Friday, October 29, 2010

On Pipes

O what can match the true delight
Of pipe and fire, both burning bright
The knees and cheeks and hands kept warm
while good tobacco does no harm

The fire roaring, the pipe well packed
Bids weary travelers to relax
The pouch is fat, the day is done
Loss deep bound thoughts to oblivion

Whilst fire and air combine to free
The flavor of the mind's reprieve
So many friends this moment share
As a modest collection of pipes to bare

To briar, sweet briar, the start and end
The great gift of the Mediterranean
As time is passed your colors change
Hard evidence of a friend well made

And clay, dear clay, my earthy friend,
our sweet simplicity to lend
Meerschaum, so dear, so elegant,
The sea's great gift to thinking gents

My corn cob, thoughtful, from the land
Pensive, impermanent, in my hand

Oh my friends, me to outlast
when from this body, free I'm cast
Who shall you next accompany
Through thoughtful tempest and reverie?

Could all my thoughts run out my nose
into your bowl, then up in smoke
Would my time spent less worthy be
If not to learn, I'm much like thee?

Consumed and burning, funeral pyre
Some pleasure bring as leaf in briar
As burn I in this bowl of clay
I'll hope to hear The Tobacconist say:

"Ah, what a sweet, unbiting bowl."
Then scraped, tapped out, and be made whole.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vanilla, Brownies and more leaves to rake...

Another beautiful fall day yesterday (but for some rather pushy winds). However, the fact that it was dry out gave me the opportunity to rake up no less than 14 bags of leaves in the back yard. I don't think it would have taken just so long, but the kids do love to help. That kind of help comes with the price tag of lengthening the task while making it endless amounts of fun! Yet still we had a good romp in the leaves again, which was lovely. Nothing seemed to go so well with raking leaves as some Special Balkan from Edwards, which I love (heavy latakia, cool burning, very nice), and then I wrapped up with a nice bowl of Bjorkum Riff whiskey. (By "nice" of course, I mean that my tongue was bitten off completely!) However, on other occasions I have enjoyed the BR's whiskey immensely.

I must admit I have something of a fetish for over the counter blends. I realize the many things that bring them disrespect, (chemicals, cheap tobacco, tongue bite, etc), however there is something good and honest about the over the counter blends that I truly appreciate. I suppose it simply does my heart good in the first place to see pipe tobacco in a supermarket or drug store. It makes me hopeful that more and more may be enjoying our hobby, which has a multitude of great effects. The least of which are the fact that more demand may mean more supply for our town, but more so, it appears to me that the nature of enjoying pipe tobacco is somehow generally edifying and conducive to the growth and amiability of most humans. I must say truthfully that pipe tobacco actually seems to make the world a better place, even if the impact is small.

However, I can't leave my penchant for over the counter pipe tobacco's there, acting as if it were all for "high" and "intellectual" reasons. While most OTC blends are not as complex as the bulks and boutiques that we all spend so much time talking about, they are honest. In my experience they taste and smell much like what they claim to. I adore half and half, carter hall, and prince albert. All of which are regular in my pipe smoking routine (particularly when I have the chance to enjoy a bowl in the morning). Burley is wonderful, and I love the nuttiness of each of the aforementioned blends. Things get a bit "stickier" when we get to the over the counter aromatics, but I still can appreciate an evening with the Captain or Bjorkum Riff without much complaint (if, of course I pack and smoke them correctly).

To close that rant, I have to say that smoking the whiskey tobacco while working out doors (particularly heavy working) most always results in a bit of a bite, and that's no reason to induce criticism on Bjorkum Riff. The whiskey flavor comes through well and the tobacco doesn't seem in any way "goopy" or "nasty." To be quite honest, dollar for dollar this produces a better experience than Plumcake (again, as a personal preference).

However, I have one more note to play for today's entry. Not many nights ago I had the opportunity to sample MacBaren's Vanilla blend. I was a bit apprehensive based on my not altogether impressive experience with Plumcake. However, a friend bought it, so that eased the tension. The presentation was much like Plumcake. Looking at the open tin you can tell with great clarity that you are looking at (and smelling) very high quality tobacco. Most acts like ribbon cut with an occasional flake (kind of like looking for the cashews in a jar of mixed nuts). The vanilla is more clear from the tin aroma (as compared to the lack of rum scent in Plumcake). I am predisposed to enjoy vanilla and chocolate in general as far as aromatics. The tobacco burned well and tasted nice, the slight vanilla topping came through beautifully and it was altogether an enjoyable smoking experience. The scent off of the bowl and second hand was delicious and charming. While I am not planning on running out and buying a tin of this any time soon, it was a pleasant smoke for someone who wants just a touch of vanilla in their otherwise high quality smoke. Delicious.

Now, for the real anticipation. The Pipe Pastor has recommended Black Gold from Hiland Tobacco ( and I finally ordered a half pound to get me started. It fascinates me when a person finds that one tobacco that they can commit to forsaking all others. One Youtube presenter is rarely seen without Billy Budd, another continually favors various flake tobaccos. Of course Jeoffrey is very commonly enjoying the ever awesome (and awesomely named) "chocolate manhood" which I am remiss for having never tried. I have a great number of tobaccos I have enjoyed immensely. I would like to do a post on my desert island top five (which very few seem to be willing to commit to declaring) tobaccos, as I am in the mood for different tobaccos at different times, and am usually possessed of such a sunny disposition that I am able to enjoy whatever tobacco I am smoking as if it were the best tobacco on earth (take this into account when you read my reviews). In any event, once I got through my top five there are simply days where I want to try something new. I wonder, will it ever go away? Will Black Gold be the tobacco that makes me never again yearn for another? Tough to say.
I am earnestly and fully committed to my wife, to the point where other women are not even considered romantically or sexually. I my wife so much that I can't imagine life with anyone else, so I don't consider it. I love my job, and were another to open up offering me all of the money I could never hope to spend I wouldn't even consider it because I am right where the Lord wants me, and that's where I want to be. Is it possible that a tobacco exists out there that so characterizes who I am and why I enjoy pipe smoking that I forsake all other tobaccos? This is a matter for serious thought and consideration.

Monday, October 18, 2010

This One Goes to Eleven

I have a deep appreciation for the work and comedy of Christopher Guest (though I know Rob Reiner did the original Spinal Tap), however, this is not about a guitar amp. This is about tobacco. Good tobacco - tobacco that goes to eleven. To fully appreciate the wonder of this tobacco experience I must lay the back drop.

Autumn is here. In my world Autumn is when the year is perfected. Pushkin wrote of Autumn:
The latter days of fall are often cursed, 
But as for me, kind reader, she is precious 
In all her quiet beauty, mellow glow. 
Thus might a child, disfavored in its family, 
Draw my regard. To tell you honestly, 
Of all the times of year, I cherish her alone. 
She's full of worth; and I, a humble lover, 
Have found in her peculiar charms.

You can find the rest of that poem here, it is worth your time.  To celebrate Autumn, and my day off I decided to rake leaves with my children.  Colorado Autumns are such that this task can be done in no shoes, making it at least twice as enjoy
able.  So I raked and the children ran through what I had just raked.  Kicking through carefully rakes piles is, of course, the perennial right of children and I dared not interfere.  However, I did choose to commemorate this wonderful Autumnal occasion with the tobacco that goes to 11, every time.  So I packed my pipe with Rattray's Black Mallory Tobacco, and smiled as my leaves went from disorder, to order, and back to disorder.
I generally give good reviews for tobacco, and I only tend to write about the tobaccos that I enjoy. This is mostly because it seems unfair and rather useless to spend time criticizing something that I simply "didn't get." So when I am unimpressed with a tobacco I will generally keep it to myself. However, this tobacco is glorious. This is one of those consistent smoking experiences that makes me want to go to every other tobacco I have rated and bring it down one point because this is the tobacco that deserves top honors. I will say that Dunhill's London Mixture was absolutely of this character and quality, and nothing else I've ever had. Both of those tobaccos have something extra. There is something about them that cries out to you. They are like a little bowl of art that you get to set fire to.

It sounds strange that I like the idea of setting fire to art, but I am a musician, so I hope you can understand. Pipe tobacco, like music is destroyed in the consumption. When listening to a symphony you should never stand up in the middle and ask to do the last movement again as your thoughts drifted away from the art before you. Poetry is the same way, always best read, and listened to with a focused desire to hear and be blessed. Of course this is only a parallel and is not intended to depreciate the value of the visual arts. Yet the similarities are almost unending, aren't they?

Rather than spell it all out from my view I would ask you if you see other similarities between pipe tobacco and art? As for the masterpiece of Black Mallory, if you like full flavored, English tobacco. Cool smoking and delicious. If you ever wanted to know what is "nearly perfect" to my humble mouth, the tobacco I would stain my last white tooth for - Go and buy a tin of this.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

plumcake and a joyful reunion

Before starting, I have to say that I LOVE MacBaren's Navy Flake. It is perfect, slow burning, delicious and wonderful. It is my understanding that this blend is based on that one, plus a bit minus a bit. I have been read that there is latakia in this, I haven't tasted it, but so it goes. This is supposed to have a bit of rum flavor. The MacBaren aromatics are preportedly not the "overpowering and goopy" aromatics that give aromatics such a bad name. This is true. This blend is nice and dry. I would put this in my list of thoroughly mediocre smokes. It is nice and has a great smell all around, it certainly falls in the baby bear category ("just right") in many respects. I enjoy all types of pipe tobacco, and have no prejudice against any one or the other. Even still there the Rum thing never really came off, that is to say, I never really tasted it. That wasn't terribly disappointing, it just left me with a sort of "did I miss it?" type of feeling. One review that I read claimed that the smoke was actually better after the topping sort of "burned off." It is a good smoke and a good tobacco. I think what made me feel somewhat ambivalent about it is that I paid quite a bit for the tin. Call me crazy, when I pay more I expect more. I suppose I would try it again if I weren't in a place where every purchase has to count. There is only so much money I can justify spending on the hobby. ("Sorry kids, no meat this month, it's a MacBeran month!) I would like to reiterate, however, the Navy Flake delivers every single time. So this is by no means a bash on MacBaren, just that this one isn't for me. I'm pretty excited to try the "mixture modern" but all in good time.

And now, given what was written before, something that may stun, amaze and discredit me to my entire readership. I have recently had a reunion that has warmed my heart tremendously. Anyone who has been estranged from a friend for an extended period of time and then sees them on the street may have this sensation. The moment of disbelief. The doubt and wonder, if it could really be them. Then the moment of courage, on the possibility that it was just how the light fell on a perfect stranger, reminding you of the loved one, when you go and tap them on the shoulder...Then the joyous meeting commences. This is the moment I have just had.

Upon moving to a new city I have been able to find a smoke shop, order most of my other premium tobaccos from Cornell and Deihl, and mama brings me up some treasured favorites when she comes up from the home town. Nevertheless, I have not been able to find a single walgreens or supermarket that sells Prince Albert, Carter Hall, or even Half and Half. I have been able to find one that has old packages of Captain Black, which has never been my favorite over the counter blend. And have actually had a pouch of Bjorkum Riff (whiskey) which was...okay. All of this changed when I went to go pick up some milk for my wife after work. Stopping off at a different grocery store I saw it. The beautiful Red and white box, and even the beautiful big circular tin. Delicious, wonderful, Prince Albert. I almost wondered if I had built it up too much.

Surely, this is not a high fallootin' complicated mix of fruits and oriental magic. This is tobacco. This isn't the Mocha-Yemen-Java Dark Roast Bean from the big green monster that comes in individually wrapped packages of snottyness. This is the honest, straightforward red can that says "COFFEE" on it and delivers exactly what it claims. I used to start my day with the floral cup of complex, individually roasted, overpriced bean drink. But I have now come to appreciate "COFFEE". And that is why I love Prince Albert. It is nutty, sweet, not complex, or overpowering. But it is just tobacco. I have been told that it has chemicals in it. Perhaps. I don't really notice it. Besides. I like a little cancer with my cancer. I feel like I met up with an old friend. The one who you don't necessarily have out for a "night on the town", but the one who tells you the truth, doesn't dress things up, and just enjoys your company.

I know you are wondering. And yes, I also have grown to appreciate PBR. Sue me.