The Pipe Tobacco Aging, Storage and Cellaring FAQ

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  1. How valuable is a quantity of aged tobacco?
  2. Where can I purchase quantities of aged (or "vintage") tobacco?
  3. What is the "crossover effect"?
  4. Should I dedicate various pipes to different blends, or blend types?
  5. I have been stricken with moldy tobacco! Is it ruined?
  6. What is propylene glycol? Is it evil?
  7. Do all pipe tobaccos have similar nicotine content?
  8. Where does "tongue bite" come from, and how can it be mitigated?
  9. How should I proceed to try new tobaccos?

1 ~ How valuable is a quantity of aged tobacco?

Good information for buyers and sellers.

I think the following issues all contribute to the valuation of vintage tobaccos:

+ Production specifics. Is the blend produced any longer? If it is still produced, is it still available here in the USA? Are there differences in the production of what is available today and a vintage tin? Was/is the blend a limited run production?

+ Scarcity/Rarity. How often would you come across such a tin? If it were in your collection, how easy would it be to replace that tin? How often are these tins seen for sale? These questions take into consideration same size tin, same vintage, same condition.

+ Time. How long has the tin been aging? Can the tin be dated relatively accurately? Typically, as you might guess, older tins fetch more money.

+ Condition. Has the tin been well-kept? Is the seal intact? Are there excessive dents/abuse? Is there any visible surface rust? Does it sound solid and intact or dry and brittle when the tin is shaken?

+ Brand name. Is the blend a well-respected brand or blend? Of course, your personal tastes here are important, too. You wouldn't buy a tobacco you don't like, so it's kind of moot, anyway.

When you buy a tin for, say, $100, you are essentially paying for the original purchaser's patience and knowledge. The $100 buys you 20 years in aging that you might not have, or might not want to invest. It buys you their foresight in figuring which tobaccos would age properly, or maybe just their foresight to stock up on something when a recipe changed, or packaging changed, or whatever. You are also paying for one of the more enjoyable experiences associated with this hobby, the joy of smoking aged tobacco.

Michael D. Lindner, 2000-04-23

I'm afraid age isn't everything. What is really going on is a combination of age, place, character & quality of blending with an emphasis on the latter elements. [...] When considering the price of old tins one should also remember that one is not only paying for both years and a blend that has no current equivalent, but also survival.

John C. Loring, 2000-04-23

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2 ~ Where can I purchase quantities of aged (or "vintage") tobacco?

General advice. We don't have a list of shops yet!

You can buy aged tobacco at pipeshows, eBay and from private dealers you see advertising on alt.smokers.pipes.

Michael D. Lindner, 2000-08-14

Aged quality tobacco is available from collectors, at a price. Old dusty tins from years back, sometimes many years, can sometimes be found in old pipe shops. Sometimes at the price indicated by the price sticker. Do check for corrosion or loss of the vacuum seal on sealed tins, as this can lead to either drastically dried out or overly moist and moldy tobacco.

James Beard, 2000-08-12

Buying older tins, on eBay and/or at shows, trading for them, whatever, can get very expensive very quickly. The three digit prices you see on eBay reflect a real market, they are not aberrations. The regular buyers do indeed know what they are doing. I am an agnostic on whether or not that game is worth the candle. It depends on the individual. Kind of like Cuban cigars -- if you are a serious cigar smoker, and can tell the difference, have the discretionary income to not only buy the bloody things but throw out a few every now and then that have quality problems, AND IT IS IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO YOU, then I would have to say that you are perfectly justified in making the expenditure.

Daniel L. Merriman, 2000-10-06

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3 ~ What is the "crossover effect"?

When you normally smoke one tobacco (or type of tobacco) in a pipe, and then start smoking another, the flavors of the previously smoked tobaccos linger for a while.

Normally, I dedicate my pipes to specific tobacco categories, generally favoring to smoke the same blend in a pipe for quite a while, so I can really get to know it. Occasionally, I'll decide that a pipe might be better suited for a different category of tobacco, so I'll "convert" it. It's not a tough process, generally; I'll just smoke it with the new tobacco until it's right. Of course, it's easier to go from VA to Latakia, for instance, than vice versa. Since I don't smoke heavily sauced "aromatic" tobaccos, I don't have to worry about their particularly tenacious spectres.

G.L. Pease, 2004-06-05

Dedicating a pipe to one style of tobacco does improve the taste enormously. Every time you change a tobacco in a pipe, there will be cross-over effects: remnants of the last smoked tobacco will "falsify" the taste of the new one. (Which is not necesarily unwelcome). How big these cross-over effects are depends on the tobaccos themselves (imagine you smoke GLP's Cario in a pipe that is used to goopy aromatics) and your ability to detect them. These temporary effects are unavoidable, even if you have a dedicated pipe to one style of tobacco, but will dissapear after 1 to 5 bowls, again depending on the character of the tobaccos involved.

Besides these temporary cross-over effects between two tobaccos, the pipe itself causes "forgery". First of all: the wood itself. (compare between a bowl in a meer and a bowl in a brair and you know what I mean). Second: the character the pipe has developed as a result of the tobaccos that were smoked in them. This cross-over effect has much more impact and will not change with 1 to 5 bowls.

There are 3 basic characters: Aromatic, Natural without Latakia, and Natural and with Latakia. But you can go deeper. For instance: I would never smoke a McClelland straight VA in a pipe used to straight VAs made by SG. The Latakias of Dunhill go well with the Latakias of Hans Schuerch but I keep them away from the US-latakias from C&D, GLP and even Hermit. I also keep seperate the English and Danish flavored tobaccos. When I smoked a lot Danish/German style aromatics, I devided them into fruity and vanilla/caramel-like. Again, it depends a lot on what tobaccos we are talking about: its much easier to transform a straight-va pipe to aromatics then vice versa.

Pascal Essers, 2000-10-07

I smoked Winter's Tale in a Dunnie and now a Rattrey's Red Raperee. I have had 4 bowls of RRR and can still taste the Winter's Tale (very much). On the other hand. I have one pipe wich is dedicated to esoterica tobacco's such as Pembroke, Peacehaven Cardiff and others: they do differ a lot but the taste is gone sooner then the Winter's Tale. Sometimes cross-over effects are very nice. Such as a bowl Penzance in a pipe wich hast got a tin Kingfisher in it.

Pascal Essers, 2000-01-27

All tobaccos leave their mark in a pipe for many bowls. If the tobaccos smoked are in a similar "family," of a similar type, the new blend will take over fairly quickly. But, for those first several bowls, the previous tobacco will colour the smoker's perception of the current one.

In some cases, these crossover effects can dramatically alter the perceptions of what is being smoked. Sometimes, the effect is a wonderful synergy of what was and what is, but these are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate. Since most of us don't have the luxury of dedicating a new pipe to every blend we try, our only option is to smoke many bowls of something new in the same pipe, to minimize the distortion, or to enjoy those distortions for what they are, but not really "know" the tobacco.

This is one of the reasons it takes me so damn long to develop a new recipe. If I make a small change to a prototype, the crossover effect is minimal, but still extant. If the change is dramatic at all, I have to start the whole evaluative process over. By the time I've released a blend, I've typically smoked somewhere between 50 and 100 bowls of the stuff in various stages of development.

G.L. Pease, 2003-04-28

The crossover effect can be fun, but I've *never* been able to smoke latakia out of a pipe by smoking straight virginias, and I've made the attempt with about a dozen different pipes. You might succeed in drowning the latakia scent and aroma with a strongly flavored aromatic blend, (sacrilege!), but not the typically lighter virginia blend. Maybe it depends on how long the pipe has been soaking up the essence of camel dung and how deeply into the wood that distinctive flavor has penetrated, but I once gave up on such a project after two years because it just wasn't working. Salt and alcohol or white vinegar have worked for me, but just smoking the thing never has.

It's easy to convert a pipe in the other direction, but in my experience, once latakia has been smoked for a long while in a pipe, it will be very difficult to completely eradicate the flavor. Of course, that's not necessarily a *bad* thing.

Tim Parker, 2004-12-19

Pipes have buried within them memories of every tobacco they've seen. The old memories are faint and pastel, while more recent ones can be vivid and vibrantly expressed. Sometimes, the cognitave dissonance between them can reek havok on an otherwise wonderful experience, while at other times, there can be a harmonious synergy that sheds new light on the smoking experience.

G.L. Pease, 2005-01-03

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4 ~ Should I dedicate various pipes to different blends, or blend types?

A whole FAQ could be lavished on typing tobacco, and mating pipes and tobaccos. Until someone writes this document, here's a taste of the many, many opinions available...

"Dedicating" a pipe, means smoking certain types of tobacco in it. Like Virginia/Perique blends, Virginia blends, English blends, Burley blends, or Cavendish/Aromatic blends. Dunhill EMP is an English blend, and so it would taste strange if you were smoking it in a pipe that you have previously smoked, say, an aromatic in.

Ian Rastall, 2002-08-15

I have very few pipes which are dedicated to a single tobacco - one is dedicated to Dark Twist, another to Hal o' the Wynd, and two danish horns to Larsen's Old Belt. I do, however have many pipes dedicated only to virginias and several that only see and are divided among either reds, oranges, goldens, or va/perique flakes.

Greg Sprinkle, 2000-01-30

Buy the best pipes you can affort and dedicate them to one blend only.

Pascal Essers, 2000-01-30

I keep track [of which pipes have smoked which tobaccos] on my computer in Microsoft excel. I know, it sounds like OCD and some would say I'm mad, but it works for me. I can tell which pipes I have allocated for which tobaccos, which dates I've smoked them, and how many times they have been smoked since they were last cleaned. Since I have quite a few pipes and I like to have at least about 3 week between smoking each one it is hard for me to remember when the last time I smoked one. This way I can look at my list an pick a tobacco I want to smoke then go down the list and pick a pipe that hasn't been smoked recently.

Terry McGinty, 2000-01-31

I haven't been able to dedicate any pipes to any particular type of tobacco. I just grab a pipe and smoke it. For some reason I like the residual tastes from other tobacs blending with whatever I'm smoking at the moment. I might be robbing myself of some subtle nuances or something to that effect. However, i am in fact creating a totally original and unrepeatable smoking experience each time I light up.

Scott Curtis, 2000-01-31

To a certain degree I do try and dedicate certain tobaccos to certain pipes. Certainly Latakia gets its own pipe. I smoke Latakia about 1% of the time. And, when I smoke it, I thoroughly enjoy it. My problem is that any pipe that is dedicated for such purposes will see little service. [...] Another level of dedication is dedicating a pipe within one particular tobacco type such as Virginia flakes, or, Virginia Perique flakes. Nothing quite so drastic as Latakia. For example, right now I'm breaking in a new Safferling volcano. For the first bowl I chose Rattray's Brown Clunee. The smoke was so incredible that I will never put another tobacco through the pipe. That's not to say it wouldn't be wonderful with any number of other Virginia blends, but once you've found such a fantastic pairing, what's the sense of diverging?

Mingkahuna, 2000-12-19

I do dedicate pipes to certain types of tobacco, but I don't exactly stress out over it if I'm in the mood for a certain pipe and tobacco at the same time. I have several pipes that have never seen Latakia (I smoke primarily VAs) but that may very well change. I also like the taste that a bowl or two of smoky English can leave behind when next I fire up a mild VA; this is what keeps old blends interesting when I'm feeling a tad jaded...

Colonel Panic, 2000-12-19

I do a combination of things. There are a few pipes that are dedicated to a single blend. When the same tobacco has been smoked repeatedly in the same briar, all manner of nuances will reveal themselves, and this is a delightful treat. But, this is also a smoking experience that requires concentration and contemplation. These are the pipes and tobaccos I'll smoke when I just want to sit in a dimly lit room and get lost in the experience, seeking all there is to find in each puff. Once a pipe has been dedicated in this manner, it will see nothing but "its" tobacco until that tobacco ceases to hold my interest, or can't be gotten any longer.

Less obsessively, I sometimes dedicate pipes to categories of tobacco (VA or Latakia) and to styles of tobacco within those two categories. I've probably have defined a few more "styles" than necessary: Latakia with light oriental content and significant VA, Latakia with heavy oriental content and less VA, VA, VA with oriental, VA with perique, VA with burley. Pipes can move about within a category, but for any pipe/tobacco combination, I'll smoke at least 5 or 6 bowls of a single type of tobacco in a particular pipe, to gain more understanding of the tobacco itself. Typically, when I encounter a new tobacco I'd like to really get to know, I'll dedicate an appropriate pipe to it for a couple ounces. [...] I have a couple pipes dedicated to the rare bowl of aromatic.

The majority of my pipes are used with somewhat more flexibility. For instance, I'll smoke VA in a Latakia pipe, and the crossover effects can be really, really nice. The VA sweetens a pipe that needs a little something extra, and the essences of Latakia that remain in the bowl offer an interesting diversion from the straight Virginia. I find this combination very appealing.

It all boils down to "messing around with it." Each of us will have a different answer to the question, and the answer is not nearly as important as the experience gained while experimenting to find our personal answer. The process of seeking the perfect pipe/tobacco combinations adds yet another dimension to the complex set of equations of choice. Pipe smoking is a lifelong pastime, with something new to discover at every turn.

G.L. Pease, 2000-12-19

I personally think that the issue is more about dedicating certain cuts of tobaccos to certain bowl-sizes. You probably wouldn't want to smoke a chunky tobacco like cube-cut burley in a narrow bowl, and you wouldn't want to smoke shag (very thin, fine-cut) in a big fat bowl, because it tends to burn hot and fast. So I tend to dedicate cube burley and slightly rubbed-out Virginia flake to my wide bowl pipes, and fine cuts to my smaller bowls.

David Wise, 2002-08-15

I do really prefer the taste of Virginias in small diameter bowls. I think more of the subtle nuances come through, and the overall quality of the smoke, for my style of smoking, for my particular tastes, is somehow more refined. Big bowls tend to overwhelm my palate.

G.L. Pease, 2002-08-15

Dedicating pipes to certain tobaccos is nothing less than a serious pain in the neck! But. It's necessary and does pay off when/if: (1) You have a sensitive tongue and palate. (2) You *really* want to taste a particular tobacco and maybe evaluate it as accurately as you can. (3) You have enough pipes in your collection to allow such practice. (4) You smoke/evaluate more than one type of tobacco on a regular basis.

I have pipes dedicated to: (1) Heavy Latakia. (2) Light Latakia. (3) VA mixtures (with or without Orientals and/or B. Cavendish). (4) Pressed VA without Perique. (5) Pressed VA, with Perique. (6) Flavored British pressed tobaccos (Bosun/Coniston/St. Bruno, etc). (7) Flavored mixtures (when it happens). (8) ONE single tobacco that I really enjoy and fall back on when I am in no mood for disappointment (such as Dark Bird's Eye).

Now, I allow myself some freedom with certain pipes. So, I have sub-categories. For example, I would have a few pipes that I could use to smoke both #2 and #3, #4 and #5, and some for #2 and #5, etc.

You see?! It is a pain! Why? Mainly because I sometimes crave for a particular pipe, but I either do not have its tobacco type handy, or I do not feel like smoking that tobacco type. The other way around is also true, but to a lesser degree (when I want to smoke a particular type of tobacco, but do not feel like smoking one of those pipes I dedicate to it).

As I always state, there are (and should be) no norms or codes of practice. No one understands your level of smoking sophistication (or lack thereof) than you, no one, other than you, knows what you enjoy or how you enjoy it best. Luckily, and to enjoy pipe smoking, you do not need to be sophisticated or have a sophisticated palate.

Tarek Manadily, 2000-12-20

One of the difficulties that I see is that many tobaccos taste different in different pipes. We have seen it many times in the Blind Pipe Tobacco Reviews where someone initially dislikes a tobacco on their first smoke, but upon switching pipes finds many new and wonderful flavors. So, I think you have to smoke a new tobacco in several different pipes initially to see with which pipe it is most compatible. Then, if you wish, smoke the tobacco in the pipe in which it works best.

Inquisitor, 2003-11-11

For me, though, one of the great pleasures is finding the pipe/tobacco combination that really works. It almost always seems to happen by chance. I'll pick up a pipe, smoke something in it, and be amazed at the interaction between briar and leaf. This morning, it was Abingdon in a litle Roush rhodesian. I have a couple of pipes that I'll smoke nothing but Three Nuns in.

G.L. Pease, 2003-11-11

Dedicating has it's place, but it has a draw back too. If you limit a pipe to one tobacco you miss the fun of trying it with different tobaccos. Sometimes I want to smoke a particular pipe, but I want a different tobacco, so I just go ahead and see what happens. I have found that I have some pipes that are best with English blends, but the rest of the pipes are fair game for anything.

Mike Rothenberg, 2002-01-09

With aromatics, since the flavouring is such a crucial part of the overall experience, it's impossible to dedicate pipes to "aromatics," and get fully "dedicated-pipe" results. The highly sauced ones will really saturate the pipe, and it will take nearly forever for their ghosts to cease lurking in the wood, haunting every subsequent bowl. Do aromatics benefit from the dedicated pipe syndrome? That's hard to say. Very few aromatics in my experience are possessng of much in the way of subtle nuances, so it may not matter. Then again, I'm biased, preferring more natural blends.

G.L. Pease, 2003-06-23

I do not do so, even though I have more than enough pipes should I wish to designate individual pieces for particular types of tobacco. For me, it is too much trouble. Now, it is true that when you smoke an aromatic in a pipe and subsequently smoke an English blend in the same pipe, you will get some crossover -- that is, you will taste a little of the aromatic while smoking your English blend. Many folks find this disturbing. I like it.

Sailorman Jack, 2003-05-13

My briars are divided into two camps--Virginia, and Latakia. I have two Falcons for yard pipes/test-drives, and one nice briar dedicated to aromatics and scented flakes. If you're interested in smoking aromatics alongside non-aromatics, I would definitely consider dedicating a pipe to flavoured weed as they will effect the taste of your bowl and influence the flavour of natural tobaccos in a way that you may not find desireable. The extent of that dedication is, of course, up to you (and the number of pipes you own!). I don't have any single-blend pipes dedicated at present.

Kurt Slauson, 2003-05-13

While some smokers dedicate a pipe or pipes to a specific tobacco blend, one is fairly safe in using one pipe for each family of tobaccos, i.e., one for English/Oriental mixtures, one for pressed Virginias, one for Burleys, and one for heavily cased aromatics. Each time a pipe is smoked with a tobacco, a little bit (or a lot depending on the tobacco) of that tobacco's flavor will permeate the cake and wood of the pipe. Upon smoking that pipe again, a bit of that flavor will mix with the new pipe load. If that new pipe load is a different blend, the carryover will alter the taste- either for better or worse. That is one reason why one bowl of a new tobacco is not enough to judge a tobacco. It is also why McClelland's recommends smoking up to FOUR ounces of a pressed Virginia, if one has been smoking heavily cased aromatics. It might take that much smoking before all the old flavorings are dissipated. It is also the reason why first time smokers of English blends trying them in aromatic-laden pipes tend to dislike them: the flavors don't mix.

The problem is worse when trying a milder tasting tobacco in a pipe that has had stronger tasting tobacco smoked in it; The milder tobacco's taste is distorted. Sometimes this can be fun and creative. I occasionally smoke McClelland's #2010 in pipes that I reserve for Three Nuns or Escudo and get a cheap intensification of the 2010.

Meerschaum pipes have less of this effect because you don't want to build up a cake(it could split the pipe) and being more porous and absorbent, meerschaum tends to be less affected by carryover. It is for this reason that they are often recommended for new smokers who don't own a lot of pipes.

The safe place to start is one pipe for each TYPE of tobacco, then as your experience and taste preferences mature, consider dedicating ONE pipe to a specific blend that you love. It is probably the only way to really get to know a given tobacco, and a given pipe.

Paul Szabady, 1997-01-29

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5 ~ I have been stricken with moldy tobacco! Is it ruined?

Mold! Aieee! Behold wisdom:

Once mold has hit the tobacco, it's pretty much hopeless. Moldy tobacco smells awful, and the smell permeates the entire jar/bag/tin. I don't know if it would hurt you to smoke it, but the smell is so bad, I wouldn't even consider it! The other thing to consider is that even IF you were able to get rid of all the blooming part, the likelihood of spores remaining is high, and as soon as your back is turned, they'll bloom too.

G.L. Pease, 2000-10-01

Mold is an unfortunate fact of life. If there's a spore, and the conditions are right, it'll germinate, and you'll get mold. Distilled water makes no difference. In fact, most municipal water is clorinated to some extent, which MIGHT help to minimize mold. [...] I've heard a lot of talk about using a little vinegar in the water to retard mold. This is completely ineffectual. I've seen some pretty dramatic mold formations on tobacco that was literally doused with vinegar. I've had some tobacco grow small deposits that didn't destroy the entire stash. Some molds, though, smell SO bad, the whole batch is rendered unsmokeable.

G.L. Pease, 2002-02-26

Everybody keeps blaming the climate at the point of storage for causing mold. Not so. While climate conditions can accelerate or discourage mold growth, the real question is how heavy a live mold spore burden the tobacco carries. Sterile tobacco will never grow mold, no matter what the storage conditions are. Most people do not store or handle their tobacco in such a place/manner that would introduce a lot of new mold spores, so my guess is that the spores are almost always already present when the tobacco is purchased. It also makes sense that people are reporting particular blends as being more suspectible to spoilage; between differences in final moisture content and handling conditions during production and packaging, you would expect that particular blends (and especially particular batches) would experiences more problems than others. You would probably find a good correlation with the geographic region and/or the particular wholesaler if you cared to do enough research.

L.M. Spitz, 2000-10-19

Molds which grow on tobacco are generally benign, but can taste awful. Generally, these molds also smell pretty bad, and you'd never consider smoking tobacco so contaminated, any more than you'd eat foods which mold (some cheeses being notable exceptions). Well aged cigars often have a "bloom" on them which is not only harmless, but can be prized among those who like a really well aged cigar. Clearly, no mold is best, but tiny quantities can be removed from the tobacco and the remainder is generally okay. I've had some 30 year old Balkan Sobranie with a bit of bloom on the surface which was removed before smoking the rest. I don't know if this bloom was responsible for the wonderful flavours, but they sure didn't hurt. I am not, however, advocating smoking *moldy* anything!

G.L. Pease, 1998-09-29

There are many forms of mold that can attack agricultural products. The dreaded blue mold attacks primarily living things and can be disasterous and ruinous to cultivation of grapes and tobacco.

Jeff Folloder, 1998-08-30

Some molds, like some bacteria, love acidic environments, while others do not. If mold spores are present, and you give them the necessary environmental factors to support their germination, you're going to get mold. Anything that would eliminate the spores would also eliminate the beneficial flora responsible for some aspects of the aging process. There's no easy answer to this problem.

G.L. Pease, 2002-01-11

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6 ~ What is propylene glycol? Is it evil?

Mostly a topic found in the late 90s and early 00s, "PG" was heavily discussed in ASP. Some thought it evil, others benign. Eventually, it simply was understood. Here are some of the fruits of the discussion.

PG is propylene glycol. It is a humectant used to preserve moisture content in variety of things, from food stuffs to tobacco. It is considered safe for human consumption by the FDA and its use IS quite prevalent in modern society. In tobacco, specifically, it is added to maintain moisture and retard mold development. When used in very small quantities, it is hardly detectable. However, if used with a heavy hand it just plain tastes bad. It exists and is actually in most of the tobaccos we smoke.

Jeff Folloder, 2000-07-02

Propylene glycol and other humectants are heavily used in drugstore tobaccos and jar blends to keep them from drying out. Some of these tobaccos will not dry out if left loose on a newspaper for a week. Premium blends, however, usually do not have as much PG as drugstore blends, but it's hard to find one that has [absolutely] none. [...] Proplylene glycol can prevent tobacco from drying out and helps retard mold growth. It is, however, a chemical that many of us would rather not have in their tobacco. Discovering that a favorite blend has a small amount of PG in it is not going to keep me from buying it. But knowing that a blend is treated with PG and other chemicals might very well keep me from even trying it.

Bill Burney, 2004-01-03

Propylene glycol, used as a humectant and a preservative to extend the shelf life of tobacco and as a carrier for flavorings added to pipe tobacco, is deleterious in several respects. The abundant hydrogen in the molecule combines with oxygen very readily, inducing higher-temperature combustion and production of greater quantities of water, both of which adversely affect smoking properties. The stuff also is sweetish, but with an off-taste that some find quite disagreeable. Whether the overall effect in this realm is a benefit or a detriment is a matter of taste. My personal opinion is that use as a humectant is both unnecessary and deleterious to the smoking qualities of the tobacco, and it should never be used for this purpose.

James Beard, 2000-07-02

PG can be added by the retailer to the finished bulk product, or by the blender, or the grower, or the processor, or the warehouser, or anywhere in between, and in variable quantities. So yes, PG will be found in nearly every pipe tobacco blend available, and for most of us it ain't necessarily a bad thing.

Fred Latchaw, 2001-12-12

Propyline glycol is not the evil chemical that some believe it to be, but, like anything else, it can be abused, and often is in "cheap" tobaccos. Glycerin, glycerol and alcohol were widely used in the past in flavoring tobaccos. Why so much of the industry switched to PG is a question that can PROBABLY be answered by economics.

In a relatively pure state, PG is viscous, and somewhat slimy to the touch. It binds readily with water, and is often used in humidifying units in cigar humidors to maintain a fairly constant relative humidity of about 70%, considered ideal by many. It has a distinctive sweet taste and substatially lower toxicity than ethylene- and diethylene glycols, but high ingested doses have correlated with hepatic and renal diseases. Don't drink it. If your tobacco is sticky, and it won't dry out, you've probably got a good dose of PG present. It's also found in oil-free salad dressings, and a lot of cosmetics.

And, no, I don't use it, though tested samples of some ingredient leaf have shown small amounts present.

G.L. Pease, 2001-12-14

PG, or propylene glycol is a viscous, oily liquid that is a common additive in food stuffs and tobacco. It is hygroscopic in that it has a tendancy to "exist" at approximately 70% relative humidity. When combined with plain old ordinary water and held in suspension in, say, oasis foam, a realtively stable humidistat is formed. When the relative humidity drops below 70%, the water bond is "broken" and the water is "released" into the surrounding environment. When the humidity level rises above 70% water is absorbed from the environment and bound to the PG.

Tobacco can act as the lattice that holds the PG solution. A little bit of PG is not really capable of holding 70%, but it is capable of locking in some moisture. From a manufacturer's point of view, this can help perpetuate the integrity of a product that may wind up sitting in warehouse, transit, or on a shelf for an indeterminate period of time. Kudos to the manufacturer who does their best to insure that you get a properly moisturized, consistent product every time.

PG is also used as a flavor carrier. Since the PG will draw in moisture from the surrounding environment, many manufacturers will flavor tobaccos using PG as a "carrier". A flavoring agent is combined with water or other solution and then combined with an amount of PG. The subsequent solution is then combined with dry tobacco and the result is that the flavor is drawn into the tobacco mixture as opposed to just being sprayed or poured on.

Jeff Folloder, 2000-08-26

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7 ~ Do all pipe tobaccos have similar nicotine content?

James Beard is the authority here.

By type, Burley is normally the strongest, Virginia next in line, and Orientals including Latakia the least potent in nicotine. Perique has a reputation for strength, but this is actually strength of flavor (likewise for Latakia) rather than nicotine; both are normally medium strength or less in nicotine.

Growing conditions play havoc with this rank-order though. The drier the weather, and the more damage from insects or other pests, the higher the nicotine content will go. Orientals generally run about 1.25 percent nicotine by weight, Virginias maybe 2.5 percent plus or minus a bit, Burley maybe 4 to 6 percent. But dry wether and insect damage can send a Virginia to 8 percent nicotine by weight and wet weather and few pests can result in a very low nicotine content. Soil fertility can also have an effect, though this is usually not a major factor.

Also, position of the leaf on the plant has an effect, with the lowest leaves having the highest nicotine content and the top leaves on the plant the most subtle taste and least nicotine, and this holds true regardless of type of plant. Cigar smokers are familiar with this differential, as the top leaves are used for wrapper and the lower leaves for filler, with the lowest leaves (the lugs) usually shunted off for pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, or some other use that does not require delicately nuanced flavor.

Processing also affects the impact of the nicotine. Ammonia (a by-product of fermentation of the tobacco as it ages) will speed absorption of nicotine into the blood and increase the impact. Stoving somehow weakens the impact of the nicotine, though I do not know if this is due to nicotine decomposing or due to the different catalytic effect of other things in the tobacco after the heat treatment.

By [tobacco form], the brown twists (ropes) are the strongest. The stoved black ropes are the same tobacco but somewhat more mild due to the heat treatment. Among the cut plugs and flakes, those containing large amounts of fire-cured leaf are the strongest, with Burley content the next major determinant of nicotine strength.

The final determinant of strength in a pipe tobacco is the blenders choice of what material to mix up to get the strength and taste desired. And this is the real determinant of nicotine content in pipe tobacco, the specific leaf the blender decides to include the the tobacco you buy and load in your pipe.

James Beard, 2004-08-09

Curing affects the percentage of nicotine in tobacco (it does not create any, but can preserve or degrade that existing). Fire-cured tobaccos tend to be stronger, as do air-cured tobaccos (Burley is the most notorious of these). Flue-cured is generally milder, but if grown under certain conditions flue-cured Virginias may contain up to 8 percent nicotine by weight, nearly as strong as Nicotiana rustica varieties scorned by nearly all but the Russians as unfit for human consumption. And the "sun-cured" variant of air curing is quite different from the type of air curing burly undergoes, and it is used for Orientals low in nicotine content.

James Beard, 1999-12-14

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8 ~ Where does "tongue bite" come from, and how can it be mitigated?

"Tongue bite" is a result of a higher than normal pH of the smoke stream. Increased temperature will, of course, result in increased reactivity, amplifying the effect to a degree. (Sorry...) In other words, a tobacco that really bites may not be tamed by slow smoking, drying the leaf, or other magic bullets. AND, whether or not a particular blend bites has as much to do with the smoker as the smoke. We each seem to react to blends differently. Some people can smoke blends all day that, to me, sting like a mouth full of wasps. The converse is also true.

I'm also convinced, from empirical evidence, that the pipe can make a dramatic difference, not only to a tobacco's taste, but also to whether or not it bites. Related to this, some pipes will amplify the effects of nicotine for me. The same blend that I can smoke without falling down in most pipes will send the room spinning in some. There are apparently other reactions taking place between components of the smoke and the wood that alter the pH of the smoke stream. More nicotine is absorbed by the mouth if the "solution" is alkaline than if it's acidic.

G.L. Pease, 2005-08-13

Let me start by saying this; I refuse to smoke anything that bites my tongue. Life is just too short for that kind of agony.

With that out of the way let me make this thread confusing. Virtually everything I've ever smoked has bitten me! There are blends/types of tobacco mixtures which are a little more prone to biting than others by virtue of sugar content. I find the main culprits are:

1 Packing technique (how I pack a bowl is usually the chief offender)

2. Smoking technique (how often I puff, how deeply I draw)

3. Tamping technique (how firmly I tamp)

4. Pipe Choice (choosing the right pipe for the right mixture)

If I pay attention to how I'm packing a bowl, IE don't pack it too tight, don't pack a really tight section of a bowl, make sure that the tobacco is uniformly packed and distributed in the bowl I won't have tongue bite. If I pay attention through the first third of the bowl to my smoking technique, making sure that I'm puffing often enough and deeply enough JUST to keep the pipe going I won't have tongue bite. When I hit the second third of the bowl (when the flavors really start building) if I've established a good even burn and cadence (puff rate and depth) I can usually resist the urge to over puff. If I'm careful to only tamp the fluffy loose ash and not compress the burning tobacco I won't have tongue bite. If I choose the right pipe for a given mixture (like a long thick walled Canadian/Lumberman/Lovat for high sugar VA - VAPERS) I won't have tongue bite. It just stands to reason, if you are smoking McClelland's Dark Star in a short "nose warmer" with walls 1/8 of an inch thick you ARE going to get bitten!

kilted1, 2005-01-12

Lots of tongue bite occurs at light up. Try to keep a thin layer of saliva on your tongue while lighting. Also, try air-smoking, where you let outside air in through non-sealed lips as you draw in the smoke. It cools the smoke and brings the Virginias to life. The balsa filter can also help.

inquisitor, 2005-01-12

Now, let's look at a few things about tongue bite. Tongue bite is not a tongue burnt raw. Rather, it means to me, either a scald or a chemical bite.

First a scald. The amount of moisture in the tobacco has a great deal to do with scald. The combustion converts moisture from the tobacco into steam and you get cooked tongue. While there will be some moisture in any tobacco, the wet stuff is worst in that regard. You mentioned taking longer puffs and that is just asking for burn. The longer puffs increase the draft through the tobacco and increases the heat intensity. You are sucking all that extra heat into your mouth. You sound like you were doing better at first. Small sips is better and cooler. If you must use longer puffs, increase the interval to a long time. This makes it harder to keep lighted but if you must, you must. Take those small sips with an occasional longer one or two to keep things hot enough. It becomes more a feeling of when you need that little extra length than a timing thing.

Don't try to smoke that last bit on the heel because you will be sucking in those lighter flames or the real hot steam that is heated with the lighter or match. Use soft puffs to light the pipe instead of big ole draws. If the pipe wants to go out, practice even filling and smooth even lights regardless of the number of matches it takes to get that light. A poor light causes you to really puff hard and fast to keep it lighted. A properly filled, lighted, and smoked pipe should almost stay lighted by itself. Only a little help from you is required. Smoke easy! Lay your pipe aside if it gets too hot and get a drink. Let it cool off a bit, smooth the top, and relight after a while.

Chemical type bite is not really a burn although it may feel like it. It can make your tongue sore although it may be that the tobacco smoke is lighter in density making you think you need to puff harder to get the amount of smoke you think you should be getting. This type of bite is often common in Virginian type tobaccos with some types worse than others. Some types of tobaccos are more acid or alkaline than others and some types of tobaccos are cured different than others making a different type of fermentation. Most of the fermented tobaccos have very little bite while some of the fire cured tobaccos may have a lot of bite. The combination of these tobaccos are what give us the blends we like. It is like beer. By itself, wort, which is beer before it is beer is very sweet. Even if fermented out, it is too sweet to enjoy so hops are added to give the tartness to balance the sweetness. Tobaccos are blended for us in different combinations. Some like a bit of sharpness or spice and others don't. Those that like the little bit of bite may be right on the edge of "bite" and a bit of fast smoking will give your tongue a longer "bite" than you wish. Burleys almost never have the "Bite" as they are mild. So mild that flavors are often added to get past the mild flavor.

After your tongue heals and you wish to smoke again, I would suggest you use a longer type stem on your pipe to give more time for the smoke to cool, get ahold of C&D or some other good blender and explain you problem with bite, and slow down. There are many days left for you to attempt to sample all the tobacco out there, years in fact. You might wish to try a Kirsten or some other type of condensing pipe if you can't seem to get past the burnt tongue.

Sip, and slow down!!

Walter L. De Visser, Srm 1999-01-29

First and foremost, tongue-bite is a chemical process in more than 99.99 percent of all cases. Yes, if you puff hard enough that some of the moisture from the tobacco arrives at your tongue as live steam, the heat of condensation liberated when the stuff alights on your tongue will do what steam usually does. But I am not even sure this is possible, and I am sure it is not at all common.

The problem is caustic (alkaline, if you prefer the term) constituents in the smoke. Why are they there? Your tobacco may have an inherent shortage of acidic components (hydrogen ions, and stuff to create them), or the hydrogen ions may join with oxygen to form water and turn neutral, leaving the alkaline components to dominate.

Tobaccos that are flue-cured (Virginias) or exposed to a high heat soon after the leaf is removed from the plant will have a high sugar content, as metabolic processes within the leaf, and microorganisms that live there, are killed by the heat before the sugar is consumed. And sugar provides lots of hydrogen for hydrogen ions.

The sun-cured or air-cured tobaccos, on the other hand, have a low sugar content, because most of the sugar is either metabolized within the leaf itself or consumed by microorganisms between the time the leaf was removed from the plant and the end of the initial curing process.

Ergo, we should expect Virginias and other heat-cured tobaccos to be gentle on the tongue, and Burley and other slowly-cured tobaccos to be harsh on the tongue. But wait! There is another critical period when temperature is very important to the leaf!

When the leaf burns in your pipe, the higher the combustion temperature, the more complete the combustion, and the more hydrogen ions combine with oxygen to form neutral water. Put differently, the higher the burn temperature, the more alkaline the smoke, as the acidic hydrogen is used to form neutral water and the oxides of minerals (alkaline to very alkaline) dominate. Conversion of carbon to CO and CO2 has some influence, but it is of minor importance and will be disregarded here.

The horns of the dilemma, of course, are that tobaccos rich in sugar tend to burn easily, fast, and hot, while those low in sugar tend to burn less readily, slower, and cooler. Smoke your sugar-rich Virginia hot, and instead of pleasant acidic smoke you get caustic alkaline smoke that bites with a vengence. And smoke your naturally alkaline-ish Burley cool, and you may well get an acidic smoke that will comfort your tongue, especially if the manufacturer has dumped extra sugar or honey or a bit of rum in with the tobacco specifically to tilt the balance toward the acidic pH side of things.

So, if tongue bite is your problem, the remedies are:

1. Buy tobaccos rich in sugar (Virginias, etc).

2. Smoke slowly enough that the combustion temperature stays low and incomplete combustion allows an ample amount of hydrogen ions to reach the mouth in acidic form. Note that it is the _combustion_ _temperature_ that is important for oxidation and the resulting chemical composition of the smoke. Once the smoke is alkaline, it matters not one bit if it is cooled to below freezing before it reaches your tongue, it will still bite.

3. Pay attention to the moisture content of your tobacco. If too dry, it is very easy to drive the combustion temperature too high (obviously). But not so obviously, if the tobacco is too moist, you will automatically compensate for the difficulty in making moist tobacco burn by puffing more strongly, and this too can easily drive the temperature of combustion too high, and result in very alkaline smoke.

4. Vary your methods of packing, puffing, and any and all other practices with a goal of getting combustion properties "into the zone" of temperature that yields maximum flavor components and minimum alkalinity.

James Beard, 2000-10-28

The cause of tongue bite can be either steam, excessive heat, a chemical burn, or any combination of the three. Its cause is mostly due to too fast and deep a puffing rate, and heavy puffing on lights and re-lights. New smokers are particularly prone to it until they master the art of slow smoking. Once slow smoking is mastered, the causes are a non-broken-in pipe, a new and unfamiliar tobacco, and over-indulgence, that is, exceeding one's personal threshold of number of bowls smoked. These latter causes are compounded for the new smoker, because they are trying to learn proper smoking technique while breaking in new pipes and trying new tobaccos. It all serves as an initiatory ordeal through which one has to pass before arriving at the Inner Sanctum of smoking bliss.

Unfortunately a lot of smokers never make it through the initiation ritual. Many of its rigors can be by-passed by going slowly and not rushing things. Proper packing and slow puffing has to be learned first. A few good pipes and 1-2 easy-to-pack and smoke tobaccos should be used at first until smoking at a slow rate is mastered. Then one can go on to learning to smoke all the way to the bottom of the bowl and properly breaking-in the pipe. Once the pipes are broken-in completely and the smoker is experiencing no tongue bite, then it is safe to venture into the realm of tobacco experimentation.

It is not unusual to be a newbie even after 2-3 three years of smoking, so concentrating on and mastering the basics is essential. As one's skills improve smoking yields more and more pleasure and veteran pipe smokers experience no tongue bite. Getting through the newbie period is much easier these days thanks to the information now available, such as ASP.

Paul Szabady, 1999-10-11

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9 ~ How should I proceed to try new tobaccos?

The moral of the story is: take your time.

It's very easy, in the flush of enthusiasm, to simply try too many tobaccos and get confused and disoriented. This is particularly true if one is a new smoker but it happens to veteran smokers too. The simplest solution is to slow down a bit and concentrate on a just a few tobaccos. It can take as much as a month or so of smoking just one tobacco to really get to know it, understand it and appreciate its subtleties, so it's not surprising that you're getting a bit confused. I had a similar newbie experience to yours and the excitement is indeed heady.

Individual tobacco blends *do* taste different based on the time of day, what you've eaten, the pipe smoked in, etc. Since you're on the sharp ascent of the learning curve, this is indeed compounded for you. Time will sort it out.

Truly *understanding* a particular tobacco blend will require smoking it consistently in one pipe until the flavor permeates the pipe and the carryovers of other tobaccos are not contributing their aromas and flavors, but this can be difficult to do if one's pipe collection is limited. Simply using 1 pipe for each major tobacco type: e.g. English, Aromatic, Virginia, Burley - is enough to begin to make controlled valuations and form reliable opinions.

Paul Szabady, 1999-11-29

There are, of course, many different ways of smoking and enjoying tobaccos: from smoking the same blend all through one's life without even knowing what's in it, to a hyper-critical analytic mode where you try to identify a particular component tobacco's country and year of origin. Most smokers will try to at least become somewhat aware of what they are smoking purely as a means of understanding, and also as an aid to sample similar (or different tobaccos.) The world of tobacco blends is so large that it can be disorientating, and while random chance might find tobaccos that one likes, some knowledge and orientation can really help wade through the chaos.

There's no substitute for experience and for the reflection on one's experience. Our culture being so anti-sensual and vision-dominated, it is psychologically and physiologically worth-while to increase our awareness of smell and taste and to let those senses bloom: the world is full of roses and we ignore them at our loss. The beauty and fullness of life is there for all to enjoy and smoking can really add to our enjoyment and appreciation of life. Articulating and understanding our smoking experiences can add another dimension to our enjoyment, as can sharing those experiences with others. Finding the words to describe the sensations of taste and smell is often difficult as English seems particularly bereft of words and concepts of taste and aroma. Does "sweet" adequately describe the taste of a virginia? Does "nutty" really describe something completely?

No, I would say, as the taste/smell sensation is so direct and so powerful and enters consciousness at a level way below the level of language. But there is merit in attempting to articulate our sensations, as there is in just enjoying the taste uncritically. We can do both at the same time. And the effort to articulate and describe, can, by the process of honing and clarifying descriptions, eventually clarify and communicate honestly.

There might be some concrete learning necessary to begin to identify and understand tobaccos. One might start by smoking some straight blending tobaccos: burley, virginia, turkish, latakia, perique and cavendish to get an idea of what they are like 'neat'. Then by finding simple blends one can begin to identify how these tobaccos interact. One can then pursue individual blend styles, Burleys or Latakia blends eg, and experience their permutations and variations. Eventually one can get quite good at identifying tobaccos in a blend. Interestingly, knowing what's in a blend can help in perceiving it: the intellect aids the senses. It can give an orienting focus to what might otherwise simply pass unnoticed, or unidentified.

This needn't become hard work: I think most smokers would find this kind of experimenting fun and part of the long-time pleasure of pipe-smoking. One needn't fear becoming jaded either: one's experience keeps evolving and changing with each new bowl of tobacco. Nor would I worry much about having a 'tin palate' or a 'tin nose': unless one has damaged senses, or is depressed enough to have a dimunition of perception in general, individual physiological taste/smell acuity is not really important. It's one's sensitivity, awareness, and interest that makes a difference. The senses of Superman are useless if one is not paying attention.

Of course it is possible to go over-board and get so analytical and critical that one loses the ability to simply enjoy the tobacco, but I think most smokers who really like a blend on a gut-level would also like to know *what* makes that blend so satisfactory. An "education" of the senses, in the literal meaning of leading out and opening, is an enlarging and enlightening experience. Fun too.

Paul Szabady, 1999-11-29

Tasting and identifying different components in a blend is something that comes from experience with different tobaccos. If a manufacturer tells you what components are in their blends, and you smoke them with a critical palate, you begin to pick up differences between different sorts of blends, and begin to discern the different flavours. At first, it starts as a notion, as an impression. Then, with continued exposure and experimentation, these impressions begin to solidify. If you get really interested, you can always get individual blending components and smoke them, a proposition which is not always pleasant.

Many are content to smoke what they like, and don't care one whit what is in it. But, knowing what's in your fave can help find similar tobaccos, and possibly something you'd like even more. And, knowing what's in things you don't like can give clues as to what to avoid. (That said, I am still a firm believer in periodically trying things you think you don't like. There are always surprises, and some of them can be quite pleasant! Tastes change, and it's always possible the the experiences which caused the dislike in the first place created an unwarranted prejudice. I recall HATING Burley for years because of some bad Burley I'd smoked. Needless to say, this has changed.)

I must be quick to point out that a lot of tobacco reviews I've read are full of hoohah, so, as the saying goes, always question authority. Further, some manufacturers who DO "disclose" contents do so in a somewhat dishonest fashion, claiming contents they have no business claiming.

G.L. Pease, 1999-11-29

You might also wish to consult our list of touchstone blends for all kinds of tobacco styles.

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