Nothing Special?

27th September, 2007: Posted by glpease in Pipes


About three Saturdays ago, I was gazing at the latest offerings presented in the very-nearly-weekly update from Briar Blues. A lot of pipes caught by eye, as they always do, but one grabbed on with whitened knuckles, and refused to let go. I kept closing the window, only to open it again and. I wrote Mike about it, asking if he thought I’d like it. Mike and I have been friends for years, and he knows my tastes well. I can always trust him to render an honest, if understated opinion in full candor. I believe his response was something along the lines of, “It’s an okay pipe, but nothing special.”

I asked if he was trying to dissuade me from the pipe. “Yes, I suppose I am. It’s a nice piece, but you’ll probably find it heavy and awkward. Your call, though.” Almost his exact words. My call. I guess, really, it always is.

Normally, I really do trust Mike’s judgement. I’ve learned that there’s only so much that can be conveyed through photographs, and by benefit of his having the pipe in hand, and knowing both my tastes, and full well what a picky bastard I can be, he’s almost always spot on. On the few occasions I’ve gone against his recommendation, he’s gotten the pipe back by return post. So, yes, I’ve learned to listen to him. This time, though, I would not, could not be swayed.

Each time I looked at the photos, my gut told me I wanted it. Something about it really spoke to me, whispering in my ear, “You want me. I’m yours. Have me.” How could I refuse its seduction?

Mike’s recent approach has been to send email to everyone on his list, announcing the latest batch of pipes. We get a day or so to ponder the photos, but can’t actually buy any of them until Sunday at 9AM. It gives everyone a chance to really look over what’s on offer (Mike provides several photos of each pipe, so it can take time to ponder), without the pressure to make an instant decision, quickly grabbing something before someone else might. It’s a good strategy, I think.

Sunday morning, at about 8:30, I looked again at the photos. If anything, its voice had gotten stronger overnight. It was inevitable I’d have this one, but I had to be quick enough on the trigger. I composed an email, saying simply, “You KNOW what I want.” He did. I positioned my cursor over the send button. I pulled up his phone number from my address book for extra security. At 8:59, I entered his number into my mobile phone. At precisely 9:00, I hit the send button on the email, and dialed simultaneously. (You’re not wrong if you get the impression I was serious about getting this pipe.)

I love it when a plan comes together. The pipe was mine.

It arrived on Wednesday. I fidgeted only briefly with the box before ripping off the tape, and removing the familiar Castello box within. I opened the small, hinged box, and extracted my prize, robed in its soft chamois glove. I could feel the curves, the texture of this substantial piece through the chamois. I pulled it out, wondering if my gut, or Mike’s admonition, would be correct this time.

I immediately sent an email. “The Castello arrived today. Man, I should have listened to you. It’s ghastly. I don’t know WHAT I was thinking! Ah, well. Sometimes, we just have to give it a go, right? I’ll put it in the post tomorrow.”

This was followed shortly after by another. “Sorry. That last one was a bad joke. It’s really fantastic - more so than expected. I have a feeling this is going to become one of my faves.” Of course, I’ve predicted this before about a pipe, but more often than not, I’ve found that that my Magic 8-Ball was shaded by rose colored, overly enthusiastic optimism. How would this turn out?

It’s a fairly large pipe. The bowl is about 2″ tall, with a tobacco chamber diameter of 22mm, or about 7/8″. The shank is stout, and the sliver godet, almost majestic. It’s not a featherweight, but it’s not heavy for its size, weighing in at just under 64g. The blast isn’t deep, but it’s sharp and detailed., and the wood had already taken on some lovely red and brown hues from smoking. The stem is beautifully shaped, and while comfortable, it’s substantial enough to support a pipe of this size. There are no marks on the stem, and only the very slightest darkening of the smooth bowl rim. Despite having been smoked quite a bit, this pipe was carefully handled, and Mike’s clean-up job brought out its best.


Objectively, it’s really a pretty unassuming pipe. The grain is pretty, but hardly breathtaking. There are no rings, no deep cavernous crags, nor sharply articulated birdseyes. The shape is classic apple, almost English in its profile, but in some areas, the blast distorts the line such that, from some angles, it almost looks more billiardish, like a Dunhill 127 on steroids. It’s a difficult pipe to visualize from a few photographs. But, once in hand, it’s voluptuousness is instantly satisfying. It practically begs to be held, to be smoked. Though I normally gravitate toward smaller pipes, likely the reason Mike attempted to alter my orbit, something about this one just works for me.

Its previous owner had not smoked it to the bottom very often; quite a common phenomenon, but one I don’t really understand. It seems to me that the best part of the smoke is often at the end, so why would someone want to miss out on that amazing richness? I’d take care of that in a hurry. I filled the pipe with Fillmore, and settled in for its inaugural smoke.

One thing I really appreciate about more recent Castellos is that their airways are not constricted at the bit end as they often were on older examples. It’s refreshing to see that in a world where so many great old marques have relaxed quality, that at least one maker has continually endeavored not only to maintain high standards, but to actually improve upon them. The pipe smoked effortlessly, right to the bottom. The ghosts of the previous owners tobaccos were certainly present, and their floral, Lake district chains rattled throughout the bowl, but enough of my own tobacco shined through to give me hope that this would become an excellent pipe after a couple dozen bowls.

Before the pipe even cooled down, I was smoking it again, and, once again, it was excellent. The next day, I smoked it again. Twice. Maybe three times. I couldn’t put the thing away! Every day, for the first ten days or so that I had the pipe, I smoked it at least twice, waiting for that tell-tale sign of an overworked briar. It never came. The floral notes began to subside, and my own tobacco was rendered with increasing nuance and clarity with every bowl. Pipe cleaners emerged with just a hint of moisture, and very little accumulated “dark stuff.”

I finally stopped smoking it so often - not because I felt I had to, but because my other pipes were beginning to feel neglected. Still, I came back to the apple, and have been smoking it often, perhaps too often, every since it arrived.

This is one amazingly good pipe, and a testament to what can happen when a truly great piece of special briar joins excellent construction to bring into existence an exquisite expression of the pipe maker’s craft. I’ve been telling people that this might well be the best smoking pipe I’ve ever owned, and every bowl seems to reinforce those words. I keep wondering when the magic will wear off, when this will become just another good pipe. I hope it doesn’t, but you never know.

Pipes come and go. Rarely does one practically scream at me like this one did, “Take ME!” Sorry, Mike. You’ve been batting pretty close to 1.000, but I’m really glad I didn’t listen to you this time, choosing, instead, to listen to a more aetherial voice. It doesn’t always work out this way, but it sure did this time. By the way, I’m smoking it for the third time today…and it’s still fantastic.