Small Bowls

Albert Einstein

I may be generalizing unjustifiably from my own experience, but I have a sense that newer pipe smokers lean toward medium and large bowls in their choice of pipes. If I’m right, I want to say a good word for small bowls.

Smaller pipes have the virtue of allowing you to avoid palate fatigue or simply monotony. Short-and-sweet has its payoffs. Often, less is more. As they say in show biz: always leave them wanting more.

So don’t pass up small pipes merely because of their size. You can always reload if you find yourself unsatiated, or you can switch tobaccos for variety.

Goodbye, Dunhill; Goodbye, McClelland

DUNHILL-brand-crestMcClelland logo

Dunhill Tobacco of London (actually its owner, British American Tobacco) recently confirmed what has been expected for some time: its tobacco blends are now out of production. Meanwhile, it’s been reported that McClelland Tobacco Co. is closing its doors. The latter news has not yet been confirmed by the company to my knowledge, but I am unaware of a disavowal. Its website is silent on the matter. I’m assuming the worst. I hope I am wrong.

This is sad news, to put it mildly. Both companies sold many popular blends, and their demise undoubtedly disappoints many pipe smokers. Shops and online sellers still have some tins and bulk in stock, but they are getting harder and harder to find. Some are already gone.

The word is that Dunhill, a venerable name in pipes, pipe tobacco, and cigars, which markets a line of luxury goods, no longer wants its name associated with tobacco. (Oddly, cigarettes under that name will continue.) Dunhill, which began in England in 1907, is also famous for coveted high-end pipes. I don’t know what will change there. (Today, the production of the Dunhill blends is done by the giant Scandinavian Tobacco Group.)

Dunhill portrait
Alfred Dunhill (1872-1959)

McClelland, a small operation based in Kansas City, Mo., since the 1970s, first reported it would discontinue more than a dozen blends because it could not find a satisfactory crop of red Virginia tobacco. That news was bad enough since some popular blends were on that list. So the latest news came as a real shock. The problem is obviously larger than substandard red Virginia. [UPDATE: We can’t rule out impending draconian Food and Drug Administration tobacco rules as a factor in McClelland’s closing. More on this in future posts.]

I have been a fan of a few blends from each company. I’ve come to adore Dunhill Nightcap, My Mixture 965, and Elizabethan Mixture, and I’ve been working on a tin of Navy Rolls (formerly called Deluxe Navy Rolls; as I understand it, the European Union now forbids words like deluxe for tobaccos. Do you believe it?!)  The first two products are considered English blends since they have latakia and Virginias. (MM965 is also called a Scottish blend because it has Cavendish.) The latter two are Virginia-and-perique blends, known as Vapers,

Luckily, I have a small stock of each of these, so I won’t run out soon. I’ve also smoked Dunhill’s popular Early Morning Pipe, which too is considered an English. (These terms are not standardized.)

My favorites in the long McClelland line are 2015, or Virginia Perique Flake (this is the bulk name; the tinned version is St James Woods); 5100, or Red Cake (red Virginia), the Frog Morton line of English blends (except for Frog Morton’s Celler — I don’t like the whiskey flavor); Dark Star (aged Virginia), and Dark Navy Flake (a lesser aged Virginia). Alas, I have not sampled the many, many other McClelland Virginia blends. Fortunately, I’ve stocked up on 2015 and Frog Morton on the Bayou, which is a Virginia-latakia-perique blend. I also have some Balkan Blue and Syrian Super Balkan. I’m set for a while.

For those who like any blends from these companies, all is not lost. A few companies — Sutliff, 4Noggins, and Pipes and Tobacco, among them — have matches for some of the most popular Dunhill and McClelland blends. I’ve not tried many of them, so I can’t say how close they are. I have tried two, however, and to my palate, the results are uneven. Unfortunately, the ones I’ve tried were made by McClelland, so now it’s a moot point. Nevertheless, I’ll point out that to my palate McClelland’s match for My Mixture 965, which it called 925, was a very close match, but its AM Pipe, which was supposed to be like Early Morning Pipe, was way off the mark. Not only could I not taste any latakia, I disliked the taste and aftertaste. As they say, your mileage may vary. I would be willing to try any match for the disappearing blends I like.

Finally, when the reports of Dunhill’s exit first surfaced, many people expressed hope that some other company, perhaps the giant Scandinavian Tobacco Group (Lane), which is the U.S. importer of the Dunhill blends, would buy the recipes and market the blends, even if under different names. So far, I have not gotten word of this happening. No doubt smokers are praying someone will find a way to keep the McClelland blends around. I’m not optimistic. The vibes are not good.

But have no fear, the market is full of excellent blends from well-established and lesser-known names: Mac Baren, Peter Stokkebye, Cornell & Diehl, G.L. Pease, Gawith & Hoggarth (and Sam Gawith), Esoterica Tobacciana, Peterson, and too many others to list. And don’t overlook the old, established “drug store” blends: Granger, Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Half & Half, and others.

So while we’ve lost many good blends, we are not up the creek.

I Like My Condiments

Mencken mill and pipe
H. L. Mencken

I’ve long enjoyed straight Virginias and burleys, but lately those leave me unsatisfied, and I find myself craving tobaccos blended with latakia, perique, and Orientals. Now I’m finding it hard to go back. That’s often the way it is with pipe smoking.

If you have yet to explore the world of these tobacco-blend condiments, you might consider doing so. A world of amazing flavors and aromas awaits you.

Pack Loose, Tamp Gently

The longer I smoke the more I appreciate the need to pack loose and tamp gently. I find that these are two keys to a pleasant experience. Newer pipe smokers seem to pack too tight and to maintain the tight pack by tamping with too much force. I think that’s why so many beginners give up before giving the hobby a chance.

Smokers use several packing methods. You can find many tips by Googling or by watching YouTube videos. I’ll discuss some methods eventually, but for now I simply want to emphasize the importance of packing loose. I’ve gotten to the point where I want no resistance in the draw. Some smokers say the resistance should be like drawing soda through a straw — they all say avoid anything like the resistance you get from a milkshake. But I find even soda resistance too much. I basically want none at all.

If I pack too tight I will find myself puffing with too much effort. This is no fun because pipe smoking is about relaxing. I will also have trouble keeping the pipe lit — also no fun.

It follows from this that I don’t tamp too much or too hard. All I want to do by tamping is to lower the ash back in touch with the unburnt tobacco after it has risen. I try not to use any more force than what gravity provides. Let nature do the work. I also let gravity do most of the work when I pack.

Remember, you can always tamp, but it’s hard to untamp. Err on the gentle side.

Give this a try — you’ll know if you’ve packed too loose — and see what you think.

Beware “Experts”

We would all do well to take self-proclaimed experts with at least a grain of salt when it comes to pipe smoking (and other things). Hear those who say they know “the right way” to do something, but remember that their ways are not chiseled in briar or even meerschaum. Some other way might work better for you.

Just so we have no misunderstanding, I am not saying no tobacco blender or pipe maker deserves the descriptor expert. Many do.

Despite what I’ve said, if readers are interested in my non-expert opinion on some aspect of pipe smoking, email me at pipesmoker AT sheldonrichman DOT COM. I’ll relate my experience where I can, but I promise to say “I don’t know” whenever appropriate.

Learning Every Day

Like many hobbies and interests, pipe smoking is something you never learn once and for all. Definitely not. I’ve been at it for some time, but I never tire of talking to pipe smokers, no matter how new they are to the endeavor. This is one reason the YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) and the various Facebooks groups and online forums are such welcome institutions. (Another reason is that they are just fun.) Individuals may have many interesting tips to pass along about how they pack their bowls, puff, or break in and clean their pipes. I’ll talk about such things in future posts.

Any random pipe smoker, no matter his or her age, may be a source of helpful ideas. The reason for this is well established in other matters: the natural combination of imitation and innovation. The word serendipity comes to mind.

Here’s what I mean: a pipe smoker may observe another pipe smoker doing something the first had not seen or heard of before. So he tries it out: maybe he packs or breaks in his pipe differently than has been his custom, but in the process, makes a “mistake” — doesn’t imitate quite as accurately as intended — and unwittingly does something slightly different from what he had observed. Nevertheless, the accidental “innovation” has pleasant results. Viola! A new technique perhaps is born. Serendipity! There is no end to the possibilities.

So keep puffing, watching, and learning. You’re bound to enhance your pipe-smoking pleasure.