- Kevin Godbee
- May 22, 2013
- 1 min read
The most popular material for making tobacco smoking pipes is by far—Briar. The Comoy family started making briar pipes in Saint-Claude, France in 1856 when they found that it was far superior to other woods and clays being used at the time. There are other woods used to make smoking pipes, but briar is considered the best because of several qualities—resistance to burning, density that withstands moisture produced from smoking, porosity that reduces heat, and the flavor that the wood itself adds to the tobacco in some cases. Briar comes from the Heath Tree, which looks more like a shrub than a tree, and is actually a flowering plant. It is small and grows in the Mediterranean Basin, coming from countries such as; Spain, France, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, and Greece.
The briar wood actually comes from the root system of the plant. There is a large roundish burl that is formed underground, below the trunk, from which the individual roots then spread out. It is this burl that is harvested, boiled and cut into rough pieces of wood called ebauchons. The ebauchons, or briar blocks eventually get delivered to factories or individual pipe makers to be crafted into actual pipes.
The Achaiki Amadeus briar block processing plant was kind enough to provide this 10-minute video that shows what happens with the burls after harvest.
Written by Kevin Godbee
View all posts by: Kevin Godbee
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- September 20, 2022 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 523
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show. Not only is it the 523rd episode, it is also the 10th anniversary of the show! We never thought we’d go this long. Our featured interview tonight is with Professor Kelly Jolley. Kelly is a Professor at Auburn University in the areas of religion and philosophy. These are certainly contemplative areas, so it is quite fitting that he smokes a pipe as well. He has four books that you can check out on Amazon. In Pipe Parts, Brian will have Part I of a review of a quite large pipe collection. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- September 13, 2022 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 522
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 522! Our featured interview tonight is with pipe maker Jason Patrick. Jason is from the Chicago area, and he started making pipes in 2019. Some of his earliest memories are of his grandfather smoking a pipe. He started pipe smoking in his early 20’s, and soon decided that he wanted to make them. He started with standard shapes, and then branched out into Danish-style freehand designs. He likes to listen to our show while kayaking. In Pipe Parts, we will have an Ask the Tobacco Blender segment with Jeremy Reeves. Jeremy is the Head Blender at Cornell & Diehl, which is one of the most popular boutique pipe tobacco companies in the USA. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- September 9, 2022 The Good Old Days?
It’s no secret that I love old pipes. Like a well broken-in pair of jeans, there’s something they bring with them that makes them sort of special. They carry an unspoken history with them; the places they’ve been, the tobaccos they’ve seen. Sometimes, this history is evidenced by the knocks and dings they show, or the aromas and tastes of tobaccos long since forgotten. Depending on how poorly it’s been treated, this can make an old pipe rather less than desirable, but a well cared for briar from eras past can be, or can become, a cherished favorite. Some collectors I’ve spoken with have insisted that old pipes are better than new ones. How often have we heard, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to?” There may be some validity to this, but I’m not convinced this sort of universal statement is true, or even necessarily a positive one. Let’s look a little closer, first at pipes of olde, and see if we can make some informed speculations. At the zenith of the pipe’s history, at least with respect to popularity, pipes were made and sold by the millions. Manufacturers across all quality levels procured briar by the ton, not by the piece, and the best makers performed whatever magic they felt appropriate to ensure a good smoking result, always with an eye towards differentiating their pipes from those of their competitors. Some air dried their briar for long periods, others force-dried their briar more quickly in klins. The final processes of sorting, grading and finishing was sometimes a closely guarded secret amongst makers, with only the finest pieces finding their way down the line to being sold as top grade pipes. Additionally, various techniques were often employed after the pipe was machined, such as Dunhill’s famous “oil curing,” used as part of the finishing process for their legendary “Shell” sandblasts. Sasieni was said to “oven-cure” turned bowls, subjecting them to tortuous heat over a prolonged period; those that survived the ordeal were reputed to be very dry smokers. Of the more budget friendly brands, the Dr. Grabow “pre-smoked” pipe, employed what is likely the most dramatic “curing” method. Using a technique developed by Louis B. Linkman in 1933, finished pipes were filled with tobacco, smoked gently to the bottom by his Automated Smoking Machine, the process repeated several times. This was, if nothing else, a stroke of marketing genius. Inexpensive as they were, the briar used to make Dr. Grabows was arguably not especially consistent or well cured, which would result in at least some pipes tasting bad out of the gate. The smoking machine could mitigate the potential harshness of those early bowls without suffering the torment a human smoker would, allowing lesser quality briar to be made into acceptably good smoking pipes. One thing is certain. Of the millions of pipes made each of those golden years, some were certainly exquisite, many were likely dreadful, and the majority fell somewhere in between these extremes. Pipes then, especially those in lower price categories, were seen as tools, simple items to buy, use, and occasionally discard. It’s probable that the worst of them simply never survived to share their horror with us today. Even if a pipe was good and smoked heavily, it would eventually reach the end of its useful life, either through just being “smoked out,” or suffering a broken tenon or bitten through stem or other misfortune, and find itself cast aside. Only “special” pipes, the favorites, the best of the best, would be lavished with sufficient care to allow them to survive the decades in relatively good nick. So, when we find old pipes, at least those from the makers with good reputations, they are more likely to be accidentally curated specimens rather than overall representative examples. If we add to the equation the fact that old pipes, again, if well cared for, have already been thoroughly broken in, we are likely to find some true gems amongst the antiquities. So, are old pipes really “better?” What about today’s low volume pipe makers who operate in a rather different environment? Because today’s demand for briar is significantly lower, suppliers can be more careful in choosing and cutting burls. They’ll cut blocks to maximize their quality, or at least their grain consistency, rather than to achieve the burl’s greatest yield. Too, they can spend more time ensuring that the wood they sell is carefully boiled and dried sufficiently to deliver consistently good smoking. The pipe maker can then do whatever is in their bag of tricks to further increase the probability that the pipe they make is an exceptional one, lavishing great care on all the subtle details of its creation. Additionally, with today’s ease of information exchange, and perhaps somewhat less of a tendency towards competition, a lot of experimentation has been performed and shared, along with some pretty detailed analysis of what has worked in the past, and what may not have. The result is that more is probably known today than ever before about what makes a great pipe, and what doesn’t, which certainly benefits us as pipe smokers. In terms of artistry, witnessing the exploration some makers have taken in creating new shapes and forms can be a remarkable adventure in its own right. And, there are more choices to be found for interesting stem materials, including improved vulcanite that is less resistant to oxidation than much of what was available in the past, and custom-cast acrylic that presents the smoker with more choices of color and style than ever before. Though probably not universally true, even amongst “high volume” manufacturers, today’s lower demand can result in greater care in briar selection, with advances in technology arguably creating increased consistency in construction. There are many factory pipes at affordable prices that rival the best the past had to offer. I’ve got a lot of beautiful old pieces in my collection that are brilliant smokers, including the one I’m puffing […]
- September 6, 2022 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 521
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 521! On tonight’s show we have a new episode of an ongoing segment of what Brian likes to call “Inside Fred’s Head” with Fred Hanna. Fred is a well-known pipe collector, author, and speaker at pipe shows. He has a PhD. in psychology and teaches the same at the Chicago Campus at Adler University. He is also author of the book, “The Perfect Smoke”. This is the 11th in the series with a long form discussion of pipe and tobacco questions sent in by our listeners. In the opening “Pipe Parts” segment, Brian will get caught up on some of the longer answers from questions mailed in. Many of these are great tips for newbies, and a good refresher for the rest of us. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- September 2, 2022 Davidoff Flake Medallions Review
Looking for that 4-leaf-clover The late summer weather has been a glorious oven to bask in, for those of us who enjoy the heat. It’s led me to spend quite a bit of time in concerted pursuit of quality lollygagging in the local park to enjoy my tobaccos, for one thing. Having focused so much on old tobaccos lately, it seemed like a good time to switch up the menu with a recent production tin of Davidoff Flake Medallions. An afternoon found me puffing idly in a field of grass, killing time without injuring eternity, pondering what makes this pursuit of flavors such an always-new endeavor. As any good chef knows, you eat with your eyes first. Presentation begins before we even get to the tobacco, whether we admit it to ourselves or not—the name, tin art, and reputation of a blend all begin to shape opinion well before the flame touches the leaf. Davidoff’s offerings, while not extensive, represent a solid range of tobaccos for the pipe smoker, in the vein of the erstwhile luxury brands Dunhill and Nat Sherman. Perhaps more well known for their cigar bands, their quality and consistency positions them as a well-regarded marque in pipes, pipe tobaccos, and cigarettes as well. That said, the presentation here begins with the tin, a regal label in crimson with gold filigree lettering—simple, straightforward, and très classy. Opening the tin releases a fresh bouquet of rich sweet dried plum, dry grassy summer hay, moist fig, and hints of sweet chocolate, with light leathery and woody undertones. After some time airing out to settle, the earthy and woody range of aromas dominate, though still with the hints of sweetness around the edges. The coins themselves are gorgeous and uniform, with the brindle of lemon-yellow to dark mahogany leaf surrounding the core of ebony Cavendish. So far, everything about the presentation speaks of care and craftsmanship in the process; whether it’s called curly cut, spun cut, roll cut, or rope, this particular style of tobacco is also one of the most expensive and time consuming to produce, and Flake Medallions certainly represents well here on all points. While there are a few other fairly well-known takes on the coin cut presentation, we’ll steer clear of direct comparisons here. My preferred preparation is to rub out a couple coins rather than folding and stuffing, though I will admit to occasionally enjoying placing the Cavendish centers strategically in the middle and top third of the bowl. From the light to the heel, the blend smokes cool, smooth, and steady, with few relights and not a hint of bite, even from this fresh tin. The balance of the tobaccos here is exquisite. The Virginia base is solid and well-tamed, Perique is restrained to a supporting role as a condimental spice, and the Cavendish balances the two, rounding it all out and adding depth and sweetness to the structure. This is definitely on the (mildly) spicy and savory end of the VaPer spectrum, with just a bit of tang at the top of the bowl which, upon reaching the heel, has transformed into a well-measured umami, with a great mouthfeel and excellent aftertaste. To confirm my initial impressions, I spent some time in the kitchen matching up the aromas to the flavors represented. The primary aromas and flavors of fig are spot on, and decidedly on the side of black Mission figs; the tempered sweetness here is more honey than the Mediterranean varieties (which tend more toward a floral or fruity bent), while still structured around a very earthy vegetal profile. Whichever preparation was used, bowl after bowl found a varying cadence that also drew out the familiar raisin / plum / date / prune notes, drying hay, toasted bread, brewer’s yeast, fresh cut oak, and turned earth in the secondary and tertiary aromas. The sidestream smoke, which was commented on from a passerby as being “rustic”, is generally mild and lightly touches all of the aromas well, making it a not unpleasant experience for the bystander. Also evidenced bowl after bowl was the satisfying flat-cola aftertaste it leaves, like a memory of sweetness. Overall the blend is superb, and I could kick myself for not having dozens of tins already socked away in the cellar.Again, there are more than a few representative entries in this style of blend, and for my money Davidoff Flake Medallions certainly deserves its own particular niche within the field. What strikes me most about the blend is the balance that it achieves, which sets the flavor slightly apart from any of its direct competitors. Mild on the nicotine, mild to medium on the side smoke, and remarkable consistency and refinement in the smoking itself. With a reasonable price point it’s worthy of the all-day smoke category, while the presentation makes for a classy choice when out on the town or for special occasions. It has certainly found a place in my cellaring list. Speaking of coin cut tobaccos, special occasions, and summertime…. I picked up my tin of Flake Medallions on the way to the most recent New York Pipe Club meeting. I’d been missing in action from the club for a few years; work became a bit all-consuming to the detriment of social activities for a while, followed by a couple years of relocation far afield. Enjoying this blend at the meeting got me thinking about what to bring to our upcoming annual picnic at the end of the month; it had to be something that was as refined, classy, and memorable. Unfortunately I didn’t have any well-aged tins of Flake Medallions to bring, so I went with the next-best thing: a cutter-top tin of Escudo from the 1950s. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a little disappointed at first. The tin had lost its integrity sometime in the last five years and as many moves, to my eternal regret. Fortunately it was at least kept with other tobaccos in sealed plastic bins, so […]
- September 1, 2022 Truer than True, a Thing or Two
Call me an Anglophile. That’s okay. I become all misty-eyed when I think of the British Isles. Now, don’t get Pundit wrong, I’ve visited France and Germany and enjoyed tripping about in these destinations as well, especially Paris. We will always have Paris, kid! But when I consider the pipe community connections to Great Britain, as well as family ancestry, it just puts a lump in the throat. And our pipe history, of course, has consequential connections to the Indigenous people of America. Tobacco was in use by Native Americans ages before Europeans discovered the luscious leaf. Here are a couple of links you can check out to bone up on your pipe smoking history. Just sayin’. https://www.fumerchic.com/en/content/17-the-origins-of-the-smoking-pipe https://www.tobaccopipes.com/blog/tobacco-pipes-history-looking-back/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipe_smoking#History The European influence, as well as the Native American tobacco history, has huge meaning for us today. Native Americans were smoking tobacco leaf eons before our European brethren found out about the pleasures of pipe tobacco puffing. And then there is our link to the Revolutionary War era when farmers planted tobacco and puffed away in inns and taverns. Our relations, both personal and global, with Europe, however, serve us so well today. Just think of our many hand-carved pipe purchases or else manufactured in Europe, giving us some of the finest smoking instruments on the planet. What has me thinking about my pipe collection is that 99.9 percent were crafted by European artisans. Not to say that I ignored our fabulous American pipe makers. Indeed, some of my finer smokers are American-made. Now, before you run screaming out the door, let Pundit explain a bit. I am enamored of Sir Winston Churchill, the famous cigar smoker, and an occasional pipe puffer. I’ve mentioned my fascination with the man who “took the English language” to war in WWII in this space many times. But other influential Europeans have also guided my pipe buying decisions, such as authors C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, the ground-breaking philosopher, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, of course, and the list could continue into the night, if you get the Pundit’s drift. Not to be overlooked, of course, is the ultimate pipe-smoking maestro of the written word, Mark Twain, who consumed cigars and pipe tobacco in massive quantities and wrote some of the finest fiction and non-fiction in our literary history. If you’ve never visited the Twain home in Hannibal, Mo., then that is a shrine you need to put on your bucket list. The Pundit wanted to move to Hannibal after a visit. Let’s not forget the Southern iconic author William Faulkner who loved his Dunhill 965 tobacco and Prince Albert when he depleted his 965 stash. And of course, the Pundit has visited Faulkner’s idyllic farm home near Oxford, Miss. Took the requisite tour and was astounded to see the Nobelist author’s tweed coat hanging on a hook in a hallway. A docent told me they found a pipe and a can of Prince Albert in the coat and left it hidden in the pocket. You know the Pundit asked to search the pocket, but the docent turned a cautious eye toward me and shook his head in a vigorous, unmistakable, and resounding, “no!” So, where is all this leading? Glad you asked! Europe for the Pundit, who has visited many an American military cemetery in France, is special. Here lie American soldiers who gave up all for freedom. Plus there is nothing that quite matches a walk down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland. And then stopping off at Sandy Bell’s famous folk pub. The Pub, which is like a social club in Scotland (you pick your Pub early in life and mostly stay with it to the end), is just the place for a pipe, and ale or stronger, and a song. Traditional music from the United Kingdom, and Ireland, of course. But a wee dram or a pint or two will do ye. And, for goodness sakes, don’t attempt to drink it up with the pros. You lose every time. As living proof, I tried to learn the bodhran, an ancient Celtic drum that takes some bouncy rhythm thing in your bones to play well. All the while, clenching a new Peterson Pipe with some very strong leaf. Add too much Guinness Extra Stout and you will be hobbled like a Colorado cowboy lassoing a wild calf on the plain. Walking in the sunshine the other morn, with pipe firmly clamped, these thoughts began rummaging around in my pipe dreaming mind. You get the picture. But it is also fond to recall younger days, traveling, walking, and now today having to find sunny morns for pipe and footfalls. Pipes hold treasured memories and that is why the Pundit is in sort of a pensive mood. I’m going through the precious collection and wondering what to do. A nagging notion has invaded the Pundit’s thoughts. Perish the thought of selling some of the precious herd! But, what to do? I thought I would never reach a stage in life to think of such a thing as parting with a single pipe. I still have my first pipe, as well as my last purchase. The herd is well over 200 pipes today. In all these 45-plus years of smoking my beloved pipes, I have only traded one for a new pipe, which I regret to this day. I rummage through my pipes like you would a family photo album. You recall places and times, smiling faces, birthday events, weddings, births, vacations, and on and on. That’s the way it has become for me and my collection. Each pipe springs forth a memory long ago lost at a crossroads. Pundit may be pushed into parting with a few of his pipe treasures just to thin out the herd for future purchases, perhaps, or having to downsize in other areas of life, i.e. books, newspapers, magazines, do-dads, etc. Mayhaps pensive is too soft a word for my thoughts on this crossroads of time […]