When Shane calls, I see he’s polishing the nickel ferrule on his 303 Peterson System. I confess I do the same thing before I smoke any Pete with with a metal mount and he laughs. . . .
Shane: I pick it up out of the rack and if there’s any tarnish, I think “I’m not going to enjoy the smoke,” so I stop and polish it. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I judge pipe guys that have filthy pipes all the time [laughs]. The biggest challenge for me is keeping the rims clean.
Mark: How often do you clean your pipes?
Shane: Almost never. That’s because I clean a pipe every time I smoke it. I use a pipe cleaner to wipe out the bowl then I polish the outside of the bowl and wipe the stem off.
I don’t keep my pipes in racks because that’s just asking for tarnishing and oxidization on your stems. The upside of this is that I never have to do deep cleanings, so products like Obsidian oil just aren’t necessary for me.
Mark: So where do you keep your pipes, if not in racks?
Shane: This is sort of embarrassing. I have shoe boxes full of pipes in the closet. I pull a rotation allowing of between six to eight pipes that I keep in either one of my Claudio Albieri bags or in their pipe socks in my briefcase. I’ll smoke a pipe pretty heavily for a few months, then when it’s time to give it a rest I put it back in its shoe box and pull something else out.
Top to bottom: 1982 Peterson System Meer 03, Former Silver Spigot Cross grain Apple, J. Alan Cross grain Lovat, Brad Pohlmann Danish Acorn
THE PERFECT SMOKE
I believe if Shane offered master classes on pipe smoking we’d see a huge uptick in pipe smoking across the planet. I’ve been pursuing the art of smoking for close on 50 years now and in a single interview he taught me enough to either correct or modify many mistakes I’ve been making for years. Here’s the gist:
Mark: There are two problems that have afflicted me as a Pipeman over the years, problems I know many other smokers have had. The first problem has to do with the act of smoking—with tongue burn and fatigue. I am specifically concerned with virginias and vapers, not only because those are my go-to tobaccos but because they seem to give smokers more trouble than other types. The second has to do with the pipe—with bowls that get hot to the touch as well as heat fissures (spider-webbing) and burnouts.
Shane: I’m mostly smoking Virginias these days myself, when I’m not specifically reviewing or evaluating a new product. In my experience, when it comes to tongue bite and Virginia tobacco, there’s a very narrow range of moisture content in the tobacco that makes a big difference before you light up. If you smoke the tobacco too dry, it’s going to adversely affect both the flavor and the tongue bite situation.
Tips I give people that I wish I’d heard when I started:
1. Put the tobacco in the bowl slightly more moist than you think is necessary.
2. Put less tobacco in the bowl that you think you need. Many of us over-pack our bowls, and that’s why we struggle with airflow and with keeping the pipe lit. All those relights are going to result in the tobacco burning too hot and you’re going to get tongue bite.
3. Nearly everybody tamps too much. I always suggest using a tamper that has no weight to it, because you shouldn’t be exerting any pressure on the top of your tobacco when you’re tamping. Using your finger is actually a good gauge, because if you can tamp with your finger and not burn yourself, then match that amount of pressure on the top of the bowl. The less you tamp
- the more likely your tobacco is to stay lit,
- the more likely you are to avoid moisture problems at the bottom of the chamber, and
- the more likely you are to avoid tongue burn.
4. Getting the right combination between the type of tobacco you smoke and the size of your pipe chamber is important. Everybody’s different, so of course this can’t be mapped. For myself, when I began moving toward virginias in the last half of my pipe smoking journey, I began leaning toward smaller pipes. And for me that made a big difference. Everyone then says to me, “But I want to smoke for more than thirty or forty-five minutes!” I tell them just to smoke more than one pipe. Smoke something like this 303 Peterson.
You can smoke this pipe two or three times back to back and not have any issues. That’s one of the beauties of the System pipe. In my opinion, it doesn’t need to be cleaned in between those smokes. And you can push it pretty hard before having to worry about taking off the stem and using a paper towel. With a size like this, if I’m not constantly talking, I can probably smoke somewhere around the forty minute mark. If I’m driving or traveling and I only have a couple of pipes with me, I’ll just load the same pipe up again and smoke another bowl if I want to smoke for longer. I’d rather smoke multiple small bowls than one large bowl that I’m fighting with the entire second half to keep lit.
5. There’s another part of this and it has to do with the pipe itself. There’s a gentleman who used to attend the Chicago show every year who was known as “Coffee David,” a good friend of many of us. A couple of years back, I remember a handful of us were sitting around—me, Jeremy Reeves (Head Blender at Cornell & Diehl) and a bunch of pipe makers. David asked a couple of us to pass him our lit pipes. He felt a bowl and said, “Cool” [to the touch],then passed it back and was handed another guy’s pipe. “You’re smoking too hot,” he’d say, feeling the outside of the bowl. “You’re okay, nearly there,” to a third.
The point is, there should be almost no heat. You should be treading the line between the pipe going out and the pipe staying lit. That’s the zone of optimal flavor. And that’s also the best way to avoid tongue bite or any unpleasant physical sensation. Learning to smoke super slow is going to make the biggest difference in flavor and avoid tongue bite.
[Mark: That’s also the way to avoid a super-hot ember, which causes heat fissures and can lead to burnout in new pipes and new pipes with no bowl coating.]
6. Most of us get it into our heads that more relights are always a bad thing. But if you’re just puffing through to keep the pipe lit the whole time and your pipe is hot to the touch, you aren’t tasting the tobacco and you’re also scorching your mouth.
If you really serious about pipe smoking and want to get the best out of your pipes, it takes a great deal of practice. When everything clicks and the stars align you say to yourself, Oh my God, this is one of the best pipes I’ve ever had! Then you spend the rest of your life chasing that perfect smoke. And as you get better at it, your success rate increases, but you’ll never get perfect smokes every day, just less disappointing ones.
Many people don’t have the patience for a pipe. I talk to cigar guys that say, “Yeah, I tried a pipe a couple of times. I just couldn’t get the hang of it.”
As a pipe smoker, the order in which you taste things is important. Everything you do throughout the day as well as what you eat and drink will affect the smoking experience. I opened at the Chicago show a few weeks ago. I’ve smoked about half of the tin now and it’s a different experience than the previous two or three. It’s a little less deep, less bass notes. A little brighter. It had more spice on the retro hale earlier. Why is that? It could be what I had for lunch. It could be the temperature in this room. Everything has an impact on the smoking experience.
THE PETERSON BUTTONS
Mark: In your opinion, how does the Peterson P-Lip versus a fishtail button impact the smoking experience?
Shane: When I started smoking P-Lips—and remember my first good pipe was a rustic System 303—I got the whole spiel from the guy at the shop about the way that the smoke was directed up over the palate. I have to be honest, I didn’t really notice a huge difference in flavor and even now I think the difference in flavor is hard to pin down. But what I did notice is that the place where the air flow comes out is a nice, rounded comfortable form. I think this is one reason guys love the P-Lip, and I’m one of them at this point.
Mouthpieces are an extremely important part of the pipe. It’s the part that a smoker becomes intimate with, yet we tend to undervalue its factor. A lot of people talk about the P-Lip’s airflow, about where the smoke is directed in your mouth, but for me the most important thing is its comfort.
One of Hans “Former” Nielsen’s fabulous apples.
Let me give you an example. I talk to Hans Former a lot. He’s one of the best pipe makers that’s ever lived and he’s made a ton of pipes and has been doing it for 60+ years, since he was a kid, in fact. He’ll say a lot of people tell him his pipes smoke the best for them, and his response to that is simply that they prefer his pipes, the way they’re made, the way the mouthpieces are made.
Whether a pipe’s made in Italy or Dublin or Denmark or America, most pipes are made pretty much the same way today. When you’re paying uber-high prices for a handmade Danish pipe, you have to remove the design from the price equation, because it has very little to do with the smoking properties—assuming of course that the briar was well-cured, engineered and drilled correctly. The real key to what gives people an elevated experience is how comfortable they personally find the mouthpiece!
Buttons: Top left and bottom left, vulcanite P-Lip; center, 2015 Acrylic P-Lip; right, 2019 NAP vulcanite
The P-Lip is what I associate with Peterson and it makes it look great but it’s also really comfortable in the mouth. Nice and rounded over. I like the way the bite zone is done, that you have the round top and the concave bottom part of the lip—there’s something about it that just fits my teeth nicely. It’s one of the only pipe stems where I don’t notice it when it’s there, and I think that says a lot more for the design.
As for the flavor difference of the P-Lip, it’s obviously different than a fishtail. But when we did the NAP vetting group, I noticed an even bigger flavor difference. I think on the NAP that was due to the volume and resistance of the smoke. The tasting is different because of the resistance. The NAP is wide open, fanning smoke across your tongue versus along it.
Shane: I think that the more tobacco than you can try and the more you enjoy everything you’re smoking, the more you refine your tastes and your ability to pick out nuances. I get questions from people all the time about how those of us who review tobaccos are wax poetic about all of things that we taste and whether or not that’s real. It is. This is true of whiskey, wine and everything else.
I try not to get too esoteric when I’m talking about flavors, because it’s not helpful beyond a certain point. The farther out there you get the less someone will be able to relate to what you’re tasting. If it’s with a a group of like-minded friends, then of course you should try to be as specific as you can—what am I tasting here?
In general, you’ve got to connect the dots to broaden your frame of reference. To do this, my advice is to abandon scoring. I think it’s useless unless you’re on a website and can see that there’s a large number of reviewers who gave it high or low ratings. It’s more useful to follow people on those sites whose tastes tend to align with your own or go in the opposite direction.
I always recommend Tobaccoreviews.com as the best place to start, using tobaccos you already like. Finding a handful of reviewers that have similar tastes, you can expand your own frame of reference by reading about other tobaccos those reviewers enjoy. Then when you try something new they’ve reviewed you can compare your experience to theirs.
People will say to me, When I was smoking that tobacco you talked about, I didn’t pick up any of those things that you mentioned. I ask if they’re retrohaling and they tell me they’re not. The complexity of taste we’re talking about when we review tobaccos is nearly impossible to discern just on your palette. You have to blow through your nose to get the full picture.
Mark: I’ve heard of retro-haling, but don’t understand how to do it.
Shane: Retro haling is exhaling some of the smoke through your nose instead of your mouth without having inhaled any of it into your lungs. It takes a little bit of practice, but once you do it it, it tends to be pretty intuitive.
After the pipe is lit and going, I take a small amount of the smoke in through my mouth (not a deep drag). The smoke is on my palette, not in my lungs or throat. Instead of exhaling through my mouth, I simply blow it out through my nose. The olfactory senses are much stronger than the taste senses of your tongue and palette. You don’t have to retro hole on every puff, but just doing it occasionally really opens up the flavor experience.
Mark: Final question. Your knowledge of tobaccos, like your knowledge of pipes, always amazes me. When you’re not evaluating new product, though, what are your personal favorites? Ones you can’t live without?
Shane: For over a decade, McConnell’s Scottish Flake has been my number one tobacco. Other than that, I’m a huge fan of the Rattray’s virginias. I’ve killed a lot of their Old Gowrie, Hal O’ the Wynd and Brown Clooney. I find myself especially liking the aged stuff. I don’t know why, but I’m really enjoying mild tobaccos with a significant amount of age. You’d think that the spicier stuff with full body would have longer legs. Of the three, I find that the Brown Clooney—the mildest of the three—is my favorite with a significant amount of age. On the English side, I’ve also smoked quite a few of the Dunhill blends. The old London Mixture and the old Durbar also smoked quite a bit of Dunhill blends, the old London mixture and old Durbar are favorites of mine. I could also be happy with Orlik Golden Slices if that were the only tobacco I could smoke. I just discovered it two year ago and really like it. So many pipers out there and that’s all they smoke. There’s got to be a reason, right? Its great right out of the tin. It’s great aged. It’s great in all the stages between.
Mark: Thanks, Shane!
Photos by Shane Ireland or Mark Irwin
Stock photo of Former apple courtesy Smokingpipes.com
THE TEXAS PIPE SHOW 2022
The Texas Pipe Show was a big success for all concerned, drawing some great artisan carvers, some great estates and other gear as well as a slow-smoking contest and a few of our own celebrities like Steve Fallon of Pipestud and Kevin Godbee of Pipesmagazine. James Foster has put up a great review of the show and loads of photos you can see over at Pipesmagazine. Pete Geek Gary Hamilton and I were there when the show opened and it just got busier as the day went on. As you can see from the photo above, they offered a killer T-shirt. I also got an original-shape B42 Premier and a Mycroft homage pipe made by Pete Geek Mark Dominguez of Lone Star Briar. Mark is one of the earliest readers of the blog and a long-time Pete Geek and he also makes some fantastic pipes as great prices.
I didn’t meet up with the Laudisi rep, but I believe he and Tobacco Cabana, the shop that hosted the show, made sure there were plenty of great new Petes on hand.
This was taken right before the official opening. I wish I’d taken a photo later in the day when you couldn’t see the tables for the pipemen (and women)! The slow-smoke competition was held in the covered tent right in the middle between the two buildings.
As far as I was concerned, “Best in Show” went to this 1990 Oom Paul Patent Commemorative, restored by our own Gary Hamilton. He also made the amazing Irish flag tamp seen here. Per Gary: “The tip is African Blackwood, the body is Brown Mallee Burl (Australia), the TriColour flag is made from individual Inlace Acrylester slabs and laminated together. There is also a slice of aluminum accent between the tip and body stem. As far as the finish is concerned, it is just a sanded and polished finish, using carnauba wax.” Now if we could just get him to do us up a Pete Geek batch!!
I also wanted to show off his stem work and tenon extension. The pipe came without a stem and he wanted to match the stem seen on the Patent Commemorative straight. This one is perfect. He also turned the tenon extension, as the original stems had none.
William Malouf: “Really love this pipe(#54)! The color and feel really remind me of the first Dunhill I bought back in the 80s. It was a tan shell billiard, but it felt just like this one.”