5,000 tins of tobacco in a matter of a few days, record time for us at Smokingpipes.com. Then it was all gone. So we waited.
Around Christmas we received a smattering of Flake and Standard Mix from our vendor. This is not what we were waiting for.
Today is what we have been waiting for: ‘Nightcap’, ‘Early Morning Pipe’, ‘965’ ‘Royal Yacht’ and ‘London Mixture’ are back. We have a ton.
Last week, I experienced the privilege of counting pipes for our quarterly inventory. Yes, Adam took the day off while we newer recruits did busy work. But I felt very excited to have been selected to assist in counting pipes. Looking at our pipes each day on-line is one thing, but handling a pipe … holding it in your hands to appreciate the beauty is something else altogether. I am quite often still in awe.
Every day here is a celebration. But this week is special for me because it’s my 1 year anniversary with our company. After 18 months of being unemployed, I was hired to work here in customer service. Although I had years of experience in customer service, I had little-to-no knowledge of pipes, tobacco and smoking accessories. Being a cigarette smoker, I was intrigued by what I saw here. But I had no idea that this would turn into a really fantastic job! Yes, I’m extremely happy to be here!
Over the past year, I have learned many things. I’ve read a few books, attended training classes, sniffed tobacco, rubbed out tobacco, watched others demonstrate the art of smoking tobacco in a pipe and smoked a pipe myself, a few times. Okay, the first time I ate the smoke and felt it in my stomach for about 18 hours. But I am learning. Last week, Ted gave a few of us our very own starter-pipe. And in our Smoking 101 class we packed our bowls, watched Ted demonstrate lighting his pipe and then we all lit up! We tried a straight Virginia tobacco. I was so excited - I was shaking in my boots. Okay, maybe dancing in my boots. After all that I have learned, I now feel ready to try smoking different tobaccos to experience the pleasure of pipe smoking. Wish me well!
In closing I’d like to thank my colleagues for all the training and inspiration they have shared with me. Mark celebrated 2 years with our company in January and Leila is moving beyond 90 days next week. I am surrounded by dedicated people doing a terrific job to provide quality products and service to our customers. We each have our strengths and weaknesses, but we all reach out to go above and beyond in what we do. And our team efforts help us to reach our goal. I’d also like to thank our customers for your continued history with our company. Without you, we would not be here. Thanks for sharing your comments, ideas and knowledge with us. And we look forward to serving your future needs and wishes.
Shortly after our last Mystery Tobacco post Adam, Eric, Susan and I agreed that we'd had such a good time doing it we would give it another shot. Before long Susan had bagged up Mystery Blend #2. We all got around to smoking it a lot sooner this time. Enjoy!
I've been given another sample of tobacco and can clearly see finely-cut ribbons in the bag. It appears to be about 60% dark tobacco and 40% golden. Still keeping it in the zip bag, I can tell it's moist, but not overly so. Time to open it. Sweetness of sugary-fruit and soft spice (cherry, vanilla, and others) take over my nose. My olfactory senses take me back to opening a plastic container of Play-doh (not sure why), but maybe it just has that marzipan quality about it. Not overly candy-like, but a noticeable aromatic. This appears (and feels) like a Peter Stokkebye product, though my betting chip would also be on the line of Gawith Hoggarth. From what I can see, feel, and smell, this is a quality aromatic that won't gunk up a palate or pipe (at least it appears this way).
The thin ribbons load very easily into my Ashton XXX, and the interlocking ribbons keep it all in place. This lights very easily with just one match, and tamps evenly without effort. I can hear some crackling in the bowl, hinting that flavorings or oils might be popping from the leaf. Unlike my experience with most aromatics, I can actually taste some delicious flavors! Gently puffing coaxes sweetness out of the blend, and I think pitted fruits linger in the air. Cautious as I am with all tobaccos, especially aromatics, slow puffing is yielding the best results with no blistering palate to worry about. There is some heat on my tongue, though, and this could be from the steam in the tobacco, alcohol-flavorings coming through, or my eagerness to puff more regularly after the delicious first few minutes. Like nearly all aromatics, there is that lingering 'flavor' in the smoke. When tasting food grilled over charcoal, the lighter fluid flavor doesn't completely go away, and agents in aromatics have something similar that lingers, though it's not lighter fluid, of course. You understand what I mean. I would guess this to be a mix of black cavendish, golden virginias, and don't believe any burley to be in the blend. Better tobacco flavors concentrate after half a bowl, but the lingering sweetness from the beginning is still a ghost. Toward the last third, it all but fades away. This would be nice to try in a Peterson System pipe, meerschaum, or gourd calabash, I think. I dumped the last third after all of the flavors went away (except for that lingering one which stuck with me until a fresh cup of coffee could overtake it) and wet dottle fell out. Not bad, but it started off with greater promise than it ended with.
Having lollygagged long enough (and, for the record, attempted to cheat only once) today I packed my Luciano dublin with this week's mystery blend and lit up. Immediately I was greeted by something light and sweet, which just as quickly retreated to the background, a subtle golden note to the easy smoothness of this blend. A hint of vanilla and/or caramel appears to be lingering in there somewhere, poking its head out now that the initial shot of sweetness has receded. This blend seems very light to me - lighter even than the straight Stokkebye virginia I often smoke when breaking a pipe in. This may be due simply to the blend's coolness, and the fact that it takes some deliberate puffing to get even the beginnings of tongue bite. Either this blend burns quite easily, or I packed it too light, but I was through the first third of the bowl before I knew it. Whatever this is, it's for the most part a very easy smoker, though I it did develop a bit more bite mid-bowl, only to smooth out once more, with the vanilla/caramel flavors gaining more weight to compensate.
Just looking at the tobacco I’d say it’s not something from the U.S. The strands of tobacco seem too uniformly long to be so. I’m leaning towards Danish or German, but this is a guess. After a good long whiff of the tobacco I’m terribly reminded of Sillem’s Black. It’s a very similar topping. Again, I’m thinking this is German.
Looks like black Cavendish, latakia, bright Virginia and possibly an oriental leaf of some kind. It’s dry enough for me to smoke, so I’ll do that now.
Lights up easy enough. I can taste a lot of sweet casing right off the bat, but it eases off pretty quick. The sweet flavor kind of reminds me of Lane tobacco, actually, but only for a moment. I sense an oriental presence and a subtle latakia component that adds depth and texture to the blend. The dark, sweet, creamy flavor moves in and out of focus, each time reminding me of the kind of Cavendish-style tobacco the Danish and Germans use.
This is pretty good stuff. If I had to class it I’d call it an aromatic, or perhaps a cross-over blend. I wish the latakia element were a little more robust and the sweetening additive a little less pronounced.
Seems like Adam was closest this week. I was way off. This stuff is Peter Stokkebye's Optimum. It's certainly an aromatic and the product description reads thus: One of our most successfull blends. Developed from the fields of the flue-cured tobaccos of Zimbabwe, Malawi. Blended with sweet processed Black Cavendish and mild Burley tobaccos. Medium to coarse loose cut.
Anyone at home have any of their own thought's on this aromatic blend?
There are a few tobacco blending and tinning companies that get talked about so often that the subsequent noise washes away from the horizon many other excellent producers. Esoterica is one of them.
By now many of us realize why. Without mentioning those two blends that seem to get hailed rather loud and clear by the hundreds of voices of pipe smokers in cyberspace, Esoterica delivers some terrifically good blends.
Esoterica Tobacciana is essentially the brain-child of American pipe-man Mike Butera and Master Blender Robert Germain of J. F. Germain & Son. Mike’s talent is as without question as is his contribution to the contemporary pipe community. Germain’s reputation is undeniable. Together these two have dreamed up some incredible stuff. And of their top four offerings, ‘And So To Bed’, somehow is not among them.
This doesn’t surprise me. The blend is not up-front. It doesn’t get in your face with a unique, bold sensation. Fresh from the tin it’s downright boring. Timing is important with this English; the mix starts shining when the tin has been opened once or twice over eight months to cool off.
Like most Esoterica blends, 'And So To Bed' is a bit moist straight from the tin. It will smoke just fine for most folks this way. However, this blend really comes alive when given the opportunity to breath and dry off
Esoterica blends are usually packaged a little wet and smoke great with some moisture. In this way not all blends are created equally. But the quality can be deceptive. Every Esoterica blend does better dried out. Particularly this one. The butcher paper wrapper has to be soft and damp from top oils and the contents have to be a variety of degrees of moist. This is where the magic starts. Open the new tin, but hold off from smoking it just yet.
‘And So To Bed’ is gentle because it’s so well balanced. I’ve read that this particular offering from the Esoterica line consists of a Maryland component, which I find likely. Often processed in a way similar to Cavendish, this leaf is buttery like burley. Delicately rich Maryland, added with Virginia for depth and sweetness, starts the show with an earthy, easy smoking base. As always, a Cyprian latakia inclusion is easily detected, here lending a smoky, leathery hand to the brew softened only by a quiet Oriental presence. All the players are working together; none have the strength to overwhelm the other. If you’re looking for something dumbfounding and powerful you won’t find it here. Not dynamic, but dimensional.
It’s a complex blend that takes some patience. ‘And So To Bed’ needs a good long stretch and yawn before it will fully open up and share itself. In time I’ve found it to be as fantastic as some of the crown jewels of the Esoterica line. Like many of their labels it’s far too underrated, at least.
We thought we’d play a game: a blind tobacco tasting. I’m not too sure what the exact objective of this game might have been other than to see if Adam, Eric, Sykes and I were up to the challenge of trying to identify the exact components, blender, or even blend picked out for us by Susan. She handed to each of us little zip lock bags labeled ‘Mystery Tobacco’. With some trepidation, we all got to work smoking. Here’s what we came up with:
I was given a little baggie of 'mystery tobacco' and immediately poured the contents on a piece of white paper in an even layer to see the flecks of dark chocolate and tobacco-brown equally mixing. The cut is rather medium with some larger pieces in the mix and crumbs here and there and on the dry side. Not really a ribbon cut, but more of irregular-shaped flakes similar to fish food. I like this, actually, as it's rather easy to pour into the bowl of my Ashton XXX Pebble Grain Dublin.
The moisture - or lack thereof - seems perfect for my taste. Filled to the top of the bowl and puffing with one match, the tobacco rose about half an inch, which was easily tamped down to a level coal. No relighting was necessary. While I mainly smoke Virginias (and probably because of) I can detect richer flavors in this blend. Initially I thought it might be Latakia, and it might be, though soft. The flavors during the first few minutes of puffing remind me more of cigar leaf. Not Connecticut or Maduro, but more like a Gran Habano or La Gloria Cubana. There was just a hint of sweetness at first, most likely from a Virginia, but they are securely behind the veil of pronounced cigar-flavors. Once in a while there is a bit of peppery-spice at the back of my throat, even though I'm not inhaling the smoke. Also like a cigar, my palate seems dry, but in an expected way. I used another match mid-bowl after I tapped out loose ash. Most of the ember fell out too; probably because the irregular cut couldn't hold it within an upside-down bowl. There haven't been any sweet flavors since just after the initial light, which I miss, and the musty-essence seems to intensify. I get no nicotine head-spin at all, so believe this is rather mild. For me, this bowl was just too deep for the developing flavors. Perhaps this would be better - for me - in a smaller bowl or not dried out as much.
About the same time as Ted and I reviewed Distinguished Gentleman, Susan handed Ted, Adam, and I each a small ziplock bag labeled only "Mystery Tobacco 02/17/11". As you can tell, we put smoking it off a bit, though in our defense I must say that if I've given any of the women in our offices a reason to take up the ancient art of poisoning men, it's probably Susan. Probably. Having said that, for Susan's Mystery blend, I chose the same large Luciano dublin as I used for the Distinguished Gentlemen review. Upon first light the blend seemed slightly sweet, with a very, very subtle note of fruit - apricot, for some reason, was the first to come to mind. These flavors merely lay under the stronger, toasty main flavor, however. The smoke was smooth, and rather cool as well (latakia?), and burned quite readily. By Ted's visual assessment the blend appears to be largely virginia with a bit of latakia, possibly with a touch of burley as well. This would explain the combination of easy and mild smoking qualities, as well as the hints of sweetness. My beginning-of-the-bowl apricots remain inexplicable, however. The room note is additionally rather pleasant, so long as you aren't sticking your nose right into the middle of a smoke plume, at which point I found my sinuses receiving more than a mere tickle (again, latakia?). Overall the blend is mild, honestly more so than I really favor, with the sweeter elements so subtle that I easily lost them at times, and the latakia, if that is what it is, offering a bit of cooling but not much else. Bear in mind I have quite an insensitive palette - those of you with a sharper sense of taste may find considerably more to this blend than I ever could. On a more definitive note however, can say with absolute certainty that I have not been poisoned in any way, for which I am genuinely thankful towards Susan.
Featuring a lovely mix of colors, from a nice red virginia, to the black of some latakia, plus some lighter virginias and what I think is just a little bit of oriental leaf, this English smells lovely in the bag. It's certainly an American manufacturer. I'd guess it's made by Altadis or C&D, but that still leaves open a ton of possible different brands. I'm not going to even try to guess at the blend, but it does remind me a little of a couple of the English blends from G. L. Pease.
I don't smoke a lot of English blends; I'm more of a straight Virginia / Virginia/perique kind of guy, so this is a little bit of a departure for me. Still, when I do smoke blends containing latakia, I prefer lighter Englishes. I'm not a more is better kind of guy with latakia. I think latakia should sit comfortably in the background, serving as a condiment to a well-constructed blend rather than be the central theme. At first, that seems the case here; the smokiness from the latakia enhances and supplements the other flavors, rather than supplanting them. The sweetness from the Virginias shines through nicely, providing a soft bed for the other flavors.
As I move through the bowl, the latakia seems to be increasingly pronounced. I'm still enjoying it, though. It hasn't hit that point of latakia overload for me. All in all, I'm quite impressed. It's balanced and well-constructed. The nicotine hit was pretty heavy, a little much for my taste, as I moved towards the end of the bowl. A lovely English with a surprising kick. Once I find out what it is, I'll return to it, I'm sure. It won't be an everyday smoke (I'm spinning just slightly right now), but it will be a good postprandial choice.
I waited for this stuff to dry out completely before I packed it. This blend was definitely topped with something which was sweet and tangy that reminded me of Altadis. The cut also reminds me of Altadis or C&D. This is certainly an American tobacco. Upon lighting, I picked up on the smoky latakia first, although the leaf isn’t really playing a forward part in the blend. There’s a peppery spice here somewhere which has me inclined to identify a perique content (or perhaps cigar leaf). I was really feeling this in the back of my throat. To my taste, this element is driving the blend. Towards the middle of the bowl I seem to detect some orientals; nothing sweet, perhaps Turkish or Macedonian. I’m picking up some kind of nicotine here which has me thinking this blend contains some burley. Reexamining the tobacco, I want to say that I see some, but I do not taste it. Maybe I’m imagining things. All-in-all, this is a fairly medium bodied smoke, with a light flavor, but the perique is just way too strong for me.
Conclusion: The blend? Cornell & Diehl's Bayou Night. Who got it right? Well, none of us. But come on, that would have been nearly impossible. As far as I'm concerned, I was closest, having identified both the strong perique content and the burley. But that's easy for me to say because I'm putting together this post. So there!
We started selling E. Hoffman's Distinguished Gentleman a couple of weeks ago and since then I’ve been very intrigued. The tin reads:
An elegant & captivating pipe tobacco comprised of select choice leaf, gently fragrant with an intoxicating aroma. The taste and aroma preferred by men of distinction.
Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Today Eric and I decided to break open a tin and find out for ourselves just what this stuff is all about. All in the name of ‘scientific exploration’ mind you. Because we are diligent gentlemen, if not distinguished, we took notes. Here are the results:
Distinguished Gentlemen lit up readily, though I hadn't dried it out at all previous to packing it into a decent-sized Luciano bent dublin (chamber roughly 0.8 x 1.7 inches). This was a pleasant surprise, given it comes fairly moist from the tin. The initial flavor was of a distinct yet subtle, sweet, woody, toasted marshmallow character. It was, in fact, considerably more subtle than I expected by the scent of the tobacco in the tin (granted, I rarely smoke aromatics), which is perhaps thanks to the latakia. While the toasted marshmallow flavor quickly recedes, a slight sweetness remained throughout the smoke. The latakia, however, never really made itself noticeable directly. Even some pretty strong puffing failed to produce any "sting" to the flavor, nor any tongue-bite, though I did succeed in making the pipe gurgle more than once. A very mellow blend overall, easy to smoke and innocuous in fragrance to those not partaking (I asked Susan when she passed by). Suitable to its name, I'd say it was a blend with "good manners", i.e. not a sugar-and-gumdrops bomb like some aromatics, and the latakia acting only in a supporting role.
Initially concerned that I had not dried out the tobacco sufficiently (the stuff comes pretty wet) I was surprised how well Distinguished Gentleman stayed lit and how cool it smoked in my corn cob. In addition to the blend’s delightful smoking qualities, I found this rough cut of burley, Virginia, latakia, and Cavendish to work together harmoniously to produce a curiously sweet, yet nutty, flavored smoke, which reminded me at times of toasted amaretto. The latakia was difficult to pin down on the tongue, but could be detected through the nose. Distinguished Gentleman is a very mild, but flavorful cross-over style blend that really came together for me about half-way through the bowl. Good stuff.
Fresh tobacco is a good thing, but aged tobacco can be a thing of amazing complexity and refinement. Given time, temperature, and humidity control, cellaring favorite tobaccos in their original tins or mason jars allows slow fermentation to the point that Virginias will develop sugar crystals that will come to the forefront during smoking. Likewise, Latakia and Orientals in blends will marry with other Virginia leaf to become something as desirable as vintage wines left to mature. Burleys change a little bit, and aromatics tend to have a shorter time of improvement before they begin to sour or lose the flavors that make them unique. Many of us cellar tobaccos in tins.
But I’m not here to educate on how much time blend-X takes to mature or how sharp flavors in young Virginias fade over time, or even about stockpiling favorites that are on the market. I’m here to say ‘keep an eye on what you have stored away.’
Pipe smokers can cellar tobaccos however they choose but many of us like to keep them in original tins because they can increase in value or age differently. I'm not as concerned about the stuff in mason jars, but tins should be periodically checked - just in case. Some good rules of thumb are to keep them in a dark place that is low in humidity, such as a closet, and away from windows that may allow the sun to heat up the tins and contents inside. After a little while in a humid environment troubling things can happen to a beloved tin. Namely rust.
Greg Pease and I talked recently about tobacco packaging. Only when I chose to write this blog did I even take notice that some tins are made from steel while others are aluminum. McClelland uses steel tins and C&D (makers of G.L. Pease tobaccos and others) used steel in the past but are using aluminum today. Tobacco tins are often coated with white material that doesn't rust, but the seams can sometimes cause problems as much as the base.
I've been cellaring some Tribute that was tinned in 2001 and was checking over my stash when I noticed some rust spots on the base. This was not the fault of the manufacturer or the tobacco inside; it's just humid here in South Carolina. My apartment gave me a dehumidifier to put in one of our rooms, and the thing sucked out about a gallon of water from the air in 10 hours. Too bad I didn't have one of these earlier, because the moisture problem could have been avoided. Once I noticed the pitting on the bottom of this tin, I carefully opened the tin and pinched out the contents to put in a mason jar for storage. Luckily the tobacco was fine, but I left the bottom half-inch to discard in case some rust was mixed in. Other tins weren't so lucky. You could take this advice or leave it but periodically checking your tins of tobacco for rust on the base or staining is a good idea. When one rust spot develops, others aren't far behind and soon they will eat through the tin, leaving your carefully sealed and preserved blends neither sealed nor preserved. It's well worth the time to check them over, or just go ahead and jar them when you buy them. Aging will still happen in a mason jar and you won't have to worry about rust ruining some of your favorite blends.
I was talking with Greg Pease recently about his JackKnife Plug before it was yet released. My initial question was how he preferred to process the tobacco. For some, getting a plug of pipe tobacco can seem daunting, if not downright terrifying. There is nothing to be afraid of, but different techniques will yield different results. I first tried JackKnife in a shag cut, which is how Greg really likes it. You can read about JackKnife and how to process it on Greg's “The Briar & Leaf Chronicles".
For our own experiments I headed down to the store and removed a small piece of Samuel Gawith Cob Plug from its holding jar and attempted to attack it with different techniques - and a big knife. For starters, the knife should be sharp (this is moist leaf, after all). The plug should always be kept in a sealed jar for extended periods of time because trying to cut dried tobacco ends up being like trying to shave wood. The tobacco we used was perfectly moist and my knife was an inexpensive, yet effective accessory from a sushi kit I purchased at the grocery store.
The knife was sharpened, the wooden cutting board was on a very sturdy table, and the first cut was made by placing the cutting edge about 1/16" from a side of the square plug and carefully slicing back and forth before applying downward pressure. Off came a perfect flake with just the slightest curl. After this, I made the exact same cut but it was about 1/8" wide. The thicker flake proved very easy to cut into match stick sized pieces, that were later cut into cubes. Lastly, gripping the plug and setting the edge of the blade about 1/32” from the edge and pushing down in a slicing motion - like slicing paper thin strips of a tomato - left behind little chocolate curls that rubbed out to a shag with very little effort.
The shag burns very easily all the way down, while the cube cut burns slower with a noticeably deeper taste. The flake can be folded as is, or rubbed to a perfect ribbon.
The rules for best results: sharp knife with no teeth, cutting board on a solid surface that doesn't wobble and very careful slicing. I like to only slice off as much as I need for a bowl or two because the tobacco stays moist in a solid plug and I seem to derive great satisfaction from making the cuts. To me it can be as much fun as preparing a delicious dinner. Have fun!
I’m constantly trying new tobacco blends. Undoubtedly, there are so many out there it would take a life time or two to taste them all; this is all part of the fun for me. Sometimes I’m scattered all over the place in my explorations, divided between English, Balkan, Virginia, even aromatic blends, and sometimes I’m focused into a particular kind of blend by a specific manufacturer.
Yet as often as I’m actively burning my tongue off in pursuit of new flavors I am just as regularly returning to old favorites. Take Mac Baren’s Roll Cake, for instance: there’s always a tin on my desk.
These beautiful little spun cut discs, fragrant with sweet honey and berry wheat, rub out easily between the fingers for quick pipe loading. Effortless to light, simple to keep lit, Roll Cake offers up a satisfying smoke rich with nuanced, delicate flavors. Sometimes it’s spicy, sometimes it’s sweet, but it’s always tasty.
If you haven’t yet tried Roll Cake it’s about time you do.
We had a lot. Trust me. I saw the great big box of JackKnife Plug that was delivered to us just this
afternoon. Turns out everybody really wanted it. I suppose I’m not surprised; G. L. Pease has an incredible (maybe even devout) following. And
why shouldn’t he? Greg can blend a mean tobacco.
But it seems like we’ve already sold out of every tin of JackKnife Plug we had to offer. Bummer. But fret not! Just as soon as we were
finishing up our last order of this tasty new offering, Susan was on the phone placing an order for even more. Thankfully we won’t have to
wait for this stuff to come in from overseas. We should see it back in stock soon.
I guess all that’s left to do is wait. Or pick up a tin of Westminster. Or Haddo’s. I could go on and on.
In early November Greg Pease mentioned on his blog ‘The Briar & Leaf Chronicles’ that he was keeping a secret. He wrote about how different this new project was and how excited he was to share it with everyone. Needless to say, we were already licking our lips. Then in early December Greg revealed his secret. He would be introducing Jack Knife Plug: a blend comprised of bright and red-flue cured as well as dark-fired Kentucky leaf. We’d been asking for a plug tobacco from this infamous blender for a long while and now he was going to deliver. It would be ready, hopefully, he said, in January.
True to his word, Jack Knife Plug showed up just this afternoon, only hours after I asked Susan if we might be expecting it soon.
And as I sit here smoking my first bowl of it right now, I have to tell you, it’s pretty dang good. Sliced into flakes, cube-cut, or even rubbed out, Jack Knife Plug is spicy, full-flavored and offers plenty of ‘kick’. If you’re a fan of G. L. Pease or are just looking for another plug tobacco to covet, Jack Knife Plug will surely impress.
The sun goes down and the streets in the city are lighted. But not with electricity. The glow comes from bioluminescence of genetically
modified trees. This may sound like science fiction; however, scientists could develop glowing trees that
replace streetlights. This breakthrough in bioluminescence was derived from research done at Cambridge University. The process is implemented
by transduction of modified genes with E. coli bacteria. No glowing trees have been grown, but multiple colors and significant amounts of
light have been produced using this method.
These newer breakthroughs in genetic engineering are derived from studies initially done using tobacco plants. Biochemists from the
University of California at San Diego added the gene of a firefly to the tobacco's DNA. The gene produces
Luciferase (an enzyme that makes fireflies glow). The scientist then integrated it into tobacco cells. The result was a tobacco plant with
leaves, roots and stems that glow. Just like a firefly.
Tobacco at Smokingpipes.com
Although we don’t sell glowing tobacco, we do have a plethora of tobacco varieties to choose from at SmokingPipes.com. Old Gowrie, Long Golden
Flake, Westminster, Dunbar, and Margate are a few of our best sellers. We also have a huge stock of bulk tobacco (if you found a favorite
blend). Some of the top sellers in bulk tobacco are 1-Q, Black Irish-X, Dark Bird's Eye, and Louisiana Perique Flake.
Adam came rushing into my office again. “Cob in a cob!” he exclaimed dramatically. This time I knew exactly what he meant.
Adam has been looking for an excuse for the two of us to smoke a couple of corn cob pipes that we’ve had sitting around the building for
the last couple of weeks. I guess he figured it out: smoking Sam Gawith’s Cob Plug in a corn cob. Keep in mind that both Adam and I are rather
fond of this blend of Virginia and Oriental leaf sauced in tonka bean extract. Also, Adam is particularly enamored with the corn cob.
This was remarkable. The Cob Plug did really well in the cob pipe. The natural buttery sweetness of the corn lent itself to the sweet
casing of the tobacco excellently. Some of the bitterness I often find with this blend was perfectly neutralized by the porous qualities of
the pipe. The shank on Adam’s pipe even turned a shade of purple in a spot.
Because the cob pipe doesn’t have to be ‘broken-in’ it smoked like a champ right out of the gate, which was fantastically rewarding and a
little refreshing in light of some of our recent experiments.
However, because the corn cob pipe will absorb so many of the characteristics of a tobacco it tends to ghost pretty badly. This is especially
true with a blend like Cob Plug or 1792. I know this as well as Adam. Yet after his bowl of Cob Plug had finished Adam packed his pipe fresh
with McClelland’s Dark Star. Then Ennerdale Flake. Then he tried to smoke Cob Plug again.
“That Cob Plug can’t taste as good as it did the first time, can it?” I asked, knowingly.
“It tastes like butt.”
I suppose the moral of the story is this: Corn cob pipes are a lot of fun. They’re inexpensive, easy to smoke and can offer a unique
flavor to a tobacco. Also, they are easy to abuse. And if you insist on abusing your corn cob pipe by continuing to smoke it past its prime or
by cycling through it dozens of strange blends the cob will crap on your taste buds. In the meantime, try Cob in a cob!
Last week, Adam stole me from my office during the middle of the day. He had a wild look about him, most notably around the eyes, his lips
were pursed and his breath was eager. In his left hand he grasped a pair of Stanwell pipes, one of which he nearly violently handed to me. I
know Adam well enough to translate this manner of behavior: he had for us a project.
We rushed downstairs from my office to our store, Low Country Pipe & Cigar, where we began to scan rapidly the great wall of jarred
tobacco. Adam made it pretty clear rather quickly that we were after something in particular. We were looking for that ‘Lakeland Essence’.
After sniffing every jar of Gawtih & Hoggarth tobacco in the shop, Adam decided that we were to fill our Stanwells with a bowl of Ennerdale
Flake. The tobacco description goes so:
Predominately Virginia leaf from Brazil, Zimbabwe and Malawi (86%) but with the addition of sun cured Malawi (10%) to add sweetness,
strength and to cool the smoke and Malawi Burley (4%) to "carry the flavor" in addition to its cooling and strength qualities. A background
flavor of Almond is enhanced with the addition of fruit, vanilla, and the special 'Lakeland style' flavors to give this tobacco its
distinctive aroma and taste.
The ‘Lakeland’ flavor has been described in various terms by many people. Some have called it floral or reminiscent of perfume while others
have likened it to bar soap. I do get the soap comparison. Not cheap, supermarket soap, though, rather fancy French stuff one must buy per
ounce. It’s an interesting flavoring that we found here nearly constitutes the entire backdrop of Ennerdale Flake.
If you are looking to put your finger on the Lakeland taste, methinks this blend is a winner.
Wow. Just wow. Our Peterson Pipe Promotion was wildly popular this yuletide. "Buy a new Peterson pipe and you get a free tin of Peterson pipe tobacco". Sounds like a deal to me. The aim was to keep this promotion running through the end of the year; however, with the unprecedented response to such a bargain I’m sorry to announce that we just shipped out our last tin of Peterson tobacco. It’s all gone. I know because I was there to see it get boxed up and handed to a UPS driver. It was a bittersweet moment that nearly had me moved to tears.
The fate of the promotion has since been decided in a nerve-wracking bout of rock-paper-scissors between Sykes and the Bizarro Sykes that we keep hidden in the attic with the model trains.
A decision has been made. (The winner of the contest is immaterial.)
Your choices are: Waccamaw, Cooper, Santee, Black and my personal favorite Carolina Christmas.
So… I’m a little hesitant to put this out there. I fear having banana peels or rotten tomatoes thrown my way. At the same time it’s only fair to extend a (at least) modicum of credit to those of you who know and love Smokingpipes.com and especially, if only because you’re reading this, to those who follow our blog. Thus it is with no small amount of trepidation that I announce an itsy-bitsy price hike on Dunhill tobaccos.
BUT WAIT! A preface, please.
Once upon a time you couldn’t buy Dunhill tobacco in the United States for like three years. Then, suddenly last week, you could (as far as we’re concerned out here in Little River, South Carolina). We were excited. We wanted you to have it. We reduced the price. Then we launched these bad boys without considering how the consumer might feel when we were forced to adjust the price tag back to its proper retail value.
On the one hand we thought our inventory of 4,500 tins might have lasted for more than 5 days which would have pushed this inevitable price adjustment somewhere down the road. On the other hand we were so busy trying to get these tins out to you that we hadn’t really thought much on prefacing the issue. Only now, as we sit here on our second installment of tins do we begin to wonder if we’re about to make some folks upset. If you are one of those folks, then we apologize.
NEVERTHELESS! This is only the bad news. The good news is we’ve more Dunhill. Kind of promising isn’t it? And really now, our price on Dunhill tobacco is still better than most (if not every single one) of our competitors. I’m just saying.
Dunhill pipe tobacco. After months on the minds of pipe smokers the country over, it finally arrived Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Of course, given the hullabaloo that this precipitated, you're probably already aware of that. You may have also noticed that we're again out of stock on all but one of them, just five days later.
We had a huge shipment arrive that Wednesday. We placed a massive order in the summer and were far more worried that we'd gone a little too crazy than that we wouldn't have enough. Needless to say, we were absolutely flummoxed by the response. We had more orders Wednesday than we've ever had in one day before. Thursday and Friday were each almost double our average number of orders too. UPS is picking up twice today to accomodate the volume (literally!) of packages that are ready for them. The nice lady that picks up USPS packages from us was similarly shocked and struggled to get them into the little USPS van that she drives. Ted has already made a separate post on this later today, but this is specifically about the Dunhill tobacco.
We do have another small shipment (just 2,000-odd tins) coming now that should be here later in the week, but that's all there is in the US right now. There's more coming from the manufacturer and we should have another large shipment in December. When Susan and I figured out what to purchase over the summer--4,500 tins in all--we were very concerned that we'd overbought. Needless to say, that was not the problem.
So, what happens from here? Well, there's more coming, but not a lot, later this week. Three or four weeks from now, we expect another full-sized shipment. We'll keep you posted!
1. Take one of the most popular and sought-after pipe tobaccos on the market (We'll use Dunhill)
2. Remove product from US market for 2-3 years. Allow customers to simmer / prevent boiling over with 2 tbsp. of 'Rumor and Supposition'
3. Amid feverish expectation, add 4,500 50 gram tins of Dunhill pipe tobacco to warehouse. Begin advertising its arrival through 'new media' outlets
4. Begin selling product. For maximized stuffing, start selling, at discounted price, the day before a national holiday. In this way warehouse will have 3-4 days of 'swelling' before shipping begins (See below)
Phew! After much ado, a lot of hullabaloo and a great dealing of whimpering,
Dunhill tobaccos are finally on the US market once more. It was noon today when
we were notified to expect a freight of the stuff at any minute. Soon enough, an
enormous pallet found itself at the back door of our shipping department and we
all began to dig in. It’s here just in time for Thanksgiving, ironically.
There’s been a lot of mystery around the recent unavailability of Dunhill
tobaccos. It’s a complicated story, involving the names of a half-dozen
corporations and parent companies, taking place over the last couple of years.
The long and short of it is, despite a handful of near-misses and would-be
suitors, it has taken Dunhill awhile (too long, most will say) to find the right
stateside importer. But that’s all over with and in the past now, like a bad
dream inside a dream.
Right now there are a handful of 50 gram tins to choose from: London Mixture,
Royal Yacht, Standard Mixture, Standard Mixture Mellow, Flake, My Mixture 965,
Nightcap, Early Morning Pipe, and Deluxe Navy Rolls. With so many choices, I
couldn’t even tell you where I’ll begin to start with these blends; it’s so
unusual to see a whole line rollout at once. I’ll be smoking like a chimney for
the next few weeks, honestly.
Whether you haven’t been smoking long enough to have sampled a Dunhill tobacco
or just never got around to trying it in the first place, you ought to give these
wonderful blends a shot if only to decide for yourself what all the fuss is
about. In all likelihood, you’re as excited as we are. The long, hard wait is
over, and for that we give thanks.
Penzance. It’s fantastically popular, utterly delicious, and can be extraordinarily difficult to come
by; but not impossible. The trick to scoring a tin or two (or an eight ounce bag) of this dark English
flake will, more often than not, boil down to a matter of tenacity. This is a sad but true reality. With
the covetous demand for this tobacco far outweighing any retailer’s meager supply, I was only able to
make my first stash of Penzance by checking websites like Smokingpipes.com twice a day for weeks at a
time. If this kind of obsessive acquirement disorder is too intense for your pipe smoking habit I suggest
abandoning the quest for this blend in search of another, regularly available sort. There’s a lot of
wonderful stuff out there. But for those of you intimate with the pure delight of this treasure by
Esoterica, I’m sure you appreciate my plight. It’s my humble opinion that Penzance is as good as it
I mention all of this because I’ve wanted to talk about Penzance here for a while. As of yet, I’ve
not, simply because I’ve sworn myself from talking about tobaccos that someone couldn’t turn around and
buy. It would be cruel of me to poetically wax some blend that many of us will never have the chance to
smoke. To sit back and muse on how lucky I am to sample Stonehenge or Balkan Sobranie or just about
anything by Sam Gawith is downright unfair. So I’ve shied away from some of my favorites. That’s OK,
because there’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there.
Nevertheless, Penzance is out there and it’s delicious. At that, there are dozens of great blends that
are hard to snatch unless you stay diligently watchful. Keep in mind that a lot if this stuff gets sold
just about as fast as it gets received. Sometimes it can’t be found for weeks, even months, at a time.
But the truth is this: if you want it, you can have it. Keep an eye out, be tenacious. Trust me; the
juice is worth the squeeze.
I'm quite fond of Mac Baren's Navy Mixture. After smoking the junk my local tobacconist
had to offer, most of which were blends of his own cracked invention, I decided to branch
out and try something else. The only 'name brand' tobacco he carried was Mac Baren. So
that's where I started, with a 100 gram tin of Navy Mixture. At this point I had been
smoking exclusively those blends I would later discover to be termed 'aromatic'. Navy
Mixture was a big departure.
The tin reads that "this complex mixture consists of over 30 different raw tobaccos, and
is a masterpiece of blending. Ready rubbed Virginia and Burley tobaccos, loose cut Virginia,
Burley and the original Mac Baren Cavendish blended with small pieces of flake tobacco
ensure a slow and cool smoking pleasure." Upon opening the tin I was excited to find an
obvious and nearly overwhelming variety of different tobaccos. Here's an instance where a
tin description beautifully matches up to the product at hand, which as you likely know,
isn't always necessarily the case.
Admittedly, because of where I was coming from as a smoker, this blend took a little
while to grow on me. Subsequently, however, Navy Mixutre has become for me an extremely
reliable, all-day smoking fixture. The fragrance of the smoke is wonderful, the taste is
clean and dry,the tobacco packs easily and isn't fussy about staying lit. Another perk? It's
not deliriously popular and therefore always available. While this 'advantage' may only
amount to a hill of beans for some of you, those still sitting on their hands in
anticipation for Dunhill and Sam Gawith tobaccos know what I'm talking about.
At last count there was approximately one gillion (yes, I've done the math) different
varieties of tobaccos from at least a zillion (these are industries terms, mind you)
blenders and manufacturers. Explore, experiment, get out of your comfort box. Surprise
yourself. Just don't start buying up all my Navy Mixture.
Betrand Russell. He was a mathematician, philosopher, logician, and pipe smoking Nobel Prize Winner. You've probably heard of him. He lived to be 97. Here, briefly, he shares with us an anecdote concerning himself and his pipe.
I’m an enormous fan of J. R. R. Tolkien. Of course, I dig that he
was a pipe smoker and am particularly fond of the fact that he included in the world he called Middle Earth an
entire roster of characters who too preferred fine leaf and pipe smoking. Naturally, there have been crafted
numerous Tolkien-inspired blends over the years but unfortunately most have been either troublesome to acquire or
rather terrible to smoke.
In my opinion, ‘Frog Morton’, of McClellands’ Craftbury Collection, is likely the most remarkable tobacco blend
anchored in the fictional Arda, despite that it’s a Tolkien reference totally obscure. The name itself is derived
from a small hamlet mentioned in ‘The Return of the King’ in the East Farthing of the Shire called Frogmorton, which
means frog marsh. The village is notable for its inn ‘The Floating Log’, the place where Frodo, Sam, Merry and
Pippin are arrested as they make their way back to Hobbiton having destroyed the One Ring. However, McClelland’s tin
depicts the pipe smoking frog, ‘Frog Morton’, sitting on a log, probably smoking what’s described on the label as
the result of four years of blending and his proudest achievement. What’s this have to do with LOTR? Pretty much
Nevertheless, ‘Frog Morton’ is some good tobacco. The mild addition of smooth latakia to McClelland’s signature
mature Virginia has this blend smoking so sweet I might have thought it spiced with Cavendish. Flavorful, yet mild,
‘Frog Morton’ is one of those blends that I find I enjoy terrifically with a book on a cold night after dessert.
This stuff is big time satisfying.
Because I’m a total geek Because I’m so fond of Tolkien and his wonderful world of characters, I’ll keep
waiting for that perfectly inspired and readily available Middle Earth based pipe tobacco to hit the market. In the
meantime, it doesn’t get any better than ‘Frog Morton’.
The first time I tried to cellar some tobacco for future smoking bliss I messed up bad. I'll spare you the agonizing details of my absolute failure, but I will mention that it cost me eight ounces of Stonehaven. I'm sure many of you know how difficult that stuff is to come by, so needless to say I was pretty disappointed. Yes, lessons were learned.
The next time I got around to storing up some leaf I was so anxious about it that I ended up complicating the process beyond belief. While there are dozens of forums crowded with hundreds of experts, most of which have their own senstive system of cellaring tobacco, Brian has taken the time to show us that cellaring tobacco can be quite simple and inexpensive.
Keep in mind that the tobacco you intend to store and age should be kept from light and moisture. My "cellar" is a closet. Enjoy the video!
Admittedly, the first time I smoked Quiet Nights by G. L. Pease I was not very impressed. I can't say why, exactly, it just didn't do anything for me. It seemed bland, like it lacked dimension or character. But I don't judge a blend based on my first impression. Usually, the tin will get tucked away in the big plastic box that serves as my cellar until I'm feeling adventurous or tired of the usual or maybe until I'm ready to give the blend a second chance. My tin of 'Quiet Nights' got tossed into the box.
Then I was to embark on a week-long Alaskan cruise. While most people will spend some time considering what clothes to bring in regard to the climate and duration of the trip, I tend to start thinking, (well in advance and rather anxiously) about the select few pipes and small amounts of tobacco that will be joining me. This is a really tough decision to make.
One of the two blends that made the final cut to join me abroad was ‘Quiet Nights’. I figured that this was my chance to really get to know the stuff. Boy, am I glad I did.
There was a cigar room on the ship. Set to the soft sound of French jazz and decorated in plush leather, attractive end tables, and beautiful ferns, the room was dimly lit and easily maintained the most serene atmosphere on the boat. This is where I became fast friends with one of the tastiest and most sublime dark English blends I can recall ever having smoked.
Given some time to dry out and if packed with care, this broken flake will smoke real slow, surprisingly cool and for a great long while. It’s heavy and musky, and while the Latakia is rather pronounced here, so too are the savory Orientals and spicy Perique richly accented. Really, all the flavors come together in a delicious harmony. By the end of the trip, ‘Quiet Nights' had become for me a top-notch choice.
I guess my ‘take away’ from this episode is that a lot of my attitude about pipe tobacco is biased by context. At home, with a whole bunch of tobacco choices at my disposal and in the midst of my rut, the magic of a certain blend might be lost on me. On the other hand, when stuck on a ship with 3,000 gluttons, a buffet court, an arcade parlor, and a casino, I’m quick to appreciate the wonderful quality of an unacquainted blend. We get to share a handful of meaningful occasions together and my opinion of the blend is altered, usually for the better.
I’m not going to get into the ‘other’ blend that made it along the cruise. We’ll just say it jumped ship and leave it at that.
It’s not a secret around here that I’m a big fan of latakia leaf, especially during this time of year. I simply love English and Balkan blend tobaccos. Now, I understand that there are a lot of pipe smokers out there that hate the stuff; the claim is that it smells terrible (I’ve heard it described as burning rubber) and tastes awful. Piffle, I say! It smells wonderful (like campfires from childhood vacations) and tastes deliciously sweet, salty, spicy and smoky. As with almost any kind of pipe tobacco, there’s an enormous variety of English recipes that keep enthusiasts entangled in an ever-continuing world of exploration and discovery.
For the last few weeks I’ve been investigating three blends from ‘Captain Earl’s’ line of tobacco: ‘Ten Russians’, ‘Private Stock’, and ‘Stimulus Package’. Originally formulated by Hermit Tobacco, these blends are now packaged and sold by Cornell & Diehl. They are fantastic.
All three are pressed into an old-fashion crumble cake, which is one of my favorite packing styles. All three blends are jam packed with tons of latakia. Although I’m thoroughly enjoying them all, so far I’m really preferring the ‘Ten Russians’ which is richly flavored and complex, staking a nice balance between the sweet, bright, Virginias and the dark, creamy latakia.
If you’re a fan of latakia or are looking to try something different, these blends get a high nod from yours truly.
Sunday Inventory is like Sunday football: People cry
There’s a word here at Smokingpipes.com that brings horror to the face every
On Sunday we will be conducting our quarterly inventory. This unwelcome event takes
place on the last Sunday of every quarter. It also so happens that we are now into
football season, which in my house means Sunday afternoons are booked indefinitely.
My husband and I make total couch potatoes of ourselves, unless, of course, we are
forced to go to the local sports bar when our team’s game isn’t televised. And, no,
Direct TV is not available in our neighborhood – that’s another subject, entirely.
In preparation for this daunting task called inventory, we will spend the next
couple of days ensuring each department is organized before entering the count into
our system on Sunday. Keep in mind that we are very heavy in inventory as we are
just coming out of our annual purchasing trips in Italy, Denmark, and New Orleans.
In fact, I was just downstairs in our retail store to find Kelly wrestling in the
humidor with cigars that seemed to be growing from every nook. Ron is keeping his
cool, but muttering, secretly “What were they thinking, ordering all these cigars
before inventory!?” I noticed Jennifer is reorganizing our bulk tobacco room to
accommodate all the new shipments we’ve recently received. Over in the shipping
department I found Janice on the floor surrounded by tins of tobacco. Janice is
equivalent to the team equipment manager of an NFL team. Organization should be her
middle name. Pam and Alyson are busy on the 2nd floor in our pipe library
organizing new arrivals. Adam is checking-in all the estate pipes. He isn’t
making donuts for us this week. We need to keep our game weight down. No training
room or weight room here at Smokingpipes.com, only stair steps.
After reviewing his playbook and holding a team meeting, Brian has assigned players
to starting positions; teams for a Sunday kick off at 10:00 am. They are as
Sykes (Team Owner) and Pam: Estates
Brian (Head Coach) and Alyson: New Pipes
Susan and Ted: Tinned Tobacco and Accessories
Ron, Kelly, and Lisa (me): Cigars; Ron will be playing with an injured left ankle; we may have to wheel him around the humidor. No injured reserve list here at
Smokingpipes.com. How convenient for me; all the cigars are down in the store where we have a couch and a television.
There will be a halftime lunch with 1st half assessments by Sykes and a motivational
speech by Coach Brian. Hopefully we don’t go into overtime! We will definitely
have some Monday Morning Quarterbacking (aka: the dreaded missing-pipe list). Sykes
will be crunching numbers and reviewing the stats.
While many of you will be home watching football this Sunday, think of me counting:
1 cigar, 2 cigars, 3 cigars, etc...
Mac Baren rope tobaccos-- Dark Twist, Roll Cake and many others-- are some of the best loved blends by the famous Danish manufacturer. One of my favorite processes in the Mac Baren factory is the process of making ropes, which are then cut into coins. This video is longer than most we've posted (at just over eight minutes), but I think it's definitely worth it!
In this video, Per Jensen, product specialist and all round evangelist for Mac Baren, and Frank Blews, brand manager for the US importer, Phillips & King, talk about the new 7 Seas blends from Mac Baren. This is the first serious foray that Mac Baren has made into American style aromatics. Watch the video to learn more!
As you know, IPCPR was held in New Orleans earlier this month. We really enjoyed scouting out new products that ranged from pipe tobacco to accessories to cigars. I headed to Mexico City, Mexico four days after we returned home thinking that shipments would start arriving when I got back to work. Boy, was I wrong! I honestly believe the UPS driver was hiding around the corner waiting for me to leave. I did a little work via internet while I was away and got a sneak-peek as to what was coming in. This prompted me to get back to work a day early to start corralling all the new items.
If tobacco and accessories could be compared to animals, then someone opened all the cages in the zoo. There are new breeds of cigars blocking the walkway in the humidor. Tobacco species of all kinds are taking over the receiving area and classes of bulk and accessory varieties are in total control of my desk! It is now my job to classify and divide these untamed specimens into updates so you, our faithful follower, can enjoy the new additions without getting lost in the wild!
So get the safari hats and binoculars out and get ready for the future updates. We will be unveiling new creatures each week like the annual seasonal blend from a well-known tobacconist that will be in today's update.
Sykes and I have talked over the years about tobacco blending, which is not surprising, and we decided that our blog is a great way to talk about some of the blends we make for our walk-in customers. When I began working for the company, we had a huge variety of bulk tobaccos - and now we have even more. While nearly all of my time is in my second-floor office working on various aspects of our weekly updates, the chance to talk tobaccos with a customer is always great.
There have been many pipe smokers in our store, Low Country Pipe & Cigar, and some of them like to taste our various blends to decide what best suits their taste. We encourage this, and always enjoy helping them pin-point what it is they like about a certain blend, and how best to alter it. Back in 2006, a gentleman came into the store looking for a tobacco he could no longer find. As we have come to notice over the years (and I'm sure you have as well), many tobacco shops take a stock tobacco and give it a cooler name. To avoid confusion, we leave the names as the companies do. For example: We have Lane RLP-6, which countless customers have walked in with under such monikers as "Revery", "Captain's Delight", "Lamp Lighter", etc. While these do sound inviting, it's really difficult to figure out what the blend is. The tobacco this particular gentleman was smoking was not this, but there were subtle flavors I could detect. He wanted a blend that was mild, sweet, flavorful, and lacking tongue-bite. After discussing McClelland's Pastry blend, he decided it was good, but just a bit too sweet for him. Taking note of this, I suggested blending in an unflavored tobacco to tone it down a bit - McClelland Eastern Carolina Ribbon (ECR).
After making up a few small samples for him to try over the following weeks, we hit the nail on the head. This customer comes into our store every month or so, and this enjoys smoking a blend made especially for him: 10.5 ounces of Pastry blended with 5.5 ounces of ECR.
To add to this post, I've made a short video explaining how we blend small batches for our walk-in customers, and ourselves. It's really a simple process since no other pressing, stoving, or topping is involved. We hope you enjoy the video, and hope to make more in the future.
While we were at the IPCPR show in New Orleans, we made a quick stop to chat with our good friends Chris Tarler and Keith Toney from Cornell & Diehl (Craig and Patty Tarler weren't at the show, unfortunately). Amidst the general chatting, we thought it'd be fun to get one of them to do a couple minutes on video about new blends. Chris took a minute to talk through stuff with us. Enjoy!
Stepping back to a couple of
weeks ago for a moment, when Kevin Godbee and I were in Denmark in late July, we established, finally
and definitively, that Dunhill tobaccos would be coming back to the United States in September or
October, first through conversations with Orlik and then, finally, getting confirmation from British-
American Tobacco. The first day of the show, Tuesday, while we were at the Ashton booths, talking about
Petersons with Tom Palmer (Managing Director of Peterson), Michael Walters (Sales Manager for Ashton),
and Evan Carpenter (our regional sales representative), it became clear that we better get an order
together for CAO for the Dunhill tobaccos. Susan and Brian dashed over there, while Alyson and I
continued to work on Petersons. They placed an order for many thousands of tins of Dunhill tobacco for
late September delivery (which might be a slightly optimistic ETA, so we're actually figuring on early
October). The really important thing was to secure the Dunhill in appropriate quantities. Even in these
truly massive amounts, we are a little concerned with stock problems in the autumn given all of the
folks out there waiting for it to become available again. We'd return to both Ashton and CAO later in
the show to conduct cigar and accessory business, but getting the pipes taken care of with Peterson and
the tobacco taken care of with CAO took priority over all else late Tuesday morning.
Having wrapped up all of the pipe buying,
we moved into a more normal pace for the rest of the show. After a quick lunch, we had a meeting with
General Cigar to talk about their new products, including some really interesting new cigars from La
Gloria Cubana, including the new Serie-N cigars, plus the new Artesanos Obilisks. While Susan and Brian
actually conducted the business-y bits, Alyson and I set about interviewing Yuri Guillen, factory manager for La Gloria Cubana about all the new stuff. General also had a cigar roller based in
Miami up for the show, so that was fun to watch too (and we have video of all of this we'll work on
getting up over the next few weeks).
After that, the chronology of it all starts to get a bit blurry. Brian and Susan had a meeting with
Oliva Cigars, of which I caught the tail end, while I did some quick following up with pipe folks that
we'd already been to see, and tobacco folks to set things up for later in the show. As the day wore on,
we visited the Villiger-Stokkebye booths, both because we needed to give them an order and also because
they were in charge of feeding us Tuesday night. We spent some time talking with Kevin and Gary from
Villiger-Stokkebye, plus Brian and I touched base on a couple of projects with Erik Stokkebye and the
representative from Scandinavian Tobacco (Orlik's parent company) who was present for the show. Susan
set to work structuring our ordering for the next couple of months with Gary, Villiger-Stokkebye's all
round logistics guy, which requires a fair bit of planning: a whole lot of tobacco travels from
Charlotte, NC to Little River, SC every week. After that, Erik, Brian and I attended a short trade
organization / legislative meeting that started right after the show, while Susan and Alyson went
immediately to Altadis' cocktail party. Altadis puts on quite a party and had we not been anticipating a
serious dinner with the Stokkebye folks later that evening, we could have spent all evening there. We
did get a chance to talk to a couple of senior people about the tobacco regulatory environment, which
was good for keeping us in the loop.
Speaking of which, a major topic of conversation at the show was the TTB's definitions of pipe
tobacco and according regulations. It's terribly esoteric and convoluted, but the short and long of it
is that, after extended conversations with Mike McNiel from McClelland and Paul Creasy and others from
Altadis, we're actually feeling better about the situation than we have in recent months. The TTB and
ATF seem to be handling this fairly transparently and fairly, at least by governmental regulatory body
standards. Much remains to be seen, which may take years to be established, but it seems like everything
will generally remain as is in the mid-term.
And that evening, we had an amazing culinary and historical experience courtesy of the wonderful
folks at Villiger-Stokkebye. And for that story, you'll have to tune in again for the next part of the
IPCPR trip overview...
Much of my past week has been spent prepping for our trip to New Orleans for the annual IPCPR trade show. Hotel rooms and transportation are all set; we have great dinners lined up and I'm excited to make my requisite pilgrimage to Café du Monde on Jackson Square for beignets and coffee at least once (or about eight times if time permits). Susan, Alyson, Sykes and I met this past Wednesday to plan day one of the show, our pipe day. Knute Rockne would not be impressed, but Sykes was actually drawing football plays by the end of the meeting (which, among other things, is why we try to avoid having meetings). Ron, our store manager, handed me a list multiple pages long that reads like an eight-year-old's list for Santa Claus and we have appointments lined up with makers of pipes, pipe tobacco and, especially at this show, cigars.
I've already received many ideas from friends for cigars and other products to be on the lookout for, plus one unsolicited, but much appreciated, jazz club recommendation. Now is your chance to help: tell us what you'd like to see in the comments section of this post! I'll see what I can do at the show and I'll follow up with another post when I return.
Picking up where we left off at Mac Baren, in Part II of my Danish Chronology, we wended our way from
Svendborg on the southern coast of Funen to Odense in the center of the island to visit none other than
Peter Heeschen. Peter was waiting for us, beer or coffee at the ready, in his workshop. We sat
outside for a time, catching up, with me reintroducing Peter to Kevin, since they'd only met briefly
once before. Having arrived mid-afternoon, we would spend the rest of Tuesday and Tuesday night with
Visiting Peter is an interesting experience, not least of all because he insists that I make a pipe
each time I visit. He knows full well that I have about as much native pipe making talent as a large
tuna, though trusting me with machinery is even more dangerous, since at least I have thumbs that can be
lost in the process. I think this is why Peter insists upon this: if nothing else, it provides endless
amusement, and, as a bonus, I've never bled so much as to stain anything in his workshop. This visit was
no exception. He had the two of us designing and shaping pipes in no time. Kevin had never done this
before, so Peter spent most of his effort helping Kevin. Plus, Kevin seemed to pick things up fairly
quickly and I think Peter was delighted to have a student that was a little easier to teach than it
would have been if he'd tried to instruct one of his horses in the intricacies of pipe making. Note that
the picture is of Kevin with his pipe.My pipe, while it smokes beautifully (Peter did the internals for
me), is so ugly that it will never, ever be seen by anyone. I will only ever smoke it, in the bathroom,
with the door locked and the lights off. This is a pipe so ugly, I wouldn't show it to my mother. Peter
started cooking duck and we continued to work on our pipes. We ran out of time for staining and whatnot,
so I buffed each and laid a coat of wax and that had to suffice for finishing (and even there I managed
to do a better job with Kevin's than mine; not only is mine lumpen, I'll have to sneak into the office
in the dead of night (lest someone see the monstrosity that is this pipe) to refinish it).
Now, cooking duck is something that I actually know something about, though I have to confess that
Peter might have me beat there too. Still, I found it slightly ironic (and violating all sorts of
division of labor principles from Economics 101 freshman year in college) that Peter was cooking and I
was making pipes (for those of you who remember first semester micro, I kinda felt like New York trying
to grow oranges). With pipes (sort of) complete, and dinner ready, we sat down together for some
seriously tasty duck and potatoes, and spent the rest of the evening talking pipes, pipe shows, various
pipe friends and the like, smoking small mountains of pipe tobacco and, in the case of Peter and Kevin
at least, consuming impressive quantities of scotch.
After breakfast the following morning, we set out for the Orlik factory near the western coast of
Funen. One of the greatest things about being in Denmark on a business trip is that it seems like almost
every driving stretch between appointments is forty-five minutes, which is how long it took us to reach
Orlik, in spite of getting slightly turned around on our way there. Having had a little trouble figuring
out where we should be, Troels Mikkelsen discovered us and rescued us from wandering the hallways
indefinitely. This worked out well since Troels was exactly who we were looking for.
If I were to discuss our visit to Orlik in any detail, it would require a half dozen blog posts on
its own. You've already seen two videos from the visit (and if you haven't, see below and check them
out; they're amazing) and I'll probably have one more over the next little while. Troels speaks so
knowledgeably and so lovingly about tobacco that one can't help but be swept up in his commentary. We
started out in the big tobacco warehouses, filled with thousands of 200kg boxes of leaf, waiting for
processing. Countries of origin were stamped on each box: Brazil, USA, Malawi, Indonesia, Malaysia and a
half dozen countries one would never expect tobacco from. Whether he was talking about perique or the
changes in tobacco growing in southern Africa, Troels was erudite and compelling.
From there, we moved into the production facility, first encountering the great rope making station.
When I die, if I end up in heaven, there will be one such station there. This, my dear reader, is where
they make the Escudo. On that particular day, they were making Luxury Bullseye Flake, while is almost as
much fun (and uses exactly the same process). Yielding heavy pressed batons of tobacco, ready for cutting,
the process was a joy to watch (check out the video here). And thence onto the pressing and mixing and blending and topping
and saucing and cutting equipment, much of which is linked together by a bunch of tobacco filled
And onto the packing equipment, which, frankly, might be my favorite. Yes, the processing stuff is
pretty cool, but there's just so much more automated fun to see during the packaging processes. Tobacco
goes in one end and tins come out the other. We watches as tobacco was automatically weighed into little
hoppers, put in tins, the tins sealed, and proper labels applied, all on one big machine, managed by one
woman. It was amazing.
Having enjoyed the tour of the factory, we went to lunch (about which I've posted previously) and
from there visited Lasse, the Mad Scientist Tobacco Blender, in the facility used for the My Own Blend
line of tobaccos for the Paul Olsen shops, now owned by Orlik. Fully eight metric tons annually come
through this small room, hand blended to specification by Lasse Berg based on more than fifty component
tobaccos and countless flavorings. As I said previously, it's clear that Lasse thinks he has the coolest
job ever. And, if it weren't for my job, I might agree with him. Lasse whipped up two blends, one for
each of Kevin and me. Heavy in perique and light in rum, my particular concoction still waits to be
opened. I wanted to give it a couple of weeks to sit before I did so, and now I'm trying to smoke
through open tins before I open anything else, so I hope to get to it in the next few days.
My trip chronology continues to grow faster than I can work my way through it (which is temporally
odd, given that the trip ended almost two weeks ago), so there will have to be a fourth and (I promise)
final episode in this little series during which we visit Mogens 'Johs' Johansen in Frederikshavn and I
have dinner with Nanna Ivarsson, her husband Daniel, and children, Sixten and Mathis.
I find myself yet again chronologically-challenged in this reverse-chronology world of blogging. I've been meaning to pull together the balance of the trip overview, the first part of which was posted on July 18th, from Denmark. The second half of the trip found us leaving Copenhagen in search of pipe makers and tobacco manufacturers away from the Danish capital, visiting towns like Svendborg, Odense, Assens, Aalborg, and Frederikshavn. So, here's an overview of Monday and Tuesday of the trip:
On Monday, July 19th, we spent the day with Tom Eltang. We'd already had a quick visit with Tom the previous Saturday night, but this was the scheduled all-day-with-Tom day. Usually when I travel to Denmark, I tend to fill up my non-scheduled time either by just hanging out with Tom Eltang. Tom's workshop has, over the years, become something of a home away from home for me.
We arrived in the late morning, finally having taken a morning to just get some much needed rest, and Kevin and I found Tom, much as I had expected, working away. He was hand sanding stain off of bowls on one of the four smooth pipes (hopefully Snail graded!) that he's sending our way that he was still working on while we were there. We found ourselves some coffee and bounced some ideas we had off of Tom, for video interviews and whatnot. A couple of those videos are up on this blog now, and Kevin will edit some more and they'll be posted both on PipesMagazine.com and Smokingpipes.com, so I won't spoil the fun that we had. As always, Tom's working on new stuff, the big thing being his new laser engraver, which he discusses in a video on July 25th. We also got to see one of the new Eltang Tubos pipes being made, which we'll have video of at some point in the near future. Tom is always full of energy and this visit was no exception; it's exciting for me to see a pipe maker that is constantly evolving, striving to be better and better. We finished up the day having dinner at Tom and his wife Pia's home, in their garden, with their grandson Oscar. Pia, true to form, put together a fantastic meal, including fantastic pizzas she cooked on the grill. Sometimes I worry that Tom thinks I only spend time with him in the hope that Pia will feed me; sometimes I worry that he's right... Seriously, it was a wonderful visit with old friends, talking pipes, new ideas, and eating great food.
The following morning, Tuesday July 19th, we got up early and headed to Svendborg, about ninety minutes from Copenhagen, to visit Per Jensen at the Mac Baren factory. I've visited the factory four or five times at this point and it is always fantastic. Seeing all of the work, machinery and expertise that goes into bringing us the blends that we love is as special as watching great pipe makers work, except that the machines are massively bigger, which, if, like me, you've never grown out of thinking backhoes are really cool, just makes the whole experience that much more fun. As with everything else on this trip, this was Kevin's first visit to Mac Baren, which gave me an excuse to ask Per to, yet again, show me around the factory. When I visited last year with Tony Saintiague (our now departed, but still involved, VP for Sales, who still pops up for pipe shows and occasional meetings), lots of changes had been made to accommodate great growth in production. This trip, the changes were more subtle-- new, safer, automated cutting machines, new flake tobacco packing machines-- the general little improvements that are the hallmark of any well run company. Per Jensen himself is always a pleasure; he knows so much about tobacco and speaks so lovingly of the Mac Baren factory that it's impossible to not be swept up in his enthusiasm. And, as both a tobacco and Mac Baren enthusiast myself, it doesn't take much to sweep me up in that enthusiasm. Following the factory tour, we had lunch with Per and Simon Nielsen, Marketing Director for Mac Baren, but someone I've known for awhile because he had been the export manager for the United States before he was promoted to his current position. While lacking the extraordinary depth of tobacco knowledge that Per brings to the table, Simon is similarly enthusiastic about Mac Baren and its product and it's always a pleasure to talk about the business end of the business with him. I think that's part of what makes the whole Mac Baren experience so special. These folks really love and care for Mac Baren. They believe in what they do. I love companies, or any organization for that matter, that's like this. It's just always a pleasure to see these guys. Oh, and see giant machines making tobacco...
That afternoon, we traveled on to visit Peter Heeschen, but that's the subject of the next post in this occasional series...check back for Danish Chronology, Part III.
While we were visiting the Orlik factory (about ten days ago), the first thing we happened upon when we entered the production floor was a woman working on making rolls of pipe tobacco. At first, I mistook it for Escudo (y'all know where my particular heart lies), but I was almost as excited to see Bullseye Flake being made as I would have been to see Escudo (Luxury Bullseye Flake is great too). The process, by which they take a thin pressed flake and wrap it around a pressed rod (of sorts) of a mixture of perique and fermented virginias, is, frankly, pretty cool. Check it out!
When Kevin Godbee and I were at the Orlik factory, we inquired about Dunhill tobaccos. Having been routed to a few different people at British-American Tobacco (BAT), we finally have an answer. It will be available in September or October and the importer will be CAO. You can read about it here at PipesMagazine.com.
Initially these five will be back in 50g tins:
Early Morning Pipe
Standard Mixture Medium
The Royal Yacht
My Mixture 965
These three will be available in 5lb bags again:
Dunhill Early Morning Pipe
Dunhill My Mixture 965
Frankly, I think this is one of the coolest videos we've yet posted. Troels Mikkelsen has been in the tobacco business for thirty years, first at A&C Petersen, then at Orlik. He manages production at the Orlik factory and I can't imagine a better guide to the operation. The visit was an absolute delight, and Troel's discussion of the various tobacco varietals was one of the highlights.
I've visited the Mac Baren factory every year for five years now. And every time, I come up with a way to get Per to take me through the factory. Sometimes it's because they have new stuff he wants to show me and sometimes, as with this trip, it's because I have someone with me who hasn't experienced it before. I'm starting to run out of reasons to see it again, other than that I think a giant tobacco factory is probably the coolest place on earth. My inner eight year old loves all the giant whirring machinery, and the slightly more grown up me loves the resulting product. Slightly more seriously, I've always been impressed by Mac Baren and the people I've worked with there. There's a dedication to what they do that is impressive. Per Jensen's enthusiasm for pipe tobacco is infectious. In this video, Per guides us through the flake pressing and cutting process.
As we mentioned yesterday in our post comparing the two factories, after the factory tour, Per Jensen, Mac Baren's product development and all round Mac Baren tobacco evangelist guy, sat with us over coffee. The conversation turned to what he thinks is the best flake tobacco packing method. Not only did he describe it, he felt obliged to pack Kevin Godbee's Dunhill Ruby Bark with some Mac Baren Virginia Flake to show us how it's done by guys that play with tobacco all day, every day. We gave Mac Baren the nod for personal pipe packing service for this extra effort on their part when we visited, but we also took a little video of it so that you can, hopefully, enjoy the little lesson as much as we did.
by Sykes Wilford, Smokingpipes.com, and Kevin Godbee, Pipesmagazine.com
When one has an opportunity to visit two of the largest pipe tobacco manufacturers in the world on back to back days, comparing the two is all but
impossible. Mac Baren and Orlik, between them, produce over half of the world's pipe tobacco. Along with the Lane factory in Tucker, GA, they make up the big
three pipe tobacco producers in the world. And they're both on the island of Funen that sits between Sjaelland, the largest of the Danish islands, and
Jylland, the peninsula that juts off of the European mainland. Indeed, they're an hour drive apart on either side of the island. Having had a thoroughly
hospitable reception at both factories and being tremendously impressed by both operations, we nonetheless found ourselves drawing some comparisons.
Having left Orlik, we started discussing the differences between the two. Perhaps the similarities are more obvious: both operate massive, modern
factories, both are fanatically dedicated to the quality of their tobaccos, and both have a long history and make famous brands that have stood the test of
time. But this, our dear readers, is about the differences.
For starters, no pun intended, let's talk about lunch. Typically, large companies have cafeterias. In the United States, outside of Google, such places
offer fare that make sixth grade school lunch seem palatable. At both Mac Baren and Orlik, we were pleased to discover that the Danes have a subtly different
approach to such things. They serve edible lunches in company cafeterias. Offering traditional Danish comestibles, including black bread, a variety of
impressive cheeses and cold meats, paté, and full salad bars, Sykes wants one of these for the Smokingpipes.com campus. Imagine visiting a tobacco company and
coming away with company catering ideas. Picking a winner in this category was impossible.
Both Orlik and Mac Baren have machinery that causes otherwise reasonable grown men to act like eight-year-old boys who just saw a backhoe. Conveyor belts,
automatic weighing machines, little robotic arms to fold packaging, slides, chutes, and sundry whirring doodads abound, but the nod, if only a half-nod, goes
to Mac Baren, who can go from tobacco coming in from the ceiling, to pouches, to cartons, to outer cartons, to pallets, all without ever being touched by a
human hand. Orlik was close, requiring slightly more human intervention, but in this category, Mac Baren is a clear winner.
Both factories produce rope tobacco. Rope tobacco is a traditional method of fabricating tobacco for transport, back when finding a way to keep tobacco smokable after a transatlantic journey on a wooden sailing ship was a serious problem. The tobacco is literally spun into ropes: the process lies somewhere in between cigar rolling and rope braiding. But, the factories' respective methods are a little different. Mac Baren uses whole leaves as something comparable to the binder and filler. Orlik uses thin pressed sheets of tobacco, similar to those used for flakes, but much thinner. Inside, Mac Baren generally uses loose leaf dark fired Kentucky, whereas Orlik uses pressed perique or black cavendish. From this process comes some of the world's most famous, most tastiest blends, including Mac Baren Roll Cake and, Sykes' personal favorite, Escudo, which is made by Orlik (which we both happen to be smoking while engaging in this absurd literary exercise). However, the nod goes to Mac Baren in this category, for they have what looks and works like a giant RYO cigarette machine. Frankly, the little machine that presses it into a rope at Orlik just isn't nearly as cool.
About an hour on the road after our visit to Orlik, Sykes turned to Kevin and said "did the tobacco blender guy make you think mad scientist too?" To which Kevin retorted with a maniacal laugh. Yes, Orlik has its very own evil genius tobacco blender. Here in Denmark they offer a personalized blending service where different stores or individuals can choose to craft their own blend. The idea started in the 1930s and grew into Paul Olsen's My Own Blend, which Orlik purchased from the Olsen family in the 1980s. Today, roughly eight metric tons of pipe tobacco is custom blended for customers and stores to the exact recipe, based on almost fifty component blends and dozens of flavorings, by Lasse Berg, Chief Evil Tobacco Genius (ok, we made up the title). It is abundantly clear that a) Lasse thinks he has the best job on the planet, and b) he played with chemistry sets as a kid. At one point, he showed us a cola flavored tobacco topping of his own creation, of which he was very proud, but then went on to admit that he doesn't use it very much because, apparently, no one really thinks of cola as a tobacco flavoring. He went on to create for us, sans cola topping, individualized blends based on our preferences. Sykes' had more perique, Kevin had more rum. Also, during this exercise, Kevin drank a bit of the rum used on the tobacco (he approves), also giving Orlik the nod for best adult beverages (Mac Baren did not offer adult beverages at 10am when we arrived there). So, two categories at once to Orlik: mad scientist tobacco blender and best adult beverages. Does it surprise anyone that the mad scientist blender was also the keeper of the adult beverages?
While we were visiting Mac Baren, after the factory tour with Per Jensen, who is something between a product development guy and a general Mac Baren evangelist, we sat and had coffee with him. As our conversation meandered from topic to topic, we ended up with Per showing Kevin, with Kevin's pipe, how to pack flake tobacco by folding it and packing it vertically. So, not only did they humor us with a factory tour, fed us lunch, plied with coffee and tobacco, they even had a Mac Baren executive pack Kevin's pipe.
On net, it was a tie. Both organizations are impressive and were wonderfully accommodating to two very excited, tobacco crazed Americans.
"So I curtailed my Walpoling activities, sallied forth, and infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some tobacco-y smokables." "Come again?!" "I want to buy some tobacco!"
"How about a little Full Virginia Flake?" I'm afraid we're fresh out of Full Virginia Flake, sir." "Never Mind."
"How are you on Stonehaven?" "Never at the end of the week, sir. Always get it fresh first thing on Monday."
"Tish Tish. No Matter. Um, well, four ounces of Best Brown if you please, stout yeoman." "Uh, well, it's been on order for two weeks, sir. I was expecting it this morning."
"Yes, it's not my day, is it? Ah, Blue Note?" "Sorry." "1792?" "I almost said yes, but today the van broke down." "Penzance?" "Sorry." "Dunbar? Squadron Leader?" "No." "Any German Hamborger Veermaster?" "No."
Between Samuel Gawith, Esoterica, Dan Tobacco and assorted other things, running a major purveyor of pipe tobacco in the United States right now feels a bit like running Monty Python's Cheese Shop. Every time I have one of these discussions with a customer, I can't help but think of the above exchange. I love the Cheese Shop skit; it's right up there with the football match between German and Greek philosophers and Ministry of Silly Walks among the pantheon of great Monty Python moments, but I don't particularly like living it. Especially given I'm the guy that gets shot at the end of it.
Short and long of it is that we're working on it. We hate not having some of the best tobaccos in the world in stock all the time. We love these blends as much as you do. Last Samuel Gawith shipment (and it was a big shipment) lasted three days. We're getting as much as we can. In the meantime, enjoy the original...
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