Although it is certainly true that quality Virginia tobacco is harder to find these days, there is still a lot of really good Virginia leaf out there. G.L. Pease, for example, uses terrific Virginia leaf of all types in his blends. Although harder to locate these days since production is nowhere near the level it was even a decade ago, I am still hearing good things from blenders regarding our sacred Virginia leaf and I sure do continue to sample as much variety as possible.
Not too long ago a customer of mine gifted me some Virginia tobacco that he thought was superb; John Aylesbury Sir John’s Broken Virginia. I’ll tell you about it in a moment, but first, John Aylesbury is not a real person. It is a company in Germany that represents, among other things, the tobacco blending house, Planta, located in Regenstauf, Germany. Aylesbury also represents a “small batch” of tobacco growers that has Planta make their blends under the John Aylesbury name. In turn, F&K Cigar is the USA importer of many of those blends. The Sir John’s series of tobaccos is made and imported irregularly. Until my customer’s gift, I’d only smoked one other Aylesbury Sir John’s blend, Curly Cut. I liked it but didn’t think it was special enough to purchase more. A totally different story with Sir John’s Broken Virginia. Here is my review of that one just a month or so ago on www.tobaccoreviews.com after I’d smoked a few bowls –
“The color of the leaf was both bright and dark, and the tin aroma was heavenly; sweet over ripe plumbs comes to mind. At the match there wasn’t much to brag about, but after the first layer had been consumed I detected more depth and the nicotine hit came through a little stronger than what I expect from Virginia Bright. The depth of the Virginia flavor got a little better once I reached the halfway point but never blossomed fully. I suspect this one will age well as the sugar content was halfway up the ladder. I was impressed by the overall presentation after the first couple of bowls I smoked, and think this is a very fine mid-range Virginia for those who prefer sweeter leaf and some of that good old Vitamin N. No worries if you have a sensitive waggler either. This one does not bite which tells me the leaf is of good quality.”
I have since tried to get the Sir John’s Flake Virginia, but it seems to be sold out everywhere I’ve looked. Not surprising, as again, it is produced and imported sparingly. I may not be frugal with my spending when I do finally locate it! I personally think that it’s delicious even fresh, and seems to be a type of tobacco that will age well. So, don’t give up on finding quality Virginia leaf as it’s still out there!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried just about every pipe smoking tip ever offered to me – and that’s a lot of tips since I’ve been puffing on my briars for over 45-years. Some tips that I tried were so off the wall bad that I’m too embarrassed to even tell you about the ones in that category that I was suckered into trying. I will, however, share some with you that I consider to be “tip worthy,” and use myself either all the time, frequently, or sometimes. And by the way, those of you who are members of my First Responders email group will find some of these tips to be familiar since I have shared some of them in my weekly Pipestud’s Consignment Shop Newsletters over the years. These tips are offered in no particular order of importance to me. I just numbered them so that I would know to stop typing after I completed tip No. 10.
Tip #1 – Did you know that it is easy to tell the difference between a vulcanite and acrylic stem? There are, in fact, two sure fire ways to do it, even if both stems look shiny black. Take a bright penlight and put it right up to the acrylic stem. You will note that as you run the penlight up and down the length of the stem, the color is a uniform slate gray. Now, do the same thing with a vulcanite stem. You will immediately note that the color of the vulcanite stem looks brownish under the bright light. And, depending on the sulphur content, the color may vary a little as you move the light up and down the stem. Another easy way to tell the difference between vulcanite and acrylic stems is what I call, “the smell test.” First, grip the vulcanite stem firmly in one hand and then place the thumb on your other hand firmly down on the top of the stem and rub back and forth vigorously for about ten seconds. Then, put the rubbed part of the stem up to your nose and take a whiff. You will immediately note a burnt rubber smell. When you do the same thing with an acrylic stem, there will be no smell at all.
Tip #2 – One tip that was taught to me many years ago that added to my smoking enjoyment as much as any other tip that I’ve ever received was learning to dry out tobacco that was too moist. Different blends dry out at different speeds, so there is a learning curve. But, when you think you’ve dried out your tobacco just a little too much, that is when it is probably just right. Moisture produces flavor robbing steam to the smoke and steam is a lot hotter than the actual smoke, too. So, the more dry the tobacco the less heat on the tongue. When you pinch a wad of tobacco between your thumb and finger, if it springs back quickly then you have just the right moisture level. If it stays stuck together then dry it some more.
Tip #3 – In a year 1996 issue of Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine, there was a story on famous American pipe maker Michael Butera. In the article, Butera said he used a one speed food processor to chop up all of his tobacco as it aided in mixing all the components evenly which made packing easier and presented a more even burn for a cooler smoke. It also enable the smoker to relight less frequently since there were fewer gaps between tobacco and air. So, I purchased one of those gizmo’s and was an immediate believer. Just make sure that you purchase a one speed food processor and not a mixer that has a much higher resolution speed or all you’ll get is tobacco puree’. *Please Note – Make sure the food processor is your own. Before mine arrived I was eager to start the process and snuck the blender that my wife used to make her morning orange juice/banana drink. Due to the high resolution speed of the blender, my tobacco was almost soup. I thought I had cleaned the mess up pretty well, but she was none too pleased the next morning when, while drinking her concoction, she found shards of Latakia mixed in with her drink. I’m not sure that I’m out of the doghouse yet for that one!
Tip #4 – Keep your pipes clean! I can’t count the times that I have had consignors send me pipes to sell who say the pipe or pipes they were sending just don’t smoke as good as they used to. And, 9 times out of 10 those pipes arrive looking nice on the outside and the tobacco chamber is nicely reamed, BUT, when I run an EverClear soaked pipe cleaner through them to check for internal cleanliness, I often find out that the pipe is absolutely filthy on the inside with a nasty build up of gooey tars and even cake that has nearly clogged up the air hole entrance to the tobacco chamber. Not only is the draw restricted, but all that build-up of nastiness destroys the true flavor of what you are smoking. Most of those “pipe sweeteners” that you purchase online are junk. They have little alcohol content and only cover the sour taste of a dirty pipe for a bowl or two. It’s best to use the highest proof alcohol you can get your hands on and most of the professional pipe refurbishers suggest 190 Proof EverClear (some states only allow 150 proof), and either one is outstanding. After every 10-20 bowls of tobacco you smoke, just run EverClear soaked cleaners through the stem down to the chamber opening until they come back clean. Then twist a paper towel down into the bowl to dry and clean it. I also take my pipe apart and use an EverCear soaked Q-tip to clean the mortise. 24 hours later, grab that clean pipe and commence to smoking again!
Tip #5 – I learned this trick many years ago regarding the easiest and most simple way to re-hydrate dry tobacco. Simply load your pipe with the tobacco, then take a deep breath and put your mouth over the top of the bowl and slowly exhale down into the bowl as your breath moves down through the leaf and then up the shank and out the stem. You will be absolutely shocked and amazed. Your bowl of tobacco will be perfectly re-hydrated. It is best to practice this first on your wife or girlfriend.
Tip #6 – Layering your tobacco can produce really fun results! Here is a quick example of what I like to call a “Parfait smoke” – I recently decided to try a new style of Virginia/Perique smoking experience. I have a Jerry Crawford pipe that seems to smoke VaPer’s very well. It is a straight billiard tanblast with a medium sized, thick bowl. I loaded the first two thirds of the bowl with some old McCranie’s ’96 Vintage Crop Red Ribbon and then topped it off with the final third of the bowl being some old year 1994 McClelland’s Blending Perique. Once lit, the straight Perique traveled down the bowl through the Red Virginia which softened the Perique’s flavor and actually gave off a little flavor of its own as the Virginia leaf began to “sweat” a bit from the heat above. The rich bottom notes of the Virginia became more pronounced as the fire began consuming it, yet the Perique presentation remained noticeable throughout the remainder of the smoke even though the Perique itself had been totally consumed. A really fun smoking experience!
Tip #7 – Flake Fun! For long lasting cool smokes, try tightly rolling your flakes and stuffing them down into the bowl of your pipe. Take a small portion of the flake and fully rub it out and put it at the top of the bowl to help get the fire going when you light up. You will discover that while you’ll probably need a lot more relights than with a ribbon or shag cut tobacco, the smoke will be cooler due to all the free flowing air down in the bowl that will join the smoke as it travels up the shank and stem into your mouth. There is a downside; the depth of the flavor of the tobacco that you smoke will not be as pronounced as it would have been had you fully rubbed out the flake and put it into your pipe that way. Such a presentation gets more of the flavorful smoke and less air into your mouth as you puff. So, if you prefer a lighter tasting blend, don’t rub out the flakes and if you prefer a stronger tasting blend, rub out to your heart’s content.
Tip #8 – How to properly tamp your pipe? Well, there are more ways to tamp your tobacco as you smoke than one might think. I recently learned of a trick that has worked wonderfully for me. Thanks to well known pipe maker and pipe repair man Tim West for this one. As you smoke, tamp down directly into the center of your bowl. This pushes down the burnt leaf and causes the unburned tobacco around the inner edges of the tobacco chamber to “cave in” to the center so that with your second tamp, you are forcing the unburned leaf to evenly cover the center so that when you relight, it gets the flame’s heat first so that you are consuming all of your tobacco, and most importantly, helps keep the pipe lit as you continue puffing.
Tip #9 – I strongly agree with the thought that specific blend types should always be smoked in a pipe that has been reserved exclusively for those types of blends. If you smoke Latakia in a particular pipe and then smoke a straight Virginia in the same pipe the very next bowl, you will taste the remnants of the Latakia no matter how well you clean the pipe before making the switch. To get the true taste of the Virginia blend you are smoking, make sure you smoke that blend only in your pipes that are dedicated to Virginia tobaccos and vice versa. Perique and aromatic blends also leave heavy “ghosting,” and should be treated in the same manner. Burley and Orientals don’t really do much ghosting, but still, try to keep the blend types separate in order to get the truest taste from each blend that you smoke.
Tip #10 – Puff as slowly as possible. When you “sip” rather than puff like a runaway freight train, two things occur and both of them are good. Number one, the slower the cadence the cooler the smoke and less heat means more flavor. Number two, you have less chance of getting a case of nasty old tongue bite!
It is my hope that at least one of the above tips will improve your smoking enjoyment. If so, then blog post mission accomplished!
As many of you know, I keep a file of some of the greatest pipe and tobacco questions that I have ever received over my almost 20-years of online selling. Most of them are truly well thought out and a pleasure to respond to. On the other hand, I get in a few that are so outlandish that I can’t believe they were even asked. I am always happy to respond to questions even if I have no answer myself or can’t find one. This pipe and tobacco hobby of ours is chock full of mysteries and while I am no Sherlock Holmes, I actually love to try to find answers to all the questions I receive, or, at least make up a good one. Hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good answer?
I recently went over my long list of pipe tobacco questions that have been emailed to me over the years and after much contemplation, have come up with the Top-10 list of greatest questions that I’ve ever received to share with you. I have listed the ten questions in no particular order and if you find yourself on this list, congratulations!
Question– I hear people talking all the time about Hobbit Weed from the Lord of the Rings Movies. What exactly is Hobbit Weed?
Pipestud – It was grown and smoked by the hobbits of the Shire and enjoyed by both men and wizards alike. It had disappeared for centuries before G.L. Pease uncovered a large batch and began processing and blending it for the annual NASPC Shows in Columbus, Ohio.
Question– I know this is probably a far out question, but I am sort of a history buff and have read that late 1700’s frontiersman Daniel Boone was a pipe smoker. If that is true, have you ever heard of his favorite kind of tobacco to smoke back in those days?
Pipestud – Oh sure. It is pretty common knowledge that Dan particularly enjoyed the old Elephant & Castle blend named Deerstalker.
Question– I am 22-years old and just starting to smoke a pipe. I saw where you have reviewed thousands of tobaccos on the website tobaccoreviews.com, so, I figured you would be a good person to ask this question. My mom was not very happy when she found out that I was smoking a pipe and told me that doing so could actually cause Herpes. Have you ever heard that?
Pipestud – No. But it can give you tongue bite if you don’t practice safe puffing.
Question– My girlfriend hates my pipe smoking because she says it gives me bad breath. Is this a problem for other pipe smokers? And if so, is there a solution to this problem?
Pipestud – Yes, it has been a problem for some pipe smokers and my advice has always been for them to dump their girlfriend and find another one who has Anosmia. Or, brush your teeth prior to kissing, whichever is easiest for you.
Question– I know this probably sounds crazy, but I try to make my pipe smoking as safe as possible for me. Is there a way to make pipe tobacco safer before smoking it?
Pipestud – Absolutely. I stick all of my full and sealed tins that I am going to smoke into an autoclave machine and run it for two minutes. That will eliminate any chance of you catching everything but the common cold.
Question– I want to try some of the tobaccos that are on your website but they are pretty expensive. Do you offer a money back guarantee if I don’t like something I buy from you and return it?
Pipestud – I’ll make you a deal. If your local grocery store accepts a return on the next can of beans you purchase and then return because you didn’t like the flavor, I’ll do the same with any tin of tobacco you try from my website. Deal? * Update on 6/22/19 – Crawfish time! – I recently learned that some grocery store chains actually will accept returns on certain items if the customer did not like the taste. So, I am officially and publicly withdrawing that offer. I don’t want to return $300 of one of my consignor’s money because the customer didn’t like the taste of his Balkan Sobranie 759!
Question– I’ve read on the Internet (especially on a couple of pipe forums that I’m a member of), that Latakia is actually smoked over piles of camel dung. Is that true?
Pipestud – I actually have gotten that question several times over the years and it’s a big bunch of poop. Latakia is actually smoked over piles of smoldering old car tires and that’s why it smells the way it does when you are smoking it.
Question– This might be a dumb question, but are there any tobacco blends that have beef or chicken in it?
Pipestud – You are right, that is a dumb question. In fact, one of the dumbest questions that I’ve ever heard.
Question– Just curious; if you couldn’t smoke pipe tobacco what would you smoke?
Pipestud – If you don’t mind, I don’t think I will answer your question because in some states my answer could get me arrested.
Question – A few days ago I purchased one of those limited edition Lord of the Rings tobaccos made by Greg Pease from your website. I got it today and thanks for the fast shipping but I have a question. In the tobacco description on the back of the tin it says that this tobacco was found in an oak barrel that had washed ashore from the sea. I was wondering if you think that maybe sea salt seeped into the barrel and if so, would that maybe make the tobacco not good for consumption?
Pipestud – Yes, sea salt did infiltrate the tobacco, and on the contrary, it made it better and that’s why those tins are so collectible. Whenever I purchase one, after opening the tin I also add a little Tabasco Sauce to spice up the contents a little. Please try that with your next bowlful and let me know how that worked out for you.
Stay tuned for a future blog post when I run down the Top-10 best pipe questions that I’ve ever received. People sure are funny critters.
First, you can blame Neill Archer Roan for the photo of me. Not only is Neill an accomplished professional photographer, many of you will remember him from his many years of running a very popular website called A Passion for Pipes. While his business career has blossomed to the point where he no longer has the time to run a website, he is a fixture at the Chicago Show every year and his book about the history of the famous Comoy’s Blue Riband pipes, titled simply – Comoy’s Blue Riband – not only is a very interesting and entertaining read, his color photographs of many of those old classic pipes made by the original Comoy’s factory over the decades made for some very fascinating reading and I highly recommend it. Copies can still be found on Amazon and elsewhere.
The 2019 Chicagoland Pipe Show was held again this year at the Pheasant Run Resort, which is actually in St. Charles, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. It is an expansive hotel resort with a golf course, workout facilities, several bars, restaurants and coffee shops, and the huge “Mega Center,” where the annual pipe show is held. At full capacity, the Mega Center can host over 300 vendor tables and there is still plenty of room to walk around and check out the literally thousands of pipes displayed as well as plenty of tobacco and other hobby accouterments. As is the case every year, I haunted the showroom floor literally for hours and still missed seeing several old friends who were in attendance. The presentation of 300 vendor tables and 3,000 – 4,000 people inside the Mega Center can truly be mind boggling for an old country boy like me. And I can’t count the times I encountered fellow hobbyists who were attending for the first time who told me that they were overwhelmed by the experience. For people like you and me, who love the pipes and tobaccos hobby, it’s heaven on earth and you may want to put the show on your bucket list if you’ve never attended.
I arrived at Pheasant Run last Friday, and as usual, was treated to genuine great hospitality by not only the hotel staff, but also by several Chicago Show volunteers who made sure my room was ready, that my dinner needs were taken care of and then gave me a rundown of some great pre-show sales going on in several of the rooms that were being hosted by various vendors. Really good deals can be made in those pre-show rooms and I admit that I consummated a few of those deals myself before heading off to dinner with a couple of friends of mine – high grade pipe collectors David Wrubel and Fred Berger – at a marvelous steakhouse in St. Charles. I ate a delicious thick and juicy prime rib while enjoying David and Fred’s company and decided that eating that steak while visiting with old friends was almost as fun as smoking a good pipe.
I made it to the Mega Center Saturday morning just a few minutes before the doors were opened at 10:00 AM, and it was like a calf scramble watching thousands of people trying to get onto the showroom floor at the same time. Once I finally made it inside, I wore myself out walking around and meeting and talking to long time friends in the hobby, vendors, and the best part, meeting so many of my customers that I had never had the pleasure of shaking hands with before.
I spent a lot of time in the monstrous 400 x 400 foot smoking tent visiting and smoking. It seems like almost every time I turned around someone was wanting me to try one of their tobaccos that they’d just picked up. After awhile, I’d smoked so much leaf that my palate was no longer able to tell me whether I was smoking a Latakia blend or an Aromatic! But hey, I was smoking, talking to a bunch of great folks, having a drink or two, etc, so life was good.
On Sunday, it was a replay of Saturday and I was there until the final whistle blew at 5:00 PM. Kudos to the vast number of volunteers who made the show exceptional for me and everyone else in attendance, and to the employees of the Pheasant Run Resort who were also very helpful and friendly. In fact, I had such respect for the efforts put on by the hotel staff that I even booked my same room for next year before leaving!
Before wrapping up, I want to make you all envious by telling you about a showing I was invited to attend on Sunday afternoon. A small herd of well known high grade pipe collectors hold a “show and tell” in a collector’s room each year (I was sworn to secrecy and can’t say who he was), and they lay out their Chicago Show acquisitions on a king size bed for everyone to see. Can you imagine what kind of wood was laying on that bed? I spent a couple of hours actually holding and admiring pipes made by the likes of S. Bang, Bo Nordh, Jeff Gracik, Ernie Markle, Teddy Knudsen, Castello, Dunhill, etc, etc, etc. They were some of the most amazing pipes I’ve ever personally seen and held and I’ve seen a lot of pipes over the years.
On Monday evening I flew back home and on the flight I fell asleep and dreamed about pipes and tobaccos until we landed three hours later at the Austin airport (about an hour and a half drive from my home in Robinson). I must have been one tired cowboy!
Before closing out this blog post, I thought you might like to see one of the great wonders of the world. It was made by Danish pipe maker Erik Nording many years ago and is the first thing that the patrons see when walking through the Mega Center doors into the Chicago Show arena. Nording made this “pipe statue” out of hundreds of smoking pipes. Now, that’s a work of art!
I absolutely love Internet pipe forums. I joined my first one back in 1999 with the old ASP forum (you are dating yourself if you remember that one), and have been going strong ever since. It is a great way to connect with fellow pipe and tobacco enthusiasts, especially if you live in an area where there is little opportunity to become a member of a local pipe club – the subject of a future blog – and be involved in something that is not only interesting to you as a hobbyist, but also allows you the opportunity to interact with like minded individuals and learn a lot about your own pipe smoking journey and ways to enhance it.
I am presently a member of six or seven forums and while I do not have the time to be a “regular” on most of them, I do try to be involved to some extent and always love the interaction with my fellow hobbyists. I participate mainly to get a feel for what pipe and tobacco collectors are focused on so that I can better serve their needs since I sell on both eBay and this private website. I learn a lot by being involved with the forums and over the years have figured out how to cull the silly stuff from the sincere. If you do decide to join a forum, you will encounter all kinds of people in the hobby and I find many of the members who do post to be fascinating. But, did you know that most of the people who join forums seldom post? I’ve spoken with administrators of many forums over the years and was shocked to discover that only 20%, of a forum’s membership, on average, ever post. It seems most members just enjoy reading what others are saying and have their own methods of sifting through the garbage while picking up meaningful information from those that they have either come to trust through buying or selling transactions, or, who they believe have solid reputations in the hobby.
While many forums have come and gone over the years, the ones that seem to stick around the longest are the ones that are moderated to the point where if some clown continues to post “thread killers,” he or she finally gets the boot. Nobody likes reading posts from people who are so miserable with their own lives that they feel the only way that they can justify themselves is to be negative and try to shoot down everyone else’s reputation or thoughts. What they don’t understand is that the majority of the members are rolling their eyes and thanking their lucky stars that those “trolls” are not actually members of their own pipe club… or worse, their own family!
For this blog, I have chosen not to name specific forums. But I certainly will offer kudos to the forums who have administrators who keep a firm hand on the posting to ensure that the majority of the fine folks who are in our hobby are not offended, or worse yet, leave because the resident troll has been left loose to run amok and kill just about any thread he/she decides to take over.
So, for whatever it is worth, outside of the majority of the normal people who are members of Internet forums, here are the kinds of people I have found to be most annoying – and sometimes, frankly, most amusing:
This is the guy who runs to every thread he can find on a forum that begins with a question. He has the perfect answer for every question asked and is wont to write long and boring responses that would quickly put an insomniac to sleep. And, of course, his answer is always right and anyone who disagrees is always wrong. My advice, don’t even waste your time challenging this guy. His reasoning may be – and usually is – so far out in left field that you won’t see it even with a pair of high powered binoculars.
THE KNOW IT ALL!
Similar to the genius, but this person will Google search just about any question asked on a forum and repeat just about anything he has read on the subject and claim it as his own. Most of these forum members are very specific about what their area of expertise is and get particularly puffed up when you praise them for their vast knowledge of pipes and tobaccos – never mind that they’ve been in the hobby for less than a year, have never been to a pipe club meeting or a pipe show, and wouldn’t know an S. Bang from a Dr. Grabow if you put one of each brand in front of them and asked them to tell you which was which.
One of the funniest movies that I have ever watched was Liar Liar, staring Jim Carrey. If I could wave a magic wand that made a habitual Internet pipe forum liar tell the truth for one day, I can assure you that I would lose a day’s work reading that person’s posts. Hey, they have the shield of anonymity and can make up anything they want. I’ll never forget a guy on one pipe and tobacco forum who started a thread on Veteran’s day supposedly to salute all veterans. He then went on to say that as a former Medal of Honor winner himself, he wanted all of us to know how important it is for Veterans to know that their service to our country was appreciated. He was certainly right about the latter, but as we later found out, the guy never spent a day of his life in the military. Another forum member had posted a link to an official government website that listed all Medal of Honor winners and asked the guy why his name wasn’t on the list. We never heard from that guy again. Go figure.
I think we’ve all met the showoff. You know, the guy who is constantly bragging about his pipe collection of 50 Bo Nordh pipes or 10,000 pounds of old Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco. I know members of several forums who truly help others enjoy the hobby by showing pictures of expensive pipes that they have purchased and perhaps giving us a little history about them. But, the true showoff can be spotted quickly. He’s the one who readily tells you how much he paid for a particular expensive pipe or expensive tin of old tobacco but adds no value to his supposed purchases. He just wants to, well, show off.
We’ve all met this guy. He’s the one who jumps into every thread to say something brilliantly funny whether what he is saying has anything to do with the subject of the thread or not. He just wants to show everyone how clever he is. The sad thing is that the only person he’s amusing is himself. Unfortunately, this guy is somewhat dangerous because he often sucks in another like minded individual and while the two of them are busy trying to out funny each other, what otherwise had been an informative and fun thread has been taken off topic and dies a quick death.
The Post Racer!
Those of you who enjoy being a member of a pipe & tobacco forum sure know the post racer. He posts at least once on every thread that has been started on the forum by other people. Because most forums keep a public track of post counts, the post racer wants to be at the top of the list and thinks that his high post count means he’ll get more respect. He never has anything positive to contribute but that doesn’t stop him. Example; someone starts a thread by asking for information about Castello pipes and how they smoke. Our post racer immediately jumps in and says, “I can’t answer that question because I’ve never owned or smoked a Castello pipe.” Gee, thanks for that insight!
Trolls actually amuse me. They are also very predictable. If you see someone with an out of the ordinary, off the wall avatar, and has a goofy handle (forum term for their name (i.e. my handle is Pipestud, and yes, that’s a little goofy), then that may be a troll. I think trolls are probably people who are living less than happy lives, have low self esteem and in some warped way, think that by attempting to put down someone else they are elevating themselves. If you are a member of a forum and have a troll after you, just ignore him. I’ve been on Internet P&T forums for a lot of years, and trust me, these trolls eventually get banned or just go away. That’s supposed to be a good thing, but honestly, forums are more fun to participate in when you keep at least one troll on board. It’s sort of like having a pet skunk that’s had it’s stink glands removed; harmless, and at times amusing.
This blog is not intended to be an authoritative presentation but I do want it to be informative and entertaining reading for you. I put it together solely to have some fun by doing a little digging to see if I could definitively find the answer to the questions posed by the title of this blog, and I believe that with a lot of help, I have been able to do just that. So, a special thanks to those mentioned in this article and others in the industry who did not want to be quoted, but who pointed me in the right direction when I hit bumps in the highway, so to speak. Lets start by taking a quick geography lesson together. Where the heck is Cyprus? It’s a very small island country in the Middle East (third largest country in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea – capitol city: Nicosia, and sixty miles west of Syria and thirty miles south of Turkey). As you can see by the red arrow on the map, Cyprus is not a large country and almost swallowed up by many of its Middle Eastern neighbors. Cyprus has one of the warmest climates and warmest winters in the Mediterranean part of the European Union. The average annual temperature on the coast is around 75 degrees during the day and 57 degrees at night. Generally, the warm temperature season lasts about eight months. For the leaf and woods used for their precious Cyprian Latakia production, the agriculturally productive soils were vertisols located in the Mesaoria Plain and along the southeastern coastline of northern Cyprus. I purposely used the word “were” instead of “are,” because it has been many years since Cyprus farmers grew and harvested leaves from plants that are extremely close cousins to what we call Smyrna. Without getting too technical, the Smyrna varietals used for making Cyprian Latakia were similar to Xanthi-Yaka (which is a basma type), and Yenidje.
Latakia is not a unique type of tobacco like Virginia or Burley for example, but rather the name of the leaf after it has been fumigated (smoke cured). Starting with the Smyrna varietal grown in Cyprus, it was first harvested, and sun dried, before being loaded into smoking barns. They were then smoked, in a manner very similar to Dark Fire Cured Leaf, although more aromatic smoking woods were used. These woods, also located in Cyprus are called ‘Pistacia lentiscus,’ also known as Mastic trees that look somewhat like miniature Evergreen trees to me (see photo at left), and also produce a resin that is used in spices. Research also tells us that a small percentage of Myrtle, Cypress & Stone Pine, are other woods that are sometimes added to the Mastic in small amounts during the fumigating process. In any event, the wood gives the leaf a very unique smoky floral flavor, which has been noted to have uniquely smooth smoking properties, despite its bold aroma. The final preparation is exported in bales, allowing the blenders around the world to finish the product by cutting the leaf to their own specifications such as the broad cut style shown here.
A major reason for concern about the continuing availability of Cyprian Latakia in the future is the political instability of the region and this must be taken into consideration when trying to understand why Cyprian Latakia remains difficult to grow and cultivate and whether or not it will continue to be produced. Below is a bit of very interesting information that I cut/pasted from the official Lobby for Cyprus website, which better explains this little republic’s current instability –
“In 1974 the military junta then ruling Greece carried out a short-lived coup to overthrow the democratically elected government of Cyprus. On 20 July 1974, Turkey, using the coup as a pretext, launched a massive military invasion, purportedly to restore constitutional order. Despite the collapse of the coup, restoration of the legitimate government of Cyprus, and a ceasefire agreement, Turkey launched a second invasion on 14 August 1974. Turkey seized 36.2 percent of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus and it maintains an illegal military occupation in the northern areas of the island to this day. In its invasions, Turkey conducted mass systematic human rights abuses against the Greek Cypriots, ethnically cleansing them from their ancestral lands.Human rights violations have been and continue to be directed against Greek Cypriots because of their ethnicity, religion and language. Such discrimination is explicitly prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights (article 14) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (article 21). The Commission has found that the acts violating the Convention were exclusively directed against members of the Greek Cypriot community. Turkey has failed to secure the rights and freedoms set forth in these articles without discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, race and religion as required by article 14 of the Convention…”For further reading here is the Lobby for Cyprus website link: https://www.lobbyforcyprus.org/invasionandoccupation.aspx
Does the above instill confidence in any of us that Cyprian Latakia production is in a “no worries” we’re safe mode for many years to come? It sure doesn’t bring comfort to me. And to further blur the picture, the Bee Trading Tobacco Company in Cyprus, the world’s sole producer of Cyprian Latakia, has its production facility located in Cyprus and its headquarters are located in Turkey! I readily admit that while doing the research for this blog, I quickly determined that trying get to the bottom of that little piece of information was above my pay grade, so I moved on.
More on Bee Trading Tobacco Company – While compiling information for this blog, I went to the Bee Trading Tobacco website and was fascinated by what I saw and read regarding their selling of the completed Cyprian Latakia product. As you can see, they sell their Latakia in three different grades. The photos (taken from the their website and shown here), are the three grades of finished product that they sell; their Cyprus Fine Scrap Tobacco, Cyprus Scrap Tobacco and then their most valuable, the Cyprus Leaf Tobacco. Obviously, the whole leaf is what blenders covet and all of the whole leaf latakia that the Bee Trading Tobacco Company is currently processing for the first time in many years (more on that in a moment), has been back ordered. Here is the direct link to their website: http://www.beetradingtobacco.com/
In perusing the various Internet Pipe Forums where I did some key wording to see what came up regarding interest in the Cyprian Latakia situation, I found this gem from a forum’s member who took the initiative to email the Bee Trading Tobacco Company to inquire about the current availability of their stock of Cyprian Latakia. Here is the response that gentleman received –
Thanks for interest in our tobaccos. Tobacco grades are late 2018, very fresh. Currently in stock we don”t have Cyprus Latakia Leaf Tobacco, we currently only have 20,000 Kg of Cyprus Latakia Fine Scrap tobacco, from same leaf but in small pieces. New bales within end of year. But leaf type stocks out early with pre-orders.
Interesting, no? And I have included that tidbit because I have information that supports that email and we’ll get to it in a moment.
Time to Slay the Dragon! – As you can well imagine, there are all sorts of speculations and rumors abounding regarding the present state of Cyprian Latakia. Is it still being produced? If not, when will production resume? Is it still readily available? If not, when will it be available again? These are all great questions and I’ve asked all of them to a variety of people whose opinions I trust because they are not only honest people with great reputations, they are also the “troops on the ground,” and not just a peddler of pipe weed like me.
I recently visited with one of our hobby’s most well known personalities, Brian Levine. Brian was given the prestigious Doctor of Pipes Award at the Chicago Pipe Show a few years ago for his more than 25-years in the pipes and tobaccos industry. He has worked for several tobacco blending companies including two of the world’s largest, Mac Baren and Sutliff. He is currently the host of the weekly pipesmagazine.com radio show podcast and has been one of our hobby’s most vocal proponents for a very long time. I recently asked Brian about the state of Cyprian Latakia and whether it is or will be just a memory one day. His reply, “There is always that concern. I’ve been saying for years that quality pipe tobacco of all kinds will never be less expensive or more available than it is today. Packaging, new government regulations, higher taxes, smoking laws, etc., all combine to warrant stocking up on favorite blends now. Cyprian Latakia is a prime example; the availability has had big time gaps. Fortunately, we have blenders who are skilled and creative and always have compensated by making the best product they can with what is available to them.”
Despite what you may have read or heard elsewhere, Cyprian Latakia HAS NOT been produced for many years. My research did not turn up when the last year of production was, but a couple of the speculations from those who should have a good idea told me that it may have been as far back as 2004. All I do know is that it has been many years. To get as much specific information as I could, an obvious choice to interview was the dynamic duo of Mary & Mike McNiel. Their credentials and willingness to always “tell it like it is,” made them the perfect choice. As most of you know, that couple ran McClelland’s Tobacco Company for longer than the Israelite’s were wandering around in the wilderness with Moses. Their contributions to our hobby are well documented and appreciated. Mike absolutely agrees that it has been many years since true Cyprian Latakia was produced, and that is why we are seeing much lower production of famous latakia laden tobaccos from blenders like Samuel Gawith, Germain, and blending houses in the USA. According to Mike, blends that require less Cyprian Latakia are being made more regularly as the blenders are trying to ration what they have left until more Cyprian Latakia comes into their countries. As of right now, blenders around the world are sitting on, or near, empty! That comment sure perked up my ears. The obvious next question was, “when will we see more Cyprian Latakia exported to blenders in the USA and elsewhere?” Mike’s reply, “I’ve heard that we’ll be getting a new shipment sometime in the spring or summer.”
Now, let me say up front that the final portion of this blog is purely speculative because I cannot prove what I am about to say, but am reporting it to you because I trust and believe the individuals who gave me this information and I honestly think that it is more than a rumor. As a former broadcaster, I always follow Journalism 101’s sacred rule of making sure that I have at least two reliable sources telling me the same thing before going with a story. In this instance, I have three. The new Cyprian Latakia that will be exported into this country and around the world is not going to be quite the same as what it had been in the past. The processing will “reportedly” be the same, but the actual leaf to be used for the smoking process (fumigation), “reportedly” is, for the first time, not of Cyprian origin. Instead, the leaf has been sent to Cyprus from growers in Lebanon. Will that produce a different flavor? I have no idea. Lebanon is on the continent and about 164 miles away from Cyprus., The soil may be different and the Oriental varietals grown and the harvesting process is potentially different as well. I have no knowledge of whether either is different or the same and do not want to project the thought that I do.
Finally – and the most important question – will Cyprian Latakia now make a comeback with regular production and distribution? That is an extremely difficult question to answer for many reasons, so, I think I’ll take a pass, thank you. All I do know is that Cyprian Latakia ain’t dead yet, and that is indeed great news for all of us… at least today!
I think all of us who enjoy smoking Latakia, whether on a daily basis or irregularly, are rightfully concerned about the state of Cyprian Latakia tobaccos now that the Syrian version has been long gone. I often get asked why can’t Latakia just be grown by someone in the United States so that we don’t have to worry about its availability in the future? Actually, that is a good question and deserves a good answer. I’m not sure that my answer is a good one, but I did do quite a bit of investigating recently and hope that my information here is fairly accurate.
Syrian Latakia was indeed a wonderful leaf that was grown only in the northern part of Syria where the soil was moderately deep and most importantly, rich with minerals that enabled the Shekk-el-bint plant (see photo), to produce thick and firm leaves that took readily to being sun dried and then smoked over fires that were made with woods from the area (as well as some local herbs), which clung readily to the Shekk-el-bint plant leaves, which were ten to twelve inches in length and quite narrow. Each plant had from fifteen to twenty leaves and once processed, retained a smoky aroma and the distinctive “salty and sweet leather” like flavors and stout bottom that Syrian Latakia fans have appreciated for many, many decades. At harvest time, the plant was cut and the leaves, plus the flowers (called by McClelland’s, “Rose of Latakia”), were spread out on the ground to dry in the sun, then were taken to storehouses where they were smoked for a period of 13-15 weeks with the area woods and herbs. The finished product never was high in nicotine but certainly had more Vitamin N than its Cyprian cousin due to the fact that the leaf had thicker veins which holds the nicotine. There is nowhere in the USA where the combination of deep, dry and mineral rich soils combine with long hot days and cool nights that helped to make the Shekk-el-bint plant thrive. It has been tried but was always a miserable failure.
Why is Syrian Latakia no longer being made in Syria? Back in the 1960’s the Syrian government severely restricted the production of Syrian Latakia due to environmental concerns that had great impact on a lot of other areas of Syria’s agriculture. Thousands of acres of woods were harvested and burned to make Syrian Latakia and the value vs. return was small compared to other agricultural endeavors. The growers and harvesters could not make enough money to continue production of tiny amounts annually, so they finally just quit. So, the Syrian Latakia shortage began well before the current war and failed economy. And with the unrest in the area getting worse instead of better, growing the Shekk-el –bint plant again and harvesting and processing it is about the last thing on the mind of the Syrian government at present time.
Why can’t blenders simply substitute Cyprian Latakia for the Syrian version? Well, actually they can and do; but only with specific blends where the difference does not greatly alter the presentation. Well known blenders like G.L. Pease, Mike McNiel, Russ Ouellette and others will readily tell you that the difference between Cyprian and Syrian tobacco is quite noticeable when combined with other leaf used in particular blends. The most noticeable difference is the fact that Syrian Latakia was so much more pronounced in its presentation, even when applied gently, and that using enough Cyprian Latakia in a blend to make up for the difference causes a bittersweet taste that does not benefit the presentation of most blends, and in fact, overwhelms them.
Is Cyprian Latakia in danger of going out of production? The short answer, unfortunately, is yes. In fact, there are reports out right now indicating that what we are now receiving from Cyprus is not the same Cyprian Latakia – for a variety of reasons – that was processed and exported even just a few years ago. I’ll cover the latest news that I have discovered regarding Cyprian Latakia, and whether it is also going the way of the Dodo bird in a future blog. I will say this for now; if you enjoy Latakia in your smokes, please make sure you are putting some in your cellar!
Not often, fortunately, but on rare occasions, I get tins from consignors delivered to me that either I can’t sell due to problems with the tin, or, that have been returned because the buyer found a problem that I did not see. Such was the case not too long ago with an almost two decades old 100g tin of McClelland’s Dark Star (factory date stamped to 2000). As most of you know, Dark Star is a flake tobacco and in tins with some air rather than vacuum sealed it’s difficult to tell whether there’s an issue because all air filled tins of flake tobacco have some shake. One of the things I do is chart the weight of literally hundreds of different blends so that I can weigh them if I am suspicious. As an example, a solid 100g tin of Dark Star should weigh approximately 5.7 ounces. This dried out tin of Dark Star weighed 4.6 ounces.
Tins with dark outer wrap such as the Dark Star, cause additional problems because you can’t see the rust bleed through like you can with a light colored wrap. And with rust, that stuff is kind of like the chicken pox, once the rusting process begins it spreads fast!
With this bad tin of Dark Star, I could see the problem immediately when I took off the outer plastic lid. In this photo you will notice there is a crease along the inner seam that had opened. That’s where the air got in, dried out the tobacco and allowed the rusting process to begin which went on for years.
I then took a photo of the inner walls with the dried out tobacco chunks still inside. After dumping the very dry contents into a trash can I took another photo of the empty tin after removing a couple of pieces of the inner wall lining which was very brittle due to all the rust. Not a pretty sight!
I did debate whether to do this blog. After all, I don’t want my Dark Star tin sales to go into the tank, but thought it would be interesting to share.
I am often asked what the best way to store tinned tobacco is. There is no question in my mind but that storing your tobacco in a cool, dry and dark place is the best answer. A sealed tin will last for many decades that way. If you store your tobacco in your garage or another non climate controlled area, the temperature variations in most climates will eventually cause issues with many tins. Some people say they immediately transfer their tinned tobaccos to Mason Jars. I am not a proponent of that unless you plan on smoking all of the contents quickly. Each time you open a Mason Jar to get some tobacco out to smoke, there is a transference of air and the aging process is then retarded as the fermented gassy air leaves the jar. Additionally, when the new air enters the jar that is an opportunity for the contents to dry out further. If you are going to do the Mason Jar thing, use small jars unless you are planning on long term storage. And do leave them out of sunlight!
What I do when opening a tin of tobacco that I know I will smoke only infrequently, is to to get just enough out to fill my pipe and then transfer the remaining contents to a 4 oz Mason Jar, label it, and put it back in one of my Coleman Coolers for transfer back to my off-site climate controlled storage building. If I were not a seller of tobaccos, I’d do the same thing except put the Coleman Cooler in a cool, dry closet in my home.
For those of us who are more seasoned pipe smokers (okay, those of us who are old), this story is probably similar to one of your own. I’m talking about when you decide to pull out a pipe you have not smoked in months or years for no reason other than just to get reacquainted. I don’t get that urge very often because the only pipes that remain in my Lazy Susan racks are mostly the ones I enjoy smoking regularly. However, on occasion, for whatever reason, I may go a long period of time without smoking a particular chunk of briar even though I have no particular reason for not having removed it from reserve to active duty status. It just happens. I’ll get back to this thought in a moment.
After many years of having gone overboard with my PAD (Pipe Acquisition Disorder), I decided a decade or so ago to get a handle on my shameful disorder. So, I went through my collection and selected – after many hours of stressful pondering – what I felt like were my top 36 smoking pipes and put them in a couple of 18-hole Lazy Susan style racks (the photo to your left). I keep those racks in a glass enclosed case which is a part of my smoking cabinet where I keep all kinds of smoking related items. I then took the dozen or so pipes that I don’t smoke but are special to me for various reasons and put them away in a drawer in my shop. Over the years as I was pulling pipes out of my top-36 and replacing them with better smokers, I’d take the banished pipes and put them in a drawer, too. And now I’m up to three or four drawers full of banished pipes and have expanded my elite “smokers” to include a third Lazy Susan 18-hole pipe rack. Good Lord, how does one get rid of TAD? I think it’s incurable!
I admit that one of the pipes that I have always kept in the top 36 – okay, now the top 54 – is an old Duca Barla bent billiard that my wife gave to me as a Christmas gift back when we were dating over 20-years ago. Don’t tell her this but I tried smoking that pipe a dozen times over the years and each time I determined that Hell itself could not burn hotter. Whenever she sees that pipe, which thankfully isn’t often, she’ll ask how her pipe is doing. I always say, “smoking as good as it did the day you gave it to me, honey,” which I figure isn’t really a lie because it didn’t smoke “good” the first time I smoked it and it still doesn’t smoke “good.” That must mean the pipe still smokes “as good” as the day she gifted it to me, right?
Now, back to my original story; a couple of weeks ago as I was going through my pipe racks to select a pipe to smoke, I stopped swirling the Lazy Susans when I got dizzy and right in front of me was an early production Tonino Jacono – he’s a long-time Italian pipe maker and a darned good one to boot – that was the first handmade pipe I ever purchased way back in the 1980’s, although the exact year of purchase escapes me at the moment. This is a photo of that pipe, not a particularly well grained piece but the rustication along the shank attracted me to it as I loved the contrast and still do. I had not smoked that pipe in several years and am not sure why. It had always smoked well. So, I pulled it out of the rack, loaded up a bowl with a favorite tobacco and had a wonderful smoke as I sat on the back patio of my home while drinking a margarita and being thankful that I didn’t live in a cold weather climate. I had purchased that Jacono during my first career as a college and NFL radio sports broadcaster, and as I smoked, I thought back to all the road trips I took all over the country with that handsome Jacono as my companion. Back then the smoking laws were slim and none, and there were many times when, after broadcasting a college football or basketball game (I have a face perfectly made for radio), I would go back to my hotel room, sit down and light up that pipe as I wound down. What a great old friend! And I felt terrible for having neglected it for so long.
In the two weeks since rediscovering the outstanding smoking characteristics of that old Jacono, I’ve smoked it almost every day and will probably do so again for another couple of weeks before slowly easing off the peddle. After all, my Jacono is getting on in years and may need more rest than it used to. Kind of like me.
Even though I have now been smoking a pipe for 49-years – I started when I was 17, and I’ll let you do the math on how old I now am – I can still vividly recall the first time I smoked a pipe. I was a junior in high school and worked part-time as a disc jockey for a local radio/TV station in Waco, Texas. The news anchor was a grizzled old veteran named Bill Herring and he smoked a pipe. The only time that pipe was out of his mouth was when he was anchoring the TV newscasts – yes, we could smoke freely just about anywhere we wanted to back in those good old days. Bill always smoked Stanwell pipes filled with Borkum Riff Whiskey. Everywhere he went Bill left a trail of the most wonderful smelling smoky odor. He looked very distinguished in his suit while puffing on that wonderful smelling pipe every time he came into the radio broadcast booth to deliver the news to my listening audience. One day, I decided that I wanted to be like Bill and smoke a pipe so that I could look grown up, smart and distinguished too.
One evening in between spinning those old 78’s (I bet a lot of you don’t even know what that means), I cautiously approached Bill as he was preparing for a newscast at his desk in the newsroom. I began the conversation by telling him how much I enjoyed smelling his pipe and that I was thinking about taking up pipe smoking myself. Bill stopped hammering away on his old Smith-Corona, took a couple of slow puffs, smiled, and said, “Boy, I think you’ve made a wise decision.” To shorten a long story, just a few days later Bill took me to Waco’s only mall where our town’s only pipe shop – The Humidor – was located. I was fascinated from the moment I walked into the shop. The smell of the place was heavenly, and behind the counter on a peg board hung about a kazillion pipes of all shapes and sizes. On a shelf under the peg board was a long line of glass humidors filled with various blends, and under the glass counter in front of the owner were more pipes being displayed as well as various lighters, tampers, etc. It all looked so cool – I was hooked! The owner of the establishment, dressed smartly in a tweed jacket and bow tie, joined Bill and I as we looked over the pipes on the wall. After about 20-minutes I chose a Danish looking sandblasted bent Dublin pipe with smooth side panels; a Stanwell second called a Danish Sovereign. The $12.00 price tag on that pipe stretched my wallet but hey, I wanted that pipe in my mouth! So I gave the pipe to the shop owner to set aside for me and then began the hunt for the perfect tobacco.
Bill and I walked over to another wall filled with display shelves of tobacco tins. It was a whole new world to me. Mac Baren, Dunhill, Balkan Sobranie, and many others – probably all now long discontinued. Bill said that most of those blends carried hefty price tags – some as much as $3 dollars! So, he advised that we look at the pouches of blends that were in another area. As we looked over the huge variety I spotted a large box that had the same Borkum Riff Whiskey pouches that my friend always had sitting on his desk back at the radio/TV station. “I want to get a pouch of that Borkum Riff Whiskey,” I firmly stated. “I love the way it smells.” Bill smiled and said that it tasted as good as it smelled and that it was the only tobacco he smoked. So, I added .89 cents to my tab by getting a pouch.
Before leaving the shop and heading back over to the station, Bill got me some pipe cleaners and a tamper to go along with my prized new pipe and tobacco and off we went. Once we got back to the station and at Bill’s desk in the newsroom, he showed me how to load my new pipe and how to tamp once the pipe got lit. We both used matches – I wasn’t about to pay the kind of money the pipe shop wanted for the lighters they had – and I stood by his desk, feeling quite grown up and manly as I took my first few puffs. I thanked Bill and then strolled back out to my car with pipe in mouth, hoping that I was projecting the perfect image of a pipe smoker to anyone who might be looking.
My bedroom at my parents house was actually a stand alone on the other side of our garage. So, I knew that I could smoke out there with no issues. My father didn’t smoke but my mother smoked cigarettes and I felt pretty secure in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get much grief once I told them I was smoking a pipe, but didn’t want to take any chances of them seeing me smoking it right off the bat. I got into my bedroom and lit up again… and again and again and again. Man, keeping a pipe lit was not easy! So, I just puffed harder and faster trying to keep the thing going. I bet I used up a whole book of matches on that first bowl. I actually did enjoy the taste at first, but after awhile with all that puffing, all I could taste was hot smoky air. I smoked that bowl of Borkum Riff Whiskey all the way to the bottom as I was determined to smoke every shard of tobacco.
I smoked two more bowls before dinner and another one right before going to bed. I was still using a ton of matches, packing the bowl too tightly, no doubt, but I sure was having fun being a pipe smoker – until the next morning. I woke up feeling something weird and painful in my mouth and on my tongue. I could hardly talk and when I brushed my teeth with my Gleem toothpaste there was a burning sensation in my mouth that was almost intolerable. Hell itself could not have been hotter!
I have a saying, pipe smokers are born, not made. A born pipe smoker keeps at it until he/she learns proper smoking techniques through trial and error. Back in the 1970’s there was no internet. The only way I could get smoking tips was by ordering an Iwan Ries Catalog that had helpful tips in it. I didn’t smoke my pipe much at first, mainly because I had my tongue in a sling, but once I began the learning process, I decided two things. First, I really liked smoking a pipe and second, that pipe smokers must not have asbestos tongues after all.