Today, as I was lighting my pipe, I experienced something that I haven’t for some time: A full and wonderful realization of all that pipe smoking can be. This may be a bit difficult to explain, but please allow me to try.
As I lit the pipe, hovering a match just over the surface of the tobacco, gently drawing in and moving the match back and forth, I marveled at the sight of those individual ribbons of tobacco twisting and turning as they caught, then slowly settling and beginning to glow a beautiful orange. As I tamped the surface oh-so-lightly, I was struck by the interesting thought that all of these individual ribbons were now transforming into something else, something new. That surface, a smoldering thin cake of tobacco which allowed me to savor the taste and aroma of a favorite tobacco, inexplicably drew my thoughts back to those times as a young boy when I would watch my great-grandfather puff at his pipe, seemingly without a care in the world. It seemed like a magic trick, the puffing and tamping, the creation of slowly swirling gossamer blue-gray smoke, the indescribably comforting aroma.
I realized as I slowly drew breath, watching the tobacco of my first light gently rise and fall in the intensity of its glow, that I was performing magic, all on my own. It was a transformative moment, a collision and temporary merging of the here and now with lucid and beloved memories of days gone by. In a way, it was as if I were somehow impossibly both sharing a smoke with my great-grandfather, as well as sharing a moment with that bright-eyed young boy that was me, who was so amazed by it all. Oh, the things I wish I could share with that old man, and with that young boy!
But just as quickly as it began, time snapped back into place like quicksilver, and I was left with my pipe and my thoughts of just how much I miss both of those people, and how dearly I love them. If not for that old man, I may not even be smoking this pipe now. And without this pipe, I may not find the time to remember that boy at all. And I’m so thankful for all three--the old man, that young boy, and the pipe that gifted me with such a cherished little glimpse back through the years…
Keep ‘em lit,
Like many of you, I've still been processing and coming to terms with the loss of our friend, John Harden, also known as Matches860 in the YouTube Pipe Community. Thinking about John got me to thinking about creating this list, for those who aren’t ready just yet to start freight-training Haunted Bookshop all day! These are good, lighter alternatives to what I think were John's “Big 3”: HB, OJK, & BNB.
My order of personal favorites of the Big 3:
I wouldn’t call any of these blends that I recommend here personal favorites, since my favorites tend to have a stand-out flavor or profile, such as Old Dark Fired or Chenet’s Cake. I just love blends that make more use of Dark Fired Kentucky and Perique. BUT, I keep circling back to these! They’re intriguing without trying to be rock stars.
To me, an “everyday blend” means a light to medium, typically burley-based blend. Maybe that’s unfair, but it’s what most of the old codger blends are, so perhaps there's something to that. I can see how these blends might be considered nondescript at first glance, but can become old friends over time. They leave you curious…you might find yourself wanting to coax out their secrets!
First, let's cover some Honorable Mentions I wanted to include that are just a bit too “mentionable” - They stand out a bit too much for the main recommendations list for an all-day type blend, in my opinion.
So without further ado, here's my main list of no-nonsense, "true tobacco" tasting, lighter alternatives to Haunted Bookshop, Old Joe Krantz or Big ’N’ Burley.
Well, there you have it! I hope you'll find a new favorite in this list, or perhaps you'll find that you're ready to tackle one of the Big 3 after all. Either way, I had fun coming up with this list of All-Day tobacco blends!
Keep 'em lit,
As many of you know, we lost one of the pipe community's greatest members last week: John Harden, better known as Matches860 on YouTube and other social media, passed away unexpectedly. He was just 64.
John was a gentleman, an ambassador for pipe smoking, and my treasured friend. I'm so glad I had the chance to write back and forth with him over these past 5 years or so, as well as mutually record Video Responses for one another on our respective YouTube channels, and even share a couple of livestreams together. But such are the times we live in, that I'll always regret I was never able to meet my dear friend in person.
If you didn't know John, you're in for quite the initiation! Just click the picture below to peruse his YouTube channel, and enjoy. The community loved his Friday Night Livestreams these past couple of years, but his tobacco reviews and story videos are a treasure trove that thankfully, we'll have for the foreseeable future.
Rest in peace, John...there is no replacing you!
Towards the end of each year and into the new year, I tend to reflect upon the tobaccos that I've smoked and enjoyed the most in the past 12 months. And since 2014, I've made a "Top Tobaccos" video for my YouTube channel. This goes back a couple of years before The Pipe Nook even existed, and it's always been a fun exercise. If you've never seen my YouTube channel, you can check it out here. But for now, let's get down to the list!
A few ground rules went into the creation of this list. First, it is based on my somewhat limited memory of the various tobaccos I smoked this past year. This old brain just ain't what it used to be. Next, it's not necessarily my "Top Pipe Tobaccos of All Time" list. While I still enjoy all of the tobaccos in the lists from previous years, some of my favorites didn't get smoked as much this year and don't appear on this list, for the simple fact that I smoked a good bit of new-to-me blends this year, and there's just not enough time to smoke 'em all as much as I'd like. Perhaps one day I'll have tried every blend out there and can settle into smoking primarily my very favorites...but I don't foresee that day coming any time soon! There are literally thousands of blends on the market, and while I try to carry a highly curated set of offerings here at The Pipe Nook, I just recently surpassed 100 blends that I try to keep available on the shop! So I've got my work cut for me to stay on top of what's out there.
Also of note is that all of these blends are available here at The Pipe Nook. That's not because I'm a corporate shill; it's because I sell the brands and blends that I enjoy the most. Of course, as a businessman, I'd like to sell a few tins...but quite honestly, I won't get rich selling tobacco! Single tins of tobacco are not a loss-leader...but close enough for a "small fry" shop such as mine. What I'm most interested in, just like many of you, is sharing the things that I gain the most enjoyment from, with like-minded people who enjoy pipe smoking as much as I do.
Finally, you'll see that this year's list leans very heavily towards blends that include either Perique or Dark Fired Kentucky (sometimes both), and towards flakes. Those are the blends that I gravitate towards the most. So this is neither an all-inclusive nor best selling list; it's simply a list of my favorite blends that I've smoked the most this past year. You'll see that there's nothing in the way of aromatics or English blends included (although I'll provide some special mentions). While I do enjoy those kinds of blends from time to time when I'm in the mood, I suppose I've just found my wheelhouse and primarily stick to that. In comparison, sometimes I really enjoy a good salad...but I'd rather have steak! Just my personal preference.
Honorable Mentions - Aromatics
Cornell & Diehl's Autumn Evening - This is a simple base blend of Virginia and Cavendish, to which is added a nice maple flavor. I'd say this is a medium aromatic, not an overly topped blend, which makes the base blend all that much more important.
GL Pease's The Virginia Cream - The name seemingly says it all, but there's more going on here than one might expect. Yes, a pleasant Vanilla & Bourbon flavor is present, but in addition to the "usual suspects" of Virginia and Black Cavendish found in most aromatic blends, Mr. Pease decided to add a bit of Dark Fired Kentucky and Perique to this blend, giving it a different spin than the vast majority of aromatics out there.
Honorable Mentions - Latakia Blends
Captain Earle's Reflections - If you like Latakia in smaller portions, or if you've never tried a Latakia blend and are looking to dip your toe in the shallow end of the pool, this is a great place to start. A mixture of various Virginias, Orientals, Cavendish, and Latakia, there's just enough of that smoky leaf to notice it's there, but it's never overbearing.
Captain Earle's Ten Russians - This is the other side of the Latakia spectrum. You wanna know what a heavy Latakia blend is like? Then welcome aboard! There are Virginias and Orientals present to provide a bit of balance, but there's no doubt who's running the show here.
MY TOP 10 TOBACCO BLENDS OF 2019
10. GL Pease's Penny Farthing - A fine shag cut, this blend isn't for everyone. Shag cut tobacco will burn more quickly than any other tobacco, much like pine straw burns more quickly in a campfire than twigs. As such, if you push it too hard, it will burn hot and not taste like much. However, if you can remember to sip slowly, there is much reward. Comprised of Virginia, Perique, and Dark Fired Kentucky, this blend proved to be right up my alley! And the different cut from the rest of my favorite blends made it all the more interesting. This is currently the only shag cut blend I carry at The Pipe Nook, and it was introduced in 2019.
9. Cornell & Diehl's Bluegrass - Another blend made of Virginia, Perique, and Dark Fired, this one is presented in a broken flake. Actually, I would say that it's somewhere in-between a ready rubbed and a broken flake, depending on the tin. Regardless, it's fairly easy to rub out into something that's fun to load into your pipe, and enjoy the robust flavors of these components.
8. Cornell & Diehl's Blue Ridge - A blend of Virginia, Black Cavendish, Orientals and Perique, this is a well balanced smoke that has a good bit of complexity. Presented in a fairly standard ribbon cut. The Perique doesn't steal the spotlight here. That's for another blend...
7. Cornell & Diehl's Chenet's Cake - Do you like Perique? Do you? Well, let's just find out how much. This blend will tell you, and fast! There's no denying Perique is front and center in this blend. Considered the truffle of the tobacco world, Perique in larger quantities can be musty to the nose, which it is here...but oddly, in a good way. It's hard to explain. I'm a big Perique fan, but any more than what's placed in this blend would be too much for me! Presented in a wonderful crumble cake that crumbles out easily into a short ribbon cut.
6. Captain Earle's Honor Blend - I know I gave honorable mentions to two Latakia blends from Captain Earle's already, but of the 8 blends in the line, this is my favorite. It is the only one of the 8 that doesn't contain any Latakia, but it is presented in the same crumble cake as all of the other Captain Earle's offerings. A mixture of Virginia, Orientals, Cavendish and Perique, this blend is similar to Blue Ridge, perhaps with a bit more of a pronounced taste from the Orientals, which to me provides a slight semblance of tartness, but your mileage may vary.
5. GL Pease's Navigator - Similar to C&D's Bluegrass, but without the Perique, this broken flake is a no-nonsense mixture of Virginia and Old Dark Fired, enhanced by a light Rum infusion that marries into the blend during the pressing and aging process. It's like a Navy Flake, but with Dark Fired taking the place of the Perique that's in a standard Navy treatment.
4. Peterson's Flake - This is a straightforward Virginia Flake made primarily of Medium-Bodied Brown Virginias. Peterson has revived this, as well as many other Dunhill blends. And good news: they all taste exactly the same as they did when the Dunhill name was on the tins! Providing an ever-so-slight sweetness with hay-like notes, this is one of the all-time great Virginia Flakes. If you're into straight Virginia tobaccos and haven't tried this flake, you've got some homework to do!
3. Peterson's University Flake - Another simple blend, this time with Burley and Virginia. While I sometimes use the comparison of Peterson's Flake to the taste of tea, University Flake is somewhere in-between my Number 4 and my Number 2 picks when it comes to strength and body. No wonder it wound up in the number 3 slot.
2. Peterson's Irish Flake - While I draw comparisons of Peterson's Flake to tea, Irish Flake is more like coffee. Strong, rich, and robust, this is a blend of Virginia, Burley, and Dark Fired tobaccos. Also known to be a stronger blend when it comes to nicotine, I would recommend sipping this one on a full stomach!
1. Mac Baren's HH Old Dark Fired - It will come as no surprise to those that know me from my YouTube channel that this is once again at the top of my list, where it's been for a few years. Sharing many of the qualities of Peterson's Irish Flake, I sense a bit of an Anise aftertaste, and a slightly lesser strength overall. Still bold, but a bit more refined than the Irish Flake, this is my go-to blend, and what I smoke the most.
So that's my list for 2019. While it was by definition geared solely to my personal tastes, a large part of the joy of pipe smoking can be found in discovering what types of blends you enjoy the most. I've found mine, but I'm always open to new blends, as well. And I encourage you to do the same! If any of these blends strike your interest, throw a few in the cart and see what new favorites you might find in 2020!
You can check out the video presentation of this list on my YouTube channel, here. And please subscribe if you enjoy this conversational style of discussion regarding pipes and tobaccos.
Keep 'em lit,
Just a quick announcement to let you know about an exciting new documentary that is available for purchase or rental that's all about pipes! "Father the Flame" is a film project I've heard about for a few years now that has finally come to fruition, and I'm thrilled to report that it's a beautiful documentary which takes great care to present a highly artistic, yet approachable and honest snapshot of many aspects of modern-day pipe smoking and pipe collecting!
Directed by Chad Terpstra, "Father the Flame" takes us on a journey of discovery about pipes, pipe smoking, and pipe making. The film covers much during its runtime of 79 minutes, including snapshots into the past of pipe smoking, American artisan pipe makers, the Danish masters, Mimmo and briar harvesting, the Chicago Pipe Show, Native Americans and pipe smoking, and so much more. "Father the Flame" is a fantastic accomplishment that's not to be missed!
"Father the Flame" can now be rented or purchased on Amazon Video, here.
In addition, a DVD will be released on June 18, 2019, which can be preordered here.
Don't miss this wonderful and insightful look into the art, passion, and tradition that is inherently bound to this hobby we all love!
Keep 'em Lit,
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