Yes, unicorn farts ... you know ... those pipe tobacco blends that hit our shores only once or twice a year. We do our best to wait patiently for them to arrive, and, once they do, we engage in a buying frenzy that puts Black Friday shopping to shame. But why? Why do we do this?
Sometimes the answer is quite obvious ... a favorite or most awesomesauce blend known to man is available once again giving us a chance to re-stock our much depleted cellar reserves because ... you know ... you only had a pound of it left and were nearing a state of panic. :)
This is completely understandable ... not judging!! ... for blends from brands like Samuel Gawith or Gawith Hoggarth for example. The vast majority of tobacco blends from these brands consistently receive 3+ star reviews and are rightly called unicorn farts. One only needs to read about them at tobaccoreviews.com to see why pipers go "ga-ga" over them.
According to tobaccoreviews.com, Samuel Gawith has 84 blends (not counting limited editions) and 27 of them -- 68%! -- receive a 3+ star rating. Gawith Hoggarth has 230 blends with 152 of them -- 66%! -- receiving a 3+ star rating. No doubt there are other blends imported to the US from the UK that are just as great.
But, what if the answer isn't obvious? Here, I'm talking about unicorn fart brands where the majority of their blends aren't as universally liked ... totally judging!! ... yet many pipers still lose their minds and instantaneously morph into hatchet-wielding berzerkers intent on destroying everything in their path on their quest to obtain as much or as many of those blends as possible. Ok, "hatchet-wielding" might be a bit extreme, but you get the point. :p
So, why do some pipers engage in a buying feeding frenzy for tobacco blends that receive mediocre reviews at best?
Take, for example, the Esoterica blends manufactured by J.F. Germain & Son exclusively for Arango. Yep, I'm gonna pick on them a little bit. There are 18 Esoterica blends, but only 8 have a rating of 3 stars or better at tobaccoreviews.com. That's a whopping 44% ... 22-24% lower than SG or GH brand blends. Yet, when a shipment of Esoterica arrived in February of this year, all online retailers who received a supply sold out of every tin and bag within a few hours. When the early June shipment arrived, the small handful of retailers Arango favored with a supply sold out just as quickly. Don't get me wrong, I totally get the craze for Dunbar, Penzance, and Stonehaven ... they're really great blends! Even Dorchester, Margate, and Tillbury are good blends. But, can someone please explain the buying hysteria for the ten Esoterica blends that aren't up to snuff compared to the rest ... especially when so many other totally awesome blends in other brands are readily available?
In trying to answer this myself, I scoured posts on Reddit and other forums and, while several theories have been posited, one theory emerged regarding Esoterica that may be closest to the truth: artificial supply shortage + loads of hype = demand.
It's not a secret that J.F. Germain is based on the island of Jersey, employs a handful of employees, and still uses the same equipment that it used over 100 years ago to produce its blends. The issue is that they aren't willing to change ... to use modern methods to increase output ... to better meet the demand for their top blends. So, with their current methods, they simply can't produce any more tobacco than they are already producing with the resources they have. As such, it creates an artificial supply shortage -- artificial because they purposely refuse to take steps to increase production.
As for the loads of hype, this becomes evident when you look at write-ups. Tobaccopipes.com's write-up on their Esoterica page provides a good example -- " As a tobacco enthusiast, you would be hard pressed to find a tobacco company that is held in higher regard that Esoterica. Every blend is usually sold out and it is a true chore to find. If you are looking for the best, the rare, the perfect, then you have found it." (Note the descriptors used -- "the best, the rare, the perfect" -- for a brand with 56% of its blends having less than a 3 star rating).
Now compare that to the one they have for Peterson. Peterson currently produces 23 blends with 12 of them rating 3 stars or better (52%), which is 8% better than Esoterica. Tobaccopipes.com's write-up on their Peterson page simply states -- "With blends to satisfy new smokers and veterans alike, the Peterson pipe tobacco choice span a broad range of blends. Whether you’re looking for a mild aromatic or a bold burley, Peterson likely has a blend you’ll want in your smoking pipe every day."
I don't know about you, but that seems just a wee bit biased to me.
Now, before anybody gets their pipe cleaner in a knot, I understand that taste is subjective and I recognize there are pipers who enjoy smoking blends that others may not care for. Also, please bear in mind the only data available for the comparisons that have been drawn are reviews of tobacco blends found on piping forums and websites like tobaccoreviews.com.
With that having been said, another factor that likely plays a part in the feeding frenzy is the increase in new pipe smokers who are reading reviews and posts on various forums and believe they need to buy the highly touted blends to make sure they're not missing out on something special. However, new pipe smokers might not know that not all blends marketed under a brand name are equal, or they may not realize they're not quite ready for a specific brand or type of blend -- i.e., Samuel Gawith blends being known for their strength and nic hit. Then, there are those who buy up blends like Esoterica to sell on e-bay at substantially inflated prices once the retailers run out. I'm hoping the newly implemented purchasing limits imposed by those retailers who were favored enough to receive the last supply of Esoterica helps to curb the black-market racketeering.
I guess the point of my rambling is this: tastes are subjective, don't fall for the hype, and remember there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of great blends on the market. The time you spend hunting down a unicorn fart is time you could be spending enjoying a bowl (or two ... or three!) of another blend that provides a most excellent smoking experience.