Rules Not to Smoke by

Einstein shirt

From early on, we pipe smokers hear of many rules that we are told to observe strictly to improve our smoking experience. Unfortunately, “rules” picked up from mentors, friends, tobacconists, and online pipe smokers too readily get hardened into stone-engraved commandments never to be questioned. I say this is unfortunate because, although some of these rules are reasonable guidelines, others turn out to be dogmas with scant basis in reality.

The ultimate test, of course, is what works for you and your style of smoking. Guidelines can be useful to the new smoker, and even a grizzled veteran can learn new tricks — as I often do after half a century of puffing.

One “rule” that I never thought to question until recently is the one that says briar pipes must be rested at least 24 hours between smokes, preferably longer. I lived by this rule religiously — and then I heard from long-experienced and thoughtful smokers who have never lived by that rule. They will smoke one pipe repeatedly all day — then let it rest a few days or a week so that it can dry out. I never would have thought to smoke the same briar more than once in a day. I still largely smoke according to this guideline because I like variety, but it’s nice to know that I don’t have to. (Of course, corncobs, meerschaums, and clays need no rest.)

I know an experienced smoker, a man who takes very good care of his pipes, who smokes a pipe he is breaking in several times a day. My friend also flouts another “rule”: the one that says you must smoke only partial bowls — one-third for the first few smokes, then one-half for the next few — when first breaking in a new pipe. My friend smokes full bowls from the get-go. The main thing, he says, is to smoke those early bowls all the way to the bottom in order to start forming a complete cake right away. He says the partial-bowl advice is really just a way to make sure that smokers work on the bottom cake from the first smoke; if they start by smoking full bowls, they might not get to the bottom during those initial smokes. In other words, if you know you’ll smoke to the bottom, then fill the bowl. If you think you may not, smoke a half or a third.

Another “rule” is that pipes ought to be dedicated to a particular type of blend: English (despite the lack of complete agreement on exactly what that is), straight Virginias, Virginia/periques (Vapers), aromatics, burleys, etc. Some smokers dedicate each of their pipes to specific blends, though I don’t know any smokers personally who do this. I see no reason not to smoke Escudo in a pipe that I’ve used previously for Dunhill Elizabethan Mixture or McClelland Virginia Perique Flake (2015). But then, as I’ve said previously, I routine smoke Cornell & Diehl Haunted Bookshop (burley and perique) in the same pipes I use for Dunhill My Mixture 965 (Virginia, latakia, Oriental, and cavendish), etc. The feared ghosting, for me, is too faint to make me want to bother with dedication. Besides, I don’t mind a ghostly reminder of latakia when I smoke a Vaper, or perique when I smoke an English that contains no perique. I don’t even mind the ghost of C&D Autumn Evening’s maple flavor when I smoke a straight Virginia or anything else. But that’s me — an unrefined palate might be as much a gift as a curse. Your mileage may vary, and you should go with what you like. Just be aware that lightning won’t strike you if you say the heck with that “rule.”

Meerschaum pipes come with lots of so-called rules, but some experienced meerschaum devotees flout them all the time. According to them, you can handle a warn meerschaum gloveless on its first smoke without ruining its appearance. That’s been my experience too. Bremen Pipe Smoker, who has an excellent YouTube channel, smokes his meerschaums in 20-degree weather without a problem, though others will insist that’s a good way to crack your pipe. I’ve not tried this, but it’s good to know about Bremen Pipe Smoker’s experience.

Lots of pipe smokers have rules about packing their pipes that they wouldn’t dream of violating. The three-pinch method, in which each layer is tamped more firmly, is often recommended. But other long-time smokers seem to enjoy their smokes no matter how haphazardly they load up. I favor something like the Frank method, which emphasizes letting gravity do the work with no tamping during loading; with this method the smoker does not insert a finger into the bowl while loading. I like this method because I have come to prefer almost no resistance in the draw. And that’s really the point: decide what kind of draw you like, and then load in any what that produces that draw.

Some rules really ought to be observed. One that comes to mind is the one that says you should not remove the stem from a warm pipe’s shank because the two pieces might not fit properly afterward. Heat makes materials expand, so caution here seems well-grounded. But the rule apparently does not apply to pipes with a military mount.

My only advice is to use your common sense. If a rule seems unnecessary, don’t feel bound by it. Ask questions of experienced smokers, and then do whatever produces a flavorful and satisfying smoke.

Enjoy — that’s my ultimate rule

McClelland: I’m Trying to Let Go, But It Ain’t Easy

McClelland is gone, I know, but not forgotten. I thought I was one of the pipe smokers who was able to let go, to keep the period of mourning brief, and move on. After all, we live in a cornucopia of great tobacco in all genres. And yet…

I have a stash of McClelland 2015, or Virginia Perique Flake, the bulk version of St. James Woods. It is simply my favorite vaper, bar none — so rich and spicy. My local tobacconist still has an ample supply of 2015, so if I want more, I can get it. Yet I have resisted buying more on the grounds that doing so would merely delay the inevitable and push the date at which I will face a world without 2015 just a little bit further into the future. Why bother? I have several other good vapers on hand, and many others I have never tried await for me. Whenever I have flirted with the idea of buying more, but I have suppressed the urge.

So my resolution to buy no more McClelland felt firm.

Then, yesterday, at the local pipe shop I spotted something on the shelf that I had to check out. I wondered if was a tin of McClelland Rose of Latakia, a blend that includes the virtually if not actually extinct Syrian latakia. (It is heavenly.) What bothered me is that I thought I had bought the shop’s last tin of Rose of Latakia some time ago, so I wondered how I could have overlooked this one. Bounding behind the counter, I grabbed the tin and read: Blakeney’s Best Latakia Flake. It dated 2005.

Whoa! What’s this? It looked like an old McClelland label, and I was dimly aware that McClelland had a series under the name Blakeney’s Best. But I could not find McClelland’s name on the tin. It said only, “Made in the U.S.A.” It took my tobacconist, Greg McGee, to point out that the paper disc between the plastic and the metal lids said this is a McClelland product.

The tin description states:

The Best Full English – Toasted, Mellow

A distinctive full English Mixture in the grand tradition, rich with smoky Cyprian latakia, fragrant with exotic Xanthi Yaka. Toasted for smoothness, then pressed in cakes to age and marry the flavors. Exceptionally smooth, cool-smoking, full-flavored little levantine flakes ready to rub out — the Best Oriental Mixture.

It was priced at $19.25. (The tobacco tax in my state is obscenely steep.)

Wow! I quickly assessed the situation: either this is the last tin available on earth or it’s the last tin available on earth priced at $19.25. (You can find in on eBay for about $50 for 50 grams. I’m not that hooked.)

In either case, I had to have it. I plunked down my money and went home one happy pipe smoker.

I can report, after my first bowl this morning, that is is a damn fine English blend. I will savor it.

So my McClelland stash contains Blakeney’s Best Latakia Flake, Rose of Latakia, Balkan Blue, Frog Morton on the Bayou, Red and Black, Pressed Burley, and 925 (a close match for Dunhill My Mixture 965).

Not too shabby! Will this be the last McClelland I buy? Stay tuned.

Dessert Blends

Dizzy Gillespie

We’re all familiar with dessert wines and liqueurs. But what about dessert pipe tobacco blends? I often like a sweet blend after a savory meal. This can be an aromatic, but not necessarily. Peter Heinrichs Dark Strong and various Virginias serve very well in that capacity. But for me, certain aromatics work well too. I’m thinking of Cornell & Diehl Autumn Evening, Mac Baren Vanilla Flake, and Cult Blood Red Moon. All of these nicely offset any savory dish.

Of course, a good English can hit the spot too. But don’t overlook something sweet.

Zippos: Yay or Nay?

Coltrane
John Coltrane

An emailer wants to know what I think about Zippo lighters. He asks if my tobacco ever tastes like “jet fuel” when I use my Zippo. As he points out, butane lighters and matches can be frustratingly ineffective outside. The slightest breeze is the foe of the pipe smoker. He noticed that on my videos the Zippo works perfectly well. But what about the taste?

After using a Zippo for several months I can say that I’ve gotten a fleeting whiff of fluid only once or twice, and I’ve never noticed a change in the taste of the tobacco. I’ve been told by experienced people that the Zippo fluid — which is what I use — was changed some time ago to address complaints that it made the smoke yucky.

So I can unhesitatingly recommend Zippos. I use the pipe version, though I know of one veteran pipe smoker who prefers the regular insert.