What with filling my pipe and emptying it, lighting it and relighting it, I don’t seem to get much time for the serious concerns of life. Come to think of it, smoking, soiling dishes and washing them, talking and listening to other people talk, take up most of life anyway.
Roger Mifflin in The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
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.
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.
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.
My second smoke this morning was Cornell & Diehl Haunted Bookshop in a clay tavern pipe. A little windy outside, but still a good smoke. I’ve also had Elizabethan Mixture in a Savinelli Trevi 320 author, My Mixture 965 in a Dr. Grabow Omega, and Stokkebye Luxury Bullseye Flake in a Mr. Brog 39 Classic. I’m still working on that.