How to describe the Chicago Pipe Show? A lot of different words come to mind: pipes, of course, but great times with friends, some that you never even knew before you arrived, wonderful conversation, and one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I was warned by Brad Pohlmann before I even attended the show that it would be Sunday night before I knew it. He was right, but after looking forward to the show for months, I enjoyed every moment of it and formed some memories that I know will last a lifetime, not to mention acquiring some really gorgeous "memorabilia".
Officially, the show is known as The 2012 Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show, but if everyone said that every time their talked about it, it would be too much of a mouthful, so it is lovingly known as the "Chicago Pipe Show". This year, just as in past years, it was held at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL, a little less than an hour from Chicago proper. The show itself took place on Saturday, May 5th, and Sunday, May 6th; there were however, plenty of fantastic events going on for a lot of the week beforehand!
Before getting into the show itself, I have to give credit for their choice of locale. The Pheasant Run Resort is a great place to stay and an even better choice for a pipe show. Not only is the resort itself beautiful, equipped with both an indoor and outdoor pool, a golf course, and a fully-functioning spa, but the accommodations that they made to support us pipe smokers were really outstanding. I’m really glad that such a fantastic show has the support of the community that benefits from it.
I arrived at the resort late Thursday night, which, despite the fact that the show did not officially start until two days later, made me one of the late ones. As soon as we arrived—my girlfriend, Lauren, was kind enough to come to the show with me—we checked in, dropped our things off in our beautiful room, and set out to discover where the smoking tent was. I had been getting phone calls for the last hour from Dustin Babitzke, Nick Miller, and Adam Davidson wondering what was taking me so long, so I knew I shouldn’t delay.
By the time I got there, it was after eleven in the evening and I expected the place to be deserted: O, ye of little faith! At my estimate, I would say there were still over sixty people in the tent, some smoking cigars, most smoking pipes, but everyone was smiling. That night I was able to meet people whose work I had long admired, like Michail Revyagin, Alex Florov, Adam Remington, Steve Morrisette, and Brad Pohlmann.
As soon as I sat down next to Dustin B., I was hauled up from the table by Adam Davidson, literally by my ponytail, as he took me around the tent introducing me to more people and showing me a plethora of beautiful pipes, contained in metal cases, which made me feel like I should be delivering the pipes to some country’s ambassador through the cover of darkness. I ended up spending the rest of Thursday evening in the smoking tent with Lauren, Nick Miller, Steve Morrisette, Adam Remington, and John Crosby, and a number of others, sharing laughs, drinks, and pipes.
Friday morning is the unofficial start of the Chicago Pipe Show. From 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM that day is what was previously known as the "Pre-Show", but is now called the Smoke and Swap. Let me tell you, there was a lot of both going on in the smoking tent that morning!
The way the Smoke and Swap worked this year was that anyone, even if you were not an official vendor, could sign up for use of a half-table to show your wares, make and receive offers, and trade. From what I saw, there was a lot of buying going on during the Smoke and Swap, as there had been the previous evening. By the time I got down to the tent, which was just half-an-hour after all the fun had started, Steve Liskey already had two pipes with a SOLD sign below them. "People saw the bamboo and just went crazy," he told me. After seeing the bamboo myself, I can’t say that I blame them.
Adam Remington’s table was right next to Steve’s, with Bruce Weaver’s right next to Adam’s. With the three of these incredibly talented and fun guys in such close proximity, it was difficult to drag myself anywhere else in the tent. I did, though, and I saw a lot of great pipes for sale and met a lot of class acts. One group of people that I ran into was the Order of Collegiate Pipe Smokers, a group of younger guys all with matching t-shirts and a common interest in pipes. It did my heart proud.
Also that evening, the Chicago Pipe Show had a first ever occurrence: a wedding. The beautiful wedding ceremony brought together Seattle Pipe Club member Tom Wolfe and his lovely bride, Lennea. I know everyone at the show and everyone reading this now wishes them both continued happiness (and many more pipe shows)!
After getting cleaned up that evening, it was time to head down to the Welcome Buffet Dinner, a seven-course dinner topped off with a complementary tin of Sutliff Private Stock. There were a couple brief welcome speeches, shortly after which our table was joined by five gentlemen from Sweden, including Martin Vollmer and Anders Nilsson.
After dinner and some bottles of a nice red wine, we headed over to the smoking tent to listen to a talk given by none-other than Kevin Godbee, the man behind this very magazine. Jokingly, but very accurately, he said that he initially thought about titling his speech, "Ask not what the pipe hobby can do for you, ask what you can do for the pipe hobby". Kevin discussed, in-depth, the state of the pipe hobby today, including the resurgence of the younger pipe smoker, and the legislative challenges that it faces with RYO cigarette tobacco, the FDA and flavoring issues. Mr. Godbee also discussed what we as pipe smokers can do to help our beloved hobby flourish and survive for generations to come.
After testing out the blends for this year’s John Cotton Throwdown, of which there is separate coverage, and having a deep discussion with Martin Vollmer over gin and tonic, it was around one in the morning and time to get some rest for what I expected would be a very full day.
I was right.
There was so much going on at the show that it is difficult to convey through just words and pictures. The energy that took place in the Mega Center was palpable; the sounds of excitement were everywhere. Even making it down into the Mega Center early, as I was helping Dustin set up his incredible collection of blowfish pipes, it was still difficult to get everywhere and see everything. As Kevin has specifically instructed me to be brief, no easy task for me, especially when describing such a mind-bogglingly incredible event, I will do my best to describe a select few exhibitors present at the 2012 Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show.
Right when you walk through the door of the Mega Center, you are greeted by four glass cases filled with pipes. Above each one is a sign reading, "Education Display", followed by the name of the collector responsible for amassing such an amazing agglomeration.
Two of the cases were devoted to Bobby Eichorn’s collection of Charatan pipes, which contained a variety that was a true pleasure to behold. Sadly, I was unable to speak to him, as he was constantly surrounded by such a flock of admirers that Gene Simmons would have been envious.
On the other side of the aisle were two collections: the first was entirely devoted to the bulldog and rhodesian shapes. When I spoke to Paige Simms, the gentleman who had spent so much time collecting one of my favorite shapes, he pulled out one of the pipes and said, "This is the one that started it all." It was a perfect Dunhill that had clearly been loved and appreciated for many years. "It really doesn’t get much better," he said.
The last collection was Dustin Babitzke’s aquarium of blowfish. While helping set up this display, I was able to see exactly what it takes to pull together a collection like his and like those belong to the other men: the variety of shape and size, the intricate details captured perfectly by different pipes, the way one pipe would complement another. It was truly a treat to see these collections up close.
Cornell & Diehl New Blend – Crooked Lane
At this year’s show, Cornell and Diehl officially introduced Crooked Lane to the world, a tobacco that sung beautifully in my Rubens Rhodesian and did everything a good English should do. According to the tin, "Cornell and Diehl harkens back to Old London with Crooked Lane, a rich and full English blend of Virginias, Latakia, a dose of Oriental and a whisper of Perique. We like to think something similar was a favorite of the artisans who for centuries have made Crooked Lane a world-wide destination for their fishing gear and bird cages. Fill your bowl and join us for a stroll!" A walk down a London market place with this in my pipe sounds like heaven.
Also officially introduced at the show, though some of you might have gotten your mitts on it beforehand, was G.L. Pease’s Sextant. You can read the pre-release teaser for Sextant here, but Mr. Pease himself describes the new blend as something that "defies categorization somewhat. While it has many similarities to a conventional, traditional mixture, the infusion of dark rum, and the addition of fire-cured Kentucky, especially when combined with the pressing and fermentation that occurs as a result, give it a unique sweetness and aroma." [Source:http://glpease.com/Tobacco/OldLondon/ – follow the link for more info.]
Hailing all the way from Rozzano, a municipality in the Province of Milan in the Italian region of Lombardy, is Neat Pipes, the brain-child of Luca Di Piazza. Along with displaying a phenomenal collection of pipes, from carvers all around the world, the table also featured Luciano Pipes, another creation of Luca’s. The display was lovely and it was really a pleasure to see so many people dedicated to the pipe from around the world in one place at one time.
Lee Von Erck – Von Erck Pipes
I also got the chance to talk with Lee while at the Chicago Pipe Show, though it took me a little hunting to find him; he always seemed to be off somewhere, shaking hands and sharing a laugh.
Being a pipe smoker himself for over fifty years, Lee knows exactly what a pipe smoker is looking for in a pipe and aims to deliver every time. He told me that he now makes around a hundred pipes a year, mostly because his oil curing and blasting process are both extremely time consuming. "It takes a long time," Lee said, "I could do a lot more pipes if I used a simpler blasting technique. But just look at it." Lee gestures towards one of the few remaining pipes on his table. "It’s worth it."
I couldn’t help but agree with him. Lee also told me that he is now closely working with Tsuge pipes on a collaborative project, for which he provides his oil curing and shaping expertise. Of the over a dozen pipes he brought with him to the show, all but a couple were gone by Sunday morning. Lee told me that he had even sold one pipe that had not been finished yet.
A presence very difficult to miss at almost any pipe show is the SmokingPipes.com table. This year, as in years past, they came out with a sizeable staff that was both knowledgeable and helpful. staff, including Tony Saintiague who came back just to help with the show and share his passion. [Editor’s note: Tony is "Vice Chairman, VP Emeritus" at SPC. He left daily operations to pursue his studies"]. Master Pipe carver Hiroyuki Tokutomi was at the table, as well, along with fellow master Kei-ichi Gotoh. Through the help of a translator, I was able speak with both of these men and, with Tokutomi’s assistance, found a pipe of his the perfect size for Lauren to enjoy: a beautiful, black, sandblasted pipe with a bamboo stem that weighs about as much as a feather.
PipesAndCigars was represented by the owner of the company, Scott Bendett, E-Commerce Manager, Bob Gates and other staff. Russ Ouellette was unable to attend the show due to illness, but a huge free sampling of his plethora of delicious Hearth & Home tobacco blends were available for smoking. They told me that the new Cerberus blend (that came out for International Pipe Smoking Day) was so popular that it sold out, but will soon be back in stock. The new New York Pipe Club Tobacco Blends were also being sampled, and a very impressive brand new print catalog was being handed out.
Maxim Engel – Pipes2Smoke.com
With a name like Pipes2Smoke, it’s pretty easy to figure what Maxim Engel is selling, but when I saw the pipes he brought with them, all I could do was stare. Clearly noticing my drool, Maxim approached me with a smile and took the time out of his clearly busy routine to talk pipes and ask me which ones I liked in particular. It was honestly hard for me to pick one and luckily I didn’t have to, as I would have just politely asked to be able to take them all home with me for a little test.
Mac Baren Tobacco Co.
Following in their recent tradition of releasing a new blend at the Chicago Pipe Show, Mac Baren Tobacco introduced HH Old Dark Fired. Much like everything this company releases, Old Dark Fired has been highly anticipated and will surely be just as appreciated. After snagging one of the first tins of this new blend, I got a chance to look at the back label: A bold flake of dark-fired burleys in a well balanced unity with Flue-cured Virginias. This flake is Hot Pressed, meaning that during the pressing, heat is added by steam to the tobaccos which causes the tobacco to intensify the marrying process giving us a bolder tobacco. The robust, earthly flavour of the dark-fired burleys shines through in the taste, and you will experience a deeply satisfying smoke indeed.
One of the most fascinating parts about this tobacco that will be sure to confuse a lot of American pipe smokers is that, despite the fact that HH Old Dark Fired contains zero Latakia, Mac Baren still considers it an English because of the method used in its production, specifically the steam press. According to Per Jensen, Mac Baren Product Manager, the steam press makes it so that the "tobaccos marry faster and in a completely different way than what we normally produce. In short, they alter the taste. This blend is a heavy/strong tobacco with a lot of vitamin N."
The 2012 Chicago Show was a stupendous, exhilarating, and unbelievably fun time. Leaving was a downer, but I am already looking forward to the next pipe show and next year in Chicago.
Photos by Ethan Brandt and Kevin Godbee
Ethan Brandt is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in Religious Studies and English with a Pre-Law focus. He picked up his first pipe his Freshman year in college and never looked back. Recently, he has start up a pipe-focused blog called Pipe School.