Advice to New Pipe Smokers on Choosing Tobacco

Hand colored Lithograph of Tobacco Grower, © 2013 Neill Archer Roan, all rights reservedIt is axiomatic in the pipe world that new pipe smokers begin by smoking aromatics, then graduate to English blends, and finally move into the realm of straight Virginias and Virginia-Periques (VaPers). Of course not everyone begins with  aromatics, but many pipe smokers do. For some reason, light aromatics seem to taste better to new pipe smokers then do other blends.

Lane 1Q Pipe TobaccoThe biggest selling pipe blend in North America is the light aromatic blend I mentioned above, 
1-Q, a blend made by Lane Limited. 1-Q is sold in bulk in tobacco shops throughout North America. Presumably, 1-Q is pervasively popular because most pipe-smokers like it or at least can tolerate it, and it is widely available. It is a smooth, mild, Virginia cavendish ribbon-cut blend with vanilla flavoring. There is also a smidgeon of fire-cured leaf that gives it a bit of character.

You won’t find 1-Q if you look for it under its name in a tobacco shop. 1-Q is the name used by the trade. It is not marketed with that name to the public. 1-Q is marketed by shops using the particular shop’s proprietary name for it. Shop owners hope that you will believe you can’t find it anywhere else and will keep coming back to them for it. The truth is that 1-Q is sold almost everywhere. Chances are, if you ask a salesperson, they will know what you’re asking for even if the shop sells the blend using another name. If you don’t have a tobacconist in your burg, you can order 1Q online from

My tobacco shop, Old Viriginia Tobacco Company, sells 1-Q as “Checkmate.” Another shop I frequent (The Tobacco Shop in Fayetteville, Arkansas) calls the tobacco “Norseman.” Tinderbox sells it as “Wilshire.” Obviously, one could name it “Dust Motes” or “Man Candy” or whatever; it is still good ol’ 1-Q. If you do smoke it, you’ll have to be vigilant about keeping your pipe clean. 1-Q will goop up the bowl and draft hole and cause the pipe to sour if you don’t keep it clean.

Frog Morton CellarBecause I have such an aversion to most aromatic blends, I recommend light English-Cavendish blends to my young, pipe-smoking friends. McClelland makes a series of tinned blends under the Frog Morton name that are remarkably good, even to the inexperienced palate. I used to recommend the original Frog Morton, but McClelland has recently released a new blend, Frog Morton’s Cellar, that is absolutely spectacular. Cellar has a chunk of white oak bourbon cask stave in every tin. It’s a sweet and flavorful flue-cured Virginia with Latakia as the flavoring condiment. The other blends in the Frog Morton line – Frog Morton Across the Pond and Frog Morton On the Town – are also accessible and delicious light English blends.

As an aside, one of the great things about McClelland’s tobacco blends is that the nicotine content of their tobaccos is relatively low compared to other manufacturers. What this means to the new pipe smoker is plenty of flavor and plenty of choice without the fear of nicotine-hit that can cause you to feel woozy or sick after smoking your pipe for awhile.

Getting too much nicotine in your pipe’s smoke stream is a nasty experience. Don’t assume that you won’t experience nicotine’s effect if you do not inhale. Nicotine will enter your bloodstream through the membranes inside your mouth. Nicotine sickness can turn you off completely to pipe-smoking. If you are new to pipe-smoking, it is very important that you appraise the nicotine content in any blend you contemplate smoking. Especially if you’re sensitive to nicotine as I am.

Let me underscore that what’s important is finding tobacco choices early that you may enjoy so that your early pipe-smoking experience is a good one. So many people I know who gave pipe-smoking a try were turned off almost immediately because they wound up smoking a wet and fruit-goopy aromatic in a tightly drilled pipe that was too heavy and awkward. Had that been my experience, I doubt I’d have stuck with it either.

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Reader Comments (11)

Neil I can't agree more on the Nicotine Issue.I made the mistake one night of smoking a Bowl of Gawaith Full Virginia Flake.To this day I can't and won't even look at it I am like you give me A mild English a good Glass of Bourbon and I am happy as A Calm.
February 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Goodspeed
I'd certainly agree with McC for lighter in nicotine blends; I'd add Mixture No 1 for a light Oriental forward blend and No 25 Virginia for a good Va. introduction. (Not an FM liker myself as they seem too "crossover" for an old Brit.)
February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJimbo44
"It is axiomatic in the pipe world that new pipe smokers begin by smoking aromatics, then graduate to English blends, and finally move into the realm of straight Virginias and Virginia-Periques (VaPers)."

Funny. This is exactly what happened with me. About 6 weeks smoking aros, then about 15 months on Lat blends and Burleys, then almost exclusively Va flakes from there on.

I find my palate is MUCH more sensitive in the warm months. I smoke Va flakes and Va's from April to November, then switch gears for winter, alternating between Lat blends and more flavorful Va flakes like FVF and Germain Brown Flake.

I definitely feel that all roads lead to Virginia.
February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Lankton
I think this is a great series of posts. How many would-be pipe smokers stumble into and then right out of the hobby, their tenure truncated by an unpleasant, and completely avoidable, experience? We'll never really know the answer, but if even a few newbies read and profit from your advice a genuine service has been rendered.

On a different topic, where did you find the lithograph? It's terrific, and for me at least, offers an echo of Starr, Lehman, and the other depression artists who produced the great post office murals of the thirties.
February 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterJon Guss
I agree with the recommendations. I am a cigarette smoker, I am trying to curb it, so high nicotine content hasn't effected me as of yet. The only tobacco I have had an adverse reaction to so far is Nightcap. It gave me a feeling of indigestion or heartburn. So I haven't smoked it since.
February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElliot
Jon Guss, the lithograph is called "Boy, That's Tobacco." The artist is James Chapin. It's one of a series George Washington Hill commissioned during World War II to advertise Lucky Strike cigarettes. I got this information from a history of The American Tobacco Company called "Sold American. The First Fifty Years. 1904 - 1954"
February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Carpenter
Yes, but Chapin's illustration is in black and white. I hand colored this version for this use.
February 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterNeill Archer Roan
Shortcut to Mushrooms is another good option.
February 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrigid
Terry, thank you for the identification. The Chapin series was unknown to me, although as a frequent listener to otr I am all too familiar with George Washington Hill and his maddening advertising techniques.

Neill, beautiful job on the tinting!
February 5, 2013 | Registered CommenterJon Guss
Dear Neill,

A wonderful second entry in the series. I do believe, however, that you neglected the final entry in the axiomatic sequence; this, of course, being Burley, the king of tobaccos. A fine Burley blend is like no other, but one often has to "work up" to it, especially if the pipe is one's first or only introduction to the pleasures of the leaf. As to "vitamin N," the issue is examined in the post only from the perspective of the new pipe smoker as a non-smoker (or non-tobacco user) at the time he first picks up the pipe. Many, myself included, come to the pipe already intimately familiar with the wiles of Lady N. For folks such as myself (a long-time roll-your-own cigarette smoker and nasal snuff aficionado, although only the latter, and much less so, for many years now), a "low-nicotine" blend as a starter would have, quite likely, turned me off of the pipe entirely. I would have found it completely uninteresting, and quite unsatisfying. I am thankful that the first blends recommended to me, by a knowledgeable mentor aware of my pre-pipe habits, were quite full in this department. I would not myself recommend, for example, a delicate McClelland Virginia ribbon (say, for example, McCraine's RR, or Butera's Matured Virginia Ribbon) to a (soon-to-be-ex-) cigarette smoker or snuff user (or, indeed, a smoker of double ligero vitolas) wanting to take up the pipe. They can come to those later. The fine C&D-produced Burley blends (including the best of the bunch, GLP Cumberland) or some of the African Virginia-based blends (a la the Gawiths) have been, in my experience, fine introductions to the pipe for such folks -- and there are more than you might imagine.


February 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKapnismologist
Hello from Benjamin at Smokers' Haven,

About half of my new pipe smoker customers leave the shop with an aromatic. The number of new pipe smokers who return (as in, those who did not immediately give up the pipe) is much greater among those who select non-aromatics. I think it's self-selection. Those who select aromatics usually seem to have a violation of expectations about whatever sherlockhobbit romanticism they have upon their first actual puff from a pipe. They never seriously cared or considered the actual experience of smoking a pipe or tasting tobacco. Those who select non-aromatics are usually interested or more open to the adventuring of experiencing tobacco.

That all being said, I usually recommend new smokers to start with an approachable Golden Virginia blend (sometimes accompanied by an English mixture) so they can develop a sensitivity to the more subtle flavors of tobacco and then go from there to more complex blends.

Happy smoking,
February 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin Berkeley

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