PA Response to the Monks Raid

Mom always said “You catch more flies with honey” but I always pointed out she beat the living hell out of me the day I tried squirting honey onto a fly for the purposes of safely depositing it outside the house.

I had written the PLCB over the Raid the day I saw it on

Basically, I wrote them a nastygram.

In case you’re not familiar with PA law, it’s stupidly draconian. The PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) is a bunch of pricks who use excuses like “bulk buying brings you lower prices”. In actuality since the liquor in the state is effectively taxed at 32%, basement hooch to high end wine is accounted for to the bottle.

And god help you if you’re drinking high end wine, there’s no wine bars in PA because splitting a bottle is technically illegal.

Here’s what I wrote:

To whom it may concern at the PLCB,

WRT: licensed_beers_Dozens_of_gallons_seized_aftercitizen_complaint.html

No-one in their right mind believes this was a “citizen complaint”. PA has long since had possibly the worst licensing and distribution system of any state I’d have the pleasure of visiting, and the PLCB is anything but a monopoly. As such no-one believes that any citizen would have both the insight and understanding of how this draconian establishment works enough to report “improperly licensed” beer. More on the point I sincerely doubt given the quality of the average state trooper or PLCB employees language skills that anyone in either of those two establishments would be able to read the barrels or beer names, most of which would be labeled in Belgian German or Flemish.

Even more on the point – it’s been legal for tobacconists to have “house blends” of tobacco, but in reality these tobacconists are selling tobacco purchased under another name. Yet no-one walks into Grandpa’s tobacco shop with state troopers armed to the teeth and says “OH YOUR TOBACCO IS MISLABELED”.

I will also submit a CONTACT THE GOVERNOR form and CC him.

As a result of this action, I’ve created a sign up sheet in my neighborhood to hold a workshop this weekend. This weekend I will teach approximately 17 people to make their own beer.

Joshua Knarr

Actually the homebrew thing wasn’t nearly that popular, and it’s only got three people. But it’s good to put the fire under them. Also of note, tobacco is regulated similarly to liquor, but given the “declining popularity” the state has decided to tax the living shit out of it while not caring where it comes from. For those really not from the area, PA is the “tax state” for goods, Delaware is impossible to live in since they’re the “tax state” for paychecks, and NJ typically taxes the living hell out of tobacco. As such, we go to NJ for our gas, buy our tobacco in PA, and buy merchandise in Delaware, the home of “tax free shopping” (and god help you if the staties see you crossing state lines with a TV on your roof).


Here’s the letter I got back:

Mr. Knarr,

Please be advised that it is the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, and not the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which enforces the liquor laws in Pennsylvania. Therefore, your e-mail is being forwarded to them for review. Thank you.

OK so lets talk to those guys. I shot them the same mail and….

This is in response to your inquiry regarding the recent raids of three Philadelphia-area bars, conducted by the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (“BLCE”), in which the PSP, BLCE apparently confiscated beers that may or may not have been properly registered for sale in Pennsylvania.

The raids in question were conducted by the PSP, BLCE, not the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board(“Board”). The officers involved are employed by the PSP, BLCE and not the Board. The Board and the BLCE are two distinct agencies. Therefore, your inquires should be directed to the PSP, BLCE Harrisburg Headquarters. Their contact number is 717-540-7410.

Ah yes, the great circle jerk of responsibility continues unabated. (Note that the state police and governor simply said “Thank you for contacting us” and included no other response).

Backlash of Latakia

From my last adventure in tobacco flavors, I bought a stupid amount of tobacco from the land of eurotrash.

Latakia continues to be incredibly interesting – everytime I smoke it, it’s something different.

My particular stuff had a heavy “meat” taste fresh from the distributor. It’s been about a month in my various humidor jars, and it’s calmed the meat taste down quite a bit. Reason for that is the jars allow light in, and the light goes a long way towards breaking down the flavors. Just like beer, if anyone was wondering. On cigars the effect isn’t as pronounced since most of the flavor comes from the inside. On pipe tobacco with no casing – any mellowing effect works on the whole bag. Ignoring my pipe set for a month (not by choice) has improved this greatly. The meat has dropped out and the smokeyness comes through.

The best pairing for tobacco is scotch. Bowmore had proved to be absurdly good paired with La Aroma De Cuba cigars. By themselves, Bowmore has almost an offensive peaty taste to it (think Lauphroag without the smoke) but paired with La Aroma De Cuba which tastes like cake batter, and suddenly it’s got raisins, grandma’s cooking, vanilla, icing, nuts and chocolate. I ran out of Bowmore at the beginning of the month (for whatever reason the price went up) and grabbed McClellands speyside. They were out of Islay, and I prefer Islay anything. Speyside is second on the list, then lowland, then highland. But I’m more likely to try a new brand than buy anything but speyside or islay.

The McClellands by itself isn’t impressive. It’s not got the depth of flavor I want, it’s got no oak and no smoke that you can really taste. It’s sort of faded and could comfortably fit into bourbon because it’s not quite as smooth as it could be. However, I grabbed my pouch of “english heavy” (which is heavy on the smoke and meat flavors) and poured a snifter. With ice, if anyone wants to know. Basically the smoke from the tobacco changes the flavor of the scotch (vastly overpowering it) and made the scotch sweet. Honey came through, along with maybe something else sweet (apple? pair? orange?) and fruity. The tobacco, on the other hand, became less smokey the more I had and eventually turned sweet. The lemons normally associated with the end of a pipe were really quite subdued and complimented the scotch well given it’s citrus notes.

A Friendly Reminder About Tobacco

Reminder: Today is the last day you can buy tobacco products without paying the SCHIP tax.

I, for one, plan on buying them as “collectibles / antiques”. Remember, if you purchase cigar bands as collectibles which happen to have cigars attached, they’re exempt from the tax.

Remember, tobacco within is not for consumption.

The Jarmidor: Performance Monitoring

I was up at Pet Smart buying cat food since the cats have managed to eat us out of house and home yet again and I happened to be looking at the reptiles.

Suddenly, inspiration struck. Reptiles need the right temperature, because they are cold blooded, but they also live in a humid, humid rainforest. What else lives in a tropical climate?

Free range cigars, that’s what.

I wandered over to the reptile aisle and sure enough there were enough hygrometers to monitor every planet in the solar system. (About 9). Now, people commonly complain the hygrometer in their humidor is crap and can be as far as 10% off. To figure out if we’re buying a good one or not we need to compare. Instrumentation is one of those things where you don’t need to test it to make sure it works, the majority of it merely has to agree. In other words, if the standard deviation is small, then we know the instrument is probably mostly correct and we know about how far off they can be. For this trick, we try to buy one representing the mean value.

In my case, out of 9 of these, 8 of them agreed the humidity in the store was between 40% and 42%. One of them said 50%, so this one obviously is in error. Upon tapping them, the needle would typically settle back into the same place, so we know none of them are stuck like this and the needle is free floating. I tried to power up a digital hygrometer but it was disabled. Comparing it to the one the store uses in their cages, the humidity was 41%. I was willing to accept any hygrometer that read between 40% and 42%, which was almost all of them.

For $5 and a sample size large enough to find the ones obviously misadjusted, it’s a steal.

The Jarmidor: One Week Later

The Jarmidor at one week is working well. I wish I had a hygrometer, but the smaller ones which are accurate (read: digital) are expensive ($25+), while you can find big ones for $7 – but you can’t calibrate them or fit them into the jar. I’ve resigned to “do it by feel”.

Since I have a fair bit of pipe smoke (cheap – 4oz costs $10 most places, which is a lot of tobacco) I decided it would be my guinea pig.

The edges of it got a bit dry, but I chalk this up to stabilization of the jar rather than any mysterious force. Pipe tobacco is notoriously “wet”, so I expected the edges to dry out a bit to go down to 70% RH. For all intents and purposes, a jar of this size with this much poly glycol should be stable within three days. Since the pipe stuff seems like it’s there – just a touch sticky – it’s OK. The cigars needed to go the opposite direction since they had been in the fridge. They needed to come up to the right humidity. You know it’s the right humidity in there when the cigars are springy without being brittle. Since I have a hand-rolled one (I haven’t tried yet), this was my barometer cigar, and he’s fine.

The only way to find out though, is to smoke it.

I have a churchwarden made from meerschaum which I use as a tasting pipe since the meerschaum won’t absorb the tobacco oil like briar pipes do. While I could thoroughly clean the briars by soaking them in alcohol and rubbing them in salt, if you use a clay pipe the smoke is a bit hotter but the flavor doesn’t absorb.

So what are we looking for anyway? The tobacco has to have enough humidity that you get lemon-water in the bowl. This is where briars get “smoked in” – the combination of ash and water dropped from the cooking tobacco works it’s way into the body of the pipe through absorption. You let a pipe “rest” between smokes and especially before cleaning so it has a chance to do this. After the pipe cools it won’t absorb much more so you clean it then.

The second requirement is that it tastes good. Why risk jaw cancer if it doesn’t taste good? Pipe smoke is a lot like the hookah smoke where if you don’t overdo it (looking at cigarette smokers) you’re not in a risk group. If you’re like me and you smoke once a weekend, you’re definitely not in the risk group. Or look at it this way – you’re in the same risk group as alcohol consumption. But back to the topic of taste, I have some golden cavendish (think of this as unflavored – or cigar flavor), and some Afternoon Delight (house blend). A quick note on flavors. There’s blends and there’s casings. Casings are things like fruit rollups that fell on the floor. They’re not tobacco but rather flavor it. Generally if it’s “aromatic”, it’s got casings, but if it’s nonaromatic, it’s simply blends of tobacco. This isn’t a hard and fast rule. Do keep in mind that tobacco with casing tends to be “wet” (over 70% RH) while tobacco without casings tends to be dry (under 70% RH).

The test here was to take the Afternoon Delight, pack a reasonable bowl, and see how it was after a week in the jarmidor. If I had let it sit out, it would have been dry and terrible. On the other hand, if it gets much above 70% RH, you can’t taste anything because it’s soup. This was one of the problems I had when I got it, and I had no idea why it sucked. My process to pack a pipe is to fill the bowl with tobacco and smash it down. Repeat two or three times until the draw is constricted but not impossible. Try to keep it uniform. Then sprinkle a bit on top and don’t pack it down as much, which gives you something to light. Hold a lighter over the whole thing and puff until you have an even burn. Tada, you win at pipe lighting.

To taste the stuff, try waiting until combustion and condensation leave some juice in the bowl (like a hookah), or you can draw very slowly. The tip of your tongue generally only gets “hot” flavors, but the middle of your tongue is where the actual tasting goes on. As such, unlike a cigar, try moving the end of the stem to the middle of your tongue and then drawing. Notice that drawing isn’t inhaling, inhaling is a quick trip to vomittown on the puke express. Also lung cancer. In my case when I did the middle-of-the-tongue trick, I got brown sugar, molasses, and ginger bread. Good stuff.

I would say the jarmidor is working great.

The Jarmidor: Do It Yourself Humidor

I like cigars, and I like pipe tobacco, but I can’t see myself making it more than a once a week or possibly even more infrequent hobby. However, it’s a waste for me to buy two ounces of pipe tobacco or a few cigars and let them sit in the fridge. I wanted a humidor, but I didn’t quite want a huge box. The bigger the box, the harder the element has to work to keep things moist. So I knew I wanted a closed system in smaller but reliable format. I also am cheap.

Everything you need to make a jaridor

Everything you need to make a jaridor

Everything you need to make a jaridor. That’s a single sponge from CVS (but I have four), scissors, two salt shakers from walmart (get the barrel kind), two flip top jars which seal (toss the dessicant packets) and the gel. The gel I was trying to source from elsewhere but it can’t be done without matching the cigar shop cost of $10 for enough to fill one of the jars.

Shaker and sponge.

Shaker and sponge.

Here’s a shaker and a sponge. Notice how the sponge is the right height for the shaker. Lucky us. Peel the label off the shaker and ensure you can unscrew the top. It need not fit well, but you do want the sponge to be the correct height.

Cutting the sponge.

Cutting the sponge.

Notice the sponge is cut here. We can use the lid for the width guide. We could probably also worry about the depth but the goal isn’t to occupy the entire volume of the shaker with the sponge.

Finished shakers

Finished shakers

This is what this needs to look like when it’s done. Notice the sponge fits in without being compressed. Also notice there’s space at the edges. This will be important later when you put the polyethylene glycol (“PG”) in. It lets you sight into the glass without opening the humidor and shake things up. The top of the shakers is open so salt can pass through, but in our case it keeps our tobacco out and lets moisture pass through. Why PG instead of water? Well with water you could do it by weight, but you end up doing a lot of math for the standing water. Since we know about how much PG we need for an affinity to water, this lets us use any amount of stuff (I used about a quarter of the bottle) and still hit the correct humidity. Also with the standing water solution – or water only – you run the risk of the water condensing anywhere it feels like. With PG, you’re assured it’s going to be wicked up out of the atmosphere if this system forces the water to condense. Now, a note on these sponges. After I cut mine up and assembled these, I noticed a rubber smell. I took hot water and ran it through a few times to get the smell out. The gaskets on the jars had no detectable odor so I let them go dry.

The whole thing assembled

The whole thing assembled

This is what the whole jaridor looks like right before we fill it with sweet, sweet adult candy. Notice you can see in the side at the level of PG as the humidor works.

Sweet Sweet Tobacco Products

Sweet Sweet Tobacco Products

And there you have it. A note on the pipe tobacco – just leave the bags open if you have two smaller bags like I do and stuff them both in. In the future if you want to dedicate an entire jar here (five ounces of tobacco by my guessdimate), you can get rid of the bags entirely since the top of the salt shaker should keep the tobacco away from the PG. You may want to move the shaker to the top if you do this. But, for general use, we can put two bags in there with the tops open and it will still be properly humidified.

Now, a note on adding poly glycol, the stuff comes premixed and PG doesn’t evaporate. The proper ratio is 50/50 water/PG, so when the level gets low (if it can possibly get low in this setup) then add water. The bottle I have says “ADD MORE PRODUCT” but you’ll end up closer to 33/66 if you do, which will quickly hurt your efforts.

Happy smoking.