Pipe Tobacco 101
Information for Newer Smokers
Information for Newer Smokers
When selecting a pipe tobacco for the first time, one is generally unfamiliar with pipe terms, blends, and the different classifications of pipe tobacco. I suggest talking to your local tobacconist, however, I hope to provide you all with enough information to where you can get started by yourselves, come to your own conclusions and generalizations. However, the best teacher is also experience.
After smelling or smoking different "popular" tobaccos, you will have a good understanding on what to expect from them. It will be necessary in the long run to smoke as many different blends or brands as you can so you develop a good understanding of the pipe tobacco flavors as opposed to cigar flavors. The great thing about a pipe is that most "bulk" blends cost no more than $3 an ounce, so it's not as if your pipe tobacco investment would be a waste at first, at least until you branch out into some of the "tin" tobaccos.
Pipe tobaccos are classified into two general branches, aromatics and non-aromatics. Non-aromatics are commonly referred to as Scottish or English blends that are generally "caked" or pressed tobaccos that release the naturally occurring sugars in the tobacco giving it it's distinct flavors. Second, the aromatic tobaccos,which rely largely on the application of sugar syrups for their flavor. Most pipe smoker usually graduates over time from aromatics to non-aromatics, as many cigar smokers graduate from acid's or white owls to "non-flavored" stogies.
All pipe tobaccos start from the same plant, though this is hard for one to believe. The tobaccos adapt to different surroundings, soils and clinates and are all dependent on different curing methods, depending on location. Blending different tobaccos is similar to cooking. Depending on what flavor one is searching for (BBQ, Peaches and Cream, French Vanilla, Etc...) there is a different blend of tobaccos that suit most flavors. I would suggest if you are new to this, seeking help from a more experienced pipe smoker or tobacconist as to what different blends can give you what flavors. Remember, the aroma of a tobacco does not always give a good indicator as to what it smokes like.
Keep in mind, pipe tobacco is not like the cigar tobacco. A dark "looking" blend does not mean it will necessarily be a heavy smoke like most maduros usually indicate in cigars.
For those of you interested in a little history and bit of flavor information of different tobaccos, I found these descriptions (found below) that are a little more in depth than my own personal descriptions (Found in Pipesmoker Magazine, written by Mary McNeil). For many aromatics, different types of these tobaccos are blended together. Not everything with Virginia in it is a "Straight Virginia" (Pipe Tobacco only made with Virginia) for example there can be a Virginia/ Perique or a Virginia/ Burley blend. The ability to mix and match the tobaccos adds all the more excitement to the hobby.
VIRGINIA. One of America's first cash crops, Virginia tobacco was grown initially by the Jamestown colony, from imported Central American seed, and exported exclusively to England. It is possible that we would not be an English speaking nation but for Virginia tobacco and its importance to the survival of that first colony.
Most of today's Virginia is flue-cured to preserve its bright yellow, orange or red color, and its oiliness, and Subtle sweetness. This curing method pumps smokeless heat into the airtight tobacco barn through metal flues or ducts. The best Virginia tobaccos today, matured in pressed cakes and therefore called matured Virginias, have a subtle sweetness and a delicate fruit-like flavor. They are rather tangy and pleasant on the palate, reminiscent of a mild salsa. The best matured Virginias are naturally sweet and clean-smoking tobaccos that fill the mouth with flavor. You will notice a flavor curve that is zesty at light up and then turns richer as the tobacco is smoked.
Virginia tobaccos are also important components of English Mixtures and aromatic, flavored blends.
MARYLAND. Maryland tobacco is light air-cured and, therefore, a dull brown color. It is bland in flavor but has a nice, light texture and good burning qualities. Never especially popular in the United States or England, most Maryland tobacco traditionally has been exported to Switzerland, Germany, and France. The Maryland colony exercised special sovereign rights to export directly to France and the Netherlands. Perhaps this is why traditional Danish and Dutch Cavendish cake tobaccos, based on Maryland-style leaf, were made by adding sugars from the outset, whereas the English found it easy to go "natural" with naturally-sweet Virginia.
BURLEY. Today's burley tobacco is all descended from the White Burley Mutation discovered by Ohio tobacco grower, George Webb, in 1864. It has a rich, nutty flavor and a certain gusto. Burley is light air-cured, with a brown appearance and a dull or matte finish. Most burley, which has virtually no sugar of its own, is "cased" or flavored with sugars of one kind or another and this rich, full-flavored tobacco has traditionally been the base of the majority of American-style sweetened blends.
When smoked, cased burley starts light, mellow, and mildly nutty, with no sharpness. If it is of good quality and has been handled properly, it will produce a rich, full flavor somewhat like sweet oatmeal or granola, with a caramel character coming from the burnt sugars.
ORIENTAL. This naturally aromatic, heady tobacco comes not from the modern Orient (the Far East), but from the old Orient, the Near East-Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and other Eastern Mediterranean countries. The finest Oriental, often called "Turkish" tobacco, has a flavor that is delicately spicy. Used in small quantities, it gives to "English" or "Oriental" mixtures a sweet, yet piquant character.
Sun-cured Oriental leaf has a greenish-yellow to golden brown color. Second only to flue-cured Virginia in natural sugar content, the finest Orientals from Greece and Turkey are mildly sweet and have an herbal or spicy character with an incense-like aroma.
LATAKIA. Latakia is sun-cured like other Oriental leaf and then hung in dense smoke from wood fires of oak, pine, myrtle, or cypress until blackened, a process that can take two months. The different woods impart different flavors.
Latakia has an intense, incense-like fragrance but is surprisingly soft on the palate. It is cool-smoking and relatively tasteless in the middle range, an excellent condiment tobacco, basic to the natural Oriental or English mixtures. Usually, the fuller the mixture, the more Latakia is used.
PERIQUE. Perique is a deeply aromatic tobacco with a fragrance somewhere between cooked fruit (prunes) and sautéed mushrooms. Like latakia, perique is a naturally fermented condiment tobacco and, as such, is used rather sparingly. Its rich, black color and leathery texture belie its delicate flavor.
Before fermentation, perique appears most like Kentucky burley. During fermentation, the tobacco steeps in its own juices for 10 months before further aging. Perique is the truffle of tobaccos, rare and precious for its distinctive pungency.
STOVED VIRGINIA. Not all that is black in an English mixture is latakia or perique. Bright flue-cured Virginias, blackened by cooking or stoving, create a measure of richness and a mellow, fruity sweetness in many natural, aged blends. Stoved Virginia has the type of richness we associate with dark chocolates. It imparts an aroma similar to warm chutney.
CAVENDISH. Here's a term that is used so broadly with so many different nuances that Webster could spend a whole page in the subcategories of definition. Briefly, Dutch Cavendish is generally a mixture of different component leaves such as burley, Virginia, and Maryland, that have been flavored and pressed into cakes to age. Any tobacco that has been treated in this manner can be called a Cavendish.
The term "Cavendish" also refers to the cut which is characteristic of matured Virginias and burley plug. The pressed cakes in which the leaves are aged are cut into bars and then the bars are cross-cut into thick or thin slices called flakes.
BLACK CAVENDISH. Most black cavendishes that form the base of many American-style aromatics are sweetened, stoved versions of certain burley tobaccos from Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as some dark air-cured tobaccos from central Virginia. The best have a caramel flavor, reminiscent of syrupy pancakes-mild, sweet, full-flavored but with a slight aftertaste similar to the burnt taste on toasted marshmallows.
Now that you know your components, you are ready to select a new smoking tobacco. Knowledgeable tobacconists will be your invaluable allies in this new adventure because, even when you learn to name the style of tobacco you want, you will need their experience to select a product likely to please you.
You may find that, as the seasons change from warmer to cooler, and the day passes from morning into evening, you will want to change from a lighter to a more full-flavored tobacco. Keep smaller amounts of several tobaccos on hand rather than a large quantity of any one product. You don't want to eat the same thing at every meal and, in all likelihood, you will want variety in your pipe tobaccos.
To give tobaccos an adequate trial, it is necessary to smoke all of them under similar conditions. Try them at various times of the day and year, always in clean, rested pipes of the same quality. Let your tobacconist help you to fill, light, and tamp the pipe properly so that the tobacco draws and burns slowly and evenly throughout, as would a fine, hand-rolled cigar.
The smoke shop environment provides the best opportunity for you to become a connoisseur. There are distinctions in flavor and quality in all types of tobaccos, from the heady aromatics to the clean-smoking, naturally-aged ones. Discovering the subtle and interesting flavors of the full range of pipe tobaccos available from the different manufacturers is great fun, as many pleasant smoking experiences will be found, and fond memories created, on the road to that elusive perfect blend.
For Individuals that want to get into pipe smoking, I will make a few recommendations for aromatics and a nice non aromatic to graduate to that are largely available, carried by most pipe stores or b&m's, and that a large majority of pipe smokers seem to enjoy. I am not going to reccomend "tinned" tobaccos as those generally run more expensive and while getting into pipe smoking one should test with flavors and blends before investing a lot of money on a blend or flavor you may not enjoy.
Most of these blends are Made by Lane Limited or Peter and Stokkebye. I reccomend these to start with as they are usually the most common and readily available blends in cigar stores and tobacconists that aren't the more premium tobaccos. Without further adieu:
Lane Limited 1Q - A mild to medium Virgina/ Cavendish
Lane Limited Hazelnut - A very mild Virginia/ Burley (Discontinued, get it while you can)
Lane Limited BCA - A mild Cavendish
Lane Limited LL7 - A mild Virginia/ Cavendish/ Burley (Discontinued, get it while you can)
Peter and Stokkebye Balkan Supreme - Cavendish/ Virginia/ Latakia/ Oriental
Stanwell Melange - Very Very Sweet, almost a molasses and pancake smell
Dunhill Early Morning Pipe
Lane Limited HGL - Similar to the tinned "Dunhill Nightcap" - A Medium to full Cavendish/ Latakia/ Burley/ Virginia
Mac Baren Virginia No. 1
Peter and Stokkebye Navy Flake
Peter and Stokkebye Twist Flake
Peter and Stokkebye Virginia Long Cut - medium blend of 7 different Virginia tobaccos
Once you find a basic flavor profile or combination of different tobaccos that you, your nose, your palate, and in many cases your spouse enjoy, then it is time to graduate to the more premium tobaccos. The reason many of the cost more is because of the quality of the tobacco. I have commonly found that tin tobaccos have less "bite" meaning they burn cooler in the pipe. If the tobacco does not burn your tounge, then it is usually a cool burning tobacco. Tobaccos that are very hot have a lot of "bite" and usually won't allow you to drink carbonated beverages (which some of us love to do) while smoking because it intensifies the burn and stings the tounge.