Not too long ago Sykes visited our friends at Cornell & Diehl in Morganton, NC. Today, he is in Asakusa for the Tokyo pipe show. As should go without saying, he hasn't had much time in between the two trips for writing about his experience. He did, however, take a moment to send me these photos of his tour. He noted that the flake you can see being made is the G.L. Pease tobacco, "Quiet Nights," a blend of rich, ripe red virginias, fine orientals, smokey Cyprus Latakia, and a pinch of Acadian perique. In addition, we can learn from these photos that it is pressed and cut rather wet so that it has the right consistency for those processes, but then it needs to air-dry for a few hours before tinning. But let's just allow the pictures to illustrate this for themselves. As always, it's great to see how much this tobacco goes through to make it to our humble briars.
As mentioned by Ted last time around, I've been fiddling about with blending. This can be a risky exercise, if not financially (most basic component and condiment tobaccos are inexpensive), then in what you might call a Pavlovian manner. That is to say, coming up with great idea, then proving it to be a bad idea, or at least a badly proportioned idea on your part, can quickly turn you off from trying out any more. Well, nuts to that. Persevere, I say. Experiment, and take your occasional creation of a Frankenstein's monster in stride.
Try this out for a little perspective: I don't pretend to have a good sense of taste. Good taste, most certainly, if I do say so myself (and I just did), but as far as the physical sense of taste goes, I am definitely inhabiting the wrong end of the bell curve. Yet despite this, through perseverance (or, being "as stubborn as an old mule", as a certain young woman once put it) and by paying careful attention to what changes, improvements, and tragedies of flavor and other qualities I've been able to produce via tweaking this or trying that, I've successfully managed to create some blends even the far more sensitive palates of Ted and Brandon can enjoy. How much have they enjoyed them? Sufficiently enough that it's become my go-to manner of bribing them for favors. Let it not be said that our hobbies cannot gain us profit materially as well as in terms of the simple pleasures they provide.
So, you see, if even a man who can barely tell a shiraz from a merlot can produce blends pleasing to guys like Brandon and Ted, who can often pick out and identify half its components right down to the particulars of brand names, then so can you. All you have to do is keep with it even when your latest efforts only leave you (and/or any handy guinea pigs you may find amongst your co-workers) in tears and confusion, and to pay attention.
Would you happen to have any Balkan Sasieni? If not, now is a good time to get some. If so, now is a good time to get more. If my stating so has you suspecting that we're leading off today's update with a special on this particular pedigree of English blend, your suspicions would be right. Effective immediately, tins of this heady mixture of gold and red Virginias, Macedonian Orientals, and rich Latakia are offered at 15% off.
As for pipes, this Monday we've vast quantities of quality -- because as far as we're concerned, there's no reason we shouldn't have both. Starting things off with grand style we're graced by exquisite Danish beauties by both Kent Rasmussen and Benni Jorgensen, with plenty of warm finishes, striking flame grain, and artful shaping to behold. Following up on a more reserved note, you'll find English classics by Ashton and Dunhill, the latter batch including a horn-mounted Shell Ring Grain -- a rare find in a rarefied grade. Continuing onward, there is awaiting a broad selection of dozens of briars by the likes of Tsuge, Luciano, Stanwell, Savinelli, and Peterson, plus a bevy of pale, pure-smoking meerschaums courtesy of AKB.
For the third course, there are eighteen estate pipes each from both Italy and Denmark, the latter including not one but two classic Chonowitschs -- one by Jess, and one by his father Emil. In terms of accessories, there are new pipe stands, a new Black Label torch lighter, and a trio of new 8deco pipe tampers. For tobaccos Erik Nording brings us his "Labrador" aromatic from the Hunter's Blend series, and for cigar smokers we roll out La Aroma de Cuba's "Marquis", Partagas's "1845" in a Toro Grande, and, finally, Alec Bradley's renowned, refined, and remarkably complex "Fine & Rare".
As usual, Eric came over Saturday night to continue our traditional enjoyment of smoke, conversation, music, and whatever brandy was recently on blow-out at the local ABC store. It's not like we're stuck in a rut; in my living room we smoke, chat, drink 'Low Country Lobotomy' and listen to music. To change things up, we sit out on my porch and smoke, chat, drink cheap brandy, and enjoy some tunes. Come to think of it, I suppose we are in a bit of a rut, but it's an amiable one that I wouldn't change for the world. On these evenings Eric usually brings cigars, and always brings a tin of HH Old Dark Fired. Most recently, he brought hand-blended cigarettes of his own mixture in addition to the above.
To digress a bit, like a few of us here in the office, Eric has grown keen on Peace cigarettes. However, he’s skipped the royal pain of privately importing them from Japan in favor of recreating them himself. This is an experimental and semi-scientific process that, in both of our opinions, has yielded mixed results thus far. In order to get rolling (pun intended) he had to buy raw deer tongue leaf, an ingredient that he wasn't tremendously familiar with (and few of us are, for that matter), and the stuff he got isn’t even processed.
I’ve got a few Peace cigarettes lying around, so on Saturday night, soon after Eric arrived, we dissected a couple of them on a small porcelain plate and examined the tobacco as studiously as CDC researchers scrutinizing the remains of a potential 'patient zero'. We then stuffed the dried, bright Virginia and burley tobaccos (and what we suspect was deer tongue) into a hundred-year-old clay pipe and smoked it. Not surprisingly, it was a delicious smoking experience. Despite being dry and burning on the quick/hot side, liberated of its off-tasting paper container and flavor restricting filter, its subtly sweet vanilla-like tone was still up-front and center, just as we’d hoped.
Over the last five days, Eric has continued his diligent research and his labors have paid off impressively. This, in turn, has inspired me to take baby-steps towards the creation of a personal blend. An activity consisting of equal parts science, art, and educated guesses, I'm astounded by how large of a change can occur with the most subtle manipulation of component tobaccos. While I highly doubt that Greg Pease will be shaking in his boots anytime soon (ok, ever), playing with blends is a tremendous blast, and an activity that I would highly recommend to any pipe enthusiast who is looking for another fun adjunct to our unique hobby.
The pretense was that what I’d be doing would involve work. But the truth is I went to Morganton, NC to play with pipe tobacco. I work in tobacciana (obviously), and so, technically, it would at least be work-related play.
See, I’ve visited Cornell & Diehl a couple of times now. Ordinarily I get to hang around the factory for two or three hours. Although one can see every part of the factory there is to see in about forty-five minutes, what goes on there is sufficiently complex that a few hours will only provide a very cursory understanding of what the folks at C&D do. My previous visits were enough to test the water only, so to speak. I was looking to get waist deep.
“What do you want to do while you’re here?” Chris asked over coffee shortly after my 9AM arrival.
“I want to work.” My delivery was as stern and ambitious as I could make it, like I was applying for a job.
“Good, because that’s all I ready had planned for you.” He followed up with his signature laugh.
Ten minutes later and I’m under Ted’s wing. Ted is 76 years old, but a spirited individual who doesn’t look a day over 60. Largely, he spends his time at C&D blending tobacco to fill orders, and the demand for C&D’s blends certainly keeps him busy. All the guys work from a small, tattered card catalog filled with handwritten tobacco recipes in a strange code of argot and numbers. For the most part, they’ve got all this committed to memory. For a newbie like me, there was no sense to it. Everything had to be explained to me through every step of the process. Like I was a baby. And to these expert old hands, I guess that’s pretty much what I was when it came to blending tobacco from scratch.
So it was that I spent the next five or six hours blending, saucing, bagging, tinning, and labeling tobacco for orders under their guidance. The Cornell & Diehl plant is like one humungous crafts project scaled into a formidable and efficient operation. I was warned that at the end of my shift I’d want to stuff all the clothes I was wearing into a bag and quarantine it from the rest of my laundry. And they were right. Even my hair smelled like Latakia.
Just as I was getting the hang of things (in my opinion, at least) my time was up. Although I did leave Morganton with a far better understanding than ever before of what the fine folks at Cornell & Diehl are up to each day, I figure I’ve still just barely scratched the surface. Looks like I’ll have to put together and polish a convincing argument or three as to why Sykes should let me go for a full week next year.
When I started pipe smoking, there was a lot I wasn't familiar with. I was just learning about pipes, and was admiring my brand new Savinelli Qandale Churchwarden when I realized that I had no idea what to put in it. Yeah, tobacco, I knew that much, but I didn't realize how many different kinds of pipeweed are out there. For a new pipesmoker, it was quite daunting. Between different aromatics, strengths, flakes, blends, and the use of terms like Burly, Latakia and Virginia, tobacco was a new world to explore.
Fortunately, sitting in the offices at Smokingpipes.com surrounds one with plenty of experts and aficionados. Next to me, Adam suggested McClelland Walnut Liqueur. Since this sounded like a good starting point, I headed up the store to get some. While there, I also bought some McClelland Creme Caramel.
I tried the Walnut first, followed by the Caramel a day or so later (I am by no means a heavy smoker, enjoying my pipe only once or twice a week). Both of these made for a fine introduction to pipe tobacco. Over time, I was offered bowls of this or that, and I can't say that I found any that I didn't enjoy. However, the real surprise came with the suggestion that I get some Gawith Hoggarth & Co. Bob's Chocolate Flake.
What really got me about it was how the smoke coated your tongue with a silky layer of chocolate. It was as if you had popped a piece of Hersey's into your mouth and just let it melt on your tongue. That was great, but even more surprising was how it reduced the lingering tobacco aftertaste, which I found very pleasant. So, I started to experiment, mixing in a little Bob's with my next Caramel bowl. Just as they go in the food world, Chocolate and Caramel seem to be made to go together in the tobacco world as well.
It was then that I threw in some of the Walnut Liquor, and I really began to enjoy the blend of the three tobaccos. It is currently my go-to bag when I desire a smoke, and have begun to call it my "Snickers" blend. Of course, it was all made with a bit of this and some of that, so I can't give you a recipe, but it is more Walnut Liquor and only a bit of Chocolate with a helping of Caramel in the middle. Bob's is very light but goes a long way in reducing the aftertaste. Adam has also suggested McClelland Just Plain Nut for a more accurate "Snickers" blend, should anyone be interested in experimenting further.
Of course, after a month or so of this mixture, I am starting to look around for new tobaccos to blend. So, off I go to the tobacco jars; the adventure continues.
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