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Commentary: Beginner Pipe Blends

10 Apr 2014

Hopefully, after my previous discussion on the different types of tobacco pipes, you were inspired to go pick one up. Now you’re probably realizing you need some tobacco. Well, today I’m going to discuss different types of tobaccos and some good beginner blends.

A quick disclaimer: This article is going to paint in very broad strokes. There are tons of different tobacco “genres,” but I’m going to focus here on the Big Three. This is not to say that they have more merit than the others, or that there is something inherently more important about them. They are simply the most common. Also, the blends that I recommend will be from my personal experience and opinion. If you don’t like them, or if you have another idea, please feel free to discuss it in the comments. Just know I am not trying to say these are the “best” blends; what I am saying is they are good, beginner-friendly representations of the larger groups they come from.

Virginia Tobaccos — Virginias are some of the most common tobaccos. If a blend is not pure Virginia, then it likely has some Virginia leaf in it. What’s great about Virginias is they come in all different shades. Mainly, there are “bright” and “matured” varieties. The difference here is in color and flavor. Bright Virginias are yellows and light brown, and taste sweet, with notes of hay and citrus very common. Matured, dark Virginias have a higher nicotine content and a much richer flavor (full palate sweetness, dark earthiness). There are also reddish Virginias, which seem to be a good in-between. Virginias tend to come in the flake format, or broken flake, which is a bit harder to prepare to smoke, so I’d recommend watching some videos on that before you attempt it (this is a topic we will cover later). For a lighter blend, I’d heartily recommend Orlik’s Golden Sliced, which has great lemon and citrus notes. For a darker version, try H.H. Matured Virginia from MacBaren.

English Tobaccos — This definition is a constant topic of debate, but used colloquially English blends refer to blends which feature latakia. Latakia is a leaf similar to fire-cured (for more info, see my review of the A.J. Fernandez Spectre), and tastes smoky and spicy. These are great tobaccos, but I would recommend you start with a tin containing only a slight amount of lat, to make sure you like it. Luckily, there’s a fantastic series of pipe tobacco which is just that: McClelland’s Frog Morton. Specifically, I’d recommend either the titular “Frog Morton” or “Frog Morton Across the Pond.” Across the Pond is a bit more intense, but still shouldn’t scare anyone away.

Aromatics — Much like flavored cigars, these are blends with something added to them. These are the pipe tobaccos most people associate with their grandfathers (if you ever want to figure out what your grandfather smoked, I’d bet money it was Middleton’s Cherry, which you can still find at drugstores today). Some aromatics are very goopy. What I mean is there’s a lot of flavoring added and they smoke very wet. Also, aromatics tend to “ghost” briar pipes (they leave their flavor in the pipe itself). Due to this, I only smoke aromatics in a corn cob. My favorite aromatics are currently Drew Estate’s Central Park Stroll, which has chocolate and fruit notes, and MacBaren’s Honey & Chocolate, which is the most chocolatey blend I’ve ever tasted (the honey, however, I don’t get).

These should be very accessible blends that will help you get into pipe smoking. If you try any of these, or if you’d like to hear reviews of them, or if you have other suggestions, let me know. Next time I’ll cover packing a pipe and avoiding tongue burn.

-Joey J

photo credit: N/A

Commentary: Tools of the Trade for Pipe Smoking

26 Mar 2014

In my first article of this series on pipes, I tried to provide some reasons for the typical cigar smoker to consider smoking a pipe. Hopefully those were effective, and now you are looking for some advice on what you physically need to get into the pipe-smoking hobby. Well, look no further. Today we’ll discuss the three main materials that pipes are made of.

Tobacco Pipes

Pipes can range in price drastically, from $5 to over $1,000. They come in all different shapes and sizes, with tons of different designs. These differences do impact the smoke to some degree. The larger the bowl size, for instance, the easier you can pack certain tobaccos. If the stem of the pipe is long, this will cool the smoke as it goes from the lit tobacco to your mouth. The shape of the bowl itself can impact the taste, with some people preferring different shapes for different blends.

However, all of this is personal preference. The most important thing about the type of pipe you get will be how it looks and feels to you. If you have the option of going to a local tobacconist with a nice pipe selection, pick them up and find one that feels right. If you’ll be using an internet retailer, shop around a lot, look at all the different options, and find one you really like. Pipes will last a long, long time if you treat them right, so make sure you like the one you end up with.

This brings up our next point: whether you should buy a corn cob pipe, a briar pipe, or a meerschaum. There are some pros and cons to each. Corn cob pipes are the cheapest way to get into the hobby, and so that is probably the best option for someone who is unsure about pipe smoking. However, they also can give tobaccos a different flavoring (you taste the corn cob). Also, these pipes are normally filtered, have small bowls, and do not develop any sort of cake (the “breaking in” carbon build-up that occurs in briar pipes).

Briar is the most common type of pipe material, and you’ll find thousands of options in this format. This is the way that I personally started smoking pipes, but it is certainly more expensive than a corn cob. The biggest advantage to a briar pipe is that it builds cake. This is something we’ll discuss more in-depth in the future but, to put it simply, cake has three main functions: it keeps the pipe cooler as you smoke it, it keeps the pipe strong on the inside, and it develops a particular, unique flavor based on the types of tobacco you smoke in that pipe. For example, if you smoked all Virginia-based pipe tobaccos in a pipe, it would begin to taste like those tobaccos, and make the flavors in those tobaccos more intense. A good way to start smoking a briar pipe is to pick up a Dr. Grabow, which can be found pretty cheaply in most pharmacies and tobacconists.

Finally, there are meerschaum pipes. These pipes are carved out of a clay-like material, and normally feature very intricate, creative patterns. They can look like animals, people, dragon claws, etc. Meerschaum is all white, and as you smoke it the pipe will very slowly begin to develop a yellow-brown tinge, which does nothing to the flavor but looks really beautiful. I would not recommend a meer to a beginning smoker, as they are expensive and you need to watch to make sure you aren’t building cake in them, since it can break the pipe.

Whatever you choose, find a pipe that looks right to you. You probably want to stick with a corn cob or a briar pipe to start, and don’t feel pressured to spend a lot of money. Then, all you need is a “pipe tool” (anywhere that sells pipes should have these, they let you tamp down the tobacco in your bowl), a lighter, and some tobacco. Feel free to try any tobaccos that smell good, or that your friends like. In my next post, I’ll break down the different types of pipe tobaccos, and I’ll recommend some good beginner blends.

-Joey J

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Use It, Don’t Lose It

25 Mar 2014

With StogieGuys.com heading toward its eighth anniversary in May, now seems like a good time to take a few minutes to look at the amazing amount of material stored on the site and offer some tips on how you can take advantage of it.

stogieguyssquareFirst, check out the references across the top. There, our material is curated into categories to make it easily accessible and useful, whether you’re a raw beginner or a grizzled vet. Just below and to the right is a link to information about Stogie Guys, including our policies and short bios. The Reviews Archive is alphabetized, and there’s a separate list of our top-rated smokes, along with an explanation of our reviewing system.

Around the page you’ll see ads from our advertisers, sometimes with special Stogie Guys offers. Check them out. They help keep us going.

Down the side of the page, there are links to other segments, such as the incredible A-Z Guide to Bourbon and the extensive Cigar University.

And don’t forget that little search window in the upper right of the page. Type in a topic and you’ll likely find we’ve had something to say about it. Searching for some new sticks to try? Explore our Gold Star Smokes. Interested in exploring coffee to go with your smoke? As with many topics, you’ll likely be surprised at how much we’ve written on this.

We focus on cigars, writing about them from Latin American farms and factories to conventions and get-togethers—and everywhere in-between. We take a broad view of cigar enjoyment and try to enhance the experience in any way we can. Sometimes that means delving into regulations and legislation, sometimes it’s an interview with a local tobacconist. Sometimes it is simply reflecting on the joys of a fine cigar.

Our overriding goal is to make StogieGuys.com the best site we can. That includes careful archiving and assembling material for our readers.

To that end, we’re always interested in hearing from you. If there’s anything you’d like to see, just let us know. You can always leave a comment or, if you prefer, email one of us directly.

And stay tuned. You won’t want to miss our birthday celebration!

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Why I Smoke a Pipe

20 Mar 2014

Today I’m offering something a little different than StogieGuys.com’s normal content on cigars and spirits. This article will be the beginning of a new series, aimed at introducing cigar smokers to pipe smoking.

pipe

Pipe smoking is a rich, diverse hobby with tons of exciting things going on, but it can be a little intimidating to get into. So, as they appear over the next few weeks scattered amongst our regular content, these articles will help ease you into pipes by offering advice, answering questions, and discussing the “tools of the trade” of enjoying a tobacco pipe.

For this first post, though, I wanted something a little more informal. You might be wondering why you should even bother smoking a pipe. I mean, after all, cigars are so much easier—you just clip ’em and light ’em. Well, here are five reasons to consider pipes.

To start, you know that smoking a pipe is a hobby you’ll like. It’s not really taking a gamble. By reading this web magazine you’re obviously someone who likes to smoke tobacco. So while you may find you prefer cigars to pipes, there is pretty much zero chance you’ll strongly dislike pipes.

The second reason is that pipes can be much more cost-effective than cigars. There is a bit of an economic barrier of entry (you’ll need the pipe, of course, which can be pretty expensive). However, there are cheap and good pipes on the market, and once you have your stuff established, the actual tobacco is cheap. A 1.75 tin of pipe tobacco averages anywhere from about $5 to $15 in price, and that’s about 10 to 15 bowls worth (depending on how you pack, and the size of your pipe). One $10 cigar is hard to justify over 13 smokes from a $10 tin of the same quality.

Third, pipes can fill roles cigars cannot. I know a few people who frequent the shop I work at who won’t smoke flavored cigars, but they’ll smoke flavored pipe tobaccos. Also, a big advantage to consider here is that pipe smoking can be quick. A friend of mine packs a pipe when he goes to work and lights it for 10-minute intervals on his smoke breaks. If you do that with a cigar, the cold cigar would be bitter. Pipe tobacco, though, stays fresh between relights.

On the same note of filling unique roles, pipes offer different flavors than cigars. I smoke both, frequently, because there are tastes that are unique to each side of the tobacco industry. I have never found pipe tobacco that tasted like a Four Kicks, or an LFD Airbender. I’ve also never found cigars that taste like Sam Gawith’s Full Virginia Flake, or G.L. Pease’s Westminster.

My final reason is a bit more abstract. Pipe smoking is a more personal way to enjoy tobacco, in my opinion. Everything from the shape and size of your pipe, to the way you’ve aged your tobacco, to the types of tobacco you’ve previously smoked in your pipe, to how you decide to pack your bowl can impact the way your tobacco tastes. As an example, my boss, myself, and a friend were all sitting in the lounge the other day, each smoking the same tobacco. We decided to switch pipes with each other for a minute, and were shocked at how unique all three tasted.

Those are all my reasons, and hopefully I’ve convinced some of you to try something new. Next time, as I continue this series, I’ll be discussing different types of pipes, how to pick out your first pipe, and what you will need to effectively take care of, and clean, your pipes.

-Joey J

photo credit: Flickr

An Open Letter to the FDA

3 Mar 2014

Mr. Mitch Zeller
Director, Center for Tobacco Products
U.S. Food & Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Dear Mr. Zeller:

As the FDA considers adding cigars to its tobacco regulation portfolio, I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to help you better understand one small component of that industry: premium, hand-rolled cigars.

I confess, first, that I smoke premium cigars, usually one a day since I retired in 2005. I smoked cigarettes for decades before quitting 30 or so years ago. I’ve been smoking premium cigars for the past 10-12 years and can swear they’re nothing like cigarettes. I also write about cigars for a website, StogieGuys.com.

While I could go on nearly forever, I won’t. I know you are busy, so I will confine myself to just a handful of issues I fervently hope you’ll consider.

Don’t be misled. There’s virtually no legitimate scientific data dealing specifically with premium, hand-rolled cigars. Most of what you’ll see relating to cigars is heavily weighted toward machine-made cigars, which have no more in common with premium, hand-rolled cigars than do cigarettes. Premium, hand-rolled cigars consist only of tobacco (no paper, no additives); smokers of premium, hand-rolled cigars do not inhale; and those who smoke premium, hand-rolled cigars do so by choice, not any addiction. According to several surveys, those who smoke premium, hand-rolled cigars usually smoke only one or two a week, often fewer. Also, studies involving youth cigar smoking do not distinguish between premium, hand-rolled cigars and machine-made cigars. Premium, hand-rolled cigars are not aimed at under-age youth, are rarely, if ever, smoked by them, and are not readily available to them. It is, in short, not a problem.

Consider what you’re dealing with. The number of U.S. consumers who smoke premium, hand-rolled cigars is small. Very small. About 350-400 million premium, hand-rolled cigars are smoked annually in the U.S. Machine-made cigars, little cigars, and cigarillo sales are measured in the billions.

Don’t overestimate the problem. Certainly, smoking premium, hand-rolled cigars presents some health risk, as do many other activities. Everyone who smokes premium cigars knows that. And they freely choose to accept it—and can freely give it up. These days, virtually no one is in the presence of a cigar smoker unless they choose to be. Ask yourself when was the last time you were unwillingly around someone smoking a premium, hand-rolled cigar.

Take a first-hand look. I can’t urge you strongly enough to visit a couple of cigar shops and talk with the owners and patrons. This is important for several reasons, chief among them the belief among those who don’t patronize cigar shops that they are akin to opium dens or fancy clubs for oligarchs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most cigar shops are incredible mixing places where men and women of all social strata, political persuasions, races, and income levels gather, talk, relax, and engage in the kind of open, democratic atmosphere any American would applaud. I realize that pleasure derived from premium, hand-rolled cigars isn’t likely to be considered in the FDA’s decision. But no decision should be made in a vacuum. The D.C. area, where I lived for many years before retiring to Florida, is home to a broad array of great cigar shops, including several not far from your Silver Spring office. Drop in and I think you’ll be surprised. If you’d like a guide, I’m sure I can prevail upon my colleague, Patrick S, who lives in the area, to accompany you.

Others can address far better than I additional important issues related to premium, hand-rolled cigars, such as the potential economic impact in the U.S. and its Latin American trading partners, or the artisanal craft involved. But if I can provide any further information, please let me know. I’d welcome the opportunity.

My hope is that you and others in the FDA will recognize that premium, hand-rolled cigars should not be lumped together with other tobacco products and that you will exempt them from further regulation.

I am posting this as an open letter on StogieGuys.com but, since I’m pretty sure you won’t see it there, I am also mailing a copy to your office.

Thanks for your time and attention. I hope that, at the least, I’ve helped you think a bit more about this topic. And I hope you’ll guide your Center in making the correct decision.

Sincerely,

George Edmonson

Commentary: Gold Star Smokes (Part VIII)

27 Feb 2014

It’s been nine months since the StogieGuys.com team published a new list of Gold Star Smokes. As you might recall, this special designation celebrates cigars that we feel are worthy of strong recommendations. They don’t necessarily have to be five stogie-rated—just commendable smokes we turn to time and again.

Gold Star Smokes

Co-Founder & Editor in Chief Patrick A

The La Musa Μελέτη Lancero is pretty limited (only 200 boxes are made available annually) but it is highly worth seeking out. It is a Nicaraguan puro with dark chocolate pre-light notes that transition to flavors of nougat, bread, espresso, and leather. It’s a bold, fuller-bodied smoke with plenty of complexity and excellent combustion qualities. When I have it on hand, I often reach for it as an after-dinner accompaniment to a cup of coffee.

Co-Founder & Publisher Patrick S

Winter is when I like to turn to corona-sized cigars, and one of my very favorites is the Tatuaje Noella Reserva. This Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped Nicaraguan smoke is full of chocolate, coffee, and spice. I’ve smoked through multiple boxes and have always found them balanced and well-made. Plus it’s the type of cigar that goes equally well with a cup of coffee or your favorite spirit. It can be a bit hard to find but it’s certainly worth seeking out.

Tampa Bureau Chief George E

Get over your aversion to big ring-gauge cigars and enjoy this moderately priced Nicaraguan puro. I awarded La Gloria Cubana Serie R Estelí No. 54 four stogies in January and continue to enjoy them. The six-inch smoke is consistent, strong, and satisfying with the pepper and spice you expect from Nicaraguan tobacco. Coming from General Cigar, the brick-and-mortar-only offering is easy to find and, at about $6.50, easy on the wallet.

Contributor Joey J

My selection would definitely be the 262 Paradigm Lancero. This is a classic Lancero size (7 x 38) with a beautiful Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper. You’ll love the full flavor and creaminess of the smoke off of these sticks, and the medium nicotine strength means they can be enjoyed at almost any time of day. The Paradigm Lancero is my current go-to smoke, and it also reached #1 in sales in the shop I work at, so it’s clearly doing something right. Whether you’re a lancero fan like myself, or you’ve never tried them before, this cigar should immediately go on your short list of stogies to try.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: The CVS Tobacco Ban

11 Feb 2014

Last week CVS (NYSE: CVS) made big news when it announced they would no longer be selling tobacco products in their drug stores. The decision itself doesn’t have direct implications on premium handmade cigars, but it does raise some issues that should be of interest to all smokers.

CVS

First off, let’s recognize that this is a very significant decision for a corporation to make. The company sells $1.5 billion worth of tobacco every year (presumably with a healthy profit margin), which probably is why the stock dropped the day of the announcement. Any time a company eliminates over 1% of their total revenue (more when you look at total estimated revenue losses) with nothing to replace it, it’s a big deal.

This isn’t the first time a business has made a decision to go anti-tobacco, but I can’t think of another decision that cuts into the bottom line so obviously. Local bars and restaurants go smoke-free all the time before laws dictate they have to, so have national hotel chains and Starbucks, which now forbids smoking even in outdoor areas.

But none of those decisions so obviously impact the bottom line. Sure, I go to Caribou Coffee now instead of Starbucks when I want to sit outside and smoke a cigar with some coffee, but it’s not nearly as apparent to shareholders that my revenue is lost in the way that cigarette sales at CVS are now gone because, as the CVS CEO puts it, “We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting.”

First off, let’s recognize that businesses are free to make their own decisions, though a public company does have to answer to shareholders. There’s nothing inherently wrong about CVS deciding not to provide cigarettes in the same way that a government prohibition in allowing smoking smoking does infringe on the rights of a business owner to choose to provide a customer something he or she wants (in this case a place to smoke).

But let’s not glance over the hypocrisy either. CVS still sells plenty of products that contribute to the overall bad health of our society (even before you dig into the overuse of over-the-counter and prescription drugs). Potato chips, candy bars, and soda, not to mention beer and wine, all will presumably keep being sold at CVS.

Take a look at the obesity, diabetes, etc. that this country faces, and it’s clear that CVS has singled out one product among many unhealthy things. People are already noticing this hypocrisy, even if they don’t realize that it’s likely because anti-smoker discrimination is far more acceptable than other types of judgmental discrimination.

Still, perversely, if CVS’s move catches on, it could end up helping the independent cigar shops that often carry, though hardly emphasize, cigarettes. Until CVS’s competitors like other drug stores, grocery stores, and 7-11-style convenience stores take the same approach, it will just hurt CVS’s bottom line to the benefit of those who don’t go along. If it ever does catch on more widely, specialty tobacconists will be there to sell cigarettes to smokers, along with the premium tobacco products they currently focus on selling.

And that’s the beauty of the free market. Paternalistic types can bully businesses around, but as long as some businesses are free to cater to adults who choose to enjoy tobacco products, they only open up more opportunities for those who celebrate, or at least don’t moralize about, the freedom to choose to smoke.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Flickr