Saturday, December 26, 2009

Clay Pipes

So, I really do love briar pipes, however, I also have a very short attention span. I don't know what exactly it is that draws me to other types of pipe smoking experiences. I love the corn cob. The one I made for myself is more of a labor of love, but the ones you purchase from a tobacconist are just good clean fun! I love how smooth they smoke and how much of a "working man's" pipe that they are. I only recently purchased a general cob and have been surprised with how cool the things smokes. It gives a sweetness that is very nice and for just under 8.00 it simply can't be beaten. I can't remember where I read it, but it is widely known that Mark Twain enjoyed smoking a corn cob pipe. However he hated breaking them in, which is not a very painful process compared to breaking in a briar pipe. Nevertheless, he would he would find a man who didn't seem to be very important ( to Mr. Twain, anyhow ) and pay him some pittance to break the pipe in. Once it was broken in he would replace the stem and smoke it until it fell apart and repeat the process again. Funny things!

But I have been smoking corn cobs for years, so this is not much of a new adventure. I have always had an interest in clay pipes. I even made an attempt at making some clay pipes a few years back. However I used a crafting clay. It worked well and smoked fine (after being oven fired). It never seemed to impart a special just made me nervous smoking tobacco out of something that was intended for nothing more than making pins and buttons for small children. Thus I got rid of them, and let myself wonder at when I would have a shot at a real clay pipe.

I am attracted to clay pipes for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are quite simple. They don't seem to have any extra amount of "bells and whistles" they are just pipes. Of course, there are beautiful and ornate clay pipes available, but these are not the ones that are currently holding my interest. The second reason that these clay wonders are attractive to me is because they seem to have a "working man" quality to them. This is also because of the type of clay pipe I am imagining. There were, of course, shorter pipes for work and longer pipes for house or pup smoking, but I love the utility of this inexpensive pipe (I got two for less than 10 dollars on ebay). The third reason is that there are rumors floating around that clay doesn't get "seasoned" like other pipes. Briar, specifically, is known for carrying a "ghost" of whatever tobacco you last smoked in it. I have tried some experiments in dedicating certain pipes to certain blends and have not been altogether disappointed in the results. Clay, however, doesn't hold the same residue that other materials do.

The last reason? I love the scene in the first Lord of the Rings film where Aragorn is smoking his short clay pipe and staring at Frodo across the room at the Prancing Pony. Tolkien was also very careful to always make sure his readers didn't operate under the illusion that anyone was carrying around a church warden (or wizard's pipe) underneath there robes and pulling it out for a nice long smoke on the road. That would simply be silly! Though Bilbo's smoking pipe at HOME did go nearly down to his neatly brushed wooly toes!

So there it is! The clay pipes shipped today and I will give you more information on the experience they offer when they come in. Another interesting factiod: clay pipes can allegedly be cleaned by throwing them into the embers of a fire, or by heating them in the oven. I'm always fascinated by things that are purified by heat and not destroyed by it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

That Beautiful Taste

There is so much that I love about pipe smoking. I love the fact that it is contemplative, the idea that it is an excuse to sit still for a bit. I also love that it is permanent. I think of cigars and cigarettes and the fact that when you are done you have to throw the whole thing away, for me, takes away from the art of it. With a pipe (even an inexpensive pipe) it seems that you are dealing with a work of art, something that has an inherent beauty of its own that provides pleasure almost as a side note. But the thing that has struck me most recently is the thing that I would imagine would be first on many lists: the taste!

I have had very few tobaccos that I could not appreciate. I love the taste of strong, full bodied, latakia blends. I love the spicy periques. I love sweet mild Virginia tobaccos and those nutty burleys. Most of the time I can even appreciate a nice bowl of something with a lighter casing (topping). I don't like cherry, ever. But I have enjoyed a light chocolate, vanilla or rum flavor when the mood is right, even if it is a bit monotone! It only occurred to me recently how carnal pipe smoking is. I had always set this habit apart as a slightly "higher" taste. I thought that it had a nobility to it that should be noted. The more I smoked, however, the more I realized that it is not much different than a person having an affinity for peppermint. Or a child who really likes Runts candy (bananas, strawberries, oranges - yes; lemons, limes - no) and has preferences. I'm not sure that the two passions are that far separated. It doesn't make me want to enjoy a pipe any less, but it is funny to think that if you take all of the verbiage away it seems like a bunch of grown men going, "I really like licorice much more than caramel. But then Hershey's chocolate is always my standby." That just seems funny to me!

That being said, as much as I like the taste at the moment (and I very much do!), I also enjoy how the ghost of the taste returns at the oddest moments. Just sitting in a conversation and all the sudden the tongue passes over the teeth and the sweet taste of the smoke you had a few hours ago returns. Just faint enough that you would have to grasp to remember what tobacco you were smoking. Then you remember. It's like your mouth told you a little secret that is not worth sharing with the person you are talking to, but makes for a nice grin and recollection that there was a moment of peace today...a moment when something just smelled and tasted good, and it calls to you again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Spending Time with Prince Albert

"Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" My mother told me about this prank call before I ever knew what Prince Albert tobacco was. I had gotten the impression that they didn't even make it anymore (prior to turning 18 more than a decade ago). At first I avoided this tobacco because it is the cheapest tobacco I have found (there is one exception, but I don't want to talk about it). Later, upon doing a little research, I thought it would be time to give this tobacco a try.
It loaded differently than the bulks and the boutiques that I was used to, I don't think I had ever had a blend with that much burley in it. I tried it at a go with a number of other tobaccos that sat next to it at Walgreens. The others I tried at the time were Carter Hall and Half and Half. I liked all three, but Prince Albert was the king of the all for my taste. The smoke was cool (though if I smoke it too much, or if it's too dry I have gotten a bit of tongue bite from it), and nutty. I really enjoyed the consistency of the smoke and it really does taste simple. It's a great "off to work" tobacco and the relights are great (even after a long absence).
I found myself wondering at first if it was okay to enjoy this cheaper tobacco. Had I somehow lost my mind? A little research assured me that I had not. This has been a quality standard in the world of Pipe Tobacco for years. Online reviews display many a wonderful humble old codger who has smoked this blend out of a corn cob pipe for more years than I have been alive. It is a beautiful testimony to the simple things in life. It doesn't pretend to be more than it is, and it doesn't over sell itself.
Many pipe tobaccos will promise the moon and 28 complex flavors that are hidden in this tiny tin (for 25 bucks) and many are very good, but the marketing is well into the world of fantasy. Not Prince Albert. Prince Albert just is what it is, the funniest thing about it (aside from the stand by prank call) is the suggestion made by the Wikipedia article that states that Prince Albert (the real one) didn't actually wear his beard long as the picture suggests.
There will always be someone who won't let themselves enjoy something simple. Perhaps another mouth can't enjoy Prince Albert. That is okay. I sure like it and always have some on hand. On top of all of the other things I like about pipe smoking this tobacco makes me feel connected to the great past of American Pipe smokers. I like that too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I am about half way through my first tin of Mississippi Mud and have enjoyed it a great diehl so far. I have been on an adventure to understand and enjoy perique more (or at least be able to identify it). I get conflicting definitions of what perique does in a blend from different sources. This seems to be the case with a number of pipe tobacco things leading me to conclude that everyone has a different mouth, a different way of smoking, and a different reason for smoking. I am led to believe that there is a fair amount of perique in this blend (it is named as the first condimental on the tin). I have had a bayou bulk blend from Edwards that claims to be heavy on perique and it's the same taste. Spicy, spicy!
I love the zip that this tobacco has. It's not overly punchy, and it doesn't ruin my mouth for later. I don't really taste the latakia...I'm sure it is there, I just seem to hone in on that perique taste. I can't really say what the room note is because I smoke outside, that doesn't mean that anyone else agrees on it though! One reviewer smelled someone else smoking it and fell so much in love with it that he went out and bought a larger can to make sure he could perfume his house with it before company came over (note to self, don't ever do this), another reviewer claimed that the best point of comparison to the smell of this tobacco is that it most resembles the smell of someone extinguishing a wood fire with their mornings outlet of fluids. I personally can never tell if something smells good or bad as I love the smell of pipe tobacco in almost every case. My wife however only knows one tobacco by name - this one. I can smoke this on the way to my destination in the morning, and my wife will be able to tell that I had smoked Mississippi Mud when I return home that night. Anything that has that distinct a smell must be good. Same rules apply to dairy, strike that, different rules for milk.
All said and done, I love this tobacco, it has a flavor that keeps me wanting more of it, I finish most every bowl I start because it's just so interesting (whereas with less interesting tobaccos I may just get cold and go inside, finishing the bowl in the morning). Don't be scared by the look of it (it does look very much like mud). The taste is great. I have to admit, I would love to be a tobacco namer (is that a job?). C&D seems to have the most fun in naming their blends and designing their tins. Even still, it seems like they named most of them after watching too many Tex Avery cartoons (I'm looking at you Bow-Legged Bear!). It doesn't make them any worse for the smoking, though!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Special Balkan

Isn't Bing Crosby the greatest? I don't know much about his personal life. But I love the way he makes a pipe look so good. The way his voice sounds. The way he embodies that dignified, American, fatherly type of personality. I love the roles he chose in movies and I love the way that he played them. The banter between he and Bob Hope, the Andrews Sisters and Louis Armstrong is just so light, fun and wholesome. For some reason I constantly find myself looking to old Bing as an image of something good and real. It's one of the beautiful images associated with pipes that is burned into my brain (along with Bilbo, Gandalf, Sherlock, and a few others).
Tonight I closed off another beautiful day with a bowl of Edward's Special Balkan. It is just a beautiful blend of Latakia and some other oriental tobaccos that has a spicy yet soft full flavor. One reviewer that I read claimed that this tobacco made them feel like they had just finished Thanksgiving dinner. That's an image that comes back to me every time I smoke this tobacco (I buy it in great quantities). And I know exactly what this fellow was talking about. It is a rich experience, and it makes one feel full and satisfied.
I'll be the first to confess that I'm not terribly discriminating. The list of tobaccos that I enjoy is (at this point at least) much longer than the list of tobaccos that I haven't liked. I guess the experience of smoking a pipe is too nice not to enjoy. As I sit back and enjoy a pipe I'm always in good company. I have a number of good smoking brothers (brothers in the Lord). And when I am alone I find some of my best times of prayer and reflection come while enjoying a pipe. I suppose that is why it is difficult for me to have a bad experience. The time alone is as coveted as the time with friends. The blessing of having something that causes me to be endlessly thankful (though it may only be a small thing) reminds me of all of the really big things that I am endlessly thankful for. And I'm thankful for you, dear reader, and I hope you have a bowl of full and satisfying to tobacco lined up in the near future that draws you towards thankfulness as well. Or, if not tobacco, some other small pleasure that does the same thing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Time's the Charm!

Well, here it is! This is the first home made, hand made, corn cob pipe that I have ever made. I was going to try to make one out of wood, but I heard that there are great risks involved in trying to smoke from the wrong kind of wood. Corn is safe. I found out also that you need a fat cob to really pull it off properly because this one only holds a narrow shaft of tobacco and that limits effectiveness for anything but my goal of having made a pipe myself and enjoying it for what it is! Next time we will be able to work wit a large cob and hopefully have a large bowl. Nevertheless, this one does work and is very rustic. I dehydrated the cob in a food dehydrator overnight and carved it out with a pocket knife and a drill. I glued the stem into the bowl and stole a vinyl mouthpiece from another Missouri Meerschaum cob pipe that I have had for a couple of year. Great stuff. I'm only two smokes in, but I enjoy it for the uniqueness, and right off the bat there was nothing but a special sweetness attached, though a whole bowl is done is less than a quarter of an hour.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sometimes you wanna go...

This probably isn't the experience of every smoker, and couldn't possibly be in every town. There are two main tobacco shops (that I am aware of) around the Denver area. One is Edward's tobacco, the other we shall affectionately call "brand x." I won't write about "brand x" because I don't have anything particularly good to say about it, except that there is one nice bulk tobacco that they sell that seems to be comparable to "Drury Lane" at Edwards. This being said, I think Edwards is one of my favorite things about smoking a pipe. Perhaps not in my top five but it's pretty high in the top 10.
I dropped by Edwards the day I turned 18, and they got me started. They are helpful and kind. This, however, is the cool thing. The owner and the two fellas (and one lady) that work there remember nearly every name...including mine. You can come in about any time of day, light up a pipe and enjoy some good conversation with any number of people. Go in at the right time and you'll hear old vets talking about Vietnam and WWII (Yes, there are some older smokers there...still alive! Nobody ever told them the government lies that smoking kills, so they will keep smoking and living until someone fills them in!) Other times about politics, other times sports. It isn't that women aren't allowed here, but I don't know how many women are really anxious to get in anyway.
My wife has gone to Edwards twice without me to buy pipes (one for an anniversary and once for father's day). Each time they were helpful and respectful, though she didn't like the smell of all the smoke. Yet, it's a safe place for men. Jokes that wouldn't pass in mixed company come out a bit more freely. The tobacco is there, but it's as much an excuse as anything. Menfolk don't want to be caught around female safe-houses. The salon, the department store, the stitch and bitch meeting. Yet, for some reason men aren't allowed the same privacy. Edwards goes a long way to restore that. They will put a free bowl of tobacco in your pipe and will tolerate most anyone sitting around and listening to the conversation (I know this because they tolerate me). What more could you ask for out of a tobacco shop?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Totally into that!

I think I just got it. There are many who get into pipe smoking for the beautiful variety and fun of collecting and restoring pipes. I can understand this, but it really isn't me. I had always thought that I was cared more about the tobacco and the practice of smoking than the pipes themselves. This is probably still true.
Then I ran into this article online ( and I gotta say it scratched me right where I itched. This has always been it! I don't think anything I would make would last very long, but I imagine I wouldn't mind making another one. Finding a cherry tree I'm not so convinced I can do though I will probably obsess about this until it happens. Burn it out, make another one. Then eventually go back to my standard pipes. I just have to admit. This is the kind of pipe collecting I could really come to enjoy. I will have to find out how they smoke before coming to any final decisions but the idea is pretty firm and since I don't usually smoke a bowl to hot I imagine that I could make a bowl like this last a while. for thought.
This reveals something to me. The creative person that I am would rather have something ugly that I made, eat something disgusting that I cooked, smoke something wretched that I drilled out myself than enjoy the work of a better artist. I have no excuse for this. I imagine hat this is strange? Perhaps. I don't think it's megalomania, because I don't imagine my creations to be in anyway as good as those who have acquired a level of skill and artistry that surpasses any I will every reach. I would just rather be involved in the process. I am available to discuss the many reasons why I may feel this way, but I don't really feel like I want to address this issue with a view to changing it. Go figure.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Evening with the Frog

I don't know that I have a favorite tobacco. I guess I just like them all so much that it's hard to make a definite choice. I bought a small container of Frog Morton tobacco not a week ago. I have been smoking mostly bulk tobaccos for most of my pipe smoking life. I have enjoyed bulk tobaccos a great deal and have often thought that trying anything else could be quite dangerous as I could then be committed to spending more money on an already expensive habit. Yet, so much about this tobacco called to me that I could not resist it any longer.

Things that drew me to this tobacco:

1) The Picture - I don't imagine that this is really the top draw, but I am confident enough in my superficiality that I can say that I just love the picture of this well dressed Frog having a pipe on a log and enjoying his little bit of latakia and cavendish.

2) The Reviews - The reviews that I have read and seen have all lead me to believe that a great number of people want to say something negative about this tobacco, but can't seem to find the words. The rest of the reviewers seem to enjoy it greatly and want to keep it around.

3) Room Note - I always smoke outside (I have not yet been able to win the battle for tobacco indoors) so room note means very little to me. What does mean something to me is getting kicked out of my bed for smelling too strongly of nice English blends. My wife has no taste, but I love her no less for that fact. Besides, it would be worse if she liked it, I don't think we could afford two pipe smokers in our household. The usual English bulk blends I smoke are half latakia. There's quite a kick there for the non-smoker to smell!

4) LOTR association - I am hopelessly in love with the world of Hobbits, Wizards and Pipes. So anyone willing to allude to Tolkien's work at least has my attention.

So, after all of the hype, what did I think. I gotta tell you, I don't believe a person can be truly objective, less so a pipe smoker concerning tobaccos. I know that if I put my mind to it I can enjoy anything from Captain Black to Prince Albert to Aromatics to get the idea. (I have to add the brief caveat that I really have never been able to enjoy cherry blends...cough syrupy. Ugh! But this proves my point more than anything. I try new cherry blends already scowling...not objective at all!) So I decided I liked this tobacco a week and a half before I smoked it when I was hearing it described. (The back of the can is great as well. It is written for someone like me...someone who wants to be drawn into their little world and pretend that a frog really spent four years putting together this perfect blend of tobacco for my enjoyment).

And can you imagine that I really like it? I do! The Latakia is nice and the blend is superb. I love the casing on the cavendish (my local tobacco source swears it to be vanilla...ok) The whole thing is rather nice. It is a nice slow smoke ( a 1.5 hr bowl tonight while reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) though I do have more relights than average on this one...especially near the end of the bowl. I can't decide what it is that sets this blend apart from the bulk tobaccos I usually smoke, beyond the obvious difference in the amount of latakia and presence of some aromatics. It just feels like there is an extra touch of care in it. I can't figure out how, why, or when, but I feel like that goofy little frog actually put some good time and heartfelt effort into blending this tobacco and I'm glad to benefit from it!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Unlocking the Mystery of the Savannah

The people at Tobacco Trader are giving away free samples of this tobacco (very generously sized) with the designs of drawing a wider consumer base from the interwebs. They even pay for shipping in these free samples, which is yet more amazing. I have smoked about three bowls of this tobacco at this point and have to say it leaves me mystified. It is like passing through a beautiful dream. The mix of cavendishes and "condimental tobaccos" has a delicate taste and flavor that is smooth and mild. It really is as easy on the palate as advertised. It smokes pretty cool but the nature of it's delicate beauty seems to require some discipline to really draw out. Each puff brings the hint of a flavor just beyond perception.
It is clearly a rich, tasty tobacco, and it cries out for more investigation. It whets the appetite for the flavor that it keeps hinting at. The danger is to try to dive in after it. If you are in a hurry this is probably not the aromatic for you. It doesn't hit you over the head with it's beauty, but continues to lead you around by the nose. Smoking this tobacco seems to beg you to force the flavor out, but just as you cannot force the petals of an early spring flower, so you cannot force this tobacco to reveal it's secrets to you. Smoke it slow and cool and the intrigue of the relationship can last for the whole bowl. Now here, and now gone. This tobacco is a titillating sensual experience that I will be forced to repeat once the sample they sent me is exhausted. It is the kind of tobacco that is difficult to smoke in good company because the tobacco itself offers so much that you feel like any draw that you weren't paying attention to was the draw that would unfold a bit more of the mystery.
A tobacco to break a man's heart, smoke with care.

You can find this tobacco (and the free sample offer) at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Latakia - the Tobacco Version of Salt!

I tried my first Latakia not too long ago. It was good. Too good. Latakia is to blame for a full revival in my pipe smoking habit. Latakia is to blame for my wife deciding that she doesn't like the smell of pipe smoke as much as she thought she did. Latakia is to blame for my sudden shifting of funds so that I can try more Latakia blends. Latakia is lovely. The man who owns the tobacco shop that I smoke at (and buy from) suggested that for Latakia lovers pipe tobacco without Latakia is like food without salt. I see it. I still love my aromatic and natural blends. I even love the velvety taste of chocolate creme casing on a nice cavendish tobacco. But all cheers go to latakia. It's got a real taste to it that makes one think, "WOW! This is what tobacco is supposed to taste like! It's the REAL thing that I have been looking for!"
Another fine thing about Latakia is the staying power. If I have a pipe of Latakia earlier in the day I find myself tasting Latakia throughout the day. Not the ashy, nasty aftertaste of cheep tobaccos, but the hints of the same beautiful taste it gave me when I was smoking it. It calls me back. Draws me in. It is resurrected by a sip of black to and the haunting memory is enough to draw me out into the cold for another sip. Latakia is deep and rich enough for me to not even be able to hold a conversation while I am smoking it. It as I draw its flavor through the bit of my pipe it draws me into the present moment. The future becomes distant and worthless and the past a dream. The reality being consumed into one of God's fine gifts - Latakia.

Monday, October 26, 2009

And the Chocolate has it...

It seems like all of the snobby smokers smoke English Tobacco. I can understand why. It is so exciting and tasteful. The reality is that aromatics taste like what they are supposed to taste like (if you are lucky) and don't have a whole bunch else to boast of. Often times they employ good virginias and burleys but more often they do not. The aromatic smoker enjoys the sweetness and the flavor of his smoke. The taste of vanilla without the ice cream is attractive.
I really have enjoyed the English tobaccos that I have been able to try (some latakia's and far fewer periques). I love Frog Morton and really enjoy Special Balkan and Halverstein Trail from Edwards Pipe and Tobacco. But sometimes I just want to taste something sweet. The risk for today? Chocolate!
I am not a Choco-holic, and sweets aren't on my long list of vices. However, I heard a review of a chocolate tobacco and thought that the idea sounded intriguing. The idea of a nice pleasant chocolate taste that doesn't overpower was pretty enticing. So on my next trip to Edwards I picked up a can of Frog and a nice "Coco Creme" house tobacco. It was nice.
The first bowl made me wonder. The first few puffs yielded very little, and the bag aroma was more of a hint than a real chocolate smell. I was about half way through the bowl before anything really "happened". Just as I had resigned myself to having had bought a nice mild cavendish blend (not altogether disappointing) the topping kicked in. It was a beautiful moment when all of the sudden I felt as if I had been subtly bathed in chocolate from the inside out. Through my nose and down the front of my shirt the chocolate aroma and taste coursed through me. For the remainder of the evening I had a wonderful lingering taste of Coco in my mouth that went very well with a nice cup of peppermint tea!
The second bowl today was spread out over a couple of smoking sessions (smoke, work, smoke, work, etc.) and kept my day bathed in a sweet, not overpowering dark chocolate scent and taste. I would hate to oversell something that is simply what it is. But this is it. It doesn't have the complexity and character of a half a dozen different tobaccos in it, but it has chocolate flavor. I'm thankful that I'm getting to the point where I can appreciate a bit of flippancy for what it is.
So much of my pipe smoking life has been a sham. I went after the more "manly" looking tobaccos at the expense of the more feminine flavors. Only to find out (rather recently) that my "manly" tobaccos were mellow, light burleys with little to challenge and that no "butch" smoker would be interested in. Now that I see a bit clearer and am enjoying some more variety I have found that I can also open myself up to experience of some of the other things I was wrongly condescending about. Another bowl of Coco? Oh yes, I'm sure there will be several!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Outlet

Greetings! I have been smoking a pipe for ten years now (from the day I turned 18) it has been on again and off again for the most part, but I have never been able to leave it. I enjoy the contemplative aspect. I love the fact that it takes an hour to smoke a bowl of good tobacco. The flavors and the dreams, and the conversations that flow out of time spent over a pipe. I love warm days in the sun smoking a pipe and tasting the mellow Virginias and burleys. I love the cool after after dinner nights when I have to walk to stay warm while I enjoy a nice bowl of a Latakia blend. Aromatics, English, Naturals, anything goes. I have even been known to go after a number of drug store blends and not complain.
Recently my life has turned towards the pipe in a deeper and more meaningful way. After viewing a number of videos on the YouTube machine I have found that there is a whole new world pipe smoking that I had missed. I had always known it was there, but have felt it was inaccessible to the uninitiated. Some of the channels I have benefited most from have been:

There are a number of other great channels. Then I stumbled upon a great pipe blog called The Briar Files and have really appreciated Alan's style as well as his informed view on Pipes and smoking. Alan has a deep and abiding love of Perique which I have little experience with. I'm looking forward to catching up and trying some Perique blends but this will have to be a bit further up the road.
The real revelation coming from this great dearth of information that the internets have provided me has been on the issue of technique. The videos I took in taught me a great deal about tasting the smoke and some keener insights on how to enjoy pipes and pipe tobaccos. Having delved a little deeper I find there is no one in my immediate circle who isn't incredibly sick of hearing me drone on and on about what I am learning regarding these subjects. So an outlet it must be, and that outlet is a little blog hidden in cyber-space where I can post my semi-informed reviews and experiences. Vive la pipe!