The older the better

Ancient Capstan

± 90 year old Capstan Medium Navy Flake

I still can remember the first time I bought tinned pipe-tobacco about 3½ years ago. I checked the tin for the expiration date and could not find it to my surprise. My (twisted) mind went like: Tobacco is a leaf, leaves are like vegetables and they can’t be kept good for a long period (I still remember the withered cauliflower in my fridge started quoting Shakespeare..). So where was the damn date?? At that time I did not know that it is with most tobaccos like it is with most wines, the older the better. My eyes were opened by a story from GL Pease in which he tells that the owner of a store he used to work (Drucquer & Sons) used to age certain blends and sell them later at a higher price. At that time I also became active at some international fora and saw that especially in The States it is quit common to stock up on blends you like. Being a cheap Dutchman, this made me think. Every year the prices of tobacco go up here because of the bloody taxes. So to be able to smoke tobaccos at yesterdays prices and have the benefits from ageing… *big grin*

time_tobaccoBut first of all, very important, it is no guarantee that ageing a tobacco will make it better. A shitty blend will never become ambrosia for your taste buds. It is not a certainty that a tobacco which should age well will actually do so. Having said that, what actually happens when you age a blend? Time makes sure the various components of the mixture will marry, blend together into a more consistent whole. Also lot of tobacco species contain sugars which are needed for fermentation. That process transforms, changes the leaves used. It provides a less sharp, mellower but richer and more complex taste. So the more sugar in a tobacco leaf, the better it will ferment and the richer it will taste after ageing.

fermentationThere are 2 types of fermentation: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic fermentation happens in the American-style pull-lid tins (which contain more free oxygen) and in mason jars with bulk blends. Anaerobic fermentation is what occurs in the European-type vacuum sealed tins. Because there is more air in the American style tins the ageing dynamics are different. It is not so much that they age faster than the European-style tins than that it is just a matter of.. Difference. Experienced cellarers: please let me know that precise difference! Thanks! And when an old tin is opened of course new changes will begin to take place just like a wine is “breathing”.

Let’s take a look at the different species of tobacco and how they react to ageing:

virginia_tobaccoVirginia: Ages the best of all the tobaccos because of their high sugar content. If you have a blend with a lot of Virginias in it you have a good chance it will become more yummie with time. Within half a year you should notices the first changes and within 1 to 5 years it should really begin to shine. After those first years the speed of change will become slower, more gradual, but the blend will continue to improve. How long? I guess it will take 30 to 40 years before the mixture will go over the top and a certain descent might begin. But even then the smoke can be absolutely sublime.

oriental_tobaccoOriental: A high sugar level (just below Virginias) is also present in oriental tobaccos. Because of this they also age very well with the same ageing-expectancy as Virginias.

latakia_tobaccoLatakia: Mixtures with latakia reach their summit in about 5 years and then begin to decline more rapidly. Latakia does not really age but gets softer, loses its edge with time. So if a blend depends on the smoky, leathery and spicy taste of latakia you should not stash away the tin for too long. But if there is good layering of other tobaccos underneath the dark leaf (hello Virginia and orientals) the blend still can deliver a fantastic smoke. Even though it will transform into something more harmonious, something less pungent. The old Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture is a good example of this. It still tastes wonderful despite some pipe-smokers prefer the newer version because of the fresher latakia.

burley_tobaccoBurley: This leaf is low in sugar so there is not much fermentation going on. Just as with latakia it will become more smooth and blend in with the other tobaccos like sweet Virginias who get better with time as I told above. The delicious Estoterica Stonehaven is a prime example of this and will age very, very well.

perique_tobaccoPerique: Because of the pressure-fermentation process with making the peppery leaf it will not change much over the years. But as with burley the combination with Virginia is a golden one. The thought alone of well-aged Escudo makes my mouth water.

cavendish_tobaccoCavendish: In a way the same goes for cavendish as for perique. Because of the double fermentation process it will not really age.

aromatic_tobaccoAromatic tobaccos: Sweetened aromatics do not seem to age well. These tobaccos often have quite a bit of Propylene Glycol in them which serves as a humectant and carrier of aromatic flavours. So over a long time frame, they are pretty stable. The biggest change is that the aromatic components and characteristics can degrade or change over time. So what you find in a tin 5 years from now may not be as pleasing as it is today.

Here are some tips and facts about ageing and cellaring your precious tobaccos:

Sierra Exif JPEG– Preferably tobacco should be left in the original sealed tin. So check it out before storing to make sure it is not damaged. Look for damage to the tin, bumps, pin holes etc. Just make sure the vacuum seal is good. Then you can store it in a cool, dark place without a lot of fluctuations in temperature. An ideal temperature would be in the range of 15-21°C. So DON’T put tobacco in the refrigerator or freezer! That may cause damage to the cell structure of the tobacco. Also pay attention to the humidity, even though the tobacco is in airtight tins. High levels of humidity can cause corrosion and/or rust to the tin-metals and could compromise the seal. You also do not want to store your tobacco where it is exposed to light for long periods of time. Besides the light itself it often means heat, which can cause all kinds of unwanted chemical processes in tobacco. So do not try to speed up the ageing process by heating up your tins or loose tobacco.

Exif JPEG– I would recommend mason jars for the storage of bulk, loose and opened tins of tobacco. I prefer glass because it is a non-porous material and can be disinfected very easily. Airtight plastic containers are also ok but I still prefer glass. I just don’t feel ok with plastic. It’s a personal thing. If I do use plastic I make damn sure that it is brand new and that the tobacco is the first thing to hit the virginal bottom ever. The good thing is, mason, ball and bail top jars are pretty inexpensive and can be bought almost anywhere. They also come in a variety of sizes. That way you can use a small one to put some tobacco in that you regularly smoke and a large one for tobacco that you really want to age. Preparing the jars for storing/jarring/canning/whatever is one of the most important steps in the process of storing. Make sure that you sterilize the jars before you use them. I wash the mason, ball and bail top jars (including the rubber rings) with boiling water. I never use soap or something like that because I am afraid there will be a residue somewhere and my tobacco starts to smell like Lakeland-style blends. Then I dry the jars and rings with clean paper towels and the tobacco can be put inside. It is advisable to label each jar with the contents and put a date on them before storage. Some people prefer to place the filled jars in boiling water to heat them up and then place the lids on to create a vacuum seal. I have never done that and I have had no problems at all. My older jars have created their own vacuum while in storage. Just one more thing, the rubber rings will start to smell like the tobacco inside. So if you want to refill the jar with an aromatic after having smoked a for example latakia-heavy blend out of it, just make sure you replace the rubber ring. Nothing can get the smell out of it..

©MarkC

©MarkC

– Vacuum sealing is great for many things but is pretty useless for tobacco. Tobacco needs some air to maintain the ageing process. A perfectly vacuum sealed bag or container will probably keep the contents fresh, but it may not really age the way you expect it to. So.. Having said that I realize that vacuum sealing is ideal for aromatics! One tip from a Dutch forum member: do not vacuum loose tobacco in a seal-bag. It will destroy and break up the tobacco strands.. Preferably put the tobacco in an unused tin, put that in the bag and vacuum the hell, ehmm, air out of it.

Wish I was able to buy more of these..

Wish I was able to buy more of these..

– When you find a blend you like it is always a good idea to buy 1 tin to smoke now and 1 (or more) to cellar. That way your collection will keep growing with tobaccos you like and you have the benefits of ageing. A win-win situation.

pipe_cigar– Do not store pipe tobacco and cigars together. Cigars are like little sponges and they will eventually absorb any moisture, aromas, and flavours that are nearby.  Having said that, do not store pipe tobacco in a (cigar) humidor. 1. The cedar in humidors absorbs moisture and it will suck all of the moisture from your tobacco like a vampire. 2. It will absorb the aroma of the tobacco blend. 3. The cedar could also add a cedar aroma and flavour to your tobacco.

Aged full Virginia flake © Hermit

Aged Full Virginia Flake © Hermit

– Sometimes you can find so called “sugar crystals” on aged tobacco. Mr. Pease has done some rudimentary playing with them, though no full-scale analysis, and found them not sweet, not very soluble, and not very likely to be sugar. Probably they are organic acids that have surfaced as a result of pH or other changes in the chemistry of the leaf as it ages. But good new, the presence of these crystals usually indicates something good has happened to the tobacco that hosts them! PipesMagazine.com member cgrd took some neat pictures of the crystals on a flake of Stonehaven from under a microscope which you can see here.

My Marcovitch with a lot of mould on top of it.. Argghh!!!!

My Marcovitch with a lot of mould on top of it.. Argghh!!!!

– Mould is the enemy of (aged) tobacco. How do you know it is there? Well, if there is a spider-web like, hairy substance on your tobacco. Bad news… Your nose will offer the second clue. Tobacco with mould stinks in a way that is difficult to describe but once you have smelled it, you’ll never forget it. Imagine the aroma of the sweaty feet of your girlfriend combined with the scent of over-ripe French cheese..

nicot– Nicotine has nowhere to go and it does not seem to break down through ageing. But ageing can change the pH of the smoke which will change how readily the nicotine is absorbed. The more alkaline the smoke, the more nicotine you will get into your bloodstream. My personal experience is that older tobaccos are stronger. Or they just made them stronger in the ol’ days. When men were more manly!

internet– There is a free site where you can fill in all the data about your tobacco collection. This way you can show off to your friends what you precisely have: http://www.tobaccocellar.com/

± 90 year old Capstan "fresh" in the tin!

± 90 year old Capstan “fresh” in the tin!

In my Pleasures of life in Belgium 2014 blog-post I told you about my ± 90-year old knife-cutter tin of Capstan Medium Navy Flake that was opened by Martin. For more pictures see below.  Astoundingly the condition of the tobacco inside the tin was perfect! Which is a testament to the quality of the old “knife lid” or “cutter top” tins. I had a few of those: a tin of Craven Mixture from the 1930’s, a St. Bruno Flake tin from the 1960’s and the Capstan Medium Navy Flake tin from the 1920’s. All of them were a bit corroded from the outside but clean as a whistle from the inside. Spotless!

Ancient Capstan in a mason jar

Ancient Capstan in a mason jar

Back home from the meeting I had the chance to properly gaze at the ancient Capstan. Unfortunately all the flakes were more or less stuck together because of the age so I had big difficulties keeping them whole. I am well acquainted with the current production and compared to that the old flakes were pretty dark and very thin. In fact I have never seen such thinly cut flakes, only Esoterica’s Stonehaven comes close. The smell from the tobacco was instantly recognizable. Typical (current day) Capstan, but somewhat diminished. I could smell more tobacco than topping/casing. And that was also the case with the taste when I lit up my pipe. The current production leans on the topping/casing while with the old version those flavours had degraded somewhat over the years. Instead the aged Virginia tobaccos had taken the reign and transformed the flakes into an exceptionally smooth mouth-watering whole. But in all honesty, I did like the contents of my 1989 Capstan tin better. That one had the best of both worlds: still intact topping/casing flavours and aged tobacco.

So buy those blends you love and start your own old treasure tobacco collection!

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The quest for forum tobaccos – Part 2.

Hans Wiedemann

Hans Wiedemann

Fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen. At the time I wrote part 1 I never, ever expected that there would be a part 2 of my quest for forum tobaccos. I just experienced too many disappointments and thought that it would all end in nothing. But…. As you can read in the last response at the bottom of the page Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco once again took pity on me and helped me out. Once again it often was not smooth sailing, but we persevered and in the end overcame all obstacles.

PRF 5 jaarSo, to refresh our memories, why the forum tobaccos? Well, this year the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum exists 5 years. Because of that last year the idea arose for some special forum tobaccos to celebrate the jubilee. 3 tobaccos to be precise, a latakia mixture, an aromatic and a Virginia flake. Of course I had to open my big mouth and I became responsible for the creation of those tobaccos and the artwork. Why? Because it is a dream of me to see a blend which is created by myself is made available for others. And that is more difficult than I thought..

wowA lot of things were possible with Hans BUT only if we were buying 50 tins of 100 gr. per sort. So that is 150 tins in total! 15 kilo! I thought that the forum-members would never buy such an amount. Deeply disheartened I explained the story on the forum and asked how many tins the members were willing to buy. This because I had to have to money upfront. No Rudi this time to buy all the tobaccos and later see how he would sell them. To my utter and absolute amazement within only a couple of hours the amount of 50 tins per sort was reached! The next days the quantity kept growing. And that without knowing an exact price or having the actual blends! In the end 73 tins of the aromatic were ordered, 109 tins of the latakia and a whopping 116 tins of the flake. A total of 298! 29,8 kilo of tobacco! Wow!  Unnecessary to say that Hans and I could continue. The role of Hans would be that of advisor and mediator between myself and the tobacco factory he sometimes worked with. I was responsible for pretty much everything else. The creation of the blends, the artwork, collecting the money from the forum members and the distribution of the tins.

800px-DunhillLightFlakeRound 1. My first idea for the flake was that of a light Virginia flake in the vein of Orlik Golden Sliced, Dunhill Flake and Capstan. So I asked for a light natural Virginia flake with only a slight topping of tonka-bean and even less orange. Unfortunately the tobacco factory thought this was to be the aromatic so they applied way to much of the topping. Hans first got the sample and well, he did not like it to say the least.. Also the tobacco factory were not happy with having to add an aroma to a flake. It would not work they said. On top of that the first samples Hans send to me to my home address did not reach me and got lost in the mail..

1Round 2. From this time on Hans decided to send packages to my working address. That way we both know they would arrive. In the package I got were 3 flakes, 3 aromatic samples and 3 latakia samples. Let’s start with the flakes. Because the application of an aroma on a flake was not a good idea I had to choose between several already existing flakes. The first one I smoked was bland and uninteresting. The next couple of flakes were pretty decent but had the same problem: they were available here in The Netherlands.. So I had to step off the idea of a light, pure Virginia flake. I told Hans to search for a flake, as long as it did not have latakia, that was not available here or too well known in these parts.

Vanilla-LatteFor the aromatic I had already mailed several ideas to Hans which were translated into 3 samples: 1. Black cavendish, burley and bright Virginias with an aroma of coconut and vanilla. 2. Black cavendish, burley and several Virginias with an aroma of passion fruit and ahorn. 3.  A lot of Black cavendish, bright Virginias and a bit of burley with an aroma of coffee and vanilla. I smoked all the samples and could not find a clear winner. So I send some samples away and let a couple of folks smoke them. All had the same favourite, the one with coffee and vanilla. But for me it lacked a certain punch, it needed some more aroma.

LatakiaI mailed Hans some ideas for the latakia mixture and he mixed two samples himself of which he thought I would be satisfied with. The third sample was mixed by the tobacco factory after an idea of Hans. Before the samples were send through to me Hans already smoked the factory sample and he was raving about it which made me feel very positive.. ..Until I smoked the actual sample. It tasted bitter and I did not like it one bit. Having learned my lesson with the aromatics I send away some samples hoping for some sound opinions. After all, my taste is not the taste of everyone. When I received the feedback it became clear that the blend indeed was too bitter. To make things worse I also was not impressed with the samples Hans made himself. Solid and well crafted blends, don’t get me wrong, but nothing special. And I wanted something special. So at the end of round 2 Hans and me were not happy men. We still did not have a flake, the aromatic was not good yet and the latakia mixture also was not up to par. In the end we tried to be as positive as possible.

2Round 3.  I received 2 flake samples which were not available in The Netherlands. Hans already had smoked both and very much liked one of them. I also tried this one and indeed, it was absolutely superb! The other one was pretty good but that was it. To be 100% sure I once again let people smoke from the samples and luckily everyone opted for the one Hans and I were enthusiastic about. With the flakes we had a very clear winner, yeah!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the aromatic the tobacco factory had a slight problem. They could not boost the aromas they had used any further, they were at their maximum. Whaaaat?? Luckily they opted for some other but similar tasting aromas. Those were of higher quality but also more expensive. Well, so be it. I had already decided to not cut down on the quality of anything regarding the tobaccos. When I received the sample I could not have been happier. Exactly what I wanted, here we also had a winner, I liked it very much!

Plan BWhat I did not like was the new latakia mixture sample. For me it looked, smelled and tasted not special enough. Luckily I had a plan B. I once smoked one of the house-blends of a German tobacconist and I absolutely loved it. One of the best latakia mixtures I ever smoked. Period. So I asked Hans if he wanted to inform if we could use it as a forum tobacco. And we could! BUT I had a big dilemma now. I already told the forum that the flake was an existing one but that the aromatic and latakia mixture would be unique blends. Now the latakia mixture was available somewhere in Germany.. I needed some advice about what to do and found it by some friends from the forum. They said I should be open about it and let the forum decide if the project should stop or go ahead. So I opened up to the forum members and clearly explained the situation. Thankfully the vast majority (you can never please everyone) was very understanding and said I should go on.

moneyYesss!!! I had 3 winners! Now the financial part. I am very straightforward and told Hans immediately very clear what kind of price I wanted for the tins and why. Well, I offended him bigtime by doing it this way.. It took me a lot of e-mails to smooth things out between us. A lesson well learned. Needless to say we got the tins for a very good price thanks to Hans. I could have made a bit of profit on the tobaccos but I decided to keep them as cheap as possible.

7I got busy creating the artwork, collected the money from the orders of the forum members and relaxed a bit. I send the finished artwork to Hans who would send it through to the tobacco factory. He also arranged some blank sample tins for the Heukelum meeting. I printed the labels at my work and put them around the tins. Absolutely stunning! Just before the meeting I got the sample artwork which was printed by the tobacco factory themselves. Compared to my own prints it was a bit grainy and dark. Still ok but I am a perfectionist, it was not up to my standards. The thing was, I forgot to ask Hans how we should do things with the labels and Hans forgot to inform me that we were better off printing the labels at a professional printing-company. Another lesson well learned. Now I luckily can perfectly live with the printed labels.

So, FINALLY here are the 3 Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum tobaccos:

P10607532

Genietmoment

GENIETMOMENT
Contents: Black Cavendish, Golden Virginia, Burley
Flavouring: Coffee, Vanilla
Packaging: 100g tin
Tin description: Create an enjoyable moment for yourself with this high quality mixture, consisting of Black Cavendish, Golden Virginia and a bit of Burley topped with an aroma of coffee and vanilla.
GenietmomentBackground information: One of my ideas for the aromatic forum tobacco was to do something with coffee. I come from the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant where taking the time for a nice cup of coffee is common. But a coffee flavour is very difficult to incorporate in a tobacco because it has a tendency to dominate. Despite Hans and myself were successful in creating a delicious mixture by the addition of some vanilla. The main ingredient is Black Cavendish (also typical Dutch) with some Golden Virginia added and a bit of Burley. The inspiration for the artwork I got from coffee and beautiful women. Both enjoyable for most men. I also found it nice to put a woman on the cover because of our female forum-member, Monique (Milleluci).

Janneman Flake

Janneman Flake

JANNEMAN FLAKE
Contents: Brown and Red Virginias, Perique
Flavouring: None
Packaging: 100g tin
Tin description: Pressed brown and red fire-cured Virginias, full and soft of taste, are cut into long flakes and together with a pinch of perique, to round off the whole, they provide a fitting tribute to the “pater noster” of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum: Janneman.
Janneman_FlakeBackground information: On the PRF Rotterdam-meeting last year we talked about forum-member Janneman, that he meant a lot to many starting pipe smokers. Many folks of the forum got there because of the movies or Pijpenboek from Janneman. Would it not be nice to honour him with something? We asked ourselves. At that moment the whole forum tobacco story had just begun so I said “Isn’t it  a nice idea to honour Janneman with a forum tobbacco?” Everyone agreed and I kept the idea throughout the whole journey. So Janneman, thank you for inspiring many of us! The flake itself is very natural, full and interesting of taste and contains Red Virginias, firecured Brown Virginias and a bit of Perique. The artwork stands for another hobby of Janneman: flying of kites.

Brullende Leeuw

Brullende Leeuw

BRULLENDE LEEUW
Contents: Light and Red Virginias, Latakia, Oriental, Black Cavendish, Perique
Flavouring: None
Packaging: 100g tin
Tin description: The exquisite balance of this exotic mixture stands for the unity between the Dutch and Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum members. That together many pipes may be smoked!
PRF_Tabakken_K&K.inddBackground information: Like I already told,when it became clear that the latakia mixture was not according to my standards I decided to fall back on Plan B, using an already existing supreme quality tobacco. I immediately knew which one I wanted, I did not know if I was able to actually get it. And luckily I could get it. The blend is beautifully balanced with light and Red Virginias, Latakia, Oriental tobaccos, some Black Cavendish and a pinch of Perique. For the artwork I was inspired by the unity of the Belgian and Dutch forum members. The lion stands for a nice shared symbolism, thus the name “Brullende Leeuw” (Roaring Lion).

The forum tobaccos are available for everyone at the webshop of HU Tobacco.
For your information, HU Tobacco also ships to the US and other countries. For questions please e-mail Hans Wiedemann, he speaks English (and German of course): hu-tobacco@t-online.de

Kind words of Hans to the forum who sums it all up pretty well

Kind words of Hans to the forum who sums it all up pretty well

Last but not least I want to thank:
– Hans for the wonderful cooperation, without you this all would not have been possible!
– The members of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum for being a great bunch (thanks for the whisky!) and having faith in me.
– The tobacco testing members of the forum who’s opinions and advice about the tobaccos and other things have been very valuable to me.
– The forum tobacco distributors in The Netherlands and Belgium, you made my work a lot easier.
– My dear friend Ed.
– My girlfriend Ellen for her everlasting support <3.

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Whisky and Tobacco (by Paul) – Part 1.

The evening ended on a cozy note...Once in a while, mostly late in the evening when Ellen is already asleep, I like to indulge myself with a glass of good whisky. Often in combination with a pipe. Unfortunately I know very little of this distilled alcoholic beverage that is made from fermented grain mash, only that I like it. What I do know is that I enjoy a glass of peaty 16 year old Lagavulin paired with a pipe filled with leathery, smoky Penzance. Hmm.. I wondered.. Would there be more combinations possible between whisky and tobacco?

Paul

Paul

The man to ask this question to is Paul, who some of you may know from the “Who’s afraid of chemistry part 1 and 2” posts. Besides pipe smoking he also enjoys a good whisky. Well, several good whiskies. Ok, a lot of good whiskies. The man is a walking whisky encyclopaedia and has bottles and bottles of the finest “water of life” at home. Paul also does so called “nosings and tastings” in which, together with a selected group of people, he discusses how to distinguishing smells and tastes with whiskey. He also provides background information about the production process, the components of the distilleries, specificities of whisky, whisky regions and distilleries, wood and barrels, water and peat, boilers, other technical aspects etc. So I asked him to write a post about which whisky goes best with which tobacco. Before I let you read the piece Paul wrote I have to mention that throughout his story I linked to whisky reviews. Now not every reviewer thinks the same about a whisky (the same goes for tobacco) so all opinions and recommendations are Paul’s and are based on his knowledge and vast experience.

1For this article I want to write a bit about one of my other passions besides pipe-smoking: whisk(e)y. Arno has asked me: which whisky goes best with which tobacco? Hmmm, tough question to answer, because one person likes to adjust the tobacco aromas with the whisky aromas and another likes some contrast in tobacco and whisky while enjoying them together.

A LOT of whiskies

A LOT of whiskies

My specific love goes out to the Scotch single malt whiskies, so you will find them in my examples. But in this article I will occasionally mention the Irish and the American whiskeys too; sometimes with a specific brand-name and expression, sometimes as a group. In Scotch single malt whiskies 400 (four hundred) aromas have been found, so you will understand I can only give “some” guidance on brands and expressions. There are about 10.000 – 12.000 Scottish single malt expressions on the market, including the many independent bottlings. A list way too big to insert them all in this article. So please look upon the following tips and names as a first direction you can follow. For specific questions I will gladly be of service to answer anything on the subject of whisk(e)y. You can use the e-mail on my website www.whiskyinfoplus.nl (in Dutch, but you will find the e-mail button).

Well, this is not entirely true Batman..

Well, this is not entirely true Batman..

For the purists on this heavenly brew, who might have noticed the “e” in the name of the drink: Irish and American whiskey is written with the “e” in the name, all the other whisky producing countries spell it without the “e”. If generally mentioned I will write whisky in this article as the Scots do. If I mean specific Irish or American whiskey, you will notice the extra “e”. A final remark upfront: “yo” is not only a rap-word from guys like 50-Cents and others, but stands for “years old”, which is the age statement of the whiskies ageing in the casks.

Bushmills 16yo

AROMATIC BLENDS:

– vanilla and caramel:
Most American Bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys have quite some vanilla/caramel aromas, which go perfectly with a vanilla flavoured tobacco.
As do a lot of Irish whiskeys, such as Bushmills 16 yo, Magilligan 5 yo, Greenore 8 yo and Redbreast 12 yo.
Most Scotch single malts have aged in ex-Bourbon or ex-Tennessee casks and they almost always have aromas like vanilla, caramel and/or butterscotch. Like Glengoyne 12 yo, lots of The Macallan expressions, Deanston 12 yo, The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich single malts up to 15 yo. This also goes for most of the brands from the Speyside region, as long as they have matured on casks formerly used by American whiskey makers.

Drumguish

– honey:
A lot of whiskies can have some honey aromas, i.e. Drumguish (from the Speyside distillery, no age statement on the label), Speyburn Solera (which combines the honey with oranges) or The Macallan Fine Oak 10 yo.

Oban 14 yo

– orange/grape/citrus:
An aroma which also can be found in Scotch single malts, like Oban 14 yo, Speyburn Solera, Old Pulteney 12 yo (grape/orange like aroma) and Fettercairn Fior.

Tomatin 25 yo

– red fruits like berries, raspberry, blackberry, etc.:
Tomatin 25 yo has a few expressions with berry-aromas. Further you have Springbank 13 yo Port Cask, Lochside 10 yo and Glencadam 15 yo.

Glenturret 10 yo

– floral aromas:
Glenturret 10 yo brings out some floral notes, as well as a lot of whiskies which have matured on ex-sherry casks, like Glengoyne, Genfarclas 15 yo, Mannochmore 12 yo, Glenmorangie Lasanta 12 yo, Benriach 12 yo, Aberlour 12 yo and most whiskies which boast “matured in Oloroso/sherry/Pedro Ximenez casks” on the label.

Littlemill 8 yo

VIRGINIA BLENDS:
Almost all of the time an Irish whiskey matches perfectly with Virginia tobacco. There are far over 100 Irish whiskeys, blends, single malts, single grains, pot stilled or continuously distilled whiskeys. All with their own specific character but mostly a bit more “friendly & easy-going” in taste and aroma than the average Scotch single malt. You almost can’t go wrong combining a Virginia tobacco filled pipe with an Irish whiskey.

Scotch whiskies from the Lowlands also combine fine with the light sweet aroma of a lot of Virginia tobaccos. Think of Lowland whiskies like Auchentoshan 12 yo, Littlemill (if you still can find it, the Littlemill 8 yo has a typical aroma of a freshly mowed lawn), Bladnoch and Glenkinchie. But a Speyside region whisky like Knockdhu 12 yo or a young (under 15 yo) Knockando will do just fine as well. Ever tried Highland whiskies like Deanston 12 yo or Dalwhinnie 15 yo to go with your Virginia tobacco? Both, with their heathery and sweet notes, will bring out the sweetness of your Virginia pipe tobacco.

This post continues in part 2.

Who’s afraid of chemistry? (by Paul) – Part 2.

Let’s get on to answering the question of part 1 why we don’t smell/taste during smoking what we smelled before in the tobacco pouch:

Boiling_pointWhen you look at the variety of additives for pipe tobacco, for example to search for those on Wikipedia, you find some difficult descriptions and properties of those additives. Either the natural thing or the artificial. The most important value for our answer is the boiling point of that molecule. If we look up vanilline, it says it has a boiling point of 285 °C (= 558 K [Kelvin] or 545 °F).

pipeNow, why is that Boiling Point so important? Well, a German friend has asked a chemical engineer to measure the temperature of smouldering tobacco in a pipe and found it to be approximately 500 °C (= 773 K or 932 °F). When we take a puff at our pipe, the temperature of the smouldering tobacco quickly rises to about 700 °C (= 973 K or 1292 °F) and then drops right back to 500 °C if we stop puffing. And that is a big part of our answer: the used additives in pipe tobacco are already evaporated. This because their boiling point is way below the temperature of our smouldering tobacco. As you will find out by searching the boiling points of other aroma molecules, whether fruits or drinks or whatever, most of these molecules have a boiling point between 190 °C and 300 °C (= 463 K – 573 K or 374 °F – 572 °F) and will evaporate during smoking. So we don’t smell the aromas.

That’s the main reason, in my humble and not-scientific approach, that we don’t recognize the aroma from the pouch during the smoking of the tobacco. But there are some aroma’s which seem to be recognizable while puffing at our pipe. Why is that?

Carbon atom

Carbon atom

Well, this takes us to another chemistry thing: how many carbon atoms are present in the molecule of such an aroma? Because carbon has a boiling point of 4554 °C (= 4827 K or 8229 °F), these carbon atoms will not evaporate. Instead they will burn or at least heat up. This will be detectable during smoking by our nose and it smells like “burning coal”, often described as “just warm air”. In short, the more carbon atoms an aroma has, the better you can recognize it.

Furthermore aroma molecules which are pentose or hexose molecules (respectively five or six carbon atoms in the molecule) or more, like vanilline with eight carbon atoms, are harder to evaporate. Because of the high boiling point of the bigger share of high temperature carbon atoms, they might be easier escaping our pipe-bowl before being evaporated. So, an aroma molecule with just three or four carbon atoms evaporates easier than a molecule with more carbon atoms.

Super-sweet BiBo tobacco

Super-sweet BiBo tobacco

There are examples of tobacco brands (like the super-sweet BiBo with oranges and chocolate aroma, Mediterraneo with peach-aroma and Memories of Tuscany with grape-aroma, all from DTM in Germany) which keep their aroma during smoking, down to the last ashes of our pipe. This is possible by using additives which contain more carbon atoms in the molecules. Or use can be made of alternative aroma additives which smell like (in the case of BiBo) oranges and chocolate, but have another molecular structure than the original orange or chocolate molecules.

Then there is another thing: the room-note. Why do people in the room smell more sweetness from our smoking then us, the pipe-smokers? Or why do we get the smell too, when we go out of the room for a little while and then return?

I think that’s because, although the smoking temperature is that high, some aromas will come out off our pipe bowl. This because they are connected to condensed water; air holds moisture and condenses while cooling down after being heated in our smouldering tobacco. So a small part of the aroma molecules “lifts along” with the moisture in the airflow which leaves our pipe between our smoke. And this might cause the nice room-note.

2769777dThe fact that the pipe-smoker doesn’t detect that room-note so intense as the other people in the room is also because his nose is right above the pipe. The smoke he takes in his mouth and nose is closer to the high temperature of the smouldering tobacco than someone who is present in the room but farther away from the hot tobacco.

Keep also in mind that we humans get easily used to an aroma. When you enter a cattle barn, you might find the aroma of cattle dung very much in your face. But after a few minutes you get used to it and you don’t experience it that strong as when you just entered the barn.

All this explains why we appreciate a tobacco much more when it is smoked very calmly. Smoking too quickly makes our tobacco burn too hot which evaporates aroma molecules. This also explains why some tobaccos change taste and aroma during smoking. The heat alters some molecular structures which brings out other aromas.

Enjoy your smoke,
Paul.

Who’s afraid of chemistry? (by Paul) – Part 1.

Paul (forum nickname Winslow Collector)

Paul

Paul is a prominent figure on the Dutch/Belgium pipe-smokers forum. He is a very well (self) educated man with a strong opinion about a lot of things that is he not afraid to express. He has around 240-250 pipes of which 180 are Winslows (often straight grains). Hence his forum nickname: Winslow Collector. He also has a passion for whisky and because of that he knows a lot about taste, flavours etc. A couple of weeks ago a forum member complained that when he smoked a pipe he did not taste and smell the same as when he sniffed his tobacco-pouch. Paul gave a very interesting answer which I never had read or heard anywhere before. So I asked him if he was willing to write a guest-post about the subject. And luckily he was:

Who’s afraid of chemistry?

celebrate-chemistryA lot of people are. Yet I would like to take you on a little trip about the chemistry in our tobacco. And don’t worry, it will be as simple as possible to understand. Even if you don’t have a university degree in chemistry. And surely I don’t have one, it’s just a big interest of me and I will try to explain some things by deducing this-and-that by thinking logically.

The idea to write something about the chemistry of our pipe-smoking hobby has its cause in a question of a fellow pipe-smoker: “Why does my sweet tobacco smells like what’s written on the pouch (i.e. “vanilla” or “cherry”) before I smoke it, but why can’t I smell and taste that during smoking?”

One of the key words in that question is “sweet”. However the following story is applicable for “natural” tobaccos, like Virginia, burley, latakia and what we call the English Blends. But it is mainly about tobaccos with a topping of some kind. Like fruits, vanilla, flowers, beverages (like wine, rum, whisk(e)y, grappa, etc.), nuts and other flavoured tobaccos.

pipe_756075Also important is the phrase “smell and taste”. Beware that what we taste is mainly done with our nose. Remember how bad your “taste” is when you have a severe cold. Our mouth has the restricted ability to define only five different tastes: salt, sour, bitter, sweet and umami (which is best described as savoury). These five are all the receptors in our mouth can distinguish. Our nose on the other hand has ten thousand times more receptors to distinguish aromas than our mouth has to define taste. Therefore you don’t taste strawberry. You taste something sweet and the aroma of strawberry and the “feel” of the texture in your mouth (connecting all this with some part of your memory) defines your sensation as strawberry. That’s pretty much all how we experience taste and this ends the physiological sidestep of the story.

So now we get to the phrase “why can’t I smell and taste that during smoking?” and this takes us into the chemistry.

Vanilla beans (Vanila Planifola) in their natural form. Biologically we have to refer to them correctly as berries.

Vanilla beans (Vanila Planifola) in their natural form. Biologically we have to refer to them correctly as berries.

All life forms on earth consist mainly of hydrocarbons, including plants. Our beloved tobacco is made of leaves from plants, as well as all kinds of additives to our tobacco’s, like fruits, vanilla, nuts, etc.

But what are those hydrocarbons? They are molecules, made out of the chemical compounds hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. Or as chemistry-people like to abbreviate: H, C and O. Do you remember those notations with all kinds of small numbers hanging to the letters?

Vanilla as we know it. After the beans are picked from their trees, they are heated with moisture and start fermenting. This is when the vanillin molecules in the beans start to develop. After drying the fermented beans we have these, almost black, vanilla sticks we might have in our kitchen to cook or bake cakes with. They are bursting of vanillin molecules which give us the nice vanilla aroma.

Vanilla as we know it. After the beans are picked from their trees, they are heated with moisture and start fermenting. This is when the vanillin molecules in the beans start to develop. After drying the fermented beans we have these, almost black, vanilla sticks we might have in our kitchen to cook or bake cakes with. They are bursting of vanillin molecules which give us the nice vanilla aroma.

Of course you do, you know that “water” is H2O, but did you know that glucose (the sugar in plants) is C6H12O6 ? And vanilla aroma comes from the vanillinin molecule, which is C8H8O3 in chemistry language? Well…, it is and I agree “vanilla” rolls of the tongue quite more easily than that formula. But “vanilla” doesn’t help us in trying to answer the question why we don’t smell/taste during smoking what we smelled before in the tobacco pouch.

Let’s try to find the answer with that example of the world’s most favourite aroma: vanilla. The vanilla aroma is so popular in food, drinks and tobacco, that there are simply not enough natural vanilla beans available. They are also quite expensive as additives and because we know what makes the vanilla aroma in these spices, we can build them chemically. We do this by artificially producing the right amount of hydrogen atoms, carbon atoms and oxygen atoms. Indeed: C8H8O3!

“We have the technology” is a famous TV-quote (don’t remember the program it was in) and this is very true in our world of food and drinks (and tobacco): we can chemically build any aroma we like. And not only “can” we, we are doing it. And because the molecular structure of the artificial built aroma is exactly the same as the one of the natural thing, the aroma is the same.

This entry continues in Part 2.

Considerations when buying a pipe (by Rob)

Rob

Rob

Rob is one of the oldest and well respected members of the Dutch pipesmokers forum. He is a pensioned man who knows the ropes of life. Nonetheless he always stays positive and is an inspiration for many. Rob is a very experienced pipe smoker and he regularly writes nice pieces for the Dutch forum. This is one of them, “Considerations when buying a pipe”:

Buying a new pipe is simple. You step into the pipe shop and after some searching and comparing you pick a pipe that you think you are going to be content with.

Unfortunately / fortunately it’s not like that. Buying a pipe requires insight and a bit of experience.

How are you being received by the shop owner? Do you get coffee? Do you feel that he takes the time for you?

Are you a tobacco omnivore, or do you only smoke shag cut (in Dutch: baai) tobacco, Virginia, latakia or aromatic mixtures?
If you smoke everything you basically can buy a random model pipe. But if you prefer a specific kind of tobacco you are more bound to a model which best fits that choice of pipe leaf. A restriction.

Tobacco gets hot during smoking. That is why many smokers prefer a bowl with a bigger wall thickness.

Pipe cleaner test

Pipe cleaner test

Do the pipe cleaner test. If the cleaner passes the mouthpiece easy into the bottom of the bowl you can be sure that the pipe has been drilled correctly.

Fortunately, nowadays the pipe makers drill their smoke channels more broad, which makes smoking more pleasant. It also allows better cleaning. If the smoke channel is too narrow you can always try to clean it with a swab.

Ask the seller if he wants to turn the stem of the pipe because you want to see the neck and mouthpiece. (E.g. for cracks)
Ask if you can view the pipe in daylight.

See if the pipe fits well in your hand. Try to sense the weight of an average pipe that you already have at home. Take that pipe to the store and put it next to the pipe you want to buy. That way you can compare both.

Nowadays many pipes are fitted with acrylic mouthpieces. But if you like an ebonite one (softer feel for the teeth) remember than that this mouthpiece requires maintenance from time to time.

The mouthpiece is a part of your pipe that I consider very important. Generally it is found not appropriate when you are in the store and take the pipe between your teeth.
Your teeth have a certain position. Actually a mouthpiece should be made to match that.
You may laugh, but I have a lot of pipes that I do not smoke solely because the mouthpiece does not fit me well.

Take note of the finish of the stem, this way you can recognize a good pipe maker.

As indicated above the shop owner would not be amused when you put a pipe in your mouth. This way you can’t check / feel if the pipe is balanced.

If you are planning to smoke in public you have to be sure that the pipe fits your posture. Unfortunately there are no changing rooms with mirrors in tobacco shops. When your wife / girlfriend is able to satisfactory judge if a pipe fits you, ask her along.

The price… That is different for every pipe smoker. Below a certain amount I never buy and above also not.
Remember that a pipe between €50 and €100 can give you the same smoking pleasure as a top notch museum piece of €10.000.

When, after careful consideration in the store, you have chosen a “technical ok” pipe it could still be that in daily use it does not meet expectations.

In short, buying a pipe is a serious business. It will be clear that a picture on a website or on e-bay is not enough for me.

Happy smoking.