A good friend of ours (and fellow whisky fan), the brilliant photographer Tomas Whitehouse was over in the UK from Helsinki to visit family. He stopped in for a dram or two during the Christmas period with his partner Tuuli, and we talked long into the night about all manner of things.
Along the way, we had a few real treats: a New Zealand whisky, the Thomson 17 year-old which is surprisingly light and citrus; the Jura Superstition (a default dram – especially when I’ve run out of the Prophecy); the Ardbeg Still Young committee bottling; and – since it was a special occasion – I cracked open the Lagavulin 12 year-old Special Release (cask strength, bottled in 2008) – which I certainly don’t regret.
As we sipped our whisky and listened to some good jazz, the conversation turned to tobacco. Tomas had recently started exploring the flavours of a range of pipe tobaccos and cigars with a friend of his in Finland, and began to fill me in on the knowledge he’d gleaned about different types of pipe, the ways in which to dry out the tobacco, how best to go about developing an appreciation of it, and where to get the best stuff online for a decent price.
Despite having been a non-smoker for about a decade, and desperately cautious of anything containing nicotine, the topic was fascinating to me. I think it’s fair to say that challenging the senses and exploring new tastes and aromas is one of the things that really draws me to whisky – as is the chance to sit down, relax, think, and have an interesting conversation. Pipe and cigar smoking definitely falls into that category as well.
By the end of the evening, I’d bookmarked a dozen or so websites, had a few names of things to try, and even a pipe or two in mind to acquire and get to work on.
In the cold light of day, however, my caution took over and I decided against it. I strongly suspect that having spent fifteen years as a pack-a-day smoker, I’d find it hard to make the enjoyment of a pipe an occasional indulgence, as whisky is.
Like anything, I guess, it pays to know where your personal margins of safety lie. Alcohol and tobacco are the two biggest killers in Western society, so (without wanting to sound like a public service announcement) it pays to have a healthy respect for them.
I feel a twinge of envy for Tomas, who is enjoying a whole new range of experiences and flavours that I’ve decided to deny myself – but to be entirely honest, I was also a bit worried that it might detract from my exploration of the world of whisky, which has seemingly infinite variety and surprises around every corner. I’m happy to keep my focus firmly there.
Of course – it’s always so great to have such interesting conversations over a few whiskies. That’s what it’s all about – people, stories, and sharing a glass or two of something nice. Don’t you think?