Briars vs. Meerschaum:  Right Brain – Left Brain – I Choose the Middle Way!

Blog by Norman Skiba

I have seen this discussion and argument in the past and even in the present on various pipe smoking forums.  New threads, old threads – they are all the same.  Personally I am kind of bored with the various arguments.  I have smoked both briar and meerschaum’s pretty much from the start.  In the 60’s and 70’s there was a lot of myth about pipes, briars, tobacco, and meers.  And there still is a whole lot of myths about these various things.  Many people that contributed to this plethora of facts, and opinions, and just downright incorrect information were either ignorant of the information, ego-driven to show their pedanticism, opinionated with an enough-to-be-dangerous knowledge, and people that in this case never smoked either briars or meerschaums, or smoked briars or meerschaums that were of decent smoking Quality to even begin to make a comparison as to the briar or meerschaum discussion at a credible level of discourse.  The creation of myths and biases still continue to this very day.

As stated earlier, I have been fortunate to have smoked both briars and meerschaums pretty much from the beginning of my pipesmoking journey.  Most people, if not all of the people around me were briar smokers and briar master pipe makers.  Most probably never smoked or owned a meer, and if they did, they never smoked it enough to make an educated opinion – just an opinion.  A lot of the myths and information that I learned, and I bet, most people in similar situations have learned are biased and twisted information,  some true – some partially true, and some just off the wall in any sense of possible truth.  As neophytes – how do we know what is credible.  The blind leading the blind.

As an old guy who has been around this journey into pipes and tobacco, I have to say that I have worked hard and went broke to have 3 nice pipe collections in my life.  2 of the collections were extensive and the last in my close to the end of life is extremely modest, but exquisite.  The first 2 collections had both briars and meers, but the predominant pipes were briars. (The types and kinds of pipes are a whole ‘nother story that may be pursued in another little blurb.)  I have always loved the meers – for aesthetical reasons, smoking Qualities, and the artistic carving and coloring experience for example. (Just like the shape and finish and grain of briars) They were nice pipes and smoked wonderfully.  I did notice a difference, yet I could not at the time explain it as such.  Again being surrounded by briar people I may have had some slant on that – i.e. an opinion or observations of this briar vs. meerschaum dynamic of the smoking Qualities that they offered.  This last tiny collection is predominantly meerschaum at the moment – 4 meers and 2 briars (I may get 1 more briar in the future due to my love of pipes and the briar made by a deceased famous pipemaker.)  But that would still make:  meer 4 and briar 3.  I have understood late in life during my sannyasin period as espoused in Hinduism, that 5 pipes are nice – 6 – 7 OK – and No More.  Now you may ask – ‘Why do you go from 5 – 6 or 7 pipes?’  Due to my love of Latakia and a wife who has asthma – I am forced to have to smoke outside and when raining or cold/very cold in my cold small shed.  I need some briars to smoke in the freezing cold where meers are technically possible to crack or shatter so the need for an extra briar or two.  I must say that the briars that I do have are wonderful pipes and wonderful smokers so I love them and do smoke them in the summer too.  Even if I lived in Bali where the weather is pleasant all year, I still would own my briars.  I love wood and I love grain.  But I have fallen deeply, in my old age like never before, for the White Goddess!  I have always had, and smoked, and loved meers; so this is nothing new; however, the Passion is just so Intense at this stage I cannot explain.  The meers I am smoking more during the summer/warmer weather because I love smoking them, and not just because of the weather.  Today for example, I had 3 bowls in the morning in a meer and later on when I took a break after working all morning outside, I smoked an old relatively conservative Preben Holm.  It was wonderful.  There is a difference, in a sense, in the briar experience and meer.  I have struggled to define it for decades and I just cannot.  However, the difference is not ‘a one is good and the other bad’ sort of difference that one thinks exists.  Maybe the term is characteristic(s)?  Maybe it will always be elusive and not definable.  It is so abstract – yet one knows it when it is understood/experienced.  It may just not be graspable in an ideational way or in word play.  It just must be experienced and appreciated each for what they have to offer.

In a post I made on an old thread on a forum recently regarding the briar vs. meer argument (edited and expanded here):

I do say that the meers do smoke drier and cleaner in many respects. I have had some meers that were sweet as in smooth and easy to smoke and enjoy and a few that were maybe a bit brutal if that be the word. Some had a warmth and a dimensionality to the smoke and the taste. I have had some briars that were – yech!  I have also had some briars that have that warmth that I mentioned for the meers.  Again – maybe the meers take a few bowls of a tobacco when new to achieve a warmth that is inherent in it – the pipe itself.  Even briars need to be broken in as such.  Again, each pipe, whether briar or meer can be special or a loser. I find the more I smoke the meers and they develop and are good in their way – the warmth and the taste of the tobacco opens up and improves tremendously.  Funny – similar analogies to briars.  No real answers here, just observations.  It boils down to a good pipe is a good pipe and one that isn’t may not ever be!  Briar and meer!

I choose the Middle Way of Buddhism.  Briar AND Meer.  Enjoy!



2 thoughts on “Briars vs. Meerschaum:  Right Brain – Left Brain – I Choose the Middle Way!

  1. norman

    my take – initially it is a bit different and maybe a bit sterile and cold – and i hate using these words; so go with the flow… but the more you smoke them the nice and sweeter or warmer and not hot but a softness to the smoke and taste. the taste is remarkable. you also taste tobacco in a more pure state maybe – i also only smoke 1 blend in all my pipes so there is no ghosting. also be diligent about cleaning your meer and also use pipe cleaners if you need them. unclean pipe will shatter the experience.

    hate to write this… but i bought a poul winslow pipe. decent money and nice looking…and i smoked latakia maybe 50 bowls and it never tasted good. i was told and could see something black in the bowl when i got it and was told he precarbonizes his bowls. He worked with preben holm. anyway – nice pipe but a nasty taste and it had to be to beat out heavy latakia blend. tossed the pipe.

    think of smoking a new briar. it is cold and has a wood/burning briar taste to it if i can remember…. it takes time to get it working. same with a meer.

    another thing. i have high end Karat series Canton speakers – the other prior to that were lower end and before that another manufacturer. anyway when i first got the lesser canton’s i heard stuff i never heard before with the junkier speakers. then when i got this Karat series – i heard even more. they are so clean i actually mastered a few pieces on one of my cd’s before i got my tannoys and their 12″ subs at the time for mixing and mastering and recording. do many time the nakedness of the meer shows through and is neutral so you get the taste of the tobacco. it could be that the tobacco you were smoking was not that good or else in the meer more was revealed which may have been something that you did not like vecause you finally tasted it. in one of my newer meers with maybe 3 weeks on it. I had for the first time in 52 lbs of this tobacco got a hint of clove in it that i never got before. aroma and taste. this pipe still needs a few more bowls yet but it smoked nicely. plan on doing 2 bowls tomorrow AM. in it. coloring nicely too.

    lastly – quality of the block.

    just my thoughts. i did sleep in a holiday in last night! heh heh

  2. justanotherjim

    Curious if you get a distinct taste from your meers. I bought a good one and smoked for three months but I always found the taste off-putting. I traded for a briar and the guy who has it now says it’s no different than any other Meerschsaum. I’ve tried two other of his pipes, both quite expensive and we’ll broken in and I get that same cloying taste. Have you had this experience or know others who have?


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