Last week, I was asked if I would write an article from the opposite perspective and see where the similarities lie. The idea was to get insight from a cigar smoker who also enjoys an occasional pipe, in opposition to a pipe smoker who smokes cigars from time to time. I have never really given much thought as to why I decided to take up the hobby or why I prefer one over the other. It all started for me a long time ago. If you haven’t read that story, check it out.
I think when I decided to try smoking cigars it had a lot to do with what I was doing and who I was doing it with at the time. I was
always just a little bit off center compared to all of my friends and I liked to keep it that way, so when we would do things like shoot pool or go to a bar, they all smoked cigarettes. I tried a few but never enjoyed the taste or the idea that the filter would stick to my lip. I started to bring a cigar with me just as much for effect as I did for smoking enjoyment at the time. I wanted to be rebellious in a sheep like sort of way. I wanted people to look at me but keep away all at the same time.
Eventually it got to a point where I liked smoking cigars for the cigars sake and began exploring more premium brands. I even started going to a real cigar shop, ironically I work there now, as opposed to a gas station or drug store. My tastes developed and I was onto something. At the time that all of this was going on, I never really gave any thought to smoking a pipe. I figured it was for old men and I was never going to be an old man. Thanks Pete Townshend.
At some point while hanging around the tobacco shop, curiosity got the better of me and I wondered over to the pipe section. I was impressed with the stylistic differences that pipes themselves had to offer. I saw the pipes almost as collectable pieces of art rather
than functional smoking devices. The fact that they were useable made it more alluring to me. After some personal debating, I decided to buy a simple entry level house pipe off the wall.
I immediately frustrated myself because I had no clue what I was doing. I stuffed as much tobacco as I could into the pipe and tried firing it up. I think the only reason I did not pitch it immediately was because I was able to get some smoke out of it somehow. It quickly went out and I had to relight it. This ritual occurred about a dozen times before I got to the end of the bowl, or gave up, I don’t recall. I clearly had no idea what I was doing, so I went back to the shop and Scotty was there to give me a lesson in pipe smoking. The lesson was useful and filled with great general knowledge about how to pack and light a pipe to get maximum effectiveness and burn. At that point pipe smoking became more enjoyable for me. I was still primarily a cigar smoker however. To me there was less fuss and less needed to enjoy easily. I could simply carry a cutter and lighter, and in some cases neither. If you are going into the shop to buy a cigar, just grab the cutter off the counter and a pack of matches and you were all set.
My pipe smoking never really took off until I started working here officially. Scotty asked me after I was here a few months if I smoked a pipe and I told him I owned 1 and smoked it rarely. He looked on the shelf and picked out a pipe and handed it to me stating, “Smoke this and learn about pipe smoking so you can be better equipped to answer customers questions.” I looked immediately to Russ for advice on breaking in a pipe and what kind of tobaccos I might like. We settled on a few to try, and I really enjoyed what we picked out. That is how I found out I preferred English tobaccos. Eventually I bought a few more pipes to add to my collection, but never got heavily into them. It was more of a functional art thing for me. There are definitely occasions where I think a pipe is more appropriate that a cigar. Typing for me, because I hold it in my teeth, is one example and sometimes on a hike. A pipe and a bag of tobacco are much more durable than a cigar or 2 if you don’t have a case for them. Also, if I am looking for a quick smoke, I will go for a pipe because you don’t have to pack a full bowl.
There is also the question of mixology. I have never gotten to deep into that aspect. I am friends with and sit near one of the world’s best pipe tobacco blenders; I don’t need to experiment too much. We occasionally bounce an idea off of him and, if he has the time, he will make some to test. If it tests well, it goes to market. I find pipe smoking, for me, to be more ritualistic and relaxed than cigar smoking. I don’t think I could do that in good conscience at work, and I don’t smoke much at home anymore so my pipe smoking is rather limited.
I started smoking a pipe at 18, mostly because of my dad. So of course, when I decided to give it a try, who did I consult? Nobody. I was afraid that dad would be disappointed in me for smoking, so I walked into a drug store and saw a “deal”- two pouches of Borkum Riff and a Venturi “The Pipe” (a ridiculously brightly colored red pot). I knew about tools and cleaners, but not how to pack, light and smoke the pipe. Needless to say, I fried my mouth repeatedly. Also, I got frustrated because the pipe wouldn’t break in. Much later I found that those pipes never break in
When I finally broke down and admitted to my father that I had begun smoking a pipe, he asked to see what I had purchased. He gave one glance, stood up from his recliner and said, “Come on, let’s go get you a good pipe and tobacco. He brought me to the shop he always frequented and said to the clerk, “Vinny, my son needs a good pipe and real tobacco”. He had no idea what he contributed to.
I got a good, solid bent board pipe and a couple of Latakia blends and couldn’t believe the difference. The rest, as they say, is history.
I had to frequent another shop due to my dad’s tobacconist only being open during the same time that my college classes were going on. So I went to a mall operation and became friendly with the manager who offered me a part-time job. After I started working there, the manager trained me in the premium cigar arena, and I found that I enjoyed them as well.
My preference is the pipe, because of the esthetics of the instruments and the variety in the tobaccos, but there are certain times when a cigar works best for me. I like a cigar when I’m more active- playing golf, driving, writing- mainly because the cigar is less clumsy to deal with.
Also, there has been an additional benefit that I hadn’t anticipated. By smoking cigars regularly, I notice that my palate is more acute than just smoking a pipe, and that’s really important when your job is pipe tobacco.