Chicago Pipe Show 2023 Round Up

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Chicago Pipe Show 2023 Round Up

Would you believe that this year was my first year to ever attend a Chicago Pipe Show?  It was.  Most of the time, the Chicago show overlapped other conferences that I had to attend for my day job so I couldn’t fly out and buy pipes. So year after year, I gawked at pictures and wished I could be there.  This year though, I managed to make it out, which was a good thing, as you’ll see later.

This was the second year at the show’s new location, the Lincolnshire Marriot Resort, and as far as attendance went, it seemed like a success as there were many more people there this year than last.  The trip from the airport (O’Hare) is about a 20-minute taxi or Uber ride down the road.  Like previous shows, this show featured a climate-controlled smoking tent and not one, but two show floor rooms with tables galore.

Many of you have been to the show year after year, so you’re used to these show summation articles written by me and my fellow compadres.  So this year, I’ll focus on the new and interesting, and a slight slant on it since it was my first year attending.  And this year was a doozy as we had the first ever “Reality TV Style” Battle of the Briar, which was the brainchild of Jeff Gracik (J Alan Pipes) .

“The whole thing was Jeff’s brainchild.  When he first pitched it to me I thought he was crazy.  Turns out I was the one who was crazy!” – Steve Fallon

I circled with Jeff and asked him how he conceptualized this new program:

Jeff Gracik
Jeff Gracik

Jeff Gracik:

I’m sure many pipe makers have had a similar idea—essentially the Iron Chef or Forged in Fire but with pipe making. The problem is the equipment required to make it happen. Last year, I revamped and led the show’s pipe-making seminar. The show committee was receptive to the changes I wanted to make, and the reviews afterward were positive. It dawned on me that we had all the needed equipment, and I felt like I had a little extra confidence to propose the idea to the show committee after the seminar went so well. After pitching it and receiving very positive feedback, I worked with Tim Garrity (the president of the CPCC) and Allan Boyd (head of pipe-making events) to make it happen.

Everything fell into place as more people volunteered to support the event, with Steve Fallon generously offering to sponsor and co-host the Battle, Hasan Abid heading up the IT side, making sure that we could be heard and seen outside the room, Jeffthechef live-streaming the event on YouTube, and Adam and Nick from the GetPiped podcast filming everything for a documentary to be published in the future. It was a group effort that wouldn’t have been as successful without everyone pitching in to get us across the finish line.

Each of the pipe makers brought their A-games to the event and, despite the “pressure-cooker feel” imposed by the 60-minute time limit, made really, really good pipes. Everyone watching, whether in person or by video in the smoking tent, was on the edges of their seats as the clock ticked down and Scottie rushed to get her pipe turned in with one second to spare! It was a blast! I’m so proud of everyone involved for what we created together, and I am looking forward to doing it again next year.

Next, I chatted with the contestants Scottie Piersel, Jared Coles, and Tommaso “Tommi” Ascorti, asking them two questions –  what was the most interesting or fun thing, and what was the most challenging thing about doing this contest?

Jared Coles
The most interesting thing about the competition was that it existed at all! Pipe making isn’t one of those things where you can just throw down in the street. It takes a well-thought-out workshop, and to have three pipe makers together takes a VERY well-thought-out workshop. On top of that, it’s very rare that three pipe makers are in the same place at the same time, except at a pipe show. It also took a huge support staff to pull this off, Jeff Gracik and Steve Fallon, and all the rest of the guys from the Chicago pipe club.
Jared Coles
Jared Coles
Chicago is basically the only show where this can happen because they have the equipment for the pipe-making seminars. It’s such a cool idea, and despite the difficulties of organizing and executing, I feel like it came off really well. Everyone I talked to at the show was jazzed about it, and everyone seemed appreciative that I participated. I feel very honored to have competed, and I hope that it will be an ongoing thing.
Scottie, Jared, Tommi
The most difficult thing about the competition was balancing the quality of the pipe against the time. Technically it was a functional pipe at the very beginning, it had all the holes drilled, and it had a working stem. So the task of the pipe makers was to get an ATTRACTIVE, symmetrical pipe done in an hour. Normally I would spend more time really fine-tuning the shape, staining, etc. So I leaned in that direction, trying to execute the best shape while still finishing before the Bell. I’m amazed that all three of us completed a beautiful pipe in the time allotted: Tommy is a beast; he’s got incredible speed and is a helluva pipe maker. Scotty usually does her pipes on a lathe, and is more classic, but I was really impressed that she got out a very attractive pipe in a freehand environment. I had to leave the show a little early, but I left instructions for someone to bid on her pipe in the silent auction.

The most challenging thing for me was using those buffing wheels because I don’t buff that way. I never have. When I started out, I didn’t have a grinder. I didn’t have a buffing motor. So the only thing I had was a drill press. I didn’t even have a lathe. So I buffed on my drill press sideways, like holding the pipe up and down. I still do. So anytime I run across true buffing wheels, it like takes me a minute to adjust like it would almost be better if I did it, you know, bent over like that. So that was the most challenging part because I really thought since I’m not used to how that the pipe was gonna grab. Yes. You can do it with pencil shank. See how that works out for you. It’s scary. This is a deadly projectile. It’s useless, right? I was actually really kind of worried about that.

For the most fun, I’m a competition junkie and grew up playing sports; I love to compete. It does not matter what it is; I will throw down with anybody. I don’t care if I’m playing basketball with Lebron James and winning the game. Like that’s just my confidence. So competing against the guys was really fun, but being able to like glance over and see where they were at and where I was at, not free for not doing any freehand shaping. Because I really don’t; everything is drill first. You know, and I’m just basically shaping the bottom of the bowl. Everything else is done on the lathe to be able to keep up with those guys. That was nice to know that I have that ability.

The funniest thing was making a pipe in a Marriott Hotel. So, of course, it was funny and crazy and very nice. And I enjoy all the process, you know, staying in front of people. And I knew, I knew that there was a big screen in the tent so all the people outside could see all the situation and I think the feelings for the other people was nice.

The challenging part was working without my tools outside of my company. What I feel that I’m sorry, but my English is not so perfect. So I don’t know other words in English, but to use a blocks of Briar drilled by somebody else…  for me, it’s really important that I decide the shape, look at the briar and the grain, and I make the design, and then I drill and follow my lines. So using a block of briar with drilling by somebody else was a bit difficult for me.

But the hardest thing was, of course, the tools, the tools, and the sandpaper. I work in another way, you know, the lathe, but of course, we knew that before and I’m not so happy about the pipe I made because I want to do better and the case of my brand. I spent a lot of time on the details. So the sandpaper inside the bowl and the drill the mouthpiece and this and that so this is difficult for Pipe Maker. The time was not so long. I think that with my tools, one hour was more than enough, but in another place in another place and with other tools, one hour it’s very hard to make.

The results from The Battle of the Briar were:

1st Tommi Ascorti
2nd Jared Coles
3rd Scottie Piersel

The Joy of Aged Tobacco

Any seasoned pipe smoker knows that at a pipe show, the old tins will get popped.  This year I had the privilege to sample some amazing tobacco – one tin of which was not popped but cut open with a can opener.
Mcclelland No. 14 from 1979
This particular tin was from 1979.  What I didn’t know is until 1981 or ’82 the McClelland cans required a can opener.  You’d think I would know these things, but it just goes to show you that you can always learn new things at a pipe show.
Open Tin
Mixture No. 14 is a medium English blend with Latakia, Orientals, and Virgina.  I did not get the typical vinegar/catsup smell off of it – only subtle smokey plum and raisins.  I also had not had this blend before, so I don’t know if it had it in newer tins I’m sure someone will educate me though in the comment section. With this much age, it was very mellow but amazingly pleasant.  Many agreed on Tobacco Reviews that this specific blend needed to be cellared to be truly appreciated – I think 44 years did the trick.

UPCA National Slow Smoking Championship

The Annual National Slow Smoking Championship brought together many of the country’s best slow-smokers to challenge each other to see who will represent the US at the World Championships.  The pipes this year were made by Chacom and purchased by the UPCA. The contest blend was created by Quinn of the Country Squire.
Chacom Pipe
The contest pipe is a sandblast billiard (shape 342) made by Chacom with a brass military mount and an acrylic bit. It is stamped “UPCA Chicago 2023”.
Country Squire Contest Blend

The blend: The Country Squire designed a Virginia Burley mixture that offers a naturally sweet smoke with tasting notes that are bready, oaky, citrusy, vinegary, vegetal, and savory.

Components: Red Virginia, Burley, and Stoved Virginia

1st: Lester Young 1:06:40
2nd: John Warner 1:06:00
3rd: Allan Boyd 00:57:03
International Champion: Turker Sezgin 00:45:14
Women’s Champion: Tiara Thayer  00:33:20
Lester Young, US Champion
At the UPCA meeting the previous day the clubs discussed how we attend the International Pipe Smoking Championships, last year because we only sent one person representing the USA we did not have an actual “team” and sat with the UK.  This year the goal is to have 2 more Americans fly out with Lester to represent us as TEAM USA.   If you’re not already, please get involved with your local pipe clubs, and in turn, encourage them to help the UPCA so they can help in sending a full team.

Doctor of Pipes and Master of Pipes

Every Chicago Pipe Show, there are two awards given out for Doctor of Pipes and for Master of Pipes, awarded to those in the industry and hobby that exemplify the spirit of the pipe community.  The fellows over at did a great write-up about the program:

“Candidates must have at least 20 years in the hobby and demonstrated commitment to the advancement and support of pipe smoking. Current Doctors propose candidates by writing summaries of their achievements and submitting them for consideration to all of the living Doctors, who vote to determine the next Doctors. It is among the most prestigious awards that our community offers; if pipes were as mainstream as Hollywood, a Doctor of Pipes award would be equivalent to an Oscar.
Doctors of Pipes tend to be older folks because of the requirement that decades of commitment be demonstrated, and in 2017, a new classification was launched to recognize and encourage younger enthusiasts who have been doing great work. In keeping with the academic theme, this award is named the Master of Pipes. Nominations require that candidates be no older than 45 and have demonstrated at least 10 years of dedication to the pipe community.”
This year we congratulate the following inductions:
Award Winners L-R: Nate King, James Foster, Scott Thile
Doctor of Pipes
Tom Eltang (not in attendance)
Scott ThileMaster of Pipes
Nate King
James Foster

Interesting Tid-Bits

It wouldn’t be a pipe show without some interesting product releases and announcements.  It looks like we can expect a collaboration with Peterson and LJ Peretti with multiple-shaped pipes, a silver band, and a unique stain that will only be available at LJ Peretti.

Sutliff has a series of new blends coming out in 2023-2024 paired with challenge coins and an adventure. They had samples available at the show, and like many of their pressed tobacco, it was awesome.  Pipe Force series is a series of tobacco that celebrates pipe smoking by showing innovation isn’t just a thing of the past, there are still “frontiers” to explore.  The first batch will be available on July 7th 2023, with Episode I “Maj O’Mera” a latakia-forward English mixture with fire-cured leaf harmonized with stoved rustica.  Katerini, the sole Oriental component, offers herb and spice notes bringing complexity and nuance to the flavor profile.

Episode I:  Maj O’Mera: 1-17-24
Episode II: Sergeant Kimble: 3-13-24
Episode III: Lieutenant General Marshall: 5-15-24
Episode IV: First Sergeant Deckard: 7-12-23
Episode V: Captain Ryan: 9-13-23
Episode VI: Specialist Falfa:11-25-23
Summing it all up, it was a great show filled with an action-packed agenda, so much so that I couldn’t even make it to all the talks and events.   As long as the show made its goal of fundraising, we can look forward to a great show next year.  Remember gang, these events are expensive and require large outlays of cash from pipe clubs, sponsors, and vendors to make them a success.
Many thanks to Craig Hairrell for sharing his photos for this article.
Here are several additional photos from the Chicago Pipe Show 2023.

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1 Response

  • Congratulations James on your new title. Or, should I say Dr. Jim?
    Love the show pictures as well!