Tasting Notes: Cornell & Diehl Small Batch: Eight State Burley

Welcome back to Tasting Notes! On this episode, I'm joined by a very special guest, my friend and Head Blender of Cornell & Diehl Mr. Jeremy Reeves, here to discuss the latest run of C&D's Small Batch: Eight State Burley — available Wednesday, March 23rd. Tune in as Jeremy and I discuss the blend's inspirations and components, as well as a detailed comparison between last year's run and this year's release. Watch the full video or check out the transcript below for my full review, and if you haven't already, be sure to sign up for in-stock notifications to be notified as soon as Eight State Burley hits the site at 12:00am ET on Wednesday, March 23.

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

[Shane Ireland]: Hey everybody, I'm Shane Ireland, and welcome to another episode of Tasting Notes. As you can see, I have a special guest joining me today — my favorite guest, Jeremy Reeves, head blender of Cornell and Diehl.

[Jeremy Reeves]: Hello, everyone.

[S.I.]: So, today Jeremy and I are smoking the latest version of Small Batch: Eight State Burley. Eight State Burley debuted in 2021, and if we're talking strictly about tobacco families, it was the first Burley entry into the Small Batch line.

[J.R.]: That's correct.

[S.I.]: And like all Small Batch blends, it's more than the sum of its parts: Far more went into its development than simply throwing some Burley together. So tell us about that, Jeremy. I know there was a specific vision that you had with Eight State, sort of an attempt to resurrect or revitalize a traditional Burley mixture.

[J.R.]: Yeah, that's right. So, I am always sourcing tobacco. It's a constant struggle to find the tobaccos that I want, particularly in the quantities that I want. Often, I'll find a grade that's just amazing, but it'll be in smaller quantities; it's too good not to do something with, though. So we set it aside for something special. In that way, Eight State Burley was really born out of me finding a grade of 2015 White Burley that was just awesome.

This 2015 lot had all those classic and quintessential characteristics that I expect from top-tier air-cured leaf — the malt and chocolate and creamy qualities — but that extra age is really rare. In general, finding older lots is not easy. You end up going through quite a list of tobaccos, trying to find things that are older. And this particular lot of Burley was just excellent. It had those classic Burley notes like I said — the nutty, chocolatey, and malty characteristics — but it was so mellow and elegant.

[S.I.]: Right. So, "smooth" is a word that I try to not use often. I feel like it can be a copout when you're talking about spirits, when you're really trying to say that something is easy to drink. But that's something that surprised me here. I've smoked a bunch of older Burleys, mostly because there is a myth out there that they don't age as well as Virginias, and that's just not true. I think it's a different type of aging that happens, but it's still worthwhile.You and I have both smoked really old tins of things like Edgeworth and Solani Aged Burley Flake, and, while the changes aren't maybe as drastic as they would be with a 10-year-old Bright Virginia flake, there's still a noticeable improvement. The richness and the smoothness, for lack of a better term, become more prominent. The edges really round off, and the smoke becomes so creamy, velvety, and dense on the palate, but without the rustic sort of pings that you can get from a younger Burley.

[J.R.]: Yeah, that's right. So on its own, I tend to think of Burley's aging process as mellowing; Virginias and Orientals, on the other hand, have enough sugar to actually ferment. The Burley just doesn't do that on its own, but when you blend it with things that have a high-sugar content, the other components of the Burley itself tend to go along on the journey, and will ferment. They just need the sugars to be able to do it.

[S.I.]: Right, right. Before we get too far into geeking out over these components, which I intend to do, I did wanna talk a little bit about the tin note. Then, we can discuss the components and how they differ from last year's production. So, I really enjoyed last year's entry. It was really enjoyable: smooth, rich, and with a prominent cocoa note straight out of the tin. But I was shocked when I opened this year's tin, which is obviously fresher. When I popped the tin from this year's release, the thing that hit me most was this super nostalgic, rich, dense, and chocolatey aroma. In the best way possible, it reminded me of Tootsie Rolls, right out of the tin.

It was a mix of this sugary, almost brown sugar kind of a sweetness, with a chocolate note that fell somewhere between a bitter baker's chocolate and milk chocolate. That's definitely what jumped out at me first. And even after the tin has been opened for a while, that note is still discernible. There are also plenty of earthy undertones, too; they're not sharp or bitter, though, but more of a loamy soil kind of a note. And there's something else there, which I would probably attribute to the Oriental leaf: it's vaguely floral, vaguely herbal, with a zesty quality as well. Normally, I would attribute those aromas to brighter Virginia leaf: a gentle sort of citrus note that adds some of that zesty character.

[J.R.]: Right, so there is some Bright in this, but it's not a lot.

[S.I.]: It's not a lot, yeah. And it's not a citrusy zest. When we say something is vaguely tangy, typically we're talking about darker Virginia grades, but Eight State has a zesty quality that reminds me of the way that something like Elizabethan Mixture is zesty.

[J.R.]: Gotcha. I actually think that I'm picking up what you're talking about. I think it's really coming from the aged Orientals.

[S.I.]: From the old Orientals? Right, okay. Tell us about the old Orientals, as that is one component that's unchanged in this year's version.

Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch: Eight State Burley

Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch: Eight State Burley

[J.R.]: That's right. So the Oriental selection we're using here comprises 2005 Black Sea Sokhoum, Samsun, and Katerini varietals. So these are 17-years-old now. The way that Orientals age, they tend to mellow. They intensify in sweetness and tend to lose some of their funky, intense olfactory aspects as well as some of their spicy or peppery qualities. Those characteristics don't go away entirely, but they definitely mellow. Older Orientals get intensely sweet in a really pleasant and complex kind of way. They tend to remind me of the smell of wildflower honey, not the exact aroma but the experience: When you smell wildflower honey, you're not smelling one particular kind of flower, but it smells like you're standing in a field of flowers. All of these little notes just come together to create this larger experience, and that's what I get from older Orientals.

[S.I.]: And just to be clear, you're talking about the Orientals intensifying in sweetness as they age, but compared to some of the Virginia grades that C&D's used in the past, these Orientals are relatively low in sugar content to begin with, right?

[J.R.]: Actually, Orientals are around 13% to 15% in sugar content. Sometimes they can be higher than that, but 13%-15% is pretty comparable. That said, the nicotine in Orientals is really low — like 1.5% to 2%. 2% would actually be incredibly high, but Orientals tend to be relatively high in sugar. They're sort of a weird tobacco varietal, because you typically think of an oily leaf as being nicotine rich, as the oil is where the nicotine lives, but these plants are grown in such rocky, high terrain, and in such unforgiving climates that they just can't produce the amount of nicotine that you'd expect in a lot of other types of tobacco. So, they're really low in nicotine, but they still have a lot of oil. And that helps to prevent the plant from scorching in the sun, since typically in these regions, there's no cloud cover.

[S.I.]: Wow, interesting, Yeah, I don't know why I had that sugar comparison wrong, but regardless, that's still a much higher sugar content than I would've imagined. Maybe it's because, in younger Orientals, you do have sort of the more earthier, and spicier notes. I guess, too, with Latakia blends that use Virginias as a base, who's to say where the sweetness is coming from, right?

Okay, so let's dive into the blend a little. First off, the cut is really great. It doesn't really need any drying time, and the moisture content out of the tin is perfect. It's sort of a broader cut, mixed with some finer pieces. For me, I'd probably suggest smoking this out of something with a Group four or above chamber. You definitely want some depth to be able to allow the blend to really open up over the course of a smoke. I would also say that the body is medium-to-full, and the strength is maybe just a touch over medium. I think this could be an all day smoke, for sure.

For somebody who is a real Burley fiend, you'll be able to smoke this first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee. For those who are mainly Virginia fans, or those who smoke lighter blends throughout the day, you'll find Eight State stands up well to a later-in-the-day smoke, maybe after a good meal or even paired with an adult beverage. There's enough going on here to keep me interested, for sure.

I think what I like most about Eight State Burley is that it is essentially a refined take on a classic pipe tobacco category: A family of tobacco blends that is meant to be no fuss and really traditional. Like I said, it's rustic, but without the rough edges, but it's also familiar and comforting. It's the pure tobacco experience, basically, with a little something extra. So, Jeremy, you and I talked about this a little bit, but why did you decide to include Orientals in this traditional Burley blend?

[J.R.]: So, we've talked before about how the idea for this blend really came out of the lot of White Burley that I sourced. And basically, I included the Orientals because I just loved the way that this Burley varietal interacted with our sun-cured leaf. Typically, in a traditional Burley blend, you would use Virginia to counteract the lack of sugar in Burley. In this particular case, though, the aged Burley on its own had a really nice nicotine level that I didn't want to drive up too much — I didn't want to make another like Burley Flake #1, for example. But I did want to add that sweetness, so these old Orientals fit in there perfectly. By using the Orientals, which pack quite a bit of sugar without a lot of nicotine, the blend becomes more elegant and refined. And since they're so significantly aged, they accentuate those nuances without overpowering the Burley. If we'd used a younger Oriental in the quantities we're talking about for Eight State, you would surely taste the Orientals prominently, and the Burley would be way in the back.

[S.I.]: It would turn into a more supporting role, yeah. So is there any precedent or history of using Orientals in these types of classic Burley blends?

[J.R.]: Sure. So old Aromatics often Oriental heavily, because they didn't have a lot of the added flavorings commonly used now. Back in the day, if somebody talked about Aromatic tobacco, they weren't talking about something that had an added sweetness or an added flavoring. They were talking about Oriental blends. Even now, when I talk to farmers and tobacco dealers, if I say "aromatic tobacco," they respond with, "Well, which Oriental are you looking for?"

[S.I.]: They're talking about the properties of the raw tobacco leaf, not something that has been enhanced. Interesting. So there is a precedent going back to some of the old-school Burley blends of adding Orientals as a way to tone down the Burleys, and add another dimension to the flavor and aroma?

[J.R.]: Right. The flavors that Orientals bring to bear are so different and, for lack of a better term, so exotic compared to what we typically associate with tobacco, that they served that purpose: They served as an additional flavoring.

[S.I.]: Interesting. So, let's back up a bit and discuss some of the changes in components between last year's run and this most recent release. What can you tell us, Jeremy?

[J.R.]: So there are two component changes that took place in this year's version versus last year's. Last year, the primary air-cured leaf, the White Burley, was from 2015. We exhausted that supply, and I went hunting for a replacement. Given its age, I wasn't sure what I was going to be able to find. Luckily, I managed to find something that smoked really comparably, something that had those same tell-tale characteristics, but was actually from 2014. So this year's batch is actually made with White Burley that is now two years older.

[S.I.]: Technically, two years older. Right. So in this year's run, we've got 2014 Burleys and the same 2005 mix of Orientals. What about the Virginias?

[J.R.]: So that's another change we made. Last year, we used 2017 Canadian Bright leaf, but much like the Burleys, we exhausted that supply. So for this year's run we're using a 2019 lot, which we were able to score a fairly large quantity of, and it fits really nicely with the flavor profile of the previous varietal. We've transitioned those 2019 Brights seamlessly in a bunch of different blends. This is just one of them.

[S.I.]: Ah, okay, sure. So the Canadian Bright leaf, if my memory serves correctly, is quite high in sugar content, which is one of the signature characteristics of that particular grower.

[J.R.]: That's right. US Bright Virginia tends to exceed the 20% or so mark when talking about sugar content. With Canadian leaf, however, it's not uncommon to see 23%, 25%, or even 27%. Of course, once you get into these high sugar ratios, you can get into brash or tongue bite territory. But with the right lot and a little bit of mellowing, that high sugar can really be used to great effect if you are careful with the way that you balance the rest of the blend.

[S.I.]: Interesting. And that leaves the Red Virginia component.

[J.R.]: The Red Virginia component is the same as last year: SM218. Many of you may recognize that grade as having previously been used as a Carolina Red Flake. After we exhausted the L2DH from 2015, we transitioned into SM218 — a grade that, actually, could have just as easily been L2DH-18.

[S.I.]: Right, right. So as much as I want to get into the grading, and deepening my understanding of how blending works, we should probably talk about how the blend actually smokes and the overall flavor profile and characteristics someone can expect from this year's run. So I'm smoking this year's run and, Jeremy, you're smoking the original version from last year.

So, right off the bat, on the first light, there are these huge cocoa notes. For me, that was the first thing I noticed. It has a really creamy texture and a dense mouth-feel, and it's heavy on the palate; but the cocoa notes were super prominent right up front. And that's obviously coming from the Burley, of course, but it's sort of remarkable. If I knew nothing at all about this blend, I would've had a hard time believing that I wasn't smoking something that was heavily flavored with chocolate flavoring. It's so fascinating that that flavor was completely naturally occurring.

I'm about a third of the way into the bowl here, and the richness has really amplified. But some of the other dimensions have, too. I'm assuming this is from the vintage Orientals as well as the aged Burley leaf, but I'm getting a bit more earthiness here. It's not super dry or sharp, but it's a sweeter sort of earthiness. The Orientals seem a little less piquant and a little more approachable, I would say, than you might find in something that's really heavy on Orientals, or Perique, or just Burley. It's a little more well rounded. I would also say that the spice here is surprisingly toned down on the palate, though on the retrohale, it's a little more noticeable for sure.

[J.R.]: Right, so I'm smoking the 2015 Burley version, the original version from last year. Comparing the two editions, this year's has a slightly deeper and darker sort of flavor. In last year's version, though it is still classically Burley-flavored in nature, there's just a brighter edge to the sweetness. By the way, some ado has been made about the use of casing on this blend. And I want to point out that I think a lot of the things that people were attributing to a casing was really just the sweetness added by the Orientals themselves. The wild variation of flavors that Orientals can add to a blend is not to be underestimated. And on the casing itself, really we're talking about a little bit of sugar, a little bit of molasses, and some rum — traditional casings that are applied to most tobacco blends.

Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch: Eight State Burley

Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch: Eight State Burley

[S.I.]: Exactly. To me, that stuff doesn't even come through. I eman, nearly every other tobacco blend out there is cased to some degree or another. It's apparently clear that the sweetness, and the cocoa flavor here are naturally occurring; it's just part of the characteristics and nuances of the air-cured leaf used here. And in a way, I think that's sort of obvious. There's no cloying sweetness like you'd expect from a heavily topped or cased blend, and the flavors themselves are sort of signature to high-quality, air-cured leaf, particularly if it's aged. It tastes like tobacco.

It makes sense considering the vintage of the components used, but this is smoking really maturely straight out of the tin. It's super rich and well rounded. We keep saying that, I know, but it's true. For a Burley blend, it's sort of remarkable how non-rustic this is. I mean, there's enough oomph here that you know that you're smoking a Burley-forward blend, but it's not in your face or sharp.

[J.R.]: Yeah. This is not a blend that makes me think of rugged outdoorsiness, so much as it does a calm and soothing smoke — something to enjoy while you're reading a book. It's a more contemplative experience compared to a really strong Burley blend that's able to stand up to being smoked outside in the cold wind or something.

[S.I.]: Exactly, exactly. So I'm approaching the halfway point now, and I'm getting these really intense bursts of sweetness that's separate from the cocoa richness I was talking about earlier. I mean, it's shockingly sweet, though still never cloyingly so. I think the Orientals are popping up a little bit more, too, at this point in the bowl. It's vaguely nutty, which I tend to get from both regular air-cured Burley as well as Oriental leaf, but that nuttiness is sort of a supporting role. I think the natural cocoa-like flavor here is much more prominent, and the herbal qualities are becoming a little bit more noticeable. It's hard for me to pin down any one particular note, but I guess what was "very chocolatey and mildly earthy" in the beginning is now "still chocolatey, super sweet, a little more floral, a little bit more herbal."

[J.R.]: Hm, that makes a lot of sense to me. Part of that development of flavor I think comes from the cut. We made the ready-rubbed or chop-block cut on Eight State by pressing the whole blend for a period of time. It's actually blended in leaf form, then that blended leaf is pressed for a period of time. Then it's cut and just kind of gets rubbed out as it goes. So it goes through part of the process that a flake would, and then it's presented as a ribbon.

[S.I.]: So, it's just not kept under pressure for quite as long?

[J.R.]: Exactly, exactly. And it's not presented in a compressed format like flake would be. So some of the marrying of flavors you're talking about is coming from the cut itself and the production process, I think.

[S.I.]: I think the other thing that was notable, both in last year's vintage and this year's edition, is its maturity. I would have a hard time blindly guessing that this is a freshly blended mixture. Obviously, the components have age to them, but this does taste like they have been married for quite a bit longer. The complexity here exceeds most other Burley blends that I've smoked. For most people, myself included, what is most appealing about heavier Burley blends is the family's really bold, robust, and rustic sort of flavors, as well as the strength that obviously accompanies those things. But what these types of blends usually lack, in my opinion, is the progression and evolution of flavors throughout the bowl. Eight State Burley, both last year's version and this year's, has that level of complexity. The blend really deepens and develops from charring light to the bottom of the bowl. Of course, I think all of that can fade nicely into the background and still be a solid blend to enjoy all day long, but if you pay attention, there's a unique experience here that's deceptively complex.

[J.R.]: Right. When I'm smoking it, there are moments where it's creamy with elements of black pepper. And there are other moments where it's much more like herbal tea and wildflower honey. Then there are moments where it's more like a chocolate cookie, like it's just kind of constantly changing with all these flavors stepping in and out of awareness on the palate.

[S.I.]: You said herbal tea. And, honestly, I was trying to pin down the evasive, herbal quality that I was experiencing. It totally has a green tea vibe.

[J.R.]: Oh yeah, yeah.

[S.I.]: At certain points. It really does.

[J.R.]: I never would have thought of that, but yeah.

[S.I.]: I think that some of the zesty character that I was talking about in the tin note, too, is really just these bright sort of tea-like flavors. Specifically, I'm getting Japanese green tea in the background, or if you've ever had a matcha latte — that may be hitting even closer. Super interesting. This is an even more obscure one, but it almost reminds me of Japanese green tea chocolates.

[J.R.]: That's perfect.

[S.I.]: Anyway, here's my last question, because I think we could just kind of go on forever here. Now that Eight State has had a year in the tin, what do you think about aging potential for both of these vintages going forward?

[J.R.]: I think there's definitely aging potential. So, like I mentioned before, Burley doesn't have the ability on its own to really ferment, because there's just no sugar their to fuel the process. But, by compressing it with other varietals that do have sugar, the Burley can sort of ride that fermentation process and mellow throughout that journey. So, yeah, I think that there's definitely aging potential for this. Since it is predominantly Burley, I don't foresee a 10-15 year aging potential here, but in five or six years, it's going to be amazing.

[S.I.]: How about even just a year.

[J.R.]: Oh, a year has definitely benefited the blend. A year has certainly deepened some things, and it's continued to mellow. It's got more of a tangy quality that developed over the last year.

[S.I.]: Right, like your sort of quintessential, fermented tobacco kind of note. You don't get that in Burley's a lot; that's more of a common characteristic in a Virginia blend. So we talked about Eight State being a more refined take on the traditional Burley genre, but I think it's worth noting that, for those of you out there who may be adverse to Burley blends, this is one you should definitely try. It's a bit of a crossover, really. It's not intensely bold or strong, but very well rounded and smooth with tons of nuance and complexity to unpack. If you primarily smoke Virginia blends, or Oriental mixtures... even if you're a hardcore English aficionado, and you're looking for a Burley mixture with a little extra something to keep you interested, Eight State Burley is perhaps the best choice out there.

It's an excellent blend that caters to a wider audience than just Burley smokers. And that's one of the things that we saw in the reviews after the release last year, too: It has wide appeal. If you like Solani Aged Burley flake, Edgeworth, or HH Burley Flake, Eight State will check off more boxes for you than might expect. It's really complex, and I'm going to need to smoke some more to fully wrap my head around it. And I think I said the same thing last year.

So be sure to pick up a tin of Eight State Burley, available at 12:00am ET on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022.

Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch: Eight State Burley

Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch: Eight State Burley

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