Question about House/Local Blends

Discussion in 'Pipe Tobacco' started by LukeSterling, Dec 22, 2013.

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  1. LukeSterling

    LukeSterling New Member

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    Hey all,

    I've been smoking a pipe for around a year, and in that time, I've tried many in-house blends from local tobacconists. I've liked many of them, and disliked a few as well. Since these blends can vary so greatly from store to store, presumably less so than tinned tobacco, I've found it somewhat difficult to choose a blend that I think I'll like.

    So on to my question: are there any tell-tale signs of a good or bad blend that I could pick up on without first smoking the tobacco? I've followed my nose in the past with mixed results – some smell great but the casing is just too heavy, others smell alright but are fantastic when smoking. So what should I look/smell/feel for when looking for new tobaccos? Should I just bite the bullet and smoke them?

    Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!
     


  2. muddler

    muddler Member

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    There's no substitute for smoking the blend in order to assess it. It's often useful to ask for a pack of samples to try - half an ounce will do it. Of course your eyes & nose can tell you can tell you quite a bit about a tobacco but smoking them is what ultimately counts.
     
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  3. michiganlover

    michiganlover Active Member

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    Be aware, that almost all House/Local blends are actually tobaccos from well known bulk vendors (Lane, Sutliff, Macbaren), that the local shop has simply slapped their name on. They are not blending it, or modifying it in any way.

    Thus Lane's 1Q (said to be the most smoked pipe tobacco in America) can be sold under a different name in each pipe shop.
     
  4. Spillproof

    Spillproof Mostly Harmless Moderator

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    Some B&M's are more open about their "house-blends" than others.

    If you find one you particularly like, or dislike, tell the proprietor you'd like to learn more about them. The truth helps! "I'm a new smoker trying to figure out my palate. This blend is awesome, what can you tell me about it?" Or alternatively, "This one really didn't work for me, and that's good 'cause now I know, but what was it?"

    Maybe they'll tell you what's in it, maybe they'll tell you what it actually is ;-)


    It's difficult to tell how a tobacco will smoke from the bag notes, but in time you will be able to identify Most of what's in a blend by looking at it and smelling it for toppings/casings/obvious giveaways. Ask for a lesson in identifying blending components.
     
  5. LifeOfRiley

    LifeOfRiley Member

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    If you're looking at aromatics, check out the moisture level. Some is good, but if it looks sticky, it'll probably have an overly syrupy flavor and be a pain to keep lit. At the other end; if the tobacco is brittle and crumbly (assuming a ribbon cut), it hasn't been stored properly and dried out.

    If you're looking to learn more about blend types, you may want to buy small amounts of quality examples of a few: maybe a straight Virginia, an English, and a burley. Once you've figured out what types of leaf you like, then it might be easier to track down what you like as far as casings, blend varieties, etc.
     
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  6. Russell Hartman

    Russell Hartman Stay Silver

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    I also agree that there is no real substitute for smoking a blend to see whether it will be to ones liking. As was said perhaps the B&M will allow or sell small sample bags so you can run through them and see just what you prefer. Some shops are not so open about their "house-blends" and some maybe. Tobaccos such as Lanes' 1-Q are just one of many that simply get renamed and sold as a so called "house- blend". On a personal note--I have no real issue with a B&M doing that as long as they do NOT make claims of actually blending it themselves and straight out stating it is NOT a tobacco that has simply been renames and dumped from a bulk bag into a jar and renamed with claims of them actually blending it themselves. Some shops will add a little of other tobaccos just to change things up a little so they can claim--"Yeah--thats our own special blend" I have asked questions before in my travels about "house-blends" at some places I have stopped at--I got no real answers and some raised eyes when asking.
     
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  7. RTOdhner

    RTOdhner Well-Known Member

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    I've heard a statistic that pipe smokers comprise about 2% of the smoking public. Some B&M's still do a great deal of business with pipe smokers, so their sales staff and person who does the purchasing understand pipe tobaccos and pipe smokers' needs. Unfortunately, most do not. Thus they order what they think pipe smokers want - and that usually equates to heavily cased aromatics. These tend to be supplied by Lane, Altadis, or Stokkebye. Out of those three, I think Stokkebye products are the best and they do offer some aromatics that are not too bad. However, in most cases those aromatics - even those put out by Stokkebye - are so heavily cased that (for me, anyway) the underlying tobacco is nearly impossible to discern. These will generally be offered as "house" blends, and the only thing that they will change is the name. Thus, Stokkebye Optimum (the actual name for one of their premier aromatic blends) might be sold as "Gramp's Favorite" or "Smoker's Joy." There is no end to the possible list of silly monikers. (BTW, this name change is not limited to aromatics, and Altadis' Majestic English, the actual name for a quite passable English blend, might be sold as "Cromwell's Favorite" or "Pride of the Empire").

    Personally, I'd advise you to stay clear of their "house" aromatics because you'll probably find that none of them, even the better Stokkebye aromatics, taste like they smell nor do they allow you to really judge the tobacco. This being the case, ask for their "house" Virginia or Burley blends that are not aromatics - or ask about their "house" English blends. I've found that these "house" blends are pretty good, and they allow the smoker to really enjoy the tobacco and not have to suffer through the gallon of casing that they add to each pound of tobacco. An alternative is to interrogate the old hands here at PSF, and learn all you can about pipe tobacco, then go back and grill the sales clerk about each blend and what goes into it. Sadly, though, most B&M sales staff are no longer all that well-versed in pipe tobacco. Many can tell you about the cigars or synthetic cannabis that they sell, but they often know next to nothing about pipe tobacco.

    Unless you're just hell bent on doing business with a local B&M, I'd recommend that you just do your business on line. It might be sad that the B&M is becoming a thing of the past, but modes of commerce change - as do the needs and desires of consumers, and efforts by the nanny state to eradicate the demon weed that we so love. Mail-order and on-line purchasing has become the new reality for most of us who do not have ready access to a good B&M, or for those of us who cannot afford to drop $30 on a tin of Peterson in the local B&M/head shop when we can order it for $10 from 4noggins. The story is the same for bulk blends, and that 2oz pouch of Stokkebye Optimum will cost you about $5 from Pipes and Cigars.Com when it might cost you $12 or more from the B&M/paraphernalia emporium. Ordering on line will allow you to get a better feel for the tobacco you are purchasing, and provide you with a far wider range of product.

    All that being said, I am a great believer in supporting local B&M's if at all possible. If you have the resources to really explore pipe tobacco and can afford to regularly drop $6 or more for an ounce of bulk blend, then by all means do it. I've finally reached a point where I can afford to do so, and don't mind paying the higher prices up at Tobacco Lane in Fort Worth. Their level of service is outstanding, their quality of product is very good, and their sales staff know pipe tobacco. However, if I was new to pipe smoking and didn't really understand pipe tobacco - and if I was just starting out professionally and was still earning a meager wage... and we didn't have he second income from the wife - then I could not afford to do so.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2013
  8. LukeSterling

    LukeSterling New Member

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    I knew about the blends being sold in bulk and re-branded by shops. My local B&M sells these but also claims their own mixtures (someone I know asked and told me, I don't know from personal experience). I definitely try to pay attention to the smell, and make sure it doesn't smell like 5 parts syrup, one part tobacco. Luckily, my shop sells all of their blends for right around $3, give or take $.25 here and there, so trying several at a time isn't a problem.

    I was afraid that the consensus would be that I have to smoke each one to truly find out. I guess I'll just have to smoke my pipe more...drat... :byg:

    Thanks for all of the help, everyone. I'll try to make it down to my shop in the next few days to check out some different blends. We've had some serious ice this weekend so I'm waiting on weather to clear up.
     
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  9. Jwb

    Jwb Member

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    This is what I look for when I go to B&M. I am extremely fortunate as I can get just about any blend here in Nashville that is tinned and most bulks. Locals that blend their own are really cool. I'm smoking "english aromatic" which is interesting, a straight oriental(no Latakia) and a really cool vanilla/maple aromatic with just enough Latakia in it to make it interesting. All excellent house blends that are different than most of what is out there in tins. That last one is kinda becoming my everyday go to.
     
  10. LukeSterling

    LukeSterling New Member

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    Hey Jwb, what shop do you go to in Nashville? I go to school at Belmont and am actually heading back today. I'd like to try those blends.
     
  11. Coastal Bend

    Coastal Bend Get off my lawn...

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    Smoking is the best way to judge how a tobacco will smoke. (I say at the risk of being Mr. Obvious once again.)

    There was a little trick/technique I saw my "pipe mentor" use decades ago. He would lift the lid and smell the blend from the jar AND THEN he would take a small pinch and chew it ever so slightly in just the front of his mouth. Kind of like a gentle bite with the front teeth so he could lightly touch the pinch of tobacco with the tip of his tongue, kind of a flick. He said that was how he could get an idea of how much the tobacco might bite. I did it for a while myself and it does help, but you might get some very curious looks from the clerk and any customers in the shop AND you still have to smoke the tobacco to get the full effect. :D
     
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  12. Jwb

    Jwb Member

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    The blends I am smoking right now one came from a Knoxville BM, one came from a Birmingham B&M and one two are from a local. I am not sure about the rules regarding recommendation of specific business so I will PM that info to you.
     
  13. ruffinogold

    ruffinogold Ruffinogold-Mayor, I.R.G.E.--At Large. Mayor

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    There are so many things right and wrong with all that [ I mean that in a good way , RTO ]

    Luke , if a B&M has a big jar of a blend out , they should let you try a bowl of it . If they dont do that , then they are just B&M posers and I wouldnt bother with a shop like that . The shops that want you to try a bowl ... go there . Sure , once you know what a blend is [ I'd imagine theyd tell you at some point if ya ask ] you can order it online cheaper if money is all that it comes down too . But if it's a good B&M , there are people here that would really love to have one near by . There is nothing as good as a good B&M .. nothing .... well , except women , children, guitars , various weapons , wood working , forests and being on the ocean
     
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  14. Steve IoM

    Steve IoM Member

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    You forgot beer
     
  15. Puffstone

    Puffstone Active Member

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    Just my 2 cent here but when it comes to local pipe stores, the best thing you can do is begin to be a regular face in that store. The regular customers who hang out there and the staff will start to take you serious and educate you.

    The regulars at my favorite pipe store is Like psf here, I've learn a lot on my own....not near what I've learned from them or here.

    As for blenders renaming corporate blends, I do have a little problem with that but if they do allow free samples I understand that they are trying to stay competitive with online business so they protect names in order to do so.... and I will still purchase their product. Long story short, listen to people, and develop your ideas based off their direction is my advice. Good luck
     
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  16. DoggieDaddy

    DoggieDaddy Member

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    I visit a B&M in Nashville that I know blended their own. They are always happy to let you smoke a bowl at the shop. They also have bulk of many types of Tin tobacco in jars you can try before investing in a 50g tin. The main person at the counter worked at CAO before they sold and while you smoke he can be a wealth of info. :sh:
     
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  17. DoggieDaddy

    DoggieDaddy Member

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    I went to Belmont in the very distance past, (was one of the first long hair hippies there).The shop I go to the most is on Elliston Place .
     
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  18. LukeSterling

    LukeSterling New Member

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    Thanks very much for the info! I'll definitely have to go there sometime. Go Bruins!
     
  19. craig

    craig Active Member

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    the best thing you can do is invest in a clay pipe.
    Granted they are fragile but they are excellent when sampling tobaccos as you get the true taste of the tobacco and nothing else.
    There is some tobaccos i have smoked they have smelled awesome but have been a bit off but on the other hand ive smoked tobaccos that smelled less than nice but have been awesome smokes.
    But a clay pipe is highly recommended.
    The thing with house blends is they are a bit of a grey area.
    As has been mentioned house blends are just ready made blends with the shops name slapped on.
    But some shops do blend there own.
    But the best way to find out good ones is smoke away and use a clay pipe as if you get a heavily cased blend it can ghost a briar where as clays never ghost no matter how heavy and cloying a casing :)
     
  20. buckwhite

    buckwhite Member

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    Great thread! I'm basically a noob and have been frequenting a local B&M to buy samplings of their bulk blends. I was confused when I tried to look up the brand online and found absolutely nothing. This explains it all. They are all probably corporate blends with a local name slapped on. How disappointing, I thought that I was "smoking local".
     
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