After smoking a handful of straight Virginia blends almost exclusively since November of last year, my taste buds were finally ready for a change around the end of March. I was hoping this would happen, as the notion of getting locked into a certain style of pipe tobacco for the rest of my smoking days, or even a specific blend, terrifies me. Exploring new tobaccos is a passion of mine, but it’s a balancing act. Often one has to buckle down on a fixed blender or a particular tin for some indeterminate period of time to really understand it, which means that diverse exploration of other tobaccos will come to halt in the face of the profound, seemingly fathomless contemplation of one or two blends.
But I digress. Lately I’ve been smoking G. L. Pease’s Charing Cross. Inspired by a thread on a forum likening it to the old Balkan Sobranie above anything else currently on market (whether this is true or not I’ll leave to you) I picked up my first tin of this a couple of weeks ago and have been enjoying it singularly and greatly. I’m a big fan of a handful of Pease’s blends, particularly Maltese Falcon, and recently his new Sextant, and those mixtures featuring a healthy dose of potent Latakia. Charing Cross is smoky, sweet, savory, and certainly rich in flavor, although exceptionally balanced and not at all cloying, even in a larger pipe, like my S. Wilford Ardor bent Rhodesian (it’s a huge pipe for me with what I think is an enormous tobacco chamber). For the most part I’ve been smoking this stuff in a couple Sebastien Beo pipes (a bent Rhodesian and a squat, paneled Rhodesian) and a couple older Dunhill billiards.
If you’ve just begun exploring the world of G. L. Pease pipe tobacco, I’ll mention that it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the excitement of his new releases in favor of getting familiar with some of his tried and true recipes like Haddo’s Delight, Caravan, Blackpoint, or Charing Cross (to name just a few). But there’s some really awesome stuff in his line that just doesn’t get talked about the way it once did and that’s too bad. Seriously, do yourself a favor and pick up a tin from something in his Original Mixtures or Classic Collection series. You’ll be glad you did.
Freshly arrived, as in all of about an hour ago: The fruits of master blender Greg Pease's latest semi-secret, eagerly-anticipated project. (No project, we have found, is half so anticipated as a semi-secret one.) Samples of this latest smoking concoction had already been given over to the hands of a few select "beta testers", returning universally rave reviews - and signaling to Greg that his latest mixture was ready to go public. And signaling to us here at Smokingpipes, of course, to make sure we had as much as we could acquire from the first batch. So it is that today we're happy to introduce G.L. Pease's "Sextant".
Whether or not you’re a fan of America’s most cherished of past times, you’re likely to appreciate (if not outright go nuts for) G. L. Pease’s latest addition to his New World Collection of pipe tobacco. With help from the old-timey ball and glove and the warm tones of red and yellow that grace the tin, ‘Triple Play’ stirs in the imagination fond memories of warm spring afternoons and summer evenings at the ball park. The name is also a nod at the three key ingredients of the blend: Virginia, Perique and a pinch of Kentucky. Like ‘JackKnife’, ‘Triple Play’ comes tinned as a two ounce plug, which is another incredible treat to pipe smokers everywhere as this style of tobacco is tremendously versatile in terms of preparation and not entirely common to find at your local tobacconist.
Greg Pease has been hinting at this blend almost as soon as he’d officially released his last. Tonight, we’re happy to introduce ‘Triple Play’ to our site as part of our Monday update. Enjoy!
In the first place, I’m not a huge fan of Haddo’s Delight. This is probably because I’m not terribly crazy about Perique. I find the blend a little
harsh on my throat and have some trouble spotting the nuances so many others tend to describe. But because I love pipe tobacco, and will smoke just
about anything at least a few times, I gladly agreed to smoke a bowl of eight-year old Haddo’s from Sykes’ personal stash when he offered it.
As far as I’m concerned, something truly magical has happened to the contents of this tin as it sat marinating in Sykes’ cellar all these years.
This much was evident at first puff. Whereas previously I found the Virginia leaf and Perique component rather disparate, here they taste delicately
wedded to a unique, peppery sweet flavor. Previously, I found the vinegar notes from the fermented leaf distracting, but here it was cooled, and
pleasant. I might even buy a few tins to open in a decade!
Here’s what Eric had to say on this aged tin:
After very conveniently leaving the bit of Haddo's Delight Sykes handed me in a not-quite-zip-locked Ziploc bag overnight, this G.L. Pease mixture
was at just about the perfect point, dry-but-not-too-dry, to stuff it into a fresh pipe and light up. While the blend in its natural, non-combusting
state may indeed have an aroma of cocoa and dried fruit, from the first puff the smoke hit me with an easy, pleasant, but very definite nutty/raisin
flavor. Sweetness was detectably at work here as well, but only as a component of the flavor as a whole - much the same way you know there's sugar in
dark chocolate, though it is by no means central to the flavor, nor obvious in any independent way. Given this is a blend advertised as heavy on
Virginias, I had expected at least a little tongue-bite might be expected, but the Perique seemed to do its job just fine, adding a bit of spiciness
while simultaneously keeping the Virginias civil. As I made my way through the bowl, the nutty/woody elements seemed more dominate, though the fruit/raisin notes did stay around, making things interesting by generally milling about and catching my attention now and then as it
apparently suited them. A full exhale tended to reveal their presence more in the "aftertaste", as did likewise exhaling through the nose. In reaching
the last third of the bowl, fruit/nut/raisin flavors became a touch richer, and an extra hint of sweetness made itself known as well - the Perique's
spiciness appeared happy to stay where it was, however, making the rest of the flavors all the more easily enjoyable.
I was talking with Greg Pease recently about his JackKnife Plug before it was yet released. My initial question was how he preferred to process the tobacco. For some, getting a plug of pipe tobacco can seem daunting, if not downright terrifying. There is nothing to be afraid of, but different techniques will yield different results. I first tried JackKnife in a shag cut, which is how Greg really likes it. You can read about JackKnife and how to process it on Greg's “The Briar & Leaf Chronicles".
For our own experiments I headed down to the store and removed a small piece of Samuel Gawith Cob Plug from its holding jar and attempted to attack it with different techniques - and a big knife. For starters, the knife should be sharp (this is moist leaf, after all). The plug should always be kept in a sealed jar for extended periods of time because trying to cut dried tobacco ends up being like trying to shave wood. The tobacco we used was perfectly moist and my knife was an inexpensive, yet effective accessory from a sushi kit I purchased at the grocery store.
The knife was sharpened, the wooden cutting board was on a very sturdy table, and the first cut was made by placing the cutting edge about 1/16" from a side of the square plug and carefully slicing back and forth before applying downward pressure. Off came a perfect flake with just the slightest curl. After this, I made the exact same cut but it was about 1/8" wide. The thicker flake proved very easy to cut into match stick sized pieces, that were later cut into cubes. Lastly, gripping the plug and setting the edge of the blade about 1/32” from the edge and pushing down in a slicing motion - like slicing paper thin strips of a tomato - left behind little chocolate curls that rubbed out to a shag with very little effort.
The shag burns very easily all the way down, while the cube cut burns slower with a noticeably deeper taste. The flake can be folded as is, or rubbed to a perfect ribbon.
The rules for best results: sharp knife with no teeth, cutting board on a solid surface that doesn't wobble and very careful slicing. I like to only slice off as much as I need for a bowl or two because the tobacco stays moist in a solid plug and I seem to derive great satisfaction from making the cuts. To me it can be as much fun as preparing a delicious dinner. Have fun!
We had a lot. Trust me. I saw the great big box of JackKnife Plug that was delivered to us just this
afternoon. Turns out everybody really wanted it. I suppose I’m not surprised; G. L. Pease has an incredible (maybe even devout) following. And
why shouldn’t he? Greg can blend a mean tobacco.
But it seems like we’ve already sold out of every tin of JackKnife Plug we had to offer. Bummer. But fret not! Just as soon as we were
finishing up our last order of this tasty new offering, Susan was on the phone placing an order for even more. Thankfully we won’t have to
wait for this stuff to come in from overseas. We should see it back in stock soon.
I guess all that’s left to do is wait. Or pick up a tin of Westminster. Or Haddo’s. I could go on and on.
In early November Greg Pease mentioned on his blog ‘The Briar & Leaf Chronicles’ that he was keeping a secret. He wrote about how different this new project was and how excited he was to share it with everyone. Needless to say, we were already licking our lips. Then in early December Greg revealed his secret. He would be introducing Jack Knife Plug: a blend comprised of bright and red-flue cured as well as dark-fired Kentucky leaf. We’d been asking for a plug tobacco from this infamous blender for a long while and now he was going to deliver. It would be ready, hopefully, he said, in January.
True to his word, Jack Knife Plug showed up just this afternoon, only hours after I asked Susan if we might be expecting it soon.
And as I sit here smoking my first bowl of it right now, I have to tell you, it’s pretty dang good. Sliced into flakes, cube-cut, or even rubbed out, Jack Knife Plug is spicy, full-flavored and offers plenty of ‘kick’. If you’re a fan of G. L. Pease or are just looking for another plug tobacco to covet, Jack Knife Plug will surely impress.
Admittedly, the first time I smoked Quiet Nights by G. L. Pease I was not very impressed. I can't say why, exactly, it just didn't do anything for me. It seemed bland, like it lacked dimension or character. But I don't judge a blend based on my first impression. Usually, the tin will get tucked away in the big plastic box that serves as my cellar until I'm feeling adventurous or tired of the usual or maybe until I'm ready to give the blend a second chance. My tin of 'Quiet Nights' got tossed into the box.
Then I was to embark on a week-long Alaskan cruise. While most people will spend some time considering what clothes to bring in regard to the climate and duration of the trip, I tend to start thinking, (well in advance and rather anxiously) about the select few pipes and small amounts of tobacco that will be joining me. This is a really tough decision to make.
One of the two blends that made the final cut to join me abroad was ‘Quiet Nights’. I figured that this was my chance to really get to know the stuff. Boy, am I glad I did.
There was a cigar room on the ship. Set to the soft sound of French jazz and decorated in plush leather, attractive end tables, and beautiful ferns, the room was dimly lit and easily maintained the most serene atmosphere on the boat. This is where I became fast friends with one of the tastiest and most sublime dark English blends I can recall ever having smoked.
Given some time to dry out and if packed with care, this broken flake will smoke real slow, surprisingly cool and for a great long while. It’s heavy and musky, and while the Latakia is rather pronounced here, so too are the savory Orientals and spicy Perique richly accented. Really, all the flavors come together in a delicious harmony. By the end of the trip, ‘Quiet Nights' had become for me a top-notch choice.
I guess my ‘take away’ from this episode is that a lot of my attitude about pipe tobacco is biased by context. At home, with a whole bunch of tobacco choices at my disposal and in the midst of my rut, the magic of a certain blend might be lost on me. On the other hand, when stuck on a ship with 3,000 gluttons, a buffet court, an arcade parlor, and a casino, I’m quick to appreciate the wonderful quality of an unacquainted blend. We get to share a handful of meaningful occasions together and my opinion of the blend is altered, usually for the better.
I’m not going to get into the ‘other’ blend that made it along the cruise. We’ll just say it jumped ship and leave it at that.
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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