Smoking Outside the Box

They always tell you to “think outside the box,” as if having everyone focused on non-conformity will result in anything but a new variety of conformity. So much of life comes back to the mirror image, where we are staring at a representation of ourselves, and trying to change how it looks, despite everything happening in reverse since left is right and right left.

In the case of today’s blends, some of this thinking worked out well by approaching the conventional with new eyes, as if looking beyond the mirror to a portrait or scene outside the window for inspiration. Up first is Boswell’s Christmas Cookie, a (successful) attempt to make an aromatic for those family gatherings:

Summary: a vanilla-caramel aromatic with light spices that you can smoke in a roomful of people without many complaints.

The Cavendish dominates this blend with its soft velour-like smoke and gentle sweetness, with a light Burley and some Virginia playing a backing role and mostly swallowed up by the topping, which mostly presents a caramel or sugar flavor with a smattering of spices, perhaps cinammon and nutmeg, behind a wall of what tastes like rum and vanilla. Since this is one of the better aromatics of my acquaintance, it accompanied me on a test run out in the “real world,” where people commented that it smelled like a very gentle version of an old-type pipe. Boswell’s deserves credit however for making an aromatic that burns cool and lacks the stinging tongue nip of most alcohol/sugar concoctions applied to tobacco, and I could see mixing this with some stout Burley to smoke throughout any family gathering or holiday.

For this test, I chose the hardest setting: the parking structure at one of the locations where I work, which is six stories of concrete ugliness filled with car exhaust. Rats run in the gaps designed into the building so it will expand and contract with the heat, and not only do we get periodic rodent berries falling among us, but the entire place has a wonderful stench of varmint urine in addition to the car flatus and lingering fast food smells from the open trash cans. It sounds like hell, but it really is a delightful place, because by exiling the smokers out here, The Management (always lobotomized by their fear of risk and desire to participate in whatever the trend of the moment seems to be in the industry magazines) created a place for the interesting people: the outliers, outsiders, outcasts, oddities, dissidents, and social dropouts, many of whom originate in that intersection of intelligence and non-compliance which produces almost all of the independent thought in the office.

To post yourself out here is to provoke wrinkled faces and pinched noses because the normies have to walk past us unruly smokers to get to the elevators and stairs, and since the only way to have power in this world is to gripe about something, they react to the smoke as if they were hit in the face with a rotting flesh club covered in AIDS and Ebola-Marburg. However, no scrunchy faces greeted *Christmas Cookie*. Instead, they all sort of looked wistful, a bit nostalgic, and perhaps slightly disappointed that this was not actually a sugar cookie. Underneath the flavorings, this is a straight-up Cavendish blend that utilizes a good deal of mellow Burley and some Virginia, which gives the second half of the bowl a comfortable feeling of regular pipe smoking. Again, the triumph here is that it does not have the plastic napalm attack of your regular aromatics.

On the other hand, another sample that was generously sent in by a reader, Seattle Pipe Club *Mississippi River Special Reserve*, did not strike me as particularly pleasant in room note or worth smoking. It is sweet, and has a strong but random flavor, which achieves the “garbage plate” effect where you have no idea what you’re wolfing down but since it’s all covered in barbecue sauce it tastes sweet-sour-spicy-gooey enough that you think you love it. This blend fell short of the hype as usual, even if all of the influencers gave it four stars, as usual:

Summary: another Scottish blend that achieves the “garbage plate” effect but no particular flavor.

These blends remind me of postmodern novels. They start with a worship of Dunhill “My Mixture 965,” then take it in an American direction by piling in more Burley and larger doses of bright Virginia and intermediate Virginia shades (orange, maybe Maryland). Then they press it together. Like the postmodern novel, the more high concepts you throw at a book, the more it becomes like having a committee write it, and you end up with a simple conclusion at the end of a rambling but varied and pluralistic discourse. Similarly, this blend starts out promising until you realize that you are smoking an Oriental rug knitted of random tobaccos, at which point you simply pick up some “My Mixture 965” or “Red Rapparee” instead.

When I was less experienced, I used to love a garbage plate, especially after about eight beers. Fast forward and I am not impressed by the beers, very few of which live up to Sam Smith Brown Ale or even Lone Pint Yellow Rose standards, and doubly not impressed by the garbage plate, which is an ideal product because it is both high-margin and utilitarian. High-margin means that they make it from cheap stuff, and utilitarian means that most of us say “yeah it’s OK if you like that sort of thing I guess” when asked in a social setting what we think about it. A good garbage plate consists of all the stuff that is on the edge of going bad, cooked up with extra fat, acidic tomato sauce, sugars, seed oils, and salt, all of which turn cheap food into a cheap dish that reveals itself as expensive when you look at what you could have had with the money instead. I would feel kind of stupid paying the high prices for Seattle Pipe Club, G.L. Pease, Cascadia Pipe Company, John Cotton, Briar Works, or other mainstream artisanal boutique blends: in each case, you are getting a garbage plate of random flavors or a known archetype done with a quirk or iconoclasm unrelated to quality of experience, made from the cheap leaf that some big house (Sutliff, C&D, Lane) has accumulated. Each of these are custom labels allowing these big shops to resell their cheap stuff at high markup, and this drives down quality by acclimating the pipe community to buying low quality at high prices. Who else did this? Well, American cigarettes sure seem to suck these days, in fact since about the mid-1980s, and yet they sell for an awful lot of money…

I notice that the latest Pipes and Cigars catalog shows a few closeout blends. The Cohiba and Drexel pipe tobaccos seem to be going away. These were the great hope of “buy low, sell high (with a buttload of advertising)” blending houses a few years ago. Someone found a way to get storied blends like Cohiba, Macanudo, and La Gloria Cubana to sign up for a release of pipe tobacco. Then they let the middle managers at it, so they came up with versions of Captain Black which taste a little bit like a cigar. Naturally, these blends failed. Drexel failed for the same reason the Villiger blends fail each generation, which is that they played it too conservative and simply aped existing blends. The novelty blends like Seattle Pipe Club play it too liberal, trying to stand out by being *different* and unique, but the Drexel, Missouri Meerschaum, John Bull, et al. fail by being too conservative and cloning what is known to succeed, at which point people shrug and keep smoking what they already like, since they have no reaosn to buy something new at a higher price that is basically what they are already smoking. They found a whole raftload of influencers to go on YouTube and TobaccoReviews and swear on their mother’s glistening hemorrhoids that the new Macanudo was the best thing ever, or that Drexel *VII* was the vaper you needed this season… now they’re back, but they’re hyping Cascadia Pipe Company blends.

Speaking of which, please save us all from Cascadia Pipe Company (Scandinavian Tobacco Group) Campsite:

Summary: another $15 clone of what you can get for $10 in better quality.

STG figured out that they could take their ordinary blending leaf, trick it out by pressing it into a plug, and sell it for seven times what they could otherwise achieve. “Campsite” falls short of the full-press plugs from Mac Baren and Gawith Hoggarth, but does better than the loose sloppy plugs from G.L. Pease and the odious “kake” from Sutliff. I cut plugs into thin shavings, and in that form, “Campsite” lights quickly and settles into a nice easy place. You still get the acidity of the bright Virginias, unlike with a nice UK plug, and the flavor is thin, since the leaf is relatively young. The mixture of orange, red, brown, and bright Virginias does well but falls short of C&D “Virginia Flake,” which is also an acidfest but has a more naturally balanced flavor than “Campsite.” I see no reason to reach for this one again, especially at luxury prices, but it is not a terrible experience especially once I dump in enough dark fired Kentucky Burley to mute the raging sugar fire and vinegar blast of the bright Virginias. (see also: Downwind and Trail Head)

You might see this as your standard Virgina plug: mostly bright Virginia, with enough orange, red, and brown mixed in to give it some depth of flavor, but at the end of the day you are smoking a honey white bread sandwich with a little apricot jelly on it, and the flavor does not change, nor does the faint bitterness of the acid which will also give you chemical tongue bite. “It’s OK if you like that sort of thing I guess” is the best it gets, but for me, the question is what else you could have for that fifteen bucks, and the answer is a whole lot of better things if you like better things and believe you deserve them. If you hate yourself and want to waste your money, then rationalize it by praising the light sage and leather flavors of wine and aged balsamic vinegar (or whatever the influencers claim to be tasting today) of this blend, go ahead and do it. It is sort of like drinking cheap Tequila alone: you hate yourself and want to die, but you are going to get wasted nonetheless and still hate yourself even more in the morning, so you might as well go ahead and do it in order to get the fully pity and self-loathing experience. That way, you can go about the rest of the day knowing you have done your penance and suffered like Jesus or the workers of the world, therefore, you are now as much a victim as anyone else and are therefore entitled to whatever they’re getting (probably a garbage plate).

If I were an MBA in the world of pipe tobacco, my goal would be simple: find a way to use the bulk Burley mixture and new bright Virginia as much as possible in a blend that could be sold at a higher price through advertising, influencers, and “quirks,” or oddities of added topping, format, and packaging. That would allow me to sell the stuff they make RYO out of — and not all of it is bad, since blends like Ohm Natural are pretty good, especially for the price — at the prices people pay for imported tobaccos like Samuel Gawith, John Aylesbury, Rattray’s, Peterson, and Mac Baren’s HH line. A few years ago, the wisdom in the pipe industry held that the holy grail was to make every new blend into a version of Lane 1-Q, itself a near-clone of Captain Black, since this was the big seller at the time. With the internet, people are more interested in what stands out instead of what fits the mold, so like the 1950s→1980s cultural transition, people want different, iconoclastic, unique, quirky, artisanal, oddball, and weird blends. To sell those, you need some stooge influencers to go out on YouTube and TobaccoReviews to talk about how your latest pile of bulk tobacco re-branded as something with personality is great.

These influencers do their “Hello Fellow Kids” routine and present the corporate stooge material as if it were something sui generis (a fancy term for “being his own man” or the like) and then all of the employees of these companies get the email and go out and upvote the stuff the influencers posted. Then all of the lonely people, desperate for attention, go out and buy the stuff, and since they have paid the money they want to feel good about it, so they go out on social media and ramble on about all the flavors they tasted and how good the stuff is. That, it is hoped by industry, will then con all the new-era smokers with beards and tattoos into buying the former RYO at boutique prices. The people in power, the same middle managers who made your life a nightmare during your first entry-level job, make “safe” and “uncontroversial” decisions based on what they read in the media, which they mistake for acutal public opinion.

The people in the boardroom have decided that pipe smokers are a dwindling group, so they might as well squeeze as much money out of them as possible, which requires marketing to lonely people who want to have 385 jars of specially labeled quirky tobaccos and fifteen $200 pipes with unique stories behind them, smoke twice a month but post four times a week about it, and then after a few years toss it all and move on to a new hobby. That way, industry finds a big group of people to sell to, gets its five grand from each, and then moves on instead of having to deliver good quality at a good price, which is cheap but does not justify having a bunch of marketers, copywriters, graphic artists, social media consultants, SEO experts, and most of all middle managers and lawyers around. They’re “creating jobs,” you see.

As others have pointed out, the slow collapse of the everyday pipe smoker market since the 1970s has led the surviving blendes and pipe makers to re-orient their business model toward the weekend smoker who views smoking more as a hobby than a daily practice. In my view, this is a mistake, because with more people staying at home to work, play, and rum homesteads, they have time for pipes and cigars, and are opting for the lowest-impact option, which is pipes. This was happening even before the pandemic as people began living their lives virtually and spending more time camped out at home, mainly because civilization has gotten a bit too complex and unstable to deal with more than occasionally, and lots more jobs have shifted certain roles to work from home (WFH) because of the irrelevance of the office environment to specialized roles. Consequently, smoking a pipe picks up a certain cachet which is new, saying that you are someone who owns a business or works independently, and can have the time and freedom to smoke a pipe. Where once upon a time cigarettes may have conveyed rebellion, now they simply tell us that the anti-smoking office atmosphere since the 1970s has merely driven smokers into the parking lots to hurriedly puff down cigarettes that increasingly taste like profits instead of tobacco.

Luckily this week, a few gifts from friends, supporters, family, and one blender I respect came tumbling over the threshold. One of these was the overly-praised Sutliff Tobacco Company – Cringle Flake (Holiday Edition 2020) which gets a takedown here:

Summary: loose Virginia flakes with a ton of Burley hiding in the Perique and unexceptional red Virginias

There are two types of Perique out there, the raw form and the kind you get at most mail order shops which is a mixture of Burley and Perique (which is itself Burley, but fermented). This tastes like the latter, which means that despite the vaunted 2003 vintage, this is not super Perique-y, although the fermentation juices soaked into the Burley create an almost septic odor and flavor. Mostly, what makes this blend less than ideal is the large amount of cheap red Virginia that having been slightly sweetened and fermented, has a ketchup-and-dried-apricots flavor to it that overwhelms the Perique. The result becomes sickly sweet and wanders all over the flavor spectrum, not delivering the pleasant balance that brings out the best of all constituents which a good vaper brings to the table.

To see what is going on here, you need to know a few things about tobacco prices, so head on over to your local blending tobacco page. Blenders love pile Burley because it is inexpensive; note the price of $2.55 an ounce retail, the same as red Virginia but not as cheap as bright Virginia and brown Virginia at $2.38 an ounce retail. This “AAA Burley” is basically white Burley (which sells at a slightly higher price as a blending ingredient but not in bulk), as far as I can tell, mixed with some regular Burley that has been quickly flue-cured. In tobacco as in anything else, the cost is in the salaries, so whatever they can quickly harvest, cure, and ship commands the lowest price and the highest demand. You will find these three — bulk Burley, bright Virginia, and red Virginia — in most major blends, often with Cavendish (made from bulk Burley) added to soften and sweeten the smoke. What Cringle Flake, like other of the new range of boutique blends, does well is to disguise how much cheap tobacco goes into it, so that you do not notice the 4x markup because there novelty, advertising, influencers, and social media are pimping the stuff.

When writing reviews, my yardstick is not the guy who has 368 blends in custom-labeled jars and twenty pipes with interesting stories behind them, but the everyday smoker who has his six pipes, half of which are basket or cobs, and just wants something tasty to enjoy while he cleans the garage or watches some sad local football team get ploughed into the soft end of the field again. He may not be the all-day smoker, who has a dozen pipes on the dresser next to his (or her) desk and loads them and smokes them in sequence featuring a favorite blend or maybe, just maybe, something new that piqued the curiosity. He might even also have his 368 custom-labeled blends and iconic pipes. But the big point is that for this person, smoking is part of daily life. It is not a hobby, not a habit in the sense of something pathological, but a part of what one does in order to have a full day.

As part of smoking a pipe being one of the threads that integrates into a life well-lived, many blend their own, and I was fortunate enough to get a sample of a blend by the mysterious Stumbo, who produced something called Karmel Cake. Let me see how close I can get to the actual ingredients:

With aromatics, the holy grail consists of mildness, a pleasant scent for onlookers, and some natural tobacco flavor so that we do not feel as if we are smoking a soda pop. Karmel Cake came out of one of those neat little pasta presses, and tastes like Latakia, Virginias, and a light Burley with a little bit of Perique or fermented Virginia added. The topping — mostly rum or another alcohol, caramel, and vanilla — makes it hard to distinguish the underlying parts, but it reminds me of some of the blends made with the Sutliff 515 RC-1 matured Virginia or a gentle Cavendish, since it has the same pleasant flavor of blended nuts and honey. This one has mild nicotine, leaves a room smelling like a pipe that one would not be afraid to meet in a dark alley, and no bite as it burns all the way to grey powder. It comes quite damp, but burns well at that dampness, with the liquor wafting out throughout the bowl, which is a pretty neat trick compared to most aromatics, which lose their flavor in the first third of the bowl.

Rumors fly about the mysterious “Stumbo.” No one knows his name or origin. No mentions of him can be found on the internet. However, these blends are apparently floating around and making converts. I can see why: Karmel Cake at least is quite tasty, even if a bit heavy on the alcohol side, but smokes more smoothly than most aromatics, so suggests that this home blend could have a future to it. I was able to sample another Stumbo blend and had similar positive thoughts, even if it is not from a genre that I normally gravitate toward. This one, called Stumbo’s Cellar, brings its own potency to the mix:

Stumbo’s Cellar seems to include a fair amount of Latakia, with the lush smoky herbal smell of that condimental variety dominating the tin note, but also has the faint buttery roasted nut taste of Burley in the background and perhaps a bit of Cavendish adding a slight sweetness and lush thickness to the smoke. This one starts up with a flare of smoke-cured Latakia goodness, but then melds into a not overly sweet but decently balanced blend that showcases the Latakia. Orientals take a minimal role, but the mixture as a whole works together, tasting something like Nightcap with a rugged Burley and maybe a bit of sweetened Cavendish in the mix, possibly a very small amount of dark fired Kentucky Burley. The blend is very dry, perhaps owing to the high Latakia percentage, and burns down slowly to a fine ash. Unlike most Englishes, it somewhat mutes its Latakia, making it more of a subtle flavor, sort of like how the old Dunhill blends did it. I could see smoking this one all day, doubly so because I love a good smoky English.

The real standout is probably Karmel Cake, since this one provides what C&D wanted to do with Autumn Evening, but both of these are good homebrew blends. Let us hope we hear more from Stumbo in the future, as well as all of the underground blenders who are making good quality tobacco blends from different combinations and treatments of the same basic leaf varieties: Burley, Virginia, Orientals, Latakia, Perique, Cavendish, Cigar Leaf, and dark fired Kentucky Burley.

On the other hand, some sacred cows need converting into delicious hamburger. People love their McClelland blends; I never saw the appeal, since to me they tasted like Cavendish blends that were just lightly Cavendished like the Mac Baren “natural Cavendish” instead of full-on roasted into sugary oblivion. Sutliff found a way to clone the ketchup acidic red Virginias that McClelland used, as while Sutliff 515 RC-1 achieves that goal, it still falls short of what in my view makes a good Virginia blend:

Summary: a serviceable attempt to replicate McClelland Virginias, if you like acidic Virginias.

McClelland produced a type of Virginia with strong flavor that made it easy to appreciate for newer smokers, blending the tangy acidity of young red Virginia with a malted, vinegar-like flavor. In my view, they spray sugar on it and then partially Cavendish — air roast — it before pressing, which produces the unique “ketchup” odor of light fermentation along with the softness of Cavendish. Given the wide range of options, it seemed silly to fixate on these, especially when they were obviously young Virginias roasted to conceal defects, not necessarily the high-quality leaf boasted by the marketing materials. Sutliff hit the gold mine when the audience responded to these, and came up with its own version, which tastes like a lightly Cavendished and slightly fermented red Virginia. If you like sweet-sour candies, this will appeal. To my mind, there are better Virginias out there, and the quality blends tend to use a spectrum of red, brown, and bright Virginias to achieve this same effect, using older leaf to avoid the lemon drop acid blast of this leaf.

In my experience, “the box” — the thing that we are supposed to think outside of — refers to utilitarianism, or what ninety percent of the people, ninety percent of the time, will opt to purchase. Much of this involves limited options caused by distribution, which favors whatever produces the most sales and the fewest complaints, and lack of knowledge by the audience, who just want something to fit the need and will choose the best easily-available option because they have lots of other stuff to do. Why do people buy Budweiser, for example, despite it being essentially soda pop with beer flavoring and (small amounts of) alcohol added? It’s better than the competition, which in many cases is downright horrible, and offers a consistent flavor that while not great is not offensive. It hits the mean hard, avoids any of the known pitfalls like being bitter or excessively yeasty, and can be found everywhere for what seems like a low price.

Over time, industries drift toward these utilitarian compromises in order to please shareholders, consumers, and stores. No one returns Budweiser because it is disgusting, but enough will reject beers that are too challenging or not sweet enough that industry eliminates that risk. Is this capitalism? It is humanism: we choose whatever offends none, and seems “OK” enough to most that they buy it. In this way, we approximate the mean, every time. This applies to products, politics, social interactions, and even science. Humans see that a committee is in charge, and they pick the inoffensive stodgy corporate solution every time. That is the box.

Smoking outside the box requires us to ask what we are doing here. We are those who like wandering through life with small bits of tobacco burning in wood tubes from which we draw smoke over our tongues, appreciating the flavor, nicotine, and experience of smoking, since life needs its little lifts like caffeine, a pint here and there, a tasty dessert, a long walk through the woods, a kiss from a beloved, or a cat on the lap to pet in addition to the usual norm of forced function, meaning the stuff we do to keep roofs over our heads, food on the table, life insurance, healthcare, functional gadgets, and a retirement plan so when we are worn out we can go play a lot of shufflepuck before the Grim Reaper shows up on our Amazon Ring or Google Nest waving his plastic sickle and pointing at his Swatch.

For me, smoking outside the box means looking at what we actually like doing and how we enjoy it. That leads me to like a wide range of things, from fancy blends all the way through mundane OTCs, as well as appreciating home blending. All of this is part of the way of life of the pipe smoker, and pipe smoking is part of the way of life of a certain type of person who likes to blend pleasure, work, creativity, productivity, honor, and beauty together into an interwoven lifestyle. Nature interweaves, while humans tend to isolate, deduce, test, standardize, process, and symbolize. In my interwoven life, both Sir Walter Raleigh and the Gawith Hoggarth blends stand on the same shelf!

Speaking of that venerable house, a history of Gawith Hoggarth and Samuel Gawith provides some interesting detail:

The history of the company begins, interestingly, not with a Gawith at all, but an enterprising Kendalian by the name of Thomas Harrison, who, aware of the popular interest, and associated commercial potential, of snuffs and tobaccos, removed himself to Glasgow to learn the trade of snuff making. He returned to Kendal in 1792 with not only knowledge of snuff making, but the means, also.

He had bought approximately 50 tons of second hand machinery, estimated to be manufactured around 1750, and transported it via packhorse, to a mill at Mealbank, on the river Mint, a few miles North East of the centre of Kendal. Although the building disappeared about fifty years ago, some of the machinery is still intact and in day-to-day use at the Brown House today. Indeed, in 1965, the industrial trade magazine “Design and Components in Engineering” judged it to be the oldest piece of industrial machinery still in regular production use – “The reason we feel confident in accepting the estimate of (at least) 210 years as being the age of the machine is that the central drive bevel wheels have wedged wooden teeth. Had cast iron gear wheels been available they would most probably have been chosen as the central drive members, and since they were available about 1760 it is safe to assume that the machine dates back to about 1750”.

But enough about machinery, and back to the people who created the company. Shortly after establishing his new business, Thomas Harrison appears to have entered business with Thomas Brocklebank, a “chymist and druggist” of Kendal. At that time chemists would frequently sell tobacco and snuff (as opposed to those today who dispense nicotine patches!), so we can presume that the partnership was split evenly between production and retail. In this same year, 1793, Thomas Harrison’s namesaked son was born and effectively took over the business after his father’s death. Possibly it was this Thomas Harrison who bought 27 Lowther Street, around 1830, as both family residence and factory, as was the habit of the time.

By 1837, Thomas Harrison the second’s eldest child, Jane, reached 18 and had fallen in love with a “plumber and glazier” of Kendal, one Samuel Gawith. Apparently against her father’s wishes, the two married “over the anvil” at Gretna Green on 15 January 1838.

In 1841, Thomas Harrison died, leaving the premises, and his share in Harrison and Brocklebank, to Jane and her sister Ann. Consequently Samuel and Jane moved into Lowther Street, the former relinquishing his earlier trade and working alongside the elderly Thomas Brocklebank.

In 1842, Samuel Gawith (The Second) was born, and over the next 14 years 5 siblings followed.

Somewhere in the mid 1840s Thomas Brocklebank passed away, and when Ann Harrison died in 1852, the ownership of 27 Lowther Street, and by now the whole of the business, fell to the hands of Samuel Gawith.

In 1864, after serving some years as councillor, Samuel Gawith was elected mayor of Kendal, but suffered a personal tragedy also when Jane died on 3rd October. A year and six days later, Samuel followed his wife, to be buried together at the cemetery on Castle Street, a few minutes walk from the current company premises.

Samuel Gawith left the business, and the well being of the family, in the hands of 3 trustees, as Samuel the Second, already active in the business, was only 22. The trustees were Samuel himself, Henry Hoggarth and John Illingworth.

In greater detail, the business was now to be run by Samuel the 2nd, and the next eldest son, John Edward. John was only 18 (and therefore a minor at law) at the time, and his directorship had to be sanctioned by the Lord Chancellor.

The partnership between the two brothers worked for some years, but, not for the first time in a family firm and surely not for the last, Samuel and John decided that they would be best served by not working in partnership anymore and on 31st March 1878 an “agreement of seperation” came into effect. The premises at Lowther Street, and the mill at Meal Bank were to be split and that Samuel Gawith was to have the choice of which to possess. Samuel chose the mill, and Lowther Street passed to John E. Gawith, Tobacco Manufacturer.

Although the “Agreement of Separation” allowed Samuel and John to both produce tobacco and snuff, Samuel concentrated on snuff, John on “twist” tobacco. John, however, soon moved into production of snuff also, and acquired a water-driven grinding plant at Low Mills, just South of Kendal. It was possibly this rapid overexpansion that contributed to John’s bankruptcy in 1885, at which Samuel bought John’s goodwill, trademarks etc. John died seven years later, in 1892, one hundred years after Thomas Harrison established himself at Meal Bank.

Samuel could see the financial reward of continuing tobacco production, after buying up John’s goodwill, and received a license to manufacture tobacco from the Inland Revenue on 6th July 1885. He also kept the Lowther Street premises.

You can also get a feel for the essence of this company through a brief profile on its machinery:

The pinch somewhere up my right nostril has been made in the South Cumbrian town that the product is named after, at one of the few remaining factories in the UK. It was produced by a 50-tonne machine that is over 260 years old – believed to be the oldest piece of industrial machinery still in productive use in the UK. In 1792, it was bought second-hand by a nascent snuff company started by an ambitious man called Thomas Harrison. Its unknown Georgian designer did not build it to crush and grind tobacco stems and leaves. Originally the machine, which somehow lacks a nickname, was constructed to make gunpowder in the north of Scotland. The two manufacturing processes are similar. Harrison, fresh from studying the art of snuff in Glasgow, had it dismantled and carried by horses several hundred miles south where it has remained ever since.

One of my favorite online tobacco shacks offers up a brief history of Gawith Hoggarth and Samuel Gawith:

Gawith Hoggarth & Co. prefers to keep with tradition when it comes to pipe tobacco. This tradition dates back to 1792 and Thomas Harrison. Harrison was a notable maker of snuff, the popular style of tobacco at the time. Later on, Harrison’s daughter Jane eloped to Samuel Gawith in 1838. After Harrison died in 1841, Jane and Samuel took over the business, which continued to flourish.

Unfortunately, Gawith passed away in 1865, at the young age of 48. His eldest son was still too young to fully take charge of the company, so it was instead left in the hands of three trustees. This brought Henry Hoggarth into the fold, who helped the company grow even further.

Around 1878, Samuel Jr and his younger brother, John Edward Gawith, split up to form two separate Gawith firms. They did this in order to specialize in different forms of tobacco, as the brothers preferred different styles.

The Gawith Hoggarth Company is the brainchild of the youngest Gawith, William Henry, and Henry Hoggarth Junior. This new business was officially founded in 1887, taking over the original location of the company that was formed almost 100 years prior.

In 2015, Gawith Hoggarth & Co. reunited with Samuel Gawith & Co., bringing the brothers back together again after 137 years apart. Both companies still operate independently, and you can still get both brands, but they work under the same roof.

Traditionalists at heart, the company is still using the same production equipment they’ve used for over a century. Their expertise and commitment to careful production show through in their popular blends. We offer you more than seventy different tobaccos from Gawith Hoggarth & Co, so you should easily be able to find something you love. Whether you’re smoking one of their famous Kendals or a traditional rope, you’re sure to taste the difference with every puff.

On the surface, Gawith blends seem expensive, but when you have smoked them, you see that they last for long flavorful bowls and, in the end calculus, deliver a lot more satisfaction per dollar than some of the lesser options. By the same measurement, some OTCs deliver a relatively low-cost smoke that is highly enjoyable, and may be on par here with the Gawith in terms of actual value realized by the pipe smoker.

Sometimes you find good things from surprising sources, like Sutliff 507-S:

Summary: a mild, flavorful sweet Virginia roasted to perfection.

Almost nothing in nature proves as convenient as an apple, which we just pick off the tree and enjoy. For most foodstuffs, we have to breed them selectively, choosing the high producers and making more of them instead of directly manipulating genes, then ferment them, press them, dice them, age them, and cook them. The same proves true of tobacco: probably from the same young stock red Virginia as their other blends, “507-S” goes through a roasting process that drives out most of the acid and ammonia, leaving behind an easy-smoking blend with a faint hint of maple and fruit, probably from whatever cased the blend before roasting. Although wet, it burns easily, and delivers a natural caramel flavor all the way to the bottom of the bowl. You could smoke this one straight all-day and not be dissatisfied, but if you mix it 60-40 with Burley and then add in your favorite aromatic as a third of the mix, you will end up with a lighter aromatic that loses none of its flavor. I would not use this in English blends without adding some bright and brown Virginias, but it might make a near-perfect vaper if you tossed in some bright Virginia and a little white Burley.

As previous entries in our tobacco and pipe tobacco series indicate, there is more to a pipe than meets the eye. Smoking outside the box, like listening outside the box, requires us to approach this process with a literal base-level realism, and look at what makes it relevant to us and how it improves our lives. With that in mind, we can enjoy these blends for what they are, and choose the best wherever it can be found. Smoke what you like, and like what you smoke.

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2 thoughts on “Smoking Outside the Box”

  1. Grossberger says:

    After the death of McClelland and Dunhill I have noticed the industry take advantage of people’s fear of missing out. Too many gimmicky limited editions and slightly altered recipes sold at four times the price to market to the same type of people who would put their 401k into beanie babies.

    1. This sounds accurate to me. There’s an audience of internet pipe-smokers who are buying lots of boutique blends, so they’re getting funneled stuff like Plum Pudding and Sun Bear. All that does is make new potential pipe smokers say, “Ah, I see, the same nonsense as everywhere else” and pick up the bong or vape.

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