I started this blog with a review of an inexpensive pipe by a major marquee, Nording’s Erik The Red Series. Mine came in the flavor of a partially-rusticated straight Dublin. For $60.88 when I purchased it, it was an enormous bargain- it smokes great! They’re available on SmokingPipes now for a little more, around $68.
Of course, Erik Nording says all of his pipes -whether they cost $60 or $600- smoke the same. Great! Cheap pipes for me from here on out!
Before you ask, I don’t have a sponsorship with SmokingPipes, but I admit that I do a lot of business there, though: For full disclosure, I recently discovered that I’m a Silver VIP member, meaning I’ve bought a lot of pipes and tobacco from them. Other websites like Payless Pipes and Cigars, TobaccoPipes, and Pipes and Cigars, provide similar prices and a fantastic selection.
When we talked about some good starter pipes to buy instead of something shitty like a Dr. Grabow or anything from a tobacco shop’s wire basket or plastic tote, I mentioned four brands: Ropp, Rossi, Nording, and Brigham. I’ve already reviewed that cheap Nording pipe, with its stylistic cues that link it to the heritage of that line, so it’s time to look at the next on the list. Today, we’ll talk about Ropp; namely, a Ropp Vintage Stout Sandblasted Zulu, which I picked up for around $78.
$78 is edging towards expensive territory, and there are a couple of things to note about this little smoker before we get into specifics: Ropp’s vintage line will cost more than their budget Etudiant line that starts at around $45. The vintage Ropps make use of genuine-horn stems, but lest you think that they come from some cool animal like a rhinoceros, a narwhal, or the Greater kudu, the horn bits are sourced from cows. Horns -be them from unicorns or bovines- are hard to work with in this modern era, so this type of stem is difficult to come by in pipes manufactured in the 2020s.
I’ve owned horn pipes before, and experience dictates that they’re somewhere between vulcanite and acrylic in terms of what a gourmet might call mouth-feel, but that they’re very brittle. Were it not for their scarcity or propensity to break with a major-league chew, I’d recommend horn pipes across the board.
I hate to describe the mouth-feel of a horn pipe, as I tend to put horn in the same anatomical basket as I do bones, and my sister was once engaged to an Iraqi expatriate who loved nothing more than to suck the marrow out of bones at a restaurant. Pardon my French, but fuck that!
Here’s the second point about this brand of pipes: All new Ropps have serious heritage! This was an old-school brand to start with, but new pipes branded with the name are made with vintage stummels found by SmokingPipes’ management team at the legendary Chapuis-Comoy factory in France. This line of pipes features repurposed old briar that was cut probably fifty years ago put together with stems and sold at an inexpensive price. If you can stomach the smaller bowls they tend to feature, Ropps are pretty much the shit. I can, so I spent the $78 on this Ropp Vintage Stout Sandblasted Zulu.
The Zulu shape is also called a Woodstock or a Yachtsman. They tend to be lightweight and flare out towards the top almost like an inverted cone. Like I said, Ropp’s Etudinat (student, in French, my brother tells me) series of pipes cost around $45- a perfect price point for someone considering -urp- a Dr. Grabow.
At any rate, I bought this pipe to review, but also to nudge a small tobacco spend above the free-shipping threshold of $90 or whatever it is. Then I decided to give it to my brother! Graciously, he let me smoke it first, so I packed this Zulu with Sir Walter Raleigh, an old-school brand with hints of anise and molasses that you can typically pick up pouches of anywhere. It’s a little more flavorful than my favorite grumpy old man blend of Carter Hall, but it won’t behead you with tongue-bite, which is close to the fate that befell Sir Walter- head bite. By a guillotine.
I really enjoyed how this little pipe looked straight out of the sock. I love a good nose warmer! Some of my fondest memories are carrying one in my peacoat pocket as I crossed the suspension bridge from IPFW’s parking lot on California Road towards campus! I was also taken with how this guy smoked: It was clean, cool, and only got warm once I got to the dottle- the tiny pieces of unburned tobacco at the very bottom of the bowl.
A bigger deal was the size of the bowl. Jesus Christ! This tiny pipe -just 4.78” long- has a smoking chamber that measures 0.83 cubic inches, way bigger than the .68 inches of my Erik The Red, slightly larger than the capacity of my little Peterson 999, but a little smaller than my Savinelli Oscar Tiger straight billiard. The bottom line is that this pipe gave me a great smoke that was longer than I expected it to be.
I actually enjoyed smoking this pipe so much that, once I finished, I told John I’d buy him a replacement Ropp if I got to keep this one, a deal he thankfully accepted: He got a vintage sandblasted Billiard and a Neerup bamboo tamper, and we both got some Mixture 79, Peterson Early Morning Pipe, and some Peterson Standard Mixture out of the arrangement. I can’t wait to smoke them all, probably many in this tiny pipe. He’ll likely smoke it out of his new Boswell, a handmade brand I’ll talk about more in another post.
I hope he reviews the Ropp he got here, as well as some other pipes!
Focusing is underrated in photos of a pipe heel. But here’s the bottom line on the cheap Ropps: despite their miniature scale, this particular pipe has a wide and deep chamber that smokes cool due to its Zulu shape, and it keeps the scent of the tobacco close to my face in a pleasing way I remembered from my earliest days of smoking during my freshman year of college. The rest of the Ropps have decidedly-French shapes, which are hit-or-miss for me, but offer generous chambers. I’m sure they all smoke like a dream. And they start at $45, though the one I reviewed is, frankly, nearly double that.
Regardless, I’d buy anything from the cheapie Ropp Etudiante series over a Dr. Grabow any day of the week: you’ve got an old new-stock stummel from back in the day when the construction of a pipe meant something, and aside from some stain or sandblasting, it’s the same wood that the Vintage series uses. I’d buy one with reckless abandon, and in a way, I sort of have.