Briar pipes, like those made by Le Nuvole, are crafted from the burl of the Erica Arborea (Tree Heath), an evergreen shrub that grows in the maquis, the characteristic vegetation of the most temperate areas around the Mediterranean Sea.
The Briar Block, which supplies the best pipe-making wood in the world, exceptionally compact and with outstanding heat resistance, is a swelling that develops over time at the base of the plant, just beneath the ground.
A good block, of suitable size, is obtained from plants about 30 years old. As well as the characteristics already mentioned, it also has an attractive appearance with thin, narrow veins (straight grain), and a pleasant flavour, the basis for the creation of priceless pipes.
The well-planned harvesting of adult Heath plants helps to keep the maquis healthy without damaging it.
Briar from Italy
For my Le Nuvole pipes, I use the best (extra-extra quality ) briar from Calabria and Tuscany. I put it through a lengthy seasoning process in my own workshop, which is specially insulated to ensure a constant temperature and the right humidity, both essential for giving the pipe a pleasant taste.
Olive, rose, cherry, strawberry tree, lemon and other woods can also be used to make pipes, but the results are far inferior to briar in terms of durability and flavour.
Smoking briar pipes
Pipes are ideal for a slow smoking experience that demands a relaxed approach and an almost meditative frame of mind.
The smoke should not be inhaled but rather savoured, holding it in the mouth for the necessary period of time.
Common prejudice has it that smoking a pipe is complicated, but in fact a little time and experience will reveal the small secrets that ensure a good smoke.
I advise beginners not to worry too much if their pipes go out during their first attempts; just relight and continue. However, with a little patience all smokers will improve their drawing technique and learn to apply the right pressure to the tobacco in the pipe.
If I had to sum up the difference between smoking a cigarette smoke and smoking a pipe, I would say that the former is a hurried, standardised way of smoking, while the latter is certainly more refined and personalised, since a knowledge of the pipe used and the specific blends of tobacco makes every smoke a highly individual experience.