Smoking with Tolkien: Capstan – Original Navy Cut

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J.R.R. Tolkien wrote without an outline using only the thoughts gathered in his head over long hours of smoking his pipe and staring into a fireplace. Sitting at his typewriter, head wreathed in smoke, he pounded out a first draft of the Lord of the Rings mythos, and then discarded it, beginning again from scratch. As the story took form, it left behind a litter of empty blue-painted cans of tobacco.

The tobacco was Capstan Original Navy Cut. Members of his family remember the tins proliferating around the house and being used to store household items. When Tolkien and other members of his literary group The Inklings met, nicotine burned in abundance, and they could be found by following the trail of smoke. In his books, Tolkien inserted characters finding great comfort and wisdom in their pipes much as he did in his.

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As part of a recent binge of writings by Tolkien and fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis, this writer has indulged in their favorite tobaccos. Capstan Original Navy Cut comes in “flake” form, having been pressed into table-sized cakes and then sliced into wafers about a third the size of a playing card. These are either stuffed into the pipe or “rubbed out” which converts them into ribbons of tobacco. Throughout this experiment, the thought lingers at the back of the mind: why this tobacco, and does it resemble the Longbottom Leaf or Old Toby of his legends?

Original Navy Cut is composed of pure Virginias, but the pressing and aging has converted some of their sugar and acid into a more hay-like flavor, the partial decomposition of the leaf having released its most irksome elements. What remains is a sweet smoke, with slightly more Nicotine (PBUH) than the average medium smoke, which burns evenly and rewards small “sips” or short slow puffs, as one might take while hammering out words on a typewriter. It also admirably complements the smell of typewriter ribbon, for whatever that is worth.

Virginia flakes such as this tend to appeal to either new smokers who want a blend that is sweet and strong like a cigarette, or to the experienced who can nurse a pipe for hours. Since Tolkien was a master pipe smoker, he fit the latter category, and apparently always kept a pipe going with this and other blends to power himself through late-night endurance test writing sessions. And we can enjoy the results, and the metal inspired by them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8IC4aSq-Mg

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Smoking straight Perique with the Great Beast

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“Meeeeester Crowley, what goes on in your head?” came the wailing voice from the radio. Louder than that, I could hear the fluorescent lights above, and the beating of my heart. The texture of the paint on the walls seemed to break into a kaleidoscope of demonic faces. And I deserved all of it, because I had put myself here, smoking the tobacco of the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley himself.

The decision happened several weeks ago when I was reading about Crowley, a life-long pipe smoker, and his odd preferences for tobacco. Never a huge reader of Crowley — I’m more into Anton Long and Aldous Huxley for weird metaphysical science — I became interested when I read that we have no solid record of what he actually smoked, only a network of hints through his writing and rituals.

My first task then was to figure out what Mr. Crowley was indeed smoking. Lore holds it that he smoked “straight Perique soaked in rum,” but this leaves much open to interpretation. Perique originally referred to the tobacco that Pierre Chenet, having learned the method from the Choctaws, would press and ferment in barrels in what is today St. James Parish, Louisiana. This thousand-year method reduces acidity and sugars in the tobacco so that the body can absorb more of its indole alkaloids.

Unfortunately, after that time the use of the word became muddled. Some blenders coined the term “Perigue” for any Burley which had been pressed and aged, creating a fermentation effect. Sailors used to pinch some of the raw tobacco from their cargoes, soak it in rum and wind it tight in old sails to press it. And as Perique production dropped off in the 1950s, not only did some inferior substitutes arise, but many blenders phased it out of their blends, creating more confusion.

This left we step one to pipe smoking union with the Great Beast: figure out what he was actually smoking. Smoking the “real” Perique from St. James Parish seems unlikely because Perique is used in tobacco blends like a condiment in food. It has a strong peppery and fruity taste, and smoking it alone would be like drinking hot sauce or eating raw onions. Perhaps he smoked the Perique of the sailors, or “Perigue” of ingenious tobacco makers. But as with all things in his life, the clues are hidden and numerous, stretching across time and space…

First we turn to Crowley’s writings including The Diary of a Drug Fiend, in which Crowley mentions his tobacco preferences:

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This deepens the mystery, as Perique is mentioned nowhere else in the book. Crowley mentions ordering “rolls of black Perique” which he then cuts manually, bringing to mind the Perique of the sailors and not of St. James Parish. But even that cannot help us, because St. James Parish Perique could also be delivered in “rolls” or “ropes,” a popular method of curing, storing and transporting tobacco. Ropes remain popular to this day, and are prepared as Crowley describes: cut into thin slices, or “coins,” they are then pushed apart with friction or “rubbed out” to produce thin-cut leaf tobacco.

So that tells us nothing, basically.

Perique remains popular today, by the way. Smokers favor it for its deep flavor and strong Nicotine content, as well as the way it can complement other flavors like Virginias (sweet) and Burleys (nutty). But to smoke it straight is unheard of, although a few brave volunteers have tried it. For that reason, many smokers are skeptical that Crowley actually smoked it straight because it is an abrasive, disquieting experience that would not have been much fun — and Crowley was a known hedonist.

This returns us to the question of what Perique Crowley was smoking. If he was smoking rum-dipped and sheet-pressed tobacco, he would have been enjoying a much milder blend than the St. James Parish Perique. But if he was smoking the St. James Perique, it seems unlikely that he was enjoying the pipe at all. Then there is the complicated term “soaked in rum.” Did he mean actively wetting it with rum? Or did this merely refer to the rum used in the sailor’s recipe, and indicate that it was not St. James Perique at all?

Luckily, Crowley hid another clue for us in his satirical social commentary, Not the Life and Adventures of Sir Roger Bloxam, in which he refers to the tobacco he kept around his darkened lair:

Admiral Fitzroy, by no means the least of English poets, was wont to observe — at least he was always putting it on his barometers — “Long foretold, long last: Short notice, soon past.” So please settle down in that Oxford Basket Chair, draw the table close, for you’ll need that jar you bought at Bacon’s in your first teens because Calverle hypnotized you into doing so, fill the old Meerschaum (the nigger with the hat is the sweetest) with the pure Perique of St. James’ Parish Louisiana, throw some coals and a log or two on the fire, and put your legs on the mantlepiece; for if the laws of weather apply to literature, this ought to be a terribly long chapter.

You can smoke a pipe, and find the port, while you wait; for I’m in no mood to write it just now. Do you realize it’s half past three in the morning?

Not only does he tell us what his Perique was — the St. James Parish variety — but by using the word “pure,” he puts emphasis on the fact that this is the Perique he wants, and nothing else will do. In a strange twist of fate, the use of St. James Parish Perique may strengthen his narrative, because if it were shipped to England it would most likely be in ropes to keep them moist for the journey, especially since Perique is sensitive to light (like the Great Beast himself) and so is often stored in forms that hide most of the leaves from the light.

(The unfortunate verbiage in the above quotation describes his Meerschaum pipe. Meerschaum is a soft semi-gelatinous stone when wet, and clever people carve things into it, then let it firm up as it dries. He is undoubtedly referring to the subject of the carving and not an actual person.)

That left only one mystery: the “soaked in rum.” He could not have meant that he drenched the tobacco in rum and then lit it because it would not have burned owing to the high water content in rum, although he would have gotten a blue alcohol flame. That suggests that his use of the term “soaked,” much like it is used today, refers to a “top flavoring” or an alcohol-based flavoring sprayed over the top of the tobacco before a final drying. Tobacco is very sensitive to moisture and molds easily, making it toxic, so alcohol is used by the water in it must be allowed to evaporate. Rum is about 40-80% alcohol.

This means that Crowley bought his Perique, cut it into leaves of a size he could smoke, and then soaked it in rum but then dried it before smoking. At last I had my recipe for going insane with the best of them. As I made preparations, I wondered if I would end up in a strange photo, making horns on my head with my thumbs, my gaze straight ahead and fixed as if on some demonic world beyond.

Step 1 was to acquire some blender’s Perique, which I did from Rich Gottlieb over at 4noggins. It comes in two forms, granulated and long ribbon, but the long ribbon is stronger so I got that and sliced through it a few times to make it easier to smoke. Then I put down a plate and dumped the Perique on it, watering it loosely with rum (some Captain Morgan’s I found under the couch) until there was some standing liquid in the plate. That, I thought, should be an adequate definition of “soaked.”

Step 2 was drying. The plate went into the cupboard and was sealed away for several days, only exposed to the light for a daily turning. The rum gradually evaporated entirely, leaving dry and stiff leaves. Sitting in my kitchen, wishing to ancient gods that I had an EMT team present in case I had made this tobacco blend wrong, I loaded up an old faithful pipe — I have no other kind — and gravity-filled it with these strange leaves, then dumped in some more and tamped the top. Time for Step 3. I took a deep breath, lowered the flame, and drew in the thick and ethereal smoke.

Pipe-smoking is not like cigarette smoking. It is more like playing a trombone or transcendental meditation: all in the breathing. The smoker starts with a blaze that sends up a lot of smoke, which is why smokers take short puffs at first; pipe smoke is not inhaled like that of cigarettes, but kept in the mouth, so short puffs are need. Then, the smoker draws on the pipe like sipping air through a straw, about every ten seconds filling the mouth with smoke and exhaling a few moments later. This keeps a steady stream of flavorful smoke through a cool pipe, delivering measured doses of nicotine to the nervous system. After a few moments when the paint screamed at me in ancient Syriac incantations, and the stove looked like the face of an Aztec war god, I settled into a normal rhythm.

And…? you ask. How was the Great Beast’s tobacco?

Good. Very good, in fact, so much that I’ve done it several times since. The rum both sweetened the Perique and removed some of its peppery edge, leaving it with a flavor more like strong brandy. The drying also reduced the wetness of the Perique so that it burns better, and somehow gave it a smoky flavor like Latakia or Dark Fired. While the Nicotine level remained high, it was more on par with my regular tobacco, Royal Yacht, and not as extreme as many ropes or the utter skull-crusher that is the Cotton Boll Twist. And the flavor toned down the spice in the perique while making its fruit flavor less extreme, giving it the complex scent and flavor palate of a fine wine, or at least what I imagine wine above the $7 limit tastes like.

I kept smoking. Strange — I was enjoying this! The flavor had gone from plum or fig to something like a dark berry dried in the sun, or even grapes at the edge of becoming raisins, but with that extra kick of spice that made the tobacco taste more vivid than sweet. The smoke curled around my head and for a moment I thought it spelled out something in Kabbalic and Alchemical characters, but then it dissipated. I shook my head clear and kept on smoking. The Great Beast may not have taken my soul, but he knew how to make a tasty tobacco blend.

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Pipes & Cigars – Dark Fired Kentucky Burley (2015)

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Burley arrived in 1868 as a mutant of existing strains that possibly constituted an atavism resurrecting the strength and other characters of the pre-cultivation Nicotiana Rustica, but remains prized to this day for its large yields owing to its sizable leaves. Some say that most tobacco sold has an origin in the Burley family, including most cigarettes, but its participation in specialized pipe blends has been less assured. Long a favorite of the “codger” blends and their fans, the Burley flavor is both distinctive and a chameleon that takes on anything around it, making it good for shoring up and stabilizing a blend — including reducing burning temperature — but possibly not for standing out as a flavor like the big stars and condimentals such as Virginia, Perique, and Latakia do. Still, classic blends like Granger and Prince Albert made the Burley flavor work for generations of American men.

Enter Dark Fired Kentucky Burley. What you need to know is that this lightly smoke-cured Burley resembles the Dark Burley used by Cornell & Diehl in so many of their blends, but with its curing comes more sweetness and less of that slightly odd green vegetation flavor that Burley often expresses. This blend is perfect for an all-day smoking, tasting like a mixture of dark and light Burleys, Virginias and Dark Fired Kentucky, but having the simplicity of being a single ingredient. Since it is full-strength in nicotine, it serves well as an all-day smoke, and the increased mellowness brought on by the smoke curing makes it ideal for this role. It also serves well in blending, as blender Russ Ouellette succinctly expresses:

This is a little-known component that I use for a variety of purposes. It is a dark tobacco, similar to Burley that is cured over open fire, giving the tobacco a smokiness that is much more subtle than Latakia, a deep earthiness, and a decent wallop. I like to use a bit in a Latakia-based blend to give it a touch of sharpness, or to add body to Virginias. High in nicotine, moderate burning quality.

Mixed with sweet Virginias, this tobacco produces a blend that can be smoked for hours without exhaustion as it alternates between the sweet and sour flavors of its components. Smoked straight, it provides a depth of texture within a single flavor that has multiple contrasting attributes. My Prince Albert (yes, in a can) has languished since the discovery of this remarkable, flavorful ingredient. For those who like the codger flavor, this is essential smoking, and for anyone else who likes natural tobaccos at full intensity, it is worth trying if not blending. When touched off with a little Latakia or another full-dark dark fired blend, it introduces a sturdy body behind those flavors which normally float suspended over the rest owing to their outlier status. Although it makes English blends taste like the singed results of a fallen empire, in Oriental-forward varieties it creates a tangy, soft taste that is as enigmatic as it is appealing. For kicks, mix it with a little Five Brothers to get a full-bore all day smoke in the oldest American tradition. I feel sorrow that I discovered this tobacco so late, as with a cellar of this and a few good briars I would be happy for a long while.

Strength: 5/5
Aromatic: 0/5
Flavor: 4/5
Room Note: 3/5

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In praise of plugs

Images courtesy of StLuisRey.

Images courtesy of StLuisRey.

Modern society is addicted to convenience. Let me expand on that: over time, as anything succeeds, its challenges decrease and it focuses on absolute convenience so it can bore itself to death. Old companies, stale friend groups, even churches and heavy metal bands fall prey to this. At some point, everything becomes easy and everyone becomes bored, and quality plummets. Life is an existential process after all that benefits from the search for pleasure, adventure and intensity (“a repo man is always intense”) more than stability, convenience and the other stuff that goes into Excel spreadsheets when users answer surveys.

For pure convenience, nothing beats the cigarette. Buy a pack and a lighter, then throw them out when consumed. The more intrepid seek a greater intensity of flavor from cigars and pipes which burn cooler and are absorbed through the cheeks instead of the lungs, so require a bit of a slower pace. Even with those fields a variety of conveniences exist. Some cigars are designed to burn evenly over any other factor, and many pipe tobaccos are meant to target the holy trinity of easy lighting, mild flavor and cool burning. For those who seek to push past all barriers, and to exceed past sensations, the more difficult realm of flakes, twists and plugs awaits. These were traditionally tobaccos for those who smoked pipes as away of avoiding expensive cigarettes, and who were busy with their hands and bodies and so were not sitting comfortably in an easy chair sipping on a pipe. They smoked all day, and they liked tobacco like their lives: rough, durable and strong. Coincidentally they usually had at least one pocketknife on their persons and were accustomed to using manual dexterity at a moment’s notice. For such a person, dragging an aged twist from an inner pocket, brushing off the lint and slicing it into shreds was a matter of course.

In our current time, convenience (and entropy) has just about won out, as has the belief that jobs which involve sitting inside cubicles in the glow of multiple screens are the desired lifestyle. When we can smoke, it is in our homes away from the prying eyes of society and the databases of law enforcement and health insurance (many of us smoke with our rifles and tricorner hats close at hand for this reason). Tobacco blends have kept up with this and now come mostly in tins with elegant labels and fine cuts. While those have their place as well, and are very enjoyable, many of us are turning toward the older forms of twists and plugs for the power of that form. Not only are they stronger, reminding us that smoking like life is a struggle against the forces of nature, but they bring back the ritual of an older time. The focus, dexterity and precision are as much a part of this as any other aspect. Slicing layers of pressed tobacco, then rubbing it into strips, and packing a pipe not for an armchair smoke but for walking around in the world, interacting with it and moving with purpose, this provides a different sort of enjoyment.

Take for instance the Peterson Peterson’s Perfect Plug. Easily available across North America and Europe, it is relatively low-cost owing to the predominance of the Peterson brand, which is currently manufactured by Mac Baren. This makes it a great plug to start with since it is neither exotic nor unduly expensive and in its abundance, allows enough material to experiment with. The plug comes in a tin, beneath a layer of cardboard surrounded by a ruff of tissue paper, and is then sealed inside a plastic bag. Slicing apart the bag and tossing the cardboard, one finds a brick of pressed tobacco leaf which resembles a very dense brownie. Since the tobacco is layered, the plug is sliced in thin flakes from the end, much as flake tobacco is made with much larger plugs at the factory. You control the width of this flake and that is where some of the magic of plugs originates:

  • Slice it thin for a lighter and shorter smoke with more sweetness. If you cut to the width of a postcard or narrower, the soft feathers of tobacco rub out into something closer to a shag which burns quickly, delivering predominantly the notes of sweeter tobaccos with more natural sugar like Virginias.
  • Cut it thicker for a dense-burning long smoke that emphasizes the savory flavors. This lets it smoulder and melds the nuttier flavors of the Burley with the denser flavors of Virginias that come out with aging and slow burning.
  • If you want to experience the toppings alongside the slower flavors, since this plug is lightly flavored with a fruit and anise mixture, cut thick flakes and then cut them the opposite direction into 1/4 inch cubes. Rub those slightly, let them dry and pile them in the pipe for a long-burning melange of flavors.

It is my feeling that the original smokers of plugs used them in each one of these different ways. They sliced thin for the first smoke of the day to wake themselves up, and cut rough during the day for hourlong pipes while they worked on whatever they did, and may have done a variation on the two or a cube-cut on weekends and after work to wind down. The versatility of the plug enabled it to be many tobaccos at once by emphasizing different flavors, speeds and volume of smoke. Being familiar with mechanics and some chemistry, the original smokers of the plug naturally adapted to this usage, in addition to enjoying a hardy piece of tobacco that could be tucked in a pocket alongside a knife for a no-frills but slightly inconvenient use.

Thanks to the resurrection of pipe smoking by the internet and its ability to join scattered people into groups, pipe smoking has experienced a revival and with it many old blends have returned as new ones have sprouted like the flowers of spring. This audience rewards intensity as it is united not by the convenience of the local tobacco store and friends to smoke with, but interest in something that is more than a hobby and less than an addiction. It is both a fascination and a lifestyle choice, a relaxation and intensification of life at the same time it is a way of dispensing with modern habits to gain appreciation for the timeless. One way to spin it faster is to go back to the revered and cherished form of pipe tobacco, the plug. Naturally, that adventure goes best with the music of open frontiers and wars in the heavens, Celtic Frost.

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J.R.R. Tolkien on pipe-smoking

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Metal derives many influences from literature, but H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien appear near the top of any list, while philosophers like Friedrich W. Nietzsche and authors like Louis-Ferdinand Celine linger in the background. Tolkien captured the essence of a dying society without purpose and a contrary invention, which is the medieval-styled worlds of myth and magic from his middle earth books. This appeals to metal which both hates mass society and loves violence, conflict and mythology.

Tolkien saw modern society as a horror and argued for a return to older ways by violence, a lot like Varg Vikernes and even the more cynical Black Sabbath songs:

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) — or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remain obstinate!…

Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people…

The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.

This mirrors the story in his epic Lord of the Rings cycle, which seems to borrow both from the Nibelungenlied and Plato’s parable of the ring of the Lydian Gyges, where a force of evil seduces men through their egos and the quest for power and control embodied in a mystical ring.

His stories inspired many pieces of fan art, including this animation by Ulla Thynell which has been floating around the internet for the past few years:

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In contrast to the LARPers to follow, Tolkien saw himself in the hobbits, including their love of pipes and Nicotiana (called “pipe-weed” or “tobacco” in the novels):

“‘I am in fact a hobbit,’” Carpenter quotes from Tolkien, “’in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food, but detest French cooking. I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms; have a very simple sense of humor; I go to bed late and get up late. I do not travel much.’”

Thematically, this fits, since the theme of his book is for the degraded remnants of an ancient order to, despite their puny size and lack of self-esteem, rise up and be heroic against the evil encroaching on them. To any who feel like midgets compared to the ancient Vikings, medieval Knights, or even Otzi the caveman, this is an appealing message.

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Tolkien smoked Capstan Navy Cut, a Virginia flake known for its sweetness and long-burning. On the other hand, his characters in the Lord of the Rings film were actually smoking Peter Stokkebye Nougat aromatic tobacco to give them the feel for being real Hobbits.

He explained his own pipe habit and the portrayal of smoking in his books through a letter to a fan:

I think that the prologue says enough about Hobbits and their art of pipe-smoking. I do know people want more – but I think that covering the story in mysteries is a good thing, if not a necessary one. It also helps to replicate real history.

Regarding the taste, I’m inclined to answer that I do not know myself. The hobbit leaves surely made for very good flavoured pipe-weed (I would not say brand, as there’s no question about commercial products here) but I’ve not given much thought to that until now – or if I did, my old memory is failing me somewhat. However, I do imagine that most pipes were primarily simple in design. Their shape would look similar to the the large half bent Billiard or Dublin shapes, but often much more long-stemmed.

Regarding the material, I think that Hobbits, if they could not grow suitable briar in the hills, would use hardwood like beech or oak – or perhaps even a type of wood I do not know about. These are details that, when writing, do not come to mind and that must be thought out later, if at all. I must admit I’m always hard put to give out so many of them, and in the end I often favour giving only a partial answer, lest the flavour of authenticity I try to give the story completely disappears. Indeed, I see my job primarily as that of a translator, not an encyclopedist!

The mythos lives on, perhaps in a cloud of bluish smoke.

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Dunhill – My Mixture BB1938 (2015)

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A long time ago, when times were more innocent, a tobacco company created a blend called “Baby’s Bottom.” The idea, before the scatological and pedophile implications of our present time drive it from your mind, was that the mixture was smooth… as the proverbial buttocks of a baby. Not much different than King Kobra malt liquor, which back in the relatively-halcyon 1980s told us “Don’t let the smooth taste fool you,” while all of us wondered what the heck they were talking about. Sensing the same resistance all of us have in these cynical days to innocent names, Dunhill returned this one under the name My Mixture BB1938, keeping the nomenclature they developed when their primary business around 1912 or so was keeping track of custom blends for customers.

To cut to the chase, My Mixture BB1938 is a light English comprised of a blend of sweet and bold Virginias, capped off with Latakia, and gently stoved or aged to make it very mild, with a slight vanilla hint on top of it. I heard of this blend earlier today when I tried the Pipes & Cigars BB1938 Match, which is very similar but felt like it had some Burley in it and much more of the vanilla topping. Back in the 1950s when this was a popular blend, “mildness” was prized by pipe smokers. This catch-all term referred to blends that you could not screw up because they were low in nicotine, pleasant in “room note” or the smell after burning, cool burning, and easy to light and keep lit. That meant saying goodbye to coughing wives, pipe burn-out and vomiting in the sink near the employee entrance. With this blend, Dunhill achieved that mildness by denaturing the Virginia and Latakia, and leaving out the Orientals that might otherwise create a slight vinegar taste, creating instead a sweet, soft and gentle mix that you can burn all day without blinking. The Latakia dominates the flavor with a background note of gentle sweetness, with Virginias intruding only as a supporting note of mixed sweet and nutty flavors. It compares favorably to the American Cavendishes but owing to its origins as an English blend, derives its flavor more from the sudden mixing of different elements than a streamlined single flavor. The original is far superior to the Pipes & Cigars version, which comes across as a misplaced aromatic, where the original tastes like a light English without the bitterness and bite gentle crested with vanilla.

As a designer of tobacco products — since they outsource manufacturing and marketing — Dunhill stands as one of the finest outfits on earth. They aggressively find market niches and exploit them by taking a middle-of-the-road approach and then improving until until it is if not a luxurious experience, at least a highly satisfying one. My Mixture BB1938, like Early Morning Pipe and Standard Mixture Mild, targets the broadest segment of pipe smokers who want to enjoy eight to fifteen hours of smoking a day without having to worry about the complexity of pipe or tobacco. You can sit at your computer and puff away complacently for hours, dumping out the dead ash and dottle when each pipe dies, and never be interrupted by the needs of your pipe. Where Early Morning Pipe is like their Mix Mixture 965 a Scottish English with added Cavendish, and Standard Mixture Mild approximates their classic English with the edge taken off, My Mixture BB1938 cuts everything to the minimum and presents instead a conveniently accessible, moderately priced, and soothing tobacco for the working smoker. It might be able to improve itself with the addition of some of the gentler Virginias that the BB1938 Match from Hearth & Home uses, or even some light Burley to cool its burning. As much as I generally dislike tobacco blends with this little nicotine, the flavorful and comforting nature of this one — which we might view as an ancestor of mulled Latakia brands like Esoterica Penzance — keeps me loading the pipe again and turning back, placated, to whatever task has been keeping me from seeking out Royal Yacht and burning down a stack of it.

Quality rating: 4/5
Purchase rating: 5/5

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American Snuff Company – Cotton Boll Twist

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Many (but not all) pipe smokers claim that they smoke for the flavor, not the nicotine. This is on par with wine drinkers talking about the “aura” and “palate” of a wine as they approach the end of the second bottle and begin slurring their words. For most of us, the pipe is a complete experience: taste, smell, feel, activity and yes, nicotine.

Why? Because Nicotine is a god among stimulants, providing cognitive benefits as well as relaxation. Because it helps us see our dead ancestors. Because it is fun. Pick one or more of the above, but be honest in recognizing that for many of us, nicotine is part of the trip. Accordingly, many smokers seek out a nicotine “holy grail”: the most intense nicotine blast that one can experience in a pipe.

A number of candidates arise, most from the Gawith Hoggarth stable, but rumored to be beyond even that in intensity are twists. These are nearly raw tobacco, taken from curing and wrapped in a distinctive shape, then allowed to age so the sugars in the leaf ferment and that dead vegetation flavor leaves. Twists are normally designed to be chewed and then placed against the cheek where nicotine absorption occurs through the membrane, but since the dawn of recorded history on the topic, smokers have been known to hack off bits of them and smoke them for a cosmic Nicotine experience.

You can get twists a number of places. Here’s a semi-comprehensive list:

These contenders for the holy grail of mind-blowing Nicotine trips are generally not all that expensive, in keeping with their functional origins in agricultural work. They do not have fancy flavors or extensive steps taken to reduce their rougher edges. But they do offer a staggering dose of the magic lady.

In my search for pipe smoking’s holy grail, I acquired an American Snuff Company Cotton Boll Twist, rumored to be one of the stronger twists. It arrived in a plastic bag, looking very much like a roughly dried leaf. Upon slitting the bag and removing it, I noticed a scent of old leaf, perhaps with undertones of oil, and felt how dry the twist was in my hands. But I noticed the hands were shaking.

Pipe smokers are famous for their lore, and while much of it is not strictly speaking factually true, almost all of it has metaphorical meaning, like religion or Texans telling tales where the fish keeps getting bigger or the boar gets meaner. It was entirely possible that this thing would kill me. They would find me, tense body twisted into an impossible pose in my comfortable share, surrounded by ashes flung aside during my final convulsions. The M.E. would shake his head sadly and proclaim death by misadventure, and I would be buried in a simple grave with the marker reading only HERE LIES AN IDIOT. This fear gripped me as I turned the twist over in my hands.

Being a somewhat intrepid sort, at least with my own life, I put it on the cutting block and hacked off an inch, then sliced it vertically and again, horizontally, to create small cubes. Because the leaf was dry and unpressed, these quickly expanded to tiny flakes — approximating the size of rough cut tobacco — of dry, slightly greasy vegetation. Figuring that here went nothing, I loaded up my favorite author style pipe and set match to tobacco, then waited for death to swoop down from the clouds and seize me in a spasm of final agonies.

Nothing of the sort happened.

First, I recoiled from the flavor. Almost no tobacco is actually “raw,” since you sort of have to dump something on it to help with the aging process and rehydrate it after drying. But this is as raw as it gets and it has a flavor that resembles, well, dried leaves. It burns quickly too, making me rehydrate the second batch. But for that first bowl, I lit, tamped, gagged and then lit again. After a few more puffs — slightly sour like the first notes of a newly-lit cigar — I found the flavor to improve. The nutty broad flavor of Burley replaced the raw taste of flame. Then a slight sweetness, very light, drifted to the surface. The more it burned, the better it tasted, although an oily undertone like old butter from an all-night restaurant persisted, and sometimes there was the slightly bitter “green” taste of minimally cured plant matter. But by the end of the first third of the bowl, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

And then… it hit.

Like a serpentine form uncoiling in darkness, Nicotine wound its way through the smoke into my brain. My jaw dropped and cold sweat broke out on my forehead. I could see my fingers twitching like insects in the spastic repetition of instinctual motions. Sounds receded, and I could no longer speak. I could feel every hair like a finely-tuned instrument, detect even the slightest breeze brushing over my skin. “Unholy mackerel,” I thought, “This may indeed be the end.”

But I survived. And I hung on, chopping up another half-inch and adding the collected leaf-bits to a small bowl over which I draped a hot damp towel. I waited. And then I reloaded, lit, tamped and blazed. The same bitterness struck, the oily smoke curling around my head, but then the rancid butter and cut grass flavors faded and the nuttiness returned. The faint sweetness emerged as well, as did the Samurai warrior that is Nicotine. But this time, I rode the dragon. I felt myself pass into the shadow realms, and like the mythical Jenkem users of central Africa, I spoke to my dead ancestors. I enjoyed every minute of it.

In terms of raw strength, this tobacco is not more excessive than Samuel Gawith 1792 Flake or the infamous Gawith Hoggarth “Happy” Brown Bogie. It has some strength on those, but does not leap to another cosmic level. However, like a tropical storm it attacks quickly and holds you with an iron grip. In this case, it is pleasurable. Subsequent bowls revealed that this tobacco mixes extremely well, and even a pinch of an English mixture mutes its flavor extremes. Its heavy Burley takes the flavor of whatever it is mixed with, making this an even more enjoyable experience. But that power — the raw, infernal power — remains.

The stronger ropes from UK tobacco makers, or even some of the home-grown Perique mixes that the Americans concoct, most likely match this in strength. Part of its reputation comes from the fact that as a dry tobacco, it burns quickly and thus injects more smoke into the mouth (this is the same reason people like flake tobacco; the compressed flake burns a lot more leaf at any given instant than loose tobacco blends). But part of it is a sensible recognition of the dark forces at work within this demon of a twist. I paired it with Incantation Onward to Golgotha in recognition of its infernal strength, and sipped green tea to keep me anchored in the world of reality. This may not be the holy grail of Nicotine abuse, but it is one of them. And I am glad I found it.

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Joseph Stalin, pipe aficionado

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Lots of good people smoke pipes. Some bad ones — can people even be categorized as “good” and “bad”? — do as well. One of the more interesting cases concerns Joseph Stalin, Communist dictator most famous for his brutal methods. But, as I am prone to remind people, his methods worked and he brought the Soviet Union to its greatest strength out of all of its dictators.

He smoked in a somewhat unusual way:

“I have my first cigarette or pipe, depending on how I feel; sometimes I crumble a Herzegovina flor cigarette into a pipe, sometimes I smoke it straight. The first smoke of the day is important for setting your mood. If a pipe draws hard or leaves bitter juices in the bowl, if a cigarette is harsh and sears your windpipe, it can get you started wrong. To some this might see egotistical absorption in my own minutiae, which it would be if those minutiae did not affect so many other people. After a good smoke, if I am brought a list of Enemies of the People scheduled for execution and I spot a familiar name, I might easily write, in my own hand, that the person in question is to be sent to the camps, whereas if a bad pipe has soured my mood, I’ll sign the list without even looking.” – The Autobiography of Stalin by Richard Lourie

Although I enjoy a good pipe, it has never affected me this way. Then again, you are unlikely to find me signing death lists whether I have the power or not. Even more, the category “Enemies of the People” makes my skin crawl and reminds me how the Democrats and their loony wives treated metalheads back in the 1980s. Here are some of Stalin’s pipes, some rumored to be gifts from fellow strongman Winston Churchill:

joseph_stalin_-_pipe_collection

Another source gives us more insight on the ironic truth — much like how SJWs hide their privileged origins — behind Stalin’s choice of tobacco:

So what was ‘Herzegovina Flor’? The smokes were produced at the Moscow ‘Java’ factory, which was originally established by Samuel Gabai, from Kharkov, in the 19th century. Gabai’s idea was to produce a tobacco like no other, so he found a tobacco plant in Java, grew it in Herzegovina and then shipped it to Moscow. The products initially became favoured by the elite nobility and fledgling bourgeoisie. So Stalin, as the leader of the first worker’s state was in a quandary. If he smoked the cigarettes, he would give the wrong impression. So he opted for the common man’s pipe, but since he couldn’t tear himself away from the flavour of the tobacco, he decided to use it to fill his pipe. Eventually, the elite origins of the tobacco were forgotten and it became indelibly associated with the man himself.

Stalin smoked expensive cigarettes, but hid that fact by smoking them in a pipe, since at the time pipes were the domain of the common man. Pipes required relatively unprocessed shredded tobacco which without government taxation to equalize the price is always cheaper than cigarettes, which contain relatively little tobacco compared to your average pipe pouch. It does not seem appropriate for a Man of the People — or even a People’s Hero SJW — to be smoking expensive cigarettes. The genius of Stalin is that over time, he changed expectations such that his expensive cigarettes became associated with his brutality instead of their formerly elite status.

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Pipe smokers are the rebels of the 2010s

the_captain

Take your TARDIS back to the hazy 1960s. A buttoned-up Dale Carnegie America has encountered the new rebels: like the beatniks, but simplified, the hippies shock society by systematically violating its standards. They smoke marijuana, have promiscuous sex, listen to loud protest music, and live in squalor, much like the Bohemians of the 1900s that the beatniks were imitating.

Now spin the dial forward to 2015. Television lauds the hippies, who are now old and grey and telling us how we should think. Rock music is used in every commercial, played in every grocery store, and government agrees with the protest lyrics — as do the large, buttoned-up corporations. Promiscuous sex is the norm and marijuana is legal in many states and tolerated with a wink and a nod in others. How do you rebel against the rebellion?

One way is to smoke a pipe, which violates the taboo of our current social pretense of “health” and moral “goodness”:

Interestingly enough, a side-effect has arisen as marijuana becomes more prominent at Stanford. As support for it rises, that for tobacco seems to be waning and a prejudice rapidly forming against it. Recently the Faculty Senate postponed voting on an all-campus smoking ban (tobacco only, recall), that would in essence push all forms of tobacco smoke to the other side of Campus Drive. The only spaces allowed for smoking would be designated outdoor areas and, interestingly enough, faculty/staff residential areas. Slight hypocrisy aside, the ban was designed to be a preventative measure against any sort of respiratory problems resulting from potential second-hand smoke.

The radicals are now in charge and have become old and boring. Anyone singing their song is just bleating. But they have their taboos, too. They fear tobacco and alcohol, masculinity and strong warlike music such as heavy metal. If you think humanity should have a future, you owe it to yourself and the rest of us to rebel against this new generation of buttoned-up nannies and their attempts to control us.

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Cornell and Diehl – Engine #99

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If you like strong English blends like Dunhill Nightcap, the full English offering plus Burley and strong Nicotine named Engine #99 from Cornell & Diehl should appeal to you as well. Where your standard English pipe tobacco comprises Virginia, Latakia and Oriental/Turkish strains, the Americanized English will add Burley and/or Perique as happens here. The result blends many textures into an identifiable form, much like a shag carpet turns all colors into a motion blur of difference.

In the case of Engine #99, the magic arises from the ability to restrain the incense-like Latakia with the more vinegar bittersweet Oriental tobaccos, then add some sweet and peppery Perique to thrust that forward, all while cruising on the base power of a mix of Burley and Virginia tobaccos. Like most blenders, Cornell & Diehl specialize in making many tobaccos out of a few ingredients, and they blend Engine #99 from the components of two other tobaccos, Red Odessa and Pirate Kake. This creates a tobacco of greater strength than most English tobaccos, but also more internal balance than the worst of them, similar to Dunhill Nightcap even if the ingredients differ with the omission of Burley in the the latter. As a result Engine #99 offers a velveteen full flavor with the Latakia and Orientals but smooths it out with the Burley and lets the Virginia, both sweet and powerful, do its work behind the scenes. This creates a tobacco suitable for all-day smoking if necessary but generally so intense in flavor and strength that it serves best as a coda to an event, if even the day itself.

Like most Cornell & Diehl blends, this recipe shows multiple stages of blending and treating the tobacco to not just marry it but ensure no jagged edges, even if part of the appeal of this tobacco is its over-the-top intensity. The components do not war with one another as they do with poorly conceived English knockoffs but instead harmonize with their differences balancing one another. Engine #99 does not take the English tobacco style anywhere it was not already going, but expands one of its paths to make the English flavor even more powerful. For this reason, it has cultivated an audience of English-lovers who nonetheless want more fire in their smoke and less of the sweet piquant nothing that many English tobaccos, under the influence of popular opinion, have become.

Quality rating:

4/5

Purchase rating:

5/5

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