With literally thousands of tobacco reviews online why in the world would I say you should do them? Well, that’s actually a very good question, one I hope to give you some good reasons to at least consider trying it yourself.
Tastes Are Subjective
Your tastes and mine – and the hundreds thousands of other pipers out there – are very different. While you may find some that are close, even very similar, no one else will taste exactly what you taste in a blend. We each pick up different nuances in the diverse tobaccos we smoke. But some of us have more refined – or less sensitive – palettes than others. There are flavors and tastes others describe in a blend I have smoked that I have never once picked up on; I’m sure you can identify with this.
Our Pipe Collections Are Different
We all own different pipes: different shapes, makers, materials, grades, etcetera. If you have been smoking a pipe for any length of time you know that the same blend will smoke/taste different in different pipes. Many folks prefer to smoke flakes in taller bowls with smaller diameters; maybe you like to rub them out and smoke them in a pot-shaped bowl. I don’t have (can’t afford) any high-grade pipes, so to compare how a blend smokes in an expensive, handmade pipe to a Missouri Meerschaum or “basket-pipe” would be – here comes the cliché – like comparing apples to oranges. So our pipe collection definitely make a difference in our smoking experience.
Preparation Methods, Bowl Packing, and Tobacco Cuts
As I briefly eluded to above, different preparation methods are going to produce different results in our smoking experience. There are several ways, for instance, to prepare a flake or coin: fold and stuff, rubbed out, cube-cut, “cannonball” style, and probably others that I’m not thinking of. And that doesn’t take ropes, plugs, and kakes into account!
Each of us probably has a preference in how we like to prepare and smoke the aforementioned styles of a blend. But if you’re like me, you probably try different methods, in different pipes, with the same blend to find out how it smokes best for you. Personally, I prefer Orlik Golden Sliced rubbed out; many folks like it folded and stuffed. But until I tried it a couple of different ways I didn’t know how I preferred it.
There are as many or more ways to pack a bowl as there are ways to prepare the tobacco. Some of us prefer a tight draw, others a lighter one. I know of pipers that use nothing but the three-step (pinch) method while others swear by the “Frank” method. I find different blends and different pipes smoke better with different packing techniques, something I’d have not known if I didn’t try the different methods.
Then we come to the cut of the tobacco itself, which all burn differently. Rough cut, ribbon cut, shag, pre-cut cubed, and the already mentioned styles, will burn , taste, and ultimately smoke differently just on the “cut factor” alone; add in pipe, bowl shape/size, and packing method used, and you can get quite a bit of variance in just one blend.
All the Facts
I know this isn’t the comprehensive list of variables but it’s a good start. Hopefully I’ve given you a fair enough summary of facts to make you consider, perhaps for the first time, that you do need to review blends if nothing else for your own enjoyment. You may or may not have the desire to share or publish your own reviews but having them for your own use will definitely benefit you even if no one else ever sees them.
How Would I Start?
I’m glad you asked! The best way to start is with a pipe and blend you know at a time you are relaxed and unhurried. I would suggest it be a pipe you are familiar with but the tobacco could be a brand new-to-you blend or an old friend. The real key here, as I mentioned, is to be relaxed and to take your time; you want to be able to pick up on subtleties and nuances and you can’t do that hurriedly. And you’ll want to take notes as you go: from tin note impressions all the way through the bowl-dump at the end.
Some time back I was given a copy of a tobacco note-taking sheet from someone; I can’t recall who it was or when it came from. But I’ve tweaked it to better suit my needs during that time. I am including a link to my Dropbox copy so you can download and try it out; it’s in Microsoft Excel (.xlsx) format and is completely customizable with any number of spreadsheet programs.
There are three “sheets”: a suggested use page, single review page, and a page that fits two reviews on one sheet of paper. As I said, you can add, delete, customize it to your hearts (or tastes) content! And you may use it freely and share it (but please do so from this article) as well. You can also decide if you want to keep a blank copy on your device, renaming a copy to start each review, or print them out and do them more the “old fashioned” way; this journal works well either way.
I think you will find that using a journal will help you to find blends you like easier, remember what you liked/disliked about blends, pair tobaccos and pipes better, and gain a greater enjoyment of the hobby overall. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been smoking for a few weeks or several decades, slowing down, savoring the experience and making notes about it will profit you. (As a side note, when I was a cigar smoker I did this, too, in a small hardcovered journal which I also taped the cigar bands in; this idea isn’t just for pipe men/women!)
I think that should get you started – and you should get started if you haven’t yet. In future articles we will look more at the actual review process itself: what to “look” for, things to take note of, etcetera. But for now, print out a page, fire up a bowl, sit back and relax. And be open to a new, wonderful experience and greater enjoyment of this wonderful hobby of ours.