One thing leads to another and it wasn’t long before I ordered another pipe from Blakemar Briars. Well, I say another, make that 2! I thought I’d give the very reasonably priced Aristocrat range a go and emailed Mike Billington to see if there was available stock. Mike replied in the affirmative and told me that the current stand-up bent pipes on his website were actually smaller than the sandblast I previously received and would I prefer the larger version as he had a few in stock but not displayed online. I agreed that the larger sized pipe (Peterson 306 size) would suit my needs than the smaller shape (basically the size of a Peterson 304).
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.
Today’s review is somewhat different. In fact, it has all the hallmarks of a pictorial article rather than an actual review – I mean, can you actually review a block of briar? Sort of!
Warning this post is picture heavy!
I’ve made a few pipes, but that was many years ago and none were briar. I’m not sure why, but since I started smoking a pipe (again), I have had this overwhelming desire to make a “proper” pipe. I say make loosely – I currently don’t have the machinery required to bore out the smoking chamber or draft hole (I’m working on it!). So I’d have to pick up a predrilled block which would serve as a creative carving platform. Its a small enough compromise to make when you can’t do everything yourself, and in all honesty, shaping the pipe gives me the greatest pleasure, so with that decided, I searched the web for a pipe kit.
Breaking in the Peterson Deluxe System 11FB would require some self restraint. I was sorely tempted to just fill this beautiful Irish creation to the rim with luscious tobacco and smoke away, but I decided to go down the half bowl route for the first few smokes.
I had cracked open a tin of Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader a few days before the 11FB arrived from Brucciani’s and decided to use this English (medium) blend for the break in period (anticipated at 7-10 days).
Squadron Leader is a real favourite of mine. Its a classic and has just about everything going for it from tin note to smooth smoke. The good lady wife is not keen on the room note and I agree its not exactly a crowd pleaser in that respect, so I smoke this alone in my study.
As mentioned in Part 1, the 11FB smoking chamber was decidedly smooth and also very deep (40mm or so). It would require some slow, careful smoking, preferably to the bottom to encourage heel cake.
My love affair with Peterson pipes goes back to the late eighties. The local tobacconist I frequented sold a few good pipes and a lot more lower quality unbranded or basket pipes. My modest collection fitted the latter bracket so I would enviously eye the Peterson range which unfortunately were out of my teenage budget.
I recall the pipe I longed for was clipped to a wooden board or more precisely a screen covered in holes, and had a £60 price tag hanging from its bent stem – bear in mind my most expensive pipe at the time cost around £14 (an Italian made Meerschaum lined Prince), so this was a lot of money back then. It was a rustic briar, similar to a System 314 in appearance. Very remiss of me, but I never knew the exact model number, just that I liked the shape!
Anyway, I never got it, but I swore that, one day, I would aquire a Peterson of Dublin pipe.
I was excited and apprehensive about smoking the Tortuga. Its such a nice pipe I almost didn’t want to “spoil” it! But a pipe is for smoking so I put thoughts of scorching the rim and burning the bowl to one side and unpacked the tobacco I ordered from Black Swan to break this pipe in.
I would be using a 50/50 blend of Gawith Hoggarths Kendal Black Cavendish and McConnell Oriental Turkish Blend. These are classed as blending tobacco’s, but can be enjoyed on their own, particularly the slow burning Black Cavendish. The Turkish burns hotter and quicker so combining the two should make for a long lasting pleasurable smoke. Both arrived in what I would call perfect smoking condition, in as much as there was no need to air dry either before blending.
A long, long time ago when I was about 17 I smoked a tobacco pipe. I really enjoyed the “hobby”. Some might call it ritualistic. Its definitely something to be savoured and not rushed. There is so much more to pipe smoking than just the pipe. Its an experience from start to finish. Firstly teasing the rich golden strands from the pouch or tin while simultaneously breathing in the unlit aroma. Then packing the bowl – not too tight or loose. Just lighting the contents and keeping the fire going requires concentration and takes time to learn. Only then can you sit back and truly enjoy the fruits of your labour. Dedication is key.
In the early days I didn’t even own a commercially made pipe – I made my own (with the help of my father). These were by no means briar masterpieces, oh no, simple, rustic examples made from the knurled apple tree that dominated our garden. The mouthpiece (or bit) was made from a dried and hollowed out elderberry stem and entered the “bowl” corncob style. Crude? Looking back, yes!