Monday, April 06, 2015

Spring Is For Virginias!

After a particularly brutal Winter, those of us on the East Coast are beginning to enjoy the initial signs of Spring. This year, along with the warmer days, I am introducing some new "Porch Sippers" to my blend rotation.  These blends are all of the Virginia persuasion...and boy do they hit the spot!

The first new blend is Cornell and Diehl's "Virginia Flake".  It looks, smells, feels, and sounds (it's crunchy!) like granola. Nice straight Lemon Virginia with some sweet, tart, tangy, and mellow flavors. Easy loading, easy burning, and easy puffing.  It burns down to the heel in a grey powdery ash with no goop, glop, or gunk.

The next blend, also from Cornell and Diehl, is "Virginia Gentleman".  While primarily a Lemon Virginia, it includes just the right amount of Burley and Turkish tobacco.  Very easy to load, light, and puff, this blend is more balanced and mellow with subtle flavors.  This one is wonderful to slowly sip outside...or anywhere!

The final new blend is Mac Baren's new "Modern Virginia Loose Cut".  This is the only one, of the three, that has any toppings. MBMV has a subtle apricot pineapple flavoring, but Mac Baren has done this one so well that it all works very well.  It loads, lights, and puffs easy. The flavors are mild and mellow.  I am going to be smoking this blend regularly!

The Cornell and Diehl blends are sold in bulk, and they cost under $25.00 per pound.  The Mac Baren Modern Virginia is sold in 3.5-oz. tins, and there is also a tinned flake version!  With great tobaccos like these, this Spring will be enjoyed with plenty of good "porch sipping"!

Friday, February 27, 2015

What I Hate About Tobacco Reviews

I am not speaking about the web site, but tobacco reviews in general.  I have been smoking pipes since the ripe old age of 15, and that was back in 1981.  That's a lot of burning leaves in the bowl! Looking back, I can honestly say that I could not accurately describe, let alone appreciate, a blend until my third or fourth year of pipe smoking.   Let's face it, there is a learning curve that goes with this fine art, and it cannot be rushed or skipped if one wants to be able to get the most enjoyment out of the pipe.  

There are many variables that affect our reception and appreciation for a good bowl of tobacco. The palate must be "seasoned" to be able to distinguish the many nuances of the variety of tobaccos we smoke.  This takes time, as it does with any new introduction to our tastes.  Just as one learns to taste and appreciate a fine bourbon, time and experience are the teachers.  

This same principle applies when learning a new blend.  Even the most experienced smokers will need to smoke several bowls, preferably in a variety of pipes, in order to be able to accurately describe the characteristics. flavors and temperament of a new blend.  The general rule is one full tin of 50 or 100 grams to be able to learn a blend, but again...variables.

So, onto my point regarding tobacco reviews, I've been seeing a lot of them that begin with one of the three phrases:
  • "I'm a brand new smoker"
  • "I smoked one bowl of this blend"
  • "I despise (Latakia/English/VA/VAPer/Aromatics/Burley) but I am reviewing this anyway"
Seeing one (or more!) of these, in a review (usually at the beginning) is a major red flag for me, and should be for you too!  How can a brand new pipe smoker fairly review a blend that they cannot even understand?  I have seen some outrageous comments, from new smokers, about some classic blends that would have made me laugh, but the realization that someone might be swayed from the blend makes it something very bad.  One example is the one where a "reviewer" compared a VAPer to a "bowl of flaming Habanero  peppers".  The same goes for the one who smokes one pipeful of a new blend and immediately passes judgment ("This blend sucks!").  Lastly, if you dislike a certain type of blend, then why are you reviewing one?  Does it surprise anyone when the "reviewer" writes "I hate aromatics, but I got a sample of one so I am reviewing it here...this blend sucks!"?

Given the narcissistic nature of Internet commenting, it seems that a lot of people like to think of themselves as critics.  How about you?  I'd love to hear some opinions on this topic.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Imagine If Pipes Were Sold Like Guitars?

Aside from writing, I am a musician by trade. I've been playing guitar for many years and I am still enjoying my career.  I was recently in a "big box" music store, recently, and some of the things I saw people do to some of the guitars broke my heart.  Guys wearing tank top shirts that smell like it's been weeks since either saw some soap, putting guitars under their arms and abusing them; little kids putting their sticky hands all over the delicate rosewood fretboards; teens with metal bracelets banging away on $10k Martin acoustics.  When someone finally decides to purchase one of these guitars, the store charges full price.

So I started wondering what it would be like if pipes were marketed and sold the same ways as guitars are.  Can you imagine a $3k Castello being picked up and handled by anyone, smoked, chomped, reamed, scorched, banged against the wall, etc. and then paying full price?  Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?  Well, it IS ridiculous and it should not be practiced in either business!  

So now it's your turn!  Tell us what you think! Would you buy a pipe (as "new") if it had been abused, smoked repeatedly, etc, by customers of the shop?

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Frog Morton Cellar Review

Frog Morton's Cellar is the most recent addition to McClelland's "Frog Morton" line of Latakia-based blends.  This tobacco comes with a small cube of Oak wood from an old whiskey barrel, thereby imparting the blend with a smokey-sweet hint of bourbon. 

The tin pop gives a nice scent of a wood fire and fine spirits. The moisture content is not too moist, that it cannot be smoked straight from the tin, yet a short breathing period brings benefit prior to packing.  The leaves are mostly black with a few ribbons of tan. There is a slight stickiness to the touch, however, the blend burns clean and leaves no tackified residue on the bowl walls.

On the initial light, the smoke is dark then slightly sweet with the whiskey flavor coming through.  Once the bowl is burning properly you get large plumes of fragrant smoke. The bourbon flavor is strongest in the first third of the bowl and then it becomes more subtle as the smoke progresses.  Mid-bowl, the flavors are subdued, leveling out to a mild pure tobacco taste.  As the bowl winds down, the blend starts to give one last rise in flavor and then it is over and one is left with a small pile of pure grey powdery ash.  Bowl walls are clean and ghosting is almost non-existent.

Overall, this is a very nice blend that you can enjoy anytime, even as an all-day smoke.  It pairs well with a good whiskey or a strong coffee.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Learning Dunhill London Mixture Pt. II

I recently finished my initial tin of Dunhill London Mixture. I certainly enjoyed this smokey blend but I have found it to be a "hit-and-miss" tobacco. While it is truly a sophisticated English blend, London Mixture is lighter than its siblings Nightcap, My Mixture 965, Early Morning Pipe and the Standard Mixture. Very little sweetness in this one as the orientals take the front stage.

Like many great blends, this one is attuned to the particular pipe it is being smoked in at the time. When smoked in an old Castello, I use for Latakia-based blends, I get a dry (non-sweet) smoke with a rather unpleasant finish on the palate. In a meerschaum the sweetness appears, the smoke is cooler and the burn is slower. In several other Latakia-based briars, London Mixture performs well with a basic "English Blend" flavor.

I did not find anything particularly interesting or outstanding with London Mixture. Being an ancient blend in a current climate of continually evolving tobaccos, London Mixture is no longer the proverbial Leader of the Pack. There are far more interesting English blends out there today with similar price point and better availability. I doubt I will be purchasing another tin of London Mixture but I would recommend it for someone starting on English blends or for a mild all-day "no-brainer" smoke.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Learning Dunhill London Mixture

So after 32 years of smoking a pipe I finally purchased my first tin of Dunhill's famous "London Mixture".

Described as "Medium cut, matured Virginian and Oriental Tobaccos. Soft and mellow flavor". The blend smokes relatively cool and burns down to a fine ash with no dottle.  The pipe is left clean with no sticky wet residue

So far I am ten bowls into the tin and I have been enjoying each one more and more.  This is a blend that definitely requires a steeper learning curve than many other blends.  The complexity of the orientals playing off the virginias against the background of latakia provides a smoking experience that takes many bowls to discover all of the various nuances of flavor it can provide.  This is not a beginners blend by any means, but the seasoned pipe smoker will find many delightful adventures in this classic mixture.

I will post a follow-up article once I have completed the tin.  Happy Puffing!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tobacco Advice for the Beginner

My advice may seem a bit unorthodox but please indulge me for a moment. It is often said that to properly enjoy a Porsche, one must drive a Volkswagen first. That being said, I would suggest that you start out with a light Burley-based blend that is easy to smoke, kind to the palette, pleasant to the senses and light on the wallet.

Those first few months of pipe smoking is usually spent learning to actually smoke the pipe, fill the pipe, clean the pipe, etc. Once you are comfortable with the pipe you will begin to start noticing the true flavors of tobacco. The subtle nuances of each type of leaf will reveal themselves over time, gradually maturing the palette to a much higher level of sophistication. As you learn to smoke proper, you will learn to taste tobacco proper.

As you become more seasoned, your desire to explore more flavors will take you on an adventure where there are thousands of quality blends available. If you have started out with a subtle gentle blend you will be rewarded with the ability to appreciate and understand what a fine premium quality blend can be. I started out with Captain Black Gold for my first year then moved on to various "drug store" blends. My first real high quality blend was McClelland Virginia No. 25. I continued on to other high end tobaccos and have never looked back. I would never had appreciated the "good" blends had I not experienced the lower-end lines first.

I would recommend these blends as great starters: J.M. Boswell's "Premium Burley", "Magnum Blend" and "Northwoods". Mac Baren's "Burley London Blend", "Golden Extra" and "Original Choice". Even good old "Prince Albert" is a good inexpensive blend.

So cut your teeth on the basics and save your money then enjoy the luxuries with your new tobacco-tasting abilities!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Dunhill Deluxe Navy Rolls Review

Very similar to the other spun-cut tobacco "coins", DNR coins are cut a bit thicker than Escudo and are a bit drier in the tin.  The coins are pliable and not sticky at all.  Being that there is less perique than Escudo, DNR has less of the fruity wine scent.  The tactile feel of DNR is very much like Stokkebye's Bullseye Flake.

DNR has a great natural sweetness without the harsh spice from an overload of perique.  It rarely bites and takes little effort to keep lit.  My personal packing preference is to roll two coins into a pipe and light up.  DNR leaves your pipe clean with no dottle.

Of the "Big Three" (Escudo, DNR and Stokkebye Bullseye Flake) the Dunhill blend is the winner for the cool sweet dry-burning pleasure.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Restoring Moisture To Dry Tobacco

One of my favorite pipe tobacco experts, Per Georg Jensen of Mac Baren (my favorite tobacco brand!) has posted a wonderful tutorial on how to restore dried-out tobacco to it's proper moisture level. To view this article, please check out this link .  Many thanks to Mr. Jensen and Mac Baren!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

McClelland VA No. 22 at Nine Years

I recently returned to pipes, after a hiatus, with a nine year-old tin of McClelland Virginia No.22. At the pop of the tin there was a puff of nose-tingling fruity wine-like scent. The tobacco was the smoothest I had ever enjoyed. The natural sweetness was similar to a fine rose' wine. I will enjoy smoking this tin of McClelland's finest matured Virginia.
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