The Perfect Smoke : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

The Perfect Smoke

Fred Hanna answers nine questions about his new book

1. What is the purpose of the book?

To explore, explain and extol the glory and grandeur of pipe smoking at its very best. Along the way, I examine the characteristics of the great smoking pipes, exquisite tobaccos and the proper smoking and tasting skills necessary to recognize, appreciate and produce the perfect smoke. I am attempting to share what little knowledge I have acquired with my fellow pipe enthusiasts. I do this with the hope that perhaps it can increase and elevate, perhaps just a bit, their enjoyment of pipes and tobaccos, and possibly enhance the overall attractiveness of the pipe hobby in the process.

2. What makes The Perfect Smoke different from other pipe books?

This book is unique in that the primary focus is on examining the highest heights of pipe smoking and pipe tobacco tasting possible. It portrays pipe smoking as a gourmet tasting experience that, at its best, is equivalent, and even superior, to the finest wines, cigars and liquors, and in the same league as the finest cuisine. I have tasted wines that sell for thousands of dollars a bottle (for example, 1929 Romanée Conti and 1875 Chateau Mouton Rothschild), and I can tell you that the finest vintage tobaccos in the greatest-tasting pipes are every bit as glorious and a helluva lot less expensive. The vast majority of essays in the book are dedicated to some aspect of extracting the maximum pleasure from the pipe experience.

In addition, I treat the proper methods of smoking not as a list of dos and don’ts but as the development of essential skills, without which the enjoyment of the highest-quality pipes and tobaccos will never manifest. Another unique aspect of the book is a review of scientific research on nicotine and the many benefits of this interesting drug. I believe this information will be viewed as a revelation to many pipe lovers. Still another unique aspect of the book is an analysis of how pipe smoking stimulates thought and problem-solving. Many people, including such luminaries as Albert Einstein and Mark Twain, have mentioned this phenomenon, but few, if any, have ever attempted to explain it.

3. Are there photos?

Actually, the photos are another unique aspect of the book. It displays close to 60 photos of pipes. But these are not just any pipes. The photos are of remarkable straight grains. I believe that this book contains more photos of exceptional straight-grain pipes than any other book ever published. The photos are often of the finest examples of many pipe brands. They’re in black and white, but hey, it’s straight grain. Who needs color when the grain is the focus and all the grain is going straight up and down anyway? Actually, the truth is, I could not afford the cost of color photos. I hope that the photos are good enough. I also hope that the shapes of the pipes will be appealing to readers.

One of the purposes of the photos is to illustrate for my fellow collectors and pipe enthusiasts the tremendous range and variation of exceptional straight-grain pipes. No two straight grains are alike. There are infinite variations. Of course, all of the pipes in the book are from my own award-winning collection, as I am a straight-grain fanatic. My love of straight grains is so intense that some have suggested that I should tattoo straight grain on my face, adding that it would improve my appearance and enhance my personality. There are other photos in the book as well. These are of famous, revered, vintage tobaccos variously pictured in pull-top, coin-twist and cutter-top-style tins.

4. Are there any pipe brands that you recommend as the pipes that are most likely to provide the perfect smoke?

No. The book does not point to certain brands of pipes as providing the greatest taste, as I and many others do not believe this is the case in any way, manner or fashion. No pipemaker or company has a monopoly on the perfect smoke. It is a far more complex matter than who made the pipe and what methods he or she used in construction. Due to the nature of our beloved briar, pipes from many brands have the potential to deliver the perfect smoke, and some pipes from those same many brands fall decidedly short. The problem is that although many high-grade pipes deliver a great smoke, very few individual pipes of any brand approach perfection. This phenomenon is addressed in an essay called “The Magic Pipe.”

5. What’s the hottest topic covered?

Way back in 2001, I published an article in The Pipe Collector, the newsletter of the North American Society of Pipe Collectors (NASPC), that started a debate in that newsletter that lasted for close to four years. The topic was what is now well-known as the issue of briar versus brand. The discussion centered on the idea that some pipe brands have a unique, identifiable taste all their own that can be readily distinguished from other brands, which in turn have their own identifiable taste. The debate was whether or not one can recognize this taste and identify a pipe brand only by its taste. This became known as the myth of brand and maker. In the book, I have rewritten and clarified many points in the original article and added other essays that explore the fine points of this topic. Since the book is about the perfect smoke, the question revolves around whether the perfect smoke is available exclusively through one brand or whether it is an individual chunk of briar of a pipe, of any brand, that holds the keys to the perfect smoke. This topic remains so controversial that a closely related version of it was revisited at the 2012 Chicago Show, 11 years after the original article.

Another hot topic is addressed by an essay called “What is Meant by Smoking Quality: Engineering vs. Taste.” Smoking quality is a common term, freely and widely used in the pipe world to refer to how well, or not, a pipe delivers a good smoke. But in my view this topic has never been fully explored or delineated. There is a debate among some members of the pipe community regarding whether engineering is the most important aspect of a great smoking pipe. However, so many experienced pipe collectors and smokers have had pipes that are perfectly engineered but still fall short in that the taste of the smoke itself is lacking. Conversely, many great pipes are poorly engineered and deliver a magnificent taste. This curious contradiction is discussed at some depth in the essay.

6. Why does the book have two forewords? Isn’t one enough?

Yeah. This is a bit strange, I admit. I was trying to figure out who would be the best choice to write the foreword of the book, and I really was not all that excited about including an afterword. Gregory Pease and Tad Gage were my first choices for a foreword. Both are well-known in the pipe world and are widely respected as collectors and enthusiasts who also are dedicated to the quest for the perfect smoke. I could not decide between the two, so I asked them both and they each agreed. It actually turned out quite well, because both of them did a great job and wrote very entertaining and quite different forewords. I think the book is better off because of it. Not only that, I asked Dr. Bill Unger, the editor of NASPC Press, to write an editor’s introduction. I was very fortunate to have Bill involved as editor of the book. He has a Ph.D. in literature and is also a very smart guy who made some great suggestions. I was also fortunate to have Eddie Fliess, of Graphic Touch in Columbus, design the montage pictured on the front and back covers. Eddie designed and laid out the book as well. The NASPC Press is a fantastic group of people.

7. What makes you qualified to write about the perfect smoke?

Actually, I am not sure that I am qualified to write about this subject. In fact, I am not sure that anyone is qualified. There are so many mysteries, myths, complexities and ambiguities surrounding the topic of the perfect smoke that we still do not have any final answers in so many areas. These mysteries and myths persist largely because there are no grants available from governments or foundations that would pay for scientific research on the subject. Remarkably, there are so many myths masquerading as fact that it may be a long, long time before we come to any definite conclusions. For that matter, I have very often seen people attempt to expose myths regarding pipes and tobaccos only to end up perpetrating more myths in the process. No one has a monopoly on truth in this field, in spite of what they might claim or how they present themselves.

Having said all that, I have been smoking a pipe since 1967 and smoking and collecting high-grade pipes and tobaccos since 1974. Discovering the true nature of the perfect smoke has been a passion of mine since the late 1970s, and I have published articles about it since 2001. I am also trained to do research in an area of human science called phenomenology, which is essentially the study of human experience, how it is structured and how it is constituted. This includes tasting and pipe collecting. In the book, I have tried to communicate what I have learned, believing that it may have the capacity to take our understanding a step further. Allow me to repeat that the book is not intended to be the final word on the subject. Nobody has that.

8. Why isn’t your picture anywhere in the book or in this article?

This is because I would like for people to buy and read the book without being deterred by anything unpleasant. I want to make the experience of reading the book as painless as possible. In other words, by not including my photo, I believe that I am merely showing my consideration for my fellow pipe lovers.

9. How will the book improve the pipe-smoking experiences of those who read it?

Many have told me they believe The Perfect Smoke has the potential to help pipe lovers enhance their overall level of enjoyment of fine pipes and tobaccos. Essays that cover subjects like how to choose the great pipe, tin baking, air-pocket packing, the benefits of nicotine, seven essential pipe skills, briar versus brand, pipe mud and how to taste pipes and tobaccos may be of benefit to a good number of pipe smokers. Early reviews of the book have been quite positive, and I am greatly encouraged. P&T


The Perfect Smoke may be purchased through the North American Society of Pipe Collectors. Visit or send a check or money order for $25 U.S., $30 Canada or $35 international to NASPC, P.O. Box 9642, Columbus, OH 43209.

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Category: Feature Article, Summer 2012

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