Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Smokin' Present

If you're anything like me, there are those people that you try to shop for this time of year who just stump you. You know so much about the person, but finding a present seems like a challenge worthy of Sisyphus. Should I get her a new scarf? What color? Does she even like scarves? You know how it goes.

Also, if you are like me, there are those people in your life who want to get you something for Christmas or Hanukkah or the Winter Solstice or just because they love you, but have almost no knowledge about pipes. Luckily for them, we are a lot easier than people give us credit. For that reason, I humbly request that you turn over the computer temporarily to that dear loved one so that I may pass some simple knowledge to him or her.

I'll wait.


Hi, my name is Ethan. I write a blog totally dedicated to pipes, because I am obsessed, and your loved one who just handed you the computer reads this blog occasionally. Be sure to thank him for doing that, by the way.

Anyway, I know that Winter is a time for giving and that you very well might be contemplating giving your loved one a pipe or something pipe related as a present. This can be a very daunting task, much like a man trying to buy shoes for his lady. One reason that this can often be so difficult is that the pipe smoker might be hesitant to tell you what pipes he has his eye on, since they can sometimes be quite pricey. This humble nature is quite the virtue, but can clearly make your job more difficult when it is time to go shopping.

If you just read on for a little, I will do my best to help you get the best possible present for those pipe smokers who haven't told you exactly what they want.

First of all, you need to decide whether to get him a pipe, tobacco, or an accessory.

Accessories included everything from pipe cleaners and tampers to pipe stands and tobacco jars. A simple fact to accept is that every single one of these will prove extremely useful to the pipe smoker in your life. Pipe cleaners are a necessity, as are pipe tampers. Additionally, there are many artistic pipe tampers out there, made of everything from copper to bone to bamboo.

(Time is Endless tamper, by Yashtylov)

Pipe racks are always a good choice, since, let's face it, there are more pipes in his future than what he currently has, and unless you want to see them haphazardly placed all over his dwelling, he will need more storage space.

Moving on to pipe tobacco. This is, in my opinion, not an area to get creative. Unless you find a tin blended by Mark Twain and J.R.R. Tolkien themselves, I would suggest sticking with those tobaccos that you know he loves. This may sound boring, but look at it this way: he is not bored by those tobaccos, as evidenced by the fact that he still smokes them, so don't worry. If you feel absolutely inclined to get him something new, make sure it is along his line of interest. This, however, requires a little more effort on your part.

If you can sneak a peak at what he likes to smoke while he's not around, look for certain key words in the description of the tobacco: "Latakia", "Oriental", "Cyprus", "English". If any or all of these words appear, then you should find him another blend known as an English. Some of the most popular and highest rated Englishes include Penzance, by Esoterica, Northwoods, from Boswell Pipes and Tobaccos, Three Oaks Syrian, from McClelland, and Westminster, from G.L. Pease. It's hard to go wrong with any of these.

If, on the other hand, the only words you see on the back of his favorite tin are "Virginia", "Virginia", "Virginia", then it is probably a safe bet that he likes straight Virginia blends. Some good names to look for include Full Virginia Flake, from Samuel Gawith, Blackwoods Flake and 5100, from McClelland, McCranie's Red Ribbon, and Jack Knife Plug, by G.L. Pease.

If you happened to notice, along with the word "Virginia", the word "Perique", then this changes things a little. This type of blend is affectionately known as a Va/Per, or VaPer, and is a little spicier than the blends listed immediately above. Try to find some of this blends, and he will be very grateful: Reiner's Long Golden Flake, Scottish Flake and Scottish Cake, by McConnell, G.L. Pease's Triple Play, and Rattray's Hal O' The Wynd.

You might also find that the pipe smoker loves those berry, chocolaty, delicious smelling tobaccos, which is wonderful for everyone else in the room. Here are some blends that are perfect for the holidays: Boswell's Christmas Cookie, Holiday Spirit, from McClelland, Mac Baren's Honey and Chocolate, and Dan Tobacco's Devil's Holiday, all sure to please the sweet tooth. 

This basically covers the main four areas where your pipe smoking loved one might fall. Now comes the difficult area: pipes.

First, let me make a suggestion: unless you are buying a corncob, try to spend more than forty dollars on the pipe. I know that economic times are hard, but listed above are a number of great, thoughtful options for much less money. While a high price does not guarantee a great pipe, it is likely a better pipe than one found for twenty dollars. Think about it this way: a doctor who charges $300 a visit is not necessarily better than one who charges $30 a visit, but I'm a little nervous to trust discount doctors.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let's take a look one more time at the pipe smoker in question. You can learn a lot from looking at his pipes, such as what material he prefers, whether he likes big bowls or small bowls, long stems or short stems, smooth pipes or sandblasted pipes, etc. This is all extremely helpful information.

Surprisingly, I am here going to stop giving advice as to how to pick a pipe. This is why. The very fact that you have been thoughtful enough to want to get him a pipe, along with taking a minute or two to see what kind he tends to like, is enough to make any pipe smoker happy. That pipe that you get him, even if it is a $40 pipe among his $500 pipes, will hold a special place in his collection and in his heart. Even if you found out that he likes smooth, long-stem Meerschaum pipes, and you get him a short, sandblasted briar pipe, he will love it just the same.

There are dozens of extremely helpful establishments, including Smoking PipesPipes and CigarsCup O' JoesIwan Ries4Noggins, to only name a few. Not only do their websites have incredible selections of pipes, but the people themselves are extremely friendly. Give them a call, tell them what you know about your pipe smoker, and they will probably be able to help you out.

Just remember that whatever pipe you get him is the right one. He will love it, because it is from you. It will be one of the few pipes in his collection that he will never trade, because it holds a far deeper meaning that many of the others.

I hope that this short guide has helped. Be confident in what you buy and have a very happy and healthy Winter season.

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