So you’ve taken the plunge and decided to become a pipe smoker. You’ve read the how-to’s and watched some youtube videos on how to get started. You’ve picked up a briar or cob, some pipe tobacco to smoke, and a few of the necessary tools to get your pipe journey started. You know how to light a pipe, keep it going, and hopefully how to take care of your new passion. Now that you have a handle on the hobby and decided it’s for you, the question now is— where do you go next?
In all the information out there for beginning pipe smokers, there’s a lot of material on starting the journey, but once you get going, there’s very little guidance for what you should focus on next. There are so many different directions you can go, yet there really isn’t a guide on how to build up a collection or cellar to set yourself up for years to come. So consider this entry a kind of intermediate class on what I would recommend for a pipe smoker ready to move onto the next step in the hobby.
The Essential Extras
If you’ve bought the basics already, such as a pipe, some tobacco, and the pipe tool and pipe cleaners, then you’re set for everything you need for your entire pipe journey. Yet, there are three items that I consider valuable for every pipe smoker, but not exactly necessary for when you start. Now that you’re in the hobby and know this is for you, it’s time to add these in your personal arsenal to add to your overall experience. All three items are relatively inexpensive, and you’ll use them regularly in your pipe journey.
First we have the pipe ashtray, and yes, this is different from your standard ashtray. You can get by using a normal ashtray when starting out, but a pipe ashtray will come in handy as you smoke a pipe on a more regular basis.
There are many different combinations of pipe ashtrays, offering different uses to suit your needs. A normal pipe ashtray comes with one or two pipe rests to hold your pipes as you smoke, and a cork in the middle of the ashtray for you to tap out the dottle from your pipe once finished. I have a pipe ashtray made by Peterson that has the two rests and a cork, and it’s perfect for my evening smoking time. The two pipe rests are invaluable assets, and while I often don’t use the cork, it’s a nice addition. You might only need one rest, but I highly suggest making sure there’s at least one on whatever ashtray you buy. You won’t regret the investment, and for the most part, they’re reasonably priced.
If you plan on taking your pipes or tobacco with you while travelling, a pipe case is a must own. After putting the cash down for your first pipe, the last thing you want to do is have it break in your backpack or pocket when you want to enjoy an evening smoke. In addition, most pipe cases have space for tobacco, a Czech tool, and pipe cleaners, keeping everything together in one convenient location.
Most pipe retailers have a few modestly priced pipe cases for sale under $30, which is great for your tobacco budget. These cases usually hold about two pipes comfortably, and have a pouch for some bulk tobacco. If two pipes aren’t enough, you can find larger cases that hold more, but expect to pay an additional cost for the extra space.
There’s also an artisan market out there for the crafty types that make their own leather pipe cases on Etsy. These pipe cases are usually made with love, and offer a variety of different sizes and customization to fit your smoking style. While the prices for these cases are higher than your basic pipe cases on, say, smokingpipes.com, but you’re getting a nice case that’ll last you for the rest of your life.
Some of the more economically minded pipe smokers out there do create their own custom pipe cases, or will use a small utility bag to hold their pipes and tobacco. While it will save you some money, they don’t have a spot to secure your pipe in place, so use these at your own risk.
Finally, every pipe smoker should look into buying a pipe rack when starting out. Almost every pipe smoker owns at least one, if not a few, for where they keep their pipes and tobacco. Pipe racks come in many sizes, holding at least two pipes, but some going as far as holding thirty pipes or more. You might not think you need one when you own just one pipe, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you accumulate more pipes, ushering the need for a solid pipe rack.
Most pipe retailers sell pipe racks, but I suggest turning to ebay for finding a pipe rack. You can get a better deal buying one used, and there are a lot of great antique pipe racks that will serve you well after a quick cleaning. Some even come with old glass jar humidors to store a favorite bulk tobacco. If you do buy one with a glass humidor, give it a good cleaning and a look over to check that the seal works properly. The last thing you want to do is store some tobacco in there, only for it to dry out due to a poor seal.
There are two different kinds of pipe racks, ones that hold the pipe with the bowl sitting on the base of the rack, and others where you store them with the stem facing the base. While either will work just fine, I recommend buying ones that rest the pipe bowl at the base. As the pipe rests, any remaining tobacco residue will make its way downward on a pipe. You don’t want that residue going down into the stem, as it’ll make for a less enjoyable smoke the next time you use it.
A word of caution, there’s one minor issue with buying a pipe rack when starting out. When you store your pipe on it, you’ll see the extra spaces without any pipes on it, and have the desire to fill that rack out. This leads to the beginnings of the dreaded pipe mania known as PAD, or Pipe Acquisition Disorder. PAD can be a powerful force, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog entry, but let’s be honest— you’re planning on buying more pipes anyway, right? Well, once you fill out that rack, you’ll end up buying another pipe that won’t fit into the rack. Off to eBay you’ll go, and the cycle will begin once more, so be warned.
So you have your first pipe, and since you’re reading this, I can surmise that all went well with it. But if you’re sticking with pipe smoking, you’re going to want to buy a second pipe, and eventually a collection of them.
There are a lot of directions that you can go in now, and without guidance or a plan, it’s difficult to narrow exactly what to do. Allow me to offer some suggestions to help you fill out your pipe rack and avoid buyer’s remorse as much as possible.
Let’s remember some basic principles when searching for a new pipe. The first rule is, be wary of cheap new pipes. While there are some reliable brands that offer good pipes at a budget price, these are few and far between. A good rule of thumb is this— if you see a pipe that catches your interest, but haven’t heard of the brand before, do yourself a favor and do a quick internet search on them. More likely than not, there’s a pipe forum thread or social media discussion on the brand, and that’ll give you a good foundation on whether you should consider looking into them further.
Second, don’t buy pipes from Amazon. Just don’t. Support a pipe retailer instead. This isn’t an anti-Amazon rant, as I certainly use them regularly for many things. However, pipes aren’t exactly amazon’s specialty. You run the risk of running into a lemon more often than not with them. Besides, Jeff Bezos doesn’t exactly need your business, but I know of a few pipe websites that do.
Finally, be wary of pipes sold at functions that aren’t related to pipe smoking. You’ll sometimes find pipes sold at places such as Renaissance Faires and other gatherings. Some of these pipes can look quite appealing, and their prices are at that “too good to be true” range. I personally have purchased a Churchwarden at one, and after two times smoking it; the pipe now sits as a decoration, rather than a rotation pipe.
[On a side note, Churchwardens seem to fit into this category pretty often. If you see that Lord of the Rings style Churchwarden for sale at some sort of geeky function, BEWARE! You can’t even trust some pipe sites for Churchwardens, as they happen to sell a certain name brand Warden that rhymes with MacWeen, and you DON’T want to buy one of those. You’re much better off looking for one sold by a normal name brand pipe maker, like Stanwell or Savinelli. A good, budget Warden can be purchased by Missouri Meerschaum, and you’ll be much happier as a hillbilly hobbit over being a sad Renn Faire impulse buyer like I was.]
New Vs Estate Pipes
Now that we have those caveats out of the way, lets narrow our focus a bit more. Let’s start off with the very basic question of quality VS quantity. Do you want to build up a solid rotation of pipes quickly, or would you rather take your time and focus on higher quality pipes?
By now, I’m guessing you’ve dipped your toes in the social media pipe world and have seen the kind of pipes other pipers are smoking. Some of these pipe smokers have very nice looking briars, such as Castellos, Ardor, Dunhill, and countless Artisan made pipes. It’s easy to develop a bit of pipe envy when looking at them, but don’t go running to smokingpipes.com to see how much they are. You’ll need to be very patient, or have a large pipe budget if you want to add one of these beauties to your pipe rack. Even adding new, mid-ranged pipes like Peterson and Savinelli can set you back over $100 a pop for a single pipe.
Yet, if you’re willing to take the time to take the quality path and save up for new pipes, this isn’t exactly a bad way to go. After all, these are very nice pipes, and investing in one of these new briars will easily last you the rest of your life, to be passed down to a new piper when the time is right. You can always buy a cob or two to put in your rotation while you save up, as long as you don’t mind smoking a cob. You’ll just have to ignore the pictures of full pipe racks, and take pleasure in each hard earned new briar you acquire.
If you’re a less patient piper and want to fill that rack quickly, then you’ll want to take the quantity path. This isn’t a bad path, either, as there are ways to score some quality briars at a lower cost—but it’ll involve some legwork on your end. Before we go down that road, I’d like to once again suggest at looking into buying a few cobs. For the price of a new briar pipe, you can end up with a sizable collection of Missouri Meerschaum cobs that will handle anything you throw at them. Never ever underestimate the value of a solid cob.
Back to briars, you can find some great ones if you’re willing to look for them, but there’s a catch—these won’t be new pipes, but rather estate (used) pipes. There will be some people out there that might balk at smoking a pipe used by someone else, but don’t let that keep you from giving them a look. Some of my most treasured briars happen to be estates, so there’s treasure to be found in them thar auctions my lads.
It’s not that hard to find an assortment of estates available, all you need to do is open up eBay or check the various used pipe retailers on the web, or social media. This won’t be easy, as a small consequence for the resurgence of pipe smoking means there’s much more competition out there for each estate auction. Estate pipes can go for absurd prices at auction, so deals are fewer and farther between. Even a budget pipe from the likes of Kaywoodie can go for outrageous prices, due to the Kaywoodie collectors out there. But don’t lose heart, for those with eyes of a hawk and fingers of a cheetah can score the occasional steal.
I would advise not to start off looking for those pretty Dunhills and Castellos, and instead familiarize yourself with some of the other brands of the past. GBD, Jobey, BBB, Chacom, Comoy, Brigham, Parker, and Hardcastle are all worth looking up on eBay and searching through the current auctions. Heck, even “lesser” brands like Longchamp and Custombilt are worth looking up for a good deal. Sometimes, you can even find reasonable prices on estate Petersons, Savinelli, Stanwell, Nording, and others, but more often than not they tend to go for just under the current price of a new pipe.
It’s also useful to look up seconds for brands like Peterson or Savinelli, often called Irish or Italian Seconds. Stanwell has some seconds as well, going under names such as Royal Guard and others. A second is simply a pipe that doesn’t meet to the standards of being sold with the official brand stamp on them, as they have an imperfection to them in some way, but they’re still smokable and worth looking up. I have a second from both Stanwell and Sasieni, and I’d never sell either unless I was getting out of the hobby.
Estate pipe hunting can be a bit of a challenge. For one thing, the stock is always changing, and if you see a briar that you want and it sells, it might take years to find a similar pipe. Then you have the dreaded snipers and stalkers that will steal the pipe right under your nose just as you’re seconds away from winning. As someone who has lost plenty of auctions this way, it can be incredibly frustrating, and you might need to smoke your pipe while you cool off.
Another difficulty on estate hunting is figuring out if the pipe for sale is a lemon or not. If you see a pipe that catches your fancy, take a look at ALL of the pictures and study them in full. You’ll run into an occasional pipe that looks nice in the first picture, but subsequent pictures show cracks in the stem or fills on the bowl. Keep a sharp lookout for strange and out of place dark spots on the bowl, as that’s a sign that the pipe is heading towards burning out, and you don’t want to happen to your new purchase.
If you come across a pipe that had only one or two pictures that don’t show every spot of the briar, then I suggest either moving on or asking the seller for more pictures or information. Also, check to see the activity on the pipe. Has it been on sale for a long time without any bids? Does the pipe have a price that seems too good to be true? If so, I recommend giving that pipe a real close look over, as that might be a hint that this isn’t a pipe worth buying. Finally, if you see an estate briar pipe with an absurd price tag, then move along and ignore it. Some sellers out there think that anything old must be worth lots of money. No, that old BBB pipe isn’t worth $500, take off that extra zero and then we’ll talk. Take a good look at any measurements given for the pipe, too. I once bought a Wellington pipe that looked like a regular sized pipe in the pictures. Once it arrived, I found out to my dismay that it was a very small pocket pipe, which was of no use for me. I ended up using it as a prop for a badger stuffed animal that was made for me as a birthday gift. It works for him much more than it would for me.
Another tip— don’t let an extremely dirty or old pipe scare you away from buying it. These pipes tend to have less bids going for it, as most pipers don’t want to take the time to give it the cleaning it needs to make it smokable again. As long as there’s no fills or cracks, then you can bring that old pipe back out of retirement. Likewise, a chewed up stem with bite marks can be sent in for repairs where it can be made new again.
If you do choose to bid on an estate, then decide how much that pipe is worth to you and bid at that number. If you’re set on getting a deal and playing the auction game by only bidding just enough to be the highest bidder, then I hope you’re ready to camp out at that auction, otherwise you’ll be spending a good amount of time securing the highest bid until the action is over. For peace of mind, I go straight for my top bid and let it be. If I lose it, then it wasn’t meant for my rack. There are always more pipes in the sea, so you’ll catch the right one eventually.
The very first thing you’ll want to do when that estate pipe arrives is give it a good cleaning. Even if the pipe is listed as brand new, I’d suggest wiping the stem down with a little bit of everclear (or your cleaning alcohol of choice, except Isopropyl, don’t use that one) for sanitizing purposes. You don’t know where that pipe has been, so you’re better off staying on the safe side and making sure it’s clean. If the pipe looks like it’s in good condition, then I’d do a basic salt treatment, a quick wash of the briar with Murphy’s Wood Soap (making sure not to get any soap into the bowl of the pipe), run some alcohol dipped pipe cleaners through the stem and shank until clean, and end with polishing the briar and stem.
For reference, a salt treatment is when you pour table salt into the bowl of the pipe until full, and then saturating the salt with your alcohol of choice. Leave the pipe to rest with the salt overnight, and remove the salt the next day. This is to draw out any unwanted ghosting from the bowl, so the previous owner’s tobacco choice won’t interfere with whatever you choose to smoke (though some ghosts are harder to remove than others…).
If that new estate pipe is in rough shape and needs a deeper clean or repairing, then there are other steps you’ll need to take to get it in a better condition. One example of this is if your pipe has an oxidized stem. If that black stem is a sickly greenish tan, then you’re going to need to do more to bring it back to its original look. While I’ve done these deep cleanings before, I’d rather send you to a place that can give you the directions you’ll need, rather than try to regurgitate them here. YouTube, as always, has some great resource videos on there to help out with that, but I also suggest checking out Reborn Pipes’ blog on the subject. Reborn Pipes restores pipes on a daily basis, and goes into great detail in the methods he uses on bringing old briars back from the dead. Give him a read, and ask him any questions, should you run into any issues you’re not sure how to remedy.
Whether you choose to buy new or estate pipes to build your collection, use this opportunity to expand the variety of pipe shapes beyond your first pipe. There’s a plethora of wildly different shapes and sizes for pipes, and now that you’ve dipped your toes in, you’re more than ready to wade into the deep end. This is especially true if you started off with a simple straight billiard shape, as the billiard is the building block that many shapes are based off. Take what you’ve learned from your billiard and go into a direction that best suits what you like about that shape, or wish you could improve. Do you wish the billiard had a larger bowl? Then you might be interested in buying the Pot shape and its generous bowl size. Wish the length of the billiard was a tad longer? Well, the Canadian and its ilk are just what you’re looking for in a new pipe. Are you interested in trying flake tobacco? Then give the Dublin shape a try, with its longer and thinner bowl size, which is perfect for flakes.
If you want to expand beyond the billiard, bulldogs are a wildly popular shape with their unique bowls and diamond shaped shanks. Pokers have a look similar to a corncob pipe with their cylinder shaped bowls with a flat bottom, perfect for resting on a table without the need of a pipe rest. Apples and Authors both have rounder bowls, and feel right at home in the palm of your hand.
You can also use this opportunity to change things up and switch to a bent (or straight) pipe and see how you like it. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, as well as their ardent fans. You might even come away with preferring the other style after spending some time with them. My first two pipes were bent shapes, but as time has gone on, I’ve come to prefer the simplicity and ease of use of a straight pipe. That doesn’t mean I don’t dearly love my bents, but more often than not, I’ll reach for my straights.
Regardless of your choices, you’re starting on a fun adventure that will expand your pipe collection. It won’t always be easy, and you’re liable to run into a few duds along the way. This is to be expected, as you won’t know if your new pipe is a good one or not until you try it out. Even if the first smoke isn’t a successful one, don’t give up on the pipe just yet. Chances are, there’s a tobacco out there that will pair perfectly with that disappointing briar. In the first year I smoked a pipe, I bought a neat looking Savinelli Dublin that caught my fancy. Yet when I smoked my Boswell aromatics in it, I wasn’t all that impressed with my new purchase. It took smoking a flake tobacco in the Dublin to unlock its true potential, and I haven’t used anything else in it since. Pipes are like people in that sense. They can’t be good at everything, but give it time and care, and more often than not, you’ll find the pipe’s hidden talents.
Chances are, your first pipe tobacco experience was with an aromatic. Almost all of us started with them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you like smoking aromatic pipe tobacco, then don’t let anyone guilt you into feeling otherwise. Even if you choose to move on from aromatics, it’s always good to have a jar or two of them around for company or when smoking in public.
If you choose to stick with aromatic tobacco, then I suggest taking a look out there and decide what other blends you’d like to add into your rotation. If you started with a vanilla blend, then you might like to try a chocolate or berry aromatic. There are even tobaccos like Erinmore, which is a pineapple aromatic that leans more into being a Virginia blend.
The only aromatic I’d caution against is the infamous cherry blend. Ah, cherry blends, they are a mystery that has yet to be solved. We all want to like cherry blends, because after all, who doesn’t like cherries? Yet for some reason, cherry blends happen to bite pipe smokers like nothing else. I would do some research into a cherry tobacco before buying a tin, otherwise you might end up tossing what you have away in frustration (or to gift to an unsuspecting newbie).
But you’ve probably seen the wide variety of tobaccos out there, and you might be curious in expanding your tastes a bit. Don’t feel intimidated in trying something outside of your usual tastes, as you might find that you actually enjoy it. The only way to truly know what you like is to take that risk and go for it.
With new blends, unless you’re confident you’re going to like it, try to order in small quantities, either with one tin or one ounce in bulk. You can always order more if you like it, but if you try it and end up hating it, then you’re stuck with a bunch of tobacco that’s taking up space. If you do end up with a blend you don’t like, don’t throw it in the garbage! Keep it stored away, and come back to it in a few months or a year. Some tobacco needs a bit of age before it truly sings, and a few months in a mason jar should do it good. Also, you’ll find that your tastes in blends will change over time. That Virginia blend that you didn’t like last year might end up becoming your new favorite if you give it another shot.
If you want to branch out from aromatics, I highly suggest giving an English blend a try. English blends tend to be on the kinder side when it comes to nicotine, and the campfire aroma has a better chance at being accepted by non-smokers. Most English blends have Latakia tobacco in it, which gives the English blend that distinct campfire smell, or stink if you’re a Latakia hater. Your tolerance of Latakia will determine whether English tobaccos are for you. If you want to give them a try, check out Boswell’s Countryside for a milder English, or their Northwoods for a stronger version. If you want to try an English/Aromatic crossover blend, give Sutliff’s Eastfarthing a try. It has that classic pipe aroma with a good peppering of Latakia.
While not an official blend category like English and Virginia, Navy blends are a wonderful starting tobacco for aromatic fans. Navy blends get their name from the old days, where sailors would case their tobacco in rum to keep them fresh during long voyages. All Navy flakes have a rum casing to them, which makes them a pleasurable smoke for their sweet taste. MacBaren has a fantastic Navy Flake, as does Stokkebye, but GLP has some wonderful Navy blends, including Sextant, which is a Navy/English crossover blend.
Next up, we have Virginia blends. Virginia and VaPer (Virginia/Perique) blends are quite popular with more experienced smokers, due to their bright and citrusy/grassy taste. These aren’t the crowd-pleasing blends that will win over new pipe smokers, but for you the smoker, they will hit the spot if they appeal to you. If the blend happens to have Perique in it, then expect a peppery flavor added to your smoke. This might not appeal to everyone, but if you like spice, then you might end up with quite a few new favorites. If I had to pick one blend for beginners, I’d give Orlik Golden Sliced a look. Most pipe smokers tend to enjoy it, and there are a few variations that might interest you, depending on your tobacco preferences. C&D’s Manhattan Afternoon and Exhausted Rooster are favorites of mine, and I’d recommend giving them a look, too.
Burley blends give an earthy and smoky taste and aroma that pipe smokers love, but again, not so much for those around them. I’m a huge burley fan, but it took time to get there. The reason is that burley blends are not for the faint of heart and stomach due to their nicotine content. Puff carelessly with a burley blend in your pipe, and suddenly you’re trapped on a tilt awhirl of immense suffering. If you’re new to a burley blend and start feeling a bit off while smoking it, put that pipe down, grab some water and get to fresh air. Otherwise, your last meal might be making a return visit into your porcelain throne. If you want to give burleys a chance, then MacBaren’s Burley Flake is a pretty safe entry point. Try it after eating a good meal, trust me.
Codger blends aren’t the first tobaccos that come to mind when you’re searching for new tins online. After all, these are gas station blends that have been around for years, so why waste time on them? I’d argue that the fact that their longevity is proof that these are blends worth exploring. Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Lane’s Ready Rubbed, Amphora, and Half and Half are all classics, and it’s good to try them, if only to know what they’re like. Who knows, you might find that Prince Albert is your favorite tobacco. Just avoid Borkum Riff, as I’ve yet to find a pipe smoker that actually likes it, as well as RYO tobacco masquerading as pipe tobacco.
One final tip for buying new tobacco—consider buying a few bulk blends that only contain one kind of tobacco. Stokkebye sells single component tobaccos in bulk, such as Cavendish, Latakia, Perique, Virginias, etc. If you end up buying a blend that doesn’t seem all that special, you can always mix in one or two of your favorite components to give that bland blend an extra punch. That blend didn’t just grow together on a single tobacco leaf and placed in a tin. It took a tobacconist hundreds of hours to fine tune, messing with the percentages of components until it came out just right. You’re more than welcome to play around like a tobacconist mad scientist in your basement, tinkering with established blends until it’s the way you want it. I often mess around with my aromatics, adding Perique or Latakia to add some depth to the blend.
Pipe Tobacco Cuts
As you explore the world of pipe tobacco, you’re going to run into different cuts outside of the usual bulk ribbon cut. The ones you’ll most often encounter are flakes, broken flakes, cakes (or kakes), and plugs. Don’t let these different forms intimidate you from trying them, as each one is fairly simple to prepare for your pipe.
Flake tobacco comes in square tins, and appears as a flat, rectangular sheet of pressed tobacco. You have two options for smoking flake tobacco— fold and stuff or rubbed out. For the folding method, grab a flake of tobacco, fold the longer section in half, bend it so both ends are touching each other, and stuff it in the bowl. Narrower bowls can be a bit trickier with a whole flake, so you might want to tear part of it off before folding. While I don’t use the fold method often, in my experience you can get a longer smoke out of the flake. The rub method is pretty self-explanatory, just grab a flake and rub it in the palms of your hand to make it into a ribbon cut. Then fill up your pipe like normal and place the unused portion back into the tin. This is my preferred method for smoking flakes, as the tin lasts a bit longer.
A broken flake blend is exactly like it sounds. Most of the blend is already in a ribbon cut, with chunks of flakes mixed in for good measure. Admittedly, I’m not sure why blenders make this type, as it gives the tobacco an unfortunate personality disorder. Is it a flake? Is it a ribbon cut? That’s up to you to decide, just don’t tell the tobacco, or you’ll be paying for a therapist visit. Rub the tobacco out and smoke it, and don’t think too hard about these deep questions, or you’re liable to get a headache.
Cake/Kake tobacco has become one of my favorite blend types out there. The tobacco comes in a pressed brick of goodness, and can be prepared however you’d like. You can rip off a layer on the top and rub it out into a ribbon cut, which is my usual method for this type. If flakes are more your style, take a knife and cut off a slice, folding and stuffing it into your pipe. For those tobacco mad scientists out there, you can create your own cakes with a ribbon cut, but that’s an experiment you’ll need to do some research on for yourself. I’ve never tried it, but I’ll get around to it one of these days.
Want to feel like a real rugged tobacco smoker of old? Then pick up a tin of plug tobacco and have a go at it. A plug has the appearance of a solid block or brick of pressed tobacco, and unlike a kake, you’ll require a knife if you want to smoke it. Slice a flake from the plug, and then prepare how you want to smoke it. The same goes for rope tobacco, though you’ll be slicing the tobacco into coins rather than a flake. One bit of warning, plug and rope tobacco tend to be heavyweights in the nicotine department, so I’d caution newer smokers from starting out with them. If you do want to venture into the world of plugs, I’d say give either GLP’s Jack Knife Plug or War Horse Bar a look.
So now that you have all your options in front of you, where should you start? That choice is honestly up to you and your tastes. Start off by checking out what other pipe smokers are enjoying and make a list on your phone or computer. Ask around, too, as pipe smokers always enjoy sharing which blends they’re currently enjoying or recently discovered. Then, give tobaccoreviews.com a look and read up on what other pipe smokers think of the blend. The reviews on the site for each blend should paint an adequate picture of what to expect in the tobacco, and you can decide for yourself if you think it’s a blend worth picking up for your cellar. Remember, even if a blend has an overall four star review, it doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way. Always approach each new blend with caution until you can try it yourself, and then decide if you want to stock up on it.
Another Badger recommended tip— don’t worry about seeking out rare and hard to buy tobacco. You’ll hear some pipe smokers sing the praises of blends from Esoterica, McConnell, Samuel Gawith, and Rattray’s, but these blends are often out of stock. Unless you have a reliable way to acquire more of these tins, I’d suggest starting off with easier to find blends, so you can purchase more without any trouble if it ends up becoming a favorite.
Finding the right blends for you will take some time and trial and error. I’ve picked up blends that I end up passing along to others, while others have become daily favorites. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a few samples of each blend type and start experimenting for yourself. If you try an English blend and find you don’t like Latakia, move on to Virginias or VaPers. If you’re happy with aromatics and don’t want to try anything else, that’s perfectly fine, too. Don’t buy blends because they’re popular, buy them because they sound good to you.
Once you find blends you like, start adding additional tins or bulk tobacco of those blends as you search for new ones to try. That way, you can have some spare tins aging in your cellar as you work through each tin or jar. Now, some blends like aromatics will lose their potency if you store them too long, so try to keep your aromatics limited to what you plan on smoking soon. Otherwise, when you pop that new tin and smoke a bowl, you won’t be taken aback by the lack of flavor and aroma. Other blend types like Virginias will excel with age, so buying multiples of them will work in your favor.
Another reason to stock up on blends you know you like is that you never know how long a blend will stick around, or if the company making that blend will still be in business the next time you place an order. In recent years, we’ve had two major pipe tobacco manufacturers disappear from the market in McClelland and Dunhill. With Dunhill, we were lucky in the fact that their blends stuck around for a bit if you wanted to stock up, and Peterson ended up taking over their production. However, McClelland dropped out with little warning, and many of their blends disappeared within a day of the announcement that they were ceasing production. Unlike Dunhill, you won’t find reproductions of McClelland blends, which is a real shame. I was strapped for cash when the news hit, so I was out of luck and couldn’t buy any of my favorites before they were gone for good. We also have our “friends” in the FDA that have their eyes on our hobby from their dark and sinister lair, so who knows how long we have to enjoy the amount of pipe tobacco in the market before most of it disappears forever. Stay vigilant and proactive, and stock up when you can, and don’t be at the mercy of fate. I’d especially keep an eye on those aromatics, as they’ll most likely be the first to go.
Your pipe journey has only just begun, and the whole hobby is wide open for exploring. This is an exciting time, and with every discovery you make, the more you’ll learn and grow as a pipe smoker. Take it slow and enjoy the process, much like you would in smoking a pipe. With time, you’ll become a pipe expert as well, and be able to help others along the path of pipe smoking. If you ever have any questions or you’re in need of further recommendations, I’m always here as a trusty guide to help you find your footing.
Keep those pipes puffing, my friends, and keep steady on the path.