Tag: chelsea morning

My no. 1: Abingdon

Sometimes it is with tobacco as it is with music. You hear songs that are ok or ones that suck until suddenly, whoaaa.. What is that?? You listen to it more closely and slowly feel yourself falling in love with it with every time you hear it. After that the song sort of becomes part of your life and you keep listening to it until the day you die. Luckily I am not yet in that last phase but master-blender GL Pease’s creation Abingdon certainly has ingrained itself in my existence.

Unfortunately I can’t remember exactly when I first smoked Abingdon. My First Pease blend was the then hyped Chelsea Morning. With trembling hands I popped that tin, filled the bowl, lit the pipe aaand… It sucked. Perhaps I was expecting the nectar of the pipe-gods or so but it wasn’t on par with anything I had in my mind. I never had it since, maybe I should because during the years my taste-buds have vastly improved. After that I got a sample of Westminster from a friend and it blew me away. Ok, perhaps this “Dark Lord” Pease-guy does know what he is doing after all, I thought. It must have been after that when I tried my first bowl of Abingdon. Apparently I liked it really, really much because when I look at my tobacco tin purchase history the name “Abingdon” often pops up. Nowadays about once a year I open up a tin of it as a treat to myself. It never fails to deliver.

Thanks to Troy Lloyd

Backstory:
I quote GL Pease here: Some may have caught the hints of the inspiration behind this one when I’ve written about it in the past, but for the rest of you, here’s the back story. When I began to think about what I wanted to do with the Classic Collection, I had it in mind to pay tribute to some of the tobaccos of the past that had inspired me over the years—not to attempt their recreation, which is always something of a fool’s errand, but to produce blends that were reminiscent of what certain blends meant to me. It was my desire to paint something of a leaky memory picture of what the now old 759 was like in its relative youth that inspired me to concoct Abingdon. First, there was 759 and there was 759. The blend went through some changes during its life, and not every vintage is like every other. Too, while many have claimed to “clone” or “replicate” particular blends, I have never once found one of these copy-cats to successfully reproduce one of the old blends. In most cases, they’re not even really close. Later vintages of 759 seem to have been more dominated by Latakia. For those, I think Abingdon may be a little closer, though certainly not identical. Abingdon was named after Abingdon on Thames, the home of the legendary MG motorcar. For me, something about that wonderful, oily, intense smokiness of the tobacco recalled the wonderful smells of my old MGA, so it seemed fitting.

Description from the producer:
Abingdon: Dark, Mysterious and Full. Abingdon is the fullest Balkan style blend in the collection. It is rich and robust, powerful and forthright, yet still possessing subtlety and finesse. Dark flavours of wood and leather mingle with delicate undercurrents of sweetness, and deep earthy notes, while the oriental tobaccos provide hints of their verdant, sometimes herbaceous character. A big Balkan blend, reminding us once more of what these blends used to be. Because of the high percentage of dark and oriental tobaccos, it’s recommended to pack Abingdon a little less firmly than you might a lighter blend. Abingdon was released in July, 2003. And another quote from GL Pease himself: Abingdon is not topped or cased. It, like most of my blends, relies solely on the flavours of the leaf to make it what it is. It’s actually a fairly simple formula, but the result is delightfully complex. It’s an interesting mixture as it is quite heavy with latakia, but the orientals are more subdued. The virginias form the backbone of the smoke, but the latakia makes quite a statement.

Package/tin:
A typical American round pop-lid tin with paper wrapper. I must say that for this review I have an old production tin (from 2012). Not too long ago the artwork changed a bit. But still on the front there is a picture of a bulldog shaped pipe on top of a fountain pen and a piece of writing paper. On the back it says: A full Balkan style blend with a generous measure of Cyprian Latakia, seasoned with fine red and lemon yellow Virginia tobaccos, and enhanced with rich oriental leaf. Abingdon is bold and assertive, while retaining a stylish finesse. The Classic Collection draws inspiration from the great tobaccos of days past. The blends offered are not meant as attempts to replicate them, but to pay them homage to capture some of their essence.

Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin I am greeted by the light and dark blended ingredients: Cyprian latakia, red and lemon yellow Virginias and orientals. The cut is a kind of rough ribbon cut with chunky pieces throughout it which you sometimes have to rub out a bit.

Smell from the tin:
The smell from the tin is wonderful to my nose. Sweet, salt, leather, smoke, spice, autumn, wood, earth all mixed into one like the instruments of an orchestra. I would have expected to notice more of the latakia. Perhaps it is the age of tin (6 years) so that the tobaccos inside have mellowed but this does not smell at all like the “bold and assertive” which is promised on the tin label.

Taste:
Upon lighting the blend there sometimes can be a slight bitterness, but it usually goes away after a few puffs. I have to think of my old and trusty Toyota Starlet. When I first start it there is lots of smoke and the pungent smell of petrol but after some hitting the gas it runs smoothly. Sort of the same with Abingdon. When the blend awakens and I am lucky I get some dark fruit/raisin/apricot taste-swirls throughout the rising smokiness from the latakia, the Virginia sweetness and the oriental sourness. For me Abingdon is not a complex blend. Once it gets going basically the same taste stays throughout the bowl with some little nuances here and then. But that basic taste is… So damn yummie! The balance between all the tobacco components is unbelievable. Lots of contradictions but somehow they work together like a well composed symphony. The instruments are soft, creamy, smooth, full, leather, musty, earth, sour, spice, wood and smoky. The resulting piece is Abingdon. Like with the smell I had expected more latakia “oomph” but I am glad it is not there. The dark leaf is almost like the conductor who supports the other instruments and let them play better. In some of the Tobaccoreviews.com reviews I read comparisons with my favourite whisky: Lagavulin. And I have to agree! The two make a perfect pair. Like with Abingdon Lagavulin boasts a lot of smokiness but if you compare it to some other whiskies (Laphroaig, Ardbeg) it really is not that much. Also Lagavulin possesses that rich, full harmony of flavours that Abingdon has. Anyway, in the end the tobacco burns down to a fine grey ash.

Miscellaneous:
Abingdon can bite a little bit if you pack the bowl too firmly and the tobacco is too moist. But if you take that into consideration, no problems at all. It stays pretty well lit throughout the smoke, nicotine hit is mild to medium. In my opinion and experience Abingdon performs best in somewhat larger (Dunhill group 4) prince shaped or pot shapes pipes. It certainly is not an all-pipe friend.

Room-note:
Whenever Ellen sees this tin on the table in our living room she starts to shift uncomfortably. “Is this that blend, you know? Well, I am afraid it is darling.. Oh.. Ok, eh, I am going to sleep/play music/do the laundry/get the f*ck away from here/etc.” As I write this I am smoking a pipe of Abingdon, Ellen just came downstairs and immediately got a red face. “Are you smoking it again? Yes darling. Grrr.. I really wish you waited until I had to go away for work. You can write in that blog of yours it is the most vile, evil smelling tobacco there is! I just did that darling.”

Price:
On Smokingpipes.com a 2 oz. tin will set you back at $10.63 (± €9,30). An 8 oz. tin will cost you $35.70 (± €31,25).

Conclusion:
From all the still available tobaccos I like Abingdon the best. Period. Of course I prefer blends like London Mixture State Express, Renaissance or De Graaff Kegelbaan but eejj, I can’t get them any more. Abingdon possesses an old world quality which only improves with age, a timeless mixture. I can totally imagine myself sitting in my living room decades from now when I am old, wrinkled and slightly senile, while smoking a pipe of well aged Abingdon, enjoying the hell out of it and thinking back to the good ol’ days before tobaccogeddon. Just before Ellen whacks me with her walking stick while shouting “You are not smoking it again aren’t you??”

Of course I wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a smoky 2019!!!

Peppery Perique

Harvesting perique tobacco

Harvesting perique tobacco

Perique is the pepper of the tobacco world. It spices up and enhances all kinds of mixtures when used moderately. But use it too much and it destroys a blend.

Around 1776, French-speaking settlers from Canada (the Acadians) moved into the area of Saint James Parish, Louisiana. They saw that the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes were cultivating a variety of tobacco with a distinctive, spicy, fruity flavour. These native Americans had a special way of preparing it. They would pack leaves tightly into a hollow log and put a heavy rock on it. Pretty similar to how it is done today, but later more about that.

A farmer named Pierre Chenet was the first to begin raising the local tobacco commercially in 1824.  Chenet’s nickname was “Perique,” hence the name. He is also credited with refining the fermenting process (which gives perique its unique flavour) through the technique of pressure-fermentation.

Pressure-fermentation

Pressure-fermentation

This process of producing perique remains a traditional craft. Not much has changed since the early 20th century.

First air cured tobacco is hand stripped. The leaf which is used  is considered to be pretty similar to burley. The only moisture added is just prior to the stripping to make the leaves pliable. How many moisture is used is up to the craftsmen. You just have to feel it. Then the tobacco is rolled into “torquettes” of approximately 1 pound (450 g) and packed into hickory whisky barrels. These are  topped off with a wooden lid and pressed by using oak blocks and massive screw jacks. Thus forcing nearly all the air out of the still moist leaves. The barrels are unpacked at least three times during the active fermentation phase (around five months). The torquettes are then repacked in the barrels in reverse order (former top bundles on bottom and bottom bundles on top) to permit a little air back into the tobacco. They are then closely monitored with periodic increases of pressure.

After at least a year of this treatment, the perique is ready for consumption. But the longer the barrels are sealed and pressure is applied, the more complex the flavour notes become. The finished tobacco is dark brown (nearly black) and very moist with a fruity, slightly vinegary aroma that carries a hint of alcohol. The fruity aroma and hint of alcohol are the result of hundreds of volatile compounds created by anaerobic fermentation of the tobacco. Many of these are responsible for the flavours of fruits and are often found in wine. Talking about alcohol, there even is a perique liqueur!

Original St. James perique

Original St. James perique

There are 2 different types of perique. St. James perique is made by using the method above. The other one is called Acadian perique. It is made by processing Green River burley in the same manner as the St. James version. The two types are almost always blended together for use in various mixtures. But to be able to use the name “perique” it has to contain some St. James. Of course some people tried to grow perique outside Louisiana, then use a similar processing method and mix it with the real stuff.. Awful.. Fortunately, no legitimate companies are using this kind of tobacco. No, real perique only grows within the St. James Parish area. Some scientists believe that it sits on top of a mineral deposit that gives the tobacco its robust and distinct flavour.

Percy Martin († February 4, 2012 at the age of 93)

Percy Martin († February 4, 2012 at the age of 93)

At one point in the recent past, the future of Perique did not look well. Farmer Percy Martin had been producing the tobacco for years. But when the numbers of pipe smokers declined, the usage of perique declined. Struggling to find a new market, Percy began mailing samples to potential buyers. That is how Santa Fe Natural Tobacco caught wind of his rare brand of tobacco. So the lion’s share of Percy’s output went to that company for the usage of American Spirit cigarettes and rolling tobacco in 2000. But at least he did survive and after his death in 2012 his son Ray took over the business.

Fortunately the production of perique seems to be secured now. Pierre Chenet’s granddaughter, Coralie Decareau, married Celestin Poche in February, 1829. And the Poche family has been involved in the cultivation and processing of perique through current times until Mark Ryan bought the firm in 2005. Ryan has doubled production since that time ans soon the production capacity will even quadruple to 400 barrels annually. Ryan is able to ensure supply because he has increased prices to the farmers and eliminated their labour of stripping the leaves. As a result, St. James Parish farmers are once again interested in growing tobacco.

Blending perique

Blending perique

Perique is a very versatile tobacco. When you use it with deep, heavy tobaccos like matured Virginias and/or dark burleys it adds a mellow sweetness that tends to reduce the sharpness of those. When used in a more mellow blend it can add a bit of tang and spice. And if you have got a blend that lacks richness and depth a bit of perique can resolve that problem. It also can help slow down the burn rate of a blend. That is why it is so often used in Virginia blends which tend to burn fast and hot. What you then get is a so called VaPer.

Masterblender Andreas Mund of DTM with a barrel of perique

Masterblender Andreas Mund of DTM with a barrel of perique

Being a condimental tobacco, perique is usually used sparsely in a mixture. Also because it has a fairly decent amount of nicotine. Beware, over time perique will mellow out in a blend.
– 1% to 2%: enhances flavour without making its presence known
– 2% to 4%: the presence can be detected. Its absence would be noted because the flavour of the blend would be subdued. Like listening to music with ear-plugs.
– 4% to 8%: perique really begins to make itself known. Like a voice that you softly hear.
– 8% to 12%: yes, there definitely is perique in this blend! You can notice it very well.
– 12% to 20%: a good working maximum. Unless your name is Aleister Crowley. He smoked straight perique soaked with rum. The Beast…

Recommended blends with perique are:
– Ashton: Artisan’s Blend*
– Cornell & Diehl: Kajun Cake, Bayou Morning, Old Joe Krantz
– DTM: St. Bernard Flake, Midnight Ride
– Dunhill: Deluxe Navy Rolls, Nightcap*
Escudo Navy Deluxe
– Esoterica: Dorchester, Dunbar
– GL Pease: Fillmore, Haddo’s Delight, Telegraph Hill, Chelsea Morning, Triple Play
– Hearth & Home: Anniversary Kake
– HU Tobacco: Janneman Flake, Louisiana Broken, Edward G, Director’s Cut
– J. F. Germain & Son: Royal Jersey Perique
– MacBaren: HH Acadian Perique
– McClelland: Bulk No.2015 Virginia Flake, Personal Reserve: St. James Woods, PCCA Tudor Castle, PCCA Beacon
Orlik Golden Sliced*
– Peter Stokkebye: Luxury Bullseye Flake, Luxury Navy Flake
– Samuel Gawith: St. James Flake
– Solani: 633 Virginia Flake with Perique*
– Wessex: Brigade Sovereign Curly Cut

* Available in The Netherlands