It has been two years since Small Batch: The Beast last lumbered from the primordial swamps of Louisiana to plunder and ravage the expectations of pipe smokers with its terrifying abundance of Perique. The Beast is 51 percent Perique — enough to satisfy the most intrepid enthusiast and possibly intimidate those seasoned by conventional mixtures.
It seems extreme, like recombining the DNA of a gerbil with that of a honey badger. The resulting honey gerbadger requires excellent training, but whether it grunts happily on a lap or unexpectedly bites off a nose will depend on how well its wild side has been genetically compensated for. No one wants a bad-tempered gerbadger rampaging around, bullying packs of coyotes, attacking delivery trucks, and decimating local livestock. Bringing a gerbadger into the world requires preparation, hard work, attention, courage, and steel-reinforced work gloves — but when nurtured and trained, imagine its potential. If right, it's a comforting, soft, friendly companion with enormous personality and the potential power of a seismic event.
Jeremy Reeves, the Head Blender for Cornell & Diehl, is among the few who can tame and optimize Perique in such a large proportion, leveraging its unique characteristics to highlight the complex flavor of Perique without permitting it to manifest excessive domination. It still dominates, though. Perique has a strong character — but when artfully blended, gloves are optional.
Perique is rare, growing in only one very small locality and subject to the whims of the weather. Rarer still is traditionally grown and cured, genuine Louisiana Perique. So rare is it, in fact, that Cornell & Diehl found it necessary to secure an agreement with an individual farm in St. James Parish: 31 Farms. That name doesn't reference 31 different farms; it's one farm, run by Derek Roussel and his father Ricky Roussel, whose badge number, when he was a police officer, was 31, and who has been called 31 for much of his adult life.
The Roussels grow and cure traditional, pure Louisiana Perique exclusively for C&D. Jeremy is intimately involved with the farm, participating in many of the processes that transform these unique tobacco leaves into proprietary, flavorful, and traditionally accurate Perique. "It's a project now in its fourth year," says Jeremy, "It was a terrific step forward to establish that direct relationship with a Perique farm and develop our own proprietary Perique source."
Ricky Roussel's family has been creating Perique since the 1700s with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. "They would come down to the Mississippi River," says Ricky, "to grow Perique tobacco. One of the settlers was my great-great-grandfather, who had the opportunity to meet these Indians, and he learned about the tobacco and the techniques used in growing and curing it."
Traditional Perique curing is complex, requiring not only specific generational knowledge but the instincts of an artist and chef. Bourbon barrels are packed with 500 pounds of Perique and placed under enormous pressure by screw jacks. Every few months, the tobacco must be turned: the tobacco hands are separated and relaid and then placed under more months of pressure. It's a remarkable process requiring experience and large expenditures of time.
For a blend that's over 50 percent Perique, it's obvious that the best quality possible be employed, and C&D has arranged it. Only the Perique differs from the previous iteration of The Beast.
Characteristics of The Beast
"Originally," says Jeremy, "the blend veered more deeply into the darker and umami flavor profiles of Perique and it did not have much of the stone fruit and sweeter notes. Now, the Perique character is still umami and is still deep and savory, but also with fruitier elements and sweeter characteristics, thanks to this Perique from 31 Farms."
In accordance with its inspiration, the blend is immersed in rum for seven days. Aleister Crowley, The Beast himself, originator of his own religion and called by some the wickedest man in the world, famously smoked straight Perique soaked in rum, thinking that the infusion would release higher concentrations of nicotine and that the concoction could generate advanced levels of consciousness. Sadly, it doesn't work for that, but the resulting flavor profile is fascinating and worthwhile.
"Crowley's writings," says Jeremy, "indicate that he was aware of blended versions of Perique, cured in combination with Green River Burley, and he knew about pure St. James Parish versions as well. He took great pains to emphasize that the Perique he was using was from St. James Parish, Louisiana, and was pure Perique."
While The Beast is a tobacco that acknowledges Crowley's experimentation and highlights the tobacco's unique character, it does so in a much more sophisticated manner. "It would've been a little too on the nose for us to just take pure Perique and soak it in rum," says Jeremy. "Smoking straight Perique is kind of like standing in a very detailed and very intricate, labyrinthine room with all the lights off."
Jeremy acknowledges that straight Perique can be sensed as one-dimensional. It can seem like it's capable of only a single note, but that changes when it has other tobaccos to emphasize its more specific qualities. "I wanted to provide the flavor of pure Perique," says Jeremy, "but also provide an opportunity to experience some of the nuance possible when Perique is blended. I chose the subdued, understated tobaccos that would help propagate the flavor of the Perique, rather than trying to directly complement the Perique. I wanted the Perique to hold the floor, but with a wider flavor profile. Perique manifests an extraordinarily dense flavor and benefits from the contribution of other tobaccos for its complexity to be fully apprehended. In a blend, it's possible to find all of the nuance and exotic flavors that it can provide."
"Everything in the blend is in service to the flavor of the Perique," says Jeremy. "There's unsweetened Black Cavendish and a little Dark Fired, and some Red Virginia Cavendish, but the Perique makes up 50 percent of the blend and is really the main objective. All of the other components play supporting roles, mostly to allow the flavors present in the Perique to shine."
Aleister Crowley, The Beast himself, originator of his own religion and called by some the wickedest man in the world, famously smoked straight Perique soaked in rum
The Black and Red Virginia Cavendish attenuates the strength and concentrated flavor of Perique when smoked straight. "It spreads that flavor out across a wider spectrum," says Jeremy. "The way Cavendish is processed makes it much more mellow. It helps to disseminate the Perique flavor and give it room to breathe and flex."
The Dark Fired leaf contributes nicotine to counteract the compound's dilution by the Cavendish. "It bolsters the naturally smoky character of the Perique and provides strength without being overt. Everything in this blend exists to provide as much of the experience of smoking straight Perique as possible while also offering the irresistible nuance that Perique can project when blended with other leaf."
The result is a unique tobacco mixture. The Beast's flavor profile is unlike that of any other blend, its generous proportion of Perique providing concentrated flavor illuminated by umami, loamy earth, sweet ripened stone fruits, boozy spice, mesquite wood, and a barely perceptible touch of freshly cracked pepper.
Cornell & Diehl's The Beast is especially suited to the armchair explorer in all of us, launching us on a journey of exotic flavors, complex tobacco interrelationships, and time travel to a more traditional era, and is positioned to captivate, delight, and enchant the intrepid, courageous, and inquisitive. An exploration of its depths promises adventure, satisfaction, and discovery.
Few pipe tobaccos have investigated Perique as their primary blending component, but Cornell & Diehl has developed a Perique blend that Aleister Crowley himself could only aspire to experience. Small Batch: The Beast is offered as a limited edition of only 6,543 tins, so the window of opportunity will likely be short.
From the pipe of Aleister Crowley to yours, with vast improvements, Small Batch: The Beast comes round at last; it slouches toward Smokingpipes, to be born on March 21, 2023.