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.
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.
Pipe smokers can be divided into several camps. Some favor the over-the-counter (OTC) blends like Prince Albert, others like full aromatics with interesting flavors, and some others prefer the naturals which use minimal or no flavoring. All tobacco is cultivated from a relatively bland-tasting plant into something with discernible flavor, and in the process blenders use “casing” to give the tobacco background and moisture, and may add a “top flavouring” that is either like a second casing, or what we know of as the defining trait of aromatics, a syrup of sugar, flavorings and humectants that renders the taste of the original tobacco moot.
Jesse’s Own seems designed to lead smokers away from aromatics toward the more interesting but less “safe” world of natural blends. With aromatics, if you want your tobacco to taste like watermelon, it is possible as it is with soft drinks or the scent of air fresheners. With naturals, you will taste the tobacco with possible complementary flavors that do not obscure the original tobacco. It takes time and experience to want to taste tobacco in closer to its natural state, as the range of flavors decreases as does their vividity. Like a fine steak or wine, this requires a sensitive exploration of different flavors within a single taste, rather than obscuring them with a uniform sweetened sensation. Like aromatics, Jesse’s Own is sweet and spicy in flavor, and mild in nicotine and smoke. It brings out the variety of flavors in naturals, built on a base of Maryland and Virginia tobaccos with Oriental, Latakia and Perique added as condiments.
The result is a gentle smoke which first presents its Latakia component, giving way to the reedy vinegar taste of the Orientals, then blooming into the spicy fruit texture and taste of the Perique backed by a broad warm harmony of Virginia and Maryland tobaccos, which are very similar and both fairly sweet. No matter the pipe experience of the user, this tobacco blend will be easy to light and enjoy for an all-day smoke. Its light nicotine content guarantees that no one will get a rumbly tummy from too much of the Dark Lady, and its sweet flavor provides a perfect framing to the spicy — like General Joe’s Chicken at a Chinese restaurant — which puzzles and delights the tongue. Hardcore naturals smokers can enjoy this as well for its lack of sugary flavor replacements. Its unusual mixture providing what one commentator called an “American English” style tobacco, Jesse’s Own seems aimed at the middle ground currently occupied by Dunhill (BB1938, Early Morning Pipe, Standard Mixture Mild) and other all-day English blends. While Jesse’s Own may not be intensive enough for the grizzled naturals smoker, it provides an excellent transition for the new pipe smoker and a flavorful, gentle smoke for the rest of us.
The first flavor that rises off the burning mulch of Irish Oak is a vinegar taste merged with the sense of fresh-cut vegetation, but that rapidly gives way to a deeper almost chocolate taste of strong tobacco. Like a good English blend, the flavors in this mixture support each other without overdominating, and while they separate over time unlike some of the more refined English conglomerations, they work together to form a gestalt which brings out inner conflict as a type of balance. This blend from Peterson will not be an immediate favorite, but can win over a smoker over time as its strengths become apparent.
The official description reads, “A rich blend of Brazilian and African Virginia leaf with Cavendish and rare Louisian Perique,” but the end flavor is more like a rich Cavendish with hints of Perique and the Virginia having picked up a more vegetative flavor, perhaps from the sherry barrels in which this blend is supposedly matured. While this tin is generally classified as a “luxury” tobacco, in our broken times “luxury” means merely not botched. It is not a flatterer or fancy hugbox to avoid confronting tobacco in its feral state. Irish Oak balances its elements while keeping them wild, and offers a challenging palette of flavors for the experienced smoker. In a market flooded with various English and English-inspired tobaccos, this offering from Peterson of Dublin keeps its head up and stays idiosyncratic, delivering a complex smoke as a result.
The pouch note of this tobacco summarizes the experience; in the words of one noted taster, “It smells like a brownie.” Rich burley mixes with a faint touch of vanilla and a dose of cocoa, which manifests in a smoke in which the nutty burley flavors form a continuum with the chocolate.
Prince Albert belongs to that predominantly American genre of semi-aromatics, meaning that while it has flavoring, it is more like a top casing than the soaking of fluid given to aromatics. A working definition of aromatic: any tobacco blend where the flavoring essentially overwhelms the tobacco. Semi-aromatics on the other hand — like Prince Albert — feature mostly tobacco flavor, complemented by a top note. This distinction, while seeming fragile, nonetheless conveys what this blend is about. If you like the taste of well-matured burley with a hint of sweetened cacao, Prince Albert will provide hours of complication-free — the dominant trait of over-the-counter (OTC) blends like this one — joyful puffing. It is worth taking the time, since this perennial favor packs relatively light nicotine, albeit more than many aromatics.
This blend is designed for all-day puffing by people otherwise busy at everyday tasks who enjoy keeping a pipe in the mouth for little sips of nicotine with a wholesome flavor. Some have noted that this rather dry tobacco mixes well with other blends, and this reviewer can confirm that the introduction of another more powerful seasoned burley makes for a flavorful and more sustaining experience. At its heart, however, Prince Albert stands alone as a whole experience: a packet you can grab at just about any drugstore, easily packed and lit, that burns evenly and exudes hours of gentle flavor and quietly excellent smoke.
In the world of tobaccos, few more divisive choices exist than the Royal Yacht mixture from Dunhill. Composed of a base of Virginias sweetened during curing and lightly cased with a plum-orange backdrop, Royal Yacht extends the line of Dunhill tobaccos that begins in the Elizabethan Mix: strong natural flavor that seems one-dimensional until the smoker realizes that the dimension is in the tobacco flavor, not in the mixture of differently-cured tobaccos itself or aromatic additives. This is a dramatic contrast to other Dunhill tobaccos like Nightcap, in which the interplay of spicy, sweet and surly tastes creates a kind of coordinated riot; in Royal Yacht, a burley nuttiness and warm Virginia taste are mated to a sweet Virginia and then unified under that rather unobtrusive casing, creating a yeasty and hay-tasting classic Virginia smoke.
It should also be mentioned that, unlike the aromatics — tobaccos in which you taste flavoring more than the leaf, usually vanilla, cherry, peach, chocolate and various alcoholic beverages — Royal Yacht wins you over with the taste of its tobacco and its raw, untamed power. The name may be accurate since this would be the perfect complement to a smooth sea with moderate wind on a large, fast boat with able-minded companions. As a result of its strength, and the lack of variety in its taste, many smokers flee from this blend, hence its divisiveness. For the others, it is 1.76oz of paradise that lights easily and burns down to insubstantial white ash. Its few flavor components — two Virginias, perhaps a hint of burley, and a casing — meld together into a single taste which enhances its composite parts into more than their sum. It produces big billowy clouds of smoke which some claim are rather harsh and stinky, but this is why it is designed as an outdoor tobacco. Like a fine espresso, its rich taste must be savored and appreciated, but changes little throughout the bowl. The subtlety of its flavor within the context of so much power is what makes this tobacco a simple pleasure and work of art.
Much has been said about the Scandinavians taking over production of this tobacco from the English brand Murray. While the first few years seemed a bit unstable, with them taking time to get the hang of things, production at the current time seems of much higher quality and dare I say it, may be on par with the original. During its final years as Dunhill producer, Murray itself engaged in some questionable methods and spotty quality, so the transition needed to happen and now it seems finally done. Many people will hate Dunhill Royal Yacht no matter what the blender does simply because it is not fancy, like most of the over-the-counter (OTC) and boutique tobaccos that people fetishize on internet social media and message boards. If you love the feel of rope in your hand and its scent of organic fiber crafted with power into something functional but elegant, you may enjoy Royal Yacht. It evokes — and thus points us in the direction of restoring — a simpler, manlier time when life itself was viewed as good without endless poking, prodding and configuration to make it safe for nervous humans. This is a good tobacco to throw in your pocket and head out into the deep woods or open sea with, carrying your life in the palm of your hand and eyes open to the future.
The first question any smoker should ask when approaching this tobacco is whether or not Navy Flake is a style that they enjoy. The name conveys both the form, which is dense slices from a pressed brick, and the flavor which is provided by Virginia tobacco with very minor casing or additions to the mix. The result is a thick sheaf of tobacco that can either be rubbed out into shreds or stacked in the bowl.
Its flavor will appeal to those who like straight Virginias: a combination of harvest hay smells and clover honey, lightly touched with warm molasses and perhaps the scent of leaves in fall. It tastes like it smells, and brings a warmth of flavor into the bowl. This tobacco competes with other Navy Flakes like those from Dunhill, Escudo and Gawaith, but aims for a more middle-of-the-road appeal for those who want something flavorful to smoke all day. Its nicotine dosage registers at the lower half of the middle of the scale, not as light as the drugstore aromatics but not as hard hitting as the flakes which appeal to the battle-scared pipe smoker, aloft in his mountain retreat or on the prow of a ship, pausing only briefly to inhale before firing back at some unseen enemy. Newminster flake burns gracefully and leaves behind a fine white-grey ash, coating the room in a gentle note that often appeals to non-smokers as well.
Navy Flake appeals to a certain type of smoker in a certain situation. It is a light smoke not as in taste reduced, but in that all of its flavors strike gently rather than hard; the smoke from this, while somewhat harsh with some bite, floats gently and rewards slower smoking. The disadvantage to this blend frankly is that it is lighter in nicotine and flavor, which makes it better for smoking all day when distracted than sitting down for a good solid smoke when working or relaxing. While it ranks higher in gentle flavor than some of the other flakes, it lingers behind them in power and interest; a good Virginia brown, better than many but not configured to be a favorite.
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.
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:
Flake tobacco has a reputation for being for the more experienced pipe smoker because of its dense and hard-to-light form and the higher tobacco of most of these blends. Tobacco undergoes a process of refinement where it is picked, dried, cased and then cured by a number of methods. Some are fermented; others cooked; still others sun-dried or aged. The many varieties of tobacco come mostly from how the plant is grown, with varying degrees of nutrition and water, and how it is cased — a process where a small amount of flavoring is added — and cured, which also includes topping off with other scents, producing “aromatic” or flavored and scented tobacco. Coniston Cut Plug gets close to the raw tobacco with minimal casing and simple curing during which it is pressed in large blocks and allowed to age. When curing is done, these are sliced and those are somewhat broken up to produce lanky fibers of clumped tobacco leaf. This dense mixture has a reputation for being hard to light, although I have found that if you bend it in the middle and cram it loosely into the pipe with frayed ends pointing upward, two cardboard matches or one solid wood match will get it going. At that point, be ready for the gods of Nicotine. This alkaloid finds praise throughout history for those who mention its intoxicating powers. With Coniston Cut Plug, the gods of Nicotine ride in on a chariot of iron and whip your skull with burning flails. Many of us find this quite agreeable, but others pass along recommendations to smoke this while sitting down and after a full meal as you might feel it in your stomach. Glorious, rich smoke with a natural flavor somewhere between fresh-cut hay and charred wood-bark, Coniston Cut Plug provides a wonderful basis for a smoke that would be recommendable for all except for one horrific glitch: during the curing or casing, someone approaches this tobacco with a giant bucket of soapy rosewater and soaks it thoroughly. This creates a stench of noxious ammoniac rose around the tobacco that is so strong it is ill-advised to keep it in the same room where you sleep, lest it kick off a fit of sneezing. In addition, the rosewater smell permeates through the smoke, ruining an otherwise delightfully savage leaf-burning experience. Some writers speak of “ghosting” of the pipe, where former tobaccos can be detected in subsequent bowls. Coniston Cut Plug summons an entire army of undead zombie rosewater demons who infest the next several bowls, usually toward the end when the drippings ignite and momentarily haunt you again with the stench of decaying soap-slathered roses. If it were not for the rosewater infiltration, many of us would rank this among our favorites. Instead, it goes into the (far) back of the cupboard, where it will wait for a few years to see if the spectral roses will depart.
This one came to me as a hand-me-down. A friend wrote it off as a clone of Dunhill London Mixture. Being an intrepid sort, I shoveled it into the pipe and lit up, expecting nothing. Surprise awaited instead: Villiger 1888 Early Day is a Danish take on English tobacco that calms its extremes and leaves a deeply satisfying flavor.
Generally, when we think of “English tobacco,” something like the Dunhill London Mixture comes to mind. But really, English tobacco is a state of mind. It is distinguished from the Danish interpretation of it by its appreciation of the clash of flavors. The Dunhill mixes are spicy, sweet and full-bodied all at once; the Danish interpretation balances the three, so that it is full-bodied with hints of flavor from the spice and sweet without overwhelming. In my inner self, I find this to be a better approach, as it reduces a riotous clash of flavors to a comforting taste that deepens the more it is smoked.
Open opening, the tin emits a thick earthy smell like mulch breathing alongside rich earth. When smoked, the characteristic tang of English tobacco appears at first but muted, then fades to a rich dark chocolate taste tinged with the taste of the air from the deep woods. It burns thoroughly, with thick smoke, and avoids becoming the greasy mess that many English tobaccos become after the initial taste. A satisfying aftertaste remains; it can be smoked either fast, or slowly, but burns roughly the same. A sense of balance pervades this entire blend.
While Villiger will never make headlines — in part for the unfortunate name which sounds like “villager,” a term in English that conveys simplicity and mundanity — this tobacco remains undervalued for those who want a quiet smoke that continually rewards the peripatetic puffer with muted flavor and an absence of the extremities that render trendier pipe tobaccos annoying. This would be a good all-day smoke, on a boat or in a living room, for someone who has worked through the need to define themselves with the radical extremes of external objects, and instead intends only to savor the bounty of life itself.