Monday, March 30, 2009

NPR Story on Tobacco Tax Increase

On NPR's Morning Edition today, reporter Debbie Elliott offered a fair and well-balanced story on the effects of the S-CHIP tax increase on the cigar industry, told primarily from the point of view of Tampa-based cigar companies.

Highlighted was J.C. Newman (pictured), and I especially liked the quote from Eric Newman, the president of the company:
“In the days they are offering $25 billion bailouts, we don't want a 25-cent bailout. We just want the government to leave us alone to run our business the same way we've been doing it for 114 years”
Hopefully our favorite cigar and tobacco shops around the country won't be affected too badly by the increase. I know a number of shops are trying to blow out their inventory to avoid an especially onerous floor tax, which takes effect this Wednesday, April 1.

Of course, the tax is to pay for healthcare for children whose families don't qualify for Medicaid but can't afford to buy insurance on their own. And who wouldn't want to support "the children". The irony is that if everyone were to stop smoking, there would be no income from a tobacco tax, so Congress would just look to tax something else.

Not that I'm for increased taxes, but it seems to me that if Congress needs to increase revenues to pay for such a broad, sweeping new program, it's a little unfair to target a particular segment of the population.

Anyway, give the NPR story a listen - some good reporting with both sides of the issue represented.

- Bob

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Weekend in Venice

Paula and I spent a lovely weekend in Venice, Florida at a great little bed & breakfast called the Banyan House. Built in 1926, this Spanish-style home features five guest rooms and five separate apartments. The hosts, Chuck & Susan McCormick, were friendly and gracious, and the breakfasts were fantastic.

At one point, we went in search of a shop called The Cigar Room. As we were driving around looking for it, Paula spied a shop called Scamotz Tobacco & Pipes. I quickly turned around and pulled in, anxious to explore a new (and unknown, since I hadn't come across it on the Internet) tobacco shop...maybe picking up a new pipe or discovering a delightful new tobacco.

After we parked the car and approached the open door to the shop, I noticed it was filled with tables and chairs and the aroma wafting from the door wasn't typical of a tobacco or cigar shop. In fact, it smelled like a restaurant.

Before we walked in, we took a few steps back and double-checked the sign above the door. To my utter dismay and disappointment, it read "Scamotz Tomato Pies" - it was a pizza parlor! new pipes or tobaccos on this trip. And when we found The Cigar Room, it was closed for the day.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday at the Hut - 3/21/09

Today saw Joe K, Peter G, Ed B, Steve B, and myself all enjoying Lou's good cheer. As the S-CHIP tax date draws near, Lou's blood pressure notches a little bit higher as he explains for the umpteenth time to a customer why the price of their cigars and tobacco is going up.

James K, Joe's son, is certainly expecting a big party when he arrives in May. Apparently he called Joe requesting the Hawaiian Tropic Girls be present at The Tobacco Hut. And he stressed that he wanted the real thing, not - in his words - "Bob in a bikini or Lou in his Speedo." Well, James, I'm not sure what the appearance fee is for the Hawaiian Tropic Girls, but something tells me we're going to have to scale back a bit. Maybe we can only afford one of them. Probably the only thing we can truly afford is pictured below. Sorry James.

We definitely need some women in the shop (Sue Ann, are you listening?), because for a few minutes the discussion turned to erectile dysfunction. A couple weeks ago it was proctology, now E.D....enough!

I loaded up my Ser Jacopo with some Maltese Falcon and had a delightful smoke over the course of the afternoon. The weather was warm and breezy and the day probably should have been spent working around the yard, but this was far more enjoyable.

A lot of the discussion centered around how New Port Richey has changed over the years, especially with Steve, Ed, and Lou present, all having grown up here or spent a long time in the area. Not all the changes have been for the good, but for the most part, the city is still a nice place to live, especially with a great little cigar shop to hang out at like the Hut.

Toward the end of the day we saw Lou in all his glory as an older couple came in to inquire about some sort of tobacco purchase - I wasn't clear what - and then started ranting about the price increase. After Lou patiently (and I use that term loosely) explained that the increase is due to a federally-mandated tax, they finally left after about ten minutes without buying anything and Lou could barely contain himself. But we finally got him calmed down. There may have been some reference made to the woman resembling Sea Biscuit, but I can't be sure.

There will be no report from me next Saturday as I'll be in Venice for the weekend. Venice, Florida, not Venice, Italy, I'm afraid. But it will still be nice to get away for a few days. I'm hoping that smoking is allowed on the grounds of the B&B we're staying at, so I can enjoy at least a cigar while I'm there.

See you in two weeks!
- Bob

P.S. James, we took up a collection for your party's entertainment, and this is all we could afford:

Vulcanite or Acrylic

Stems usually come in one of two materials, vulcanite or acrylic. Vulcanite is rubber that has undergone the vulcanization process, which means it has undergone high heat and the introduction of sulfur. The resulting material can be molded into a myriad of shapes, including pipe stems. Vulcanite pipe stems are usually black in color. Acrylic stems, also known by their brand name of Lucite, are made from acrylic resin or, essentially, plastic. They can be black or any number of colors.

Each material has its advantages. Vulcanite stems are softer than acrylic and provide better grip when being held by the teeth. Acrylic stems are resistant to oxidation, which can often afflict vulcanite stems.

My own preference is an acrylic stem. I usually don't hold a pipe in my mouth for an extended period, and I prefer the ease of maintenance that an acrylic stem offers. It doesn't affect the smoking quality of the pipe, but it does affect my overall enjoyment of my pipes because I'm not having to worry about polishing the stems and keeping them free of oxidation.

Apart from being unsightly, the oxidation that a vulcanite stem can definitely affect the enjoyment of a pipe. Just a little bit of oxidation will result in a very sour taste and result in a most unpleasant experience.

Oxidized stems can be restored however. A trip to your local tobacconist and some turns on the buffing wheel will get your vulcanite stem looking like new. The task can also be done at home with not too much effort. I use a stem restore product available from Walker Briar Works in Manchester, Michigan.

The choice between acrylic and vulcanite comes down to personal preference. I probably have an equal number of pipes with each type of stem and I usually don't let the stem material influence my buying decision.

- Bob

Monday, March 16, 2009

My New Website!

Announcing my new graphic design company and website, Seneca Creative Solutions. The url is Professionally, I've been involved in marketing, advertising, and design work for over twenty years, and I'm just now striking out on my own in a more formal way. It's still part time, but maybe it will turn into something more full time.

The market I'm aiming at is small business and start-ups, folks who typically have found quality graphic design work out of reach financially. My prices are very reasonable and superior customer service is my primary mission.

So, not to sound too spammy or commercial, but if any blog readers need some graphics work done, or know of anyone who does, please spread the word and keep me in mind.

Thank you!
- Bob

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saturday at the Hut - 3/14/09

Sorry for the late post on the Hut round-up. I was busy last night working on my website and today Paula and I headed over to Orlando to visit family visiting from up north. We arrived home tonight just in time to see the shuttle take off from the east coast - it was a perfect night for it and we had a great view of it. Even saw the solid rocket boosters fall away.

Anyway, Saturday was a fun one at The Tobacco Hut. I spoke with Vic T, aka "New York Vic", on the phone. I haven't seen him awhile, and he didn't make it in on Saturdays during his last visit, so I guess I'll have to wait 'til he moves down here permanently.

Most of the regulars were there - Joe K, Barry C, and Peter G. Steve B arrived straight from a golf tournament. Joe got a phone call from his son James who just wanted to make sure we were planning the big party for his arrival in May. Yeah, James, not to worry - got you covered! We're thinkin' a couple Snickers bars. Anyway, we gave him his usual Tobacco Hut greeting, not printable in a family forum.

Peter reported having a good Caribbean cruise last weekend with his family and Joe is planning an Alaskan cruise in the summer.

Joe and I gave a little recap of our experience at the Rocky Patel tasting at Blue Smoke a couple nights ago. We urged Lou to get the same type of cushy, leather furniture that they have. We also urged him to hire some of the same eye candy that they employ... ;-)

Other than a few jabs here and there, the political debate was kind of tame. Where's Paul V been? I miss my sparring partner!

Oh yeah, my bowlful of Tinder Box Reserve 1928 smoked as smooth as ever in my Cavicchi pipe. A customer did come in smoking a nice looking GBD with an amber-colored stem. Most of the Hut customers are cigar smokers so I always take notice of a fellow pipe smoker.

That's it for this week - until next Saturday...

- Bob

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cigar Tasting at Blue Smoke

Last night Joe K and I enjoyed a cigar tasting event at the Blue Smoke Cigar Bar in Clearwater, hosted by Rocky Patel. We were invited by Tobacco Hut customer and Blue Smoke staff member, Scott R, who was kept quite busy by the crowd at the tasting.

Joe purchased the remaining ITC’s, which the rep said were the most full-bodied cigar in the Rocky Patel line. Even though I enjoy a full-flavored pipe tobacco, I prefer a milder smoke when I light up a cigar. The rep recommended the Autumn line and he didn’t steer me wrong. It had a nice flavor and wasn’t harsh at all.

Joe liked the ITC…at first. He said it got a little dry toward the end and the taste and smoking characteristics were not as pleasant as when he first lit it. Being a full-bodied cigar, I’ll just have to take his word for it. I’ll stick with my full-flavored pipe tobacco like Dunhill Nightcap – if I can find it.

All in all, an enjoyable evening, sitting around in the big comfy leather furniture and doing some people-watching.

A shout-out to Scott for the invitation – thanks buddy!

- Bob

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday at the Hut - 3/7/09

Today wasn't the usual hijinks at The Tobacco Hut, as I made an early day of it. Of course, I don't mean to imply that only when I'm there is it a fun and lively bunch. But since I wasn't there for most of the afternoon, I can't report on it. Any readers of this post are free to fill in the blanks, as it were, in the comments section below.

I arrived around 11:00 am and left shortly after two o'clock, to meet some old friends of the family for dinner. At least I thought I had arrived around eleven o'clock because shortly after I sat down and lit my pipe I glanced at the clock and saw that it was almost 12:30. What kind of bizarre Twilight Zone was this? Like an alien abductee, was I experiencing "missing time"? Were there probes involved?

When Joe arrived, he too was confused by the weird time vortex and almost left an hour before he had planned. It didn't take long before we solved the mystery of the apparent rip in the space-time continuum. It turns out that Lou had turned the clocks ahead that morning for Daylight Savings Time. He didn't want Dotty to have to adjust the clocks Monday morning, so he did it Saturday morning when he opened. Why he didn't wait until closing time and forestall his customers' confusion will remain a mystery.

Once that was settled, I loaded up my Peterson Donegal #408 (pictured above), purchased many years ago at Lou's, with some of his Alaskan Gold tobacco. This is a fine English blend, light on the Latakia and the perfect amount of bite-free Burley. This is far from the most expensive pipe I own, but it is probably the most consistent, best-smoking briar in my stable. And once again, it didn't disappoint. By the end of the afternoon, nothing was left in the bowl but a fine, light gray ash.

As has been reported earlier, Joe K announced that his son James is planning a trip from Oregon to grace us with his presence sometime in May...and that he wants a party thrown in his honor. Sounds like a certain west-coaster has gotten a little uppity! We will, of course, welcome the store's prodigal son back to the fold and light a cigar in his honor when he arrives. And if he wants to bring some potato salad or something to share, that'd be fine.

- Bob

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Larrysson Pipes

Now that I've freed up some room in my office, I can add to my pipe collection (see previous post). I only buy two to four new pipes a year (probably two to four too many for my wife), but I've found a pipe carver who has definitely made it to the top of my short list.

I was reading through some posts on Smokers Forums and came across member Paul Hubartt's name and his pipe carving business, Larrysson Pipes, based in Cornwall, England. I clicked on his link and discovered some fantastic looking pipes, at very reasonable prices.

It's very apparent in the photos how much care, craftsmanship and pride goes into Paul's work. His philosophy on his work, taken from his website, describes it best:
I believe in using top quality materials, and putting those materials together with precision and care, creating a high quality smoking instrument. The aesthetics of a pipe are equally important. A pipe should have grace, balance and flow, with wonderful tactile feel and a comfortable mouthpiece. The finish and color, whether smooth, rusticated or sandblasted, should visually stimulate and please its owner. All of these qualities I strive to realize in every Larrysson Pipe.
I haven't really delved into artisan pipe carvers, sticking mostly with brands like Peterson, Ascorti, Crown, etc. I do have two pipes from American pipe carver, David Jones, and I would like to explore further the smaller maker who puts out a small number of pipes each year. With prices from $175 to $300, Larrysson Pipes look to be an oustanding value, and I'm looking forward to adding one to my collection soon.

- Bob

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Storage & Display of Pipes

As Pipe Acquisition Disorder (PAD) takes over, one rapidly discovers that unless you want to just throw your pipes into a box, they take up a fair amount of room.

In an effort to streamline my life a little and de-clutter the house, over the years I have sold or given away probably two dozen pipes. What remains are the ones that either have sentimental value or are truly good smokers and ones I want to hang onto.

The office was getting way to cluttered for my liking, as well as Paula's, so instead of purging another quantity of pipes - shudder! - I decided to go vertical. The horizontal surfaces in the office, i.e. the tops of bookshelves, were too full of pipe racks which aren't really an efficient storage method. They showcase the pipes nicely, but there seems to be too much rack and not enough pipe.

I decided I needed a board and a quantity of rubber pipe clips and thanks to some folks at Smokers Forums, I located a couple sources. I mentioned my little project to Lou at The Tobacco Hut and he said he had dozens that he wasn't using. He then graciously volunteered to make the board for me, as he had the perfect size board left over from another project of his.

In just a few days he had it completed and it now hangs on my wall above the shelf with my other racks. I was able to retire a few pipe racks to the closet but when PAD kicks in again, I'll be ready. I guess in a couple years I might be asking Lou to build me a whole pipe cabinet!

Cheers - and thank you Lou!

- Bob