Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 504! We have a special format for tonight’s show. We will have Brian moderating two well-known pipe artisans asking each other questions and discussing pipe making. This is the final episode in a three part series with Jeff Gracik, and Jody Davis. Jeff makes J. Alan Pipes and is an expert, artisan pipe maker for nearly 20-years. Jody is a renowned pipe artisan, and the lead guitar player for the Grammy-nominated Christian rock band, The Newsboys. The guys will take up the entire show except for the mailbag at the end, and REALLY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT! Be sure to listen to the entire show. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
The late Bill Unger, long-time secretary/treasurer of the North American Society of Pipe Collectors and editor of the Pipe Collector newsletter, was often quoted as saying, “If you have one pipe, you’re a pipe smoker. If you have two pipes, you’re a collector.” The question of what makes an aggregate of pipes an actual “collection” is something that I’ve often struggled with, and every attempt to pin things down has found me in the weeds. Collectors of most objets d’art tend to have some sort of focus, and to take the stance that my focus is on “pipes” has always felt a bit like a cheap way out. I have friends who collect a certain shape, or a certain maker’s work, or pipes from a specific country or era. One specializes in straight grain, always seeking the next incremental step towards perfection, while never accumulating too many pieces. I, on the other hand, have never been a specialist, but the term generalist doesn’t adequately describe my proclivity either. Over the years, as my tastes have changed and evolved, I’ve chased many different styles of pipe, resulting in an embarrassingly large gathering of briars that range from the most traditional to the frankly weird. Is it really a “collection” when the only thing that ties its elements together is not a thread but a mooring rope? Once, I was most interested in bulldogs, especially the squat bowl variant. One of my first good pipes was a GBD in this shape; so early along my collecting journey, I didn’t even know what the shape was called, but I was attracted by its almost UFO-like styling – I just found the shape engaging, Learning more about classic shapes, I began to look at other bulldog variants, and found myself gravitating towards the bent versions, especially rhodesians, with their round shanks, squat, voluptuous bulldog-esque bowls, and that wonderfully comfortable half-bend. I gathered quite a few of them, ranging in size from small to quite large, and thought I’d found my niche. Of course, this wouldn’t last forever, and soon other shapes caught my attention. The prince, long and elegant, with its wider bowl and gentle curve seemed like maybe it was the perfect shape. Its slender shank and long stem result in a light pipe that keeps the smoke out of your eyes. I’ve also often posited that there is no better “pointing pipe” than the prince. Then came the lovats. Their compact shape, short saddle mouthpieces and capacious bowls seemed to be my ideal. And, speaking of compact shapes, the little “brucianaso,” exemplified by the Castello #10, was so appealing, I found myself chasing them at a time when they were exceedingly rare. The billiard, at one time, seemed sort of boring to me, but it is such a classic shape, and when cut really nicely, has its own beauty and charm. Now, I have quite a few of them. And there are the apples, with their thick, curvaceous bowls that feel so good in the hand. And the Castello #55 pot, one of Carlo Scotti’s personal faves. Get the picture? Like a butterfly, I have always flitted from shape to shape, extracting the nectar of whatever form appealed to me at the moment before moving on to the next flower. But it was always the more classic shapes, the pipes from England, France, and to a degree, those from Italy that held my interest. Then, in the late 1990s, something changed, and I became attracted to some of the Danish styles, not so much the wild “freehand” shapes, but the modernist interpretations of classic pipe forms that came from the minds and hands of the early masters. The direction of Danish pipe making was born out of a functionalist design aesthetic, where minimalism and function, elegance and nuance held priority over the ornate. These makers took familiar forms and rendered them with sleeker lines, softer curves, and a more minimalist approach. Some were additionally inspired by nature, bringing new words to the vocabulary of pipe shapes. I was intrigued, and as more of these shapes found their way into my group, they scribbled another page of an increasingly disorganized book. They didn’t displace my beloved classics, but expanded my appreciation in yet another direction. Oh, and those crazy freehands? What can I say; some of those shapes are so wildly conceived, how could I ignore them? The butterfly finds flowers wherever they are. Mostly, I’ve just accepted, or ignored my rather mercurial tastes, but once in a while, something happens to bring my “strategy” into question. The other day, I was enticed by a beautiful piece by American maker Ryan Alden. I’ve known Ryan for years, and have bought a couple of his pieces, but this pipe lived outside of his norm, and mine. I had to have it. (It’s the sandblast piece in the accompanying photographs.) I’m not even sure I know what to call it. Urchin-esque? Squat apple? Cinnamon bun? Tomato? Nothing quite fits, but, as soon as I had it in hand, I realized that a couple other pieces I have bear similar profiles, like the pictured Bengt Carlson rusticated and bamboo-shanked piece by Taiwan’s Jerry Zenn. Will these three pipes become the cornerstone of a new direction, a new sub-collection? I’m not sure, but at the moment, I kind of hope so. I certainly have more than one pipe, so in deference to a dear departed friend’s memory, I’ll just try to accept his definition and find peace within my capricious nature. I am a pipe collector.
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 503! Our featured interview tonight is with Fred Janusek. He is a Doctor of Pipes, and professor of mathematics. Fred is in his early 80s, and he has been smoking a pipe since college in 1957. His first pipe was a very shellac-covered Yello Bole. This show will be the first installment of “Storytime with Fred Janusek”. These are some great stories back when pipes were everywhere, including men’s clothing stores. 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. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
Ah, the joys of spring. April showers bringing May flowers, trees budding, birds flitting in fits of joy, and hope springing eternal. As our friend e.e. cummings said, “always it’s spring and everyone’s in love”. Ah, love, yes, above all love. Have you ever fallen in love? With a pipe, that is. Yes, dear brothers of the briar, a pipe so fetching you are mesmerized by its glimmering beauty. Let’s go back some years. The Pundit was in an Alabama brick and mortar pipes and tobacco shop (memory says it was The Briary in Homewood) when naturally, the subject of pipes and tobacco took center stage in the conversation. The genteel chap behind the counter asked me if I had ever thought of owning a Claudio Cavicchi pipe? Well, no. For back in those youthful days I’d never even heard of a Cavicchi pipe, let alone a Claudio Cavicchi. “Oh,” said the gentleman behind the counter, “we have only a couple here. One is a gorgeous Canadian.” The Canadian was a blond beauty. I was moonstruck with thunderbolt love and pulled out my thin wallet. I threw in a pouch of Virginia tobacco to break in my new beauty. “You won’t be disappointed,” he called out after me. That Cavicchi hit me like a dancing string of lightning. It was a shimmering slim magnificence, purity of line and spirit. I became fascinated and wanted to know everything I could about the actual Mister Claudio Cavicchi. Lo, he was but a humble Italian farmer. But upon studying nature in his daily life, and experiencing renewal and growth from the Earth, Claudio one day decided he could craft pipes as well as crops. He became an artisanal pipe maker, a craftsman of world-renown, a master of design. Dear reader, there is a world of science and physics involved in his pipe creations and immaculate stains that just make the pipe’s grain glow. His meticulousness gave rise to his unique grading system ranging from a single “C” to a quintuple of “Cs.” More “Cs” translates to higher grades of briar. Claudio also creates his seldom seen Perla as well as the extremely rare “Diamante,” both absolute zeniths of the Cavicchi line. But as youth are often unpredictable and sometimes dismay us elders with unique logic (strengths, my dear lads, for you usher in the new and keep us elders on our toes and we thank you for doing so!) so was I in those years so long ago. And for reasons I still cannot fathom, I let a pal talk me into trading my lovely Cavicchi Canadian for some sort of English pipe. Looking back in time from this wizened vantage, I must ask myself: what in the world was I thinking? “Nothing, apparently” is the only reply the universe has so far provided. That trade bothered me many years. Until this spring, that is dear reader. For reasons I cannot fathom, luck favored me again with the recent discovery of another beautiful blond Cavicchi Canadian. Yes, the price had gone up a bit, but that didn’t matter. I had to have the Canadian’s return to my precious herd. It was ordered along with another pouch of Virginia, just like the first iteration of so long ago. The new blond beauty smoked wonderfully well, just as did the original I let get away. Only this Canadian was a slightly better Cavicchi grade. Rest assured, it now holds down a permanent place in the Pundit rotation. I can see the wrinkles on your faces: But it’s just another Canadian, and why the Virginia tobacco to christen a new pipe? Well, my friends, if you have not yet tried a Cavicchi, it’s like the briar and leaf Meister behind that pipe and tobacco counter in Alabama said so long ago, “You won’t be disappointed.” For Claudio has that most sacred and, anymore at least, rare power: an agrarian connection to the land. A farmer who, to know success, attunes himself to nature’s rhythms and mysteries, beguilements, and cycles. As Pearl S. Buck said in The Good Earth, “and roots, if they are to bear fruits, must be kept well in the soil of the land.” For after all, what is briar but a root ball transformed by wood sculptors? If you need more encouragement, check out two wonderful pieces on Claudio: In The Workshop With Claudio Cavicchi June 22, 2016, by Shane Ireland in Makers and Artists …and Chuck Stanion’s A Closer Look At Claudio Cavicchi Dec. 17, 2018, in Makers and Artists at SmokingPipes.com I love these lines from Chuck’s insight into Cavicchi’s artistry: “This is a craftsman who knows pipes from many perspectives. He knows what makes a pipe smoke well and what makes a pipe look beautiful. He knows how to charm the briar to his bidding.” Now, concerning tobacco, if you wonder at Pundit’s preference for pure Virginia, please refer to the late and lamented McClelland No. 5100 Red Cake. I learned the Virginia break-in trick from a veteran pipe smoker, a medical doctor in fact, who taught me to always break in a new pipe with Virginia because of its ability to rid a new bowl of any lingering baddies and thereby prepare it for just about any sort of future tobacco blend you throw at it. His choice was McClelland’s 5100 Red Cake. That’s because Virginia tobaccos (along with burleys, perique, and Cavendish) play such a significant role in today’s blends. In olden times, pipe smokers pulled out a pouch of pure burley, loaded up, and smoked through the day. Today’s blenders are magicians, true chefs of tobacco blends. Now the Pundit is no tobacco blender, but I’m at least smart enough to abide the advice of veterans. If you’ll allow me to linger on the topic of blends, I’ll share with you by way of the Chicagoland Pipe Show that Virginia slices are a good choice when breaking in tobacco blends as well. And dear reader, […]
This cellar-diving kick is really paying off, considering the time and effort that went into stocking the coffers with tobacco meant to be enjoyed with some age on its side. This month’s candidate for review is a tin of JackKnife Plug dated 6th April 2011, among the first production runs of this blend from the New World Collection. Having done a release review for it and its fraternal twin JackKnife Ready Rubbed back in 2012, and seeing as this tin is just reaching its eleventeenth birthday, it seems a fitting time to revisit what Mr. Pease hath wrought. Opening the tin with no small amount of anticipation, one can really appreciate the way patience can pay off with tobacco. The aromatics release with a whoosh of pressure, itself an immensely satisfying sound while peeling back the lid. The scents fill the air immediately, strong and sweet tones that flood the entire room: up front, the rich bitter sweetness of a Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange, baker’s chocolate; developing over some time with nuances like rich mulched earth, brand new leather shoes, a phenolic tinge reminiscent of Dettol or pine tar, and an underlying meatiness of a lightly-charred steak. Over the course of a couple of weeks making my way through the tin, the aroma tempers down to a more familiar chocolate-covered cherry cordial with layers of parchment and a briney umami saltiness like soy or Worcestershire sauce. It’s tempting, with all this chocolaty aroma, to take a bite out of the brownie-like bar of tobacco, a feeling I’m surely not alone in contemplating. The presentation does however invite closer inspection of the tobacco, such a tangible thing when in bar form. This 11-year-old plug is only lightly dusted with the whitish ‘sugar crystals’ often found on aged Virginia blends, and peering into the layers from outermost to innermost there is a general uniformity of color and texture all the way through—again, and not to belabor the point, but the color is a rich, bitter dark chocolate-brown that perfectly mirrors the aromas. The composition of this blend is clearly no accident, no haphazard mashing together of leaf. Greg clearly set out with a goal in mind: exploring the breadth and depth of the character that could be created when working with the darling of the pipe tobacco world at the time, dark-fired Kentucky. Dark-fired enjoyed a bit of a heyday with the release of these GLP offerings, as well as a host of others such as MacBaren’s HH Old Dark Fired. Speaking on the composition of JK Plug versus Ready-Rubbed, he notes: The blend is identical, with one small exception. The plug is constructed with a core of brights, and the darker tobaccos surrounding it. This allows the brights, theoretically, to express themselves with more purity in the blend. They’re not under as great an influence from the fire-cured and red tobaccos. Doing this with the [Ready Rubbed] wouldn’t work well, because of the way the tobacco clumps, so the blocks are not stratified in this way. The same tobaccos in the same measures are just layered and pressed for the same length of time, then the blocks are sliced and tumbled. It’s the same technique used for the Old London mixtures. It was also clearly intended with aging in mind; again, in Greg’s own words: When I first designed the stuff, I had no idea what the future would bring. There was certainly no reason to think it would do anything but age wonderfully, but you never know. The plug form causes internal anaerobic fermentation, while the outer layers are still exposed to plenty of air. The other night, I opened an 8-month old tin of the final prototype. The aroma was intoxicating, and the smoke was HUGE. I think it’s safe to say it’s going to age really, really nicely. And quickly. I would have believed the tobacco in that tin to have been 5 years old already. With more than a decade under the hood waiting to prove or disprove this theory, the bar was sliced thin and thick, folded, rubbed, and stuffed into a variety of bowl geometries to tease out its flavors, and the results are resoundingly positive. The verdict? JackKnife Plug has the character and complexion of the heartiest of English blends, while being completely absent of Latakia or Oriental leaf. It ages like a peaty single-malt of the finest provenance, developing layers and depth that belie the relative simplicity of its ingredients. I quickly gravitated toward a wider, open-chambered pipe for tasting, one that I would generally use for English blends, as it naturally accommodated the finer nuances of the smoke—and the smoke is certainly huge. The top of the bowl starts with a piccolo-like overture from the Virginia-Perique nexus, with a peppery nose prominently laying the groundwork for what’s to come—think Shostakovich’s 6th, first movement (in fact, this piece is a good parallel overall; perhaps without quite as much of the bombast of later movements). The sweetness is surprisingly underplayed, however—the Perique quickly becomes a background spice, lending sour notes while falling in step with the harmony of the Virginia’s more leathery tones. The sharp edges are all well-rounded over here; far from being able to bite, this smoke develops a thick, steak-dinner mouthfeel almost immediately, one which lingers for a good while after the pipe is finished. By mid-bowl the full composition really comes together, with the darker smokiness of the Kentucky burley stepping center stage even while some of the sweetness sneaks back in. In fact, for beverage pairings I favor an extra-sweet iced tea or soft drink as personal preference. The umami of mid-bowl builds and builds through to the heel, as the chocolaty and nutty tones segue into barbecue woods and steak char, with a touch of Worcestershire still interwoven from the Perique’s spice. Somewhat surprisingly for such a stout blend, the nicotine does not overwhelm—it’s a solid medium-plus, though, best enjoyed after a meal. While my preference with the plug […]
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 502! In our featured segment we have Fred Hanna returning. 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 sixth in a recurring series with a long form discussion of pipe and tobacco questions sent in by our listeners. For this episode, the guys will discuss how high they fill the pipe bowl, how pipe smoking has changed them, and pipe smoking in the old days. In the opening “Pipe Parts” segment, Brian will review one of listener’s pipe collection. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!