Low Country: Atalaya - available at 6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 19th
Great pipe shops through the years have furnished their clientele with proprietary smoking mixtures of impressive quality. Consider, for example, Drucquer & Sons, Astley's, Kramer's, or W.Ø. Larsen, whose blends have maintained legendary popularity long after the originating shops closed their doors.
Establishments like Low Country Pipe & Cigar, named for the South Carolina Lowcountry, continue the tradition. Low Country is the sister brick-and-mortar shop to Smokingpipes, and it's right here in South Carolina, just north of Myrtle Beach. It's a great destination for vacationers and locals alike, with opulent leather furnishings, classic wood floors, and intricately designed tin ceilings reminiscent of those popular in upscale establishments 100 years ago.
A very large, comprehensive display of pipes and pipe tobaccos makes pipe smokers feel at home, and an impressively stocked walk-in humidor welcomes cigar smokers. It's an eminently comfortable place to relax with a smoke, and on any given day, dozens of tobacco enthusiasts come and go, enjoying the surroundings and comfort, the old-world atmosphere, the friendliness of the knowledgeable staff, and the unsurpassed inventory of a professional, all-service pipe shop.
... on any given day, dozens of tobacco enthusiasts come and go
Although Low Country opened in 2005 and is relatively young, it's housed in a remodeled, historic former home in Little River, and the history of the building permeates the atmosphere. The shop's decor, products, and services are as would be expected in reputable shops established before any of us were born, and it celebrates the history and traditional atmosphere of the tobacconists that our grandfathers frequented, but with all of the modern conveniences.
Great tobacconists provide great tobaccos from around the world, as well as their own mixtures. Low Country, partnering with Cornell & Diehl, offers some of the most interesting, flavorful, and refreshing blends to appear in the last 20 years. Edisto, for example, is a Virginia flake whose popularity is driven by its complexity and layered dimensions of flavor; Waccamaw is a VA/Per flake elevated by a dash of Izmir; Cooper attracts smokers of English blends with its baritone notes of Latakia, the sweetness of its Orientals, and the unmistakable tenor tones of fine Virginia tobacco performing in impressive harmony. All of these core Low Country blends are named for South Carolina waterways in celebration of the region's deep tobacco culture.
Joining those established mixtures and others in the Low Country line is the latest creation from the brilliant mind and discerning palate of Jeremy Reeves, Head Blender at C&D. It's called Atalaya and it's a limited-edition blend that taps into the history of South Carolina tobacco country, its culture, and the excellence of premium components.
A Virginia/Oriental Mixture with St. James Perique
As a limited-edition pipe tobacco, Atalaya diverges from the archetypal waterway theme shared by other Low Country blends, instead celebrating one of the most astonishing landmarks in the state: Atalaya Castle in Murrells Inlet, near Myrtle Beach. Like its namesake, the mixture balances the familiar and the exotic, the sophisticated and the whimsical, revealing resplendent architecture upon a sturdy foundation.
Atalaya is a mixture of the familiar and the exotic, the sophisticated and the whimsical
"Atalaya is essentially a Virginia/Oriental that heavily features Perique," says Jeremy. "The Virginias are balanced toward the dark side of things; the Red Virginia is from a 2019 crop, and there's a smaller portion of Bright Virginia. We've focused on the darker flavor aspects in terms of balance, in part by using a smaller portion of the brighter, sweeter Virginia, just to add a little bit of light in the shadows, so to speak."
The Perique is pure St. James Perique from 31 Farms, which provides all the Perique used in C&D's tobaccos. "And then," says Jeremy, "a blend of Izmir from 2018 and Basma from 2019 to add a little more of that aromatic quality that Orientals can provide: baking spices and tea and some of their own weird, funky, zesty qualities."
The two Orientals were deliberately paired. "Just as the Red Virginia and Bright Virginia sit nicely together like puzzle pieces, you've got very tangy and subtly sweet flavors from the Izmir and oily and earthy and spicy flavors from the Basma. Combined, they create a much more palate-filling flavor incorporating elements of each, but they also create interesting new flavors."
"The Red Virginia and Bright Virginia sit nicely together like puzzle pieces, with tangy and subtly sweet flavors from the Izmir and oily and earthy and spicy flavors from the Basma"
Oriental leaf is oily — a property necessary for survival in the plant's near-desert natural climate, where the sun is relentless and cloud cover rare. Even the atmosphere is parched: it holds too little humidity to interfere with the sunlight, so Orientals have developed their own coping mechanisms. "The leaves create large quantities of oil," says Jeremy, "that acts like suntan lotion and provides some insulation from the direct sun." The leaves are very small compared to those found on Virginia or Burley plants, which typically produce 18-24 leaves compared to the hundreds that grow on the smaller Oriental plants.
"Each leaf provides a little protection for the leaf below it, and it gets less sunlight than it would if larger." Plants need sunlight for photosynthesis, but there can be too much, and leaves can sun scorch. That's why, typically, tobacco cultivation occurs in more humid climates, like those of Tennessee or Kentucky, or Virginia, South Carolina, or North Carolina. "We don't really have any U.S. examples of tobacco grown in the desert. But in Turkey and Greece, you find this unique strain of tobacco with a very, very intense flavor because of the oil, but with little nicotine and only moderate sugar — not as concentrated as in Bright Virginia. The oily character creates unique flavor profiles, in particular flavor profiles that are olfactory, so Atalaya is a very naturally aromatic tobacco."
Low Country Atalaya will be available at 6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 19th
Compensating for the dearth of nicotine in the Orientals, the Perique delivers a satisfying punch, complemented by its subtle notes of stewed fruits and plums. "If you think of flavor in terms of bass, mid-range, and treble, there are elements of the Perique that boom with bass notes, and there are other elements that harmonize nicely, with secondary flavors contributing to the mid-range. Atalaya has a very bass-heavy structure with Red Virginia providing the mid-range and small amounts of Bright Virginia and Orientals providing the upper register."
While delivering eloquent flavors, Atalaya is all-natural. "There is no added flavoring on any part of this blend," says Jeremy. "It is unadulterated tobacco, and made from three unique and individual styles of tobacco. When they're combined in particular ways, they create all sorts of new flavor characteristics. This was an example of how nice a Virginia/Oriental/Perique blend can be when it's focused on the deeper and darker elements of the flavor profile."
"... an example of how nice a Virginia/Oriental/Perique blend can be when it's focused on the deeper and darker elements of the flavor profile"
The mixture is pressed to marry the flavors and to promote fermentation, helped along by the pressure and to some extent by the Perique, which tends to catalyze the process for other components. "Then we cut it. But rather than presenting it as a flake, it's tumbled and in ready-rubbed form." Atalaya is a smoking experience delivering unique, captivating characteristics and its namesake is a particularly attractive part of its story.
Local Inspiration: Atalaya Castle
Atalaya Castle in Murrells Inlet, SC
Atalaya, also known as Atalaya Castle, was built over the years 1931-1933 by Archer and Anna Huntington. Archer was a prominent scholar/philanthropist and Anna was an acclaimed and eminent sculptor. As may be expected of someone who buys 9,000 acres of oceanfront property to build a winter home, they were wealthy, and by all accounts, they were good, generous people. Archer's father was Collis Potter Huntington, builder of the Central Pacific Railroad as well as the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and was worth billions in today's terms.
The couple lived in New York, but when Anna was diagnosed with tuberculosis and her doctor recommended a southern climate, they focused on the Myrtle Beach area and bought three former slave-holding rice plantations on which to build their home. However, they hired only local laborers in order to support the local economy.
The castle looks like a fortress surrounding a large courtyard. Decorative iron bars, designed by Anna, protect the windows from hurricanes. The building contains 30 rooms, but it is not a mansion typically associated with the outrageously wealthy. It has no opulent guest rooms, no billiard room, no smoking parlor. The home was designed by Archer to accommodate the couple's interests. Anna needed lots of room for her sculpture, and Archer for his vast collections of Hispanic art, literature, and cultural items that he was accumulating for an eventual "Spanish Museum" for the advancement of Spanish studies. He had been deeply attracted to Spanish culture even before his first visit to Spain in 1882, and his enthusiasm never waned. All the other rooms were designated for their many servants and assistants.
In Spanish, Atalaya means "watchtower," and the estate was so named for its 40-foot water tower, which supplied all of the water for the property. There were also animal pens, and the place was often a virtual zoo. Anna specialized in sculptures of wildlife and she used live models, so the estate had indoor and outdoor studios for her to work with the bears, horses, monkeys, and leopards that came and went with her various projects.
Anna specialized in sculptures of wildlife
The Huntingtons used part of their acreage to build Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture garden featuring Anna's art amid curated hedges, flowers, and trees. She worked in the mediums of aluminum and bronze, and is especially famous for her equestrian statues of colossal size. The botanical gardens were immediately opened to the public and can be visited today. They feature not only Anna's work but that of other American sculptors. It's a mix of sculpture and nature in an idyllic, relaxing setting.
Archer and Anna Huntington
Archer was an imposing man, 6'5" tall, and highly educated, especially in art history, which he pursued by frequenting museums throughout Europe. In 1882, he visited Spain with a paid scholar/professor working for Yale University. One of Archer's career paths included running his father's shipyard, but he decided instead to dedicate himself to Spanish art. For one of his projects, he translated the Poem of the Cid, but it was his vast collection of Spanish literature and paintings that seemed to most interest him. In 1902, he purchased the famous library of the Marquis of Jerez de los Caballeros, widely considered the finest private collection of early Spanish literature. Many other collections followed. He opened his museum, called the Hispanic Society of America, in 1904.
The Society's collection was funded by Archer, and he continued to pursue additional collections and exhibits for it, but he also involved himself in other philanthropic work, including paying for the relocation and new buildings for the American Numismatic Society, The American Geographical Society, the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Not only did he pay for the buildings for these entities, but he donated the land.
According to the Hispanic Museum & Library's website,
Huntington was equally generous with donations of family possessions and properties. Collections of art and antiques were presented to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (1927), the Yale University Art Gallery, in memory of Arabella (1927), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1927), and The Charleston Museum in 1931-32. Large tracts of land were donated for museums, parks, and nature preserves, including the 15,000 acres that comprised his Adirondack Great Camp Arbutus for the Archer and Anna Huntington Wildlife Forest Station, Newcomb, New York, to the State University of New York College of Environmental Forestry in Syracuse (1932); his private residence in New York City, 1089 5th Avenue, to the National Academy Museum and School (1940); 500 acres to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Haverstraw, New York (1943); his father's 200-acre Camp Pine Knot on Raquette Lake, the first Great Camp in the Adirondacks, to the State University of New York Cortland as a memorial to Collis Potter Huntington; and he willed 1,017 acres in Redding to the State of Connecticut for the Collis P. Huntington State Park, which opened to the public in 1973 following the death of Anna Hyatt Huntington. Generous to a fault, Archer Huntington never sought personal recognition or memorials, which is why during his lifetime he did not allow any institution that he founded to bear his name. Huntington's institutions stand today as lasting memorials to the accomplishments and generosity of one of America's greatest philanthropists.
"Generous to a fault, Archer Huntington never sought personal recognition or memorials, which is why during his lifetime he did not allow any institution that he founded to bear his name"
Atalaya still stands. It was donated (or more precisely, leased at no cost) to the state of South Carolina in 1960 and has operated as part of Huntington State Park since. Though its rooms are now empty, the estate's architecture is enjoyed by thousands every year, along with the ever-popular botanical gardens.
The Huntingtons brought more than their wealth to South Carolina. They brought culture, art, literature, architecture, generosity, and a love for the locale, which they nurtured through education, display, and the gainful employment of many, especially important during the Depression years.
The couple spent their winters at Atalaya until the outbreak of WWII, when they relinquished their home for the use of the U.S. Air Corps. They returned for the winters following the war until Archer's death in 1955.
Atalaya is especially symbolic of South Carolina. It has supported a regional economy, introduced art and literature previously unfamiliar to the state's residents, and remains one of the most impressive private structures anywhere. Standing as it does on the dunes of the Atlantic Ocean, its stone walls remember other times and ambitions while providing historic interest for its many visitors.
It's an impressive landmark, and one that Low Country Pipe & Cigar is proud to celebrate with this limited-edition tobacco. Atalaya smoking mixture is as creative and surprising and supportive as the castle from which it takes its name.
- Discover South Carolina, South Carolina's Castle: The Mysterious and Mesmerizing Atalaya
- Atalaya Castle, Atalaya Castle History