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What is Good Briar?

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chopstix

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This is a question that I posted in another forum:

In the tobacconists where I hang out, the older guys often lament the loss of "good briar" in today's pipes, pointing to their antediluvian GBDs or what have you and sniffing at my Ruthenberg/Jody Davis/[insert modern carver here] in disdain. Their view that that modern pipes, pretty as they may be, don't measure up in flavor when compared to say, Dunhills from the Mesozoic Era. I've smoked old Dunnies and new high-grades and drilling preferences aside, I am hard pressed to tell them apart. My own view is that well seasoned briar is well seasoned briar. I am curious, however, to hear some of your views on the subject - what in your view constitutes good briar OTHER than thorough seasoning of the wood? For purposes of this discussion, I would propose to exclude the effects of oil curing, since this may be considered simply another aspect of seasoning the wood. Does, for example, the source of the briar make a difference as to taste? What about hardness? Or the part of the burl that is used (I confess I am really sceptical about that one)?
 
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Anonymous

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Leaving the curing process (and time span) of the briar out of consideration will skew your conclusions, I'm afraid. So I propose to at least mention it in passing.

Briefly, guitars and violins that were good to begin with hit a stage at about 30-40 years of proper use where they're really good. It would be strange if briar weren't, in some respect, analogous. This is not to say that everything old is therefore good, or that everything new is therefore bad (or less good). It is to say that what is clearly good today is likely to become even better with age and use.

With that out of the way, it might be well to note that the Lane-era Charatan that many people are so entranced by today was, as a new pipe, widely regarded as being a labor of love to break in.

Insofar as briar geography is concerned, with wine, onions, potatos and olives in mind, rather ask how this could not make a difference. Tastes and perceptions vary, unavoidably. But when the comment that Italian briar tends to be noticeably brighter-tasting (especially at first) elicits general agreement, there you have as much of the answer to the question as can be determined through concensus.

You would have both of these (geography and age) in synergy with the old Dunhill shells that were made of Algerian briar. Again not that there could not be disagreement, or that somebody so inclined couldn't point out that coincidence is not causality, but when the Algerian disappeared, the character of the pipes changed. Which is probably as close as anybody can come.

As concerns hardness, "the book" is that Dunhill used Algerian for some (the black ones, I think I recall) (?) of their shells because it was soft. Others demand hardness. Go figure.

If plateau briar (with its pronounced grain) were better across the board than the plainer and less regularly-figured briar from the interior of the bole, it's a fair assumption that people would have noticed by now. But while the modern pipe has to be beautifully figured to sell, the briar of the older Dunhill smooths (to pick on Dunhill again) is typically plainer than that of their better Comoy, Barling, &c. contemporaries. Yet people love them. So again -- go figure.

Then, how big is the bowl ? How thick are the walls ? What chamber configuration ? Variables are innumerable. And when you've finally worked through all that, explain how two virtually identical pipes by the same maker can be unmistakably different in the way they smoke and taste. Pipes are female.

In the long run, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Castello seems to come up with consistently beautiful briar that consistently delivers a superior experience. If this is the answer you're looking for (and the completely un-biased piper hasn't been born yet), you're set. Or at least you've got your parameters of choice narrowed down to a workable size when approaching the work of the new guys.

:face:
 

chopstix

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That's about as good as answer as I've seen to this question. Funny that you should mention Castellos - I have may 15-20 Castellos and have yet to smoke a bad one. Whatever it is that they do to their wood works for me. Anyone know what their secret is?
 

thomas james

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Just a small sidebar here.

I was categorically explicitly emphatically told that all of the good briar is gone. Pipe store owner told me.

That was 1968.

Imagine that.

Opinions are like blah blah blah blah blah,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,oh nevermind,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,you get the point.

They don't make cars like they used to,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,haven't had to push and pop the clutch in forty years.

Know anyone who can smoke a pipe and say "Yeah,,,,1973,,,,,,,spring?" And give GPS co-ordinates where it was harvested? I don't.

Name ONE thing that WAS better forty years ago,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,OK two!

1958 Big Macs tasted exactly the same as todays. Probably are getting near the "eat before date."

:king: tj
 
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