A Journey through the G.L. Pease Blends: The Original Mixtures
G.L. Pease tobacco at Smokingpipes.com

Sometime around the first of the year, as I sat down to take inventory of my tobacco cellar, I was struck by how many of my favorite blends come from a single blender: G.L. Pease. I'm not sure any line of tobaccos has achieved a more elevated status among American pipe smokers. Each new release is an event here at Smokingpipes.com as customers clamor to get their hands on the new blend.

As often as I have reached for Greg's tobaccos over the years, at the time there were still more than half of them that I had not smoked. Sitting in the floor of my home office that day, I resolved to work my way through the entire collection. I set some simple rules to help focus my sampling and rein in my omnivorous tobacco tendencies:

  1. I would smoke a full tin of each blend, even if I initially disliked it.
  2. I would only sample fresh tins. While Pease's blends are designed to improve over time, I wanted to sample them fresh from our amply stocked warehouse.
  3. I would only keep two tins open at any given time.
  4. Finally, I decided that I would share my experience here at the SPC blog by offering some thoughts about the tobaccos that comprise each series.

The release of Greg's new blend, Sixpence, was the perfect opportunity to reflect on the blends that started the Pease phenomenon, the Original Mixtures. What follows is not an in-depth review of each tobacco, but rather one pipe guy's field notes from an intriguing and rewarding journey.

G.L. Pease tobacco at Smokingpipes.com

Greg is justly celebrated as a master when it comes to producing Latakia blends. Indeed, it was his English and Balkan blends that piqued my interest three or four years ago when I purchased my first tin of Maltese Falcon (Okay, I'll admit it: the fact that I'm a sucker for the film probably played a role in making this my first Pease blend too). It's easy to see how Pease solidified his reputation as Lord Latakia with the Original Mixtures.

Caravan

Caravan, Odyssey, Samarra, and Robusto are remarkable blends and demonstrate the versatility of the smoky leaf, as well as the blender's ability to use it in a variety of ways. Caravan is probably the Latakia blend in the series that I find myself reaching for most often. It epitomizes so many of the things that I find appealing in a Balkan-style blend: the leathery notes of the Latakia, the spice of the Oriental tobaccos, and the sweetness of quality red Virginia, all of which come together to form one harmonious bouquet. At the same time, there's an aspect of Caravan that strikes me as distinctive. While most Latakia blends have a woodsy aroma and flavor, they almost always call to mind cedar or a similar conifer. As others have noted, however, Caravan has a hickory note that we seldom find in a Latakia blend. No matter how many bowls I smoke, that element always surprises and delights my palate. Over the course of this experiment, Caravan has actually displaced Odyssey as my favorite Latakia blend in the series.

Odyssey and Samarra

There was a time when I smoked at least one bowl of Odyssey almost every day, but I just don't favor the big Latakia blends in the way that I used to. Don't get me wrong, Odyssey is still a go-to choice on certain occasions — a dreary winter afternoon or a cold night by the fire, but living here in coastal South Carolina, there really aren't too many of those occasions. Still, smoking the tin of Odyssey was a bit like a chance meeting with an old flame. We got comfortable with each other again, and on a few occasions I wondered why our romance didn't last. As big as Odyssey is —and as Greg himself notes, it is huge — I was again surprised by just how graceful and elegant a smoke it is. I think what makes Odyssey so much better than other blends in this genre is just how tightly knit the various constituent tobaccos are. It's like hearing Rachmaninov's Vespers. Taken separately, the voices all sing in strikingly different registers, but sung right it sounds like one big voice. That's what smoking Odyssey is like for me. As such, I think Odyssey and Samarra make for an interesting juxtaposition. Where Odyssey is rich and full, Samarra is more delicate and more complex. Samarra is like Mozart, and its appeal is probably more universal.

Robusto

In some ways, it's a little misleading to group Robusto with the other Latakia blends in this series, as cigar leaf is the most distinctive condimental tobacco used in the blend. I smoked this blend in early fall and found it perfectly suited to an afternoon smoke. It's earthy and musty, but sweet and spicy at the same time. Just as Greg recommends, it pairs perfectly with a strong cup of coffee, which seems to accentuate the blend's sweetness. Like its sister blend — Key Largo — it's one of the few pipe tobaccos with cigar leaf that I enjoy.

Cumberland

While the Latakia blends in the Original Mixtures have been among Greg's most successful, I think anyone who works his way through the series is sure to be equally impressed by the quality of the blends that I'll broadly group into a Virginia or Virginia-Burley family here. My favorite of these blends are Cumberland and Haddo's Delight. In bolder moods, perhaps fortified with a glass or two of wine, I've argued that Cumberland is Pease's best blend. There is something about the tin note that I find indescribably delicious. It's sweet and earthy — really earthy. Virginia and Kentucky take the lead in the first half of the bowl, but they are quickly joined by a rich bass note of Perique. The character of the smoke continues to darken as the bowl progresses. The most remarkable aspect of this blend is its complexity. In some sense, it's a fairly simple blend of Burley, Virginia, and Perique. Yet Pease manages to use those three notes to produce an absolute symphony of flavor. This one is a masterpiece.

Some people may sneak into the kitchen at midnight for cookies and milk. I snuck into the den to light up a bowl of Haddo's

Haddo's Delight

Likewise with Haddo's Delight. Although it contains a larger quantity of Perique than I generally smoke, it's an enchanting blend. While working my way through the tin, I think I actually woke up a few nights thinking about Haddo's Delight. Some people may sneak into the kitchen at midnight for cookies and milk. I snuck into the den to light up a bowl of Haddo's. The tin note is of chocolate, wine, and figs and the smoke delivers on that promise. Fragrant and stout, it's easy to see why this tobacco has developed the cult following that it has. In keeping with the rules laid out above I smoked a fresh tin, but Haddo's is probably the blend that began the craze for aged tobaccos. If you haven't tried it, treat yourself. If you want to see why so many pipe smokers are talking about aging this blend, pick up an extra tin for the cellar.

Cairo

There are only two blends among the Original Mixtures that I didn't particularly enjoy: Cairo and Barbary Coast. Cairo was a bit of a mixed bag. The first half of the bowl offered a delightful sweetness from the Virginias, an intriguing spice from the Orientals, and rich, fruity notes from the Perique. Yet this one often turned a bit harsh in the second half of the bowl. It worked best in pipes with wider chambers, and I suspect that age will smooth out some of the rougher edges. I haven't yet had the chance to try an old tin of Cairo, but I've added a couple to the cellar with the expectation that it will be an excellent smoke in a few years.

Barbary Coast

The only time I struggled to finish the tin, the only time I contemplated abandoning my journey was when smoking Barbary Coast. Some smokers who decry any trace of topping have faulted Barbary Coast for its aromatic qualities. I actually really like those aspects of the blend. Upon opening the tin, the smoker is greeted with a pungent bouquet of brandy, dried fruits, and nuts. The opening light releases these flavors with gusto in ways that perfectly match the tin description: chocolate, dried fruit, and dark, toasted walnuts. But after a few puffs, I simply found the cubed cut Burley to be harsh and temperamental. I tried small and large bowls, u-shaped and conical chambers, and smoked as gently as I could, all to no avail. Every day when I opened the tin, there seemed to be more tobacco than the day before. But I pressed on and finished the tin, only giving away a single bowl to Raphael in Restoration (who it turns out, really liked it).

Over the past fourteen years, Greg has produced a number of successful blends. I suspect that pretty soon Sixpence will be garnering high praise on forums and review sites. The Original Mixtures started it all. While successive blends took new directions, these mixtures established Pease's reputation for ingenuity, for clarity of flavor, and for an overall standard of excellence that has benefited the hobby as a whole.

Category:   Tobacco Talk
Tagged in:   G. L. Pease Reviews Tobacco

Comments

    • Jeb S on November 22, 2014
    • Cairo becomes very, very good with age. i'm of the opinion that Greg's tobacco need a minimum of a year on them to really shine, excluding navigator, which is always amazing, and cairo really fits the bill. after five years it's a splendid blend, and a great change of pace for those of us who don't enjoy latakia that much. but cumberland... oh what a fantastic tobacco. i have a few tins squirreled away with five years plus and it is one of the best smokes i've had. i'll have to get a fresh tin to compare to sixpence, which also features the holy trinity of tobaccos (VA, Perique and Kentucky). boy am i excited!

    • Joshua Burgess on November 24, 2014
    • I think you'll enjoy Sixpence, Jeb. And you're right that Cumberland really improves with age. Shane gave me a sampling of a 14-year old tin on Friday, and I smoked it often this weekend. Fantastic stuff.

    • Deanna Gregory on December 13, 2015
    • My husband smoked a pipe occasionally back in the early seventies and now has decided he would like to start again. At that time he smoked a tobacco called "Gregory" which was mild and quite fragrant. I would like to find this or something similar for Christmas for him. Can you help me?

    • Kathryn Mann on December 14, 2015
    • Thanks for the inquiry, Deanna. Unfortunately, I'm not finding anything called Gregory. It's possible, given your name, that his local tobacconist had a custom blend that they knew he liked, so they titled it for him. If he can remember more about the flavor or components, perhaps we can suggest something similar. Best of luck!

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