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.