Monday, September 26, 2011

God Save the Queen

Smeggin' hell, I love Englishes. No, not the people from England (don't get me wrong, there are some fine folks from there), but rather English tobaccos.

I embrace a certain theory about tobaccos, namely that, in most cases, certain styles of tobaccos go better with certain types of weather.

As of late, living in St. Louis and all, it has been slightly warm, slightly below room temperature in Hell. For this reason, I have been smoking almost exclusively Virginias and Virginia/Perique (VaPer) blends. There tend to go very well with warmer weather, for, much like cigars, they are pure, untampered, and not often terribly complex in flavors. I also enjoy aromatics while it's warm outside, mostly because other people tend to enjoy the smell of an aromatic, thus turning it into a social activity.

Recently, however, the weather has started started to cool, to the point of being able to see my breath recently at night. In order to celebrate, I dusted off my black Rind Rubens Rhodesian, a tightly sealed tin of McCranie's Hell's Gate (a Latakia and Oriental leaf blend), and headed outside.

I packed the tobacco lovingly, cherishing the different feel of an English tobacco (yes, it even feels different to the touch).. I packed the bowl using the Frank method, my personal favorite technique for a number of reasons, which I will address in a later discussion.

For a while, I just sat there with the pipe, without lighting it. I looked at the pipe, examined its shape, inspected the packed, and took a number of draws through the unlit pipe, tasting flavoring through the air that I had not tasting since the weather warmed up. It was sweet and spicy, with a little smokiness on the tail-end.

Finally, I pulled out my lighter and toasted the tobacco for the false-light. Goosebumps. I waited for the embers to die, gently flattened the tobacco back down, and lit it up once more.

I was overwhelmed by the flavors. Before I was even three puffs in, I literally exclaimed to no one, “My God, I love Englishes!” I took the pipe out of my mouth and looked at it, afraid I was imagining it. It truly was a great experience. Complex, yet perfect. Like a cup of hot chocolate, it warmed me from the inside, comforted me despite the cold weather.

Bringing out my cherished Englishes is one of the moments that I look most forward to: the changing of the leaves.

P.S. To make the bowl even better, it was a one light bowl, the whole way down. God save the Queen!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In the Out Door

My brother – also a pipe-smoker – and I were having a discussion the other day about which is a more enjoyable experience: smoking a pipe inside or outside. My brother wholeheartedly endorses the outside approach, while I am a little more dubious.

First, we must acknowledge one advantage to my brother's opinion: it is far more acceptable to have a pipe outside than it is inside. We must accept that, no matter how much we whine and scream and moan, indoor smoking is out. Outdoor smoking may actually be following close, with recent bans on college campuses and in parks, including the completely public areas (doesn't seem so public though, does it?). This entire notion provokes a rant for another time, especially since I am currently re-reading Mill's On Liberty and remember why I subscribe to Utilitarianism. “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

Luckily, there are places to which one can escape. I still have my own abode, in which, for now, I am still allowed to enjoy my pipe. There are also the occasional cigar bars that allow the humble pipe-smoking to join their often boisterous ranks. After all, one will barely notice his presence in the midst of those wishing to show how big their cigar is.

Since there are still some places where a pipe can by lit up inside, the question is a valid one. Which is more enjoyable?

Inside certainly has its advantages. First of all, there is climate control, which should not be under-appreciated. Secondly, there is no wind. This has many advantages, including making lighting a pipe much easier and it allows the room note of the tobacco to be fully savored. Additionally, the seating is often infinitely more comfortable. I know this sounds absurd, but the essence of pipe-smoking is enjoyment, and I am much more able to enjoy myself in a leather chair than I am in a cold, metal one. Finally, it is worth mentioning that once one has found an indoor setting where pipe-smoking is allowed, one is less likely to be ridiculed or eyed oddly.

What about outside? Smoking outdoors allows one to enjoy the beauty of nature in quiet contemplation, which is one of the premier experiences with a pipe. One of the other advantages is the wind. Wait, what? Didn't he just say that not having wind was an advantage for smoking indoors? Yes, he did. But give me some leeway. The breeze offers many advantages for the pipe-smoker. First of all, not all pipe tobaccos smell wonderful to everyone. Sure, there are the cherry and chocolate flavored blends, but there are also some stinky Englishes out there (though, I love 'em!). Thus, the breeze blowing the smoke away might offer an advantage to the smoker himself and any guests he might be entertaining. Also, the wind can help one's pipe stay lit longer with less concentration on puffing. My first one-light bowl was outside, because the gentle breeze kept the embers going. Another advantage of being outdoors is that there are a lot of wonderful activities to enjoy outdoors along with pipe-smoking, such a barbequing. Finally, when one is sitting outside with a pipe, one will often be approached by strangers and told how that person's grandfather or uncle smoked a pipe; one may even run into another pipe-smoker by accident. These serendipitous events are incredible joys that are often lost while shutting oneself inside.

Ultimately, I would agree that being outdoors is a more enjoyable experience with a pipe, but inside is far more practical. Either way, the pipe itself is a glorious thing that enhances both locales.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Christmas in September

I have to be honest, I start getting excited about Christmas towards the end of Summer. This is not because I am dying to clean the entire house for company, including areas that no guest has ever, ever seen; it is not because of the food – though the food is amazing; it is not even because of the presents, at least presents from others.

It is because late Summer bring the first release of this year's Christmas Cheer from McClelland.

This unique blend is highly anticipated by pipe-smokers world round every year. These blends are typically Virginia in a flake form. There is something else in this blend, however, that makes it extra special: expectation and tradition.

On almost every pipe-smoking forum and every website that sells pipe tobacco, there is a virtual explosion when this blend is released. Many of those who purchase it do so simply because it is a tradition, while other have been drooling for months, waiting for this year's blend.

An interesting aspect of purchasing this blend is that it makes me not only excited for this Christmas season, when my brother and I will crack open a tin of McClelland's Christmas Cheer 2011 around the fireplace, but it makes me excited for Christmas 2021 and Christmas 2031.

Being a Virginia flake, this blend is physically perfect for aging, and being an annual blend, it is spiritually perfect for aging. I cannot tell you how much joy the thought of opening up a ten year old tin of Christmas Cheer with my brother brings me, though I have never yet had this chance. The past is connected to the present, and the present is connected to the future, all through the anticipation and tradition held within the 100g, red, delightful tin.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pipes vs. Cigar Mathhammer

Pipes vs. Cigars

Sure, pipes are luxurious. Sure, they are artful in their design and elegant in their simplicity. Sure, that's all true. But what about a cigar?

Even if you don't buy into Freudian analysis, it's hard to deny the pure aura of power exuded by one lighting up a good cigar. And why not? After all, a good cigar can run one anywhere from $5 to $15 or even more. For one smoke, that is a hefty sum.

The realization of how much a single cigar can cost causes one to wonder. It is common knowledge that smoking a pipe will save one money over smoking cigarettes, but what about over cigars?

Let's start with the cigarettes, since it's easier:

Assuming one doesn't live in New York, a pack of cigarettes now averages more that $5 a pack, so let's go with $5.50 a pack, to be generous. Let's also assume that you aren't as bad as a two-pack-a-day smoker, but you do manage to knock out one pack every day. Simple math:

        5 x 365 = $2,007.50 a year.

God forbid you live in New York City and smoke two packs a day, a habit that will cost you about $10,000 a year. Bye-bye, college fund!

Now, what about cigars? Well, naturally, one won't be smoking 20 cigars a day! But, let's assume one will be enjoy one cigar an evening with a glass of Scotch (sounds nice to me!). Also, so as not to stack the deck against cigars, let's assume you don't go overboard with 15 year old cigars, and instead enjoy a good old Macanudo, which will run you about $5 a pop. So, again, some simple math:

        5 x 365 = $1,825 a year.

Not quite as bad as cigarettes and a hell of a lot better tasting!

What about pipes?

Well, that gets a little more complicated, because pipes have a little bit more equipment, including: 
Pipe cleaners ($20 worth should hold you over for a year) 

A tamper ($5 at the most) 

and the pipe itself. Let's give this invisible pipe smoker a good pipe, maybe by Peterson, for about $80.

Now for the tobacco itself. Well, assuming once more that this pipe smoker has good taste and smokes brands like G. L. Pease and McClelland, which will run one about $10 for a tin of two ounces.

Now, an ounce will normally give the average pipe smoker between 10 and 15 bowl. Let's say 10 bowls, to give the cigars a fighting shot, and, instead of one smoke a day, let's say he has two bowls of tobacco a day. So, that means 730 bowls a year, which means 73 ounces of tobacco a year. Now, that we have this information, we can make our final calculation:

Pipe cleaners (20) + tamper (5) + pipe (80) + 37 tins of 2oz of tobacco (370) = $470 a year.

Wow! That's even with the pipe smoker buying a good pipe and smoking two bowls a day. The pipe smoker has still saved $1,400 dollars a year over the cigar smoker. That means the pipe smoker could smoke four bowls a day and buy a $600 Danish pipe instead of a Peterson and still come out on top.

(Tonny Nielsen freehand)

Let's recap:

One pack of cigarettes a day: $2,007.50 a year.

One mid-range cigar a day: $1,825 a year.

One high-end pipe a year and four bowls of high-end tobacco a day: $1,735 a year.

One mid-range pipe a year and two bowls of high-end tobacco a day: $470 a year.

I guess pipe smoking is not only enjoyable and good for your stress level, but it's good for your wallet, too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Getting to Know You"

Many people have said that there is a difference between a pipe smoker and a pipe collector. According to the commonly accepted definition, a pipe smoker buys a pipe to smoke it, while a pipe collector very well might smoke the pipe he buys, but that is not the reason he buys it – he buys it for its beauty, its form, or some unnameable aspect that calls to him. If this be true, then I am a pipe collector.

Despite being a pipe collector, I am also a pipe smoker. For this reason, there are occasional moments when I look at my pipe rack containing upwards of fifty pipes, all of whom have struck me for different reasons, and I become slightly morose. This feeling stems not out of a desire to fill the remaining 20 slots in my rack – that feeling is quite a different one – but rather comes from seeing so many bowls that remain completely clean, never touched by tobacco or flame. Though this pristine quality ensures that the beauty of the pipe remains untarnished and that the design remains in the exact condition that it left the hands of the artisan, it also means that there is something that I do not know about my treasured possessions.

I know what the pristine pipe looks like; I know its back story; I know what it feels like in my hand; in all likelihood, I even know what the draw of the pipe is like, since I will often pick up a pipe, inspect it, feel it, and give a test draw. But I don't know what I call the alchemy of the pipe. It is the je ne sais quoi of the pipe, a quality that cannot be grasped through quantification, nor through hours of endless groping at the power of engineering and design in pipes. Though these musings and investigations may allow for a hypothesis as to how a pipe will potentially behave while introduced to a specific type of tobacco, there are no guarantees. For example, it is generally accepted that stouter pipes, such as pots, princes, or, my personal favorite, the Rubens Rhodesian, react well with English style bends. It's true, I have had many of these pipes that have taken to Englishes like a Golden Retriever – beautiful, reliable, and trustworthy – but there is also one who responded more like a Pit Bull. This is not just variety within the same general shape, but within the exact same unique shape, designed to be nearly identical in dimensions.

This alchemy can only be discovered through experience, usually a good number of bowls of a good number of different styles of tobacco. This delving into the inner machinations of a treasured pipe can be a double-edged sword, though.

It is a true joy to discover that an artfully made pipe is also a wonderful pipe to smoke – double threat! However, there is the risk that something within the pipe is just not meant for tobacco and fire. It's a rare thing that pipes won't respond well to any type of tobacco, but it does happen. When I discover this quality about a beautiful pipe that I have admired and loved and dreamed about smoking, I feel that some part of its beauty is diminished – not to mention how sad it is to know that the bowl has been charred to no avail. When this happens, I can't help but wonder: Would ignorance have been bliss?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sweet, Sweet Anachronisms

Let's face it: we pipe smokers are Romantics. Personally, when I see a pipe-tobacco named something along the lines of “Breakfast Pipe”, I cannot help but want to smoke this tobacco at breakfast, even though I am aware that it is typically so named because of a heavy dose of latakia. The same thing goes with my Oscar Wilde pipe from the Peterson Writers' Collection – while I have been currently making my way through The Portrait of Dorian Grey, I cannot help but want to hold that particular pipe.

As a result of this Romanticism, there are certain things that we imagine go wonderfully with a pipe: a glass of tea, a dram of scotch, a leather-bound book, a fire in the hearth. It is odd to think that quite possibly the modern pipe-smoker's best friend is actually a bit less fitting: the internet. This isn't simply to find great deals on Crocs or view the lasted scandalous picture of Lindsay Lohan (when will she learn?).

There was once a time – so I am told – when one could go to one's local tobacconist to purchase a pipe and find incredible fonts of wisdom in the form of an affable man behind the counter, who was, in all likelihood, smoking a pipe himself. Though these places for still exist – like wild tigers and black rhinos still exist – one is probably more likely to win the lottery.

And winning the lottery is exactly what finding one of these locations is; more than a few potential pipe smokers have been jaded by a horrible initial experience with a briar. This horrible experience is usually a result of having no advice while starting out or having back advice from someone who has never really smoked a pipe.

Luckily, there is a solution for those, like myself, who have never really found a tobacconist complete with pipes, tobacco, and a sage. That is solution is found on the internet.

Nowadays, there are a number of online resources for we lonesome pipe smokers. These offer everything from guides to starting with your first pipe to discussions about the engineering of pipes, musing on a particular artisan's work to advice about which pipe blend to try next. There are even some fantastic resources for locating one's next – or first – pipe, from websites supplying thousands of pipes to the website of particular carvers exhibiting their incredible work.

Here are some of my current favorite websites on pipes, none of which I have any association with, aside from being a member of some forums and a reader of some of the blogs: – An incredible collection of wonderful pipe smokers offer their experiences and opinions from everything to particular brands to methods of packing a pipe to what is the best type of lighter. A really fun place with a great deal of information and lots of generous people. – In my opinion, online retailers don't get much better than this. Not only are the prices better than most online shops, and certainly better than brick and mortar shops, but every pipe is described in detail with a large, high-resolution photo, normally from multiple angles. Want a new pipe? You're in very safe hands with the fine people at Smoking Pipes. – An incredible pipe-blog written by Neill Archer Roan. Subjects are all over the board, from discussing Neill's latest acquisitions to pondering on how certain shapes of pipes impact the flavor of particular types of tobacco (one of my favorite entries, by the way). – Don't take this website as gospel, but I absolutely love to check in on it. This site has a great collection of reviews on different tobacco blends with many different opinions, whose validity you will be able to determine on your own. It is a good starting point for figuring out what to try next, however. – Seriously. Check this guy out. I don't even need to say anything more. Look at this guy's work. – This is more of a tool than a resource for information or purchases. Here, you can create a log of what tins (or jars or bags or what have you) you currently have, including price and weight, so that you not only know how much you currently have, but ensure you don't purchase something that you don't already have! Also, it has a very cool (and slightly depressing) feature, where you enter your smoking rate and it will tell you how long your cellar will currently last you. My cellar currently? Over a hundred years...

That's all for now. Enjoy your adventures through cyberspace. And remember: there is nothing wrong with the occasional anachronism, so feel free to puff your pipe while exploring the online world of pipes!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Collecting Friends

In my opinion, one of the necessities of a successful blog – a term that can be defined in myriad ways – is the stripping away of the invisible armor that is the impersonal nature of the internet. To you, aside from the tiny thumbnail on the right of the screen, I am nothing more than a ghost, a shade who occasionally reveals himself through disembodied text on your screen.

However, I believe there is a way for me to solve this. There is something that I believe is incredibly personal to every pipe-collector – his collection. Not only does a collection reveal the piper's personal interests and obsessions, but it also reveals the amount that he has spent and dedicated to his hobby. For some of the elite – and I do not use this term negatively – members of our ranks, such as Neill Archer Roan, the display of one's collection can be a physical reflection of his expertise and the breadth of his experience.

I am not saying that revealing parts of my collection will prove that I am an expert; far from it. I am, after all, still in Pipe School. However, I want to share it with you in the hopes that you will experience a little of the joy that my collection has brought me and perhaps understand further why I have such an obsession with pipes and tobacco.


Byron's Choice, by Savinelli

Straight Billiard with a Saddle Bit, by Dunhill (The same pipe Robert Downey, Jr. smokes as Sherlock Holmes)

Morta Bent Dublin, by Becker

Morta Rhodesian, by Becker

Custom Designed pipe, named "R'lyeh", carved by Stephen Downie

Rubens Rhodesian I, designed by Pease / di Piazza and carved by Radice

7-Day Set of Rubens Rhodesians, first and second generation

Writers' Series, by Peterson

Morta "Pot", by Trevor Talbert

Demon King meerschaum, by S. Yanik

Why Do I Smoke a Pipe? A Meditation.

I've been asked this question inquisitively by my girlfriend a number of times. "Why do you like pipes?"

She did not mean it in an antagonistic way, despite the fact that she is one of the most anti-cigarette people in the world -- thus why I continue to emphasize the difference between cigarettes and pipes -- but in a curious and even loving way. It's a valid question, especially when you know one specific detail.

I'm 21. I picked up my first pipe my freshman year in college after seeing someone smoking one at the pub at which I was currently working. Seeing and smelling that pipe reminded me of my old music teacher, a truly great man -- and I don't use 'great' as a synonym to 'good', but truly great, like Alexander -- who always used to smell of a pipe. I remember when he stopped smoking and I remember how strange and barren it seemed to not smell that aroma on him. I recently found out that this aroma was from Borkum Riff, a pipe tobacco that, despite my affection for the man and the room note (or in his case, shirt note), I would never put in one of my pipes.

In any case, I asked the gentleman at the restaurant where he bought his pipe and he told me about a nearby shop called John Dengler's, a pleasant, tiny shop, run by a husband and wife. I went there the next day to pick up my first pipe. Due to the fact that I work at the local Renaissance Faire every year, I picked up a clay tavern pipe, figuring I could use it at the Faire. The man working the shop at the time gave me a free ounce of tobacco with my purchase, called Cameron's, and I remember thinking it smelled like oats.

My first experience smoking that pipe was perched on a ledge outside of my freshman dorm, failing miserably at getting it lit, probably due to the fact that it was windy and I was shivering from the cold November air.

But I digress from the original question of this post. After succeeding at smoking the pipe for the first time, I felt like a Buddhist monk in deep meditation. I felt calm; I felt good. That is enough of a reason for me to continue: it made me happy.

Since then I have discovered the joys of meerschaum, the beauty of a well-carved briar, and the simple pleasure involved in the contemplation of a new blend, a new shape, or simply the feeling of a pipe in my hand, even unlit.

I find pipes to be a work of art, and I think this is true beyond the obvious. It does not take the penetration of the philosopher to see that pipes are visually appealing. But art makes one stop and reflect -- reflect upon the art, upon the world, upon oneself. Pipes do this better than most things. In this way, the process of enjoying a pipe is, in itself, meditative artwork.

"Smoking in the Boys Room"

I thought this little anecdote would be a good way to introduce all potential followers of this blog to who I am and what my situation in life is. I hope that it gives you a little chuckle.

The college I attend, Washington University in Saint Louis, recently put a ban on smoking anywhere on school property, from the dorm area to the main campus. Boy, am I glad I am living off-campus this year!

We had three days of absurdly warm weather a few days ago (100+ degrees), a stint that has recently broken and led to a 70 degree weather as of late -- do I hear choirs of angels? In order to celebrate, I brought my corn-cob pipe and a pouch of 'baccy with me to class.

After I got out of my last class of the day, when sunlight was just beginning to fade from the late Summer sky, I hopped up into a tree and perched in a very comfortable spot between two branches. I carefully packed my pipe -- not wanting to drop any tobacco or to fall out of the tree -- and started to light it.

It was a very pleasant experience (Robert McConnell's Oriental), until, of course, I look down from my reverie and see a campus security officer approaching the source of my smoke-signals. What to do?


To Hell with it.

I looked at the man proudly and put the pipe back in my mouth and awaited my fate.

Once he got close enough to see me clearly, he stopped and asked, "You're smoking a pipe?"

I answered with a puff of smoke and a smile.

He paused momentarily with a perplexed looked in his eye. Eventually he shrugged, said, "Smells good," and left.

I was allowed to break brand-new school policy because it was a  pipe and not a cigarette. Win.