Advice to a new pipe smoker
I frequently receive letters like the one immediately below. Today, I decided to answer here on the blog.
I am 18 years old and I have been smoking a pipe for about 6 months now. Do you have any good all around advice for a youngster like me?
I currently own a few Briar Pipes that I bought from a tobacconist that were mainly “house” pipes and I also own a Lorenzo Spitfire. I guess you would say they are a good beginner’s pipe. I recently purchased a couple of Bjarne pipes. From what I understand those are decent pipes for the money. Is that true? I hear that Savinelli are good pipes as well. What would be some other good pipes that are affordable, yet can be placed up their with the big dogs of the pipe world?
I am also a big English blend freak, as are most young pipe smokers once they are introduced. I like Dunhill Early Morning Pipe rather well. I detest most aromatic blends, due to they seem to make my pipe bitter and I just don’t enjoy the flavors, I guess.
What would be some good English Blends to try? I hear that Boswell North Woods and Stokkebye Balkan Supreme are good.
Thanks for all you do!
First off, thank you Elijah for your membership and for your letter – and for the idea of occasionally answering letters I get in the context of my blog as opposed to a private email. I’ve gotten so many letters like yours that there is clearly an interest in having some answers to questions like yours.
Your questions seem very informed for a young pipe smoker who is new to the hobby. Just your knowledge of pipe and tobacco brands indicate that your are asking some good questions, reading, and or paying attention. That – in and of itself – will help you make a good start with your pipes. Let’s start with your questions, now.
My nephew Alex and two of his pipe mentors. Personally, I believe that the best step a young pipe smoker can take is to find a pipe mentor. Most happy and experienced pipe smokers I know were blessed by a good mentor early in their pipe-smoking days. A good mentor can not only help you learn and perfect your pipe-smoking technique, but he can save you time and money as well.
Smoking regulations make finding a mentor more difficult than it used to be, but it is still possible. Ask your pipe shop or tobacconist whether there is a pipe club in your area. Pipe clubs are a great place to meet interested and experienced pipe smokers. Failing a pipe club, look for a tobacconist or pipe shop that has a smoking area or lounge; there will probably be certain days or times of the week that people gather to share smoke and company with one another. In my community in Northern Virginia, we gather on Saturday mornings. The same is true in other places I’ve visited. It’s just a question of learning where your local pipe community congregates.
You’ve found A Passion for Pipes so it seems like you’ve looked around the Internet for information. Have you found a good online pipe community yet? If not, there are a number of good pipes and tobaccos forums out there that I would urge you to check out.
These online pipe communities (or forums as they are commonly called) typically have hundreds if not thousands of members. Each tends to have its own personality and culture so don’t be surprised if you notice differences between them. What they have in common is that they are comprised of people with an interest in pipes and tobaccos and the desire to learn and share knowledge with one another. Depending on the community you join, you will find widely differing opinions and perspectives on just about every imaginable subject. This can be confusing at first to a young pipe man, but over time you’ll be able to figure out which members and opinions seem most respected and credible.
There are other very good online resources I strongly recommend. I urge you to visit PipesMagazine.com. In addition to wonderful articles by pipes and tobacco celebrities like Greg Pease, Russ Ouellette, and others, you’ll find an online community there, as well. PipesMagazine lists upcoming pipe shows and pipe events, too, so you may find an event or a show that is close enough for you to attend. Nothing beats a real-time experience at a club, show, or event so if you can find one that you can attend, I urge you to go.
You should also check out Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine’s online site where you will find very interesting articles, tobacco reviews, and interviews with pipe makers. Obviously, if you don’t already have a subscription to Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine, you should subscribe. It’s a small investment for a big return.
Like you, I’m a fan of English tobacco blends. There are more great blends out there than I have time or energy to list so I’m going to give you just a few that I urge you to try. As I’ve written here before, we are in a golden age of tobacco blending, so it’s going to be great fun for
you to try some of these tobaccos out for yourself:
G.L. Pease’s Westminster - one of the very best great English blends ever produced. I imagine future years where people spend a fortune to get some of this tobacco when it’s out of production.
G.L. Pease’s Chelsea Morning - another great English blend that is slightly lighter than Westminster but every bit as flavorful. A must smoke
Hearth and Home’s Magnum Opus - a fantastic blend by Russ Ouellette that I absolutely love for its natural tobacco taste and wonderful sophistication.
Hearth and Home’s Blackhouse - the winner of the 2010 Balkan Sobranie Throwdown, this blend by Russ Ouellette is magical. If you want to know what the storied Balkan Sobranie was like, give this a try.
McClelland’s Wilderness - a classic old-world Balkan-style blend developed by my friend, Fred Hanna. This is a staple of my cellar and one of my favorite tobaccos, period.
McClelland’s Old Dog - a recreation of the Ashton blend of the same name. My local tobacconist cannot keep this blend in stock, it is so popular with my local pipe community.
You’ll find the above-listed blends easy to find at online tobacco retailers, if not in your local tobacconist. Some good online retailers include 4 Noggins. Cup ‘o’ Joes. Smokingpipes. and PipesandCigars .
Elijah, your pipe-buying questions are the hardest to answer. I don’t know what you mean when you say “affordable.” What’s affordable to some is outrageous to others.
If getting great pipes at a steal is what’s most important to you, you’re going to find yourself in competition with a lot of other people who are trying to do the same thing. The problem is that one has to know quite a bit about pipes – especially when it comes to clues about condition and value – before one can shop without disasters occurring on the biggest pipe market out there: eBay.
eBay is one big mixed bag. There are great pipes there. There are fantastic bargains there. There are also sharks, shysters, liars, thieves, and villains selling there. It takes quite a long time to figure out who’s who. Like most bazaars (I think of eBay as an online bazaar), the joke is often on the buyer because the great pipes tend to be recognized by savvy buyers so the deals are often not that much better than a purchase at a more reliable venue. When you buy from a reputable pipe seller, part of what you pay for is quality assurance and avoidance of risk. Yes, there’s a premium there, but it’s better to pay more and get something good than pay less and get something not worth having.
A great pipe and tobacco shop - Memphis’ Tobacco Corner Experience has shown me that most tobacconists these days are not into pipes; they are into cigars. So many local shops don’t have staff who really know pipes at all. There are exceptions, of course. The problem is that you have to know something yourself to know whether or not the salesman you’re talking to knows anything. This is a challenge because a confident salesman can convince you he’s knowledgable when he isn’t - hence, the need for a pipe mentor.
If you hang around the pipe world, you will be regaled with tales about finding the best smokers among basket pipes. Guys love to talk about their $20 pipe and how good it is. No doubt some of these stories are true, but that having been said, don’t buy basket pipes. On the whole they are likely to smoke poorly, have uncomfortable mouthpieces, have improper drilling, and draw poorly. Sure, there’s a good one in there somewhere, but how will you recognize it?
Fortunately, there are some wonderful online pipe sellers out there who provide great value at almost all price ranges. I urge you to check out Briar Blues ; Mike Glukler is as straight an arrow as they come. Talk to Luca at NeatPipes (and don’t stress about him being in Italy. These days it doesn’t matter. Use Skype). He will hunt for something perfect for you at a price you can afford and he’s a terrific guy. Call Marty Pulvers at Pulvers Briar. He’s forgotten more than most people will ever know (and not just because he knew Moses personally). He will give you great advice. Ditto for Nick at Quality Briar. Nick’s a straight shooter and he occasionally gets wonderful estates in for not all that much money. Check out Smokershaven. They have some very nice estate pipes. If you want a huge array of choices and some very good service, you can talk to anybody at Smokingpipes.
Don’t forget to check out other pipe blogs, too like TobaccoDays or Pipe School (written by a young guy like yourself). There are some wonderful sites out there. Some that I read are listed on my links page as are the online retailers and online pipe communities.
Readers, I hope you’ll take a moment to comment to throw your two cents into the mix. I’m hoping this post will become a resource for new pipe smokers that has some legs because it adds some value. If you comment and add value, this post is more likely to show up on search engines.
I hope this has been helpful to you, Elijah. Let us know how you’re doing!