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.
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 first arrive in the morning, I'll most often walk down the hall to get a cup of coffee, load my personal pipe with some tobacco (Orlik Golden Sliced recently) and check my emails and a few other sites to see what the news is of the day (with regard to pipes and tobaccos). I was reading a pipe forum this morning and came across a thread about Burley tobaccos, and so decided to read some posts as to have a better understanding of what smokers around the world are discussing. Interest in Burleys seems to have lately increased among smoking circles that have previously focused mainly on Virginias or English blends - just look at the extreme popularity of the newest MacBaren Dark Fired offering. In this thread about Burley tobaccos however, it was Prince Albert, McClelland bulks, and Cornell & Diehl's Old Joe Krantz that were the main focus.
In the past few years, it seems like I was hearing this name a lot. The way people have compared it to other Burley offerings, it seems like it's not only a convenient staple in many cellars and carry-with pouches, but as good as or better than famous blends from yesteryear. With a moniker that sounds like a man that could play a slow, yet soulful and growling acoustic guitar along the likes of Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, the name certainly strikes a chord. I also knew a farmer growing up as a kid whose last name was Krintz. He looked like he could have been plucked right out of any year between 1860-1940 and we called the always-dusty Santa Clause doppelganger "Old Mr. Krintz". There certainly is something trustworthy in a name like that.
So...after reading yet another post about this tobacco that seemed to have so many fans, I finally decided to try a bowl. Admittedly, I rarely try new tobaccos. Perhaps only a few times a year do I drift away from my Orlik Golden Sliced or Samuel Gawith Full Virginia Flake, but I had the itch to see what Old Joe Krantz was all about. Picking up a Luciano pipe and heading down to the store, I located the jar next to all of the other Cornell & Diehl offerings. Burley, in general, is not the most exciting tobacco to look at. Eye-catching black and yellow ribbons that other blends have are traded for simple medium-brown leaf and nothing else. The tobacco is somewhat flaky and dry to the touch with irregular ribbons and chips of tobacco. But, noting a tantalizingly nutty and slightly sweet scent, I loaded up my pipe.
Don't let the rough look fool you: this is a tobacco that lights easily by the slightest touch of flame and tamps down with ease. The initial puffs lend something sweet and nutty. Not cloying by any means, but a flavor similar [to me] of a subtle chocolate-covered-peanut that wakes up the taste buds, accompanied by a smoke that wafts up to bring a bit of spice to the nostrils in a most pleasant way. There are also lingering, slightly sweet spice aftertastes (hot cinnamon and nutmeg) that make me realize why this is so popular. Old Joe Krantz is as easy burning and flavorful - yet contemplative and interesting - as any blues man worth his ribs would be. I'm glad I finally tried it.
It is with great sadness that I must report the passing of my dear friend Craig Tarler, Founder of Cornell & Diehl, yesterday evening, September 4th, 2012, following a lengthy illness, at 82.
Cornell & Diehl released the following a few minutes ago:
For the past twenty three years Craig and his partner and love of his life Patty devoted themselves to their family and his great passion, pipe tobacco and pipe smokers. Craig found pipe smokers to be among the most interesting of the people he met during his rich and full life and years of traveling the world. His genuine love of people and friendly, outgoing and larger than life personality was evident to all who came in contact with him, whether by phone or in person. On many occasions visitors would come by to visit at Cornell & Diehl and all had the same reaction, that they felt they already knew Craig and Patty from getting to know them on the phone and felt they were visiting with an old friend on their first face to face meeting.
While Craig will certainly be missed by all whose lives he touched he wouldn’t want us to be saddened by his leaving. He viewed life as a wonderful adventure, meant to be savored and experienced to the fullest and shared with others. Selfishness was a foreign concept to Craig; he gave fully and freely of himself to all he came in contact with and would wish to be remembered with a smile and a heart full of good will for others. Though our world here on earth is a bit darker, we should all be heartened by the knowledge Heaven is a bit brighter, lit by Craig’s rogueish, joyful smile and his booming voice announcing his arrival with the words, “Oh, what fun!”
I first got to know Craig some twelve years ago and we have been close ever since. Whether discussing intricacies of Virginia flakes or a particular oriental varietal, or simply discussing life, I will always fondly remember the hours we whiled away together. Every year for the past seven years, I've made something of a tobacco pilgrimage up to Morganton to spend a day, or longer, with the Tarlers. I am thankful for those times together and Craig's warmth and friendship over the years; he left me with memories of him that I will always treasure.
If the measure of a man's life is in the people he touched and the lives he enriched by his presence, then Craig's was a life well lived. I know that my sentiments towards Craig are far from unique. The pipe world has indeed lost one of its greats.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Craig's wife of more than sixty years, Patty, and his children, Sally, Pam and Chris.
So, if you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that last week a few of us piled into a car and made a field trip to visit the good folks Cornell & Diehl. I’ve continuously heard rumors about just how nice Craig and Patty Tarlar are, and this is indeed true on a massive scale. Upon our arrival, Patty greated us with glowing enthusiasm along with pizza and hot coffee (two sugars, please).
The pizza had little chance to settle when Chris Tarlar pulled Ted and I away from the table for a tour of the works. I hope that doesn’t sound reluctant-- I love pizza, LOOOVE IT-- but I‘m getting fat, and it’s not everyday one gets a guided tour behind the scenes of a major pipe tobacco manufacturer.
First thing, Chris lifts one corner of a tarp laying on the concrete floor to reveal big, beautiful leaves of red, gold, and black. Visions not unlike Scrooge McDuck back-stroking through his money pile filled my head, except replace McDuck with my image and his coin with said big-o pile of tobacco leaves.
The tour continued upstairs to a floor covered in drying racks, which were, again, filled with large tobacco leaf, and then returned downstairs where we were shown the blending station, machines that press, and machines that cut, and ovens that cure.
The tour concluded and it was back to business and pizza, but this is not where the fun ended. Dear reader, I wish you could have seen Ted’s face light up when the Tarlars graciously offered him a bunk and a lesson in blending! This will be redeemed at a later date, and you can of course expect a full report. Told you they were impossibly nice.
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
Once again Smokingpipes has received a fresh shipment of a new blend outside our usual bi-weekly update schedule, and once again we've decided there's no point in waiting to make it available to you, our customers. So it is that we introduce with this special update Cornell & Diehl's "Crooked Lane", a solid English arrangement with just a hint of something American for a subtle spice.
Last Thursday Sykes, Susan and I drove up to visit the Cornell & Diehl operation in Morganton, North Carolina. I’m told that this is something we do every year. We make a ten hour round-trip by car in one day to spend only a few hours with Craig and Patty Tarler, their son Chris, Keith Toney and company. It’s a long time to spend cooped up in a car for such a short visit, but I’m really excited that this year I had the opportunity to check out their very awesome facility. And besides, the drive was a beautiful tour of North Carolina. The folks at C&D (who are all very warm, welcoming people) even had lunch waiting for us: barbeque, slaw, hush puppies and cookies. Good stuff.
Having remembered to bring my camera, I managed to shoot some pictures while Craig showed me around the factory. It was pretty outstanding.
It’s not a secret around here that I’m a big fan of latakia leaf, especially during this time of year. I simply love English and Balkan blend tobaccos. Now, I understand that there are a lot of pipe smokers out there that hate the stuff; the claim is that it smells terrible (I’ve heard it described as burning rubber) and tastes awful. Piffle, I say! It smells wonderful (like campfires from childhood vacations) and tastes deliciously sweet, salty, spicy and smoky. As with almost any kind of pipe tobacco, there’s an enormous variety of English recipes that keep enthusiasts entangled in an ever-continuing world of exploration and discovery.
For the last few weeks I’ve been investigating three blends from ‘Captain Earl’s’ line of tobacco: ‘Ten Russians’, ‘Private Stock’, and ‘Stimulus Package’. Originally formulated by Hermit Tobacco, these blends are now packaged and sold by Cornell & Diehl. They are fantastic.
All three are pressed into an old-fashion crumble cake, which is one of my favorite packing styles. All three blends are jam packed with tons of latakia. Although I’m thoroughly enjoying them all, so far I’m really preferring the ‘Ten Russians’ which is richly flavored and complex, staking a nice balance between the sweet, bright, Virginias and the dark, creamy latakia.
If you’re a fan of latakia or are looking to try something different, these blends get a high nod from yours truly.
While we were at the IPCPR show in New Orleans, we made a quick stop to chat with our good friends Chris Tarler and Keith Toney from Cornell & Diehl (Craig and Patty Tarler weren't at the show, unfortunately). Amidst the general chatting, we thought it'd be fun to get one of them to do a couple minutes on video about new blends. Chris took a minute to talk through stuff with us. Enjoy!
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