Pipes and Cigars

Despite the title, this isn’t about our website. This is about my thoughts on the differences between pipe and cigar smoking. Some are obvious, others are less so. All of them are just my opinion, but that’s what I have to work with, so here I go.

The first thing I ever smoked was a pipe (and, yes, it was a tobacco pipe, wise guy). My dad smoked a pipe all the time and I loved the smell of his tobacco, so I lit up for the first time when I was eighteen. Of course, I was as self-assured as only an eighteen-year-old can be, so I didn’t ask for advice and bought the cheapest pipe and tobacco I could find. If my father didn’t see me smoking my pipe and ask me what the hell I was smoking, I probably would have quit the pipe and I never would have had the chance to do what I’m doing now. Dad took me to his tobacconist, got me a decent pipe and a nice Latakia blend, and I then understood what a pleasure pipe smoking can be.

For me, pipe smoking is all about relaxation and reflection. The ritual of smoking a pipe is almost as important as the enjoyment of the smoke itself. Packing a bowl carefully to make sure that the draw is good, lighting, tamping, relighting. Once it’s going, the flavor and aroma and watching the curls of smoke coming out of the bowl are an almost meditative experience. I prefer to be reading, listening to good music or watching something interesting while I’m enjoying a pipeful. Well, most of the time, that is.
Some of the time, I’m smoking for analysis. If we’ve received a new blend and I’m checking it out for review or just to know what it’s like, or if I’m experimenting with something that might become part of our own product line, it becomes a very different experience. When I’m analyzing, my focus is totally on the pipe itself. No music, books or media, no distractions of any kind are welcome. I’m checking for excessive heat, whether the tobacco stays lit, flavor elements, aroma, aftertaste, and anything that I feel is pertinent. Many times this is an enjoyable experience, but often it’s not. Anything that’s even slightly “off” will bother me. The strange thing is that I might smoke the same tobacco recreationally and enjoy it, but when I’m in analysis mode, the smallest thing can ruin it for me.

I enjoy pipe club meetings and I love hanging out during pipe shows after the exhibit hall is closed for the day. We’ll sit around talking about pipes, tobacco, people we know and more, most of the time with a pipe going. But usually, a pipe is a solitary pleasure for me. It’s my contemplative, almost zen-like time.

The broad variety of flavors and aromas of pipe tobacco take me to an entirely different place than a cigar, as I’m often surprised during a bowlful, especially if it’s a new blend that I’m smoking. Little nuances will hit me very strongly, almost like having a circus clown run out in front of your car at night in the country.

I enjoy cigars as much as a pipe, and in some ways even more so. I say this because I’m not as critical, usually, when I’m having a stogie. Cigars have their own ritual- cutting, toasting, lighting and taking those initial puffs to get the cigar completely lit. The flavors are of a different kind than in a pipe; more mature, in a way, as the fermentation is everything in developing the flavor. Fermentation is certainly important in pipe tobacco, but other things, such as casings, top-dressing, fire-curing among others, will have a significant impact on the flavor. Most of those other processes are either not used, or are of a lesser influence in a cigar.

When I’m reviewing a cigar, though, it’s very different to me, It becomes much more like analyzing a pipe tobacco. I’m looking hard at appearance, construction, burn, aroma, flavor and finish. Additionally, I’m breaking down the flavor into individual taste components and flavors similar to other things- coffee, wood, leather, etc.

But, from the social viewpoint, cigars are the opposite of pipes. I much prefer to either be interacting with people or actively involved in something like writing while I’m smoking. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it has to do with the fact that cigar smoking doesn’t require all the fussing and fidgeting that smoking a pipe entails.

Cigar smokers tend to be more boisterous and livelier than pipesters, so they tend to gather in groups much more frequently.  I know that I enjoy getting together with a group with some good cigars, and every cigar lounge I go to is usually pretty noisy and upbeat. Except for when the smartphones, tablets and e-readers come out, but that’s a subject for another time.

I truly enjoy my pipes and cigars pretty much equally, but for different reasons, and often one or the other is connected to my mood or what I’m doing at the time. I’m sure that there’s some psychology involved here, but that’s not my area of expertise, so I won’t theorize. All I’m sure of is that both lend themselves much more to the hobby aspect of tobacco enjoyment than any of the other forms, and that I don’t need either one, but they add greatly to my enjoyment…for different reasons.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.