Monday, 10 July, 2006

Getting to the Bottom of Things

Posted in Pipes & Tobaccos at 3:46 pm by glpease

I just finished puffing on a bowl of my latest prototype blend, Westminster, in an estate Castello Trademark 55 that arrived last week. The first 2/3 of the smoke was sublime – it’s a great pipe – then, that familiar taste of virgin briar emerged, lingering throughout the rest of the bowl. I’ve often noticed this with estate pipes, and am led to think there are quite a few people who never smoke to the bottom of the bowl.

I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s been my experience that the bottom of the bowl is often where a pipe will turn nasty if its previous owner smoked something that I don’t like. The ghosts of aromatic tobaccos past really start to rattle their chains during the end-game, haunting the flavour with a relentless tenacity. This pipe is, thanfully, free from such spectres. Of course, it means I’ll have to spend a few bowls breaking this pipe in, but is that such a bad thing?

One thing I’ve really grown to appreciate about Castellos in general is the fact that the pipes are crafted from well aged briar. Too many pipes today are beautifully made from YOUNG wood, and they seem to take forever to really break-in. Of course, this brings up the notion of bowl coatings.

There are, in my way of looking at things, two types of bowl coatings. I’ll refer to them as organic and inorganic. In the former type of coating, all sorts of things can be used: Yogurt, buttermilk, ground earthworms. These don’t bother me. For the most part, these are completely transparent to the smoker, imparting little or no taste of their own. (I’m kidding about the earthworms.) In the best cases, they can actually enhance the first few bowls, gradually decreasing in effect as the pipe is broken in.

The second type, the inorganic coatings, are generally some combination of secret ingredients, powdered charcoal, and an aqueous solution of sodium silicate, often referred to as “waterglass.” I don’t like these at all, but they do serve a purpose in that they effectively isolate the smoldering tobacco inside the bowl from the raw, un-cured briar they often coat. I’ve been researching an article on this very topic, and will eventually publish it, either in the Chronicles, or elsewhere. In the meanwhile, suffice to say, I prefer aged briar and no coatings, please.

That’s one of the reasons why I like Castellos so much.

But, whatever the brand, routinely smoking to the bottom of the bowl really does seem to makes sense. Eventually, the pipe develops a beautiful richness that only a well smoked, well seasoned pipe can have. I’m looking forward to this becoming one of those, if you know what I mean.



  1. a11en said,

    I have to admit, I often find it hard to get all the way through the heel- do you think it’s a packing issue? I tend to smoke exclusively english/balkan blends in my briar pipes. I’m intrigued as to how I can improve my technique to get down to the bottom effectively. I did however accomplish this in my gouda-clay last night- too bad it wasn’t a briar! šŸ˜‰

    Thanks for any and all wisdom!

  2. glpease said,

    Allen, it is either a packing issue, or a moisture issue. It seems to me that a lot of guys pack too tightly, and then tamp with too much pressure as they go through the bowl. Try a lighter touch, and see if that improves things.

  3. Bill Wagner said,

    And try fluffing the ash a bit after the second and subsequent tampings. It needs the air.

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