Tasting Notes: Cornell & Diehl Anthology 1992-2022

Welcome back to Tasting Notes, everyone. For today's episode, we've got something incredibly special in store for you. I'm here with head blender Jeremy Reeves to discuss an exciting new addition to the Cornell & Diehl portfolio: Anthology 1992-2022. This "Greatest Hits" mixture celebrates C&D's 30th Anniversary and features many recognizable grades from such iconic blends as Carolina Red Flake, Carolina Red Flake with Perique, and Bijou, as well as pure, genuine Perique from a single-farm in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Tune in as Jeremy and I discuss the blend's inspirations, its myriad components, its insanely complex and balanced flavor profile, and aging potential. Anthology 1992-2022 will be available at Smokingpipes on Wednesday, July 13th.

Note: The following transcription has been edited for clarity and brevity.

[Shane Ireland]: So, to start us off, Jeremy, why don't you tell us a little bit about the Anthology project? We'll get into specifics here in a bit, but for now, tell us what you were aiming for with this blend.

[Jeremy Reeves]: So, really, this was born out of the sudden realization that Cornell & Diehl has been around for 30 years this year. So to commemorate this very important milestone, we wanted to create a product that would sort of be a collection of some of our greatest hits tobacco-wise. We thought that idea kind of lent itself to the notion of an Anthology — sort of looking back over our history and choosing some components that have been really special in other products that we've made during my time here. It's our way of celebrating our own successes, but it's also to say thank you to our community for the support that has allowed us to be here for 30 years.

[SI]: Great, so let's get into the blend itself. So, it's a Virginia/Perique Flake, which isn't that surprising. I think if you look back at Cornell and Diehl's history, especially throughout the more modern era, Virginia and Virginia/Perique blends have been cornerstones within the Cornell and Diehl portfolio. And moreover, a lot of the most interesting stuff component-wise has come out of that approach in the last several years. We'll dive more deeply into that in a second, but why the decision to make a Virginia/Perique?

[JR]: Well, I think that part of Cornell and Diehl's success has been in our ability to make a variety of blends that cater to different, very specific palates or niches. But for this commemorative blend, I wanted to create something that was more inclusive. And so, we wanted to do Virginia/Perique that would appeal to just about everyone. Traditionally, I think, we've gone really heavy in terms of strength and body. We tend to create these robust after-dinner smokes, but for Anthology 1992-2022 I wanted to create something that would work just as well with a morning tea — something that could be an all-day smoke for more people.

for Anthology 1992-2022 I wanted to create something that would work just as well with a morning tea — something that could be an all-day smoke for more people

[SI]: Right, I think that you've definitely achieved that goal here. I've smoked through a handful of the prototypes, but now that this is completed and tinned up, it really is such a unique experience. It is silky smooth, really easy to enjoy, and definitely an all-day smoke. So, you set out to create something that's inclusive, something that could be an all-day smoke, or something that maybe wasn't a huge powerhouse. How did you start the blending process? What did you know, right off the bat, that you were going to include and where did it go from there?

[JR]: Sure. So, the first component that I immediately knew I wanted to use was actually the 2003 Red Virginia that's used in Bijou. What a lot of folks may not realize is that when I started with Cornell and Diehl, before I was head blender and when I was just learning how the shop worked, that 2003 Red was the grade of Red that we were using in everything. And it kind of boggled my mind that we had been able to find such a large supply of leaf this old. I mean, it was harvested three years before I first smoked a Cornell and Diehl blend. So this 2003 Red was in the first tobacco that I smoked from Cornell and Diehl — it really represents my history with the company.

this 2003 Red was in the first tobacco that I smoked from Cornell and Diehl — it really represents my history with the company

[SI]: Wow. So, even if I was smoking Red Carpet back in the day or something like Union Square.

[JR]: It would've had this same grade.

[SI]: Yeah? Oh, wow.

[JR]: So, C&D had been able to acquire a fairly sizable allotment of this grade of tobacco in their name. And when I started working on Bijou, which was the first Virginia blend that I developed for C&D, I looked at how much we had of this 2003 left in stock. It seemed so special to me, so I wanted to take all the rest of that and just cordon it off for making Bijou. So that's how we've been able to continue making Bijou with the 2003 Red; otherwise, as our company has grown and as our consumption has increased, that 2003 Red would've been gone several years ago. So, that was the first component that I knew I really wanted to use, because it really struck at the heart of this very project.

[SI]: Right. So what is it about the 2003 Red that you like? What is it about that grade that sets it apart from other grades of Red Virginia that you've sourced?

[JR]: So, it has mellowed really beautifully. In Bijou, we steam it, which mellows the leaf even more, but even on its own it's sort of incredible. It's got bass notes, sure, but they're soft — like the volume's been turned down in a pleasant, soothing kind of way. It's like a baritone singing on an old record in the other room while you're making a drink. And then there are sweeter notes layered on top, but they too have become more delicate — they're a little floral. So, I knew that it was something that I wanted to use in this blend, but I also knew that it was going to need to comprise a fair portion of the Virginias here. Because it's so mellow, taking a heavy hand with anything else younger on top would likely drown out all that nuance. So, starting with that, we added a small amount of the TA-20 tips grade from Carolina Red Flake with Perique.

[SI]: Which is the North Carolina grown Red Virginia, yeah?

[JR]: Right, exactly. So TA-20 is a really beautiful grade with a lovely sort of grapefruit kind of character. I say grapefruit, because that's what it reminds me of. It's sweet and citrusy, but there's a slightly bitter back note that works well as a counterpoint, as a balance. It's a rare thing to find a tips grade that has as high a sugar content as these do, actually — like 13.5%. What's even rarer is that they still have a fair amount of nicotine as well. Typically, nicotine and sugar tend to have more of a teeter-totter relationship, and on the upper stalk specifically, you expect higher nicotine and lower sugar. TA-20, really, ended up being kind of an anomaly sort of grade. So, you get that slight bitterness from the nicotine and the oils and the sun, but you still have this more citrusy character from the sugars.

Alongside those TA-20 tips from Carolina Red Flake with Perique, I also knew that I wanted to incorporate our Carolina Red Flake grade, SM2-18. Obviously, the 2015 L2DH grade that we initially launched Carolina Red Flake with is completely consumed, but I was able to find a tobacco that could just as easily have been graded L2DH, had it been graded by a different company. Side by side, they're really, really close. Carolina Red Flake was the blend that sort of catalyzed the Small Batch project. It's deeply important to me and to Cornell & Diehl in general, so I knew I wanted to pay tribute to CRF and CRFwP through these tobaccos. And then, of course, there's a project that we haven't really talked about publicly — one that's been three years in the making.

We have established a direct line with a small, boutique Perique farmer and producer in St. James Parish, Louisiana, and Cornell & Diehl now has total, exclusive access to their entire crop. Over the past few years, I've been able to go down to Louisiana and work alongside them on every stage of the process — from growing and harvesting to curing and working this tobacco in the barrel. And it's taken three years for us to build up supply, but I can now say that all the Perique in every Perique blend we make is 100% pure St. James Parish Perique from this one farm.

We have established a direct line with a small, boutique Perique farmer and producer in St. James Parish, Louisiana, and Cornell & Diehl now has total, exclusive access to their entire crop

ornell & Diehl Anthology 1992-2022

Cornell & Diehl Anthology 1992-2022

[SI]: Yeah, single source. That's incredible. Now, for those of you out there who maybe didn't see the video we did on Carolina Red Flake with Perique, there is a difference between genuine St. James Parish Perique and the Perique that's more commonly used throughout the industry. The difference is essentially analogous to a single malt scotch and a blended whiskey. Typically, Perique coming from Louisiana that's in most Perique blends on the market is actually made from a variety of tobaccos that are grown in different locations and then brought into Louisiana and processed as Perique. The difference between that and the genuine St. James Parish Perique that now comprises all of C&D's Perique is that it's all grown, harvested, cured, and processed on one farm in St. James Parish. So with genuine St. James leaf, you have not only the Perique process that St. James is famous for, but also the terroir of having the leaf grown there, which is how they originally did it.

[JR]: That's right. It's all grown on the same 15-acre farm.

[SI]: Amazing. So what does that do? You've picked a lot of barrels of Perique, both blended and pure at this point, so what makes this particular Perique special, aside from just knowing that it was grown, harvested, and processed in the same location?

[JR]: Right. So from a flavor perspective, pure St. James leaf still has all of the earthy, loamy, and sort of umami characteristics that we associate with Perique, but it kind of balances towards the sweeter, chocolatey, and chocolate-covered cherries kinds of things. That's not to say that the more complex, more umami characteristics are way back in the background, but they do take a slight backseat. They contribute less to the conversation. And so, that makes it particularly distinct in comparison with other products with Perique, where the blended variety does tend towards the earthier side of things; it gives St. James Perique a distinctive character and aroma.

Personally, I really love chocolate-covered cherries, maybe a little too much, so I really appreciate that those characteristics are the first things I think of when I smell some barrels of Perique. With blended Perique, often there are these situations where this barrel might have some of that character and this barrel doesn't have any of that character. But because our Perique is all one crop, worked by one small group of people who are doing all of the planting, harvesting, curing, and barrel processing from start to finish, it's been remarkably consistent.

The fact that this entire crop is worked and handled by three people gives you a more cohesive vision of what the end product is going to be, and you can trace that vision from step one all the way through to the final stages of production. You just can't do that with blended Perique. When part of the process happens here, and then a totally different group of people do this thing over there, and then you take all of those things and a totally different group of people put them together, the results can be unpredictable. It's really not that one is worse or better. It's just that we, as a company, really like to be hands-on with as many steps of the process as we can, because we prioritize small-batch, boutique production and quality. So it makes the most sense for us to work with a boutique farmer, which, in the tobacco industry, is just nonexistent these days.

[SI]: So correct me if I'm wrong, but a lot of what makes great Perique is the process — the final steps, the barrel, the pressing, and the turning. The turning is much like a pilón for cigar leaf. You have a stack of leaves, in this case, a barrel full of leaves, either fermenting under pressure or under heat or both. And you have to rotate that to get a consistent sort of outcome for the entire barrel, the entire pilón, etc. And a lot of that's done by feel, right? It's not like there's an exact formula or these hard rules where you say, "Oh, every single time, if we just turn this twice, it's going to come out the same way."

Courtesy of Cornell & Diehl's YouTube page

[JR]: That's exactly right.

[SI]: So I'm assuming that having sort of a boutique approach gives them not only autonomy but agility as well. It sort of allows them to say, okay, due to the temperature, due to the humidity, we need to do a fourth turn or maybe even a fifth sometimes.

[JR]: That's correct. Yeah, you have to be responsive to many factors: what is happening with the weather; what's happening with the humidity; what is happening in the field. All of these considerations affect and inform next steps. When you begin taking that tobacco and putting it into barrels, you pay attention to which barrels the tobacco is in, and you may need to do things differently with one barrel compared to another. You might need to let one barrel air longer between turns. Or you might need to wait a little longer before you turn this section of barrels. Essentially, having the same eyes consistently on every step of the process just informs different decisions, and you wouldn't have that information any other way.

[SI]: It's incredible. And you may have already mentioned this, but this farm, this family — what is their history with processing Perique look like?

[JR]: So, they're the Roussel family, and 31 Farms is the name of their farm. Ricky is the patriarch; Derek is his son. And then Barbara is Ricky's wife. They also have a gentleman named Tony who works with them. Barbara grew up in a family of Perique farmers; she actually grew up stripping and packing barrels with the whole family making Perique every year. Ricky also grew up in a family that grew Perique and his dad grew up in a family that grew Perique and was a tobacco farmer on a much larger scale than Derek and Ricky are now. So you've got five generations represented in the Roussel family portion of this company. And then, Tony has worked for Poche going back many years, and so he also has a lot of hands-on experience with fermenting Perique in the barrel. So, really, five generations of the Perique farmers between the Roussels and Barbara's family.

five generations represented in the Roussel family portion of this company

[SI]: Incredible. So we've gotten pretty deep into the weeds on the Perique bit here, and we've talked a lot about the components. Now, let's get into what we're tasting, what we're smelling, and then I have a couple of follow up questions about the blend. So, just to recap here, we have three different grades of Red Virginia, and the genuine St. James Perique, right?

[JR]: There is also some Canadian Bright. I forgot to mention that because the key focal points were definitely these Virginia grades and the genuine St. James leaf.

[SI]: Oh, right. Well, Canadian Bright is another signature component from Cornell and Diehl in recent years. You've said this before, and I've echoed this before, but part of what makes that Canadian Bright leaf so special is, aside from its really zesty and beautiful flavor, the sugar content is also exceptionally high.

Cornell & Diehl Anthology 1992-2022

Cornell & Diehl Anthology 1992-2022

[JR]: Oh yeah. It's unmatched in US Bright leaf. You just cannot find mid-20 to mid-30 percent sugar. Like 36% sugar content is nuts. You have to blend it with so much darker leaf that, if you want that bright character, it's actually better to have Brights with slightly lower sugar contents. So for us, 20-24 percent is typically what we shoot for.

[SI]: Right. That makes sense. So let's talk about the tin note. It's sort of classic; it's bready and malty. If I go deep enough, there's something that's a little bit on the sour side — well, maybe not sour, but definitely on the tangy side. There's a tartness there for sure, and I am picking up those dark fruit notes. There's a little bit of an earthy character, but not nearly as earthy as I find other Virginia/Periques to be. Overall, I'd say this one is really fruity, malty, and bready — like an amber ale or something like that. What do you get, Jeremy?

[JR]: So, this is kind of a weird one for me. There's no rum or anything on this blend, but there's something about this that reminds me of a rum cake, particularly a rum cake that I was gifted every year by a family friend growing up. There's definitely a zesty citrus note there, and in the background, there's the classic barnyard type aromas.

[SI]: Yeah, there is a little bit of that loamy, umami, or barnyard funk type of earthiness, but it is way in the background. Overall, it's a really comforting and inviting tin note. Now, we're nowhere close to the beginning of the bowl because we've been chatting for a while now, but I did notice that on the first light, there was a ton of richness and a ton of depth right away. With alot of Virginia blends and a lot of Virginia/Perique blends even, especially those that haven't been aged, I tend to get more brightness, more hay-like character. And then as the bowl progresses, things deepen a little bit. With this blend, however, it was really rich and deep right off the bat.

I could taste the Perique but, interestingly enough, I could taste it more than I could feel it. And that's sort of backwards from what you expect when you think of Virginia Perique blends. Usually you get that pepper tingle before you pick up the leaf's complexity and dark fruit notes. So for me, this was completely backwards. In fact, even right now, this is among the most gentle and lush retrohales I've ever experienced with a Virginia/Perique. I get very little tingle, very little pepper. There is a spice there, but it's on the mild side, maybe a little bit more like warming spices than like pepper. But the retrohale is like velvet, man. It's so smooth. And I tend to not use the word smooth, whether I'm talking about whiskey or tobacco, because it's not that helpful.

But even here as I'm nearing the halfway point, I'm getting more strength, a little bit more body, a little bit more richness, slightly fewer zesty notes, and a little more depth. But the Perique through the nose is all chocolate and dark fruit. And it's remarkable and intriguing: I'm getting so little spice that I feel like I'm really experiencing how Perique tastes more than how it feels, if that makes sense.

[JR]: Yeah, I agree. As I've smoked this blend, I've noticed that the order in which you experience flavors are a little different than what you might expect. So I agree with you that, up front, the darker character is initially what you catch. And then, immediately after that, what I get is like a burst of really bright, tangy, sweetness on the tip of my tongue. And then, I find that that sweetness lingers really nicely throughout the smoke for me. The spicier character of Perique sort of peaks and ebbs and flows, but, as you said, I don't get it as much through my nose as I experience it on my tongue. And that's part of what made this a really fun blend to work on, and something that I thought would be unique enough to help us ring in our 30th year.

The spicier character of Perique sort of peaks and ebbs and flows

[SI]: Right, and I think it is definitely unique. Speaking to that, though, when I first read the label, and even when you were working on the prototypes, I did ask myself how is this different from Carolina Red Flake with Perique? That was kind of one of the first things that came up in my head, and I'm sure our customers will be wondering about that as well, but they are incredibly different blends. And I think that really showcases what blending can do: it sort of allows you to use the same or similar components in really creative ways. But tell us a little about how they differ, particularly in terms of approximate percentage of Perique, because for me, this seems a bit gentler and more refined.

[JR]: Sure, yeah it is. So, in Carolina Red Flake with Perique, we used the pure St. James Perique from the same farm we've been talking about. We just didn't, at that point, talk about it in depth. We were still in the beginning stages of really establishing that line of supply and kind of learning about each other, but we had made a purchase at that point. But Carolina Red Flake with Perique is just shy of 20% Perique, which for the overall character and approachability of that blend, I think, is maybe a shock to a lot of people.

[SI]: That is higher than I would've imagined. Yeah, I would've thought like mid-teens or so.

[JR]: Right. Anthology 1992-2022, in contrast, is just over 12% Perique. So, it's a fair step down, but it's still present, certainly. And then, the TA-20 tips, which made up the majority of Carolina Red Flake with Perique, are also stepped down here. Among all the Red Virginias in Anthology 1992-2022, it's mostly the 2003 Bijou leaf, followed by the TA-20 Red Orange tips. And then the smallest component by percentage is the SM2-18, the Carolina Red Flake Virginias.

Anthology 1992-2022, in contrast, is just over 12% Perique

[SI]: That's so Interesting. It's sort of crazy that, despite comprising several grades that you've used in other really successful blends, this ended up being compared to the other blends that it harkens back to. I'm sort of shocked, even at like slightly above 12%, how tame the spice and pepper is.

And compared to CRFwP, I'm sort of just surprised here by the amount of fruitiness. What you said earlier about chocolate covered cherries is definitely there. And about at the halfway point, the chocolatey notes start to pick up for me and the fruitiness sort of evolves. It starts to veer away from the dark red fruits and figgy character that's prominent in the beginning into something more reminiscent of tropical fruits. I'm getting notes that are almost closer to pineapple than, say, cherry. It's faint, though, and not super sweet or tart. But if I had to describe it, yeah, I'd say it's closer to maybe a pear or a pineapple than something like apples and cherries. Does that make sense?

[JR]: Interesting. So sometimes I get something that sort of reminds me of a really good fruit cake, but mostly I keep going back to grapefruit. That's just what it reminds me of.

[SI]: Yeah, good fruitcake is a great analogy. You really do have these sweeter, baked goods kinds of flavors. Personally, I keep going back and forth between a fruit tart and something like a custard, because there is this really creamy, sweet vibe here as well. This one is maybe the epitome of balance for me. We talk about balance a lot when we're smoking things, when we're drinking things, tasting things, etc., because really the goal is to experience a nice array of flavors where nothing is either too in your face or too in the background. But this is really evenly spread across the spectrum, and it's pretty consistent throughout the entire bowl, which is remarkable. A lot of times, when I have a similar experience at first light, the smoke often intensifies so much that the base notes or the high notes are going crazy towards the back half of the smoke. But this one just seems to deepen and get a little bit richer. I start to notice certain flavors a little bit more than I did in the beginning, but it never gets so intense or so focused on any one of those parts of the spectrum.

Courtesy of Cornell & Diehl's YouTube page

[JR]: Yeah, I find that if I puff really gently, there's almost this powdered sugar-like puff of sweetness on the tip of my tongue. And then, if I take a deeper puff, then I get more of the spicy and earthy characters. Alternating back and forth between slightly bigger puffs and really tiny, controlled sips is my favorite way to smoke this. I've smoked it a lot over the last several months as I've been working on getting these components to really sing their best notes together. And that's been my favorite way of getting the most out of this blend — just alternating your cadence back and forth between tiny sips and larger puffs.

Alternating back and forth between slightly bigger puffs and really tiny, controlled sips is my favorite way to smoke this

[SI]: Yeah, that's a great technique. So I meant to say this earlier, but this tastes aged. I know there's a high percentage of a 2003 Virginia grade here, but this smokes, to me, like some of the matured Virginias I've smoked from like the 50's, 60's even earlier. It has that vibe. Honestly, I feel like if I broke this up and rolled it into a cigarette and then gave it to somebody who has a lot of experience smoking old London-made cigarettes, they would say, "oh yeah, this is 50 years old." It's really interesting how mature this blend feels right out of the gate. It really does smoke the same way as some of the other Virginias that have been in my cellar for decades.

[JR]: That's awesome to hear.

[SI]: It's really surprising. It's kind of messing with me because there's a big disconnect between what I'm experiencing and what I know to be true about this tin — that was tinned a couple weeks ago. Usually, I get a lot more brightness, a lot more freshness, and a lot more of that grassy character from fresh Va/Pers. In all honesty, I'm glad this isn't a Mystery Tobacco Review because I probably would've had my money on this being a very old C&D tin. Anyway, is there anything else flavor-wise that you wanna share with the viewers?

[JR]: Yeah, I mean, I taste a lot of Virginia. I taste a lot of Virginia and Perique. I've been smoking iterations of this blend for months, so I feel like I'm too close to it. I've formed my opinions already, so it's not shocking me at this point. It tastes how I wanted it to taste, if that makes sense.

[SI]: Yeah, this is what you made. Well you may not be surprised at this point, but I'm very surprised. In fact, I'm currently around the bottom third of the bowl, and I'm starting to get something a little more herbal that's balancing with these sweeter and fruitier flavors as well as the breadiness and maltiness of the Virginias. It's almost like rosemary. Originally, I was gonna say mint or dill in the same way that we talk about like a rye whiskey. But the more that I sip this and sort of retrohale those sips, it really does remind me maybe of like thyme or rosemary. It's like a lamb roast with mint jelly. This is super good.

[JR]: Every time I smoke with you, it always makes me feel like I should be cooking.

[SI]: I know, or drinking, right? No, it really is remarkable. So most of the time when I'm impressed with a tobacco, my next thought is: what's this going to be like in five years? What's this going to be like in 10 years? This particular Virginia/Perique flake may be in the top three blends I've ever smoked, and I think it has the longest legs. It is going to age incredibly well. There's nothing young or harsh about it that I think age will alleviate, but I think those fruity notes are gonna get huge.The base characteristics, the breadiness, the maltiness, all of that is going to be right there for the ride, but you're also going to get an increased sweetness. It's already very sweet, so after a little bit more fermentation and a little more time in the tin, I can't even imagine what this might taste like. It's going to be like a dessert, but still with enough body to really epitomize that signature Cornell and Diehl character.

[JR]: I think so, too. I mean, any time that you put together a high concentration of natural sugars, and then add Perique to the mix, you've pretty much got a guaranteed fermentation team assembled. Because of where this is now, though, I wonder if maybe aging for slightly less time wouldn't be ideal.

[SI]: Yeah, maybe two to five years instead of a decade. Either way, I'm confident this one is gonna be a hit. I think Virginia/Perique guys out there are going to go absolutely nuts for this one. And if you have avoided Perique in the past, give this one a shot. It's going to blow your mind how easy it is to enjoy, especially on the retrohale. It's not a spice bomb and is exceptionally balanced. It's an all-day smoke, but it's also an all-year smoke, I think. I feel like I can enjoy this in the warmer months, but I could also enjoy it in winter against a coffee or a whiskey after dinner. It's a really versatile blend that's going to age really well and should please just about everybody.

[JR]: Yeah, I agree. I think that if you like Virginia/Periques, or if you like Virginia, you'll find something familiar but surprising in Anthology 1992-2022. On the other hand, though, if you are a Burley smoker, or an Aromatic smoker, or an English smoker who is looking for a change of pace, just know that this was designed to suit a variety of tastes, and even skill levels or experience.

You know, for a lot of folks, especially when they start off smoking Virginias, it's easy to get discouraged. They hear all these people talking about how they're getting tons of sweetness and complexity from a Virginia or Virginia/Perique blend, but they themselves just aren't tasting it yet. In that way, I feel like this blend is very approachable as a Virginia, for pretty much everyone. So no matter which avenue you're coming from, this blend offers a nice way to punctuate a milestone in your pipe smoking journey. And yeah, that's kind of what I was hoping for, you know?

no matter which avenue you're coming from, this blend offers a nice way to punctuate a milestone in your pipe smoking journey

[SI]: That's the point. Yeah. Well, Jeremy, thank you again so much and congratulations. 30 years, that's amazing. And you hit it out the park with this one for sure, man.

[JR]: Thank you so much.

Cornell & Diehl Anthology 1992-2022

Cornell & Diehl Anthology 1992-2022


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