Dennis H. Congos. All rights reserved.
Reproduced here with permission of Dennis H. Congos. 11/04/2003.
Many people have asked me to make available a step-by-step set of instructions for my method of sweetening up a pipe. It is in response to my friends that I compose this missive. While the content of this treatise is serious, I just could not keep my tongue out of my cheek from time to time. Don't let my self-indulgent humor distract you. It is just another way I can thoroughly enjoy my writing. BEWARE! This pipe treatment really works and may result in the finest smoke you ever had from your pipes.
It is pleasing to know that so many fellow briar friars are interested in my method so there it is, including some of the variations my colleagues have tried and found successful. In 41 years of pipe smoking and collecting, I have found no better treatment for rejuvenating a tired pipe. The first smoke after the Professor's Treatment is a joy known by a limited few, to date.
To begin, tobacco contains oils. When combustion occurs, some of these oils are released and are deposited on the inside of the bowl in the existing cake and in the shank of the pipe. In time, these oils mix with oxygen and turn rancid which is one reason for a tired, bitter, or sour taste in a pipe. It is the accumulation of these rancid oils that prevents a pipe from delivering a sweet flavorful smoke. These oils can be dissolved and removed with the Professor's Pipe Sweetening Treatment to restore that faithful beauty to the delicious, mouth watering, and nut-like sweetness of a well-seasoned pipe.
Step 1 - The first step requires obtaining certain materials. You will need a box of non-iodized salt easily found in any supermarket and a quantity of pure alcohol of the kind found in the varied stocks of your friendly neighborhood liquor store. One familiar brand name is Everclear. I suggest you have a clean rag, facial tissues or paper towels handy to wipe up any errant alcohol lest it dull the finish on the bowl. Remember the salt and the alcohol are to be consumed by your pipe so it will smell good, relax you, lower your blood pressure, and taste sweet. If you consume the salt and alcohol, you will smell bad, raise your high blood pressure, suffer a snoring drunk, and taste like hell. And when you sober up, your pipe will still taste like you are smoking cubed cut gnu manure.
Step 2 - The second step involves preparing the pipe. Empty any dottle remaining in the bowl. Some people prefer to remove the stem and insert a pipe cleaner in the shank during the process. Others leave the stem in place. Find a location where the pipe may be set in a semi-upright position to prevent the salt and alcohol from spilling or leaking over the top of the bowl or running out the shank to ruin the finish on your wife's favorite coffee table. Then guess what gets ruined next.
Step 3 - Fill the bowl of the pipe with salt all the way to the top. Some believe also filling the shank with salt will maximize the sweetening effect. Others, as stated above, insert a pipe cleaner in the stem to prevent salt from entering. Try it both ways and choose whichever variation gives you the most desirable results.
Step 4 - After filling the bowl with salt, it's time to add the alcohol. This may be done in several ways. One method entails using an eyedropper placing 8 to 10 drops of alcohol on the salt. A second way involves slowly pouring in alcohol, allowing it to rise to the top of the salt filled bowl. A third way has the salt placed in the bowl in a series of 3 to 5 layers with a few drops of alcohol added to each layer. And a fourth method requires filling the bowl about halfway with alcohol and then topping it off to the brim with salt. A final way is to drink the alcohol and forget about the whole mess. Again, I suggest you try each method and choose the one you like best. These are all variations on the same theme. The glorious goal is the delightful achievement of a desired admixture with which to entice the gods of sweetness to again reside in the chambers of your pipe, to put it succinctly.
Step 5 - This step is always the most difficult part for me because it requires doing nothing. The time necessary for the salt and alcohol potion to do its magic varies from 8 hours to several days. Some advocate that total evaporation of the alcohol must occur before the salt is removed. Others find that total evaporation isn't necessary. Experiment and see which produces the best results for you. Of course, the more alcohol is added the longer it takes to evaporate. Now that I think of it, alcohol has the same effect on me. In my experience, I have found that 10 to 15 drops in a bowl full of salt will dry in about 24 hours and result in as much sweetness and good taste as any of the other methods.
Step 6 - After waiting the chosen chronological interval, it is time to remove the salt and any remaining spirits of alcohol. Take a pipe tool and poke through the hard brown/black crust that has formed in the bowl. Empty every iota of darkened salt to the last grain. The now blackened dross has drawn the rancid tars and oils out of the cake and into the salt by some mysterious osmotic process. (I hope one of my fellow briar friars with a chemistry background will "take up the cause" and explain this mystery to us "ignernt" folks.)
I have found that thicker cakes produce darker salt. I do not recommend removing the cake that you and your tongue have worked so hard to build. The cake is a product of a cooperative effort between person (puffing) and natural processes (burning tobacco) which provides protection against burning out the wooden briar howl. It also reduces tongue bite and is a significant factor in producing a sweet and mild smoke. A pus-filled and scaby pox on those who remove the entire cake from a well-seasoned bowl! Those villainous characters lay wood and tongue open to the ravages of fire and ember until new protection is rebuilt and a tongue found for the transplant. May dirty yellow funguses sprout on the tongues of cake removers until they repent and mend their ways.
Remove the salt from the bowl by pouring, scraping, brushing, blowing, or by throwing it over your left shoulder for good luck (you may end up in the hospital if your spouse is standing behind you, though). But, by all means, don't draw on the pipe before removing all of the discolored salt. I had a friend who described a stew of toad balls, camel puke, roach lips, cow patties, maggot eyes and horsefly butts as potentially more savory than the revolting, bitter emetic of salt, nicotine, tar and stale alcohol aged in the essence of rancid oils. Gag....................
Run a pipe cleaner through the stem several times to remove any last grains of salt, Salt often lurks in the cave-like darkness of the stem hoping to ambush unsuspecting taste buds as you comfortably sit back and draw your first long anticipated puff of angel's breath. So, avoid a spontaneous imitation of a blowgun artist with your pipe as the dart. If this happens, you will swear on a stack of the Pope's Holiest Bibles, that the invisible god of excrement used your tongue for toilet paper. When composure is regained, be certain all the salt has been evacuated and replace the stem if removed.
Step 7 - Assuming you have followed the steps listed above pretty much in order, allowing for one or two variations of style, your pipe is ready to smoke. Fill it with your favorite tobacco and prepare yourself for an exciting, pleasurable smoking experience.
I hope that my many fellow briar friars find the Professor's Treatment very pleasing and that all adventurous devotees of the pipe and herb who try it will discover unexpected enjoyment and a new friend in a favorite old pipe. I wish good puffing to all of my fellow briar friars.
Warning! There are other long time briar smokers of the opinion that this treatment can lead to the bowl of the pipe cracking or splitting, especially if there is no cake in the bowl. Use this method at your own risk!