I know this post is overdue. However, a wonderful influx of orders, the 4th of July holiday, and a most entertaining and relaxing Friday evening spent with a local friend and fellow piper, Skeet, and his charming wife, Cindi, are mostly to blame for my delay. But, as it turns out, this delay ended up providing me with the topic of this post. Specifically, it was the evening spent with our friends and parts of the interesting conversation we had about taste.
After enjoying a delicious dinner, the four of us settled into comfortable recliners to continue the delightful conversation we had started over dinner while Skeet and I began the relaxing ritual of smoking our pipes. On this night, we happened to be smoking Samuel Gawith's Perfection, which was a blend that was new to both of us. I had previously smoked a bowl of it - I admit, I couldn't wait to try it when the shipment arrived and opened a box right away - but I was curious about what Skeet's first experience with smoking it would be since he prefers aromatic blends.
Why was I curious? Because, quite simply, taste is very subjective ... it's an individual thing. With the Perfection blend, for example, the Latakia and oriental leaf are more upfront for me, while the vanilla topping is barely there - like an afterthought way in the background. For Skeet, on the other hand, he was able to discern the vanilla flavor much better, despite the bigger burst of Latakia and orientals that he isn't as used to tasting since he mainly smokes aromatics.
When our conversation turned to Samuel Gawith's Grousemoor blend and its flavor and aroma of lemongrass, Michele asked Skeet about his experience with smoking it (she had previously recommended the tobacco blend to him and he purchased a tin to try). After he said that he really enjoyed smoking the Grousemoor, Michele told him about one of her favorite meals that is served with lemongrass sauce on the side. She explained how the lemongrass could change the flavor profile of each bite so that it was like eating a variety of different main courses served in the same bowl, but she purposely waited to tell him that story until after he had tried the Grousemoor since she didn't want it to give him preconceptions about the blend before he had tried it.
Of course, this naturally led our conversation into a discussion on individual taste and how preconceived notions potentially can affect our smoking experiences. For example, if you were to offer me the choice of having smoked brisket or chocolate cake, I would pick the smoked brisket every day of the week. Michele, on the other hand, would pick the chocolate cake hands down. Why? Well, without getting into all of the scientific or medical mumbo jumbo, suffice it to say that every individual's DNA is hardwired in a particular way that causes us to favor salty, sweet, sour, or bitter. Personally, I think Michele goes for the chocolate cake simply because women and chocolate go together like peas and carrots. 😁
And, our flavor preferences can and do carry over into the type of pipe tobacco blends we favor. But, it doesn't necessarily dictate the type of blends we would enjoy to the exclusion of all else. While I prefer smoked brisket over chocolate cake, I still enjoy eating chocolate cake on occasion. And, while I mainly prefer smoking English style tobacco blends, I also enjoy smoking a fair number of aromatic pipe tobaccos. I also would probably enjoy smoking Virginia-based blends if it weren't for the fact that, with the exception of Samuel Gawith's Full Virginia Flake, they burn too hot for me.
Now, what if you didn't know how smoked brisket tasted and decided to search the internet for information and found a website where folks had eaten and then reviewed smoked brisket.
Scenario #1 -- The majority of reviews are done by folks who love smoked meats and they rave about the depth of smoky flavor and how succulent brisket is. After reading the reviews you would probably develop the preconceived notion that smoked brisket is the next best thing to sliced bread and would want to try it. When you finally do try it, you dive right in anticipating an excellent food experience. Instead, however, you discover that it's just "ok" or, Heaven forbid!, that you would rather eat a shoe than eat smoked brisket. You feel let down and/or misled, to say the least.
Scenario #2 -- The majority of reviews are done by folks who don't care much for smoked brisket (because they prefer chocolate cake!) and they bash brisket for not having a sweet enough flavor, being too dry, tasting like boiled leather, etc. After reading those reviews, you would probably develop the preconceived notion that smoked brisket isn't something you would ever want to eat and avoid it. Then, someone at a party hands you a plate of food (I hope you know who this person is!!!) and tells you it's smoked brisket. You don't want to eat it because you think it's going to be horrible, but your host just walked up before you could find a convenient place to hide the plate so you have no choice but to eat. You put a tiny pinch in your mouth hoping you don't gag. However, instead of experiencing a hideous wave of gut-wrenching nausea, you discover that brisket is the most awesomesauce thing EVER! Even though you're elated over this wonderful discovery, you also feel let down and/or misled because you realize you've been missing out on something great for quite awhile.
In both cases, you developed a preconceived notion based on biased reviews that directly affected your choice to try or not to try smoked brisket. The same holds true for pipe tobacco and its reviews. In order to best serve our customers and to prepare our Tobacco Blends Classification Index pages, we have read a lot of reviews written about a lot of tobacco blends. And, in the course of our research, one thing that has stood out to us is the biased reviews. Reading those reviews can and does affect a piper's decision on whether or not to try a particular blend as well as color the piper's perception of how a blend will taste, smoke, and smell before they even try it.
Going back to the Grousemoor, that blend has received reviews on both sides of the spectrum and receives an average recommendation. It seems you're either going to love the blend or hate it. Knowing that, and knowing that Skeet is relatively new to pipe smoking, Michele was careful not to share information with him that might have given him any preconceptions about the blend before he tried it to make sure he could smoke his first pipe of Grousemoor with a completely open mind and no expectations. As a result, his first pipe of Grousemoor was an interesting and intriguing experience that he fully enjoyed.
And, to me, this is how it should be if the world was perfect:
1. Tobacco blend reviews would be written by pipers who enjoy smoking the type of pipe tobacco they're reviewing and their reviews would focus on the physical aspects of the blend's leaf (color, cut, etc.), how old and moist the leaf was when they smoked it, the flavors they detected from start to finish, the strength of the flavors throughout the smoke, how hot or cool the leaf burned, and the amount of nic hit they experienced; and
2. Pipers would be willing to try new blends and do so with an open mind free of expectations that could color their perspective.
As I'm known to say, pipe smoking is a journey along which you gain experience. For some, the journey is short -- they find a tobacco blend they love right off the bat and choose not to try any other blends. But, for most of us, we want a long journey where we can experience many new things and have a wide variety of blends that fulfill us throughout the seasons, our mood, or our situation. In order to do so, we must be willing too try new blends and new pipes. However, in trying new blends and new pipes, our experiences can be unnecessarily halted, altered, or colored if we begin with preconceived notions developed from reading biased reviews.
So, with all of that said, I'll leave you with this ... taste is individually subjective so take reviews with a grain of salt, keep an open mind, explore new blends (and pipes!) when you can, and enjoy life and everything it has to offer as much as possible.