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Pipe or cigar?

08 Sep

After a month of smoking a pipe and cigars, which did I prefer? I reckon I’ve had my pipe long enough to get a feel for it now. There are distinct differences between the two; some I had anticipated, some I hadn’t.

Pipe and cigar

A Montecristo Petit Edmundo and my Missourri Meerschaum curved Legend corncob pipe

In all truth, I was expecting to try the pipe a few times and get bored with it. Either it wouldn’t stay lit, or it would be harsh and burn my tongue, or I’d even just feel too silly smoking it. While there were elements of truth in all these, it has not been enough to prevent me from continuing to enjoy my newly purchased corncob pipe. Still, the difference between the two is remarkably different. I’ll compare the two at the different stages of smoking as this seems most logical to me.

Aging

Specifically talking about Cuban cigars here, you usually need to age them before smoking them. It is not particularly easy to obtain them freshly-rolled unless you are in the right place at the right time (or Cuba!), so most people prefer to age them at least one, preferably two years before smoking. In my personal experience, I like to let them settle in my own humidor for at least three to six months once I’ve received them, regardless of their age. Pipe tobacco however, appears to be ready for smoking as soon you buy it. That’s not to say it doesn’t improve with time, but it doesn’t seem to be quite so essential. Pipe +1

Storage

Pipe tobacco doesn’t seem anywhere near as fussy as cigars are for their storage conditions. I guess as it is a homogenised mixture rather than a constructed object, internal stresses caused by over humidifying are no longer a problem. Pipe +1

Preparation

Cigars are definitely easier here in my opinion. Cut the end off and light. As long as the entire end is burning you probably won’t go too far wrong. I agree that there is a better way to light a cigar, but that’s not my point. A pipe however, needs the tobacco to be correctly packed into it. Not too soft or too hard, then it also needs to be lit properly. More to go wrong there. Cigar +1

Smoking

Assuming both have been stored and prepared correctly, they are pretty level here. Don’t puff too quickly or slowly,  or too hard and you’ll be just fine. Each seems to have their own preferred speed but that appears to come with familiarity. Evens!

Taste

I’m going to be controversial here, but I think the cigar wins. The very structure of a cigar lends itself to a flavour progression beyond that of ‘getting stronger’. Pipe tobacco is usually a homogenised mix, which while providing great consistency between packs of tobacco is never going to give any kind of real change throughout the smoke. That said, both have the prospect of great complexity of flavour. Cigar +1

Public attitude

Sorry pipe-folks. I’m thirty years old and there is no way I will smoke a pipe in a pub beer garden. It is very much viewed as a past-time for the older generation in the UK. A cigar however, I am quite happy to smoke in public. Admittedly, the attitude towards cigars is very much a love-it-or-hate-it thing but it’s more in keeping with my age. Cigar +1

Price

Whichever country you are in, there’s no disputing that a pipeful of tobacco will cost proportionately less than a single decent Cuban cigar. I’m only considering Cubans as that is where my taste lies. At UK prices a single flake of St. Bruno Flake will cost around 50 pence, whereas a petit corona cigar will cost around £7 to £8, each giving a similar amount of smoking time. The pipe has to have the point here. Pipe +1

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Personal summary

A cigar is something I very much feel I need to concentrate on, and I will generally only go for the cheaper cigars if I’m out with company as I don’t feel I can do it justice if I’m not savouring every puff. A pipe however, is a perfect accompaniment to a book or a conversation in the garden. There’s definitely a place for both in my smoking armoury. Even though I’ve made both sound difficult to enjoy, they aren’t. The more you analyse something, the more there is to analyse!

Do you smoke cheap glass pipes or cigars? Or may be you prefer some modern types of smoking, like Canadian Vaporizers?

 
 

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  1. Simon

    2010/09/08 at 23:37

    Very interesting Dave, I was expecting it to lean slightly more towards the cigar, but they clearly serve different purposes from your description.

    I really must get a pipe – I’ve been telling myself for a while now that I need to add one to my armoury.

     
    • Dave

      2010/09/09 at 19:24

      Do it! I’ve had enjoyable results with only a cheap corncob pipe, and you won’t lose much by giving it a go.

       
  2. Nic

    2010/09/09 at 11:12

    Dave, I think you miss the contemplative ‘tap on the teeth and gaze into the distance’ element of pipe smoking. Harold Wilson used to say that a pipe was a great foil in his line of work because you could take a long draw while you prepared yourself to answer a difficult question.

    In terms of age of smokers, I think you are wrong there. I think there is a whole younger generation of pipe smokers who don’t associate a pipe with ‘Codgerness’.

    However, on the downside I do find that the build up of manky liquid and yuk in a pipe is very off putting. Maybe I am doing something wrong but on balance I still prefer a cigar.

    er, that’s it.

     
    • Dave

      2010/09/09 at 19:29

      Thanks for the input Nic. That’s a valid point about the contemplative element that I admit I forgot to mention. With a pipe you can let it go out and it doesn’t seem to affect the taste at all, though I do like smoking the whole bowl with only one light!
      I’m pleased that more people my age are enjoying pipes. I should probably get out more…
      I’ve not actually experienced the dreaded gurgle yet, though you might want to look into a Peterson System pipe? I’m pretty sure there are other remedies that I’m not aware of.
      Thanks for the comments!

       
  3. Ralph

    2010/09/09 at 13:24

    Nice article! Nevertheless, a Missouri Meerschaum may not be the best pipe to make such a test… 😉

    My two pennies: the main thing about pipe & cigars has to be savouring and enjoying each puff. Slowly. Focused. That’s what separates us (for good!) from cigarrette smokers: we taste the smoke, we play with it, we squeeze it. Choosing a cigar or a pipe is more of a personal taste thing, I guess.

    😉

     
    • Dave

      2010/09/09 at 19:31

      Thanks for the response Ralph. I chose the corncob as I’d read they smoke well for the money, and I’ve found it a pleasing experience so far. What would you suggest instead?
      As an ex-cigarette smoker I know what you mean there!

       
  4. G.L. Pease

    2010/09/09 at 17:14

    I don’t think either/or applies. As you’ve discovered through your exploration, pipes and cigars are quite different things, and viva la difference! For me, each offers its own unique pleasures, and there is, and always has been, a place for both in my smoking life. There are times when only a cigar will do, and other times when the pipe soothes the soul like nothing else can.

    If I were to give one the edge over the other, it would certainly be the pipe. (Of course, given my vocation, I should acknowledge the *possibility* of some slight prejudice.)

    The variety of flavours and aromas available in pipe tobacco (even without including scented ones) offers a broader spectrum than the cigar’s somewhat more narrow palette. As to complexity, there are pipe tobaccos that offer it in bushels. In a fine pipe, the taste of a great tobacco, gently smoked, will develop and evolve throughout the smoke with each sip offering new nuances to explore.

    A great pipe becomes a trusted and life-long companion, always there, ready for a moment of communion. It’s more than a vessel for burning tobacco; it becomes, in time, a container of experiences, a cherished friend.

    Thackeray wrote, “The pipe draws wisdom from the lips of the philosopher, and shuts up the mouth of the foolish: it generates a style of conversation, contemplative, thoughtful, benevolent, and unaffected.” It must have been his preference.

    Lord Byron, on the other hand, held the opposite view.

    Divine in hookah,
    sublime in pipe,
    When trimmed and tapered,
    sweet and ripe.
    But thy true devotees,
    O Tobacco, prefer by far
    Thy naked beauty,
    give me a cigar!

    But, whether pipe or cigar, each time we light up, we should take a moment to celebrate that our pleasures have not been so completely consumed by the nanny-state that we still have both available in some abundance.

     
    • Dave

      2010/09/09 at 19:42

      A lot of food for thought there!
      Being so new to the pipe, I’ve not had the opportunity to try a multitude of tobaccos yet. I’ll freely admit this will colour my opinion in this case, which will likely lead me to revisit this topic on my blog in the future.
      If you could suggest two or three tobaccos that would demonstrate taste progression and complexity, I’d gladly try them! I take your point that a cheap pipe is not the probably not the greatest advertisement for the hobby though.
      Thanks for the comments!