Monday, March 7, 2011

Tobacco Talk

Having jumped into pipe smoking with little or no prior knowledge or tutelage, it's been quite a series of trial-and-error empirical experiments. For the fellow novice, here's what I've learned so far:

* Using a lighter tastes nasty when you're sucking that butane flame down into the bowl. I'd rather taste the wood and phosphorus of boxed matchsticks, which my regular readers may recall I have a fetish for anyway.

* My pipe goes out. A lot. Between puffs, I sometimes fan the flame in the bowl by tapping my finger against the top of it. I also sometimes employ the same breathing tricks as I use for cigars, to gently blow air forward into it between puffs to help keep it lit. (I've read of people saying their pipe stays lit for an hour at a time. I don't see how that's possible unless they're using some giant pipe the size of a cereal bowl.)

* In general, I think I prefer the mellow soft sweetness of sugary "Cavendish" tobaccos like Captain Black so far. I do enjoy the more pungent Half & Half though, especially on these cold mornings when I take my outings in the woods with a thermos of coffee. Half & Half's bold heaviness seems especially suited for outdoor winter smoking.

* Sprinkling European Snuff in with the pipe tobacco makes for a nice added touch.

* I've only recently learned up on the concept of "Casing", which in pipe lingo means the "special sauce" added to give character to a blend. According to Mac Baren: "In older days, seamen had problems trying to keep their tobacco fresh on long sea voyages. They experimented with ways of keeping the tobacco moist as long as possible and found out that different types of sugar mixtures kept tobacco fresh for extended periods of time. Word of this soon made its way back to the tobacco masters and soon it became an integral element in the casing. It is not possible to put an exact date on when casing was first used and by whom, but it most certainly dates back hundreds of years."

* You know how you always see fictional characters depicted as having their pipe sticking out of their mouths all the time? I wouldn't advise it; It's hard on the teeth. Like Sherlock Holmes, I almost always keep one hand on it whilst gazing thoughtfully into the ineffable. And if I need to hold it solely by my mouth momentarily while doing something else with both hands, I let my lower lip and upper palate hold the pipe in place, rather than my teeth.

* Just as you want your cast iron cookware to develop a black carbonized coating, and just as a wok's gradual "seasoning" patina is desirable, so it goes for pipe smoking. Pipe smoking just gets better and better once a thick black "cake" of buildup has developed inside your bowl.

* Unlike my relatively expensive hobby of cigars, pipe tobacco is laughably cheap - even the high-class fancy brands. At these prices, you can experiment wildly. And when you're done with that cigar, save the butt, break it up and drop it in the old pipe.

- - JSH

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