Piping hot: Smoke rising in Chattanooga from interest in pipes

Piping hot: Smoke rising in Chattanooga from interest in pipes

December 13th, 2012 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Katie Keister, 23, enjoys smoking her pipe downstairs at the Chattanooga Billiard Club.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Katie Keister says the Peterson is an estate pipe, meaning it was previously owned.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Pipe club meeting

The Chattanooga Pipe & Cigar Club is hosting its monthly meeting on Tuesday at The Honest Pint, 35 Patten Parkway, at 7:30 p.m. According to a Web page on meetup.com, clean estate pipes and extra loose tobacco will be on hand for anyone interested in sampling for the first time.

Choosing pipe tobacco

For some, it can be similar to choosing a wine or how you drink your coffee, a personal choice.

Virginia: Tobacco grown in this state have a fruit-like flavor that can veer between sweet and tangy.

Burley: This blend is air-cured in large barns for a couple of months. Containing no natural sugars, burley is usually flavored with types of sugar. It has a slightly nutty flavor that has been described as sweet oatmeal or caramel.

Spiced: Not a specific type of tobacco, but a blend of several types.

Oriental: Comes from Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and other Eastern Mediterranean countries. Slightly sweet.

Latakia: Cure over fires made of aromatic woods and herbs. Heavy, smoky flavor.

Perique: Burley type of tobacco grown in Louisiana. Very strong.

Source: notsoboringlife.com

Katie Keister was long intrigued by the idea of smoking a pipe but was intimidated.

A regular at the Chattanooga Billiard Club on Cherry Street, the 23-year-old had tried several of the cigars offered there, but sampling a pipe was too far out on the limb. A couple of cocktails changed that, however.

"I've always wanted to do pipe smoking, but I never had the chutzpah," she says. "One night about six months ago I had a couple of martinis and thought, 'OK, I'm going to do this,' so I bought a pipe. I got hooked on it. It is so much different than a cigar."

Keister says the flavor of the pipe tobacco is sweeter, the throat burn from the smoke is not as harsh and the routine of cleaning the pipe, packing the tobacco and lighting a pipe is far more appealing.

"Pipes are more cathartic," she says. "There is a process."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control study, the use of pipe tobacco increased by 5.82 percent over the last 12 years. Cigarette consumption dropped 32.8 percent during the same period. The same CDC report points out, though, that pipes and cigars contain the same toxic chemicals as cigarette smoke and therefore pose the same health dangers.

Scott Smith, manager at the Smoke Stack on Highway 58, says he has noticed an increase in the sales of pipes and pipe tobacco and the clientele is getting younger. It's too early to compare what appears to be a rise in pipe smoking to the cigar explosion of the '90s, he says, but he does see it trending upward.

"We are seeing new smokers that don't want to go with cigarettes and consider a pipe a safer alternative and we are seeing cigarette smokers who want to wean themselves off of that," he says.

Those who buy pipes aren't going cheap and "seem to want a higher end pipe that will last," he says.

Keister says she never smoked cigarettes and doesn't feel that smoking a pipe is a daily habit for her.

"It's a social thing," she says. "I never smoke alone. It smells good and I want to share the wealth."

She is currently the owner of three pipes -- two burlwood Savinellis and one Peterson. The Peterson is an estate pipe, meaning it was previously owned.

"It has a huge bowl and you can fit a lot of tobacco in it so you have to sit and be really committed to it. My dream pipe is a meerschaum."

Meerschaums is a soft, white mineral used to make ornately carved pipes.

Choosing a pipe that's right for you is an important part of the process, the experts say. It is also likely the most expensive part of being a pipe smoker. Smith sells pipes for as little as $10 and as much as $90.

The pipes at Burns Tobacconist inside the Chattanooga Billiard Club in Cleveland, Tenn., start at about $80 and go up to about $360, according to manager Drew Bandy.

Quality in the pipe matters, he says, because improper air flow caused by a poor design or cracks can cause the tobacco to burn too hot or be difficult to keep lit.

Pipes can be relatively simple in design or they can feature ornate shapes and carvings.

"I chose based on shape," Keister says. "I have really tiny baby hands. The one I chose has no cracks and it was pre-seasoned and it felt good in my hands. It's a very personal thing."

The same is true for choosing the tobacco. Keister's current favorite is an aromatic blend, which she likens to what everybody's thinks of grandpa smoking, though she is beginning to sample some burleys, an aired-cured tobacco that contains little sugar and is used also American blend cigarettes.