Pipes & Tobacco

Against all conventional wisdom, I’ve taken up smoking my old pipes again.

I like Falcon pipes and a Cavendish-based tobacco mix. Three of my Falcons actually go back thirty years, to the days when I thought Walter Raleigh was great stuff. I would “sweeten” it with orange rinds to disguise the marsh bite and oddly artificial taste. These old pipes, with a decent blend of bulk tobaccos with no additives, are still the sweetest-smoking in my small collection of Falcons.

I’m an amateur pipe smoker, not a connoisseur. Despite having smoked pipes on and off for thirty years, all but a few months’ experience has been with off-the-shelf tobaccos of the corner liquor store variety, and more than a few cheap but interesting pipes. I discovered online pipe stores this year, I mix my own blends from bulk, and it’s a whole new world of smoking pleasure. I don’t inhale. :-)

Current Pipes – Falcon

typical Falcon - Dublin bowl picturedThe Falcon pipe system consists of an air cooled aluminum stem and threaded, detachable briar bowls. You can purchase bowls and stems as a unit, or separately, meaning, you can mix and match from a broad variety of styles. I generally use Pazryk Ltd. as my source for Falcon.

The Falcons are lightweight, rugged, attractive and well built. One could buy just one stem and swap out dozens of bowls. The threaded briar bowls unscrew readily, so they are obviously easy to clean. These pipes are great for home or traveling.

Falcon Bowls

I started 30 years ago with a rustic Dublin-style bowl, an oversize rustic snifer-like bowl, and a smooth straight-walled Algiers bowl. All had straight aluminum stems. I don’t recall the circumstances of this happy purchasing decision. These bowls are thoroughly broken in. They’re incredibly sweet-smoking.

I’ve recently added four more bowls, and have a fifth on order. The smaller “bantam” meerschaum-lined bowl is nice for a quick smoke. I believe these fine clay linings need longer to break in, but are never harsh. When I can afford the luxury of stepping outside for a 20 minute smoke, I prefer the larger “Classic” bowls. Every pipe and every bowl develops its own distinctive flavor, even using the same mix — I have not graduated to the ranks of those who smoke different mixes for different occasions.

Below are some of the bowls I’m fond of. The FP7121 has not arrived yet.

Algiers Smooth Billiard Meerschaum Classic Hyperbole
Classic Meerschaum Dublin Rustic

Falcon Stems

I ended up ordering an individual stem for each Falcon bowl. While this seems to defeat the utility of interchangeable bowls, you can still swap out bowl and stem styles, and I do. Below are a couple of stem styles I use. The bent stem works particularly well with the larger Classic bowls.

Stem- bent, anodized (black or brown)
Stem – straight, gold

Current Pipes – Nording

Nording Freehand - click image for larger picture.

I received my Nording Freehand from Payless Pipes in November. For only $60, it shows excellent construction and finish, a beautiful woodgrain, and has a larger bowl. It quickly became a sweet-smoking pipe and is already clearly one of my favorites. The deeper briar bowl tended to clog, as the one-piece stem joins the bowl about a quarter of an inch above the bottom. As tacky as it sounds, I drop a small pebble into the bowl before packing this pipe. The draw is much smoother, non-clogging, and the small amount of moisture that accumulates does not make the last of the tobacco soggy.

Current Pipes – Dunhill

This prized #4120 Dunhill Amber Root just arrived, also from Payless. Only 5-1/2″ long, it has a standard 3/4″ bowl interior. For whatever reason, it was a sweet smoker from the very first break-in load. As you’d expect, finish and fitting is remarkable. Balance and feel are perfect. I can’t say how happy I am to own this pipe.

Tobaccos

My smoking “breakthrough” was the discovery of golden Cavendish, a popular and aromatic tobacco. You can buy it bulk, and I have found two kinds I like, blends IQ-1 and HS-3 from Payless Pipes – also a reliable source of fine pipes and tobaccos. HS-3 is more or less a “pure” Cavendish. The claim is that no one will not like the smell of a Cavendish. I can see why. Sweet without overpowering, these tobaccos contain no additives or artificial flavorings.

It seems that the most serious issues I had with “over the counter” grocery and liquor store tobaccos was these chemicals, fake flavorings and additives. All these years, I thought Walter Raleigh, Rum and Maple and Half and Half were as good as you could get, and yet I could not really bring myself to really “like them”. No wonder!

My first step toward discovering real tobacco was a prepackaged blend I can only find at Walgreen’s in Phoenix. “Mellow Blend”, a “Blender’s Gold” product from “Master Blenders”, contains some mix of burley, black cavendish and golden cavendish, which is more or less what I am smoking now. I would guess that it has more burley and less cavendishes than I like best, but it is a fine smoke. This firm also markets “Burley and Black” which I am still using as a mixer.

My “mix” is mostly Golden Cavendish, with burley and black added. If I had to guess, I would estimate proportions of 1:2:4. For me, mixing my perfect blend is still a matter of trial and error, but I know it when I get there!

©Alex Forbes January 2, 2005

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