Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Do You Aspire to Own a Bo Nordh?

This question was recently posed on a particular pipe-smoking forum on which I am an active member. I thought it was an interesting question from the outset, and the result of the conversation was both unexpected and fascinating.

Do I aspire to own a Bo Nordh pipe? Yes, I do.

Bo Nordh is an incredibly important figure in the pipe world, not only creating one of the most beautiful shapes, in my mind, but also carver some incredible works of art. His dedication to quality over quantity and his desire to work with the briar resulted in pipes that would shine in even the greatest of collections.

I was surprised to find that I was in the minority when I expressed this opinion on that particular online forum, and it seems to me that a lot of people got caught up by the word "aspire".

I hate to do this, but my time in my many college English classes leaves me no choice: I have to go to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines "aspire" as "to seek to attain or accomplish a particular goal", while some synonyms are: crave, desire, hope, venture, want, yearn.

With all of these, I find myself returning to the same answer: I do seek to attain a Bo Nordh pipe; I do want one, crave one, desire one, hope that one day I can own one. I was perplexed by the fact that this was not the overwhelming answer.

To read the rest of this piece, please check here, at Pipe School's new location on Quality Briar.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Same Blog, New Face

"Hey, why don't you give me a call sometime? I always like to get to know my customers by voice."

I saw this message on an e-mail from Nick Miller, the man behind Quality Briar, after we'd been dealing with each other for a while. His website provides great value for high-quality pipes and is one of the few that carries a good number of Russian carvers, so I had become a frequent denizen of Quality Briar.

At first, I figured that Nick was just wanting to connect with a customer, as he seemed to me to be that kind of guy. I meant to call him, I truly did, but school and work and everything just got in the way, as life tends to do.

A couple of weeks later, I placed another order, for this pipe in particular:

(Michael Parks Pipe with Deer Antler, Photo by Ethan Brandt)

Along with a confirmation from e-mail from Nick came another, slightly more insistent, appeal: "Hey, man. Call me when you get a chance."

This contained no questioning tone and seemed to leave me no wiggle room. I picked up the phone and called him within a minute of getting the e-mail.

"Whoa, I didn't expect to hear from you so fast," Nick said on the other end of the line.

Since that time, I have gotten to know Nick quite well. He's a call-them-how-he-sees-them type of guy, who often says exactly what he thinks and what he thinks is very often right. He's quick to crack a joke or break into an anecdote or explain something casually, as if it were the most basic concept, that I had been unable to grasp after trying relentlessly.

The result of that initial phone call, and the many that have followed, is exactly what you are reading right now.

For a long time, the "Blog" section on Quality Briar went unused, gathering cobwebs. It was very much like Val Kilmer's acting career: the pieces that were on there were good, but there just weren't enough of them. That is what Nick called me to change.

Pipe School is now going to be continuing on the blog page of Quality Briar. It will still be Pipe School and will still feature the same content, along with some additional writers pitching in every now and then. The main difference is the URL. I know, change is scary, but this is good change, have no doubt about that.

I have enjoyed what Nick has done with Quality Briar, much as I have enjoyed the process of making Pipe School a reality. I am excited to announce that the two will now be coming together, something that I have no doubt will make each of us even more valuable to you, the piping community.

I just recently posted my introductory post on Quality Briar and I am working on my second one as we speak ("Do I Aspire to Own a Bo Nordh?").

Thank you very much and look for the first real entry on Quality Briar within a week!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ask, and You Shall Receive

What do you expect from a pipe called a “Strawberries and Cream Blowfish”? Probably a very interesting, and possibly deadly, dinner experience, for one thing. However, despite the interesting images conjured up by such a moniker, the title is a perfect descriptor for one of Chris Askwith's most recent creations.

I have recently found myself drawn to the Blowfish shape in a surreal way. It's an unusual shape to the eyes of the uninitiated, and even to many who are experienced with pipes. It is often lopsided and fits much better in one hand than the other because of its shape – in my experience, most Blowfish pipes tend to favor our Sinister compatriots.

The Blowfish is also one of the many shapes that was brought into existence from the Danish revolution of pipe making, from names like Sixten, Lars, and Nanna Ivarsson and Jess Chonowitsch. It is always fascinating to find a shape that can capture a liminal moment in the history of pipes.

Perhaps what I love most about the Blowfish from a scholarly perspective is that it is an extremely difficult shape to pull off well. A lot of carvers less familiar with the shape will simple hack off one side of an apple or tomato pipe and call it a day. That's not enough, though, as anyone who has seen one of these ugly ducklings can attest. These attempts are important in their own right, as they are testimonies to the skill required to make this shape.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Day of Our Own

It's here. It's finally here. After weeks, if not months of waiting, International Pipe Smoking Day is here!

For a lot of pipe smokers, every day is Pipe Smoking Day, but there is something different about today, something special, something transcendental.

In my opinion, the important part of IPSD isn't that you smoke your pipe (though that is a big part!), but rather that those of you who are closet-pipe-smokers, those of you who hide inside of your house while you puff away, should get outside and smoke at least once today.

By making ourselves visible, we ensure that we are not forgotten. With certain legislation in the works these days, it is important that the world doesn't forget that we exist and doesn't imagine that we are all the caricature of the white-haired grandfather. We are a large and diverse crowd.

For the most part, pipe smokers are humble and quiet people. If we start to smoke our pipe outside and someone looks offended, we will often put our pipe away out of respect. That's a good thing. It is a good thing to earn the reputation of a kind and thoughtful people.

While I am not encouraging you to tarnish that reputation, I would say that you should feel entitled to smoke where you feel fit today, as long as it doesn't break any laws, of course. If someone gives you a sideways glance while you are smoking at the park, I encourage you to respond to by saying that it is an international holiday devoted to the humble pipe and that you must smoke out of obligation.

I would recommend that you select a special pipe and a special tobacco and enjoy the day to the fullest. For those of you who smoke only occasionally, today is a day to puff away happily and without any guilt. This is a special day for us.

While you are happily puffing, I would ask you to do me a favor. Contemplate exactly what it is that makes you love this hobby some much, then come back on here and tell us about it along with how you decided to celebrate.

Finally, allow me to wish you a very happy and healthy International Pipe Smoking Day!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loved Ones and Pipes

I'm sure that you're all aware that today is Valentine's Day. Don't worry, this is not going to be a discourse about how important love is or how annoyingly commercialized Valentine's Day is (thought that's true).

There is something very important about Valentine's Day, however, and that is that it gives us a day dedicated to contemplating some of our most important relationships.

I remember that pipes used to be a point of slight contention between me and my girlfriend when we first started going out. Lauren came from a family that smoked cigarettes heavily and had come to despise them. Perhaps because of the success of the anti-tobacco propaganda, she had come to associate all tobacco products with cigarettes, as a lot of people do. Thus, because of the negative impact that cigarettes had on her family, she was concerned when she found out about my love for pipes.

(Lauren and me on her first trip to Disney World)

Her fear concerned me as well, as I didn't want to give up pipes, though I didn't want to cause her grief. Naturally, smoking my pipes would have been the one to go if it had to, but I took this as an opportunity for discussion. I talked with her about the medical differences between pipes and cigarettes (as discussed more in depth in a previous post) and let her know exactly why I love pipes as much as I do.

After hearing the differences, including the fact that pipes are smoked less frequently (typically) than cigarettes and are usually not inhaled into the lunges, she completely changed her tune about pipes. She encouraged my hobby and has done her best to learn more about pipes because she knows how much they are a part of my life.

Recently, Lauren did something that revealed her radical change in opinion of pipes.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Shameful Aromatics

(Photo by Valentinian)

I've talked before about my friend, Jeff, a bartender at the pub where I work. I recently made a gift to him of a pipe-starter set, complete with pipe, tobacco, and all the necessary accompaniments (see the whole story here).

A week or so after I gave this to him, we ran into each other on the patio of the pub. We were both dressed for work, in our kilts, and enjoying the fire-pits that were roaring outside. I asked him how he was enjoying his new pipe and he seemed to light up when asked about it, indicating that he was liking it a lot.

“I'm really liking the Altadis Night Cap. It just smells and tastes great!”

“Oh, absolutely,” I said. “Aromatics are always a crowd-pleaser.”

“I do have a question about aromatics, though.”


“Is there anything wrong with liking aromatics?”

“No,” I responded instantly. I did feel obligated to discuss the issue of aromatics further with Jeff, as I feel the need to do now.

First of all, to say that a particular pipe tobacco is aromatic is a sort of an absurd statement. Of course it is aromatic. It has an aroma, usually quite distinct, and is thus aromatic.

The term “aromatic” when being used to describe a subsection of tobacco means something slightly different, however. It refers to sweeter blends, frequently featuring artificial flavoring, such as cherry, chocolate, and vanilla through the addition of syrups.

(Photo by wmliu)

Other tobacco blends that feature Black Cavendish as a primary component are also often referred to as “aromatics”.

Let me blunt, much blunter than I often am about issues concerning taste: there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking aromatics.

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Father's Gift

(My father, Jay Brandt, on the Playboy Jazz Cruise in 2009)

Like a lot of children, I loved to be told stories when I was growing up. Honestly, stories, both fictional and true, still play a large part in my life, as I am an English major and aspiring poet. 

Unlike most children, however, my father never regaled me with stories about fairies and princesses and castles. I grew up hearing about Krishna and Ganesha, Parvati and Durga.

When he didn't feel like recalling a classic Hindu or Buddhist story, he would tell me one of his own. In his younger years, my father traveled through India and Iran, Russia and France, Afghanistan and Tibet. He tells me that he left the USA with a backpack and $2,000. Mind you, this was in the early 70s. One my favorite stories involves that fact that, while traveling through Afghanistan, he saw "a line of trucks and jeeps, miles long". Apparently, he had no idea what was going on until many years later, when he realized that that was the Russians invading the country.

(My father riding a donkey with children in Iran)

To this day, my habit of living vicariously through my father has not changed. 

This summer, my father, stepmother (affectionately known as 'Smom'), and my two younger siblings traveled to Myrtle Beach on a family vacation.

When they told me where they were planning on going, I nearly started drooling. "Myrtle Beach as in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina?" I said over the phone to my father.

Don't mistake my intentions. I have no interest in beaches or lengthy periods of exposure to the sun and shirtless people who really should be wearing shirts. My drool-reflex was inspired by something else residing in Myrtle Beach, specifically something residing less than two miles from the condo in which my family would be staying: Low Country Pipe & Cigar, the physical location of

(Image courtesy of Smokingpipes) 

Needless to say, I attempted to rearrange my schedule, to no avail. College does not let you reschedule your classes so easily as one might like. 

So, while my family was enjoying the sunshine of the beach and I would have been whiling away the hours eyeballing extremely expensive pipes, I was forced to learn about basic Political Theory and the writings of Daniel Dennett, which, for the most part, I enjoyed.

A couple of days into their vacation, I received a phone call from my father. "Do you have the Mark Twain pipes from Peterson?"

He's there, I thought to myself, he is standing in my Mecca.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Video Killed the Blogosphere

(Photo by Bella Luna Toys)

It wasn't that long ago that I heard the term blog for the first time. I laughed to myself and thought it was a ridiculous word and and even more ridiculous concept. Certainly, there was no way this could catch on.

Well, here I am with a blog of my own, frequently reading other blogs and wondering what I would do without them. It just goes to show what a Luddite I was being.

However, despite the growing popularity of blogs, they are still, for the most part, written word. Written word has had a single nemesis for years that it has never been able to defeat: video.

(Photo by Deathtiny42)

Video is a quick, effective form of communication with so many great uses. Trust me, I am not complaining about the proliferation of video making and watching capability.

As someone with a desire to continue providing useful, entertaining information on the subject of pipes, however, it would seem to behoove me to expand my area of expertise.

To that end, I have been heavily contemplating starting a YouTube channel devoted to pipes. The videos could be anything from explaining techniques to tobacco reviews to just a one-minute long show-and-tell of a new pipe I acquired.

The purpose of this channel would be to provide you with the information and entertainment that you want. For that reason, I pose the questions to you, and I really do want answer:

  1. Would you be interested in watching such videos?
  2. What topic would you like those videos to cover?
I want to hear your responses and input before I take this step so that I can be sure to provide you with the best possible videos and information.

Thank you ahead of time for your help in what I view as a very exciting possibility!