We all know the drill now: I pick a tobacco, I choose a few victims volunteers and we get their impressions of a particular blend or leaf without prejudice. Well, in theory at least. As you’ll see, sometimes there’s just no disguising certain “real McCoys”.
“The appearance of this tobacco is unusual. The majority of the tobacco is a deep brown, almost black, rough cut that looks a bit like a rubbed out flake or coin, but there are a few golden ribbons here and there. The pouch note is subdued and natural, with hints of spice, charred meat, and what we euphemistically refer to as “barnyard” in wine tastings. The charred meat notes that were discernible in the pouch predominate upon the first lighting. As the bowl progresses, this flavor settles down a bit into a richer, more well-balanced smoke. By mid bowl, the tobacco has taken on added intensity and complexity with notes of spice (black pepper in particular), cedar, leather, and tar with a very subtle sweetness.
This blend is a big, full-bodied tobacco that produces copious amounts of pungent smoke. The flavor profile suggests that this is primarily a Virginia tobacco that has been dark fired. I’d wager that it’s one of the Kendal twists, although I’m a bit puzzled by the presence of the thin, golden ribbons. (Maybe this is some of Eric’s chicanery.) While this tobacco is interesting and definitely packs a nicotine punch, I can’t imagine smoking it unless I were impressed into hard labor onboard a 19th-century whaling vessel, where its pungency would mask the smell of death and despair, or attempting to understand Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, where the very generous nicotine dose would help me share in a vision of Xanadu.“
“Upon opening the zip-lock bag ambiguously marked "3/18/14" I noted a very subdued but deep aroma similar to must and smoke. Big chunks of black tobacco and thin ribbons of gold spread lightly throughout, Virginia Ribbon perhaps. Inhaling more deeply, the smell of this blend comes across with subtle spiciness, oil, hints of clove, but no sweetness. Packs easily and takes flame slowly. The flavor is unmistakably that of Black XX Rope or Black Irish X, both of which I smoke regularly. It looks as though a small amount of Kendall Gold has been blended into this, but the majority seems to be a chopped black rope. The taste is a strange amalgam comprised of meat, motor oil, sage, chipotle, creosote, graphite and occasionally BBQ sauce. Not for the faint of heart (or lung) where the pouch note was subtle and subdued, the strength and body and room-note are potent. Not acrid or tinny at all, much more earthy, musty, muddy, boggy. Let me be clear, since I realize that the descriptors I have used may sound off-putting to many; I like this blend. A lot. File this under "Acquired Taste" alongside Islay Single Malt Scotch, Chocolate Covered Bacon, Dirty Oysters, Bone Marrow, Calf's Brains, etc...“
[Ed. – He’s being serious here. In Jeremy’s company I’ve taken part in the tasting of everything from tinned seal to lambs’ livers.]
Well, I tried. Tried and failed, that is. What I tried was disguise the blend I’d chosen this time around. Why I failed was the same reason I tried: the stuff was just too distinctive. Even after cutting it, rubbing it, shredding it, drying it for 24 hours, and mixing in a tiny pinch of Kendal Gold to add some different color, Jeremy, Josh, and Ted (the lattermost just by being nearby) all at one point or another brought up in conversation the very blend I’d picked – Black Irish X. There is, simply, no mistaking these extra-dark Irish ropes; not if you’ve smoked them before, and not even if you’ve just been in the same building as someone smoking them.
Introduction: I tossed little bags of tobacco at Bear, Josh, and Jeremy and told them to smoke it. When asked what it was, I refused to answer, instead opting to repeat my demands, with one small addition: Smoke it, and then write about what happens to you.
The idea of course is to get their impressions uncolored by previous knowledge of brand, blend composition, reputation, and what have you. Clearly, telling them the nature of what they’d be loading into their several pipes was right out, then. They’d have to find that out for themselves.
“The pouch note promises a mild aromatic: smells of a grassy Virginias with a light topping—anise, oats, vanilla, and fruit. Appearance is golden and light brown, cut into long, thin ribbons that pack easily. Upon the first lighting the tobacco’s aromatic qualities, particularly berries and vanilla, come to the forefront of the smoke. A quarter of a bowl in, the topping is less pronounced, replaced by hay-like golden Virginias along with a little spice and nuttiness. The latter suggests a pretty significant Burley component that becomes more pronounced near the bottom of the bowl. Flavors become deeper and earthier, with only a whisper of vanilla. Overall, this is a mild smoke, what I would consider a Danish aromatic, reminiscent of Mac Baren’s Golden Extra with a light topping. Not a tobacco that I would reach for often due to its lack of depth or complexity, but it is not without its advantages. Room note is pleasant, which would make this a good choice for a smoker who wants a more natural tobacco flavor while still pleasing any non-smokers in his company. Smoke can become a little acrid upon relights or if pushed.”
“I find this medium golden ribbon to be long and stringy in its cut and subtly sweet and boozy in its aroma. Prior to the light I am fairly certain that this contains Burley and Virginia. No darker tobaccos or oriental component is notable at this point. On the light Burley makes itself most noticeable and then settles down, letting VA take the fore. Mellow and sweet, kind of boozy topping, I can tell that this tobacco would bite back if puffed too heartily, but sipping suits it just fine. On the relight, I got kind of a sour note like oriental but once again this just trails off land eaves the VA with a slightly more pronounced Burley component. This reminds me of Sherlock Holmes by Peterson.”
“Reaching into the unlabeled baggie (reminding me a bit of my youth), I pulled out a generous amount of my mystery blend. Springy, slightly wiry and already at what I consider perfect moisture level, I spread out the same to do my usual “pick the clumps apart” ritual, which turned out to be pointless (there were no clumps, just ribbons, ready to be smoked. The tin (ok, ”baggie”) note was that of a fairly light aromatic. Hints of vanilla, caramel, maybe even a bit of maple-like fragrance wafted up, but (again) light.
It packed beautifully, and the toasting light released a scent which I can only refer to as “Pancake House”. No, not choking syrupiness; the smell of pancakes cooking on a hot griddle in the back, maybe combined with some bread in the toaster for the folks sitting at table #4. Full light: for about the first three minutes, the dominant room note stayed faithful to the charring light, so much so that I found myself wondering when more “pure” tobacco elements would start to assert themselves. I received my answer about five minutes into the smoke - quite a nice balance started to present. As I moved further into the bowl, the maple/vanilla/caramel faded a bit, and hints of cassis started winking at me. It was something that, while pleasant, I would never had anticipated. Usually, berries/cassis/kier-like elements will make themselves immediately known from the pouch note, and not only had I detected none, I didn’t notice any for the first third of the bowl. The new notes and the formerly dominant ones shifted back and forth for the remainder of the bowl, which, along with some very subtle spice I couldn’t identify, amounted to be the major points of interest about the tobacco. I found it overall to be (basically) dichromatic in flavor, simply shifting in note dominance at different points. While not likely to become one of my go-smokes, I could see this becoming a staple for a light aromatic smoker who isn’t obsessed with layering or nuance, and would like something that’s consistent, easy to pack, and easy to light and keep lit.”
And the blend was?Norway Pipe Cut, by Newminster. Despite differing palates and differing pipes, Josh, Bear, and Jeremy all readily identified the primary VA/Burley content of the blend, though the Oriental leaf’s presence seemed to be more elusive. Curiously, both Bear and Josh noted a slight spiciness that neither one could pin down, even though out of the three guinea pigs contributing pipe-fellows, Bear was the one picking up the aromatic qualities more than the base tobaccos, while Josh and Jeremy were getting more from the VA and Burley.
"So there I was, minding my own business, simply trying to light my briar off a sizzling Harley exhaust pipe, when the Hells Angel in the saddle turned, looked at me and..." (turns, sees subscribers, smiles brightly) Good evening, folks, may I join you in a smoke? There are days when the perks of working for Smokingpipes.com far outweigh the conditions of my employment (ankle bracelet, orange jumpsuit (yada...yada)), and today was such a day.
Sykes walked up to my desk and plunked down a substantial plug of very serious looking tobacco. By serious, I mean this mini-brick was dark, dark enough that the bright striations normally seen in other plugs (created by the lighter leaf within the blend) were replaced by shades that reminded me of feeble remnants of light, desperately attempting to skirt the event horizon of a black hole. I did something of a Little Rascals triple-take (plug-Sykes-plug-Sykes-plug-Sykes) and the latter asked "Have a knife?" (It would have been strange indeed if the former – the plug – had asked me this, but by the look of it I wouldn’t have been surprised. And I would have been afraid to say “No.”) I pulled out my faithful, extra-large Benchmade folder from my rear pocket, used my Red-eye mind-trick; "I will not ask Bear what he is doing with this thing on his person" and handed it to him. Sykes is a pretty strong guy, and I have (literally) shaved with that Benchmade, but my boss had to utilize a fair amount of muscle and technique to slice into this mystery. Once excised, the densely-packed concoction became delightfully malleable in the paw; upon a couple of quick rolls, the tobacco reduced to my perfect size and some more, and sinfully beautiful, lighter leaf (I believe red VA) appeared. Yours truly LOVES Latakia year round, but even more so with the advent of cooler weather, and the siren-song of this blend almost had me looking for a main-mast to restrain myself to. Though still a bit moist, the leaf fired quickly and an amazing fragrance was liberated, so amazing that, for the first time in eons, I found myself blowing plumes, standing back and wafting the smoke back towards my proboscis.
For about the first 30 seconds after the main light, I found myself thinking "Damn, there can be too much Latakia..." not so much from a fragrance standpoint, but there was a slight oily feel on my tongue. A few moments later, however, the other components brightened the body and a remarkably sophisticated harmony, anchored by the basso-profondo of the Latakia appeared. Out of curiosity, I deliberately (and not without plenty of just-one-last-puff hesitation) let my pipe go out, and set it aside for couple of hours. Usually, Latakia isn't one of my favorite re-lights, and I balked a couple of times in the process of re-firing the plug (earning me a couple of slugs in the arm from Adam for "flinchies"), but the DGT proved to be nearly delightful as the initial startup.
Sykes had wandered back into the room, so I waved to get his attention, held up the plug, and arched my brow so high that it would have given Leonard Nimoy cramps. Sykes grinned, and said "G.L. Pease Gaslight". Instantly, all my co-workers within earshot, transformed from a tribe of humans, to a mob of meerkats on alert, their beady little eyes locked like targeting lasers upon the uber-deep mahogany block on my desk. Fearing being trampled, I grabbed my briar, backed into the hallway, and began watching the ensuing mayhem (picture two groups of ruggers trying for possession of a loose ball, except "every man for himself" and you'll be pretty close). This outrageously tasty plug should be available to me, and thus to you, sometime near the beginning of next month, and I heartily recommend it. Just don't have any meerkats nearby
And did I ever tell you that I love my job?
As Monday rolls around again, so too comes the inevitable cornucopia of pipes, pipe tobacco, and any other smoking goodies we happen to have most recently gotten our hands on. Starting this week off, we have artisanal briars by Alex Florov, Jeff Gracik, and Michael Parks alike. As is usual for each of these three North American craftsmen, these latest works prove impressive.
Following up, there's plenty of Italian flare on offer from Castello, Rinaldo, and the Radices, ranging from a fat, bold-heeled bent Pot in jet-black morta, to a big, voluptuous, silver-banded bent Apple, to a firm and smooth, beautifully flame-grained straight Billiard.
Now, if French pipes are your thing, we've got plenty of those as well -- both in the traditional style, courtesy of Sebastien Beo, and with a more modern edge from Chacom and Butz-Choquin. Then, just for good measure, we've also gone and thrown in several dozen fresh pipes from Peterson of Ireland, Savinelli of Italy, and the solidly German Vauen. And of course, there are plenty of pipes to pile into our on-site estates selection as well, ranging from simple smokers to a real beauty of a Rasmussen.
Tobaccos? Cigars? Yes and yes -- new sticks and sample packs arrive from La Aroma de Cuba, Rocky Patel, and Juan Lopez too, plus Cornell & Diehl's "Five O'Clock Shadow" in 2oz. and 8oz. tins. Finally, we've got an array of eight different IM Corona lighters, in the "Accord" and "Infinity" designs.
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.
Amongst the melange of offerings in yesterday's regularly-scheduled update, I mentioned that we were promoting Balkan Sasieni by knocking 15% off the regular price. I was sorely tempted to also hint at the surprise we had coming today. But I didn't; a surprise is only a surprise if it takes one by surprise. That is to say, that the key to making something a surprise, is maintaining the element of surprise. Sun Tzu would have agreed, no doubt, and as we all know it's a classic horror-movie technique: Send a character down to the kitchen for a perfectly innocent ham sandwich, and then throw a howling cat at them.
But enough of that. Today we have Drew Estate tobaccos for you. And Peterson's Balkan Delight. And Dunhill's Nightcap now in bulk. And as of today, and running through the rest of the month, we're doing one of our 20% deals on all Dunhill tinned tobaccos -- stick five tins in your cart, and we'll shave 20% off the total price, effectively making the fifth tin free of charge. All of this, we hope you will agree, far more pleasing than a howling cat hurled from an unlikely angle. (Should anyone prefer the cat, however, Sykes and Alyson [mostly Alyson] may have a few extras they could spare.)
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.
If a tobacco blender issues teasers regarding the release of a new blend, there's a ripple of excitement in the pipe smoking community. If a well-known pipe tobacco company announces that an entire new line of tobaccos is upon the horizon, the anticipation is positively palpable. When one of the world's premier cigar companies declares their entry to the pipe world in the form of eight distinctly different blends, that's not just huge, it's a cause for celebration. And maybe a bit of head-scratching, too, as premium cigars are a big, big business, while high-quality pipe tobaccos are something of a niche industry. Both do, however, share one point of commonality: The best reputations depend on modern-day expert craftsman with a love for the art of blending, whether the task at hand is preserving a storied smoke of old, or producing something fresh and new.
In the cigar trade, the story of Drew Estate is already legend, etched in the mind of most every serious connoisseur. Founded in Nicaragua by John Drew in 1998, at the height of the cigar boom, their offerings entered the market with a trailblazing approach to the very idea of what a cigar could be, as well as an iconoclastic marketing plan that flew in the face of every Armani-wearing 'celebrity-holding-a-stogie' advertisement.
What most cigar and pipe men aren't aware of, though, is that the President of Drew Estates, Michael Cellucci, is actually a long-time pipe aficionado himself, and has been hard at work for the past 18 months overseeing the creation of eight mixtures for Drew Estate's entry to the world of artisanal pipe tobaccos.
Crafted by Drew Estate's principal blender and tobacco buyer, Nicholas Mellilo, and manufactured in Denmark, these time-honored blends represent a full 180 turn in philosophy from Drew's initial cigar offerings; indeed, the very name of this groundbreaking series is 'Classic'. The reason that Drew Estates elected to launch with traditional blends comes from Michael Cellucci himself. While the early Drew cigars were quite successful and attracted an entirely new demographic to the world of cigars, it wasn't until the release of the more conventional Liga Privada in 2006 that the company gained a foothold in the broader premium cigar market. Drew Estate's strategy this go-around is to establish itself in the world of pipe tobacciana with solid foundations first, proving their understanding and respect for the traditional, and only then build gradually more creative and exotic blends from there.
Named, for the most part, after famous landmarks in the founder's native New York City, and packed in 50g tins, the Classic series consist of eight blends, six of which are aromatic. The non-aromatics are 'Grand Central'; a blend that features "...a dense aroma of lightly toasted burley and light Virginias" and "Meat Pie"; a traditional Medium-body English which happens to be Mellilo's personal favorite. "Toasted Black Cavendish" and "Heirloom Cherry" are pretty much self-descriptive, "Gilded Age Reserve" is a blend of black cavendish and sweet virginia, "Harvest of the Hudson" is a light-to-medium bodied tobacco, laced with just a hint of apple. The notes of chocolate, caramel and vanilla of "Central Park Stroll" "...makes you feel as if you were in a bakery" and "7th Avenue Blonde" promises both a light and pleasing sweet fragrance for the crowd and a stimulating blend of tobaccos ranging from Cavendish to Orientals to golden Virginias for your palate.
The first shipment of these ground-breaking blends is imminent and we're as excited as a (place a deleted simile which would result in my firing here ^^). For a real-time alert on the arrival of the new Drew Estate Classic blends, you'll find a notification button on the product page. As with the Capstan/Three Nuns release, we here at Smokingpipes are setting everything up early so that you all can get in on this premier the second our first shipments hit inventory.
Congratulations to the finalists and winner of our Capstan caption contest! A total of 48 captions were submitted. It came down to a very close vote, but we have officially decided on a winner. This winner will have a tin of each facing of Capstan added to their next order with smokingpipes.com. That's four tins total: both blue and yellow, in both flake and ready rubbed. Without any more delay, here are the comic and the caption finalists.
"Let's not stay out too long. You know how easily I burn." Submitted by Jon Jackson
"Tinny Dipping!" Submitted by Chris Askwith
"Virginia, please come back--this 'all natural' thing has gone too far." Submitted by Chris Manno
"Enjoy summer with Capstan. Skinny dipping and a no-tin tan!" Submitted by Alex Agrico
"C'mon don't 'Flake out, let's go for it, we are at the beach aren't we?" - Gregory Ceaser
Thanks again to all who participated. We'll see you tomorrow for the update! If you missed out on this opportunity, be sure to look out for the next one, which could be announced on our profile on any of the following social networking sites:
Many of you have purchased tins of Capstan and Three Nuns already. If not, what are you waiting for? Now you are free to relax after nights of sleeplessly staring at your email, hoping for that long-awaited newsletter. Sit back and think contented thoughts of the tobacco magically making its way to your doorstep, then check out this short video of the hard-working people in shipping making it a reality for you. -Happy YouTues!
Hours of Operation:
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