Current Pipe Tobacco Review Guidelines
Effective August 2014
After more than two years of wrangling, wrestling and talking about it, I am finally going forward with adding pipe tobacco reviews into the mix here at Half Ashed. My co-host Craig and I have also chatted about this on the show since its earliest days, and have begun some discussion and planning for adding pipe content to the podcast; whether that is by way of a regular segment and/or the occasional dedicated show has yet to be determined, but the addition is coming. So, there’s no time like the present to go ahead and begin working it into the written content. You may also want to check out the current Cigar Review guidelines.
As I pondered how best to format pipe reviews, it quickly became clear that using the same guidelines as cigar reviews would be ineffective. While closely related hobbies, the two are very different animals. Unlike the cigar world, which is accustomed to a 100-point scale, pipe folks are attuned to seeing something more descriptive and critical than a strict ranking of quality. Many qualities of pipe tobacco blends don’t fall within a range that lends itself to a “good/bad” or “go/no-go” ideology. Often, pipe smokers seek tobaccos that perform on very different ends of a singular scale – for example: Strength. Strength can not be rated on a scale that rewards or penalizes the depth of nicotine content and its felt effect because some smokers seek out a mild blend, while others are only interested in nicotine giants. Additionally, factors such as construction – which is imperative in a cigar – are not easily rated in pipe tobacco due to varying cuts, processes and production methods. Therefore, I have developed a new set of criteria for use when posting pipe tobacco reviews here. I describe this on the tabs below.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- I don’t have any special powers for rating tobaccos. I don’t present my reviews as the be-all, end-all declaration of a blend’s worth. That’s up to you – smoke what you like and like what you smoke. I provide reviews merely as a way to further discussion and build community for tobacco enthusiasts. I hope you can both learn and teach me something in the process.
- There is an added bonus in using the format and software I’ve selected. Users will have the ability to leave their own FULL review of any blend posted for review. This includes both a written review via comment AND rankings. A running average for all users will show in the review as well. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Don’t be “That Guy.” You know the one….the guy that drops an unrealistically low rating just to skew the numbers. These “hit-and-run” reviews provide no value and wreak havoc with the scoring (which would make it useless in the long run). If you swing by a plop a big “0” into the user reviews, I’ll back it out…
Co-Host Review Criteria
In addition to a written description of my experience with a particular pipe blend, I will rate each blend in up to six categories, detailed below.
1. Overall Experience (Recommendation)
This rating is subjective in that it is NOT a compilation of scores from the other categories. Some of the categories’ scoring is not related to quality, but merely a scale of measure (i.e. Strength). This is simply a way to provide a personal recommendation about whether or not – or how strongly – I would recommend the blend to a friend.
|0 – 6.0||Forget it. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy|
|6.1 – 7.5||I’d recommend trying it. It may not be my cup of tea, but you may like it.|
|7.6 – 8.5||The tobacco is of good quality and has been processed properly. A good, solid smoke.|
|8.6 – 9.5||Definitely worthwhile, if you enjoy blends of the given style (Balkan, English, VA, VaPer, etc.)|
|9.6 – 10.0||A clear winner. I certainly love it, and think you will too. If I had a stronger recommendation I would give it….if I wasn’t busily hoarding this all for myself.|
2. Flavor (Presence)
This first Flavor rating describes how boldly the flavor comes through when smoking a particular blend. This is my personal idea of how the points should be assigned:
|0 – 6.0||Very flat; almost devoid of flavor. More akin to hot air than smoke|
|6.1 – 7.5||Passable. There’s flavor to be found, but be prepared to focus in order to find it.|
|7.6 – 8.5||Solid. This tobacco won’t take home any blue ribbons, but it’s a good performer.|
|8.6 – 9.5||Bold. Most well-blended pipe tobaccos will fall in this range. Flavors are bright, bold and easily perceived by all but the most fried palates|
|9.6 – 10.0||WOW! Strong flavors – whether good or bad. No clearly off-putting flavors, but you won’t soon forget the blend.|
3. Flavor (Subjective)
Within the single category ratings, this one is most subjective. This is where I rate my personal feelings about the flavors presented, and how much they are enjoyable to me.
|0 – 6.0||WTH? Not even going to relight this.|
|6.1 – 7.5||Meh. Nothing off-putting, but I won’t be buying another tin.|
|7.6 – 8.5||Pleasant. Most people could find something to enjoy here…although many would not enjoy enough to stockpile the blend.|
|8.6 – 9.5||Delicious. I believe that more often than not, the average smoker will enjoy this blend. It meets the normal expectations of its family of blends (VA, Va/Per, English, etc.)|
|9.6 – 10.0||First Love. I can’t even fathom how anyone could NOT enjoy this blend. Highest recommendation.|
Most people are able to discern the relative strength of a pipe tobacco. Even the most hardcore nicotine fiend can make a good approximation of the strength of a milder blend – and vice versa.
|0 – 6.0||Flat. The milke toast of pipe tobacco.|
|6.1 – 7.5||Mild. Maybe pleasant; maybe not…but mild in strength nonetheless.|
|7.6 – 8.5||Medium. Most tobaccos will fall here. Entertaining for most strength-seekers; tolerable for those with less nicotine affinity.|
|8.6 – 9.5||Full. This tobacco is very strong, yet still approachable for the average pipe smoker.|
|9.6 – 10.0||Crippling. Not for the faint of heart. If you’re not careful, you could end up tossing cookies you ate in the third grade…|
This is a basic rating of how well the blend is constructed in terms of the relationship between strength, body, and flavor. These three aspects of the blend should play well together – should any one of them be significantly more prominent than another, the blend can seem “off.” For example, a blend that is mild in flavor but overwhelming in strength would be seriously unbalanced.
|0 – 6.0||Out of balance – whoever concocted this blend must have randomly thrown component tobaccos into the air and hoped the right mix fell into a mixing tub.|
|6.1 – 7.5||Needs Tweaking – This blend might have some potential, but needs some definite reworking to truly be something I’d reach for frequently.|
|7.6 – 8.5||Good to Very Good – A solid blend, but not life-changing. I would never turn my nose up at the opportunity to smoke it, but won’t be piling up 25 lbs. worth for the future.|
|8.6 – 9.5||Exceptional – Well blended,with beautiful interplay amongst the various aspects of the smoke. Recommended.|
|9.6 – 10.0||Perfection – This is the elusive blend that can leave one utterly speechless. A rare breed, but can be found at times.|
In days of yore, this was of little concern. Most pipe tobaccos were at least somewhat closely matched in price. These days, with percentage-based taxes and internet commerce, variation in pricing on some boutique blends is marked. Taking all the previous categories into consideration, how likely are you to buy/keep around/stockpile this blend? How worthy is it of your hard earned dollars? Does the pleasure it provides outweigh its cost, or not? [NOTE: Value will NOT be assessed on vintage pipe tobacco of more than 5 years’ age. These tobaccos true market value can, at times, be very skewed due to added age, unavailability, etc.]
|0 – 6.0||Unworthy – I’m sorry I dropped the cash to even buy this tin|
|6.1 – 7.5||Buy on Sale – Maybe it’s not a cellar staple, but it was a worthwhile experiment|
|7.6 – 8.5||Normal Range – Just as described; I can enjoy the blend – and sometimes do – but my spending will be limited with this one.|
|8.6 – 9.5||Good Value – No cellar is complete without a few blends in this category. These are what you smoke because they’re so dang enjoyable and you can’t smoke your alltime favorites all the time.|
|9.6 – 10.0||Hoard This! – Blends you’d spend your last $10 on rather than a meal.|
User Review Criteria
User submitted reviews will be comprised of two aspects:
1.) SCORING: Readers will have the option of adding their own scores to each of the same categories as me. Feel free to drop in your honest evaluation of a particular blend at the end of each review. User reviews will trigger a running average of each blend, to be shown alongside my assessment. These scores should be based on your assessment of the blend’s ability to provide the intended experience for the consumer
2.) Specific experience/details via written notes in your review. I welcome folks to add comments with their review wherein they may give additional details or guidance as to how they arrived at the number. My hope is to generate interest and community through the pipe tobacco reviews, and I would love to hear from you…whether you agree or disagree with my assessment! I do ask that reviewers try to set aside simple personal preference when providing their score. If you can’t stand the flavor of typical English blends, either don’t rate English blends or set your preferences aside and rate it for its ability to present as an English blend.