When I was a kid, anticipating Christmas was one of the most exciting times of the year. Any greater “reason for the season” was lost on me as I spent weeks counting down and dreaming about the presents I hoped to receive! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I spend much more time reflecting on Christmas than I do anticipating its arrival. This year, I discovered myself reliving my favorite Christmas presents from years past. I’ll never forget the treasured space shuttle model
my mom Santa got me when I was eight, just months after John Glenn returned to orbit! Eleven years later, my dad got me this Peterson Irish Whiskey sandblasted billiard. It was my first brand-new pipe, and smoking it the other day conjured up Dickensian images of the ghosts of Christmases past.
Peterson is the world’s oldest continuously-operating pipe manufacturer. The company started in 1874, when Frederick Kapp opened a pipe shop in Dublin and a Latvian artisan named Charles Peterson started working there. In 1890, Peterson was awarded a patent for a new system of pipes that repositioned their draft hole and included a moisture reservoir. In 1891, the company patented a graduated-bore mouthpiece, and Charles Peterson birthed a unique stem design that’s today called the P-Lip in 1898. The brand has some significant history.
Peterson Irish Whiskey pipes aren’t very common, and I’ve read that sandblasted versions are even harder to find1. Apparently, the series was produced from 1997 to around 20052, so my pipe was probably new old stock when Dad picked it up in 2009. The Irish Whiskey series is marked by a tan, sandblasted finish with a pair of brass bands that separate the pipes’ shanks from their stummels. I believe that they originally sold for around a hundred bucks.
Until he discovered Boswell pipes, Peterson was Dad’s marquee of choice. They were the best that his dollar could buy, and he must have particularly loved the Irish Whiskey series since he owned two of them. My pipe’s a number 107 on Peterson’s shape chart- it’s a robust, muscular billiard, and it was my go-to smoker in college. Part of that was through necessity, since most new pipes need to be broken before they’re willing to offer the pleasant experience that a nice cake of carbon in the bowl provides. Unfortunately, the only way to break a pipe in is to smoke it, but I did so incessantly until right around the time Dad died in 2011. Although my Petey finally smoked like a dream, I stopped the habit and hobby for more than a decade: smoking pipes didn’t feel the same when I smoked alone.
Something stirred me into getting back into smoking pipes pretty hardcore over the past year. Amazingly, I’d never bought a new pipe of my own until then! As I started collecting again, I retired all of Dad’s old estate pipes, including my Irish Whiskey even though it was new, in order to try and make new memories with pipes I’d purchased. But as I considered those Christmases from long ago, I decided to un-retire it, just for a day.
Although Peterson actually makes a blend of Irish Whiskey blend of ribbon-cut pipe tobacco that would have been perfect to smoke in its namesake, I already clean my Irish pipes with Bushmill’s, which imparts a similar flavor. I remembered that I had a tin of Cornell & Diehl’s Ghost of Christmas Past crumble cake that I’d received as a gift, so I decided to smoke it instead. The tobacconist describes the mixture as “a wistful blend of White Burley, Dark and Cube-cut Burley layered with Bright flue-cured leaf and a fantasm Latakia.” I wasn’t totally sure what all of that meant, but I smoked it anyway.
I’m glad I did, as the past couple of days have been wicked cold with windchills around -30°. I found the cake to be a little wet, but crumbled easily as I pinched it into the pipe. After a couple of relights, the tobacco’s depth of flavor -with a nuttiness and hints of cocoa that somehow reminded me of a campfire- finally wafted up and around me. The first full draw from my old Irish Whiskey instantly took me back to Dad’s family room all those years ago as a flood of memories washed over me.
My stepmom always decorated the house to the nines in silver and gold around the holidays, and there I was again, smoking this exact pipe with my dad. I remembered the scent of wet, hairy dogs as they came back inside. I remembered the frosted gold ornaments on the enormous tree set back in the corner of the living room near the fireplace, and I remembered my stepmom’s monkey bread and deviled eggs which were the best I’d ever eaten. I remembered watching the Sci-Fi channel all night in anticipation of Christmas Day, and I remembered the pageantry that followed the next morning. My dad was larger than life, and almost anything he did involved some formality to it. Those memories from his house were comforting and bittersweet, and they floated away once my smoke finished up. Though I’ve passed by a handful of times, after Dad died and his estate was settled, I never set foot in that house again.
Nostalgia at Christmas is a powerful force, one made more potent by our changing traditions. Nevertheless, families adapt to changing realities: If the weather improves, tomorrow morning only seven of us will gather at my mom and stepdad’s house for a scaled-down celebration. My brother and I will be the only pipe-smokers of our Christmas brunch bunch, but maybe I can convince him to join me outside for forty-five minutes with one of another of Dad’s old Irish Whiskeys to keep one tradition alive.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas as we all navigate the changes that happen between one holiday and the next.
1 Bumgardner, D. (n.d.) Irish Estates: Peterson Irish Whiskey Sandblasted (X105) (Fishtail) (9mm) (Unsmoked) Tobacco Pipe, SmokingPipes. Web. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
2 Irwin, M. (n.d.) Peterson Irish Whisky. Peterson Pipe Notes. Web. Retrieved December 22, 2022.