Our world has submerged itself in functionalism because it fears the inequality involved when some people enjoy themselves and others have to work or suffer the consequences of their abilities or decisions. This has created a kind of totalitarian worker’s commune where pleasure is demonized, except for certain forms which help people go back to work, and work is praised as a type of new religion. As part of this ascetic dogmatism, pipes and cigars have been hunted to near-extinction by regulators, complainers, private businesses and whiny NGOs. A London woman named Shorty, one of the rare breed of independent tobacconists still extant as an endangered species in the modern world, agreed to answer some of our questions about her world of pipes, tobacco and Brexit…
Each of us finds a path through life. Along the way we collect things we believe in, and things we enjoy. Sometimes those become what our commerce-brained socially-manipulated society might call “hobbies,” but these are often closer to a calling. I was fortunate to interview someone who straddles that line. He calls himself “Metalhead Y Cigarguy” and he runs a successful YouTube channel where he analyzes cigars, pipes and often, heavy metal.
You’re both a metalhead and a pipes/cigar smoker. Do you think the two go together?
If you’re going by stereotypes, no, but that’s why stereotypes are bad. Typically the pipe/cigar smoker is viewed as educated and an upper class individual, whereas the Metalhead is viewed as the uneducated lower class individual. You and I both know this is not the case at all. Now when I first got into pipes/cigars I thought I was one of a few Metalheads that actually enjoyed “the finer things in life,” but I quickly learned that there were a lot of individuals that smoked pipes/cigars that listened to all forms of Heavy Metal music.
That’s the nice thing about the hobby of pipes and cigars, most individuals don’t care about race, religion, political view etc. as we all have a common bond and that’s pipes and cigars. When individuals come together, say the doctor and the Metalhead, at the local cigar lounge, the two can always have an interesting conversation about the hobby even if they disagree about everything else in life. The hobby of pipes and cigars is open to anyone and everyone.
How did you get into smoking cigars? When did you add pipes to your routine?
I used to just smoke a few cigars on the back deck in the summer time. At the time I really wanted to take up pipe smoking, but like most I didn’t really know where to begin, and I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on something that I may not enjoy. Cigars seemed like an easy first step. After I found myself enjoying cigars I decided to get more into the hobby, so I purchased a small humidor and things took off from there. I soon found myself with several humidors and about 300 cigars on hand.
After being into cigars for a while I decided it was time to try a pipe, so I went to my local tobacconist and picked up a basket pipe and a couple ounces of Lane RLP-6. For the first couple months I only smoked my pipe about 2-3 times a month, but as I got the hang of it more I decided to spend a bit more money on a nicer pipe. Of course just like the cigar hobby, my pipe hobby took off as well. I now have a very well stocked cellar of tobaccos and about 35 pipes. Needless to say I really enjoy my pipes and cigars and pretty much all my spare cash goes into the hobby. My wife always asks, “Don’t you have enough tobacco/cigars?” and my response is always “no.”
You run a YouTube channel with pipe and cigar videos. Where can we find it, and what is on it?
I post a variety of videos on my channel. I have a Sunday Evening Cigar series where I usually review cigars but also discuss cigar related topics, I have a Thursday Pipe Chat where I discuss a variety of pipe/tobacco topics and sometimes I do an occasional pipe tobacco review. I have also done videos on my sports teams, as well as videos where I discuss Heavy Metal music. I’m open to all subjects, but mainly keep it to pipes and cigars.
What do you like about making videos, and why did you pick that format over others?
I started out many years ago on Heavy Metal forums like Metal Rules, Encyclopedia Metallum, Roadrunner Records etc., and when I got serious about cigars I discovered the Cigar Geeks forum. I posted on that forum daily for a good 3 years straight, and there is a great group of individuals over there. As I had grown in my cigar hobby I decided to give pipe smoking a try as I had always wanted to smoke a pipe.
After beginning my adventure into pipes I discovered there was a community on YouTube. After seeing the interaction from people I decided to jump in and give it a go and make videos. As with most people my videos sucked at first, heck they probably still do, but it gave me a better interaction with individuals in the hobby. Forums can be useful, but many times people don’t get to detailed about a particular subject; where as with YouTube a person can spend 5, 10, 15 + minutes talking about a particular subject and provide more in depth information about something you want to know about.
With YouTube its more of a face to face type interaction as you are watching the individual demonstrate tips, tricks, how-tos etc. with the actual pipe and/or cigar, so as a visual learner it was ideal for me. For a long time I didn’t have anyone to sit back and enjoy a pipe or a cigar with either, so by watching YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) videos I was able to simulate that experience even if it was only a one way conversation. I think that’s why a lot of us do it… to share a smoke with someone and to have some interaction that way.
What is the YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) and how did you become part of it? What does it do, and how can people find out more?
YouTube is full of different communities that cover topics from Guns/Self Defense, Bushcraft, Gamers, etc., and if you’re interested in a particular hobby then chances are there is a community for it on YouTube. YT has a strong pipe/cigar community that’s been around for a long time. I’ve been a part of the YTPC for four years now, and it was going strong when I joined. It’s basically a community of individuals that post pipe and/or cigar related videos, and create dialog with individuals based off those videos.
Its similar to a forum, but the dialog is generated from the videos. Sometimes instead of just typing out a text reply to the video, individuals will make a video response and post a video that will respond to the topic mentioned in a video by another person. Within the community you will find people that post tobacco and pipe reviews, cigar reviews, how to videos related to pipes and/or cigars, and sometimes people just create ramble videos.
Those are simply the individual talking into the camera as if they were sitting next to an individual and sharing a pipe and/or cigar with them. There are a lot of people that don’t have the opportunity to have a smoking buddy, so many of us can simulate that by watching the ramble type videos and pretend we are hanging out with said individual. Those types of video’s aren’t for everyone, but some people really enjoy them.
Anyone can join the community, all you have to do is post videos. There are no requirements to join other than to just start posting videos. What kind of videos is up to the individual. For lack of a better term, the community is filled with many “lurkers,” which are individuals that watch the YTPC videos, but don’t actually post videos themselves. Some comment on the videos and some don’t, but they watch to gain knowledge when it comes to pipe/cigar related topics.
Really that’s the whole idea behind the community, to help educate other pipe/cigar smokers with tips/tricks and how to information. For example how to pack a pipe, how to properly light a cigar etc. I started out as a lurker, and began watching how to videos before buying my first pipe. I then continued to watch and found that the community was full of a lot of great people. After watching for about five months I decided to give it a go and post a video. It was really weird just talking into a camera all by myself, but the community was very welcoming.
In the past four years I’ve made some good friends, and have had the pleasure of going to pipe/cigar related events where I’ve been able to meet up with other individuals from the YTPC in person. A lot of us will from time to time talk via Skype or Google+ Hangouts, and via a phone app called Voxer. I regularly talk via Voxer with individuals from Australia, Great Britain, and all across the the US who are a part of the YTPC. So it really is a community that goes beyond just posting how to videos etc.
When did you get into heavy metal? What attracted you to it, and what were your favorites? Do you have a “top ten”?
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest when the Grunge/Alternative Rock scene broke open it was easy to get into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Mud Honey, Soundgarden, etc. After a few years it was clear to me that the scene was dying, and the new bands that were coming out were very stale and provided nothing new. As the casual Hard Rock and Heavy Metal listener I expanded on the Heavy Metal side and I became a huge fan of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath in the mid 90s.
I then got into the Nu-Metal scene, but realized fairly quickly that there was heavier stuff that was better. By the end of the 90s I was getting into more Thrash, outside the Big Four, and into Death Metal and even some Black Metal. As time passed I really came to enjoy the old school Death Metal and Thrash Metal that I missed in the 80s as a young kid and while I was listening to Grunge/Alternative in the early 90s.
Now days I find myself mainly listening to the Traditional Heavy Metal like Ozzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, along with the old school Death Metal bands, Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Deicide, Malevolent Creation, and Thrash Metal bands like Overkill, Testament, Exodus, etc. outside the Big Four. I enjoy all varieties of Metal though as you can find me listening to Progressive Metal, Power Metal, Doom, Folk Metal, Black Metal etc. I enjoy all of the sub-genres.
What do you look for in a cigar or pipe tobacco blend? Are some better than others? Are there others you “just like”?
When it comes to cigars I like anything from Mild up to Full bodied, though if I’m having a Full bodied cigar I need to go slow and make sure I have a nice meal before hand otherwise I’ll feel the nicotine punch. I prefer a nice Mild-Medium cigar in the morning with a nice cup of coffee, and in the evening I prefer a nice Medium-Full cigar with a nice ale or some whiskey. My favorite brand of cigar is Romeo Y Julieta, and of those lines I really like the Reserva Real and the classic 1875 line.
As for pipe tobacco, I started off with aromatics like many do. I still enjoy an aromatic from time to time, and if I do have an aromatic its usually in the morning with a cup of coffee. As I got more into pipes I really found that I enjoy English/Balkan blends the most. Typically anything with Latakia, Turkish/Oriental, Virginia and Perique will be a favorite of mine. Looking back on most of my favorite blends, they all have those components to them. I also find that I really enjoy McClelland tobaccos. Not saying they’re better than brands like MacBaren, Cornell & Diehl etc., but I find I really enjoy a lot of the McClelland blends.
What should people know before getting into cigar/pipe smoking? What about before they start listening to heavy metal?
With pipes/cigars… just know that its going to be expensive, especially cigars. A nice cigar here runs $5-9 so the cost can definitely add up. The higher end premium cigars range from $10-15+ so its not cheap at all. That doesn’t include accessories like humidors etc. With pipes and pipe tobacco its not as bad as you can get away with an inexpensive corn cob pipe (which are really good smoking pipes) and some inexpensive bulk blends. Though you can find yourself spending hundreds of dollars on some very nice pipes too, so it can be very costly as well. Then adding tobacco to your tobacco cellar will generate an expense as well. Either way you’re going to be spending some hard earned cash. How far into the hobby you want to go will determine how much money you’re going to invest in the hobby.
Heavy Metal carries a bad stereotype, and the music is viewed by many as a guy standing there screaming into the microphone while the band plays unorganized loud music. Now in some cases that may be true, depends on who you’re listening to, but the professional Metal bands are actually very talented musicians with many playing at a high level. Though most people can’t get past the loud noise. Then there is the typical images of hate and satanism.
Now some bands have this image or have lyrics about these types of messages, but not all bands are that way. There are plenty of Metal bands that sing about a positive message. Its up to the listener to decide their preference. For someone that wants to explore Heavy Metal… go for it! You have to look past the stereotypes. There are all kinds of sub-genre’s of Metal so while one genre may not fit your style another might. Sometimes it takes time to really wrap your head around what you’re listening to as well.
For example the first time I listened to Mercyful Fate (King Diamond), his falsetto singing really threw me off and I was like, “What the heck is this?” I wasn’t ready for it, so I put the album on the shelf for about a year. When I came back to it I was blown away by what i was listening to. Now Mercyful Fate and King Diamond are two of my favorite bands. Sometimes you just need to recognize you’re not ready for something, and instead of just dismissing it, come back to it at a later time. Your outlook may change.
Is there a “generation gap” between older pipe smokers and younger ones regarding the video format? Are there any newer formats that bridge the gap?
The forums are most likely to bridge the gap, because unless an individual shares information about themselves you don’t really know the age of the different individuals. As for YouTube, there are many older pipe smokers that make YouTube videos. It’s not just a young pipe smokers format.
The individuals in the YTPC don’t care if an individual is in their early 20s and just picked up a pipe, or if they’re in their 60s and have been smoking a pipe for 40 years. Everyone interacts with everyone. It’s a great community full of helpful information and individuals that love to share their thoughts on the hobby.
How do you make your videos? About how long does each one take? Does it require special equipment, software or a studio?
I keep it real simple as i do it for fun. If it gets to detailed it becomes a chore and then it’s not fun anymore. When I was doing my Thursday Pipe Chat and my Sunday Evening Cigar series on a weekly basis with editing, I was spending a lot of time on my computer (hours). Now I just use my cell phone which records in HD quality. If I do any editing it can take a little bit of time, but I don’t do that much anymore as I prefer to just click record and stop and then upload. It’s so much more easier. Is the video quality lower?… that’s for the viewer to decide.
If people are interested in what they read here about you, where do they go to find out more and stay on top of your latest doings?
I still chat on the Cigar Geeks forum from time to time, but not as much anymore. I chat on the Pipes Magazine forum on a regular basis currently and of course I’m still making videos for my YouTube channel. I can’t see how anyone would want to keep up with me, as I don’t find myself that entertaining, but if they really want to then the best place is my YouTube channel.
The Diesel Unlimited Maduro is an extension of the very popular Diesel cigar line by master blender AJ Fernandez. Mr. Fernandez has quite a dedicated following with full-bodied cigar lovers, as he is known for using potent tobaccos in his blends. Popular cigars such as the Man O’ War Ruination and the Diesel Unholy Cocktail are extremely strong, meaty and flavorful. The Diesel Unlimited Maduro follows in this tradition and is a welcome addition to his ever-growing portfolio.
Appearance and Construction:
A mottled, chocolate brown wrapper covers the cigar. It has a rustic appearance, with a slight tooth and a dull sheen of natural oils. It is firmly rolled and feels well constructed, with no lumps, hard spots or other imperfections. I’ve had many boxes of these cigars and they always seem to be a bit on the dry side. That doesn’t mean they are “dried out”, I just think that they aren’t as oily or moist as many other cigars. With that said, care must be taken when handling as the wrapper can flake or crack if you’re not too careful or apply too much heat all at once when lighting.
The cigar has a fairly strong tobacco aroma along with an undertone of what can best be described as barnyard — a mixture of straw, grass, dirt and manure. This is in no way a negative — as a matter of fact the barnyard aroma harmonizes quite well with the tobacco.
Because the cigar contains a good dose of ligero tobacco, The Diesel Unlimited Maduro benefits from a long toasting of the foot to warm up the head of the cigar. Once lit, the cigar burns even and true, with a grey flaky ash that can, at times, create a mess in your lap or on your clothes. The draw is quite good, producing a nice mouthful of smoke with each draw.
The smoke has a pleasant mouth feel to it — light and very flavorful with no off-putting qualities. What’s impressive is that although the smoke is very light in your mouth, it has a strong character to it that really makes you take notice.
Initial mouth flavors are wood, leather and straight tobacco and through the nose it’s mostly spice with a touch of bitter cocoa and black coffee. The finish is clean and very dry with lingering sweet chocolate and burnt wood notes.
This is by no means a complex cigar, as the flavors remain the same throughout — from initial light to the last inch. It never smokes too hot or too cool and provides a good hour and a half of smoking enjoyment. Its bold flavor profile and ramped-up nicotine content is not for the beginner, but veteran smokers will certainly appreciate the consistent blast of flavor and kick in the pants this smoke provides.
The Diesel Unlimited Maduro fits well into the Diesel cigar line, rounding out an already impressive grouping of smokes.
- Maduro: This is a fermentation process that uses intense pressure and heat to extract more sugar from the tobacco leaf than standard tobacco aging.
- Ligero: The top-most part of a tobacco plant. This is the strongest type of tobacco, because it receives the most sunlight and has a higher nicotine content than other parts of the plant.
For those of you that enjoy a cigar now and then, probably never tried to roll your own. It’s fun, inexpensive, and you learn a lot about the craftsmanship that goes into the cigars you buy at your local cigar shop. I was lucky enough to have a friend drop off a bunch of cigar tobacco to me that he had ordered from LeafOnly.com (see also Whole Leaf Tobacco).
I was very eager to roll a cigar, but when I first opened the box to check out the tobacco leaves, I noticed the leaves were very dry. I thought maybe they were too dry to work with, and then I read online that that’s how they are shipped. They must be re-hydrated, stretched out and trimmed. Below is a step-by-step guide to rolling your own cigars.
- Fruit pectin (found in the canning/baking section of grocery store, used for glue)
- Spray Bottle of distilled water
- String (optional, I use dental floss)
- Flat surface (I use a cutting board)
- Sponge (optional, I just use my hand)
- Whole leaf tobacco (filler, binder and wrapper leaves)
Making the cigar glue. In a shot glass, add 1tsp of pectin and then add ¼ tsp of distilled water. Stir with a table knife and keep adding ¼ tsp of water until it’s nearly clear and sticks to the knife.
Step 1: Hydrate
Pick out about three leaves of filler, 1 binder leaf, and 1 wrapper leaf. On the wrapper leaf, be sure to find one with minimal tears and holes. Start with the filler leaves and spray each side lightly with water and set aside. Just one easy spray on each side will due. We just want the filler leaves wet enough that they don’t crumble apart when we bend them. The binder and wrapper leaves you want to get a bit more wet. Once you have both sides of the binder and wrapper leaves wet, put them aside and wait about ten minutes for the leaves to absorb the water.
Step 2: Stretch and Examine Leaves
After you’ve waited ten minutes, gently grab the binder leaf, and slowly stretch it out. Be sure not to crack it; if it’s too resistant, give it another spray of water. You may have to do this a few times. Slowly fan it out until it starts looking like a full leaf. Do the same with the wrapper leaf. On the wrapper leaf, keep an eye out for holes and tears. If both the right, and left sides of the wrapper leaf have tears, use another wrapper leaf.
Step 3: De-vein and Trim Leaves
We don’t want that big, single vein that runs down the middle of the leaf. It can cause uneven burning and looks bad. With the filler leaves, fold the leaf in half, then grab the vein near the top, and pull it to the stem. You should be left with two halves of the leaf. With the binder and wrapper leaves, cut from the bottom to the top of the leaves, leaving some of the thick parts of the veins aside.
Step 4: Rolling the Binder
Gather up your filler and with both hands, roll and squeeze them into a general cigar shape. This does not need to be neat, or tight, just need the general shape. It should be about two fists long. Next, break them in half by simply tearing them with both hands. Next, combine them both into one, and try to make them even, so that they feel like they would make an even gauge cigar. Now lay out a binder half, with the veins facing up. Add a bit of the glue to the end of the binder by dipping your finger in the glue, and wiping it on the leaf.
Be liberal; you can even spread it down the leaf. Grab the bunch of filler and place it over the wrap diagonally so you can roll forward. Gently spread out the wrap, while rolling the wrap around the filler. Do not roll too tight. You still want some give when you squeeze it. A cigar that is too tightly rolled will give you a bad draw. It doesn’t have to look great at this point. Once you are close to the end, add more glue to the binder so it holds together.
Step 5: Wrap, Cut, and Wrap Again
Since I am new to this hobby, I like to have two wraps on my cigars. I tend to have small tears or holes in my wraps, so to make it look nicer, I use two wraps. This means I am using both halves of a single wrapper leaf. Make sure your wraps are trimmed, and stretched out as much as possible. First use the wrapper half that may have a little more damage than the other, and start with that one. Do the same as you did with the binder. Veins up, add glue to the end, and roll.
While you roll, use one hand to roll, use the other to spread out the leaf. The wrap is made to look nice, so we want it to be as smooth, and wrinkle free as possible. Once you have it wrapped nicely and are ready for the second wrap, trim both ends with a cigar cutter or sharp knife. This is to give it that cigar shape. On your second wrapper leaf, leave some extra hanging off both ends. Add lots of glue to this one as we don’t want any bubbles or it to come apart. Roll it up tightly, careful not to tear the wrapper.
When you get near the bottom, add lots of glue and with the remaining wrapper, twist it and add some glue to the outside. It’s OK if it looks a little messy on the end, that part will be cut off before smoking. If you don’t have enough wrap left to leave the twist, use your string to tie a knot around the cigar to hold it in place. You can attempt to make a true cap, but I am not good enough to attempt that.
The second wrap will cover up that crack.
Step 6: Smooth, Dry, Trim
Now you are left with what looks like a cigar. In order to make it better looking, lay the cigar on a flat surface, and gently roll a flat object over it. In the picture below, you can see I used a DVD case. This helps smooth the wrapper and push veins down. You can do this a few times a day. Let the cigar dry. Don’t put it in your humidor or a Ziploc bag. Leave it out for at most 2-5 days, depending on how wet you got your leaves. If they feel damp, let it sit. Finally, trim off any excess tobacco from the foot of the cigar (the part you light).
Step 7: Cut, Light, Enjoy!
Use a cigar cutter, or a sharp knife, to cut off the end. Just cut off about ⅛ of an inch. I like to light using a torch lighter, but not let the direct flame come in contact with the cigar. Instead, let the heat of the flame slowly heat up the cigar, while slowly spinning the cigar to get an even burn. I also recommend pairing with a nice single malt scotch whisky. I am really fond of Glenmorangie 12 right now and is sweet and mild enough to not override the cigar.
Brian Parker has been a metalhead for over two decades and has created and nurtured the San Diego Metal Swap Meet since 2009.
The weather is absolutely perfect here in New York, with a surprisingly warm 73-degree temperature and gentle breeze coming in from the south. Knowing I won’t have many more days like this I figure its the perfect day to sit outside on my back patio, light up an excellent cigar and pair it with an equally remarkable bourbon.
I reached into my humidor and immediately went for my prized possession — a flawlessly preserved 1993 Cuban Punch Churchill. Now that it was chosen, I had to decide on which bourbon to pair it with. Not knowing the exact strength profile of the cigar, I decided it would be best to choose a middle of the road bourbon that wasn’t incredibly strong or forceful, but still had plenty of character — Woodford Reserve immediately came to mind. It has a wonderful upfront taste with a short and pronounced finish that I thought wouldn’t overpower the cigar. Once I poured myself a taster’s glass worth of the amber goodness and headed outside to begin.
In my opinion, Cuban cigars are not what they used to be. Over the past 20 years, poor soil management, deteriorating quality control and general apathy has led to a dramatic decline in quality and consistency — consequently buying a Cuban cigar today is a hit or miss affair. However, the cigar I was about to smoke was from a different time, when quality and consistency were still high and Cubans were the gold standard in taste. Since I never had this cigar before, I decided it would be best if I smoked it a bit to truly taste it before even attempting to pair it with the bourbon.
After toasting the foot of the cigar and lighting it, I let it settle for a minute or two until the head cooled down to its normal burning temperature. Once the cigar settled down, I took my first few draws. The smoke was rich, but not overpowering, with well-defined, upfront flavors of black pepper, leather and earth. Underneath those flavors lay the very distinctive metallic-like quality prevalent in most Cuban cigars.
The flavors blended together quite well and produced an incredibly balanced profile. This Punch is a very complex cigar, and the mix of flavors constantly evolves as you smoke it. At one moment, the leather is more pronounced; the next moment it would be another flavor at the forefront. The finish is light and pleasant, with lingering spice and metallic tastes in the mouth and nose. Overall, I would score this as a legendary smoke. I’ve had a few cigars that are better, but this is certainly one of the best I have ever experienced, and achieves legendary status easily.
Fortunately, my pairing instincts were correct, and the experience truly got out of hand when I introduced the Woodford Reserve. Both the cigar and the bourbon benefitted from each other, and the synergy between the two truly hit my sensory sweet spot. The bourbon blunted a bit of the metallic taste of the cigar and enhanced the smoke’s spicy character, while the cigar’s leather and earth notes played quite well with the Woodford’s caramel and spice notes. After a puff and a small sip, I would sit for at least three minutes, taking the whole experience in before even contemplating another.
This is one of the best pairings I have ever had, and the experience left me relaxed and fully satisfied. The only thing that would have made it better would be having a prime porterhouse beforehand. It’s very rare to experience a pairing such as this, and I certainly savored every minute of it. I only wonder what would have happened if I upped the bourbon game and tried the cigar with Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old. Alas, I’ll never know.
While Woodford Reserve is easy to find, getting your hands on a 1990s Punch is quite difficult, if not impossible to procure. I’m lucky that I have a very (very) rich hedge fund manager as a client and he is well stocked with classic Cubans — that’s where I got this incredible smoke. That being said, below are some cigars that are much easier to find that pair well with Woodford Reserve:
Partagas Black Label
Tatuaje Brown Label
Nica Rustica by Drew Estate
Don Pepin Garcia Blue Label
Old Henry by Holt’s
Diesel Unlimited Maduro
Chris Pervelis, best known to most of you as Internal Bleeding guitarist and composer, also writes for a number of underground metal publications.
This medium strength cigar begins with a leathery flavor with undertones of vinegar. For the Churchill size, especially in a Maduro wrapper, I recommend making as broad of a cut as you can and then using a tamper to push in stray tobacco and expand the airflow by disrupting the tightly layered leaf. This opens up a massive wave of rich smoke from the oily and aged leaves, which burn through an initial bitter flavor toward a nutty, buttery and satisfying deep tobacco flavor.
La Gloria Cubana came of age during the 1990s cigar boom as people reached beyond the traditional market leaders for new, intense flavors. Originally blended by Ernesto Perez Carrillo in the tradition of his family back in Cuban, these well-rolled cigars with high-quality leaf have now become standards at most cigar shops to the point that novelty seekers (hipsters and others) will avoid them. These cigars begin life as blended tobaccos from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, layered and bound with a binder of the same and then wrapped in an outer shell of broadleaf Maduro color leaf from Connecticut.
The result preserves the contents for breathing necessary to age and percolate those sugars to the surface, but also avoids adulterating the flavor. At medium strength, the cigar burns from hints of leather into a nutty middle and then ends in a leathery, strong smoke that bears down on the smoker with copious nicotine. Like a Wagnerian opera, the Maduro Churchill cigars work up to a crescendo and then become avenging Valkyries intent on the kill. For the fifty-nine minutes of your life that this cigar will occupy, much of the world will recede and thoughts will become clearer. Ash falls in full clumps and your sense of time evaporates, leading to a disappointment when the nub finally cashes and the cigar remains a pleasant memory.
Quality rating: 4/5
Purchase rating: 5/5
The old saying goes that those who love to use tobacco smoke cigarettes, and those who love tobacco smoke cigars and pipes. The cigarettes give you a quicker hit because the lungs, with their much vaster absorption area, deliver nicotine to the brain within about three seconds. The cigarette ends within three to seven minutes and the craving subsides momentarily. With pipes and cigars, the nicotine slowly oozes in through the mucus membranes in the mouth, tongue and (sometimes) throat, creating a stronger dose of nicotine but without the sudden “falling off a cliff” sensation. Many metalheads smoke cigarettes, but more are branching out to pipes and cigars for the flavors, more intense dosage and less damage to the body.
Please do not read this as an anti-cigarette rant. They are wonderful, in their own right, and much less work than cigars or pipes. However, burning any leaves and inhaling them directly into your lungs 10-20 times a day would cause some kind of long term health problem as gunk — tar, ash and irritants — builds up on the alveoli. On top of that, our industry and lawmakers have decided to mandate all sorts of processing of the tobacco, so who knows what else is being inhaled. If you would not mind going into a fast food joint, taking home their lettuce, dehydrating it and sitting next to a giant pile of it burning all day, cigarettes might not bother you. And keep in mind that there are brain-boosting benefits to nicotine in addition to resistance to neurodegenerative disorders, an effect which you do not get with the charred salad.
Cigars are beyond the scope of this article, but pipes are its focus. Pipes are essentially little wooden, stone or clay cups for burning tobacco with an inhalation tube attached. The smoker fills the pipe loosely with tobacco, then ignites it with some of the many means available to us ex-hominids, inhaling the smoke into his mouth and savoring it before blowing it outward into the personal space of those around him. While the topic of smoking pipes merits a full book, this article provides an introduction to pipe smoking designed to be as simple and low-cost as possible.
To get started, you will need:
- A pipe. Generally between $35-$65 for a good starter pipe. Look for 0.7inch diameter bowls and filterless stems. This tool may help.
- Tobacco. This comes in tins and bulk, usually found at Brick and Mortar (B&M) shops, and Over the Counter (OTC) usually found at drugstores and supermarkets.
- Pipe cleaners. Each time you smoke, you will want to clean your pipe. Pipe cleaners have two ends, so that is two smokes per cleaner. It is not a terrible habit to include a bundle or package of these each time you buy tobacco.
- A pipe nail. Demystifying this tool: it can be as simple as a key. You use one end to cut up tobacco, allowing it to collapse into an ember, and the other to tamp it after you light it for the first time. Tobacco rises like a demon unleashed when touched with fire, but compressing it allows it to smoulder so you can sip the pipe.
- Fire. I favor the compressed cardboard matches in matchbooks, but you can use anything. For some, lighters and zippos taste horrible, so they prefer the match. The only trick is to burn off the tip before lighting.
To avoid the usual drama, let us launch into the process of smoking:
You go to some place with little wind, but some air circulation, where you have a comfortable chair. Sitting in it, you take out your tobacco. Holding the pipe over the tobacco container, let the shreds of tobacco fall into the pipe. When it is half-full, gently tamp with a finger. When it reaches the top, pinch from the center to one side and then the other, compressing the tobacco and letting it fall back into place. (Much has been written on this topic, usually under the unfortunate appellation of packing a pipe, when the correct word to use is fill: put tobacco into the pipe so there are no fully empty spaces, but fall short of compacting it so air — necessary for fire and smoke — can flow through. Ignore all other advice.)
Put the pipe in your mouth, holding it gently with teeth and firmly with lips. Light a match, and hold it vertically at a slight angle so the flame climbs the stalk of the match, then when the head has burned off, move the match over the tobacco in slow circles while inhaling. Take the smoke into your mouth and the top part of your throat if you wish, but try to avoid it leaking further down toward the lungs. You can compress it by gently blowing out the air from the front of your mouth, which draws in smoke from the pipe. The best way to inhale that I have found involves flaring the nose and drawing in air slowly but steadily.
My favorite cycle runs in seven second increments. For bigger mouthfuls, draw in your smoke, then keep it in your mouth for three seconds, then exhale and wait another four seconds. For slower sips, take one for about a half-second, then wait at least three seconds before the next. It helps to have a slight background circulation of air to keep the pipe oxygenated and smouldering well.
Many smokers do a “char and light” where they torch the top layer of tobacco, then tamp it lightly because it has risen up as it burned, and then light again to get the resulting compressed tobacco to blaze. At two-thirds through the bowl, it may be helpful to use a poker or the pointy end of your pipe nail to chop up the resulting ember and set it ablaze again. The lighting requirements vary between tobacco types, which will be addressed below.
When no more smoke comes out of the pipe, and you sense that the tobacco has been converted mostly to ash, tap it out into convenient bushes or a metal trash receptacle without a plastic bag. The ash will be hot and melt plastic. To tap out, hold the pipe in your hand and swing it downward to shake the ash out of the bowl. You may have to stir it with poker or nail beforehand.
Then comes the most important part of the ritual. If your pipe lacks a filter, run a pipe cleaner from the mouthpiece into the pipe and leave it there for a few minutes to absorb both direct and ambient moisture. This will keep your pipe fresh-tasting for its next use.
Pipe smokers vary. Some are hard-hitters who blaze through a bowl quickly, where others are sippers who have a pipe going all day for an hour at a time. If you re-light too frequently, or smoke too fast, the pipe may get hot; if this happens enough and to a great enough extreme, it may cause a condition known as “burnout” where the material of the pipe chars and cracks. To help avoid this, smoke on the seven-second method and also, allow some nice thick gunky tar to line the bowl, especially on the bottom. I always smoke some OTC aromatics, which are full of sugary flavoring that bonds together the goo and forms a kind of tar cement, down to the bottom of the bowl to layer it with a nice thick coating of glop. This glop chars over time and becomes a sort of pipe creosote that insulates against extremes.
Tobacco originates as leafy plant in the genus Nicotiana, which when cured, dried, pressed and shredded becomes a delicious flammable method of nicotine delivery. The great variations in what are called generically tobaccos occur in the different strains of tobacco plants, and the different methods used to grow, cure, dry, press, and cut the leaves.
That process produces a number of tobacco types, which are then combined in varying amounts into different blends, which you might think of as “tobacco recipes” because they achieve a unique flavor through the ingredients — different types of tobacco — mixed within them. These blends are also distinguished by their cut or how they are sliced, which is related to the flavor and tobacco characteristics in each blend. Many blends are then coated in flavoring known as “aromatic”; if the primary flavor to the smoking blend is the flavoring and not the underlying tobacco, the blend is referred to as an aromatic tobacco.
For the end user, tobacco is then shaped by another force — the consumer market — and placed into the following silos:
- Over-the-Counter (OTC). OTC tobaccos are designed for convenience. They are usually either aromatics or a type of shag-cut tobacco that is also used for Roll Your Own (RYO) cigarettes. These burn most easily, cost about $2 an ounce, and are generally mild in both flavor and nicotine level.
- Luxury. Like most things in our society, the good stuff only starts when you step off the mainstream and pony up some more cash. You would not buy Budweiser to drink, nor Marlboro to smoke, so you will choose a pipe tobacco made under the brand name of an established firm. A handful of producers make these tobaccos now, but they tend to be stronger and rely more on the flavor of natural tobacco, although many are also aromatics but with a wider variety of flavors than OTC.
- Boutique. A cottage industry has sprung up in making this variety of luxury tobacco which aims for unique and intense flavors, sometimes combining aromatic and unflavored tobaccos. These are more expensive than “regular” luxury and are made by a handful of blenders who also own mail-order tobacco shops.
- Vintage. In the past, everything was better. People have been saying that for generations, and apparently each were correct: the tobaccos of only 20 years ago were stronger and more flavorful. Luxury tobaccos, once considered regular tobacco, have been stored in sealed tins (if you buy one on eBay, make sure it is also “unopened” as opposed to re-sealed) and are now much sought-after.
I recommend starting with a solid OTC like Carter Hall, Prince Albert, Captain Black, Five Brothers or even Drum. These are the easiest to learn to pipe with, and give you a feeling for what mild levels of nicotine and flavor are like. In addition, they are low-cost so you will not howl and scream if you accidentally ruin a bowl or spill some.
You may find that these are pleasing enough for you and that you are content to smoke them for life. There is nothing wrong with this; many have done so and it provides the least fetishistic and complex smoking experience. Five Brothers stands out from most of these because it does not use aromatic flavoring or propylene glycol (PG), a moisturizing agent added to many OTC tobaccos. If your OTC tobacco comes out of the can or pouch and seems damp, it probably has a good dose of PG. Many aromatics, including those sold at the luxury level, also have this treatment.
From that point, the next stop is an entry-level luxury tobacco. I suggest going with a Dunhill blend because they are widely available, not overly flavored, and tend to be sliced for easy burning. You can generally get a tin of 50g/1.76oz for about $9 online or $15 in the real world, if you are in the United States; this will vary with local tobacco taxes. You may notice that you are paying quite a bit in taxes throughout this whole process, and wonder if that is in fact the impetus for the whole societal jihad against tobacco. Keep wondering. In places like Canada and Europe, they pay multiples of what you pay here. Scary.
At this point, I would stop moving up the ladder. Boutique blends are a variety of luxury blend that costs more and has more unique, ironic, oddball, quirky, and otherwise off-the-beaten path blends. However, it tends to be lower in nicotine content and it is unclear whether these weird little blends are actually that distinct from their archetypes. There are only so many types of tobacco and while many different combinations can be made, most of them resemble a few fundamental types. I have never ventured into Vintage tins and can say that, while undoubtedly these older blends were of a finer quality, that may not have been preserved over the years. Nicotine levels especially degrade. To my mind, the piping experience cannot be separated into “taste” or effect but must include both, and so the fetishism with flavor — even if grounded in science and experience — strikes me as perhaps being a mistake.
Tobacco comes in several cuts which reflect how the leaves are presented:
- Shag. Cut laterally across the leaf, leaving an interlocked mess like peat moss that loads easily and burns well.
- Ribbon. “Normal.” Thicker slices that seem to be vertically up and down the leaf.
- Flake -> Ready Rubbed. Flake occurs when tobacco is pressed in blocks and then sliced; Ready Rubbed is the result of “rubbing out” those slices.
- Plug. Tobacco is pressed together and allowed to mature that way, then cut into little pucks.
- Cake. Like a plug, but loosely packed, resulting in a crumbly “coffee cake” style.
- Cube. Cross-slicing the tobacco produces tiny cubes; sometimes hard to keep lit.
- Twist -> Slices. Tobacco is twisted in plugs or flake is re-twisted in tubes, then cut into little “coin” shaped bits called slices.
Multiple types of tobacco dot the landscape. These refer to the strain of tobacco plant and how it was cured and prepared. These are:
- Burley. Think cigar leaves. This air-cured tobacco has a nutty flavor and higher nicotine and oil than most others. It is used to complement other tobaccos in blends, and is known for its tongue “bite” from high alkalinity.
- Virginia. High sugar content and sweet natural taste make this type a favorite in many blends. Although this tobacco comes in many colors, its flavor stays within the mild range and makes it the basis of many blends.
- Cavendish. This term applies to any tobacco that has been aged and cured with a heating process that brings out a fuller taste.
- Latakia. This is Oriental tobacco which has been cured with smoke from burning oak, pine, juniper and yew wood to give it a bittersweet taste.
- Oriental/Turkish. Sweet and low in nicotine, this is tobacco grown using the Eastern method of low soil nutrients and plenty of sun, which produces its fragrance and flavor.
- Perique. Fermentation in its own juices after Burley tobacco is pressed into barrels gives Perique a spicy-sweet flavor. This is generally an additive to other blends to give them some spark
- Dark Fired. Leaves are cured with smoke under carefully managed heat and humidity, producing a blend both strong in nicotine and flavor. It is used as an additive more than a main ingredient because of its intensity.
For more information, check out Russ Ouellette’s descriptions.
These are used in the following blends:
- English. Mostly Virginia, with Latakia for body and Oriental tobaccos to provide spice.
- Scottish. Similar to an English blend, the Scottish blend uses less Latakia and more Virginia, with little or no Orientals.
- Balkan. Strong in Orientals and Latakia, this tobacco blend uses Virginia to balance those dominant flavors.
- American. Although there are some similarities to the English, the American blend uses more Virginia with possible Cavendish or Kentucky style tobaccos.
- Danish. These resemble the English, but with a deeper flavor and less spice, using more Burley and Cavendish but emphasizing stronger, more balanced flavors.
You will probably find yourself shopping by blend, which could be a substitute term for flavor. What type of smoke do you wish to taste tonight? There are several indexes for ranking different blends:
- Harshness. How much acridity and bite there is. Strong smoke can be hard on the smoker, and “bite” is created by the alkalinity of the tobacco, which raises the pH and increases absorption of nicotine but may also cause a tangy burning sensation on the tongue.
- Strength. You are smoking a nicotine-bearing plant. How much nicotine is delivered? A tobacco with high nicotine may be worth pounds of low-nic fruity aromatics.
- Note. This refers to the smell left behind after the tobacco is burned. This influences both your taste of the tobacco, and what your friends, family and coworkers experience.
The de facto standard for tobacco assessments is Tobacco Reviews. Like other crowd-sourced sites such as Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, or reviews on Amazon, it is good for basic factual information and opinions from people whose judgment you have verified and who — as a result — you trust. It is not good for randomly reading reviews because most of them are written by twitchy, bitchy and queeny internet consumers who complain about all the wrong things, like all the irrelevant, and miss the point. Some of the tobaccos rated highly by this site’s users are excellent, but others are simply quirky hipster fodder. Tread carefully, and consider using the various pipe forums out there: Puff, Pipes, Smokers Forum, and Tamp and Puff. The private reviews at this location have endured because they are frequently strikingly accurate. The main point is: find someone whose opinions you respect and tastes who align with yours, even if the exact opposite of yours, and you can figure out what you will like.
A word on lighting pipes: some prefer magnifying glasses and sun, others coals from the fire, still others matches and apparently, most like either butane lighters or Zippos. As a diehard match user, I can say that matches fail in the wind, and there is more wind that you might think, but that they seem to create the least influence on taste. Perhaps a laser is appropriate.
The pipe world is full of both facts and lore. Lore refers to anything passed on by groups of humans in social circumstances; the idea is that if it survives a dozen generations, it might be true. In the meantime, you will be wading through mountains of nonsense and worst of all, unnecessary complexity added by people who wish to seem profound or wise. Pipe-smoking is simple: you are lighting dried leaves in a tube and inhaling. The rest is mere adjustment.
The following resources may be helpful for those seeking to know more:
Here are some good places to go shopping for pipes and luxury tobacco:
- Smoking Pipes
- West Virginia Smoke Shop
- Pipes and Cigars / Cigars International
- Pipe and Leaf
- The Pipe Guys
- Mars Cigars and Pipes
- Pipe Place
- Payless Pipes
- Cup O’ Joes
Places to buy OTC tobacco, which online is sold in bulk:
Resources for those who wish to grow or blend their own tobacco:
Tobacco blenders and brands:
- Altria/Phillip Morris
- Cornell & Diehl
- Gawith, Hoggarth and Co.
- G.L. Pease
- J.F. Germain
- Kohlhase & Kopp
- Nat Sherman
- Peter Stokkebye
- Samuel Gawaith & Co.
- Scandinavian Tobacco Group
If you do not see your favorite blend, it is probably an imprint licensed to and manufactured by a larger group, or a boutique variety manufactured by one of the tobacco shops linked above.
For kicks, here is a list of famous pipe smokers. You can add me on there when I get famous, but be sure to mention I detest wimpy tobacco and think it should leave the hall.
Finally, the best metal for pipe smoking…