Reflecting on a Tragedy
As most pipe smokers would agree, the news of The McClelland Pipe Tobacco Company shutting its doors was both tragic and discomforting. I specifically use the adjective tragic as McClelland had been in business for 40+ years. The company was built on what most Americans describe as the ‘American Dream’. Therefore, witnessing this 40 years of hard work and dedication from both Mike and Mary McNeil virtually crumble to pieces in a 60-day time period, is certainly as I described…tragic. The pipe smoking community has certainly taken a negative turn because of this misfortune. With one of the largest portfolios on the tobacco market, McClelland is now but a pastime that smokers from this time period will share with those entering the hobby 20 years from now.
We could get into a rather deep discussion regarding the outlying factors for the company’s closure, and yes, it is concerning that such a ‘giant’ in this market melted down so quickly; however, I would prefer this piece focus on the other word I used to describe this downfall of Rome – discomforting.
What does it really mean when something or someone is discomforting? According to the Oxford Universal Dictionary (1955) discomfort is, “to make uncomfortable or uneasy” (p. 520). To most people this does not sound appealing or pleasant in the least, but maybe it is exactly what the pipe smoking community needed [que audience gasp]. Like many others across the globe, McClelland was one of my favorite brands of tobacco. I could have easily rushed out upon the announcement and speculation of the company closing and purchased up every available tin of McClelland tobacco to be found. Believe me, there were several individuals who participated in such nonsensical behavior. Instead, I chose to catalog what tins I had remaining in my cellar and establish an informal schedule of how to smoke the McClelland tobacco I have remaining in order to enjoy these tobaccos for years to come. So, what did this endeavor teach me? Well, I have taken this opportunity of discomfort and used it to learn, grow, and expand my pursuit of other pipe tobacco blends. In fact, I am now somewhat thankful for the tragedy. Let me explain.
I am very much a creature of habit. When I find something I like, I tend to stick with it and am hesitant to make any type of change or adjustment. Because of my love for McClelland tobaccos, in the past when making a pipe tobacco order, I typically would order those tobaccos (McClelland blends) I knew would provide me with the enjoyment and comfort I seek in pipe smoking. The closing of McClelland, and disappearance of their products from the market at reasonable prices, has forced me to change this habit and further restart my exploration for new tobacco blends currently available. When exploring what change means, I am reminded of Marris’s (1975) point that all types of change involve loss, anxiety, struggle or a combination of the three. My discomfort, experienced from circumstances in which I have no control, has forced me to change my behavior, and I must admit, for the better.
Some of the blends I have explored in lieu of this tragedy are proving to be absolutely outstanding tobaccos, providing me with even more enjoyable smoking experiences than I have had in the past. The following blends are some of those I have recently explored and am currently enjoying.
I would describe this as a mild, light English blend. Easily enjoyable all day, this blend offers the smoker a creamy, naturally sweet experience. The tobacco burns well and does not overpower the palate. For me, this is an excellent tobacco to start the day with. Not too powerful, but still a tasty treat.
G.L. Pease Westminster
Where have you been all my life!? Westminster is certainly a hidden gem. With medium smoky notes that lead to a musty book (well-aged tobacco) room note. The tastes hint at a figgy/raisin characteristic with further notes of rich molasses and sweet cedar. This well-crafted English blend has quickly made an appearance in my regular rotation.
Sutliff’s Blend No. 5
Yes, I was hesitant to pull the trigger on this blend as I typically associate Sutliff with lower end aromatic tobaccos. I stand corrected. Blend No. 5 offers the smoker a smooth and simplistic smoking experience. There is a nice initial spice to the tobacco that quickly melts into a solid earthy, nutty taste. The blend is mild to medium bodied and can be enjoyed at any hour of the day.
Cornell & Diehl Star of the East Flake
I had read several places online that this blend was a great substitute for the ever so difficult to obtain Esoterica Penzance. Let me be the first to say it is not. In my opinion this tobacco is even better than Penzance (and believe me, I have smoked my fair share of Penzance). With aroma notes of musty, old book, and smoky campfire remains, the blend is very complex. Its tasting profile offers the smoker notes of sweet and sour earth, leather, spice, and wood. This blend is certainly in the full-bodied range and carries a noticeable nicotine punch if not respected by the smoker’s cadence. Very well crafted and highly recommended.
In the end, I am indeed saddened by the loss of a great tobacco company. However, to think I would have never expanded my search to find these amazing blends because of my loyal dedication to one specific company, and a few specific blends, is almost more concerning than the quickness in which McClelland left the market. Overall, I encourage my fellow pipe smoking friends to not be scared, upset, or anxious at the current discomforts we are experiencing, rather, embrace them as an opportunity to change and grow. An opportunity for us to explore other fabulous pipe tobacco offerings. After all, sometimes it takes discomfort in order for change to occur. And most of the time, it is for the better.