A Pithy Pipe Tobacco Primer

I’ve smoked a pipe since age 17, although I don’t think I’ve ever posted about it before. I should do that soon, but this post is in response to my internet friend Pedro who is a new pipe smoker who asked for pipe tobacco recommendations. This is a subject I’ve put a decent amount of thought into over the years, so if you’re interested, read on!

I wish this was my collection, but it actually belongs to Reddit user captain_diet

The Three Trunks of the Tobacco Tree

There are three main “branches” in the world of pipe tobacco:

  1. Aromatic Blends, basically any pipe tobacco with added natural or artificial flavors.
  2. Virginia Blends, usually just a blend of straight VA tobaccos, perhaps also with a bit of Kentucky Burley, KY Dark Fired, or Louisiana Perique tobacco.
  3. English Blends, which are blends of VA mixed with oriental tobaccos such as Latakia, a strong tobacco that is cured over a fire and imparts a “campfire” scent/flavor

This is an oversimplification, but it’s good enough for now.

I would recommend that the new pipe smoker order 1-2 ounces of a couple of blends of each of the three styles, note what you like, and then explore those types of blends further. You can buy tobacco locally at a shop, but sometimes they just want to direct you toward subpar tobaccos at a higher cost. Until you get your “sea legs”, I’d recommend ordering from an established online tobacconist such as SmokingPipes, Pipes and Cigars, Cup O’ Joes, or The Country Squire.

Buying 1 oz of each of the following blends, plus a pack of pipe cleaners (you’ll need some and don’t use the ones from craft stores) and a cheap pipe tamp (if you don’t have one, I like a Czech tool for $2 or you can use a golf tee) will run you around $25-35 with shipping for 9 different blends and 10 oz total. That’s way better than buying 2 oz tins at $9-15 each and trying blindly to figure out what you like.

I’m going to use links from pipesandcigars.com because that’s where I often shop from, but any of the above are great shops that I recommend.

Aromatics

  • Lane 1Q is a blend of golden VA and Black Cavendish (sort of a vanilla/rum topping) that is quite mild and unremarkable, but a very pleasant smoke. This is the first blend I usually recommend to newbies because it smokes quite cool, it behaves well, and the smell is quite pleasing, even if there’s virtually no taste. It’s a good baseline to start with.
  • Cherry tobaccos are popular. Cult’s Blood Red Moon is considered one of the best, but since that’s in a tin, I’m going to point you instead to Lane Very Cherry, a decent cherry bulk you can buy by the ounce.
  • Cornell & Diehl Autumn Evening – perfect for cold times of year, this aromatic blend has a bit of a maple flavor.

Virginias

  • Orlik Golden Sliced – I’m going to break my “no tin rule” and recommend this tin, since it’s a classic VA style and it’s cheap ($9 for the tin).
  • Peter Stokkebye Luxury Navy Flake – this blend introduces the concept of a VaPer – a Virginia Perique blend, where the “grassiness” of the VA is balanced out by spicy perique from Louisiana, and also introduces you to the concept of Flakes, a curing process where the tobacco is pressed under pressure for a certain number of days/weeks, and the result is cut into slices. To smoke it, you rub out the slices on a nearby surface (I use a bandana) and fill your pipe, or you can just grab 3-4 flake slices and jam ’em in your pipe and break off the ends.
  • Mac Baren HH Old Dark Fired – this is a mix of VA blended with spicy dark-fired KY burley. The mix of sweet VAs and spicy KY makes for a rich smoke, but watch out for a higher nicotine content here. If you get a a headache, put down your pipe for a while. Besides, VA blends can be better if you leave them alone for a while.

English

Here is normally where I’d just recommend a trio of Dunhill bulk blends: Early Morning Pipe, My Mixture 965, and Nightcap, but Dunhill went out of the pipe tobacco business last year. Another company, Peterson, took over the recipes and names and brought them back to the market, but Peterson doesn’t sell them in bulk like Dunhill did, so here are my bulk recommendations for beginners from other sources:

  • Peter Stokkebye Luxury English 17 – an easy intro to Latakia with a mix of VA, black cavendish, and latakia. This is a good first English blend.
  • Cornell & Diehl Star of the East – This is a mix of Cyprian Latakia and Turkish Izmir tobaccos and is a good bulk example of a Balkan blend, which has a higher content of Orientals than a normal VA/Lat English blend.
  • Peter Stokkebye Proper English – the name comes from the lack of any burley or cavendish, making it a “proper” English blend. Another easy smoke.

Many of these aren’t the best tobaccos you can smoke, but I think they’re all good introductions to the hobby and to give you a good idea of what styles you like so you can explore further without too great of a monetary investment. If interested, I can give you plenty of those recommendations, but I’ll save that for another day.

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