There Are No Absolutes

Pipe smoking as a pastime is much more of an art than anything else. What I mean is that with something like mathematics, there are certainties, at least in practical everyday use.  Two plus two is four, and always will be. But in pipe smoking, very little, if anything, is universal. Why is this? The answer is simple- the human factor. If everyone smoked nice and slow, there wouldn’t be as many different kinds of pipes or tobacco blends. To explain let’s look at this example. Burley blends, like the Missouri Meerschaum Missouri Pride, burn very slowly, and is a pretty cool smoke. If someone who smokes nothing but Virginia blends (who by definition must either smoke slowly or have a tongue made of asbestos) were to try this blend, (s)he would probably have to deal with a lot of relights because her/his smoking cadence wouldn’t be hard or fast enough to keep the tobacco lit. We generally refer to these tobaccos as “codger blends”, because they’re typical of blends from the sixties and before. Back then, you could smoke almost everywhere, so many people had a pipe in their mouths almost all day. If the tobacco burned hot, that would be a big problem. The person who smokes a bowl or two a day while relaxing will probably be much less aggressive, and so they might puff lighter and less frequently, which is ideal for the hotter-burning Virginia blends.

Aromatics vary widely. The ones that are primarily made of Burley and black Cavendish, like our Butternut Burley, will smoke more like the over-the-counter Burley blends, so you can puff more aggressively without worrying so much about scorching your tongue. But some aros, like Lane’s MV-1000, are made of nothing but Virginias, so they need to be smoked more like a Virginia blend.

Latakia-based blends also tend to be better for hard puffers, but not always. Blends with a super-fine cut, or with a high percentage of Virginia will be a little hotter. Wide ribbon cuts, and those blends with a significant amount of Latakia will be fairly cool. The issue with Latakia is the intensely smoky flavor and aroma. This may not be your cup of tea. also, these blends often contain Orientals, and some people have an aversion to the spice and/or herbal quality they can lend.

Looking at pipes, the products available are nearly limitless. There are a wide variety of materials, shapes, stem materials amount of bend and trim. Each material has advantages and disadvantages, with briar being the most popular, but corn cobs aren’t too far away. Briar is fairly light, absorbent and makes for a pretty cool smoke, plus the grain can be beautiful. Cobs share most of those characteristics with briars, but they don’t have the same durability, although, with care, they can last for years. Meerschaum is also absorbent and fairly light, and can be carved into incredible shapes. Its biggest drawback is being fairly fragile. Meers are best enjoyed at home, as a little knocking around can be fatal.

Some people like thicker acrylic stems while others prefer thin vulcanite. Some people like bent pipes, others would rather collect straights. As I said earlier, the human factor is the reason for such variety. Which brings me to another point.

Over the years, a lot of people have tried smoking a pipe and gave it up because they found it to be a less than pleasant experience. Why is that? Most likely, those people walked into a drugstore and bought an inexpensive pipe and a pouch of tobacco without understanding the differences in the various types of blends. They probably had no one to tell them how to pack a pipe, light it, keep it going and how to maintain it. If they were luckier, they may have had a tobacconist in their area who could help, but today those shops are hard to find, and the ones that exist often don’t have a very wide variety of pipes and tobaccos since they focus more on cigars.

That’s why our company exists, and why we send out catalogs six time a year. It’s our desire to let you know about the huge selection of products we have, and on our website and here on, we share information to make the pastime more enjoyable. So if someone gives you a hard time about the kind of pipes or tobaccos you like, just remember, there’s a reason why there are so many different items available, and that reason is to make you happy based upon your preferences.

About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for 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 or by calling 1-800-494-9144.