Should I cellar this pipe tobacco?

Here is the situation: You are already convinced that cellaring tobacco is a great idea, whether it is for the purpose of aging it or just ensuring you’ll have some on hand for a raining day.

But you have a blend and are not sure whether it is a suitable candidate for aging. Lets use GLPease’s recent “Sextant” as an example because I saw this question come up on the Tamp and Puff forums.

The member was questioning whether Sextant is a good candidate for cellaring being it has the addition of rum.

A Storm Cellar

No need for an underground bunker to age your tobacco, a cool dark closet or cupboard works great.

My advice is cellar it. In fact, that’s always my advice. When you buy a tin, buy a second and cellar it. Always purchase double what you need and set aside half for a rainy day.

What’s the worst that could happen? Assuming the tin remains intact the worst that could happen is you open the tobacco some day, taste it, and not like it. Maybe it has gone flat or muddled. The Latakia looses its punch. Its not as good as it was when it was new. That’s pretty much the worst that could happen.

My guess is that in most cases, if you pop a 20 year-old tin a couple decades from now you won’t be at all disappointed provided you manage your expectations. There are endless variable surrounding a few general rules. Tobaccos like Virginias are improved by age where Latakia will lose some of its character. Burley lacks sugar so it sort of just gets old rather than improves. Added flavorings may go stale.

When tobaccos are combined in a blend, just as each component of the recipe works synergistically with the other leafs to work magic on the flavor, different things may happen during the aging process with all the endless variables of a blend factoring in  the end result.

Remember too, that even if the other guy may not like the effect age has on a blend, it could be a vast improvement according to your tastes. This is why I recommend that when you try a blend and don’t like it, seal it up in a canning jar and return to it in the distant future.

Anything you like, or think you like, or wouldn’t want to have unavailable to you is worth setting aside for long-term storage.

Bottom line: No one is going to know what ten years of age does for a blend until they have aged it ten years or so. But it isn’t unreasonable to expect we might be paying at least twice what we are now for a tin of tobacco in ten years with taxes and inflation.

The only tobacco I won’t cellar are tobaccos I wouldn’t smoke now, and I’ve even made numerous exceptions to that rule too.

Back to making pipe smoking videos

It has been a long time since I posted last. Sorry about the lack of content this year. My hiatus is over and there is fresh content and lots of news coming up.

Over the weekend I made two new YouTube videos – one about short term storage and the ugly things that happen when you don’t store pipe tobacco with proper care. The other covers steps you can take to make repairs if you let some pipe tobacco go dry.

Tamping your way to better smokes

I received the following question on the Contact form from a fellow pipe smoker who is experiencing some problems.

…sometimes when smoking, the smoke I am drawing starts to get thinner and the flavor tastes ashy. I imagine that the ember is not igniting more tobacco than the ash on top. I have read other recommendations from people who say they gently stir up the top most layer of the ash and dump it out, leaving the ember and tobacco behind. Is this a standard practice? I try this, but I find I have to do it far too often or it doesn’t really remove the ash taste. I keep my pipe pretty clean, so i don’t think it is a dirty pipe causing this. Is there something I am doing wrong, am I not tamping properly, etc?

I believe what you are experiencing is a problem that tamping will solve right away. The only hitch is that tamping is something that is easy to do wrong. If you tamp too hard or too often you cause more problems. If you don’t tamp often enough you’ll leave the problem unsolved. Your timing needs to be right too. The time to tamp is right before you notice you need it.

Tampers are one of the most important tools a pipe smoker has, right up there with fire and pipe cleaners. (more…)

Four Questions: Filters, Pipe Thickness, Burping, and Updates

Here are four questions I have received recently.

Is it normal when starting to smoke pipe to constantly feel a burping sensation accompanied by a soreness in the chest? I’ve been a heavy cigarette smoker for 15 years and never had that.

As I always say, I don’t give medical advice, see a professional about that. Even when I just tell you about my personal experience, that should not be considered authoritative in any way.

First off, just because something is normal does not mean it should be welcome. Its normal to feel a burning sensation when you stick your hand in the fire–that doesn’t mean its okay to stick your hand in the fire.

In general, pipe smoking should not be painful or uncomfortable in any way. If it were, I wouldn’t do it. If it is, something is wrong. Let any kind of pain or discomfort be your cue to make changes. Pipe smoking should be enjoyable.

The burping sensation sounds vaguely like a possible reaction to nicotine, but that makes no sense if you have been desensitized to nicotine by cigarette smoking. My best guess about the soreness in your chest is you are inhaling the smoke. That may also explain the burping sensation. I do not know.

Pipe smoke need not be inhaled to enjoy it. I would even go as far as saying it is not intended to be inhaled. A few pipe smokers do inhale or partly inhale, but normally pipe smokers do not inhale, they puff. Save your lungs and enjoy your pipe – don’t inhale.

If I am looking for a pipe that will absorb moisture and help to burn cool do I want a pipe that has thick walls or thin walls?

I do not believe it matters that much. Briar does absorb moisture but not enough that the thickness of the walls will make a difference in how the pipe smokes.

The same is true for heat. Yes, briar does transfer heat but no matter how thick the walls are or how large or long the pipe is, you can still smoke the pipe too hot or wet.

Two things will impact the smoke a lot more in terms of moisture and heat: how you smoke the pipe and the pipe’s engineering.

When I say “engineering” I mean how the pipe is drilled and fitted. The diameter and shape of the chamber, the diameter of the airway and whether it is free from obstructions and interruptions go a long way towards how dry and cool the pipe smokes. There are too many variables to go into here but when the combination is right the pipe won’t smoke hot and won’t develop moisture in the stem like a pipe with internal flaws will.

Smoking cadence, how you fill the tobacco, and other factors surrounding the way you smoke also impact the quality of the smoke. Puff too fast and too hard and the pipe will burn hot even if its the size of a sledge hammer.

I suggest selecting a pipe by a maker you trust and then pick one that appeals to you for the way it looks.
Personally I like pipes with thicker walls but this preference has more to do with how it feels in my hand.

How do you feel about filtered pipes?

Many of the pipes I smoke regularly came fitted for filters but the first thing I did was take them out and discard them. I do not use filters in any of my pipes, I prefer the way the tobacco smoke and draw feels without them. I also insist on being able to run a pipe cleaner through the stem any time I like during the smoke.

How did I determine that I prefer not using a filter? I tried smoking with them and tried smoking without them. That is the best way to find out if you like them yourself.

A lot of pipe smokers swear by them–that’s why so many pipes are made to take them. Like so many other things with this hobby, it really comes down to personal preference.

I subscribed to the updates but I never receive any emails. Is something wrong?

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is I don’t spam your inbox with a lot of emails – you only receive a message from my site when I feel there’s something important or the site is updated.

The bad news is I don’t post that often these days. Hopefully that will change. I have some other projects which you will learn about here at some point that I spend time on. Hopefully the reviews and articles will begin arriving more frequently.

Great questions. I appreciate the opportunity to answer them. I also welcome other points of view. If you have another answer to any of the above questions please post it in the comments below.

Are all brands created equal?

Here is another question from Seth who basically asks “are some brands better than others?”
My question is there a brand that one should look out for that is better than the rest depending on what type one is looking for? Are all pipe tobacco brands created equal?
Yes and no. Taste, especially when it comes to tobacco, is a highly subjective thing. What tastes great to one pipe smoker is rubbish to the next.
I do believe some manufacturers of tobacco take more time and effort to obtain better leaf and have greater knowledge and resources to know what to do with it. There are blenders who are like artists (or even mad scientists) creating brilliant new blends. There are also foil bags and plastic buckets.
You’ll find smokers that enjoy either of these types of brands and often both. I used to love eating in great restaurants but often all that sounded good was a plate lunch or a fast food burger. I believe that’s how it is with pipe tobacco too.
So, to answer your question: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Its just like women. Not all tobaccos are born with equal quality of features but each is just as susceptible to being loved and appreciated once found by the right man.
What do you think? Please chime in on the comments below.

Does nicotine content effect flavor?

I try to answer every question and comment I receive and I’ve realized this writing actually cuts into the time I would or could spend adding fresh content to this blog. Another reason I don’t post as often is that I might be fresh out of ideas when I have the time to write.

This morning as I was reading this email from one of SPT’s readers it occurred to me I could answer these questions right here and solve a whole bunch of problems at once. Welcome to the first post of a new section of Questions and Answers.

I’m still trying to decide on whether to include names of people who contact me privately and figure just a first name can’t hurt. If you send me a question and want either less or more information specify such in your contact email.

Without further ado, here is a question from Seth to kick this off:

In one of your videos you did a review for a tobacco (i cant remember the name but it was in a yellow tin) it was a burley. You said it had a high nicotine content. I was always under the impression that the same amount of nicotine was in all tobacco (being an amateur and all.) So my question is does nicotine effect anything such as flavor?

First off, I would say nicotine does effect flavor, at least in a roundabout indirect way. In most cases its more a matter of correlation than causation. Let me explain: Tobaccos that have been processed in such a way that most of the nicotine is removed are also missing tobacco flavor. Those heavily processed industrial bulk blends your tobacconist wants you to smell come to mind. The tobacco in those have basically had the life (and nicotine) boiled out of them. They may not taste lighter and flatter because they don’t have nicotine, but they taste that way for the same reasons they don’t have nicotine.

The nicotine itself probably does have some sort of flavor all its own but not enough to perceive under normal pipe smoking conditions.

Effectively what all this means is yes, blends with more nicotine will taste different than ones without. And not, nicotine content is not consistent across all blends in the tin or varieties of the leaf right out of the ground.

I hope that answers your question. Everyone is encouraged to help out with the answers in the comments below.

Pipe Cleaners Bought in Bulk and the Zen of Pipe Maintenance

I receive nearly as many questions about cleaning pipes as I do about smoking them. New pipe smokers are anxious to try every new treatment, cleaning method, and tool they can get their hands on. Sometimes I wonder if they wait until their pipe gets dirty. What follows is the core of the best advice I can give on pipe maintenance.

The best way to clean a pipe is keep it clean. If you take steps to never allow it get foul you never need to un-foul it. I love simple concepts. The pipes I smoke the most need a really deep cleaning about once a month, and “deep” is a misnomer because what they need isn’t “deep” interior cleaning, its mostly external carbon buildup around the rim and cake in the bowl. (1)

I am nearly phobic about taking my pipes apart. Something about loose fittings frightens me. The reality here is that so long as you wait until the pipe returns to room temperature the mortise/tenon junction will remain snug for a lifetime of careful use. Reality isn’t for the eccentric or stubborn however, so I cling to my superstitions and continue to refrain from pulling my pipes apart except as part of their occasional deep cleaning.

After a month of never pulling it apart what do I find when I finally pull it apart? Am I splattered about the face and chest with tar and gunk? Am I greeted by foul odors? No on both counts. Sometimes there is a little ring of black pipe cleaner lint that’s been nestled in the mortise tenon gap (if there is one) or maybe even a touch of goo there. That’s about it.

Why so clean? Because I steam clean my pipes. How do I do that? I smoke them and frequently run a pipe cleaner through them while I smoke. I’m talking every couple minutes. Much of what’s produced by burning pipe tobacco is steam. This is where gurgling pipes come from. The steam condenses and turns to liquid.

My guess is that most pipe smokers keep puffing until there’s enough liquid to present an obvious problem such a gurgle or, even worse, a tasty mouthful of tobacco juice. Only then do they reach for the cleaner. If all goes really well, that never happens and they might run a cleaner after they’ve dumped the bowl. They may even wait until the weekly cleaning or later that day, or before the pipe appears in their rotation again.

The results of that routine are grossly negative. The steam transports most of the “goo particles” (technical term) into your mouth (as deliciously fragrant tobacco smoke) and then back out to the universe, but some of the concoction ends up along the interior lining of the pipe’s airway. When the steam contacts the interior surfaces of your pipe it turns to liquid. Now you have hot liquid infused with goo particles. Two things begin to happen: The liquid absorbs into the wood carrying some of the goo and vile stinkum (another technical term) with it and what’s left evaporates leaving goo behind to harden.

The clever pipe rotating cleaning ritualist sets the goo and stinkum-laden pipe down and must return days later with his alcohol, salt, cotton balls, brushes, sharp instruments, and retort to reverse this process.

I take the easy way out and use the steam to my advantage. By frequently running a pipe cleaner through my pipe while I am smoking – again, I’m talking every few minutes – I am removing all that crap before it has a chance to harden or soak into my briar. I enjoy a clean, dry smoke.

This is my golden rule of pipe cleaning: Everything that comes out on a pipe cleaner during the smoke never has to come out with a wire brush, alcohol or salt treatment, chisel, or with some sort of percolator contraption. (I don’t own one of those.) Adjust the frequency of your use of pipe cleaners accordingly.

Try this experiment: Fill a pipe, light it, have a couple puffs, and run a clean pipe cleaner through it. You are less than a minute into the smoke but look at the pipe cleaner. Still white as bleached linen? Feel the amount of moisture collected there with your fingers. Now smell your fingers. What you see, feel, and smell can no longer hurt your pipe.

Try another experiment: Take a clean piece of wood. Pour a little puddle of wood stain on one side, pour another similar sized puddle on the other side. Wipe the first side dry immediately. Set the piece of wood aside to “rest” a few hours or few days then come back and clean the residue from the second puddle. Which piece of the wood has more of the stain left behind?

This little regimen of mine is why I don’t have to rotate pipes. In fact, this is why I don’t want to rotate pipes! Not the way so many “experts” advise anyway.

Those of you who’ve followed my videos and blog and forum posts long enough will remember my experiment where I smoked the same pipe multiple times a day to disprove the silly notion that you must have a set of pipes to rotate through in order to avoid disaster.

Deep clean your pipes every week or every day if you like. Do as I do and there is no need. You too can be a pipe smoker instead of a pipe cleaner or pipe rotator or a pipe rester. You don’t need to refurbish your own pipes just maintain them.

Note 1: If I would use the old cotton t-shirt hanging at my smoking station after every smoke to wipe the pipe down I’d eliminate much of the problem with carbon buildup around the rim. I’m working on that.

Do I smoke in public?

This is a question one of the readers asked. He wanted to know if I smoke in public and asked if I had any tips for those who do. There was also the question of stigma and appearances.

Generally I do not smoke in public. This is not because I don’t want to be seen smoking or because there is nowhere I can smoke in public. Mainly it is a matter of logistics. I do not like to carry all the stuff with me. My favorite place to smoke is right here in front of my monitor.

I do have to admit that if there were smoking-friendly places such as coffee shops that allowed smoking it would be worth my effort to bring a pipe, lighter, cleaners, tobacco, and a tamper along. This amount of hassle would require an indoor location.

Smoking outdoors doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t like the wind – it doesn’t take much of a breeze to get in the way of lighting a pipe and, once lit, make the pipe burn dangerously hot. I’ve heard too many sad stories from pipe smokers forced to smoke only outdoors who were perplexed about the hole in the side of their pipe. “It didn’t seem that windy…”

Another reason I prefer smoking indoors is I like the aura of fragrant tobacco smoke wafting about my head. That’s half the pleasure. Being able to see the smoke as well as smell it is nice too. Wind just takes it away.

For those who must, here are the tips:

1. If you can get away with it get the pipe going indoors or at least where there is no wind. You want a nice even ember. If your flame is being driven this way and that by the wind an even light may be difficult.

2. Use a Zippo. Zippos are great for outdoor smoking. They light and stay lit easier.

3. Tamp often. This is a great tip for indoors too and shouldn’t be overlooked outdoors. This also keeps your ember manageable.

4. Develop the habit of holding your palm over the bowl of the pipe in such a way it still gets air but not direct wind. Don’t burn yourself!

5. Fill the pipe inside. No need to risk dumping a tin of tobacco all over the place.

Have any more tips? Leave them in the comments.


Some thoughts and tips on tamping – Video

I think a lot of problems people encounter with pipe smoking could be mitigated by improving their use of the tamper. While a lot of care needs to go into the proper filling and lighting of your pipe, that’s not where the attention stops. Keeping the tobacco properly tamped will lead to a more pleasant smoke and a lot less relights, but doing it wrong will make things worse.

What are your thoughts on tamping? How often would you say you tamp during the average smoke? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.