The Noble Clay

Clay pipes are on their way to The Briar Shoppe!

And the question is, why? 

The answer is complicated–the clay pipe gets a bad reputation among many serious pipe smokers for its fragility, its lack of portability, and its tendency to heat up. So why smoke a clay pipe?

For one, it is a very strong aesthetic statement. You think pipe smokers already get comments about being old-fashioned? Just wait until you pull a 16″ clay pipe from your tricorn hat. We’re talking colonial-era rustic image here. Bring your mandolin. 

If that’s not enough of a sell (and it is for me!), let’s talk about the experience that you’re going to get–you’ll be smoking the pipe from which the first fragrant fumes of tobacco wafted in the Old World. You quickly get a sense of what it was like to be a pipe smoker 300 years ago. Old-fashioned tobaccos smoked in a clay pipe is the sort of tobacco-joy that sets me spinning; it’s like remembering something that never happened to you, like you lived a past life as a bucolic Dutchman playing the lute in some remote village. In other words, you need to have a clay pipe in your collection for the sheer joy of smoking while reading an epic fantasy novel. For best pairing, I suggest The Wheel of Time with Rattray’s Hal ‘o the Wynd in a long clay. With a mug of a dark cask ale. By a fireplace. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.

But when it comes down to the bare smoking experience, do not doubt that the clay has something to offer besides nostalgia and extra costume points at your local reenactment society. No, the clay pipe is a good pipe. In fact, it is a great pipe for certain tobaccos. Aromatics that cloy and disgust a smoker in your best briar come alive when stuffed in a clay. The clay is absorbent, and will keep your smoke cool and dry, and it will color as beautifully as meerschaum. And it lends a beautiful earthy flavor to tobaccos that you simply can’t get from anywhere else. 

Tips for smoking your clay:

1. Pack a little lighter than you would a briar pipe. You want a very easy draw through the usually smaller bore hole. 

2. Hold by the stem, not by the bowl. You pipe-palmers often complain that the bowl gets so hot! That’s because you’re not supposed to hold it there, silly. 

3. To clean, throw in a fire. Sounds counter-intuitive, but your pipe will come out clean and white. These pipes are fired to harden, so there’s no risk of your campfire getting hot enough to break it.

4. Don’t clench. I’m a clencher, so I know how tempting it is. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s not made to be held in your teeth. 

5. Don’t puff–Sip. This is true for any pipe, but a clay pipe especially. They call it tobacco-drinking in Holland for a reason. You will get a much better smoke and it won’t get as hot. 

6. Finally, Don’t smoke harsh tobaccos. A straight Virginia that melds like butter with briar will burn like hell in clay. Stick with soft Virginias, burleys, and aromatics for the best smoke a clay can offer. 

Oh, and don’t drop it. Clay pipes are very cheap, but they break like…well, clay. 

Come in next week, hopefully they’ll be in by then. I want to start a clay pipe revolution in Texas. Huzzah!

In Smoke, 

Ross

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