Interview With A Tobacconist

Our world has submerged itself in functionalism because it fears the inequality involved when some people enjoy themselves and others have to work or suffer the consequences of their abilities or decisions. This has created a kind of totalitarian worker’s commune where pleasure is demonized, except for certain forms which help people go back to work, and work is praised as a type of new religion. As part of this ascetic dogmatism, pipes and cigars have been hunted to near-extinction by regulators, complainers, private businesses and whiny NGOs. A London woman named Shorty, one of the rare breed of independent tobacconists still extant as an endangered species in the modern world, agreed to answer some of our questions about her world of pipes, tobacco and Brexit…

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Visiting The Tobacco Barn (Brenham, Texas)

When one traipses through the country outside of the lock-step conformist big cities, it behooves the pipe smoker to look for those varieties of tobacco favored in the less “civilized” areas of the world. This might bring one to Brenham, Texas, where the Brookshire Brothers grocery store offers up a unique and wonderful American tradition: the drive-thru Tobacco Barn.

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Introduction to Pipe Smoking And Pipe Tobacco

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Smoking a pipe rewards the user with more flavor and a slow, steady, and comforting dose of nicotine. This ancient habit requires more thought than most modern ones, but like all things enduring, both teaches patience and depth of appreciation. The ritual of smoking — packing, lighting, tamping, and nurturing the smoldering leaf — provides an activity that is pleasurable in its own right.

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Cornell & Diehl Small Batch – The Beast (2016)

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Interest grows in The Beast, the latest concoction by famed blending house Cornell & Diehl, which was inspired by Aleister Crowley and built around his favorite recipe of rum soaked Perique. As it turns out, all of the lore and fame is deserved, because The Beast is a densely flavorful blend for the experienced smoker without going overboard and becoming the dreaded “acquired taste” that is not enjoyable by the casual smoker.

St. James Parish Acadian Perique is notoriously difficult to work with. This tobacco is fermented under pressure in barrels to remove some sugars and bring Nicotine to the fore, giving it a reputation as an ingredient in high-powered blends. In the presence of different tobaccos, it reveals multiple faces of its flavor: sometimes an acidic fruity taste, or the sensation of pepper on a dried fig, and in some cases, it tastes almost like a pickled jalapeño. For most smokers, more than one part in ten within a blend causes uncomfortable levels of spiciness and Nicotine, so these blends are kept in the back of the pipe cabinet for the hardcores and well-worn codgers.

With The Beast, Cornell & Diehl brings a new face to Perique. At first open, the tin gives off a smell like fertilizer and olives in brine, but then the smell of the rum comes through clearly over a strong natural tobacco scent. As it dries, the tobacco and rum combine to give off an impression of fermentation with a rich undertone, like fall leaves decaying into humus. In addition to the St. James Parish Acadian Perique, the blenders added Black Cavendish, Red Virginia Cavendish and a tobacco that I think is as intense as Perique, the Dark Fired Kentucky Burley that originates as a strong leaf which gains potency when it is smoke-cured and aged.

The first match brings out the top note of rum and successive waves of sweetness as the Cavendishes and Perique wake up to the heat. Then, the dark and smoky taste of the Dark Fired Kentucky Burley rises to the fore. At this point, the tastes combine, and it is this singular flavor that dominates the taste profile of this blend to the bottom of the bowl. Imagine a summer day barbecue, with meat dipped in a sauce of tomatoes, wine, molasses, teriyaki and a shot of rum. Ablaze over the grill, it gives off an enticing scent: a rich natural smell, giving rise to a flavor as powerful as the olfactory stimulation.

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The Beast smokes smoothly and gives off a milder but still potent version of Crowley’s famous recipe which is its heart. You will taste the Perique basted in rum as a spicy fruit, like peppered date-stuff jalapeños that have been charred over an open campfire. Its supporting cast is just as important. The Red Virginia comes through as a tomato-like, vinegar-ish flavor, and together with the black Cavendish, it sweetens the blend and makes the spice and fruitiness blend into the rest of the leaf to create a single flavor. The Dark Fired Kentucky Burley creates the barbecue effect and lifts this blend up into the realm of serious intensity in both Nicotine and woodsy, nutty, natural flavors.

The wisdom of the blenders comes through in how little the top flavor obstructs the natural flavor of tobacco underneath, and how well these different leaf types meld together into a single flavor that is all their own. Some will taste notes of ketchup, leather and perhaps a hint of a fine stout beer; others will note the smoky tempest of the dark leaf alone. But really, these are fragmentary descriptions. The whole comes together into a mulled, smoky flavor with the fruity/peppery flavor of the Perique channeled into a sweet and spicy mixture. It burns evenly, down to fine grey ash, and while it pops out of the tin relatively moist, requires little if any drying. I left these samples in the pipe for only a few minutes before setting them gratefully ablaze.

Now, a bit of warning. This is a Crowley-inspired blend, and it probably is not for the newly-minted pipesmoker or those who look for the word “mild” on the shelves of their local brick & mortar tobacconist. In intensity of Nicotine strength, The Beast is probably medium to strong or slightly stronger, with the mysterious effect of the Perique which brings out additional dimensions to the Nicotine effect. You may find yourself making goat horns on the side of your head with your fingers, or perhaps chanting in mixed Hebrew and Enochian toward the stars… it is not a knock-yourself-flat blend, but this leaf has a potency that will satisfy even the most hard-driven pipe smokers while not damaging the rest.

As the bowl winds down, the flavors separate from that singular core and mingle. Olives, wine, teriyaki, blood, and the fires of Hell, with hints of a sweet inner core like the smell of death on an August afternoon… mysteries from beyond the boundaries of time and space… strange eyes move in the darkness as fell voices are heard. My favorite time to smoke this is at twilight, looking out into the forest hung with Spanish moss, as human sounds recede and the tumult of nature takes over. There, a kindred sensation is felt to The Beast: a fierce independence and great strength, tempered into a picture of beauty and solitude, under infinite stars.

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Interview With A Metalhead Pipesmoker Video Blogger

Each of us finds a path through life. Along the way we collect things we believe in, and things we enjoy. Sometimes those become what our commerce-brained socially-manipulated society might call “hobbies,” but these are often closer to a calling. I was fortunate to interview someone who straddles that line. He calls himself “Metalhead Y Cigarguy” and he runs a successful YouTube channel where he analyzes cigars, pipes and often, heavy metal.

You’re both a metalhead and a pipes/cigar smoker. Do you think the two go together?

If you’re going by stereotypes, no, but that’s why stereotypes are bad. Typically the pipe/cigar smoker is viewed as educated and an upper class individual, whereas the Metalhead is viewed as the uneducated lower class individual. You and I both know this is not the case at all. Now when I first got into pipes/cigars I thought I was one of a few Metalheads that actually enjoyed “the finer things in life,” but I quickly learned that there were a lot of individuals that smoked pipes/cigars that listened to all forms of Heavy Metal music.

That’s the nice thing about the hobby of pipes and cigars, most individuals don’t care about race, religion, political view etc. as we all have a common bond and that’s pipes and cigars. When individuals come together, say the doctor and the Metalhead, at the local cigar lounge, the two can always have an interesting conversation about the hobby even if they disagree about everything else in life. The hobby of pipes and cigars is open to anyone and everyone.

How did you get into smoking cigars? When did you add pipes to your routine?

I used to just smoke a few cigars on the back deck in the summer time. At the time I really wanted to take up pipe smoking, but like most I didn’t really know where to begin, and I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on something that I may not enjoy. Cigars seemed like an easy first step. After I found myself enjoying cigars I decided to get more into the hobby, so I purchased a small humidor and things took off from there. I soon found myself with several humidors and about 300 cigars on hand.

After being into cigars for a while I decided it was time to try a pipe, so I went to my local tobacconist and picked up a basket pipe and a couple ounces of Lane RLP-6. For the first couple months I only smoked my pipe about 2-3 times a month, but as I got the hang of it more I decided to spend a bit more money on a nicer pipe. Of course just like the cigar hobby, my pipe hobby took off as well. I now have a very well stocked cellar of tobaccos and about 35 pipes. Needless to say I really enjoy my pipes and cigars and pretty much all my spare cash goes into the hobby. My wife always asks, “Don’t you have enough tobacco/cigars?” and my response is always “no.”

You run a YouTube channel with pipe and cigar videos. Where can we find it, and what is on it?

I post a variety of videos on my channel. I have a Sunday Evening Cigar series where I usually review cigars but also discuss cigar related topics, I have a Thursday Pipe Chat where I discuss a variety of pipe/tobacco topics and sometimes I do an occasional pipe tobacco review. I have also done videos on my sports teams, as well as videos where I discuss Heavy Metal music. I’m open to all subjects, but mainly keep it to pipes and cigars.

What do you like about making videos, and why did you pick that format over others?

I started out many years ago on Heavy Metal forums like Metal Rules, Encyclopedia Metallum, Roadrunner Records etc., and when I got serious about cigars I discovered the Cigar Geeks forum. I posted on that forum daily for a good 3 years straight, and there is a great group of individuals over there. As I had grown in my cigar hobby I decided to give pipe smoking a try as I had always wanted to smoke a pipe.

After beginning my adventure into pipes I discovered there was a community on YouTube. After seeing the interaction from people I decided to jump in and give it a go and make videos. As with most people my videos sucked at first, heck they probably still do, but it gave me a better interaction with individuals in the hobby. Forums can be useful, but many times people don’t get to detailed about a particular subject; where as with YouTube a person can spend 5, 10, 15 + minutes talking about a particular subject and provide more in depth information about something you want to know about.

With YouTube its more of a face to face type interaction as you are watching the individual demonstrate tips, tricks, how-tos etc. with the actual pipe and/or cigar, so as a visual learner it was ideal for me. For a long time I didn’t have anyone to sit back and enjoy a pipe or a cigar with either, so by watching YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) videos I was able to simulate that experience even if it was only a one way conversation. I think that’s why a lot of us do it… to share a smoke with someone and to have some interaction that way.

What is the YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) and how did you become part of it? What does it do, and how can people find out more?

YouTube is full of different communities that cover topics from Guns/Self Defense, Bushcraft, Gamers, etc., and if you’re interested in a particular hobby then chances are there is a community for it on YouTube. YT has a strong pipe/cigar community that’s been around for a long time. I’ve been a part of the YTPC for four years now, and it was going strong when I joined. It’s basically a community of individuals that post pipe and/or cigar related videos, and create dialog with individuals based off those videos.

Its similar to a forum, but the dialog is generated from the videos. Sometimes instead of just typing out a text reply to the video, individuals will make a video response and post a video that will respond to the topic mentioned in a video by another person. Within the community you will find people that post tobacco and pipe reviews, cigar reviews, how to videos related to pipes and/or cigars, and sometimes people just create ramble videos.

Those are simply the individual talking into the camera as if they were sitting next to an individual and sharing a pipe and/or cigar with them. There are a lot of people that don’t have the opportunity to have a smoking buddy, so many of us can simulate that by watching the ramble type videos and pretend we are hanging out with said individual. Those types of video’s aren’t for everyone, but some people really enjoy them.

Anyone can join the community, all you have to do is post videos. There are no requirements to join other than to just start posting videos. What kind of videos is up to the individual. For lack of a better term, the community is filled with many “lurkers,” which are individuals that watch the YTPC videos, but don’t actually post videos themselves. Some comment on the videos and some don’t, but they watch to gain knowledge when it comes to pipe/cigar related topics.

Really that’s the whole idea behind the community, to help educate other pipe/cigar smokers with tips/tricks and how to information. For example how to pack a pipe, how to properly light a cigar etc. I started out as a lurker, and began watching how to videos before buying my first pipe. I then continued to watch and found that the community was full of a lot of great people. After watching for about five months I decided to give it a go and post a video. It was really weird just talking into a camera all by myself, but the community was very welcoming.

In the past four years I’ve made some good friends, and have had the pleasure of going to pipe/cigar related events where I’ve been able to meet up with other individuals from the YTPC in person. A lot of us will from time to time talk via Skype or Google+ Hangouts, and via a phone app called Voxer. I regularly talk via Voxer with individuals from Australia, Great Britain, and all across the the US who are a part of the YTPC. So it really is a community that goes beyond just posting how to videos etc.

When did you get into heavy metal? What attracted you to it, and what were your favorites? Do you have a “top ten”?

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest when the Grunge/Alternative Rock scene broke open it was easy to get into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Mud Honey, Soundgarden, etc. After a few years it was clear to me that the scene was dying, and the new bands that were coming out were very stale and provided nothing new. As the casual Hard Rock and Heavy Metal listener I expanded on the Heavy Metal side and I became a huge fan of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath in the mid 90s.

I then got into the Nu-Metal scene, but realized fairly quickly that there was heavier stuff that was better. By the end of the 90s I was getting into more Thrash, outside the Big Four, and into Death Metal and even some Black Metal. As time passed I really came to enjoy the old school Death Metal and Thrash Metal that I missed in the 80s as a young kid and while I was listening to Grunge/Alternative in the early 90s.

Now days I find myself mainly listening to the Traditional Heavy Metal like Ozzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, along with the old school Death Metal bands, Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Deicide, Malevolent Creation, and Thrash Metal bands like Overkill, Testament, Exodus, etc. outside the Big Four. I enjoy all varieties of Metal though as you can find me listening to Progressive Metal, Power Metal, Doom, Folk Metal, Black Metal etc. I enjoy all of the sub-genres.

What do you look for in a cigar or pipe tobacco blend? Are some better than others? Are there others you “just like”?

When it comes to cigars I like anything from Mild up to Full bodied, though if I’m having a Full bodied cigar I need to go slow and make sure I have a nice meal before hand otherwise I’ll feel the nicotine punch. I prefer a nice Mild-Medium cigar in the morning with a nice cup of coffee, and in the evening I prefer a nice Medium-Full cigar with a nice ale or some whiskey. My favorite brand of cigar is Romeo Y Julieta, and of those lines I really like the Reserva Real and the classic 1875 line.

As for pipe tobacco, I started off with aromatics like many do. I still enjoy an aromatic from time to time, and if I do have an aromatic its usually in the morning with a cup of coffee. As I got more into pipes I really found that I enjoy English/Balkan blends the most. Typically anything with Latakia, Turkish/Oriental, Virginia and Perique will be a favorite of mine. Looking back on most of my favorite blends, they all have those components to them. I also find that I really enjoy McClelland tobaccos. Not saying they’re better than brands like MacBaren, Cornell & Diehl etc., but I find I really enjoy a lot of the McClelland blends.

What should people know before getting into cigar/pipe smoking? What about before they start listening to heavy metal?

With pipes/cigars… just know that its going to be expensive, especially cigars. A nice cigar here runs $5-9 so the cost can definitely add up. The higher end premium cigars range from $10-15+ so its not cheap at all. That doesn’t include accessories like humidors etc. With pipes and pipe tobacco its not as bad as you can get away with an inexpensive corn cob pipe (which are really good smoking pipes) and some inexpensive bulk blends. Though you can find yourself spending hundreds of dollars on some very nice pipes too, so it can be very costly as well. Then adding tobacco to your tobacco cellar will generate an expense as well. Either way you’re going to be spending some hard earned cash. How far into the hobby you want to go will determine how much money you’re going to invest in the hobby.

Heavy Metal carries a bad stereotype, and the music is viewed by many as a guy standing there screaming into the microphone while the band plays unorganized loud music. Now in some cases that may be true, depends on who you’re listening to, but the professional Metal bands are actually very talented musicians with many playing at a high level. Though most people can’t get past the loud noise. Then there is the typical images of hate and satanism.

Now some bands have this image or have lyrics about these types of messages, but not all bands are that way. There are plenty of Metal bands that sing about a positive message. Its up to the listener to decide their preference. For someone that wants to explore Heavy Metal… go for it! You have to look past the stereotypes. There are all kinds of sub-genre’s of Metal so while one genre may not fit your style another might. Sometimes it takes time to really wrap your head around what you’re listening to as well.

For example the first time I listened to Mercyful Fate (King Diamond), his falsetto singing really threw me off and I was like, “What the heck is this?” I wasn’t ready for it, so I put the album on the shelf for about a year. When I came back to it I was blown away by what i was listening to. Now Mercyful Fate and King Diamond are two of my favorite bands. Sometimes you just need to recognize you’re not ready for something, and instead of just dismissing it, come back to it at a later time. Your outlook may change.

Is there a “generation gap” between older pipe smokers and younger ones regarding the video format? Are there any newer formats that bridge the gap?

The forums are most likely to bridge the gap, because unless an individual shares information about themselves you don’t really know the age of the different individuals. As for YouTube, there are many older pipe smokers that make YouTube videos. It’s not just a young pipe smokers format.

The individuals in the YTPC don’t care if an individual is in their early 20s and just picked up a pipe, or if they’re in their 60s and have been smoking a pipe for 40 years. Everyone interacts with everyone. It’s a great community full of helpful information and individuals that love to share their thoughts on the hobby.

How do you make your videos? About how long does each one take? Does it require special equipment, software or a studio?

I keep it real simple as i do it for fun. If it gets to detailed it becomes a chore and then it’s not fun anymore. When I was doing my Thursday Pipe Chat and my Sunday Evening Cigar series on a weekly basis with editing, I was spending a lot of time on my computer (hours). Now I just use my cell phone which records in HD quality. If I do any editing it can take a little bit of time, but I don’t do that much anymore as I prefer to just click record and stop and then upload. It’s so much more easier. Is the video quality lower?… that’s for the viewer to decide.

If people are interested in what they read here about you, where do they go to find out more and stay on top of your latest doings?

I still chat on the Cigar Geeks forum from time to time, but not as much anymore. I chat on the Pipes Magazine forum on a regular basis currently and of course I’m still making videos for my YouTube channel. I can’t see how anyone would want to keep up with me, as I don’t find myself that entertaining, but if they really want to then the best place is my YouTube channel.

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Pipe shop review: Hollywood Food Store, Houston, Texas

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Hollywood Food Store
1660 Westheimer Rd # A, Houston, TX 77006
(713) 528-3234

For those who have known Houston over the past 30 years, the Hollywood Food Store at Westheimer and Dunlavy is an institution. At the heart of the Montrose District, it offers imported cigarettes and alcohol to late-night revelers. Located right next to Shaw’s tattoo studio, it is situated in the epicenter of rebellious cool, at least for 1980s kids in the days before every conformist counter-worker had double sleeves.

Little-known to many is that it is also one of the older pipe stores in this city of millions. For years, this location was where downtown workers and city residents stopped to get Galoises, 555 Specials, John Players, Dunhills and a variety of pipe tobaccos and hand-rolling supplies. Unlike just about anywhere else, you can find not just Drum and Bali Shag on the shelves, but Carter Hall and Prince Albert as well as a dozen glass display containers of house blends (most likely Lane Limited varieties).

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Hollywood also sells pipe supplies and now Chinese pipes for those who want to launch into this experience at low investment. While most of the tobacco action in this sprawl of suburbs takes place in the outer rings, and many of us avoid the pretentious pipe shop in the tourist village, Hollywood has serviced pipe, cigar and cigarette smokers for generations with its wide selection and sobriety-optional service.

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A typical night out in the 1980s involved heading downtown from the outer edges where comfortable suburbs held the daytime stability and nighttime frustrations of the working drudges, hitting Sound Exchange to see if any new metal was in the stacks, stopping at Hollywood for smokes and beers, then sneaking those into Numbers or The Abyss to see a show and maybe score drugs in the feces-festooned restrooms (to this day, there are probably Houstonians who have acid flashbacks any time a sewer pipe explodes). Over the years, and very few upgrades, Hollywood has continued this mission with an unassuming but vital presence for the pipe smoking community in this Southern/Midwestern city.

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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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Diesel – Unlimited Maduro 6×60 (2015)

diesel_-_unlimited_maduro_6x60

The Diesel Unlimited Maduro is an extension of the very popular Diesel cigar line by master blender AJ Fernandez. Mr. Fernandez has quite a dedicated following with full-bodied cigar lovers, as he is known for using potent tobaccos in his blends. Popular cigars such as the Man O’ War Ruination and the Diesel Unholy Cocktail are extremely strong, meaty and flavorful. The Diesel Unlimited Maduro follows in this tradition and is a welcome addition to his ever-growing portfolio.

The Blend:

Wrapper: Connecticut seed broadleaf maduro1
Binder: Mexican San Andreas
Filler: Nicaraguan and Honduran ligero2

Appearance and Construction:

A mottled, chocolate brown wrapper covers the cigar. It has a rustic appearance, with a slight tooth and a dull sheen of natural oils. It is firmly rolled and feels well constructed, with no lumps, hard spots or other imperfections. I’ve had many boxes of these cigars and they always seem to be a bit on the dry side. That doesn’t mean they are “dried out”, I just think that they aren’t as oily or moist as many other cigars. With that said, care must be taken when handling as the wrapper can flake or crack if you’re not too careful or apply too much heat all at once when lighting.

Pre-light Impressions:

The cigar has a fairly strong tobacco aroma along with an undertone of what can best be described as barnyard — a mixture of straw, grass, dirt and manure. This is in no way a negative — as a matter of fact the barnyard aroma harmonizes quite well with the tobacco.

Smoking Experience:

Because the cigar contains a good dose of ligero tobacco, The Diesel Unlimited Maduro benefits from a long toasting of the foot to warm up the head of the cigar. Once lit, the cigar burns even and true, with a grey flaky ash that can, at times, create a mess in your lap or on your clothes. The draw is quite good, producing a nice mouthful of smoke with each draw.

The smoke has a pleasant mouth feel to it — light and very flavorful with no off-putting qualities. What’s impressive is that although the smoke is very light in your mouth, it has a strong character to it that really makes you take notice.

Initial mouth flavors are wood, leather and straight tobacco and through the nose it’s mostly spice with a touch of bitter cocoa and black coffee. The finish is clean and very dry with lingering sweet chocolate and burnt wood notes.

This is by no means a complex cigar, as the flavors remain the same throughout — from initial light to the last inch. It never smokes too hot or too cool and provides a good hour and a half of smoking enjoyment. Its bold flavor profile and ramped-up nicotine content is not for the beginner, but veteran smokers will certainly appreciate the consistent blast of flavor and kick in the pants this smoke provides.

The Diesel Unlimited Maduro fits well into the Diesel cigar line, rounding out an already impressive grouping of smokes.

Terms:

  1. Maduro: This is a fermentation process that uses intense pressure and heat to extract more sugar from the tobacco leaf than standard tobacco aging.
  2. Ligero: The top-most part of a tobacco plant. This is the strongest type of tobacco, because it receives the most sunlight and has a higher nicotine content than other parts of the plant.
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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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