In Praise of the Pot

GBD 9442
GBD Granitan 9442

The pipes I inherited from my dad included a few pots: a GBD, Comoy, BBB, and Kaywoodie. I did not take to them because they looked stodgy, something an old guy would smoke. (Never mind that I probably qualify as an old guy.) They have short stems and the defining wide-diameter short bowls. They were not nearly as cool-looking as bent bulldogs and freehands. So I didn’t smoke them.

But esthetic tastes change, and I now have a new appreciation for the shape. The change began with a couple of practical considerations. Even though I’ve been smoking pipes for about half a century, I only recently learned that the wide diameter of a pot is well-suited to complex tobacco blends. Because the tobacco surface is larger in a wide bowl than in a narrow one, more tobacco burns at any one time. So more of the components are burning simultaneously. I also heard that the wider bowl makes for a milder smoke, making a pot suitable for blends that are on the pungent side. (For me, these are mainly burley blends, with and without perique, from Cornell & Diehl, but not English — Virginia/latakia/Oriental — blends.) It seemed to follow that a high-nicotine blend (which is how I find those burleys) would have a somewhat lower nic-hit in a pot (or other wide bowls like an author or stubby Rhodesian).

A few blends I know of taste great, but they are a bit stout and nic-heavy. I would like to smoke them regularly but without the downside. Thus the pot seemed the way to go. My first tries were less than successful: I still had the undesirable effects of the nicotine. When I made some inquiries, I was told (thanks, Brian Levine of The Pipes Magazine Radio Show) that the solution is to load the bowl only two-thirds of the way. Less tobacco equals less nicotine. Why didn’t I think of that! I gave that a try and have had some success. Smoking those blends in a wider “shorter” bowl has definitely made those blends (e.g., Haunted Bookshop) more palatable. I find that smoking half-bowls is even better. Half-bowls also enable me to smoke a larger variety of tobaccos throughout the day.

As a result of all this, I now think pot-shaped pipes are just the ticket. My dad’s pots are at the top of my rotation, and I have my eye on another one. Short squat pots are now my new passion in pipes.

You can learn something new every day.

Pipe Bowl Sizes and Their Effects on Tobacco

Millicent Fenwick, former U.S. rep.

UPDATED April 2, 2018

On the Dec. 19  edition of The Pipes Magazine Radio Show, host Brian Levine and guest co-host Shane Ireland of Smokingpipes.com agreed that wide-bowl pipes, such as pots, mellow out a tobacco blend. Their advice, then, was to use such pipes for stout blends and use narrower pipes for milder blends. The logic is that if you smoke a mild blend in a wide pipe, you may find it too mild, and if you smoke a stout blend in a narrow pipe, it might knock your socks off.

That made sense. I had not paid much attention to the effect of pipe diameter on the smoke. So I tried an experiment. I smoked Haunted Bookshop, which I find stout and nicotine-heavy, in a pot (an old Kaywoodie). I’ve been smoking HB in small bowls and have had some success in taming it, enjoying the richness while minimizing the nic kick. I hoped that smoking it in a pot would mellow it still more.

Boy, I was wrong! I enjoyed the rich flavor, but I got kicked in the you-know-what by the nicotine. Luckily, it was the last smoke of the night and I was ready for bed.

I plan to keep experimenting, but I’d like to hear other smokers’ experiences. Leave comments below.

UPDATE 1: Brian wrote me privately to suggest that with a high-nic blend, I should fill the pot to only about the two-thirds mark. The idea here is to get the smoother smoke from the larger surface but without so much nicotine. I tried this with Pegasus, a pretty stout and nic-heavy (for me) C&D burley blend. The results were good. Next, I’ll try Haunted Bookshop that way. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE 2: Things are looking good. I smoked Haunted Bookshop, two-thirds of a bowl, in my father’s old GBD Granitan 9442 pot — a particularly squat form of the shape — with undiminished pleasure. I had no nic-hit from HB. This is great news indeed!

UPDATE 3: Things are not entirely smooth. I’m still getting nic-hits from the stout burley blends and even some vapers (Dunhill Navy Rolls, for instance). Brian suggested drinking lots of water during the smoke, which has definitely helped with Haunted Bookshop and Pegasus. Stay tuned.

More on Small Bowls

When considering pipes with small bowls, don’t overlook clay pipes. The one above is my newest, a black clay. These are quick smokes, making them perfect for the pocket. I usually have three or four baggies on me, each with a different blend. So a pipe like this lets me smoke a variety of tobaccos when I’m out. Clays need no rest, and they don’t ghost. Wipe out the bowl, and you’re good to go.

Aroma and Memory

Donald “Duck” Dunn

Aromas have a marvelous, almost magical power to evoke memories. Tobacco aromas are no exception. Perhaps they have an even stronger power than other aromas to summon pleasant recollections. How many people think of a beloved father or grandfather when they get a whiff?

I’ve noticed lately that whenever I smoke Dunhill Nightcap or My Mixture 965, I instantly recall my days as a late-high-school and early college student in the 1960s and ’70s. I spent those summers working for a title-insurance company, searching property titles in Philadelphia’s City Hall. During my lunch “hours” I  hung out at center-city Philly’s great old tobacco shops, sampling bulk blends. This is when I first tasted latakia, which I found exotic and enticing. I don’t know what those blends were: maybe they were custom made by the local tobacconists; maybe they were bulk versions of famous tinned tobaccos. All I know is that when I smoke those Dunhills today, they bring back fond memories of those days.

And they make me smile.

Yes, Virginia, There Is Burley

I almost called this post “Damn Burleys!” That’s not an insult but rather an expression of respect, just as the old Washington Senators fans used to cry, “Damn Yankees!” (There’s an old Broadway musical by that name.)

What I’m getting at is that my exploration of full-bodied burleys has to a large extent eclipsed my taste for straight Virginias. I still like them, but now that I’ve smoked robust burley blends, Virginias seem kind of tame. Add perique or latakia — or both — and some Virginia-based blends hold their own. I love Dunhill (*wah*) Nightcap, My Mixture 965, and Elizabethan Mixture. I like Navy Rolls. I also love McClelland (*wah*) Dark Star and Dark Navy Flake. But to my palate, Cornell & Diehl’s Haunted Bookshop, Pegasus, and Pirate Kake really shine by comparison. I have to watch out for the nicotine hit, but these are some mouth-watering tobaccos, so flavorful.

If you think burley means only Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Granger, and the matches for Edgeworth Ready-Rubbed — all good though mild blends there’s a world of robust burley blends waiting for you.

Give one or two a try. But handle with care.

To Each His Own

Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee as Holmes and Patrick Macnee as Watson

I can no more say what tobaccos are right for you than I can say how you should clench your pipes. Just as your individual bite and the weight and shape of your pipes (stems) will determine how you can best clench your pipes, so your palate and your subjective taste will determine what tobaccos you like.

We are all unique individuals.

Small Bowls, cont’d.

HIS Mini Curch
H.I.S. Mini Churchwarden

To further illustrate the benefits of smaller bowl pipes, I want to describe my affair with the pipe pictured above, an H.I.S. (Hugo International Series) mini churchwarden, which comes from the Italian pipe maker Gardesana. I bought this pipe in December from Penn Valley Pipes, or Pipeshoppe.com. The site displayed a picture of the pipe and listed its dimensions:

Overall length = 7 inches / 177.8mm | Bowl size = Small | Bowl depth = 1.125 inches / 28.575 mm | Bowl outside diameter = .875 in /22.225 mm | Bowl inside diameter = .625 in / 15.875 mm

So I bought it with eyes wide open. Nevertheless, when the pipe arrived, I was almost shocked by how small it was in my hand, especially the bowl. (That’s a quarter in the picture.) I could not get much of my index finger into the bowl, and my little finger went in only to just past the first knuckle. Since I was suffering a bad cold at the time, I wasn’t able to smoke it for a few days, during which time I became more concerned about its size. I even contemplated returning it.

I’m sure glad I didn’t.

As soon as I started breaking it in, I began to really appreciate the pipe. First, the profile is wonderful. It simply looks great with that gracefully curved stem. It is also super-light, making clenching it easy. It looks fantastic when I catch a glimpse of my profile shadow with it in my teeth.

Second, when I sip-puff, as I do with all blends, the smoke always lasts longer than I expect.

Third, I have come to love this pipe most especially with stout, higher nicotine blends that would be too much for me in a larger bowl. For example, Cornell & Diehl’s powerful burley blends — Haunted Bookshop, Pegasus, and Morley’s Best — are much more enjoyable in my mini-church than in larger pipes. (I suspect this will be true of Big ‘N’ Burley.)

I now like this pipe so much that I ordered another one from the line, a rusticated, less-bent pipe. I can’t wait to get it. Did I mention they are only about 30 bucks?

To repeat what I said before, don’t pass up small-bowl pipes by. They are light, easy to carry, and perfect for stronger tobaccos.