Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

I would like to wish all of you a very happy, safe, healthy and exciting new year. May your medical tests come back clean...may your jobs remain secure...may your bills be paid...may your pipes be full...may your coffee be fresh and hot...may your cats be well-fed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Acquisition 12/23/2008 Stanwell 190

I really like Stanwell pipes so when I saw this new panel billiard shape I knew I was going to have to start collecting them. This one will be the first one in what I hope to be a series of one in each finish. This one is in the Legend finish. The brass band is a nice touch to the transition of the reddish-orange to the jet-black stem.

New Acquisition 12/23/2008 Mario Grandi freehand

For a long time I wondered about how good the Mario Grandi pipes are. I've seen them on EBay for a couple of years now but so far very little information about them. I recently found out that the pipemaker who makes the Mastro Beraldi pipes also makes the Mario Grandis.

This pipe was the very first Grandi I have seen sporting a white stem. It also has a gorgeous blue acrylic shank band and the shape reminds me very much of the 2002 Nording Hunting Pipe.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My Review of "Haunted Bookshop" by Cornell & Diehl

INTRO: Burley is such a versatile creature. I think of it as the rice of tobaccos. Alone it is nutty, full, creamy and higher in nicotine than its condimental counterparts. Used properly in a blend it will take on any flavor thrown at it like a chameleon running across paint swatches. When used improperly, it is bitter, harsh and just plain nasty. Haunted Bookshop is one of those blends where prime leaf is used and used very well. The burley base retains much of its nutty flavors yet gets along very nicely with the red Virginia and Perique.

CAUTION: The cut is rather fine and upon inspection the visual appearance looks like something you would see in a little jar of seasoning. Due to this cut, I have noticed a lot of "dust" in the tins which makes packing tedious as one tends to get tiny particles of tobacco in the mouth when testing the draw and lighting up. Lightly shaking the tin helps to settle a lot of the finer particles which helps to avoid having a sandstorm hit your tongue.

CHARACTERISTICS: Haunted Bookshop burns faster than most other blends. It also makes a lot of powdery ash that usually requires dumping halfway through the bowl. Tamp this tobacco lightly and you should have no problems. It burns dry, bites very little and leaves the pipe clean. It will "color" your pipe on the first bowl so avoid trying this in a favorite pipe to avoid ghosts.

SMOKING: On the initial light you taste the cigar-like flavor of the burley and Perique. Throughout the bowl the cigar flavor trades places with the subtle sweetness of the red Virginia. The nutty flavors are there and the prune-like presence of the Perique speaks its voice each time you sip it softly. When puffed hard the burley flexes some muscle and you get a big bold bass note with a sidekick of nicotine.

SUMMARY: This blend is similar in the vein of "Old Joe Krantz" but with more high notes, sweetness and less nicotine. It is strong enough to satisfy a nicotine craving, yet light enough to be enjoyed all day.

Haunted Bookshop is a natural blend reminiscent of the old-school blends of a time when a man came home to a clean house, a hot meal and a happy family. No fancy tricks here, just good honest tobaccos skillfully put together to form a delightful and relaxing smoke. Well done!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

New Acquisition for 11/01/08

This is a beautiful Viprati billiard. It has a rather large bowl with some nice grain and wood shank bands. This pipe makes the sixth Viprati in my collection.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

New Acquisition for 10/08/2008

I fell in love with this gorgeous Viprati pipe when I saw it on EBay recently. I love that famous Viprati craftsmanship with the silverwork and that sexy deep dark red lucite stem.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Unusual Pipes: Briar Roll

Words escape me when I try to describe this pipe set. Any ideas?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Unusual Pipes: Storage Stand Pipe

This pipe is really unique! The little box in the front is meant for tobacco storage. I cannot tell by the picture if the pipe itself is just a ball or if it is attached to the rusticated strip of plateaux in the back. Either way, this is quite a piece!

New Acquisition for 9/22/08

This is a beautiful rhodesian from Luigi Viprati. It is graded as a two-clover and has some nice grain with a worked engraved silver band.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Unusual Pipes: Sphere and Plane

This is some geometrical eye candy! Spherical bowl with a plane surrounding the lower half of the globe. This is a Lorenz pipe.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Unusual Pipes: "Caged Pipe"

It's a pipe! It's a cage! It's a pipe in a cage! Amazing work on this interesting pipe that seems to be encased in a cage made of briar.

Check out that funky stemwork!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Seven years ago today I saw smoke in the sky but no planes. I saw tears of sorrow and joy. Cars sitting at a park-and-ride waiting for drivers that would never return to claim them. People speeding down the highway blind to everything around them from tears as they turned up the radio. Cell phones being smashed by those who could not get through to their missing loved ones. Men with shotguns standing on rooftops. Chaos. Death. Destruction. Confusion.

Seven years ago today I saw a flag raised amongst the smoking ruins and dead bodies. Groups of strangers singing hymns together. People of all colors and ages join together to help those in need. Rich, poor, young, old, male, female, black, white. What was meant to destroy a nation gave it new life.

For those lost souls of 9/11/01
For those of us who were there and survived. For everyone affected by that horrible day.

God bless America.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Unusual Pipes: "The Pig"

Talk about a "Pig in a Poke"! This is a "Pig in a Pipe"!

This is a pipe from Lorenz and I found it on a German pipe site. A fully functional briar pipe in the likeness of a pig that looks freakishly similar to my ex-wife!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Congratulations Sinan!

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate my friend Sinan Altinok on his wedding that takes place tomorrow. While I could not be there in person to wish them well, I proudly do so here. May you have a lifetime of good health, happiness and blessings.

Sinan is the owner of Altinok Pipes where one can get the finest meerschaum pipes and exotic rugs in the world.

New Acquisition for 08/22/08

I saw this little Stanwell Zebrano dublin pipe online and I kept going back to look at it for a week. I finally pulled the trigger and made the purchase. These pipes are lightweight and feature a nice shank band of Zebrawood. A very handsome pipe if I may say.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Making New Memories with Navy Flake

Several years ago I smoked Mac Baren's "Navy Flake". It's a moderately sweet blend of good Burley, VA and cavendish. I soon moved on to more stout blends and forgot about that wonderful flake. My memory of it grew dim with time and the flavors I once enjoyed were nearly forgotten.

A few days ago I was at the local JR Cigar store and saw a tin of this once-beloved flake sitting there on the shelf. I purchased the tin and was pleasantly surprised to see that Mac Baren now packages this blend in 100 gram tins as opposed to the previous 50 gram standards. I opened the tin, gently pulled away the thick gold embossed sheets of foil paper and took a nice whiff of the scent of the fresh flakes. I had forgotten just how good that sweet aroma could be.

The other day I took an oversized lovat and filled it with four flakes. The way I smoke flakes is that I put them together uniformly then bend them once lengthwise then once widthwise. The wad is pressed together at the bottom and worked gently into the pipe. A medium-sized pipe takes one flake perfectly so this huge pipe holding four was going to make for a good long smoke. I lit the pipe and that familiar flavor of honey, anise, chocolate and nut came back.

I smoked that pipe right after breakfast until it was time for me to pick my son up from school. On this particular day my wife was in Manhattan with our girls having a "girl's day out" so I took the opportunity to have a "guy's day" with my five-year old son Sky. I was still smoking the pipe while in the truck and Sky commented that my pipe smelled better than usual. Taking this as a compliment I continued smoking it on the way to the toy store. While we were there Sky saw a new bicycle that he suddenly could not live without. I had not planned on making such an elaborate purchase of a bike. I was thinking a new Transformers toy or something in the Spiderman line of child entertainment but alas, my son and that Huffy were instantly inseperable.

Twenty minutes and many more dollars later, Sky and I are driving home with a shiny new bicycle in the back of the truck and the Navy Flake pipe in my mouth. It was a fun ride home with Sky chattering non-stop (literally!) about his new acquisition and me enjoying the wonderfully consistant bowl of tobacco. Once we got home, the bike came out and soon Sky was tearing up the street with me following close behind on foot. I was still puffing away on the same bowl of Navy Flake while we were outside breaking in my son's very first bicycle. I'm sure that is a memory we will both have for the rest of our lives.

Now whenever I smoke Navy Flake it brings me back to that day I got my son his first bike. That bowlful lasted a total of six hours and seventeen minutes. While I many not have that many smokes for such a length of time again, there will definitely be many more bowls of Navy Flake. This blend is staying with me for life.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Playing with Packing

I've noticed recently that I have to draw more frequently when smoking certain blends. I have more relights and get less smoke per puff. After some experimentation with my packing method I have come to the conclusion that my pipes are being packed too loosely.

I had been using the "lightly sprinkle...barely tamp" version of the "Three Levels" method. It seems that when the tobacco was sprinkled very lightly and the tamping was also very light, the pipe would smoke too "loose" and was going out almost constantly, especially with English blends.

To correct this problem I started "feeding" the tobacco into the pipe while it was tilted sideways in one hand. This seemed to take the pressure off the airhole so the airflow was not obstructed yet there was less space between the tobacco strands. This manner of packing seemed to keep the strands more consistent for keeping lit on it's own better. I also pressed the levels down a bit harder but not "too" hard as to "mash" it down.

In the end, the pipe seemed to be borderline overpacked. The initial light was a bit tighter than I like but it was working well. After the first char then second light I took a pipe cleaner and gently went down the stem and gave the tobacco load a little push. This cleared the airway in the chamber and opened up the draw to a perfect tension. The result was a good long smoke with fewer relights, a better flavor and slower cadence.

This method is far from foolproof but so far it is working well. Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why We Don't Inhale

A common question I am often asked, usually by a new pipe smoker or a non-smoker, is “Why don’t you inhale the smoke?” Unlike cigarette smokers, pipe and cigar smokers generally do not inhale their smoke. I have heard many explanations as to why this is, most of which have been incorrect. It seems that there are more inaccurate perceptions about the briar than there are anti-smokers.

The reasons behind not inhaling are rather philosophical in a sense. The concept of pipesmoking is to relax and enjoy the wonderful flavors that the tobacco provides. Inhaling the smoke gives you a much different flavor and experience than if you just puff and slowly blow it out of the mouth and nose. A good parable is that of someone who is a connoisseur of fine wines and someone who guzzles cheap beer to get drunk. A cigarette is simply a vessel for nicotine whereas a pipe or a fine cigar is to be savored slowly to promote a relaxed state and a celebration of the complex flavors that only they can provide. With a pipe you can sit back...relax...reflect and enjoy a blissful escape from the daily stresses of life.

With these thoughts in mind, fill up your favorite briar…strike a match and light up…enjoy.

Friday, June 27, 2008

New Acquisition: June 27, 2008

No sooner this gorgeous pipe was listed on I bought it! This is a large bent apple with the "lattice" design and some impressive silverwork. Delrin tenon makes stem removal easy and safe. These pipes smoke so well!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Acquisition: June 25, 2008

I love this thick-walled apple from Altinok pipes. Nice and simple yet great beauty in it's simplicity.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Pipe Smoking and the Internet

Intro: This is a golden age of pipe smoking! Today there are hundreds of companies and independent artisan pipemakers producing pipes each year with more cropping up regularly. There are thousands of tobacco blends of every variety available along with a steady influx of new blends being introduced. One is no longer limited to the stock of one's local tobacconist's shop because the internet has provided access to unlimited resources for pipes and tobacco. In this age where brick-and-mortar shops are becoming scarce, online retailers (or "e-tailers" as they are sometimes called) are flourishing. Without a doubt, the internet has been a key factor in the evolution of pipe smoking.

Pre-Internet Years ago pipe smokers purchased their pipes and tobaccos at a local shop or through a mail-order catalog. Choices were usually very limited according to what was being carried at that time by the shops. There was not a large variety of brands, shapes and sizes of pipes. Tobacco choices consisted of some premium brands like Dunhill, "drugstore" brands and house blends of local shops. Some of these local shops made some wonderful blends but were virtually unknown outside of the local area.

Information about pipes was not easy to find. New pipe smokers wishing to learn the basics of the gentle art usually had to find a mentor to teach them how to properly pack, light, smoke and care for the pipe. More than a few tobacconists gave crash courses to new customers making their first purchase. Most new pipe smokers were taught the standard "three-level" packing technique, given a bag of aromatic tobacco and sent along their way.

Early Internet Age With the implementation of the internet into the public mainstream came the Usenet group "alt.smokers.pipes". This newsgroup hosted a virtual community sharing a plethora of knowledge and experience in pipe smoking. New smokers could ask questions to seasoned veterans from the comfort of their own sofas. Information about various brands of pipes and tobaccos were shared between people all over the world. Some members traded pipes and tobaccos, discovered new blends and brands, learned new ways to pack a pipe and invented better ways to maintain a pipe. Eventually, the old myths were exposed as just that...myths.

As a result of having access to such a large pool of pipe lore, smokers began to enjoy the gentle art more than they had prior to joining the newsgroup. Several commercial web sites were created as "virtual smoke shops" and soon one could purchase those pipes and blends discussed online. Imagine the feeling of discovering that no-name pipe you thought was a high quality briar was just mediocre once experiencing a true high-grade! The gentle art of pipe smoking was virtually re-invented and re-discovered much to the delight of new smokers and veterans alike.

Present Day Today the internet hosts hundreds, if not thousands, of pipe-related sites. Online retailers have vast inventories and diverse selections. New artisan pipemakers create works of art in their homes and sell them on their own web sites. Some pipemakers and tobacco blenders have participated in the online pipe community giving smokers direct interaction with the creators of their favorite blends and pipes. It is a tight-knit community, a "Brotherhood of the Briar", that continues to support the gentle art and keeps it alive.

Through the internet we have a much better understanding of our pipes. Pipemakers teach us how pipes work and what makes them great and what makes them firewood. We know more about tobacco and how blends come together because we have master blenders sharing their expertise about the Leaf. Having a better understanding of the intricities allows us to appreciate that much more all of the work that is put into our beloved tools of tranquility.

Future Anti-smoking groups are hard at work to make all tobacco illegal. Political pressure has been placed on retailers, e-tailers and credit card companies to cripple the online commerce by taking away online payment processing. Countless smoking bans have been placed all over the world and they keep getting more restrictive each time around. The fear that tobacco will indeed become illegal and our pipes will be merely legends is a legitimate one.

Despite the smoking bans and other attempts to reduce tobacco consumption, pipe-related commerce shows no signs of slowing down. People are still buying new pipes, tobaccos and accessories. New blends are still being produced with more to come. In this golden age of pipe smoking we are keeping the art alive and growing. Many new pipe smokers are picking up their first briars each day. There is much available for everyone and it is our duty to enjoy it all.

Friday, May 23, 2008

New Acquisition for 05/23/08 several weeks ago Boswell Pipes had an update that included a gorgeous canadian with a natural finish and a cumberland stem. I wanted this pipe big time so I immediately called the shop to order it. After 20 minutes of busy signals I finally got through only to hear that the pipe had just been sold to the caller before me.

Fast forward to today, after waiting anxiously for the updates to be posted what do I happen to see but this beauty? Much nicer than the one I missed out on for sure! This pipe is huge but was made from one block of briar! There are no glued extensions on this piece! I called Boswells to order expecting to hear that it was sold. Imagine my surprise when I heard it was still available! No more it's not...MINE!!!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Review of "Lamb Cake Slices"

Preface: This past April Fools Day some of us reviewers at submitted reviews for a fictional blend that was made with lamb. While the joke was initially lost on some, most people got the joke and followed up accordingly. Here is my submission:

The first thing I noticed upon opening the tin was the mint. Truly a testament to the master blender's use of a restrained hand. I also detected something else in the scent...similar to the McClelland "ketchup" smell but this was more like KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce. Spicy goodness! The moisture content was more than I am used to as the slices seemed wet. Once I removed a couple of the slices I saw that the cause of the excess moisture was the beige water-like substance pooled at the bottom of the tin. This is more than likely the lamb juice. What a grand presentation! The flakes are easy to compress and fill the pipe with. I used some of the juice to put on the top of the bowl for "kindling". At first match the lamb introduced itself (its name was "Lambchop") and soon the mint joined in. The room note was pleasant and my wife commented that she kept thinking it was Easter Sunday. This is definitely not your drugstore variety, but very top shelf USDA Grade-A lamb! The bowl ended in a small pile of grey ash with no dottle or bone fragments. Very nice smoke but certainly not an all-day as I was too full after smoking one pipe that I skipped dinner and went to bed. On a side note, I understand that Greg Pease is working on a lamb blend as well but his will incorporate Cyprian Latakia, some dark rum, Latakia and more Latakia. It is to be the first in the new "Muttons and Maidens" series.

Friday, May 09, 2008

My Review of McClelland's Drama Reserve

McClelland's Drama Reserve is a blend of ribbon-cut Virginias with Drama leaf added to the mix. Upon opening the tin you can smell the spice immediately. Due to the cut it packs easily and burns well. It is a bit moist out of the tin but a few minutes of drying time brings it to a better moisture level for smoking.

The flavor at first light is a slightly sweet spiciness. It is not a peppery spice like that of Perique but a more exotic one like saffron. As the bowl progresses the sweetness increases slightly and the spice moves to the background playing a supporting role to the VAs. Towards the end of the bowl there is a good base of sweetness with the spice coming through now and then. The blend gets more full at the end but it never gets harsh.

Drama Reserve is a cool-burning blend that leaves the pipe and palate clean. If pushed it can bite but that is a given considering the ingredients. Not a blend to be puffed like a locomotive but slowly sipped and savored like a fine wine.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

New Acquisition for 5/4/08

This is a beautiful nosewarmer pipe from Luigi Viprati. It is a one-clover grade and has some impressive silverwork.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Acquisition for 04/23/08

Yes, it's ANOTHER Boswell! My favorite shape and finish, this stubby billiard sports a brown pearlized acrylic stem.

The Pipe At Sea

Many years ago before international travel was accomplished primarily via flight, great ships carried travellers across the globe over the seas. Pipes were smoked by many seafaring gentlemen during those times. Classic verses of prose have been composed under the influence of the romance of the sea and the pipe. From pirates to poets, the pipe has been a fine and faithful companion.

In this present modern age of travel, emphasis on speed and convenience are the fore. Running to the airport terminal to catch a flight, making connections, catching a shuttle, airport security, etc, has made travelling more stressful than anything else.

I recently took a trip on a cruise ship which inspired me to make a brief visit to those older times when men took to the seas for adventure and profit. While sailing out of the port of New York City I brought out the pipe. In celebration and tribute to that ancient tradition I smoked by sunset on the sea. For a brief time I was not on a cruise ship but instead was a gnarly pirate keeping watch over the deck in search of treasure and adventure.

The winds proved too fierce for me to enjoy a long slow smoke so I resolved to enjoy the pipe inside of my stateroom while watching television. Not as romantic or dramatic as facing the ocean breeze but certainly more condusive to a man built more for comfort than speed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Acquisition for 04/15/08

Today was "Update Day" at Boswells and guess what I found?

Talk about perfect timing, last year around this time I saw an author at Boswells with this same finish and an amber stem that I fell in love with. I got that pipe as my birthday gift and it has become a big favorite of mine. Now here it is a year later and I see this pipe! Needless to say, "Happy Birthday to me"!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Starting the Day

This morning we actually had some warm Spring weather so I had my morning pipe and coffee on the deck. I was feeling a bit artistic so I captured the moment to share with all of you. The pipe is a Stanwell Boa which is a very hard shape to find and usually only available in Denmark.

Monday, March 31, 2008

New Acquisition for 3/31/08

I just purchased this new Viprati nosewarmer pipe to bring with me on a cruise I am taking in two weeks. I have a suite booked with a private deck so I plan to kick back, order up some coffee from the ship's room service and smoke a nice bowl of a Rattray blend while watching the sun set over the sea. I wonder if my Blackberry will get service out there...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gorgeous Pipes from Idskov!

Mr. Carsten Idskov has been making fine smoking pipes by hand since 2001. His pipes are beautiful works of art. I recently contacted Mr. Idskov to inquire about purchasing some of his work and he sent me these pictures of some incredible pipes he is currently offering. These pipes are much too good to keep a secret so, with kind permission of Mr. Idskov, I am sharing these with all of you here at Straight Grain. If you would like to purchase one of these pipes, please contact Mr. Idskov directly at or you can visit his site at

Monday, March 17, 2008

My First Old Boy

Today I took the plunge and ordered my very first Old Boy pipe lighter. I have heard so many things about how good they are. they also have been redesigned and improved so how could I resist?

I have several pipe lighters by Collibri, Prometheus, Vector and other brands but for some reason they never seem to work well after the first weeks. I got one no-name that was great but one day it, literally, fell apart. Hopefully this Old Boy will mark the start of a whole new trend of good working pipe lighters for me.

Now I just have to figure out how to add fuel, change the flint, etc.