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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Parallels: Pipes and E-cigarettes

By Chris Rentner
Twitter: @thepipebit

Increasingly, many pipe smokers are augmenting their vice with using e-cigarettes, known as “vaping.”  Just two examples, on YouTube, are Aristocob and Skeletal Piper.  It seems there are good reasons for pipe smokers to be fond of e-cigs;  pipe smoking and vaping are quite similar machines, and here are four reasons why: 

 Flavor Variety:   The flavor choices in pipe tobacco are endless.  An aromatic can be anything-  vanilla, cherry, whiskey, crème brulee—and so can e-juices.  This variety of flavors—the eternal process of sampling, finding a taste you like, and then getting the itch for something different—is well-known to pipe smokers.  E-juice makers have profited on this model of something for everyone (or at least something to try once).  Searching for the right flavor for your tastes is wonderful, if sometimes frustrating—this is something, to paraphrase the Boondock Saints,  that people of all creeds and countries can agree on.

The Hobbyist and The Ritual:   Like pipes, once one really develops a passion for vaping, the possibilities are staggering.  Rebuilding coils and atomizers, customizing your set-up and collecting different models all appeal to the desire for a hobby, which can, like collecting or making pipes, turn into a passion.
Smoking a pipe is part ritual—selecting a blend, filling the briar, lighting, tamping, running a pipe cleaner through it.  This has a strong mirror to vaping—choosing a e-liquid, filling the carto or clearo, re-assembling the vaping unit, puffing away.  The comfort of this, to a veteran pipe smoker or vaper,  cannot be underestimated, and is intrinsic to the enjoyment of a pipe or e-cig.

The Few, The Knowing:  Although a few pipe tobaccos and e-cigs can be found at a gas station, the truly good stuff is online, or at a specialty retailer.  This fact creates and nurtures a clique—those in the know can smoke Prince Albert and Blu cigs, but the “real” aficionado enjoys Samuel Gawith or a Provari.  This also, disappointingly, can enforce a snobbery that can damage any hobby, and drive away newbies; but for the most part, the “insiders” enjoy, cherish and share their info with their fellow partakers.  And feel, crucially, that they belong to part of a community.

The Outsiders.    At the same time of feeling like a member of a community, there is, conversely, a whiff of “the Other” in both pipe smoking and vaping.    The pipe hails as an artifact from history—“Oh, my grandfather smoked a pipe!”—and the e-cigarette became popular only a few short years ago.  In effect, then, you have products from different times that both have a reputation of being strange, out of place, even somewhat intimidating. And, in our times, smoking has been driven out almost wholly of public life, and hence to be seen smoking (or something that looks similar) is to rebel against the conformity of modern society, a statement that one is an individual (even though many indeed enjoy the same passion).  The “outsider-ness” of pipe smoking, and the strange sight of clouds of vapor emanating from an e-cig, go together:  you shall indulge as you wish, and if others object, or are offended—well, you are happy, at least; you have your vice, your pipe, your e-cig, and you enjoy it.

And, after all, enjoyment is the point of these similar machines.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The RYO Trap: When "Pipe Tobacco" Isn't Pipe Tobacco

The college student finally decided to try smoking a pipe.  About time, too:  he had liked the idea for a long time, loved the smell of pipe tobacco, and, frankly, thought it would look...well, distinguished.  Certainly, then, time to give it a try.
He got his chance when a Cigarette Orgy store opened up near his campus.  He and his buddies took a trip to check the place out, and saw lots of cigarettes, yes, but also some pipes and few packages that were labeled "pipe tobacco."  He made his purchase and, outside of his residence hall (no smoking inside, of course) lit his first pipe.
Which tasted like shit.
And smelled like a burning tire.
And burned like gonorrhea.
Because, although he had purchased a decent pipe, the "pipe tobacco," as the package's label called it, was actually cigarette tobacco.
As a result, he thought anybody who like to smoke a pipe wasn't distinguished, but deranged.  Really, who could enjoy such noxious shit?  It was labeled as "pipe tobacco," and...ugh.
The college student threw away the pipe and tobacco, vowing to stick with his Marlboros.
Our student above fell into a modern trap for new pipe smokers.  A lot of cigarette tobacco at this time is labeled as pipe tobacco, and it is not pipe tobacco.  Why?  Money, money, money:  the tax rate on roll-your-own (RYO) cigarette tobacco went insanely high a few years ago, while the tax rate on (genuine) pipe tobacco only went up a small amount.  As a result, RYO manufacturers and distributors changed the name on their packages from cigarette tobacco to pipe tobacco.
Now, yeah, RYO can be smoked in a pipe.  So can toilet paper, but that's not pipe tobacco either.  Real pipe tobacco, contrasted with RYO tobacco, has:
--a higher moisture content.  It feels damper than the dry-ass RYO.
--generally, a thicker or different cut than RYO.  Cigarette tobacco has to be uniform in order for it to be rolled correctly; pipe tobacco can be a mix of different cuts.
--a slower burn rate.  RYO is made to burn quickly--even quicker than fire-safe cigarettes. 
The best way to avoid this trap is to visit your local tobacco store.  The local Cigarette Orgy outlet may be handy, but most likely won't know anything about genuine pipe tobacco.  The above incident was based on a true story; the student ended up coming into the Uhle Tobacco Company, where I work,and relayed his misadventure.  Fortunately, he was given some real pipe tobacco and was told of the RYO trap.  Some other newbie pipe smokers, though, made not be as lucky.  I hope they come here first when they decide to try a pipe.
And if nothing else, we do sell Marlboros, too. 
Twitter:  @thepipebit

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The One About Bacon Pipe Tobacco

Credit/blame for this post goes to my tweeps @dpatrick1a and @BOTSryan
Bacon is one of the three tastiest items available for oral pleasure (one of the other two being pipe tobacco, of course). Most everyone loves bacon, a decadent, sinful slice of savory pleasure.

This lust for the king of pork products has led some inventive pipe smokers to pine for a bacon-flavored aromatic pipe tobacco. Like relaxing with a bowl of, say, whiskey cavendish at the end of a long day, wouldn't it rock to have a bacon blend available as an option?

Yes, it would. But I don't think it's gonna happen.

Most pipe tobacco blends are aromatic, and these have, as a vast rule, a sweet flavor. Aromatic pipe tobaccos are in one of three broad flavor groups: fruit (cherry, apple, raspberry), liquor (above-mentioned whiskey, rum, bourbon) or "dessert" flavors like vanilla, chocolate and cookie dough.

You may say that English blends can be called savory; I agree somewhat, but components of non-aromatic blends have their very own "pipe-tobaccoy" flavor--Latakia is smoky, Perique has its sour tang, and Virginias have their own woodsy glide. But they don't taste like something else; a solid English blend can be as full as a steak, but there is no "steaky," meaty flavor.

Given these facts, I think creating a good bacon blend is almost impossible. The best option would be to just take a bacon-flavored liquid topping and sprinkle it over Burley, but there is no such topping (no, liquid smoke stuff isn't bacon-flavored). Barring that, as Ryan from Black Ops Tobacco has postulated, a mix of Latakia and maple cavendish (smoky, maple bacon) may come close...but the pork, alas, would not be in evidence.

I might try to make a Bloody Mary-flavored blend, with a bacon as an accent flavor. Or a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich blend, something...but now we're getting a bit silly.

In the end, certain items are their own "thing." Pipe tobacco is pipe tobacco, and bacon is bacon, irreducible, delicious and unique.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm hungry.

Twitter:  @thepipebit

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mr. Black

No way, no way. Tried it once, doesn’t work.
  You got four guys all fighting over who’s gonna be Mr. Black.”
                                                                           --Reservoir Dogs

Most pipe tobaccos have some sort of sweet component. Aromatics are all about a sweet flavor, sure, but even most English blends have a note of sugar, for contrast with the savory elements. One of the big players in this area is the group of tobaccos known as Black Cavendish: a pressed and flavored tobacco, black in color. Black Cavendish class pipe tobaccos also have varying degrees of sweetness. Two common kinds cover the spectrum of what you can expect in this category, and there is an honorable mention.

Black Cavendish Aromatic: Also known by its initials: BCA. This is the standard of what most pipe smokers think of when the term Black Cavendish is mentioned. It is a sweet, moist, ribbon-cut blend. If you stick your hand in a bag of this and make a fist, some of the tobacco will stick to your fingers--it’s that moist. It will also stick, a bit, to the walls of your pipe’s bowl. For all that, it is an utter standard in American aromatics. The taste is sweet, but not too heavy or overpowering, and plays very well with Burley and Virginias. BCA is a classic and the owner of the Black Cavendishes

Toasted Black Cavendish: Several traits make this different from BCA. It is drier--make a fist in this and little, if any, will stick. The cut is slightly different, a bit more pudgy than BCA’s ribbon cut. And most noticeably, it has the pouch aroma of bagged raisins, in contrast to Black Cavendish Aromatic’s scent of vanilla/chocolate ganache.

The low humidity level of Toasted Black Cavendish make it perfect for adding non-obtrusive sweetness to English blends. Aromatic blends have no problem absorbing the near-dampness of BCA; English mixes, drier by definition, need the more subtle touch of this drier Black Cavendish. Toasted Black Cavendish is made, most popularly, by Altadis and Stokkebye.

Honorable Mention: Vanilla Black Cavendish: This blend, made by McClelland, ramps up the flavor of Black Cavendish. Though BCA is not used, this is very close in terms of moisture content and feel. The difference is in the flavoring, a bit like MacBaren’s Vanilla Crème, but with all black tobaccos. It’s richer than BCA, too, and will surely stick to your fingers. Unique, tasty and sweeter than sugar.

All of the Black Cavendishes mentioned here will be available from a thorough pipe tobacconist, probably by the ounce. Explore and enjoy!

Friday, July 29, 2011


The heat wave broke last week; at one point, the “feels like” temperature was 107 degrees--somewhat uncomfortable, even to summer die-hards.


When I was a kid, my parents’ house did not have air conditioning. My room, on the second floor, was a literal hot mess on scorching days. I would eventually get some sleep, with the help of several whirring fans; and in case I got thirsty in the night, my father always left a Dixie cup of cranberry juice on the hall table. He did this every night, no matter the season.


My father, R.H. Rentner, smoked cigarettes most of his life--Kents was the brand. My mother, Mary Rentner, did not smoke, and never hassled my dad about it. They were a team, and supported and loved each other.


My father smoked many cigarettes when he told me that I was adopted. Looking back on that conversation, I hope that smoking gave him some level of comfort during that horrifically uncomfortable conversation. I will always remember the blue cigarette smoke coming from the end of his cigarette as he told me the truth. The truth, in fact, was that they were my “real” parents, and always had been; I started to realize that biology meant nothing compared to love.


Home from college for the summer in the early 1990s, I smoked pipes and cigars in the backyard of their house. My parents were a little surprised to find out that I smoked, and of course I didn’t smoke inside, but there was little criticism from them. I was an adult, after all.


In later life, my dad gave up Kents. I was working in a tobacco shop by that time, and tried to ease the agony of quitting by bringing home some non-tobacco Ginseng cigarettes. They did seem to help. He said nothing negative about my working in a smoke shop; it was my job, and he supported what I was doing.


My mom passed away in 2001, and my dad died about 18 months later. They were married to each other for 58 years.


I still work in a smoke shop. In recent years, I have dipped into Twitter (and Facebook, a different story) and talked with people all over the world. My parents never went online, and never used a computer. Yet, if they were still around, I would try to sit down with them and my iPhone, bring up Twitter, and point out some of my close Followers. “Look!” I’d tell my folks. “In a way, I know these people. I feel closer to some of them than people I know in real life. And folks, I also got the courage to start blogging again, thanks to their friendship.” And they would shake their heads in wonderment, not really understanding, but grateful their son was helped.


So we wrap up July, and summer heads to a long close during August. We go on, we tweet, we blog. We remember.

Thanks, R.H. and Mary, my real and only parents.

Thanks for giving me my start, and for teaching me.

Thank you.

Happy Anniversary.

R.H. and Mary Rentner, July 31, 1997

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Briar and Beyond: Freak Show Pipes

Above picture from

Pipes have almost as much variety as pipe tobaccos. Briar, the king of pipe materials, is carved and processed into many unique shapes in addition to the standards of Bulldog, Apple, and so on. Some of the more obscure shapes are Oompaul, Skater and Olipahnt--the last shape being a pipe that has its bowl jutting straight off the shank, instead of the usual upwards-pointing bowl. Yes, it’s a challenge to smoke. There was even a pipe introduced about ten years ago that was as flat as a tongue depressor--the bowl was just a dimple in the wood, and specially-made discs of flattened tobacco (thoughtfully, from the same manufacturer) fit in that area.

Beyond briar is the reliable tier of meerschaum, corn cobs, clay and occasionally, cherry wood. But some pipe manufacturers have, over the history of pipe smoking, made their products out of truly different materials.

Kirsten pipes (cross-section pic at head of this post) have stems and shanks made completely out of, er, metal. This is called the “radiator stem.” The reason? Kirsten pipes feature interchangeability of pipe bowls--any of their bowls will fit on any of their radiator stems. So, you can buy just a bowl and screw it onto your existing pipe--almost a new pipe, presto, without the expense. As a rule, metal is a no-no in pipes, but Kirsten fans treasure the variety this brand offers.

Picture above from

Ah, but you want to try a pipe that is truly out of the ordinary. Then check out the pipes offered (at one time, now on eBay) by the Bartlett Pipe Company (pictured above)  .Bartlett pipes, such as the New Englander and Windjammer, are made of rock maple instead of briar. Oh, and they smoke upside-down--you light and, apparently, smoke the pipe with its bowl pointed at the floor. The system to do this is complicated, but it allegedly works. This company, now apparently defunct, first offered this peculiar style of pipe in what was called the Freedom Smoking Pipe.

Oh, so that’s not unique enough, huh? Wood is old hat and you want something truly different, huh? Aight, then search for the pipe (yes, all lowercase) on eBay. This brand of pipe lined its bowls with a substance called pyrolytic graphite, used originally in aerospace applications. The material created, the company claimed, a lessening of tars and nicotine in this pipe. For an abundance of info about the pipe, visit  There, author Billie W. Taylor II (PhD.) has put together the definitive source for learning about this product. The company that made the pipe is long gone, though, so like the above Bartlett pipes, eBay and pipe shows are the best places to look for the pipe.

No matter the material you choose for your pipes, be sure to enjoy. Briar is still the reigning champ of pipes, but variety is welcome, in pipe smoking as in life.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pirates of the Pipe Tobacco

(Note to my blog staff: “For the next post on The Pipe Bit, I want a picture of my humble self decked out as a pirate. I can bring the peg leg and eye patch from home, but I need a cutlass and a parrot. The parrot can be the stuffed kind, if necessary.

What I’m gonna do is tie in blend cuts like rope and coin with pirates. Get it? Like Jack Sparrow and shit like that? No? Well it’s because, you know, pirates use like, rope, and they have treasure with gold coins--Ooh! I’ll need some gold coins too, real gold, for the picture. I’m sure you can take these from the store’s register. And I also want like an audio file of me growling “Aaarrgh, matey,” and a video clip of me waving the cutlass! So that’s all pretty cool, right?”

Chris--sorry, not in the budget.  Sorry--Your Blog Staff)

Oh, the bitter injustices we bloggers suffer. Anyway, in a continuing attempt at clarity:

Most pipe tobacco blends come neatly packaged and all ready to smoke, just open the pouch or tin and fill your briar. Some blends, though, require a touch of effort before you can smoke them.

A very old-school type of blend is rope cut. This does indeed look, and feel, like a thick, corded rope. The tobacco is twisted and bound into this shape; and since fine cuts of tobacco would not hold the shape, rope cut blends consist of uncut tobacco leaves--a true rarity in pipe tobacco blends. Sometimes called navy Gawith makes rope cut blends, like their Black XX.

Two other styles of pipe tobacco blends require not cutting, but “rubbing out” (a pause for jokes)…Okay, this term means the smoker takes the tobacco and “rubs” it “out,” between the hands, making a villain’s “heh-heh-heh” gesture, breaking the blend into smaller pieces. Once a blend is rubbed out, the pipe can be filled. Most commonly, this type of pipe mixture is called flake. A flake blend--not the blend component, see the “Basics” post below--is pressed into a “cake,” a small, thin tablet of tobacco. This is then rubbed out. Coin cut, also called birdseye, blend styles are pressed too, but cut into discs. Both flake and coin styles extract the oils in tobacco leaves by pressing; but once rubbed out, can dry quickly. Peter Stokkebye makes a coin cut blend, called Curly Cut, and Sam Gawith offers the legendary Full Virginia Flake. Also, Cornell and Diehl makes a brick-style flake called Pirate Kake (sigh).

These cuts provide a change of pace for the pipe smoker, and are a reminder of the long history and evolution of pipe tobacco blends--for pirates, and everyone else.

Twitter:  @thepipebit