Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Bob's Chocolate Flake

Good morning, Gents! Today I’m writing about a relatively new discovery for me - Bob’s Chocolate Flake.

Bob’s Chocolate Flake is produced in England by Gawith, Hoggarth and company. The flake itself is a blend of virginia, burley, and latakia with cocoa and vanilla flavorings added. It’s available in 50 gram tins from your favorite online retailer or B&M tobacconist.

I first became acquainted with Bob’s Chocolate Flake when my May 2018 box from the Tin Society (www.tinsociety.com) arrived. The sample packet contained broken flakes of dark brown, lighter brown, and a few flecks of almost black tobacco. I opened it up and and was greeted with the scent of good quality tobacco with a whiff of latakia smokiness. Among the delicious tobacco scent was just a hint of cocoa. I passed it over to the Mrs. for the smell test and Bob’s was approved for indoor use - very unusual as blends with latakia are, with the exception of Lane’s HGL, relegated to the porch and garage (which reminds me - be on the lookout for my “Dogfight” review - Junkyard Dawg vs. John Bull - coming soon!).

I loaded up my trusty Kaywoodie author with the expectation that I was in for a treat. (insert sad trombone sound here) The first bowl was very disappointing. I found it difficult to keep lit, a bit harsh, and the flavor was nothing to write home about. I definitely didn’t get any hints of cocoa. The bowl wasn’t bad, just bland and I didn’t care for it. I put the sample aside and moved on to the other tobaccos that were included in the box. Something told me not to give up on old Bob however, and I decided to treat it like I do Dunhill’s Dark Flake. I took some of the broken flakes and rubbed them out completely then let the tobacco sit for about fifteen to twenty minutes to dry a bit. With a little trepidation, I loaded up my Forseti rusticated bent egg (my Father’s Day 2017 gift from the Mrs. and kiddo) giving the tobacco a light pack. The afternoon wasn’t terribly hot for Houston, so I went out to the porch to read and give Bob’s another go. The charring light went well, and after a very light tamping, the true light. Oh how wrong was my first impression…

Puffing slowly, almost sipping, I got a delicious flavor of good tobacco and began to taste a little sweetness from the virginias on my lips. Suddenly, the terrific pipe tobacco flavor was replaced in my mouth with the creamy taste of cocoa and vanilla, almost like hot chocolate, but not the instant or Hershey’s flavored kind - think homemade hot cocoa made with cream, Dutch cocoa powder, vanilla, and a little sugar. The flavor was that good. The Mrs. got a similar feeling form the room note when she stepped out. The cocoa flavor receded and the tobacco flavor came to the fore again. The flavors slowly alternated as the bowl burned lower, fading into each other and becoming more concentrated as the bottom of the bowl approached and the tobacco combusted into fine grey-white ash, leaving no dottle behind other than a pleasant memory. The reliable Zippo pipe lighter didn’t get much of a workout with this bowl. I only had to relight it twice.

Over the next few days I experimented a bit more with rubbing out and packing Bob’s Chocolate Flake and found that rubbing it out completely, letting it dry a bit, and packing it lightly gives the best results for me - your mileage may vary though. Interestingly, I’ve not picked up on the floral or Lakeland notes that some reviewers have mentioned. I’ve also not found any whisky flavor. That’s not to say that the floral and alcohol notes aren’t there, just that my sniffer and tastebuds aren’t picking up on them.

I am now a true fan of BCF and am actively adding it to my cellar  I would heartily encourage any piper to give this blend a try!

On another note, Padre Piper’s (@PadrePiper) recent vlog on codger blends got me thinking - what are my top codger blends?

5. Captain Black Dark
4. Lane HGL
3. Granger (a tip of the hat to Granddad Damewood)
2. Friends (what will I do when my stash is gone???)
1.  Velvet (My favorite everyday pipe tobacco)

I love the smell of cherry pipe tobacco, and at 47 I’m old enough to remember sitting in the stands at high school football games and catching whiffs of cherry tobacco in the Autumn air. My grandfather, L.J. James was also a cherry blend piper, so I have very happy memories there. Unfortunately I’ve never found a cherry blend that agrees with me.

Until next time,. Keep the fires burning!

Friday, June 22, 2018


     Greetings gents! Hope all is well! With this post (which has been waiting patiently in my drive for some time)  I’m starting to get caught up after a hectic 2nd semester! Be on the lookout for fresh posts soon!
    Here are two more gems from the estate lot box – an unmarked vest pocket pipe, and a sitter simply stamped “Imported Briar.” The vest pocket briar is a bit of a mystery, but I believe the sitter is one of the Dr. Grabow Continental line of pipes that was produced for a time in the early 60s. Based on what I’ve seen online, I think this example has a replacement stem. In the near future I will have to bend the stem into the correct configuration for this model.
    Other than a cobweb in the chamber of the sitter, both pipes were exceptionally clean! First, I dropped the stems into a warm oxyclean solution to loosen up any grime. The VPP was very clean and the sitter’s stem had just a bit of oxidation and mineral deposits. While the stems were in the bath, I cleared the airways of the stummels of just a bit of goop and gave the stummels a scrubbing with Murphy’s oil soap and a soft toothbrush. I touched up a nick on the surface of the VPP then gave both stummels a coat of oil and left them to soak it in.
    The stems were a very easy job. The VPP’s stem was almost immaculate and just needed a bit of polishing. The stem of the sitter required a little elbow grease to remove the light oxidation and mineral deposits. The airways of each needed just a little attention and a couple of pipe cleaners to bring them up to spec.
    After a couple of rounds on the buffer, both pipes were shined up and ready to go! I’ll be holding onto these two and I imagine that the vest pocket briar will come in very handy and see some good use during the holiday season as we go to visit various relations!
    Until next time, keep the fires lit, pipemen!  

Today’s LP: Bartok “Concerto for Viola and Orchestra” b/w Hindemith “Der Schwanendreher for Viola and Orchestra” Nonesuch H-71239

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Big Briar

    Greetings Pipemen! Today I have another repair from the estate box of briars.


    This is a large, pot-shaped, straight stem briar. The only marking on it is the stamp “made in London, England.”
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The Big Briar. © 2017 James Hill
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Made in London. © 2017 James Hill
Man, is this thing big! The Mrs. imagines that this was a sailor’s pipe. He didn’t have time to reload very often, hence the huge bowl. He apparently didn’t have the time to clean it either - this pipe was filthy!


    The stummel was smokey and sticky and very little grain was visible through the grime. There were also some flecks of green paint on one side. The rim was encrusted and the chamber was incredibly caked up, as you can see in the photo.
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The Big Briar Chamber. © 2017 James Hill
The oxidized stem, once I was able to free it, I found was quite plugged up. The stem went into a warm solution of Oxyclean while I got to work on the stummel.


    The first order of business was to clean out the chamber. Once the first layer of cake (and wow, was this stuff sticky! I wonder what the previous owner smoked.)  had been removed, I found that my reamer wasn’t able to reach the sides of the chamber. After some elbow grease, a dowel, sandpaper, and lots of time, the chamber was clear - you can see how much goop came out in the photo.
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The Big Briar Cake Removal. © 2017 James Hill


Next stop, the airway, which was completely plugged. Between a small, hand-turned drill bit, and lots of cotton swabs and pipe cleaners, the airway was finally free.
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Some of the cleaning supplies. © 2017 James Hill


    Next, the stummel got a scrubbing with a soft toothbrush and Murphy’s Oil Soap. After a couple of rounds, I could see the true form of this briar emerging from under the grunge. Happily the paint flecks came right off with a little help from my thumbnail. I rinsed and dried the stummel then headed back out to the workshop. With a light sanding of the rim, a few scorch marks were removed then I touched up the finish, oiled the stummel and set it aside to tackle the stem.


    Cleaning the airway took time, patience, and lots of pipe cleaners. With that accomplished I began sanding and polishing the stem to remove the oxidation and some mineral deposits. I decided to revisit a couple tooth marks later.


    WIth the pipe cleaned and reassembled, I gave the works a once over with white diamond, then two coats of carnauba. As I was working the pipe on the buffer I could see the beautiful grain of the briar. This really is a lovely pipe and is ready to be put back into service in my collection!


    Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep the fires lit, pipemen!


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The Big Briar, Cleaned. © 2017 James Hill

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Meerschaum Owl

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The Owl Meerschaum. Frontal View Before Cleaning/Waxing. © 2017 James Hill


    Greetings Pipemen! I hope this post finds you all well! I found this little owl-shaped meer on ebay and put in a bid. Happily mine won and soon the pipe was on its way to Texas.


    Upon unpacking, I had a close look at the stummel and found it to be quite dry, a little dirty, and mostly off-white with some patches of color here and there. I also found a sticky layer of cake buildup in the chamber.
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The Owl Meerschaum Side View Before Cleaning/Waxing. © 2017 James Hill
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The Owl Meerschaum’s Tobacco Chamber Before Cleaning. © 2017 James Hill


    After removing the stem, my first order of business was to clean the chamber. I gave it a gentle sanding with 200 grit sandpaper wrapped around a marker. Not wanting to damage the material of the pipe, I sanded it down to where I could see the stone peeking through a light layer of carbon. Happily, I was able to get all of the sticky stuff out.


    When I removed the stem I did come across a bit of a mystery - a paper cylinder sleeve covering part of the airway. I cannot find ANY info about this thing other than another reference online to finding one in another meer. Does anyone know what the proper name of this sleeve is and where I can get a replacement? The one that came with the pipe has seen better days and may not hold out much longer.


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Stummel with the mystery paper sleeve. © 2017 James Hill


    After cleaning the chamber, I gave the airway a cleaning. It was in pretty good condition and only needed a few pipe cleaners to be brought up to ship shape.  Afterwards, I brushed the surface of the pipe with a soft toothbrush. I then used a pick to dislodge a few pieces of gunk stuck in the nooks and crannies of the carvings.


    Following the cleaning, I put on some 100% beeswax to melt while I gently heated the pipe with a hair dryer. Once the wax was completely melted, I used a paintbrush to apply the wax to the entire surface, making sure to get it into every crevice.
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Waxed Stummel. © 2017 James Hill


I let the wax settle in a bit then heated the stummel with the hairdryer again. Almost all of the wax absorbed - this little meer was thirsty! I repeated the waxing process then let the stummel sit and rest while I cleaned and polished the stem.


    The stem’s airway was pretty clean already, and again it only took a few pipe cleaners to get it squared away. I cleaned and polished the surface of the stem then gave it a couple of coats of carnauba.


    After its cleaning and waxing this little meer looks much better! The wax has drawn more of the color to the surface and over time this should darken to a lovely mahogany hue! I’m looking forward to having this meer in my rotation!


    Until next time, keep the fires lit, pipemen!


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The Finished Product. © 2017 James Hill

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Box o' Briars

The Box O' Briars (c) 2017 James Hill

Good Afternoon fellow Pipemen! 

I recently won a box lot of briars on ebay and the postman delivered them this weekend! They are in various states of repair, but all are quite mendable and I'm looking forward to sharing my repairs with all of you as I bring these veterans back into smoking condition! I'm really excited about the large pot briar - it's going to be a challenge to recondition but I think it will be a great smoker! From the size of the bowl, I'm guessing it will give a good 1 - 1.5 hours. 

I've also recently received a shipment of Ratttray's Bagpiper's Dream and Sutliff's Maple Street. I'll be posting my thoughts on them soon. 

Until next time, keep the briars lit, pipemen! 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Barking Dog Pipe Tobacco Review

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Barking Dog tin with Forseti Bent Egg Briar. © 2017 James Hill


   Happy Sunday, Pipesmen! Today we’ll be trying out a classic - Barking Dog. Light ‘em if you’ve got ‘em!


    Barking Dog is a venerable drugstore American-English cube cut blend of burley, latakia, virginia, and perique. This pooch poses a problem to ponder, however. Just what is the topping? Is it rum? Is it molasses? A combination of the two? I believe it to be rum primarily. The rum almost certainly combines with something sweet, either molasses or a natural sweetness from one of the tobaccos, to make a butterscotch-like flavor. Barking Dog was produced by Phillip Morris and later by the House of Windsor. The original is now unavailable, but a match by Sutliff can be obtained from Pipes and Cigars. (https://www.pipesandcigars.com/p/match-barking-dog-pipe-tobacco/1473107/)


    The sad looking boxer on the tin seemed so forlorn that I had to give him a home. I wrote to pipestud (www.pipestud.com) and soon the doggy was winging his way to my home in Houston. Upon his arrival I chose my Forseti bent egg briar - my gift from the Mrs. and daughter for Father’s Day 2017 (thanks again, ladies!)  for the initial tasting.  The tin note is intriguing. Due to the mysterious alchemy of fermentation and aging, no one scent jumps right out. There is some smokiness from the latakia, a hint of spiciness, and an overall rich, beefy (for lack of a better word) aroma. Perhaps pipe tobacco umami is a good description. The topping is not apparent in the tin note. The Mrs. took a whiff of the tin and pronounced it “Beef Jerky”. With that I gathered my pipe, lighter, tamper, and tobacco and headed out to the back porch to take Barking Dog for a walk.


    The leaf was fairly dry, but not so much as to require rehydration. After the char light and tamp, I needed a few more lights to get the bowl going, then a few relights over the course of the bowl. This may very well be a result of my inexperience with cube cut tobacco rather than anything to do with the tobacco itself. Once burning, the flavor is very even. As with the tin note, no one tobacco stands out. Rather, the blend is well orchestrated with a firm foundation of burley and virginia, pleasant overtones of smoky latakia, and occasional trills of spiciness from  the perique. The mysterious sweetness/butterscotch flavor weaves in and out like a refrain. The room note is also even, but with a bit more smokiness from the latakia. This smokiness relegates it to a porch or workshop blend at my house. Thus far, the only English or American English blend that has been deemed “allowed in the house” is Lane’s HGL. As the tin says, this dog does not bite. I wanted a second opinion on the flavor so I got on the phone and rang up my partner in crime - an aficionado of blends such as Wild Atlantic and Orlik’s Golden Slices, who for the sake of privacy will be called Smoking Buddy. We lit up and chewed the fat over a pair of bowls, solving the problems of the world, and discussing the ups and downs of teaching High Schools. His impressions were much the same as mine in the flavor department, though he picked up more of a general undefined sweetness rather than an identifiable butterscotch flavor.


    I enjoyed Barking Dog, even with the frustration of keeping it lit. I’m slowly working my way through the two ounce tin and still hoping to find my groove with it. Overall, it’s a nice blend, but I don’t think that it will find a place in my permanent rotation. If you’re a fan of English or American-English blends, then Barking Dog, or its Sutliff match, may be something you’ll want to try! Until next time, keep the fires lit Pipemen!


Today’s LP - Rachmaninoff Sonata in G minor, op. 19  and Kodaly Sonata, op. 4
Nonesuch H-7155


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Old Barking Dog advertisement

Friends Pipe Tobacco Review

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Friends Tobacco tin with Bendetto Shamrock Briar. © 2017 James Hill


     Salutations fellow Pipemen! Today I will be reviewing an old-time American pipe blend, Friends. Light up and let’s get started!


    Friends, a combination of burley and virgina topped with rum (rum cured according to old ad copy) was produced by the United States Tobacco Company of Richmond, Virginia, and later, the House of Windsor of Yoe, Pennsylvania, from at least the early 1940s through the 1990s. Unfortunately, this blend is no longer available. The eye-catching yellow tin features a charming illustration of a man and his dog - best friends to be sure! I obtained a 30-40 year old factory sealed 12 ounce tin from the esteemed Steve Fallon - the pipestud (www.pipestud.com), In short order the tin arrived on my doorstep and my acquaintance with Friends began.


    When I broke the seal and unscrewed the lid I was greeted with the scent of dark chocolate with just a hint of alcohol - this stuff smells fantastic in the tin! I removed the paper insert, which has an ad for a ballpoint pen on a chain with a sticky base plate. The typeface and design appears to be totally 80s. Underneath the insert I found a full bag of lovely, dark brown leaf. Opening the bag, I found that the leaf was at an ideal moisture level. The years have been very good to this tin. Have I mentioned that the tin note is very chocolatey? WIth the bag open, the chocolate aroma became even more pronounced. Friends definitely passed my smell test! The Mrs. and daughter (chocolate lovers both) were also quite impressed with the tin note. An auspicious beginning to this friendship!


    For the first smoke I chose my Benedetto Shamrock - an Italian copy of a Peterson bent military mount briar. Based on my experience with other burley blends, I used a lighter pack. After a charring light and tamp, Friends lit easily and stayed lit, with only one relight, through a 30-40 minute bowl. The smoke was silky smooth and deliciously chocolatey, as was the room note. There was not a bite to be found.  Pipestud wrote that smoking Friends just naturally made a fellow want to pet his dog. Well, we don’t have a dog but the family cat -  as true blue a buddy as any dog - joined me in my chair as I smoked for quality lap time!


    Friends is flavorful, smooth, and satisfying, You could even say that it’s Chocolate Rum Cake in a briar! I will definitely be ordering more unopened tins to add to my cellar. Thanks again to pipestud for making these wonderful (and sometimes head scratch worthy - Greenbriar, anyone?) vintage tobaccos available.


    Until next time, keep the fires burning, pipemen!


Today’s LP - Jorg Demus and the Schubert Quartet playing Schubert’s Trout Quintet  and Sonatina in A Minor for Violin and Piano. Deutsche Grammophon/Privelege Stereo  2535 225


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Friends tin insert. © 2017 James Hill