The Strange Phenomenon of Virtual Social Pipe-Smoking

Hard to believe it’s been six years since I last posted an article on this blog…

I blame it on YouTube. It is so much easier to swipe on your smart phone camera, record something about your pipe and tobacco and whatever other thoughts come to mind, do a little editing and upload it knowing that a larger number of folks will take a gander at your video and leave a comment within a much shorter period of time than the number of those who will ever get around to reading and commenting on your blog post. It’s obvious that for most people watching videos is more fun than reading is. Making videos is also more fun. Moreover, the video-maker more often than not gets to audio-visually interact with other pipe-smoking YouTube creators, making it seemingly more personal. (Indeed, there is at least one, that I know of, legally blind pipester who creates YouTube videos.) In contrast, writing simply takes more intellectual effort. It also doesn’t feel as personal of a connection as does video, as far as I sense it, anyway. So, I got lost in the YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) and couldn’t find my way back to the blog until now.

There is a strange phenomenon I discovered along the way…

Although we pipe-smokers enjoy our quiet time with a favorite tobacco, we’re also inclined to want to enjoy a bowl or two with other pipe enthusiasts. We like to share notes, show our collections, make trades–as it is with any hobby. Although some of us like to take part in pipe clubs that meetup periodically in person, quite a few of us either don’t have that luxury or find it more to our liking to simply interact through online discussion boards or by posting product reviews on Tobacco Reviews or pipe and tobacco sellers’ websites. Another social option pipe and tobacco hobbyists pursue is to join in with the YTPC.

What I find compelling about participating on a video platform is that when I smoke a bowl on camera, I feel like I’m not smoking alone, but smoking along with whomever might be watching the video. Likewise, when I watch other YTPC creators’ content–even though I might not have lit up, none the less, somehow I feel like I’m sharing a bowl right along with them. This sense of participation seems to me to be the strangest thing. And is, no doubt, a primary reason I’ve returned to virtual social pipe-smoking. You see, not only did I drift away from this blog, but I also left YTPC a few years back, deleting all of my content.

Leaving and returning…

I had come upon a health concern regarding my vision, because of which, my ophthalmologist recommended I give up all nicotine products. So I did. Feeling hypocritical that I had given up pipes, cigars and the occasional snuff while maintaining a channel about such activities, I closed my SoCal Pipester channel. As things turn out, my condition is not as serious as first suspected, so of course, I couldn’t help myself but to little by little indulge in a bit of relaxation by way of pipe and tobacco. I even found myself buying the odd pipe here and there to provide some solace during times of feeling down. Soon I was looking up YTPC videos. And here I am. I do not see my return as a stumbling, but as a sign of recovery–and I want to share it, by golly!

The YTPC phenomenon that lured me away from my blog those years ago has, in some odd way, brought me back to it. Vlogging and blogging are complimentary efforts, I believe. And so here we are.

Hello, pipe-smokers of the world. Care to join me for a little virtual social pipe-smoking? Strange, though it may be?

17 New Blends And Counting, Kicking Off 2016 With A Pipe Tobacco Cornucopia

horn of tobaccoThat’s right… 17 new pipe tobacco blends fired up the market to begin 2016!  At least, 17.  In fact, the number is certain to be greater because I’m only counting the obvious major releases that became available in the U.S. at the very close of 2015 and presently, January 2016.  Not included are bargain brand blends or house blends that I may or may not have noticed.  None the less, this year is already shaping up to provide pipe smokers with a cornucopia of new blends to explore.

Let’s take a look…

Standard Tobacco of Pennsylvania
Standard Tobacco of Pennsylvania

Perhaps the biggest news is the establishment of Standard Tobacco of Pennsylvania and their acquisition of three once popular brand names: John Cotton, Bengal Slices and War Horse.  The company has enlisted blender Russ Ouellette to recreate these blends as closely to the originals as is humanly possible.

Reports from pipe smokers of the time who enjoyed these original blends state their satisfaction with Mr. Ouellette’s renditions. He had already done a fine job copying Bengal Slices with his Fusilier’s Ration, which I hold as a personal favorite, but he has said that this iteration of the blend is closer, yet, to the original.  (I’ve picked up a tin that I am presently comparing, just for the fun of it, to FR.  My assessment is forthcoming.)  I find John Cotton’s Numbers 1 & 2, and Smyrna to be excellent smokes.

Watch the two videos below from Pipes and Cigars for some of the story behind Standard Tobacco of Pennsylvania and their new pipe tobacco offerings…



Next on my list is from the Nashville-based pipe maker, BriarWorks International.  They released three blends in partnership with Cornell & Diehl: a Va/Per, Aromatic and an English.  The immediately attractive (and perhaps most novel) thing about these blends is their packaging in a mason jar.  Now, I have to say, I think this is some pretty cool marketing.  The blends are Back Down South, Bacon Old Fashioned and Pete’s Beard’s Blend.  Take a look at this video with Shane Ireland from


pike placeNext up we’re looking at Seattle Pipe Club’s Pike Place.  It’s a Balkan styled English with a dose of Tennessee Burley that essentially replaces the role played by Virginias. It also contains Perique.  If you’re a SPC fan and haven’t eased your way through a bowl or two of this, yet, I think you’ll find it to be an earthy addition to their lineup.


Amphora pouches

And here we’ve got a couple pouches of Amphora: Original Blend, and Full Aroma.  These are classic Dutch Cavendish blends that have been missing from the U.S. market for some time now but have returned thanks to Mac Baren.

I don’t know what’s happening with me, but I find I’m getting on a “pouch tobacco” kick of sorts, lately.  Something about the handy convenience, and dare I say, “charm”, of the pouch, I imagine.




To round out this list, there’s Mike McNiel’s of McClelland and Russ Ouellette’s joint venture, The Mind Meld.  As of this writing, their brand provides six mixtures: two Latakia, two aromatics, one Va/Per and one Virginia.

Can even two masters of the tobacco blending art really create six new blends that are both wonderful and different from their other previously made and popular creations?  Our curiosity will no doubt drive us to purchase a few tins to find out.


Understanding the need for a company to develop new product to sustain market interest and growth, still…

As if there aren’t enough pipe tobacco mixtures, cakes and flakes to keep the most smoky of pipesters permanently clenched to their pipes, burning through all manner of tobaccos already, it’s hard to imagine pipe tobacco manufacturers can keep currently enjoyed blends on the market much longer at the rate they’re churning out new blends. Or, is the market so small compared to available leaf that the number of differing blends remains insignificant?

Well, the new is always exciting nonetheless.

What I find of interest is the pursuit to reclaim defunct brands and recreate once cherished blends.  What is in a name, anyway?  I look to address that question in my next post.  In the meantime, I’ll relax with a few of these reborn blends within my pipe and ponder the question.

Happy smoking in 2016, with new blend or old.




Angela Merkel 2015 And Savinelli Pipe And Tobacco Of The Year

Angela-Merkel-SavinelliTime Magazine Names Angela Merkel The 2015 Person Of The Year, SoCal Pipester Names Savinelli The 2015 Pipe And Tobacco Company Of The Year!

In what has shaped to be another controversial decision by Time magazine in its ‘Person of the Year’ selection, Time states that it chose German Chancellor Angela Merkel to be their 2015 Person of the Year because of her leadership on a range of issues, from the Greek debt crisis to Syrian refugees. Agree with Time or not, one characteristic of Chancellor Merkel is that she holds to her ideals while seeking pragmatic solutions to the many challenges facing Germany and the EU. For similar reasons, and in what could prove to be as controversial a decision, SoCal Pipester has chosen the esteemed Italian pipe maker, Savinelli, as his inaugural Pipe and Tobacco Company of the Year for 2015.

Nearly every pipe smoker’s collection of pipes includes at least one Savinelli. The company is most noted for the fine fit and finish and great smoking quality of their pipes, as well as a famous hand rustication, across a range of models and price points, many of which also feature the 6mm balsa filter. Savinelli also offers an improving selection of premium pipe tobaccos.

What tips the scale in Savinelli’s favor this year is, firstly, their introduction of new pipe lines like the Cashmere (which I like in the ‘315’) with its rusticated natural tone and the 88 (which might technically be 2014, but who’s counting?), pictured below. The 88 features a flattened heal to allow the smoker to securely set it down. Pipesters seem to be most attracted to one of the new shapes, the ‘311KS’, in the rusticated Cherrywood Poker at the moment, though I think shape ‘188’, a 1/4 bent billiard, is a fine example.  If not yet available, as of this writing, at your favorite retailer, they should be soon.

Savinelli 88 BilliardSecondly, Savinelli has clearly been improving their tobacco line. Manufactured for them by Mac Baren, the newer selections zero in on a handful of high quality varieties made for today’s pipe tobacco consumers. Doblone d’Oro is among my favorites. And moving through December, I look forward to getting deeper into Essenza Cipriota, what I characterize as an English-aromatic, which at this point I have only sampled but for me shows great promise.

Still a family owned company after all these years, Savinelli manages to present progressive stylings in her pipe and tobacco offerings while she, at the same time, holds firm to her company traditions and ideals. For these reasons, SoCal Pipester proudly announces Savinelli, the 2015 Pipe and Tobacco Company of the Year!

Check out a sampling of Savinelli offerings below…

The Virginia Cream, 2015 Year End Hit Or Miss?

Close up Vir Crm“The long wait, for me at least, is over. The Virginia Cream begins shipping today!”

And with the reading of those words on the Greg Pease website, I began my eager anticipation to smoke a new pipe tobacco, an anticipation I’d not felt in years. G.L. Pease and his blend manufacturer released The Virginia Cream (TVC) generally in late October (2015), I believe, but I jumped at the opportunity to make my purchase some couple weeks earlier during the early bird exclusive at Smoking Pipes.

G.L. Pease is unarguably leaving a legacy of remarkable blends for pipe smokers… Union Square, Abingdon, Haddo’s Delight, Sixpence, these happen to be some of my favorites. So when I read about his soon to be released The Virginia Cream, I, along with countless other fans of his, could not wait to get my hands on this mixture.

The Virginia Cream is the latest in G.L. Pease’s “Heirloom Series – Tobaccos of Exemplary Character.” According to Mr. Pease, the Heirloom Series is a collection of singular blends…“full of unique personalities…. Each has all the characteristics that can ultimately make a blend a classic.”

The story of getting to The Virgina Cream goes like this… In Greg’s words, “When I sent the final formula off to the factory for a prototype batch, Ted [of Cornell and Diehl] said, ‘It smells like a really good cream soda.’ After muttering some incomprehensible syllables that might find their way into the name, I blurted out, ‘Vanilla Cream!’ It stuck. In designing the label, I put ‘The’ in the name because I loved the way it worked typographically, and it seemed to enhance the old-time style I was working with, while also indicating that I really do think this one is a little special.”

He certainly targeted the yearnings of a significant market segment of the pipe smoking community with his ‘old-timey’ label and tobacco flavor profile. I count myself among that segment: a smoker who harkens back to the memories of grandpa and his pipe (maybe great-grandpa), but who appreciates the highest quality leaf and sophisticated use of toppings in his mixtures. And I admit, I’m a sucker for anything that’s basically a bourbon topped VaBur. What TVC promised seemed centered within my wheelhouse…

From the label: “Distinctively delicious! We season fine red and golden flue-cured Virginia tobaccos with rare condimental leaf, enhancing the result with a subtle vanilla/bourbon topping that is never overbearing. Rare for a blend of its genre, The Virginia Cream delivers on its aromatic promise from the first puff to the bottom of the bowl, while leaving the pipe clean and free of phantom flavors. An all-American blend ideal for Virginia fanciers craving something a little sweeter.”

Some six or seven long days after ordering, finally, the knock of the UPS driver at my door and the arrival of a most treasured package.

If I’m getting into a tin right away, usually, I’ll still let it get a couple weeks airtime within a sealed jar before lighting a bowl. I feel this gives the blend a way to more honestly reveal itself; but the popping open of TVC became one of those rare occasions when my immediately digging in was the only action I had in mind.

Indeed, TVC begins with promise of a classic…

Delicious vanilla-esque bourbon and fig scents greeted me unreservedly as I peeled back the aluminum lid from the two ounce container. I was surprised by how perfectly ready-to-smoke the in-the-tin moisture level appeared to be, which served to support my decision to enjoy a bowl then and there.

Grabbing a medium-sized corn cob for a carefree smoke, I loaded it with the nice mostly ribbon cut tobaccos, settled back in my garden chair and put flame to leaf.


My first impression was of a brighter Sixpence with a dirty edge to it. No vanilla present on the palate but nicely aromatic in the sidestream. Only at about a quarter down the bowl did I pick up what could be described as a sweet, maybe even a cream soda-ish flavor. Something about the tobaccos seemed out of balance to me. Too much dark fired? Young Virginias? I couldn’t put my finger on it, but while one intake of smoke tasted smooth and creamy with just the right touch of spice, the next assaulted my senses with a harsh, cigarette-like profile that kicked up the “Hock-O-Loogie” meter substantially.

No problem. Though extremely disappointed, I left it for the following morning when I’d fire some up in a Stanwell #118 I reserve for aromatics.

Better. The fruity, grassy, bready notes of the Virginias came through more distinctly and as a whole was much more palatable. But the Kentucky still posed problems. One of my indicators if I’m enjoying a particular blend or not is where the needle rests on my Hock-O-Loogie meter mentioned above. Lat bombs and significant amounts of dark fired Kentucky, for instance, push the needle into the red zone, an unpleasant experience, and a blend I will stay away from. This blend pushed the needle ever closer to the line as I neared its smoky end. Furthermore, I’ll be danged if I noted any sweetness about it. I’m thinking something like Dunhill Flake when I think Virginia sweetness. I can’t say I noticed sweetness in TVC. I ‘decanted’ into a mason jar and let the tobacco rest a few days.

For my third go, I selected a 7/8ths inch wide Dublin meerschaum bowl. And something magical happened. Everything balanced. The dark fired and Perique gave just the right amount of depth and spiciness to be satisfying, while neither overwhelming the Virginia notes nor pushing the needle to uncomfortable levels. The finish proved pleasant with what I can only describe as an old fashioned honest Virginia-Burley tobacco flavor with a hint of vanilla sweetness. But because of my initial high expectations, the questions raised by TVC were daunting. Maybe it just needs age, after all, as Greg Pease likes to point out about his blends.

I’ve stayed with meerschaum as I’ve leisurely smoked through the majority of the tin – as of this writing I’ve a couple or three bowls remaining. My experience as described in my third go remains consistent; however, my assessment is such that I do not anticipate purchasing another tin. The dirty base likes to kick in a bit much here and there throughout for my liking. Because of that, I don’t know that I can recommend TVC, certainly not whole heartedly anyway, perhaps especially because of the danged near disdain it earned from me at the start. And because there are tobaccos I do like upon first smoke and smoke to this day, while others have left me unimpressed and without reason to return to them. Overall, The Virginia Cream leans for me more toward the latter than it does the former.

As every pipe smoker knows, given time and a second chance, a previously un-liked tobacco blend can become a new found favorite. Maybe that’ll happen here. But in the meantime, as much as I looked forward to the G.L. Pease’s The Virginia Cream, I’m looking forward to going back to other old standbys. That makes, for me, anyway, The Virginia Cream a big 2015 year-end miss. The appellation of ‘classic’ will have to wait.