Aromatically Subjective: A Study in Leaf & Process with C&D's Appalachian Trail Series

There's been a lot of conversation; online, at shows, and even around the office; about "pure" smoking tobaccos. But what does this mean, exactly?

I was recently up late, as I'm often wont to be, having a pipe with an old friend. He had smoked pipes with me before, though he doesn't really consider himself a pipesmoker. While talking, he noticed a tin of C&D's String Duster, from the Appalachian Trail series. He looked it over, and read the description on the label: "A duet of red and bright Virginias take the lead, followed by the lively harmony of Turkish leaf and the lightest notes of rum and maple, making for a sweet tune you'll want to play time and time again."

"So, this is an aromatic blend, then?" he asked.

"Well, no...it's Virginia-forward, with Turkish as a condimental component," I responded, worrying now that the tin description (which I happened to write) wasn't serving to inform as accurately as it could. Elaborating further, I told him: "It's just lightly cased with flavor, like pretty much all tobaccos grown and processed for blending."

He opened the tin, and gave it a whiff.

"Smells like maple," he said.

"That's the top note you're getting. Tobaccos are usually cased before going into a blend to accentuate an existing flavor, and if there's an additional topping the recipe calls for, that's just to impart an additional, subtle dimension to the smoke. Certain components work best with certain toppings, just like certain flavors pair best with other flavors. Think coffee and chocolate."

And that's when it hit me. The classification of a given blend as an aromatic is commonly seen as subjective, but virtually every tobacco we enjoy regularly is the result of several distinct factors:

The Leaf - the actual varietal being grown, be it Virginias, Burleys, Orientals, etc.

The Process - the treatment said leaf undergoes, by way of sun/flue/fire curing, casing, and top note, among other procedures.

The Blend - how a component performs with others in a mixture.

My friend was still poking around my tobacco cellar, only this time he became interested in a dark blue and red tin off to the side. "Stovepipe," he read, opening the tin. "Mmm..chocolate."

Stovepipe is a Virginia-Perique blend, but it uses Black Cavendish and Burley as condimental components. The tin reads "lightly topped with cocoa, caramel, and vanilla." For many who subscribe to smoking only "pure" blends, that's about as far as they're likely to read. But this blend, along with others unfairly pigeonholed into the aromatic catagory, is not technically an aromatic mixture. Just ask Jeremy Reeves.

"Oftentimes, blending houses stay fairly tight-lipped about their proprietary methods, and that includes the specific casings and toppings they use. Cornell and Diehl has strived to maintain a certain level of transparency. For those familiar, it works brilliantly as an informational resource. But for those who aren't accustomed to it, this additional explanation can seem a bit overwhelming, leading many to convince themselves that a given blend isn't for them without ever even smoking it."

Flavors like cocoa and vanilla find their way into countless smoking mixtures from any number of blenders, but because their presence is often to a very subtle degree, they merely act as complementary flavors, bolstering the characteristics of the tobacco itself. As a result, their appearance frequently goes unmentioned. In the case of Stovepipe, the first (and arguably most important) interaction of flavors is that of Virginia with Perique, but it also uses Black Cavendish and Burley as a means of softening the power of that interaction, lending the blend a sense of cohesion and balance, and filling your palate with lingering flavor. At that point, those additional toppings are supporting players in the mix, imparting sweetness and a little extra character to keep the smoke interesting.

"When I start working on a blend, my goal is to focus on one blending component that 'sings' a consistent note. And once we hone in on that, then we broaden the whole choir."

Traditionally, tobacco was preserved using natural additives like brown sugar, vinegar, and alcohol. Like salt-curing meat, folks found that these treatments also imparted an enjoyable effect to the flavor, which is why similar treatments are still in use today. Ever wondered why certain blends smell like ketchup? Among other things, ketchup is essentially sugar, vinegar, spices, and tomato puree. Take away the tomato and spices, and you're still left with that distinctly pungeant aroma.

Likewise, alcohol has been a natural companion to tobacco since Sir Thomas Cavendish first infused a bundle of leaf gifted from Native Americans with his own personal supply of dark rum on the return voyage to England. Whether this was done either to prevent it from drying out or to sweeten the smoke, the flavor was so greatly improved for Cavendish and his sailors that even today, of course, countless blends still incorporate alcohol into their recipes.

With that in mind, I watched as my friend opened a tin of White Lightning. "This is the strongest aroma of all these," he said, taking another whiff. "Smells like raspberry liqueur or something."

"A concentrated mixture of red and bright Virginias is combined with a good measure of Perique, and spiked with a bit of applejack, followed by the flavors of raspberry and vanilla for an electrifying smoking experience" the tin informs us. Essentially, this blend is another Virginia-Perique mixture, but instead of going the route of subtle sweetness, it amps things up a bit, overtly accentuating the already fruity characteristics inherent to VaPer blends. This leads many to classify the blend as a crossover, as the addition of raspberry and applejack offers a sort of window by which you're experiencing the smoke's characteristics, like a color filter on a photograph.

Now that we know that most tobacco leaf processed for blending has seen a casing of some sort, hopefully this will encourage you to try a blend or two that you've been neglecting. You might even discover your next new favorite.

Interested in learning more about tobacco blends? Check out our post on Cavendish, and stay tuned for future tobacco articles here on the blog. And if you have any questions about a specific blend you're on the fence about, feel free to drop us a line, and be sure to check out all five blends from the Appalachian Trail series!

What are some blends you enjoy that really exemplify that 'true' tobacco flavor? Any fans of crossover blends out there? Let us know in the comments!

Category:   Tobacco Talk
Tagged in:   Appalachian Trail Tobacco

Comments

    • Alain L. on May 7, 2018
    • Great post ! Thanks :)

    • Allen Blackford on May 10, 2018
    • I am learning every time I read one of your articles on pipes and/ or tobacco

    • Jeff Moore (AromatiX) on May 10, 2018
    • I think C&D's Afternoon Delight is an excellent example of adding a topping (maple) to just soften a stout blend and actually give it a deep almost cigar taste instead of coming across as aromatic. Brilliant example of blending skill.

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