This post was put together by my good friend Jim Vasky
As a bit of a pipe smoker, I thought I would take a swing at putting together a nice little pipe smoker’s gift guide as a companion to the cigar smoker’s gift guide.
There are many different types of pipe tobaccos so I will try and break them down concisely so you can get the pipe smoker in your life exactly what they’re looking for.
- McClelland Blackwoods Flake: This is my favorite virginia tobacco. Soft, spicy, and with a fruity tang, Blackwoods Flake is an absolute joy to smoke. McClelland has a reputation for fine tobaccos; this is no different.
- Orlik Golden Sliced: Ahh, I love the glow of the little orange tin. This is a classic virginia with a hint of perique. Perique is like the dank basements of tobaccos. It is added in for a little extra spice and some oomph! Think of perique as pepper. You wouldn’t eat a handful of peppercorns, but the right amount of pepper seasoning a dish can make it even more delicious. Same goes for perique and Golden Sliced.
- McClelland Christmas Cheer: Just in time for the Holidays, Christmas Cheer is another beloved Virginia by McClelland that comes out every year for Christmas. This tobacco is never quite the same from year to year but is consistently great. A nice, sweet smoke that gets better with age. People celler the stuff for that very reason. Definitely worth a smoke. An aged tin would be an extra special treat if you can get your hands on it!
- Lane 1Q: I am not an aromatic guy, but I recently tried some 1Q and I gotta say, I was quite impressed. Great room note as with most aromatics, and a great vanilla flavor. Many consider this to be their favorite, and I can see why.
- McClelland Holiday Spirit: Another great aromatic. A good amount of burley gives it a bit of earthiness. Dominant flavors include chocolate, and rum. Delicious and smells great, especially with the scent of holiday cookies in the air!
- MacBaren 7 Seas Line: I have only had the opportunity to sample a 7 Seas a few times, but I can say they are worth a smoke. A lot of choices here but they are all pretty solid. If your smoker is an aro smoker, there’s tons of options in this line.
- Dunhill Nightcap: My all-time favorite tobacco. Classic latakia smokiness plus the spice of perique makes for one really delicious smoke. Good nicotine punch too.
- McClelland Frog Morton Variations: These are great English blends, plain and simple. Out of these I like On the Bayou the most; lighter on the latakia than the original, but with a nice perique kick added in. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of these blends.
- McClelland Three Oaks Syrian: I may seem like a bit of a McClelland fanboy but I promise you that’s only because of their quality. Three Oaks Syrian is no different. Made with Syrian latakia, it’s smokier, but more subdued compared to its other English counterparts. This makes for a very unique, mild, and pleasant smoke. Definitely a dark horse, but one of my favorites.
Drug Store Tobaccos: These are tobaccos that may fall into the categories above, but I thought were worth mentioning in their own section because of their price and value.
- Captain Black: These blends are usually a bit cheaper than others, but they are solid. These are aromatic blends that, for the most part, have good flavor. I don’t usually smoke these blends but if I were gifted them, I would happily smoke every last ribbon.
- Prince Albert: You have probably heard of it, albeit as a punchline, but Prince Albert is a solid smoke. Unlike the other blends I have mentioned, this is predominantly burley. Expect a nutty smoke. Look for it in a can.
Pipes are not easy to recommend, and it is impossible to recommend a specific pipe. Instead, I am going to go over the main materials for pipes and their properties, then recommend some pipe makers that are known for quality.
Briar: Briar is a type of dense, hard, and heat resistant wood from the briar shrub. These properties make it ideal for pipes and because of this, it dominates the pipe market. When looking for a quality briar pipe, look for one with:
- Nice aesthetics: This goes for all pipes, no point in smoking something you don’t like! If you get a super expensive, high quality pipe at an amazing price, but don’t smoke it because it doesn’t fit your style, what’s the point?
- Fills: Pit holes in the pipe filled in. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means because it is inevitable that a piece of briar will have some pit holes in it. The main point is that generally the less filling, the higher quality of the wood, and the better the smoke.
- Fitness: By this I mean how well the pipe feels put together. Is the stem properly seated? Is the airway properly aligned and drilled? These will affect the quality of the pipe.
- Filters: Inserts made to filter the smoke. Stay away from these for the most part. Some people like the filters, but I find they just get soggy and gross. I usually take them out and toss ’em.
Other factors that don’t matter as much:
- Grain: Tighter grain may mean a better smoke, but I really think the effect is negligible besides aesthetics.
- Fit & Finish: The pipe should look and feel as though it was well put together. It should pass the eye test. Even someone who has never picked up a pipe before can tell when one is properly constructed and when one is sloppily put together.
Meerschaum: These are made from a mineral found in the Black Sea. This material is very porous and makes for a great smoke. I have a pair of meerschaum pipes and they are my favorite to smoke out of. They are characteristically white, and as tobacco oils are absorbed, the bowl will begin to develop a deep amber coloration. They become pieces of art as you smoke them. They are also less prone to ghosting (leaving behind flavor from other tobaccos) and do not require cake to build in the bowl to protect them like briars do. When looking for a meerschaum look for:
- Block meerschaum: There is nothing wrong with pressed per se, but they won’t absorb color or smoke as well as block meerschaum. This is because pressed meerschaum is basically scraps of meerschaum pressed into blocks. Block meerschaum is a naturally occurring block of mineral, and therefore is much more porous and smokes better. If you need to test whether a pipe is pressed or block meerschaum, take the unsmoked pipe, wet your pinkie a little bit with your tongue and press it against the inside of the bowl. If it sticks to the inside of the bowl, you most likely have a genuine block meerschaum pipe. If not, it is most likely pressed. Not fool-proof, but definitely better than nothing.
- Fit and finish
Corn cob: Seriously. Some people look down on corncob pipes but I for one think they are great. They aren’t prone to ghosting, and don’t need cake buildup so they’re low maintenance and great for trying different tobaccos. Another plus? They are super cheap. Missouri Meerschaum is the place to go for a corn cob pipe. I have a few and love them.
Pipe makers worth mentioning: Peterson, Savinelli, Nording, Dr. Grabo (inexpensive but not too shabby), Ashton, Caminetto. Just remember that brand doesn’t matter as much as the above. If you find a no name pipe that hits all the above, don’t worry too much, go for it!
There aren’t too many accessories needed for the pipe smoker but there are a couple essentials that I think everyone should have. A lighter, a tamper/pipe tool, and some pipe cleaners. That’s pretty much all you need.
Lighters: When it comes to lighters, I don’t think pipes are as finicky as cigars. The main concern is that you use a soft flame, not a torch. A torch can burn the rim of the bowl, and if you burn the rim of your bowl, you’re gonna have a bad time. I use a Zippo pipe lighter and it works fine for me. If you’re worried about lighter fluid imparting some kind of flavor, look for a butane soft flame lighter like the XIKAR Pipeline.
Tamper/Pipe Tool: Tampers can be as simple as a nail, or as sophisticated as a multi-tool pipe tool. I use a simple Czech tool but if you are looking for a little something special, there are all kinds of fancy tampers you can pick up for your pipe smoker. Some lighters also come with pipe tools built-in.
Pipe cleaners: These are pretty self explanatory. They are cotton sticks used to clean the pipe. Pipe smokers could always use a pack of these. They come in plain cotton, and bristly to get a really good scrub. They are all pretty similar, just get pipe cleaners actually meant to clean pipes. Craft store pipe cleaners will not really work well.
Tobacco/Pipe pouch(BONUS): This isn’t essential by any means, but a nice tobacco/pipe pouch is nice for the smoker on the go. I have the Julius Max Legatus and I have been very satisfied with it. Just look for something you think your pipe smoker would enjoy.
Gift Sets And Starter Kits
Here are a few nice combos/packages from PipesAndCigars for those looking for a nice gift idea:
- Corn in the USA I & Corn in the USA II: Three corncob pipes and some decent tobacco. I may get one of these myself…
- Back By Popular Demand Sampler: I like every blend in this sampler. Perfect for introducing someone to English/Oriental blends!
- The Art Of Flavour: CAO makes some good blends and the price is right.
- Tin Samplers: There are tons of these. You can easily find one to suit your pipe smoker’s tastes!