Last Wednesday, I received my AeroBilliard, the latest opus in a series of collaborations between NeatPipes’ Luca DiPiazza and Luigi Radice and sons.
Before I go one word further, I wish to emphatically state that my two-hours and three bowls of tobacco with this pipe left me absolutely amazed with its smoking quality. It is no overstatement, whatsoever, that I have never had a better first three bowls of tobacco from any pipe. The pipe delivered it all: smooth, concentrated flavor and a cool, dry smoke. In short, this pipe has forced me to reconsider many opinions I’ve held about what is and is not a great smoking pipe.
I was so excited about the pipe’s smoking quality that I removed it from my mouth, cleaned the bit, and handed it to a good friend of mine, Sam Colwell, to taste. Sam was so astonished by the flavor (he was smoking the same blend in one of his favorite pipes), that he asked me to help him immediately buy one for himself.
A chubby billiard measuring 110 mm (4.35 inches) in length, and 50 mm (2 inches) in height, the stout little pipe weighs in at only 56 grams (2 ounces) – quite a feat given that the shank diameter is a full 25 mm (1 inch).
Given the massing and proportions of the pipe, I expected it to weigh considerably more than it does. However, that chubby shank is completely hollow; the AeroBilliard uses its hollowed shank as a condensation, expansion, and cooling chamber for the smoke.
Pioneered by the Russian artisan, Michail Revyagin, in its current form, the reverse calabash pipe concept has been gathering steam. Rolando Negoita, Tom Eltang, and Anthony Harris are all producing pipes with chambers in the shanks. Revyagin’s reverse calabashes are astonishing in their range of beauty, craft, and innovation. They are also decidedly upmarket in cost terms. Negoita’s and Eltang’s versions also fall into the high-grade pipe price range, whereas Anthony Harris’ pipes are more cost-accessible.
For many pipe smokers, this NeatPipes AeroBilliard will be a first relatively affordable opportunity to smoke an inverted or reverse calabash pipe. Priced at $220/ €169 (Rind), $245/ €190 (Silk Cut), $258 / €199(Rubino), $350/ €270 (Clear), and $420/ €323 (Clear Gold), the AeroBilliard is still within reach.
Frankly, I’m a bit embarrassed as I write this post. I have been more than a little skeptical about the whole reverse calabash concept. I own and smoke conventional calabash pipes and frankly have never experienced a notable difference in smoking quality between a conventional pipe and a calabash before. I figured if the larger condensation chamber in a conventional calabash didn’t do it for me, how could a smaller shank-chamber get the job done? I didn’t buy it. Not at all.
I saw the reverse calabash concept as one more good-intentioned, but ill-fated sortie in a long line of stingers, filters, and other convoluted contraptions. As one good friend put it, “It seems to me that this reverse-calabash thing is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s not like we don’t love smoking conventional pipes.” I never cease to be amazed at how wrong I can be.
I suspect that a key driver of the AeroBilliard’s smoking quality is the generous capacity of its tobacco chamber. With a diameter of 22mm (.85 inch) and a depth of 40mm (1.58 inches), the chamber volume allows for plenty of tobacco. As I’ve often asserted, if you want robust, concentrated flavors, you need a big distillation zone where the embers can dry-distill those volatile resins into the smokestream and where the tobacco’s sugars can solvate into the aerosol. So, what we have with the AeroBilliard are big flavors and plenty of sweetness that are cooled and concentrated by its engineering.
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the pipe’s fit and finish. I was impressed by the Radice’s craftsmanship. As you can see, the pipe’s sandblast quality is superbly detailed. The contrast staining beautifully highlights the sandblast. The saddle bit is smooth and lustrous and well-proportioned in length, and appropriately thin for comfort.
I can’t help but digress a bit about the Aero’s launch marketing campaign. It is, in a word, brilliant. The use of old-timey , ambrotype pipe-as-zeppelin images conveys a sense of event and a sense of humor. Further, Mark Irwin’s brilliant and imaginative blog post on the AeroBilliard “flights” is a must-read for anyone who loves pipes and tobaccos. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Wow. I wish I’d written that.”
NeatPipes’ packaging is also fun and innovative. When I opened my package, I found the pipe nestled on a black, velvet pillow. A tamper with a slot to hold tissue for cleaning was included. One of my favorite pipe-as-dirigible images is on a card with use and cleaning instructions on the reverse side.