Tobacco choice has become much like walking into a wine store, endless selection; every and any variety that you can imagine to suit any taste. There are all varieties of pipe smokers out there, and although there are no agreed upon universal names for the categories, we have all heard various descriptions thrown around. To me, the most common category has been the “Tobacco Snob”, often described as the smoker who will spend the equivalent of Solomon’s Fortune on tobacco with the mind set that expensive is no doubt better. There is an interesting conundrum for a newbie to this hobby who is trying to find a category to fit into. Which brings up the other often referred to description. I will part with the traditional name and will just refer to it as, the “Tobacco Tramp”, although I’m sure everyone has heard the more descriptive word used. This includes veterans and newbies alike, and often is best described as the smoker who cannot settle on a few particular blends, and spend much of their time and money sampling new blends at the speed of a jack rabbit. In my opinion, there is no shame in either of these categories and each has its merits. To the “Tobacco Snob” I say simply “If you can afford it, more power to you” and to the “Tobacco Tramp”; “They say variety is the spice of life, so if that makes you happy, then Happy sampling”.
I would venture to say I have bounced back and forth between these two categories during the course of my pipe smoking experience. I in no way can afford to be a full time “Tobacco Snob”, but have found myself sacrificing the opportunity to try several blends so that I can afford the more expensive single blend. I also have been a “Tobacco Tramp” especially during the early stages of my pipe smoking experience. Grabbing every variety of tobacco that I could get my hands on, so that I could say, “I tried that”. Although the type of “Tobacco Tramp” that I was in the beginning seemed to serve no purpose, I had no more grasp on any of those blends than I did before I smoked them. If not done properly, tramp-hood can become confusing and frustrating, but, I digress. Both of these categories seem to have one thing in common, however this is only my observation and I may be way off base here. Whether the “Tobacco Snob” or the “Tobacco Tramp”, often, the old school blends are not in the lineup.
I make it no secret that I am not a fan of Burley, or at least I don’t think I am a fan of Burley. I have tried several Burley blends, or blends with Burley added, and they never seem to quite do it for me. Now that is not to say that there is anything wrong with Burley at all, and to those who smoke it and love it, enjoy. I still make an effort to try a Burley blend if its floating around, especially when it has received rave reviews from friends. Many of the old school blends contain predominantly or exclusively Burley, among them the venerable Prince Albert, Carter Hall, and Half & Half. Often referred to as “Codger Burlies” these were at one time the mainstay of most pipe smokers’ tobacco rotation, or for that matter, their only blend. These blends have undergone the test of time and still remain, mostly unchanged in this world of small batch blending, and boutique blends and can often be found at your local drugstore. In a world with tobacco blends disappearing and being discontinued, there is much to be said for the good old boys of tobacco.
I have tried several of the “Codger Burlies” and although not bad smokes, just didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Prince Albert being the most common to me, was a good simple Burley. It was not mind blowing, it was not life changing, but it was a good basic tobacco that serves its purpose for those who enjoy it. Carter Hall is the same, a basic tobacco, that like Prince Albert, satisfies many both with the enjoyment it provides and the money it saves. Out of these blends, Half & Half was the biggest disappointment for me. I guess I was hoping for the same satisfaction that my Uncle used to get from his tubs of Half & Half, but I must admit, that little pouch still sits in my tobacco drawer after only two bowls. This brings me to my most recent experience. After hearing about a blend on MPC for several months, I inquired further. Walnut by Middleton is a classic American English blend, with what seems like everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. I will forgo the full breakdown, but the short and skinny of it is that it is a Burley based blend, with Virginias a touch of Orientals and Latakia. So, one of the “Codger Burley” fans over at MPC offered me a sample and I accepted. I figured what the hell, what do I have to loose. Well, to be honest, I lost nothing, it turned out to be a very enjoyable smoke. It is surprisingly smooth, easy to pack, easy to light and at $18 for a 14 oz. tub, easy to justify. The smoke was enjoyable and had none of the nasty features of some Burley blends I have had, and the Orientals and Latakia are there, noticeable but not overpowering. This does not have the traits of many of Middleton’s other blends, it’s not goopy, it’s not wet, and if it is cased, it is unnoticeable to me. It is easy to see how this could be an all day smoke for someone and I have enjoyed smoking this blend all weekend. There is no doubt that when my sample runs out, I will pick up a tub to have around.
So, I appeal to everyone, “Tobacco Snob” and “Tobacco Tramp” alike, when you are at the drugstore picking up your next pack of razor blades, think about the “Old School Blends”. Likely, you will see them, calling out to you from behind the counter. Something doesn’t stick around that long if it doesn’t have something going for it. Do I anticipate that it is going to change your way of thinking? Of course not. But, you may wind up finding something that you like at a price that you can’t beat. Take the plunge, live a little, and pick yourself up some of the “Codgers” and see what you might be missing.