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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
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 Smokingpipes.com 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:
Doctor of Pipes
Tom Eltang (not in attendance)
Scott ThileMaster of Pipes
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.
Master of Pipes , Certified Salesforce Tobacconist #2145 from tobacconistuniversity.org , President of the Austin Pipe Club, and Author at Pipesmagazine, James is also the owner of thepipetool.com. James has written numerous articles on the industry and interviewed some of the greats over the years.
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 576. Our featured interview tonight is with pipe maker Jesse Kulp. Jesse makes the Oliphant brand of pipes. He’s been a pipe smoker since he turned 18 in 2001. He started carving pipes in 2014 and started restoring estate pipes in 2016. He resides in the state of Wisconsin. When he is not making pipes, or smoking pipes, he is smoking meat. At the top of the show we will have a Pipe Smoking 101 segment where Brian will review the pipe tamper.
Recently, on the Pipes Magazine Forums, a user asked an open question about the Rattray’s Grand Lighter. I had not used or spent much time looking into those, so I thought it would be a good time to pick one up and do a review of it. When I do my lighter reviews, I generally like to do some deep digging and get in touch with the manufacturers such as IM Corona (Old Boy) or Tsutobo (Peterson, Kiribi), but in this case, there is scarce information available. Rattrays is distributed in the US by Sutliff, and you’ll find their lighters on SmokingPipes.com and other great retailers. I pinged Jeremy over at Sutliff to help me get in touch with the folks at Rattrays/Kopp and he got me connected to Oliver Kopp who was able to answer a few of my more detailed questions. The lighter that I chose to review is the Rattray’s Grand “Squares” lighter, which features a square line design on a highly polished stainless steel lighter. The Grand lighter was introduced about three years ago, and the Bel lighter was released about five years ago for context. It features a 45-degree soft flame, which helps (but not completely) keep build-up off the striker wheel – a problem that seems to plague my other lighters. These lighters fall square in the same competitive market of the Old Boy and the Kiribi, with a retail price of around $105 to $120. Some of their other lighters, like the Bel, retail for slightly less, around $82. Unboxing, you can see a few provided flints, which, upon inspection, are very similar to zippo flints if you’re looking for future replacements. The box contains instructions and warranty information and has silver foil inlaid text and decoration. Rattray’s states that their lighters are designed by them in Germany. But until I received it, I had no idea where it was actually made—China. That said, Oliver tells me that the Bel lighter is the same lighter used for Pierre Cardin and that the manufacturer they chose to go with also manufactures the Dupont Jet lighters. On the bottom of the lighter is a flip-up cover with Rattray’s name etched into it, which protects the refill valve and adjustment screws. The cover, though, you can see by the pictures, is less finished and does not quite feel as quality as one would expect for a $100+ lighter. But I do appreciate the cover. Zooming in, you can see the butane nozzle is angled out to the left from the spark wheel. The top flint section slides back on a spring load, but I warn you the tiny mechanism on the side is a bit of a pain to release the catch holding it back. But this feature is unique in that you can visually always see how much of the flint is left for when you have to replace it. That’s right, there’s no need to unscrew something; just slide the bar back, it locks into place, and then drop the new flint in. You need to put your fingernail between the thumbslide and the tiny metal catch, and the thumbslide will slide back into place. If you don’t do this, the top will not close. You can also see in this picture where the flame hits the metal area, which can be wiped away, but it’s due to the shorter nozzle. The lighter features a long “ignition” wheel, which is great for guys with big thumbs. It rotates quite easily and sparks well. I find that the lighter is taller than many other lighters and a bit slimmer at 2.76 in. / 70.21 mm in height and 0.39 in. / 10.07 mm in width. It weighs about 2.6 oz or 73ish grams. On the front-facing side it has the Rattray’s logo on the bottom right corner. It produces a nice soft flame that works like a champ to light your favorite tobacco. The internal tank is a plastic tank, but this is very common in many new lighters manufactured today. Before Rattrays introduces a new lighter, they actually send it (the prototype) to the repair shop that they use for all warranty services to review the lighter and make sure that it’s of high quality. Oliver tells me the return/repair rate for all of their lighters is low, and that is also because they concentrate on flint-style lighters as they are considerably more reliable than the electro-jet flames. The official repair center for these lighters is located here. Vintage Styling Now let’s talk about inspiration because the first thing one of my pipe club members said when I showed him the lighter was, “Wow, that looks like a Dupont.” As mentioned earlier, it’s the same manufacturer that makes one of the lines for Dupont as well as Pierre Cardin, so you can assume some shared styling. Borrowing ideas for lighters is nothing new; the “Old Boy” was originally a Dunhill lighter style. But when thinking about styling, we also look at the name – Dupont has a lighter named “Le Grand.” The Le Grand features both a soft flame and a torch flame for use with pipes and cigars. Now, price-wise, an ST Dupont lighter will set you back $1,500 and is geared squarely toward the luxury gentlemen’s market. That said, S.T. Dupont lighters have been around since the 1940s and are as much of a jewelry piece as it is lighter. When flipping the cap of most of the Dupont lighters, you get this resonating “ping” sound that is synonymous with them, and unfortunately, the Rattray’s Grand does not emit that type of sound. Kirby Allison did a great review of many of the ST Dupont lighters here, and its quite possible you will see a review from me at some point covering the best Dupont lighters for pipes and including some buying tips on the used and new market. In Summary There are some pros and cons to […]
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 575. We have a special show tonight to celebrate the start of our 12th year. In lieu of an interview, Brian will be joined by another popular pipe podcast host – Jon David Cole. JD is the Owner/Tobacconist at The Country Squire in Jackson, MS, and he is the former co-host of the now discontinued podcast, Country Squire Radio. Country Squire Radio ran for 10-years and is still one of the most popular pipe-niche podcasts. Having these two pipe and tobacco brainiacs bouncing off of each other for over 45-minutes will be a blast. We will be preempting our usual first segment to start right off with JD. We will have the usual music, mailbag and rant at the end of the show.
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 574! Our featured interview tonight is with Michael DiCuccio. Michael is the President of TinBids.com, “The Pipe Collector’s Auction Site” where you can buy and sell vintage and rare tobacco tins, tobaccos, pipes and accessories. He has been collecting for over 30-years, and has a personal pipe collection of over 1,100 pipes. Michael also has his own IT company and is a self-proclaimed “computer geek”. At the top of the show we’ll get caught up on a backlog of emails and messages from our listeners with some great questions and comments. We will still have our regular mailbag segment at the end of the show as well.
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 573! Our featured interview tonight is with J.B. “Brandon” Frady. Brandon is a new pipe maker making the Ash Cooper line of pipes which just launched earlier this year. His pipes are freehand and artistic shapes and designs. He is also a freelance writer for any type of project, but has been published for music reviews, concert reviews, and a single anomalous video game review, and other writings in a couple dozen professional publications. His full time job is with State Farm Insurance. At the top of the show 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.
I’ve never owned a four-square billiard. I’ve had plenty of pipes with paneled sides, but this venerable classic has always eluded me. Truth told, I’d always considered it something of a remedial shape, a pipe to be made when a conventional billiard exhibited too many flaws, or when the lines went wrong. And, I considered them too “simple.” For as long as I’ve been smoking pipes, this quaint but cunning shape has held little interest. Then, something conspired to disabuse me of my prejudices all at once. One day, a few months ago, an Instagram friend taunted me with photos of a beautiful example of the shape that he’d just gotten. I was instantly smitten. Then he showed another. And another. As I looked at his photos, I saw things in the shape I’d never really noticed, sending me down the rabbit hole to look at hundreds of photos of as many examples I could find. It turns out it’s far from the simple shape I’d thought it to be, but rather one that’s clearly challenging to execute well. While it shares the overall profile and proportions of a conventional billiard, including the slight forward cant of the bowl, those panels have to be even, perfectly square, and, importantly, must not destroy the balance of the shape. If the bowl doesn’t have that very slight forward tilt, it looks like it’s falling backwards. Too much tilt, and it’s just weird. If the panels are cut too deeply, the walls could become too thin, and at its worst, it makes the thing look like a cube on a stick. The cut and gentle curvature of the four vertices are as important as the panels themselves. The shank, too, must be carefully and consistently square along its length, as must the taper of the stem. Though based on the classic billiard, it became clear looking at Frank’s pipes, and so many others, that if it’s going to be successfully executed, the pipe maker has to start out with the four-square in mind, rather than using the shape to “fix” a billiard gone wrong. As a bonus, the panels and facets exhibit the briar’s grain in a unique and interesting way. There’s also the practicality of the shape; the bowl has good capacity coupled with light weight. I had to have one, and so began my quest. A Dunhill EK would be nice, but finding one in good shape that wasn’t more than I was willing to spend turned out to be something of a fool’s errand. I went looking for a more modest example, maybe something French. After weeks of searching, I came across a “shop pipe” stamped for Garfinkel’s, an old Washington DC tobacconist that has always held deep significance to me. In the 1980s, a friend in our local pipe community introduced me to Garfinkel’s by way of their magnificent Orient Express #11 mixture. Produced for them by Sobranie, to this day I consider it the finest example of genre ever created. The balance of Virginias, orientals and Latakia were absolute perfection, resulting in a rich, complex and always fascinating tobacco. I started buying a pound of it every month, eight 2oz tins, until the tragic day when Larry Garfinkel called me to ask if he could send me two pounds that month. “Sure, Larry. Why?” It was his last two pounds. It was this tobacco that was the most significant inspiration on my own blending journey. I have no idea what magic was performed to make it so special, but it was, and it is. Garfinkel’s may be gone, but the memories linger. There were other spectacular blends in the Garfinkel’s catalogue, including a range made my Robert McConnell. The Olde Scottish Cut Cake #6 seen in the photos was another special one. In those days, I wasn’t much interested in Virginias, so I never explored them very deeply, but if I had, I would have squirreled away a lot more of this one, too. This is the last of only a few tins I’ve had over the years. And then there was Shottery, Armon, Ridgeway and Marlowe. I wish I had many tins of all of them. I digress. This Garfinkel’s four-square seemed perfect, a bit of serendipity, and it was made in France. I got the pipe for a good price, and waited for its arrival. When the package reached me, I tore into it quickly; my enthusiasm instantly collapsed when I got to the pipe itself. The pipe was covered with flaking and blistered shellac, and wore a bit of road rash from careless handling. The panels, while cut fairly evenly, were not flat, but comically concave. The top was badly scratched, and the stem was crusty, dull, and in need of serious restoration. Perhaps worse was the condition of the airway. Ironically, though the bowl had been reamed almost to bare wood, I don’t think the thing had ever seen a pipe cleaner, and it was tough work just to get a thin one through it. And, it wasn’t just the shank – even the stem was heavily caked with thick, tarry goop. The wretched stench, too, from ages of cheap aromatic tobacco was epic. But, there were no visible fills, the overall size, shape and proportions were good, and under the years of grunge, there might be some pretty nice wood hiding. Time to get to work. It took a lot of alcohol, and dozens of pipe cleaners to get the airway clean. The drilling through the shank was okay, but it was very tight through the stem, so a little blueprinting was in order, funneling the tenon, smoothing out the transitions, and opening things up to a more consistent cross section. The shellac had to go. Since the pipe was destined to be completely refinished, I sanded the whole pipe smooth, spending a little extra time on the scratched and chafed top and ensuring that the stem and shank were well mated. […]