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No 39 - May 16, 2002

In April 2001 I wrote the following about filter pipes:
Many years ago there was a common pipe expression "the cheaper the pipe the more
elaborate the filter". This was because the wood used for cheaper pipes was not as carefully cured as it might have been. Good pipes were made from well-cured, hard, dry, porous briar and needed no filter.
Besides, in order to create a 6mm bore in a vulcanite peg, the peg would have to be very thick to be sufficiently strong, resulting in an overly thick shank. The technical problems have now been overcome by the introduction of flexible Teflon inserts capable of holding 6mm and 9mm filters.
But that is not the only reason that there is a demand is for more and more filter pipes.
The pipe is a natural filter and moisture will condense from the smoke and deposit in the shank and mouthpiece. Many smokers, especially new smokers, secrete excessive saliva or use the very popular "Aromatic" tobaccos which, due to the flavouring oils, have more moisture in the smoke than the older natural blends. This can lead to a messy pipe and the unpleasant smoke known as a "wet smoke".
The function, therefore, of today's "filters" is similar to that of a sponge - to absorb moisture by mopping up excess juices, without spoiling the taste.
These filters may be 6mm or 9mm diameter - made of Balsa wood, or Paper rolls, or capsules containing Meerschaum granules, Crystal pieces, Charcoal pellets - all serving the same purpose, to remove moisture and provide a cool dry smoke.
Stanwell; Savinelli; Lorenzo all offer filter pipes.

In March this year we travelled to Italy specifically to visit the House of Lorenzo. The quality of their range of value pipes has been improving every year and we wanted to secure regular supplies of the "Filtro" range (optional 9mm filter).
The first shipment has arrived and we are pleased and impressed with the pipes.
Nothing fancy - just good-looking, well made, everyday pipes.

Finishes: Lipari R315.00
  Two Tone R295.00
  Walnut R235.00
  Spot Carved R189.50

Assorted shapes: bents, half bents and straights, all with optional 9mm filter.

We received the following e-mail from a website customer:

"At first acquaintance the value pipes I ordered were not exactly what I had expected ... mainly relating to size. I was under the impression that they would be full length (15 cms) and feel more substantial in the hand. However, with childlike enthusiasm and curiosity I immediately lit up one of the spot carved briars and was delighted with the ease of the smoke, the lightness of the pipe, and the generosity of the bowl size ... and judged it, at R 189.50, by today's prices, to be good value for money. I have, since then, tried all four pipes and found them not wanting in the least."
Paul Panos

If you need a good "working" pipe that you can smoke anywhere, at any time, try one.
You will be pleasantly surprised.

Colin Wesley
May 16 - May 29, 2002

For a fortnight from May 23, we offer some of these Filtro pipes from the House of Lorenzo at less 25%

Filter pipes must be smoked with either the filter or an adaptor (usually supplied with the pipe). If this is not done, moisture will condense in the empty space and seep into the shank causing it to swell.
This will result in a loose mouthpiece which is almost impossible to remedy.

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No 40 - May 30, 2002
Aluminium Tubed Cigars
Are they worth the extra money?

Why would you buy a Cuban cigar in an aluminium tube?

The cigars should be factory fresh, provided the tubes have not been opened and closed too often and the cigars have been kept in a cool place. If you're buying from a shop or restaurant with dubious humidification facilities, it may be safer to buy cigars in aluminium tubes. Because the tubes are unbreakable (although not uncrushable) they protect your cigars when out and about. When travelling the cigars can be packed in with your clothing without transferring any aroma.
An unexpected benefit: many tubes have a cedar lining - ideal to split into spills to light the cigars.

Currently there is only a limited size selection in aluminium tubed cigars (no robustos for example) and pure handmade cigars are seldom used - some exceptions being Montecristo, and Romeo y Julieta's de Luxe range and Churchill.
The cigars are not visible, and may be mixed in colour and quality of leaf. (But if you want to check the cigars individually, do so in humidified surroundings or you will trap dry air in the tube when you replace the lid.)
More important, the tubes add cost to the cigars.
A single Romeo y Julieta Churchill normally retails for about R171.00; in an aluminium tube it is R199.50 - a whopping R28.50 extra. (In a glass tube the price would be R177.00.) You may be able to buy better value for your money - consider the next Wesley's feature.

From June 6 - Three H.Upmann cigars for R99.50:
Singulares - a slim machined corona in an aluminium tube - normal retail R44.00
Regalias - a slightly longer and thicker, hand finished cigar
for almost the same price - R47.00
Kings - a slightly longer cigar than the Singulares, cellophaned, for only R38.50

So how do you decide?
For example, you are considering Romeo y Julieta Churchills - should you buy plain or tubed? **You want a box of cigars for travelling or for a holiday cottage with no humidor - aluminium tubed cigars will give you peace of mind. (Don't forget to keep them cool.)
**You need a few cigars for a weekend away - consider buying them in glass tubes.
**You want cigars to add to your stock, they're going straight to your humidor - don't spend the extra money.
Similar evaluations are valid for other brands and sizes in aluminium tubes.

Cigars in tubes serve a purpose where you can justify the extra cost.
Think about it!

Colin Wesley
May 30 - June 12, 2002

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No 41 - June 13, 2002
Meerschaum - Mystery and Myths

What is Meerschaum?
The literal translation of
"meerschaum" is "sea foam". Because it is found in rounded lumps which float, meerschaum was originally thought to be fossilised sea foam.
Actually it is a rare mineral - magnesium silicate.
The best, pure block meerschaum is found in Turkey, in the area surrounding the village of Eskisehir. Some mines are open cast, and others may be as deep as 120 metres. Lesser quality meerschaum is found in other parts of the world including Tanzania (Tanganyikan meerschaum).

How are the pipes made?
The raw lumps of meerschaum that come from the mines are chemically cleaned. All foreign matter is removed, and the lumps emerge soft, dry and white. They are then sawn into rough, pipe-shaped blocks, very like briar ebauchons. Classic shapes are made in a similar way to briar pipes, by hand and by machine.
The carved models are created by hand, working on moistened blocks.
Finishing: The surface is smoothed using a fine abrasive compound, and the pipe is then dipped in a boiling mixture of Beeswax and oils. Since the meerschaum is very porous the liquid is absorbed, and it is this that gives the pipe the ability to colour as it is smoked.

How does it colour?
The inside of the bowl is not waxed, so it absorbs the moisture from the burning tobacco, and the beeswax picks up the colour from the residue. The colour varies according to the tobacco smoked, but the final colour will nearly always be a rich, deep reddish-brown.
For perfect colouring, take care not to handle the warm pipe excessively (you could leave the impression of fingerprints) or to smoke it too fast (the hot beeswax could run). Maybe for the first 10 smokes hold it only by the mouthpiece; some purists even advocate using a soft glove.
No matter what you do, it will colour.

My grandfather had a meerschaum in the shape of a lady's head and shoulders.
(You can view it right. Point at the box to open, click to see different views.)
It had obviously been smoked too fast so that the majority of the colour was around the lady's shoulders - however if it had been coloured perfectly there would have been a graduation of colour, giving the impression of a beard!

The full colouring process takes time, maybe years, and will not necessarily be even. Thicker parts will usually colour more slowly than the thinner parts, and "Beauty Spots" may appear - adding to the character of the pipe.

How does a Meerschaum smoke?
This is one of its major attractions - Meerschaum smokes clean, cool and dry. The material is neutral so that the real, original taste of the tobacco is unaffected. You experience the taste the blender intended.

How do I clean a Meerschaum?
On the inside, much the same as a briar, with pipe cleaners and a blunt instrument to clean out the bowl. There should be no carbon build-up. Be careful not to scrape away the meerschaum.
For the outside, try not to handle the pipe with dirty hands - the dirt will be picked up by the beeswax and is almost impossible to remove. But if the bowl does become too soiled or unacceptably scratched, it may be partly restored by rubbing with a mild abrasive compound, and then re-applying a coat of beeswax. But this is not easy. Rather try to prevent the problem.

How are Meerschaums priced?
Size is the first consideration - larger blocks are more difficult to find.
Flawless bowls are relatively rare - a carved meerschaum may be less expensive than a similar size plain meerschaum (though some of the more skilled carvers now sign their work and the pipes are much in demand).
Meerschaum from sources other than Turkish blocks may be less porous, heavier and don't colour as well. Many are pre-coloured. This includes those made from blocks reconstituted from meerschaum chips.
Check the weight of the pipe - top quality block meerschaum is very light, the bowl of the pipe is sometimes lighter than the mouthpiece.

Possession of a Meerschaum has been the dream of many a pipe smoker for more than
250 years. The Meerschaum pipe provides a cool smoke, enhances the taste of most tobaccos and improves with smoking - mellowing slowly to perfection.

From June 20 to July 3 you can fulfil this dream - a meerschaum can be yours for 25% less than the normal retail price.
A new selection has just arrived and is on the website now.

Colin Wesley
13 June - 26 June, 2002

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No 42 - June 27, 2002

Quality and consistency are not easy bedfellows and this was apparent with many cigar brands during the boom. In their desire to produce more and more cigars some brands (Cuban and non-Cuban) cut corners in the production of their tobacco or in its preparation for cigar making. Others employed inexperienced, or almost untrained, rollers who produced substandard cigars. Through these reckless actions the whole industry was tainted.

Some brands rode out the storm and never wavered from their high standards even though at times this meant their names would be missing from the shelves - Davidoff, Macanudo, Dunhill, Arturo Fuente, Don Diego, Cuban Cohiba to name a few. Such brands improved their quality controls in leaf selection and curing, and in production. For example, the Dominican factory making Dunhill and Don Diego cigars was the first to apply ratio testing between length, ringsize and weight for each cigar.
These brands did not sacrifice quality for quantity.
They emerged stronger than ever - a tribute to the quest for excellence.

"But in the matter of cigar tobacco as in life, one ought always to be ready to revise ideas and judgement" (Zino Davidoff. The Connoisseur Book of the Cigar 1967.)
Davidoff became disenchanted with his cigars from Cuba in the 80's and moved production of cigars bearing his name to a Dominican factory. It was not solely for sales to the great US market - Davidoff could have run both Cuban and Dominican Davidoff (as Dunhill did with their Cuban and non-Cuban blends for a while). Davidoff did not want to sacrifice his reputation for excellence.

A few years ago we attended a "Big Smoke" at the Marriott Marquis in New York. The ambience was incredible, literally hundreds of people redeeming their vouchers and filling their bags with a variety of cigars - none of them Cuban, of course.
During the evening my wife and I each smoked a box-pressed Honduran Churchill. They were full of flavour, extremely well constructed and mellow, lasted all evening and could be smoked almost past the band position.
These are exactly the criteria considered by cigar smokers in order to pronounce a cigar "excellent".

In South Africa we are sometimes blinded by the free availability and charisma of Cuban cigars. They have a very rich, distinctive flavour, many have incredibly good smoking qualities and smoothness, but not all of them are necessarily "excellent".

One of the non-Cuban brands that did not compromise its standards is Macanudo, which originated in Jamaica. Their policy is a direct tribute to the name Macanudo, which in Spanish is a synonym for "excellente". Not only have they maintained their standards, but they have read the market well, correctly anticipating the demand for more full flavoured, but still very smooth smoking cigars. While the mild Macanudo Cafe range introduced in the USA in 1971 had by 1998 grown into the biggest selling premium cigar in the USA with imports exceeding 20 million, that year General Cigar launched the Macanudo Robust range with the biggest launch in the modern history of the cigar business.
The brand had taken 4 years to develop and was an instant success - partly due to the smoothness which is the result of the darkest and most thoroughly cured of all Connecticut wrappers, and also due to a unique Havana-seed binder, a variety grown in Connecticut especially for this project.
The Robust range was followed in 1999 by the Macanudo Maduro range, again anticipating the call for this rare taste. These cigars require a broadleaf Connecticut wrapper grown only on two farms in the valley, so volumes are small but worth looking for. (Don Mateo also offers a Maduro cigar.)

Our current cigar feature is a pack of three cigars from Macanudo: Cafe, Robust and Maduro; "Hyde Park" Size - 140mm x Ring 49 (extended Robusto).

If "excellence" in every aspect of a cigar is important to you and you haven't smoked a Macanudo, or have found the original Cafe range wanting in flavour, you might take note of the quote from Zino Davidoff and give Macanudo a try, noting the quality and comparing the flavours.

Appreciate the appearance, the construction, the aroma.
Savour the anticipation while you light the cigar.
Then close your eyes and concentrate on the quality and mellow smoothness of the smoke.
Does such excellence have a place in your smoking pleasure?

Colin Wesley
June 27 - July 10, 2002

Macanudo Hyde Park CAFE
Filler: . . . . . . Dominican Republic, Jamaica
Binder: . . . ... Mexico
Wrapper: . . . U.S.A. Connecticut Shade
Rudman Rating: . . . . . . . . . ***
Cigar Aficionado Rating: . . 85
Cigar Aficionado Comment: Silky and a bit veiny, this cigar has a perfect burn, with a white ash. It's creamy and a bit woody, with some tang, and a hint of marshmallow. Very mild.
Macanudo Hyde Park ROBUST. . . ...
Filler:. . . . . . .. . Dominican Republic, Mexico
Binder: . . . . . .. Unique Havana seed binder grown in Connecticut
Wrapper:. . . . Darkest, aged U.S.A. Connecticut Shade
Rudman Rating:. . . . . .. . . . . . *****
Cigar Aficionado Rating: . .86
Cigar Aficionado Comment: A rustic cigar that draws and burns well. It's woody and sour, with sharp notes on the finish.
Macanudo Hyde Park MADURO. . . ...
Filler:. . . .... . . ...Dominican Republic, Mexico
Binder:. . ...... ....Mexico
Wrapper: . .... . ...U.S.A Connecticut Broadleaf
Rudman Rating:. . . . . ... ... ***
Cigar Aficionado Rating:. . 86
Cigar Aficionado Comment: Very black; looks cooked. It has a firm draw, with steely, peppery notes and a hint of cream. Mild to medium bodied.

Information drawn from www.cigarworld.com, Cigar Aficionado (Ratings)
and Rudman's Complete Pocket Guide to Cigars

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No 43 - July 11, 2002
"Superblends".to the rescue!.

News through the Trade is that Three Nuns, St.Bruno,Gold Block and Ogden's Walnut Flake are to be discontinued in South Africa.
Imperial Tobacco is no longer supplying countries where the "tonnage" is too low, especially where there are special health warnings involved.
This leaves only Erinmore Mixture and Flake, plus the 2 Condors and Balkan Sobranie Mixture representing UK tobaccos - and supplies of these can be erratic.

Fortunately, many years ago we worked with an old English Tobacco Blending Company
(C E McConnell Ltd.) to develop our Wesley versions of the classic English Blends. They guided us through the mystique attached to the flavourful exotic tobaccos - Latakia, Perique, Turkish and matured Virginias.
The result was our range of "English" Blends: 13, 15, 50, 52, 55, 58.
So all is not lost for those of you who have a taste for the unique flavours of these traditional Flakes and Mixtures. There is a Wesley Houseblend that will satisfy your need - as it is, or with personal adjustments.

The Wesley English-type Houseblends are basically Southern African tobaccos blended with imported tobaccos to improve the flavour and smoothness. In common with English blends there is no artificial flavouring added to this range, with the exception of a little top dressing on No.55. (Unfortunately the local process of manufacture still leaves a few too many stalks, but these can be removed by hand when packing the pipe.)

Try the Wesley Houseblend alternatives with the objective of establishing whether you can find an acceptable alternative to your English favourite - not necessarily an exact substitute. The success rate is high since we use the same natural flavouring tobaccos, maybe just in different proportions or combinations.
Read the basic rules of blending in The Perfect Blend and experiment for yourself. We can always discuss fine tuning your results and all have some fun on the way. We are at your service.

You can take your first steps with 40g of Houseblend tobacco of your choice packed in a combination pouch - for only R55.00. A great start!

Colin Wesley
July 11 - July 24, 2002

Some Wesley Houseblend alternatives:

Three Nuns - Formerly "curlies" now a flake, the basic natural flavouring tobacco in this blend is Perique - a rich matured tobacco grown only in the St. James Parish of Louisiana.
No.58 (Perique Navy Cut) is the Wesley's Houseblend with a fairly high percentage of Perique. Try it as it is, or lighten it a little by mixing with No.43 or No.13.
Too light for you? Blend it with No.15 or No.8 (or even, for the adventurous, No.24 for easier burning and an interesting aromatic aroma).
When blending with Wesley's No.58 - rub the tobaccos out well.

Ogden's St.Bruno or Walnut Flake
- Matured flakes - two different blends, both really rich and fruity.
Wesley's No.15 (Three Quarter Flake) is well-named - a rich blend of matured Virginias in rubbed flake format, three-quarter strength, slow and cool burning.
Condor Ready Rubbed (or Long Cut) - Here is a much darker flake, still with the unmistakeable fruitiness of matured Virginia tobacco. Again Wesley's No.15 (Three Quarter Flake) - this time mixed with full strength No.8 for added body.

Gold Block - Another Flake - but much lighter in colour, strength and taste.
The equivalent from Wesley's is Houseblend No.13 (Golden Flake) - gently matured Virginias, with Turkish for natural aroma and sweetness.
You'd like a little essence for more aroma? Add our most popular aromatic blend - No.43 (Old Gold), or try No.43 on its own.

Balkan Sobranie Mixture - now here's something really different - a mixture of Virginia, Turkish and unmistakeable Latakia. There is nothing else quite like it.
(South Africans recognise the distinctive "bushfire" aroma.)
We created Wesley's Houseblend No.55 (Latakia A) for the Latakia lovers - and added just a little top dressing for the passersby.
If there isn't enough Latakia for you -add about 10% No.19 (Pure Latakia).
In fact add 10% No.19 (well rubbed) to your favourite aromatic tobacco and experience the difference in flavour - you'll love it (or hate it).

When you're combining two different tobaccos, sample each tobacco on its own so that you can identify the tastes in the mixture.
Mix them in equal quantities to begin with, and adjust the proportions later.

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No 44 - July 25, 2002
Time. is short.

But a short smoke can still be tasty, fulfilling and economical.

The old adage "Time is Money" has become relevant to the pleasure of cigar smoking. Cigars cost money, and take time to smoke.
Both time and money need to be considered when choosing a 20 minute smoke.

The first 2 centimetres of a robusto, corona or churchill taste great, but when time is up, what then?
Discard it ? - No way! Not at the price!
"Doggie bag" it - good idea, but unless you have as many long smokes as short smokes you're going to end up with a lot of 2cm shorter cigars.

An all round better solution is available - the expanded range of Mini Cigarillo and Club size Cuban cigars now offered from the island's unique soil by Cohiba, Montecristo and other brands. Read more about them in "Compact Cubans".

If you're a Cuban cigar smoker, don't change or compromise taste when scaling down in size - you can now stay Cuban.

And from August 1 you can carry six of them with you in a genuine leather, logo-embossed telescopic case - to share with a friend during a coffee break or after a light lunch, and still be back at the office in good time - at a very special price.

Colin Wesley
July 25 - August 7, 2002

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library