Talbert 1999 Yule Pipe
17 October, 2000
In this installment, the 1999 Talbert Yule pipe is examined. Often, when I get a pipe of such exquisite beauty, it takes some time to get comfortable enough with it to actually smoke the thing. It's sort of like the plastic that covers lampshades or something. But, finally, I've broken down and broken in this remarkable specimen.
First, some of the tale of this pipe's journey is in order. I chose pipe #7 out of, I recall, 12. My choice was based on the amazing depth, detail and precision of the blast. The pipe looks like a pine cone, but with clearly defined grain all around the bowl, while the bottom is cratered like the surface of the moon. This is a fabulous blast.
When I received the pipe, however, there were some minor aesthetic things that put me a little off; a little scratching in the band, the top wasn't *quite* symmetrical, and some of the lacquer that was applied to keep the band from tarnishing had dripped onto the shank. See. Minor. After discussing them with Trever, he cheerfully agreed to make the necessary corrections. I'd probably not have said anything about these minor details, but I've seen a lot of his work, and know what his standards are; this pipe just wasn't up to them. Besides, I am a really picky bastard. That said, even with some minor flaws, this pipe was STILL well beyond the norm for fit and finish! So, I sent it off to him for whatever he would do to make it truly worthy of the Talbert name.
When the pipe came back from North Carolina, I ripped the package open without ceremony, and was awestruck at the contents! Everything was perfect! Now, without question, I knew I had not only a Talbert Yule pipe, but quite possibly the finest of the finest! (I can't imagine a way to improve that magnificent blast!)
On to the review. I've already extolled the virtues of this amazing sandblast, but a few more words need to be said. Getting a deep blast is relatively easy. Getting a detailed blast is, too. But, doing them both, while still providing the sort of cragginess that is exhibited here is a real art. The finish he then applies is extraordinary, highlighting the grain still further, and the smooth semi-gloss showing everything off to best advantage.
The stem fits perfectly, is polished to perfection, and very, very comfortable. The way Trever finishes the button's smoke outlet is unique, but beautiful. It's attention to details like that that separate a high-end pipe from just another good smoke. My ONLY criticism of the stem is that the tenon is a little short, giving the illusion of possible instability. This is purely an illusion, though, as it is quite secure, and mates perfectly with the mortise.
Naturally, the drilling is perfect. With all the research Trever has put into the engineering of pipes, this is to be expected, and nothing less would be acceptable! He has set high standards for himself in this regard, and I'm happy to report he seems to adhere to them.
Since I blended Talbert's Yule tobacco that was given with each pipe, I thought it fitting to break the pipe in with it. It's a fairly stout Latakia mixture, with plenty of Virginia and enough orientals to provide some fullness. I filled the pipe, and smoked away.
Talbert's pipes are more open than some, allowing for an easy draw. This makes lighting the pipe effortless, but the smoking must be done with a little attention. It would be easy to get the thing functioning like a blast furnace if one were to smoke too furiously. Fortunately, the fullness of the tobacco didn't encourage such abuse, and I managed to maintain a fairly delicate draw throughout the wonderful smoke.
Nary a gurgle! Trever uses a bowl coating in most, if not all of his pipes. If I can detect a bowl coating in the smoke, I don't like it. I'll accept a slight coloration of the tobacco, but only if I have some confidence that it will subside after a few bowl. Trever's is as neutral as they come. (I'm reminded of Paul Bonaquisti's coating, which is also very easy to ignore.) I had little doubt during the first smoke that I'd never think about the coating again after a couple the pipe had a couple of bowls under its belt.
The flavor of the pipe, in fact, is fairly neutral, but somehow BIG. In fact, at a couple of points, I almost wish I'd chosen a more subtle tobacco. Somehow, this pipe seems to concentrate flavors without altering them significantly. Amazing! Especially for a first bowl! A bit of sharpness came through from time to time, just a slightly jagged edge, without really being harsh. Such a minor flaw is more than tolerable in a brand new pipe.
Remarkably, the pipe began to darken almost immediately! I noticed a distinct chance in color while I was smoking it. I did mention this to Trever, and he told me most of his pipes do this. I don't know if it's his curing, his briar, his finishing or some combination of these, but this is amazing. I wouldn't believe it had I not seen it myself!
Marvelous! And, not even a HINT of woodiness through the entire bowl!
The second bowl, not surprisingly, was better than the first, but only slightly. The sharpness seemed toned down just a little, but, overall, the experience was quite similar to the first bowl. I know that over time, this pipe will mellow out a bit, that slight, youthful brashness will be mature into a sophisticated elegance. I know that this pipe will continue to improve until it approaches the asymptote of perfection. It's a truly great pipe.
Cut - B I really like the shape of the bowl and the overall design of the pipe, but the flared stem is just a little too heavy to my eye. A more graceful stem, in my opinion, would balance the bowl just a little better. Still, it's a beautiful pipe.
Finish - A+ There's nothing more to say here. Extraordinary.
Comfort - A Perhaps a very slightly wider stem would be welcome in a pipe of this size. Though it's certainly not heavy, the brass band and heavy stem do contribute significantly to the overall weight, and after 20 minutes of holding it in my teeth, my jaw was a little weary.
Engineering - A+ In this arena, I think Trever may set the standards. There are certainly many well made pipes, but I don't think anyone has ever paid quite as much attention to the minutia of airflow that Talbert has. How much this contributes to actual smoking quality is anyone's guess, but my hat is off for his diligence.
Smoking Quality - A- It's still too soon to tell how good this pipe will get, and some pipes have smoked slightly better out of the gate. But, given a dozen bowls or so, if this one doesn't move up to A+, I'll be surprised.
Overall, this is a very impressive pipe. I now have three Talberts, though the first two were "estate" pipes that were some of Trever's experiments. I love them both, but since they weren't production pipes, and since they'd been pre-smoked, I couldn't really consider reviewing them. I'm thrilled with this one, though, and happy to be able to say some good things about it.
See the Talbert Pipes web site for more information about his beautiful pipes.
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