Blakemar Briars is a pipe making company based in Northamptonshire, England. The business was established in the 1870’s by Thomas Martin, and has remained in family hands to this day. The current owner Mike Billington has worked there since 1970 – guided by his uncle, Richard (Dick) Martin until his passing in 2003, using lathes, hand tools and knowledge only gained by experience. The end product is a hand made pipe with great smoking characteristics and charm. From time to time Dick’s early pipes appear on ebay which maybe worth checking out if you fancy a slice of history?
Despite not owning a Blakemar, I had for some time been eyeing their wares online. One thing that always struck me was even the most expensive pipes seemed quite reasonable and the more affordable range almost give away. On the face of it the quality looked consistent across the board and it is fair to say each Blakemar pipe is as good as the next regardless of cost, only superficial grading of briar and its finish really dictates the final price.
Blakemar Briar produces numerous shapes, sizes and these are grouped into sections according to finish and quality. The finest pipes are listed under Straight Grain, only 1% of pipes reach this standard. The Litchbruyere range are all “A” grade the very finest. The De Luxe pipes are “XA” or very fine, mainly smooth with a few rusticated. Champion is the name given to sandblasts and 9mm filter are just that, filter pipes. The Aristocrat range is the walnut finished medium priced pipes, smooth and rusticated.
I fear I am waffling on, so lets get to the crux. While perusing Blakemar.co.uk I saw a listing for a nice big stand-up bent a glorious chocolate brown sandblast (9mm filter). I am rather interested in this uncommon shape and have started a small collection. Peterson pipe enthusiasts will appreciate this is as a “306” – its quite large and a sitter. The sandblast appealed to me not just because it was a sandblast but more the ring grain was spectacular to say the least. I enquired and quickly received an email stating the pipe was still available to purchase – without delay I paid for the pipe and waited expectantly.
When the pipe arrived I quickly unwrapped the box. Incidentally unlike most mainstream factory pipes Blakemar Briars pipes do not come in a fancy box, within a pipe sock, nope just a plastic bag, albeit safely nestled in packing material.
I removed the pipe from the bag to reveal a complex grain deeply swirling around the circumference of the aged briar. While this is a 9mm filter pipe I had no intention of ever using a filter. I liked the shape, the finish, the filter element was irrelevant in all honesty. Mike sent a filter adaptor for use without filters and this can be seen in the accompanying photo.
The smoking dynamics are spot on. The draft hole hits the bottom of the chamber perfectly and alignment centrally drilled. The vulcanite tenon slides in and out of the mortise easily yet tight enough to feel secure. And the draw is effortless.
The smoking chamber was left uncarbonized (Mike carbonizes most pipes using a gas/air red hot poker system as opposed some weird and wonderful bowl coating favoured by some makers).
Personally I like uncarbonized briar, but either way I’m not that fussed if it has been treated prior to smoking. In fact Mike’s method is perfect and adds a smoky flavour to the inaugural puff. Check out Blakemar Briars Youtube channel for some great videos of pipes being made and carbonized.
I loaded up the bowl with some Squadron Leader tobacco and marvelled at the earthy gnarled yet shiny finish. This is a light pipe (under 60g) and can be clenched easily, though I’m not a clencher preferring to rest my pipes on my desk between sips. The pipe sits to a height of just under 9cm and is 12cm long. The bowl is 30mm wide and the smoking chamber around 11 cubic cm, so large if not extra large.
Pure smoking pleasure from day one, no gurgling and dry to the heel, helped somewhat by the natural moisture trap mortise design. The chamber rapidly caked up and continues to smoke wonderfully. I mainly smoke Samuel Gawith blends in this one be that Squadron Leader, Skiff Mixture or Westmoreland Mixture (reviews to follow) and the flavours are always true and honest.
I paid just £55 (including postage) for this beauty and I think that represents excellent value for money, much less than most artisans sell their wares for and cheaper than mass produced factory pipes of similar shape and finish.
Check out Blakemar.co.uk or pay them a visit – the showroom stocks more models than the website and an in-shop discount is available too!