Friday, November 11, 2005

Auto-Stoving Tobacco Results

Tonight's Smoke: Escudo in a Butz-Choquin UFO Smooth pipe

Hello all!

Back in May 2005 I purchased several tins of Dunhill Light Flake. I took one of the tins and placed it in my truck to "auto-stove" which is a process that "ages" your tobacco at an accelerated pace in a controlled enviornment. I let the tin sit in the closed truck until September then brought it into the house to sit in room temperature for a couple of months. Before I continue, I must tell you that this past Summer here in New Jersey was a record-breaking heatwave! For four months that tin of DLF sat in well-over 100 degrees heat!

A few days ago I opened the tin for the very first time. I was surprised at the visual changes to the leaf. First and foremost was the color. A new tin of DLF is usually a light brown/tan hue with good pliablity in the slices, however, the aged leaf was a bright yellow/gold color and the texture was much softer than the newer pliable flakes. Upon taking a couple flakes from the tin, they seemed to fall apart easily requiring great care to keep them intact for loading into the pipe.

The taste was absolutely amazing! What was normally a grassy almost cigarette-like flavor was now sugary sweet lemon Virginia! Much less prone to bite than it's younger form, this leaf smoked sweet, smooth, cool and mellow. Throughout the entire bowl this tobacco was pure bliss. What a difference the aging process made!

If you have never tried doing this, I recommend that you do it at least once to see the difference.

Back from HIatus

Hello all!

Just wanted to let you all know that I am back to writing this blog. I hope to be more consistent in the future. I will be making shorter posts with more variety of topics (yet all pipe-related).

Please continue to e-mail and contribute to any discussions. If you would like for your thoughts to be shared in a future post, please let me know. I will never post anything from anyone else unless I have his or her permission to do so first. You may also feel free to use the "Comments" feature but PLEASE do NOT spam the comment boards!

Thanks and enjoy!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Back on the pipe

Tonight's smoke: G.L.Pease "Blackpoint" in a Sasieni 4-Dot Rough Root Light Billiard.

Finally my nausea has passed and I am able to enjoy my pipes. I admit to still getting a bit queasy at the thought of "1792 Flake" but the worst is over.

I was quite concerned that I may never be able to smoke a pipe again. Considering that I have 20 brand-new, unsmoked, still-in-the-box high-grade pipes sitting in a drawer, it would have created a small disaster for me. Knowing the current EBay market and the bidding trends of pipe shoppers (bids in increments of pennies, blasting the seller on A.S.P. if the opening bid is over $9.99, trying to sabatoge the auction by posting lies about the pipe, etc.), I would have been lucky to make 10% of what the pipes are worth had I tried to sell them.

Now I just need to get some more pipes...

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Tobacco that Ended Pipe Smoking for Me

Just a short usual "Tonight's smoke" because I'm not having fact, I may never have one again.

A few nights ago I tried Sam Gawith's famous "1792 Flake". The tin aroma alone should have been enough for me to toss the tin in the trash. It smells like a cross between Windex, turpentine and kerosene. Even my faithful sidekick Tigger made a sour face at the smell of this stench and prompty fled the room. The flavor I cannot get into because if I try to type it out here I will hurl on my computer.

I was at the one-third mark of the bowl when I lost it. I ended up losing my lunch, dinner and anything else I had in my stomach. I tossed out the tin and the pipe I was smoking it in. To this day, just the thought of a pipe or that tobacco makes me gag. I still cannot tolerate system is still reeling from the damage done by this evil-in-a-tin.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Attack of the Virginia Flakes!

I recently bought my very first tin of Gawith's "Best Brown Flake" and ever since I have been on a Virginia Flake kick. Not much to BBF, yet for some reason I just cannot put it down. The other day was rather stressful so that night I sat down with a pot of fresh coffee and proceeded to pack 2 flakes into a medium-sized bulldog pipe. These two flakes provided three and a half hours of complete bliss! I love this flake so much that I have just ordered some other Gawith flakes like Full VA Flake, Sam's Flake, Chocolate Flake and Kendall Cream Flake.

I've also been smoking a lot of Dunhill Light Flake, GLP Montgomery and some McClelland straight matured Virginias. Prior to this streak I was having a fling with Latakia blends. It is quite interesting how our tastes vary from one genre to another in a cycle. Thank God for the wonderful variety we have in thousands of blends of many different tobaccos! This is just one of an exponential amount of reasons why I smoke a pipe.

Of course, by this time next month, I fully expect that I will be a "Burleysexual" smoking up my stash of Edgeworth Sliced, Barbary Coast and Mac Baren's Burley London Blend!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

My Perfect Smoke

Most pipe smokers have their own definitions of a "Perfect Smoke", as I have mine. This evening, after a rather difficult few hours, I enjoyed a "perfect smoke" by my standards. Please allow me to share it with you.

My favorite pipe is a Winslow Crown that I bought new about four years ago. It's not fancy but it is the best smoker I've ever had. Dedicated to Mac Baren Mixture since its first bowl, this pipe has been with me through good, bad and everything in between. Every pipe smoker should have a pipe they love this much. Tonight, only the best pipe-and-tobacco combination could even things out.

After dinner I sat down with the coffee and broke out the Winslow and Mixture. The loading step felt just right as I finished picking off the last strands of stray tobacco from the top of the bowl. Charring light. First cloud of smoke. First taste of the Mixture. Very nice. Some tamping, a relight and we're off. The first half of the bowl is always sweet yet tangy...almost tart. I delight in watching the pipe, feeling the grain...exhaling through the nose occasionaly to experience every nuance of sensory delight.

As the tobacco slowly burns down to the equator, the flavors become deeper, sweeter and more complex. After years of this ritual I know just the right temperature to keep the Mixture burning at its optimal taste. Maintaining the smoke is like flying on Auto-pilot as I can sit back and enjoy the wonderful taste and aroma of my favorite pipe and tobacco. Soft Brazilian jazz, hot coffee enhance the serene experience. Stress becomes smoke that rises into the air...relieving my soul of the crushing weight it once bore.

Sadly, yet right on time, the pipe goes out and the Mixture has become a small pile of grey ash. Once the pipe cools it is lovingly cleaned and delicately placed on the rack where it will rest comfortably until the next time.

What is your "perfect smoke"?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Dunhill Light Flake: Loosen it up first!

Another blend new to me is Dunhill's "Light Flake". I love the presentation of this tobacco. Upon opening the tin one finds some delicate paper that, when uncovered, reveals a block of perfectly uniform thick slices of pure Virginia tobacco. The scent is a combination of wine and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. It takes about a flake and a half to fill a standard sized bowl.

I first tried it with the flakes just folded up and stuffed in the pipe. The result was one of the hottest smokes I've ever had with enough relights to empty 2 lighters (well, not really, but I was relighting every 4 or 5 puffs). I tried again with the flakes completely rubbed and using the Frank method of packing. The smoke was better but still a bit hot and quite a few relights. Eventually I found that what works best for me is to fully rub the flakes out then use the old standard "3 Levels" packing method with extra loose pre-light tamping. The resulting smoke was much cooler and fewer relights. The flavors came through much more and were very satisfying.

Light Flake seems to be good anytime of day or night. It may be a bit too spicy for an "all-day" but I would certainly not rule that out either. The Virginias are primarily Yellow and Brown Virginia and will bite like a rabid cobra if you get it too hot. Sip slowly with care, pack it lightly and rub it out well and you may just find a new favorite.

For some reason, this blend seems to be out of stock at most retailers. I am not sure of the reason yet, but hopefully that will change soon as I would hate to lose this blend so soon after discovering it (as is what happened with Edgeworth Sliced, R.I.P.).

Nightcap: Not just for bedtime!

In exploring some famous English blends, I have recently partaken in my first tin of Dunhill's Nightcap. Prior to trying this blend I read many reviews and opinions of the blend and how inredibly strong it is supposed to be. Upon my first bowl I found it to be a good English, but nothing resembling the Latakia monster that legend has it.

I've smoked it before retiring for the evening. I've smoked it right after breakfast. I've even smoked it several times in one day. Personally, I don't see the big deal but it's still too soon for me to make a fair judgment. Mixture 965 seems to have more complexity in my opinion and therefore shall remain a staple in my tobacco stash. As far as Nightcap goes? Probably not.

Friday, May 13, 2005

G.L. Pease "Montgomery" is a hit!

I recently tried Greg Pease's new blend "Montgomery" and I have to say that it is a hit with me. Bright yellow, gold and brown; light, fluffy, clean, wide ribbon-cut leaves with a subtle aroma of just good pure tobacco. I have a couple of new pipes dedicated to it already. Each bowl seems to reveal something new each time. If you like a good Virginia blend with good depth and body, do yourself a favor and pick up a few tins of this leaf!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Smoker, Collector or Sucker?

Recent debates I have been witness to have included the topic of the value of a machine-made pipe versus that of a handmade one. The majority seems favorable to the high-grade handmade pipes yet always lacking is the quantification of the qualities submitted for comparison. I would not think this would be an easy task given the many variables that one would encounter in such questions as: "Do you prefer performance over appearance?” A question like this is frequently dependent on the person being asked. A smoker may lean towards performance whereas a collector might be concerned strictly with appearance.

How many times has one seen pipes for sale by a brand new pipemaker with asking prices in excess of $500? Usually this type of "pipemaker" is one with no track record, has been smoking a pipe for a year or two, purchased a book from PIMO and made a few pipes in his basement. The most common explanation for the price is that the pipe was made "by hand" and the "time and labor" costs. Looking at the pipes, they are usually basic shapes made from wood with visible flaws, basic stems and poor balance. Neither a seasoned smoker nor a collector would purchase such a monstrosity so who ends up buying? The sucker sees the word "Handmade" and immediately hits the "Add to Cart" button. Some may ask what the harm is in such a transaction but the pipe market is similar to the real estate market in that when one house sells for double the market value then all of the nearby houses double in price creating a much higher market. In the case of this "weekend warrior" pipemaker, his little flawed basic billiards are now $500 each and climbing. When a few more suckers see that other pieces have sold, they'll be tapping those "Add to Cart" buttons in staccato! Before long, those $500 billiards become $1,000 "Artisan-crafted" pipes. Mistakes made on the shaping wheel are no longer rejects; they become "New artistic designs".

Just because a pipe is made "by hand" does not always mean it is better than a "machine-made" pipe. Stanwell uses fraising machines to make their basic shapes then experienced craftsmen do the finishing work and quality control. These pipes smoke consistently well, have a good appearance and cost considerably less than most "handmade" pieces. Smokers like Stanwells for their performance and collectors like them for their "special edition" pipes. Suckers don't usually like Stanwells because they're considered "machine made".

Looking inversely, Dr. Grabow pipes are "machine made" pipes with lesser-quality hardware and extremely low prices. The stems are plastic, the briar quality is not usually clear and the performance is a debate all of its own. There is nothing unique about a Grabow as all the finishes are uniform in every line. Most seasoned smokers do not prefer Grabows, collectors rarely purchase them and suckers don't see "handmade" so they stay away. Moretti, Larry Roush and Paolo Becker Pipes are all handmade with top-quality materials. They are made by people with many years of training and experience. They cost well in excess of $100 but the performance of these pipes is almost always flawless and each piece is stunningly beautiful and unique. Smokers love them for their incredible smoking qualities, collectors love them for their museum-quality appearance and suckers just don't understand. So some handmade pipes are well worth the prices while some machine made pipes are not.

So what really is best? I do not think there is one true answer to this question given all the variables. For the smoker, it needs to perform well. For the collector, it needs to look perfect. For the sucker, it just needs to have a high price tag and the word "Handmade".

Sunday, March 20, 2005

My first time with 965

Yesterday I bought my very first tin of Dunhill's "My Mixture 965". After smoking a pipe since age 15, I thought that it was about time I made this milestone in my hobby.

I was a bit apprehensive at first as I had some bad experiences with English blends. To this day I still despise Dunhill's "Early Morning Pipe" and the other similar blends I tried seemed foul. It wasn't until I had tried some of the G.L. Pease latakia blends that I finally "got it". I even got brave and tried Pease's fullest balkan, "Abingdon", and now that is one of my favorites.

Upon opening the tin, I was greeted with a beautiful scent of high quality tobaccos nestled together in a well-married blend that seemed to cry out "Smooooooooooke meeeeee..." The moisture content was a bit higher than I had expected as the strands of tobacco were very pliable. It did very well using the Frank method of packing.

At first light I received the initial greeting from the latakia and smelled the sweetest perfume from the first burning strands of leaf. After the charring light and tamp it was a nice long slow smoke that got increasingly sweeter the further down the bowl it got. This was certainly not the harsh charcoal-like smoke that I had feared.

One of the things that surprised me about 965 is how slow it burns. Right now I am smoking it in a large Neerup freehand that I first lit up at 1:30 p.m. and it is now 4:15 p.m. and it is about 75% finished. This is without any breaks in smoking with the exceptions for the occasional tamping and relights. I think it should be finished by 5:00 p.m. which would make this a nice 3.5 hour smoke. Very nice.

"My Mixture 965" will definitely be a staple in my tobacco stock. It is the benchmark English blend and for good reason. I would not recommend this to a beginner smoker but as a reward after some years of experience and refining of tastes. It is truly a sophisticated blend that should be appreciated as such. 965 is great as a nocturnal ritual to clear the mind and soul of stress. It produces a tranquilizing effect causing the lucky smoker to hear the call of blissful slumber while drifting into a meditative state of "Tobacciana Nirvana".

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Welcome to the Straight Grain! This blog is all about pipesmoking, which means pipes made of briar, meerschaum, clay or other woods used to smoke tobacco only. This is NOT a place to discuss or even mention any illegal substances. I will be posting a small glossary of pipesmoking terms in my next post. Please feel free to write, comment or IM and be a part of the community.