Chris Hopkins, a seminary student and part-time tobacconist, shares with me about taking up an old-school habit, being humble about your knowledge and debunking pipe culture myths. The fourth in our series of Tobacco Pipe Collector Spotlights takes us back to North Carolina for a chat with a member of the new generation of pipe smokers. Once a month or so we share the stories of pipe collectors at all stages. If you would like to be featured in this ongoing series, Contact Us and let us know.
Chris Hopkins is a seminary student in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is also a part-time tobacconist and smoking pipe collector. He is yet another great example of a millennial who doesn’t fit the mold. We’re expecting more great advice from Chris to come in the new year, so stay tuned...
A conversation with Chris Hopkins
Given that you work as a tobacconist part time, you must have tried many different blends. Do you have a favorite pipe tobacco?
My favorite is a dark English blend, but it’s a house blend you can’t get everywhere. My favorite readily available pipe tobacco is mild English by James Norman. It’s out of Germany and has a nice mellow taste with just the right kick. It’s a thinking person’s smoke, with plenty of contrast.
Where is your favorite place to smoke?
The place doesn’t matter so much as who I am with. As long as I’m smoking with friends, I’m happy. That said, when my friends and I were in college we used to make a pilgrimage to the lake to smoke our pipes. We were on a smoke-free campus so it was a bit of a production to take our walk, with all our gear, to smoke off the campus grounds. It became the highlight of our week.
How many pipes do you own?
Right now I have six that I alternate pretty regularly. I only smoke once per day and try to use a different one each day and then I usually have a cigar once a week or so.
I’ve owned many more, but I give my tobacco pipes away a lot. I like the idea that I’m helping someone else get started smoking a pipe so many of my friends have one from my collection among theirs.
What is your favorite pipe?
My favorite pipe is a half bent Rossi Rubino that my friends bought for me at my bachelor party. It holds a lot of memories. I feel a connection with all of my pipes. It’s important for me to protect them and take care of them. Each one feels special.
How did you get into pipe smoking?
I grew up in Kentucky, around tobacco all the time. My Grandfather owned a tobacco company and I worked there making deliveries in high school. By the time I went to college I was already smoking cigars occasionally. My friend introduced me to smoking a pipe, with a Dr. Grabow, and I’ve been smoking it ever since.
It sounds like you really like the social aspect of smoking a pipe. Tell me about your experience as a
professional in the industry.
Smoking with friends is all about friendship and communing with friends. I think what I’d really like to share with other people in this community is to be friendly with new smokers. And know that your opinion is based on your own experience, so don’t be judgemental of the newbies or people who do it differently from you. Other people’s experiences are theirs and we need to be respectful of it.
Do you have any other hobbies besides smoking a pipe?
As a grad student, husband and part-time tobacconist I don’t have much time for other hobbies! I do love to read though and will pretty much watch any sport. That’s the only time I like a straight-stem pipe, when my head’s in a book.
If you could smoke a pipe with one person who would it be?
Chris Nolan. I guess I could say movies are another hobby. I have tremendous respect for his art, as a director, and would love to know how his brain works.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new pipe smoker what would it be?
I think pretty much everyone should start out with a corncob pipe. It’s easy to learn with, not needing the patience to build up the cake like you need with a briar pipe. Also, they are inexpensive and easily replaced if you do something to screw it up. Odds are pretty good, in the beginning, that you’ll do something to screw it up. I started as a college student, so I can’t recommend that a college student spend $100 on a pipe before he/she learns how to smoke it properly so there’s no mess. Especially if you’re learning by yourself, you’ll need some perseverance.
Corncobs are also good for trying new tobaccos. I think the cake is the most important part of your pipe smoking experience and almost any tobacco is going to leave a little something in your pipe that you probably don’t want messing with your favorite blend.
Big thanks to Chris for taking a break from his busy days to chat with us! You can find more from Chris at