We hear it all the time.
“My dad smoked Captain Black, and I always loved that smell. Send me seven tins, just like last month!”
“Can you tell me if you have a tobacco that has a strong cherry aroma? My grandfather always had a pipe going and I’m trying to find it now… Came in a little white box I think…”
“I have to tell you this story. Back when I was in school, this girl was walking behind me every day just to smell the Carter Hall I was smoking. One day I confronted her, and she confessed how much she loved that smell and just loved following me around. She asked if I minded, I said not at all. She still follows me around after she feeds the kids. They watch TV while we take a walk.”
Every pipe and cigar smoker refines their appreciation of the connection between taste and smell over time. Since our olfactory system has direct access to the emotional response and associative learning areas of the brain, those of us who spend our days with such a high degree of smoky stimulation are bound to have a real traffic jam going on up there in old noggin. As our sensors fill up with a particular odor, whether pleasant or foul, the sense of the smell diminishes to the point of saturation. After a time away from the scent in question, the receptors clear. We remember not to walk too close to where they are tarring the streets, and we are ready for the next aromatic interactive adventure. But how deeply the memory responds to the sudden exposure of a long unexperienced aroma can produce some intriguing interpretations of our chemical world.
When I was just starting to organize my likes and dislikes as a pipe smoker, I was bouncing around the aromatics in typical fashion, but always returning to Mac Baren’s Symphony, Mixture, or Virginia No. 1.
I was then only vaguely aware of the “room note versus smoking taste” war that always seems to be raging in our universe. I was working for the city parks department during summer vacation breaks, and my days included many a coffee break at various locations, en route to our next destination for weed whacking and trash dumping. Further down the counter of one particular diner sat a fellow in a white lab coat, whom I recognized from my brief encounter as a volunteer minstrel at the nearby State Hospital. I didn’t realize he was a fellow pipe smoker until the smoke began to rise from his freshly lit bent apple. I was stopped in my tracks, taking in the first few wafts of the lusciously intense and almost instantly intoxicating aroma of toasty roasty burley garnished perfectly with hazelnuts. As I stepped further along through the thick of the haze to the source, I spied on the counter a surprising packet I would forever equate with this experience, and many future pleasant memories, sparked by the classic green pouch before me.
“Hi, I thought that was you, how ya’ doin?! Didn’t know you smoked a pipe … Wow! Amphora Rich Aromatic … I always avoided this thinking it would be too strong, but that smells great!”
Well, the rest was small talk, but needless to say, I picked up a pouch the next day and it became a welcome addition to my daily rotation for years to come. That is, until that sad era when the Douwe Egberts formula was passed on, and the access in the U.S. market faded away.
But as for being connected to an aroma, and being transported to another time and place, I found myself years later rummaging through my old barn. Rumor, and something passing for memory, had it that some of my old pipes and supplies had been discovered tucked away in a box somewhere in the loft. When I opened the flaps, there among the few old briar friends, Dill’s, and tampers, was one of those same classic green treasures, staring up at me once again. A frozen moment. A sense of muted exaltation. Could it be? But wait. It became clear that this pouch was already opened. With a skipped beat, my heart slipped downward. Oh no! Would it be ruined? Dry and crumbling? Infested with vermin?? I grabbed it, and immediately the aroma was seeking my memory and response. Peeling it open, I looked inside, and the extra push of that long lost aroma came gushing forth from its amazingly well aged and beautifully preserved bounty. The Jackpot!
I was transported instantly to that summer job, the cozy diner, the introduction, the sense of timelessness and continuity, and all the warm glows from the countless bowlfuls of this and many other blends I smoked through that youthful era. And though I smoked nearly all of that well seasoned pouch over the next week or so, I saved a pipeful’s worth within it and placed on the wall of my garage, with some similar keepsakes, as a visual history for contemplation. But the sight of it will not match the experience that shook me off the sleepy state of my daily routine on that memorable day.
It was like I woke up just to smell that ‘baccy! …Umm-boy!