Tag: pease

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!!!

The legend of Renaissance (Reserve)

The Dark Lord

The Dark Lord

Once upon a time in a far away country lived a mysterious man named GL Pease. But he was not just any mortal man. No, for he possessed the divine gift to be able to work with a magical dark leaf called “latakia“, which came from the mystical ancient land of Bilad al-Sham. Pease made marvellous blends with this exceptional leaf that could be smoked in a clever device called a “pipe”. All over the earth people went ecstatic when they tried his creations. He was so good in this that his followers honoured him with the nickname “The Dark Lord”.

Pease_RenaissanceAt the pinnacle of his genius, during a haunting full moon, inside his secret room of wonders, he crafted his magnum opus. Anno Domini 2001 he unleashed a blend upon the world that it had never seen before, unique and magnificent, mesmerizing all who smoked it. Of course it contained the magical leaf from Bilad al-Sham but also a very reminiscent yet bolder cousin of it, coming from the mysterious island of Alashiya. The mixture was completed by red, golden and matured leaf from the Old Dominion and smaller deliciously exotic leaves from the unknown East. The Dark Lord named the blend “Renaissance” because it was the beginning of a period of new growth and activity.

Westminster, one of the best blends ever containing

Westminster, one of the best blends ever containing Alashiya leaf

Unfortunately this period did not last long. In the 11th month of Anno Domini 2004 an infernal hellish fire consumed the hoard of dark Bilad al-Sham latakia leaf. Pease was struck down by grief and with a heavy heart had to discontinue his magnum opus, Renaissance. In the years that followed many people offered (according to them) genuine Bilad al-Sham latakia to the Dark Lord. Sadly it was not the same as the magical leaf he first used. Luckily his divine talent was not diminished so with help of the more pungent, assertive Alashiya leaf he succeeded in creating many awesome blends. But the Dark Lord would always lament the loss of his magical Bilad al-Sham latakia leaf.

© GL Pease

Renaissance Reserve © GL Pease

Fortunately the ancient pipe-smoking Gods had something else in mind. Fast forward to Anno Domini 2015, this is an excerpt from Pease’s hidden diary: Both exciting and frustrating. During Cornell & Diehl’s (the Dark Lord’s grand supplier of leaf) move from the Old North State to South Carolus, several pounds of Bilad al-Sham Latakia leaf turned up. I was send a letter, and asked, “Do you want to do something with this?” A silly question. The right question was what I would want to do with it. That was easy to answer, too. I’ve always said that if I could ever again got my hands on the right Bilad al-Sham leaf, the mixture I’d most want to bring back would be Renaissance. It was always special to me, and has remained one of my faves. Knowing this would be a limited edition, I worked diligently over several months in my secret room of wonders to faithfully recreate the blend using the finest leaf available, taking no short-cuts, not stopping until I had achieved that ultimate goal. True to the original, Renaissance Reserve is a mixture of magical leaf from Bilad al-Sham and Alashiya, matured red and golden leaf from the Old Dominion and smaller deliciously exotic leaves from the unknown East. It is blended in just the right measure, aged in bulk, then given an additional six months in the tins before release, resulting in a rich, complex and sophisticated smoking experience. Unfortunately, we were only able to produce 500 tins of this exquisite mixture to be released and once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s fantastic now, and will continue to develop in the specially designed tins for many years to come, for those who have the patience. I only wish we’d had ten times the amount of Bilad al-Sham leaf we had…

I was so happy I could dance!

I was so happy I could dance!

And here a legend becomes reality, because on 12 July the 500 available tins of Renaissance Reserve became available for us humble pipe-smokers. But where to buy them.. I choose for my regular online tobacconist, 4noggins. This because I know that Rich, the owner, most of the times updates his website around 13:00 CET. So around that time I was refreshing the GL Pease page on his site like a lunatic. 13:00, nothing. 14:00, nothing. 15:00, nothing. Damned! I took a look at the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum and read there that a member had actually phoned with Rich. He was a little late but the site-update was nearby. Finally at 15:45 I was able to order 2 tins (the maximum) and I was ecstatic! At last I was able to smoke one of the greatest blends ever (according to many) containing the fabled Syrian latakia. My expectations were high..

IMG_5108Description from the producer – Package/tin:
I’ve often said that if I ever again got my hands on the right vintage Syrian latakia the tobacco I’d most want to bring back would be Renaissance. Last year my wish was granted when several pounds of that superb leaf were discovered. True to the original formula, Renaissance Reserve is a blend of Cyprian and Syrian latakias, several matured virginias, and balkan orientals blended in just the right measure and aged for many months to provide a rich, complex and sophisticated smoking experience. Only 500 tins of this exquisite blend were produced. The tin is a typical American one with a pull-off lid. The artwork on it is nice but not really remarkable. On an underground of what looks like parchment the name of the blend dominates the tin. Under it a long clay pipe is depicted with in it “G.L. Pease Tobacco Company”. The blend-description is on the backside.

IMG_5110Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin I was greeted by the familiar GL Pease carton inlay. When I lifted that I saw a mixture that was pretty light in colour for a latakia blend. The ingredients are Cyprian and Syrian latakia, several matured Virginias and Balkan Orientals. The cut is one which which is typical for lots of GL Pease blends, a sort of rough ribbon cut with some chunky pieces.

noseSmell from the tin:
I expected to smell leathery latakia when I stuck my nose in the tin. Instead I was greeted by a very pleasant mellow, exotic smoky odour. Once I smelled an empty wine barrel and I had to think about that. That combined with the grassy sweetness of the Virginias and tangy spiciness of the orientals typifies the odour of Renaissance Reserve for me.

011Taste:
The keyword with this blend is balance. I can’t stress that enough, no ingredient overshadows another one. I have never smoked a mixture which had such a great harmony. Especially the cooperation between the Syrian and Cyprian latakia is masterfully done. When I smoke a blend like McClelland’s 3 Oaks Syrian the Syrian dark leaf is a bit too mellow for me. MacBaren tried to solve this with their tasty HH Vintage Syrian by adding some smoky dark-fired Kentucky. Mr Pease used Cyprian latakia to support its Syrian cousin. And the exciting thing is that you can really notice it. I taste the wine-like, woody, smoky but mellow Syrian leaf. But because of the addition of the more assertive, pungent, leathery Cyprian leaf the two latakias as a whole become more than the sum of their parts. Of course the other ingredients also play a large role. The matured Virginias provide the backbone of the blend with their earthy, dark sweet taste. They are supported by the Red Virginias which taste tangy and yeasty. Golden Virginas provide a grassy, hay-like and citrus flavour. The orientals fall in line with the Virginias and give the mixture a spicy, nutty and pleasantly refreshing sour note. I would place this blend in the “light English” department. It is no latakia-bomb and the orientals work harmonious with the rest of the ingredients. The mixture is complex, but in a good way. Some blends drown in complexness but Renaissance Reserve is easy accessible and heightens the curiosity with every smoke. What do I taste now? Cedar? Thyme? A member of the Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum who smoked a sample from me even tasted some hashish.. Also the mixture behaved well in most pipes, always the sign of a great blend. But I got the tastiest results in my (Dunhill) prince shaped pipes.

IMG_5114Miscellaneous:
Renaissance Reserve smokes smooth like butter on my bald head. Not a bite in sight. Nicotine-wise I rank it mild, although my tolerance for vitamin N has gone up due to the use of some snuff tobacco. Burn-wise I had no problems at all and it left almost no moisture in the bowl.

thumbs2Room-note:
For a blend that contains latakia it has a surprisingly nice room-note. I had no problems at all with Ellen. The wife of a member of the Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum even said it smelled good! And indeed, when I walk into the living room the next morning I smell a pleasant faint incense-like BBQ odour.

moneyPrice:
On the website of 4noggins I paid $11.25 (± €9,98) for a tin. Considering this was a limited blend (only 500 were made) I suspect that in some years the remaining tins will fetch good prices at e-bay.

IMG_5115Conclusion:
Renaissance Reserve just utterly wowed me. It felt like having steamy sex with the gorgeous babe you never ever thought you were going to nail. I just had to keep smoking it. Normally when I am roughly at 3/4 of a tin I lose interest and give or throw the rest away. Now I smoked it up to the last crumb. Although at first taste this blend did not seem really remarkable, it soon grabbed me at my balls and left me wanting for more every time. Like a geisha it constantly teased me, giving me something and promising pleasure with every puff to come. Smoking Renaissance Reserve is an exiting journey in which you constantly discover new tastes. And you know what the best thing is? I got one full, sealed tin left in my tobacco closet. I am a happy man.

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

Beloved Burley

White burley

White burley

Burley is one of most loved and versatile species of the nicotiana tabacum strain. It is used in virtually every kind of tobacco, from snuff and chew to cigarettes and cigars to pipe tobacco. It has the unique property that it is able to absorb flavourings readily and to let those really shine. One of the reasons burley became very popular at the dawn of the “aromatic era” in the 60’s.

The leaves of the plant are medium size. It is grown widely from the mid-Atlantic region of the USA, through the South and into the Midwest. Also burley is cultivated in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Malawi and Mexico.

There are a few different kinds of burley with different methods of curing:
1. Air cured burley
(sub-categories  1. Light air cured – 2. Dark air cured.)
2. Fire cured burley.

Air curing

Air curing

Air Curing: About 90% of all the burley tobacco grown in the USA is air cured. The process is simple: after the tobacco is harvested it is strung on long poles and hung in a barn to dry under natural weather conditions. This air curing process normally takes from four to six weeks. It is completed when the central vein of the leaf is completely free of sap.
Light air cured burley: The top grades of light air cured burley, which are yellow, are referred to as “White Burley”. These larger, thinner middle leaves are those most desired for the manufacture of fine pipe tobacco and premium quality cigarettes. White burley has a fine texture, excellent burning qualities and the ability to absorb large amounts of casings and flavourings. The top and bottom leaves are used in the manufacture of snuff, plugs, twist and inexpensive brands of pipe smoking tobacco. The taste is nutty, sometimes with a bit of a cocoa note.
Dark Air cured burley: Used mostly for chewing tobacco, plugs, snuff and inexpensive brands of pipe tobacco. The lower grades (or heavier leaves) are used in some tobacco mixtures to give the tobacco blend more “body”. The taste is earthy, spicy and cigar-like and the colour of the leaves ranges from light to dark brown.

Fire Curing: In the fire curing process the tobacco is also placed on poles and hung in a barn for a period of three to five days. Then slow fires of hardwood and hardwood sawdust are maintained on the barn-floor until the tobacco is completely dry. The process can take as long as forty days if the weather is very damp. In addition to drying the tobacco, the fire curing process imparts an unusual smoky taste and aroma to the tobacco. Most fire cured burley comes from southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee.
Fire Cured Burley: Usually referred to as “Kentucky Burley”. Its production is essentially for the same use as dark air cured burley. The taste is earthy, spicy and cigar-like with a slightly smoky aroma.

White burley tobacco monument

White burley tobacco monument

The origin of white burley tobacco is credited to George Webb and Joseph Fore in 1864. They grew it on the farm of one captain Frederick Kautz near Higginsport, Ohio. Seed was used from Bracken County, Kentucky. The captain noticed a different type of light leaf shaded from white to yellow was grown. By 1866, he harvested 20,000 pounds of burley and sold it in 1867 at the St. Louis Fair for $58 per hundred pounds. In 1880 Kentucky produced 36 percent of the total USA tobacco production. First in the country with nearly twice as much tobacco produced as by Virginia.

For me a downside of burley is that it contains a lot of the ol’ lady nicotine. I do not know much about chemistry but I shall try to explain it.. Burley has an alkaline nature (which means that the smoke tends to have a pH above 7). And one of the things that will cause the body to absorb nicotine more and more is an alkaline (or basic) matrix. Which makes sense if you realize that nicotine belongs to a group called alkaloids (morphine also belongs to that group).

However, if you get sick from the nicotine you can do the following:
1. Drink lots of water (8 glasses if you can stomach it) or other healthy beverages (no not beer you Belgium folks!).
2. Take some extra vitamins. They are good for you! Especially if you are trying to clear your body of nicotine. In particular vitamin C is an antioxidant that is known to help in this process.
3. Exercise! Working up a sweat will burn a good deal of those nasty nicotine toxins out of your body.
4. Eat or drink something sweet. Smoking anything high in nicotine will cause your blood sugar to initially rise and then drop. That  drop is what causes most of the nicotine issues.
5. Lie on bed and wait for the sickness to pass. After 40 minutes the nicotine loses half of its effect.

The alkalinity of burley has an additional effect: the possibility of tongue bite. Of all the different types of tobaccos, the one most likely to cause bite is Burley. However, it is important to understand that tongue bite is a biochemical reaction. Not to be confused with “leather tongue”, what you might get from smoking too much or too hot. When tongue bite attacks, it feels almost like a muscle cramp. The reaction is caused by the high pH of the smoke and because of that having something to drink that is somewhat acidic (like a dry wine or a soda) can help to lessen the discomfort.

Master-blender Steven Brooks in action

Master-blender Steven Books in action.
© House of Calabash

As far as blending goes, little or no sugar is found in the chemical composition of burley. That enables it to absorb great quantities of flavourings or casings. Also, because of the neutral taste and aroma of burley, it blends quite easily with all types of tobaccos. It assumes the taste and aroma of the tobacco or the flavourings with which it is blended. If you would like to lighten a blend you could use some white burley, which will add a bit of sour nuttiness (like a walnut). Dark burley (air and fire-cured) will add a spicy note and maybe a touch of a cigar-like flavor along with a fair amount of vitamin N. So beware if you are a nicotine wuss like me!

There are many, many mixtures that have a bit or a lot of burley in them. So I won’t (and can’t) name them all. But here are some recommended blends:
Bell’s Three Nuns Original*
– Cornell & Diehl: Burley Flake #3, Exhausted Rooster, Haunted Bookshop
Edgeworth Sliced (no longer made, old full and sealed tins can be found now and then on e-bay)
– Esoterica Tobacciana: Stonehaven
– GL Pease: Barbary Coast, Cumberland, Jackknife Plug
– HU Tobacco: Nashville County, Dockworker
– John Middleton: Carter Hall, Prince Albert
– MacBaren: Burley London Blend*, Navy Flake*
– Peterson: Perfect Plug*, University Flake*
– Pipes and Cigars: Scotty’s Bulk Blends – Butternut Burley
– Solani: 660 Silver Flake*, 656 Aged Burley Flake*
Troost Slices*

* Available in The Netherlands

Voluptuous Virginia

John Rolfe and Pocahontas

John Rolfe and Pocahontas

One of the most versatile tobacco leafs is Virgina, also known as the “bright leaf”. It is used for example in latakia blends and aromatics, gets mixed with Perique but can also stand perfectly on its own.

This tobacco goes back a loooooong time. It was Sir Walter Raleigh who took the first Virginia tobacco to Europe in 1578. He referred to it as tobah.
Then, In 1609, John Rolfe set foot in Jamestown, Virginia. He is credited as the first settler to have successfully grown tobacco for commercial use. But most people know him as the husband of Pocahontas. Yes, from the Disney movie. Go and tell THAT to your kids.
The tobacco grown in Virginia at that time, Nicotiana rustica, was used by the Chesapeake Indians in their religious ceremonies. The English settlers tried to sell some of this tobacco in England, but they were unsuccessful. That Virginia had a strong odour and flavour and the English consumers preferred a milder variety. They got just that when in 1614 John Rolfe planted this sweeter tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) in Virginia. It came from seeds which he brought from Bermuda or Trinidad. He grew enough to ship four barrels of tobacco to England. Rolfe’s tobacco sold for a high price and tobacco quickly became the main source of cash for Virginia. In fact, tobacco was used as currency by the Virginia settlers for years and Rolfe was able to make his fortune in farming it for export.

The bright leaf that became the favourite of European markets was not discovered until 1839. In that year a slave, Stephen Slade (owned by farmer Abisha Slade from Caswell County NC), accidentally discovered a new flue curing method that turned the leaf a bright yellow. He fell asleep one night while keeping an eye on the wood fires used for curing the barns of tobacco. Whether it was the stormy night, instinct or just what woke him, no one will ever know. But he awoke realizing that the fires in the tobacco curing barn had almost gone out. Rather than throw wet wood into the dying fire, he rushed to the charcoal pit near the forge. He grabbed several charred log parts and threw them on the embers. The application of the sudden, drying heat, derived from the charred logs, produced an amazing effect on the green tobacco. The result was 600 pounds of the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen. By the mid-1850’s, Abisha Slade had emerged as one of the leading educators in the use of charcoal in the curing of bright leaf tobacco. He made many public appearances to share the bright leaf process with other farmers.

Virginia field

Virginia tobacco field

In the United States Virginia is grown in the following “belts”, comprised of six states:
Old Belt: Virginia and North Carolina
Middle Belt: North Carolina
Eastern Belt: North Carolina
Border Belt: South Carolina and North Carolina
Georgia Belt: Georgia, Florida and Alabama

But the bright leaf is also grown all over the world in countries like Canada, China, Zambia, Tanzania, India, Argentina, Brazil and The Philippines. Because it grows pretty well in poorer soil it is one of the easier plants to cultivate. Beware, the flavour will vary depending upon where it is produced. For example, American Virginia tobacco is quite a lot sweeter than African.

Talking about sweetness, Virginia tobacco has a natural high sugar content. It is not abnormal to find sugar levels of 20% to 25% in the bright leaf. If the tobaccos are cased (like in aromatics) it can be even higher. Because of that higher sugar content Virginia can burn a bit hot. So if you don’t smoke slow you might wind up with a leather tongue.. And exactly that  is one of the reasons that Virginia flakes are popular. They slow down the burn rate because the tobacco is tightly packed together. Virginia-Perique blends are also very loved. This because the combination tastes good and the slow and cool burning Perique tames the Virginia heat pretty well.

Red Virginia

Red Virginia

There are several types of Virginia, each with unique characteristics:
Yellow Virginia: The most sweet of them all. Lemon to banana yellow in colour. The taste has a citrus-like, acidic sweetness.
Orange Virginia: A bit less sweet then the yellow with a kind of hay-like quality.
Bright Virginia: (A collective term) Most of the times a mixture of yellow and orange with perhaps a bit of red.
Red Virginia: A bread or yeast-like toastiness with a lot less sugar.
Brown Virginia: Heat, pressure and ageing are used to deepen the flavour and increase the nicotine content of the leaf. Regarding taste it has a mildly sweet earthiness.
Black Virginia: Yellow Virginia gets roasted on a metal surface until it turns black. This way the sugars are caramelized and you get a bit of a sweet, fruity taste.

When creating new blends, Virginia is VERY important. It forms the backbone of a mixture. Very often several types of Virginia are used within 1 blend, also in different cuts. For example, HH Mature Virginia from MacBaren contains 15 different types of the bright leaf. So if you make a new mixture, be sure that the Virginia part of it tastes good. Then when you are satisfied you can add other tobaccos like latakia, orientals etc.

There are a LOT of Virginia blends, I am not going to name them all. Well known straight (or almost straight) Virginia mixtures and flakes are:
Ashton Gold Rush
– Capstan: Medium Navy Cut, Gold Navy Cut
Cornell & Diehl Opening Night
– Dan Tobacco: Hamburger Veermaster, Skipper’s Flake
Dunhill Flake*
– Esoterica Tobacciana: Blackpool, Kingsbridge
GL Pease Union Square
HU Tobacco Sunset
– MacBaren: Virginia No.1*, Virginia Flake, HH Mature Virginia
– McClelland: No. 5100 Red Cake, No. 2010 Classic Virginia, Blackwoods Flake, Dark Star, Christmas Cheer
Rattray Marlin Flake*
– Samuel Gawith: Full Virginia Flake, Golden Glow, Best Brown Flake

* Available in The Netherlands

The Prince of Pipes

The first half year that I smoked pipe I was looking for a shape that appealed to me. One that was able to make my favourite latakia mixtures shine. I found it in the Prince of Wales (or in short “prince”) shape pipe.

Before I mostly used full bents. They hung comfortably in my mouth, smoked pretty good, I was satisfied. Until the point that I smoked blends with latakia more and more. I got the feeling I did not got the maximum out of those mixtures. And that frustrated me. What is the point of smoking excellent tobaccos when you can’t get the most out of them??

© Neill Archer Roan

© Neill Archer Roan

Then I stumbled upon an article by the famous pipe blogger Neill Archer Roan: Finding That Magic Fit Between Pipe and Tobacco. In short, the complexity and tastefulness of English/Balkan blends is amplified in pot and prince shaped pipes. Those have square tobacco chambers which are most of the times more broad than for instance billiards. Because of that broadness there is more tobacco-surface that burns at once. That means more flavour. This was also acknowledged by the old owner of De Graaff. Once one of the most famous Dutch tobacco shops. The man (apparently a walking pipe and tobacco encyclopaedia) always smoked latakia mixtures from a pot. Yes, which has the same smoking characteristics as a prince.

But I prefer a prince above a pot. This because of the more elegant shape. Pot pipes are often straight and I still like a slight bend in the mouthpiece.

Loewe prince

Loewe prince

In contrary to common belief the prince shape was not designed by Dunhill, but by Loewe & Co. An old name in British pipe making, similar to brands like Comoy, BBB and GBD. It is said that Emil Loewe (a Frenchmen by origin) was the first to make pipes made from briar in England. Most of the customers in his shop were theatre people from the West End who liked the elegance in his pipes.

In the 1920’s he designed a pipe for Edward, the then Prince of Wales (hence the pipe-shape name “prince”). Who later became Edward VIII and finally was the Duke of Windsor. The shape is a statement of the stylishness of the period. During the reign of his father (also a heavy smoker) Edward was a leading socialite of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The epitome of the elegance of the period. Befitting his royal stature, nothing he owned was less than first class. His taste was impeccable. At least, that is the story..

My story continues when I asked on the Dutch pipesmokers forum if anyone had a prince shaped pipe and was willing to sell it. One member replied and for a measly sum I was able to buy my first prince. It was a Rossi with two smoking channels in the mouthpiece which made it hell to clean.. The sole reason I sold it some time ago. But the pipe smoked very good! Finally I had the idea I was getting more out of my tobaccos. But when proper used you can smoke a pipe only once a day. So I desperately needed a second one. I had read once that Mr. Pease liked the GBD brand much. So after a short search on e-bay I luckily found a GBD New Standard prince from the ’70’s. This one I still have and is one of my favourite pipes. It tastes amazing, especially with Abingdon. The only downside is that it smokes wet. But nothing a pipe cleaner can’t fix.

My Dunhill Shell Briar from the patent era

My Dunhill Shell Briar from the patent era

From there I bought more and more prince shaped pipes and I fell in love with the Dunhill brand. For me the epitome of the prince pipe is an army mount Dunhill shell briar from the patent era. And a few months ago I managed to acquire one on e-bay! Not easy because 1. they only sporadically become available and 2. are VERY expensive. But being Dutch (read: cheap hehehe) I managed to get it for a really good price. I just got lucky that I bought it from someone who did not know much about pipes. All hail to the pipe-smoke God.

Currently my prince collection consists of the following pipes:

GBD New Standard rusticated

GBD New Standard rusticated

GBD New Standard

GBD New Standard

Peterson prince from 1923

Peterson prince from 1923

Dunhill Shell Briar from patent era (1927 or 1928)

Dunhill Shell Briar from the patent era (1927 or 1928)

Dunhill Bruyere from the patent era

Dunhill Bruyere from the patent era

Dunhill Root Briar from 1962

Dunhill Root Briar from 1962

Syrian Latakia

Syrian latakia?

Syrian latakia?

In my blogpost “Latakia Lover” I described Syrian latakia. What I did not tell was that nowadays it is an almost extinct type of tobacco.

For years Syrian latakia had been used in cigarettes and pipe tobacco. But it was taking its toll on the Syrian environment. Native hardwood and shrubs were used to fire-cure the shekk-el-bint leaves. Unfortunately there weren’t much farmable grounds in the area. Because of this natural resources were being used and consumed FAST. Also during the period 1850 – 1950 extreme damage to the forests in Syria was done. First by the construction of the Baghdad and Hedjaz railways, both were still operated with wood for fuel during WWI. Later from the ravages of WWII during which forest fires were purposefully set as a protest against the controlling foreign regime. So the Syrian government decided to place a moratorium (a what?? A delay or suspension of an activity) on the production of latakia in 1960. “But I smoked Balkan Sobranie and other mixtures which contained Syrian latakia in the 60’s and 70’s!” some of the old pipe smokers would say. Yes that is true. Most tobacco companies had hoarded the stuff so it was only around the beginning of the 80’s that they ran out of it. Some mixtures survived this by gradually switching from Syrian to Cyprian latakia.

10679974_10205010273567619_6481518945363759545_oSomewhere during the 80’s the Syrian government lifted the moratorium and to some extent the production was resumed. But it never came close to the amounts of the pre-1960 era. The demand was lower because there were less pipe smokers. On top of that Syrian latakia had to compete with the dark leaf that came from Cyprus. Also a lot of the experienced processors had found another job. As a result the quality of latakia made by other makers became shaky, inconsistent.

GL Pease Renaissance. one of the best blends ever made containing the Syrian dark leaf

GL Pease Renaissance. Apparently one of the best blends ever made containing the Syrian dark leaf

Luckily at the beginning of the 2000’s a LOT of vintage Syrian latakia became available. So tobacco companies like MacBaren, McClelland and Cornell & Diehl (which includes GL Pease) bought vast amounts of it. Especially mr. Pease succeeded in making excellent blends with it like Renaissance, Raven’s Wing, Mephisto and Bohemian Scandal. Unfortunately at the end of 2004 the warehouse where the Cornell & Diehl / GL Pease Syrian latakia stock was located burned to the ground. That ended of course all the mixtures in which the Syrian dark leaf was used. But the other tobacco manufacturers that bought into the same batch of vintage Syrian latakia were able to secure their stock. This because their supply was located elsewhere. So those companies still have their part and probably it will last for years, it was a lot. But eventually they will run out of it. And it looks like no more Syrian dark leaf is being made because of the relatively low demand, environmental issues and the ongoing civil war.

Shekk-el-bint leaves drying

Shekk-el-bint leaves drying

Here I quote mr. Pease himself. A question was asked him if the pipe tobacco industry, latakia specifically, been affected (pricing, quality, or availability) by the current situation in Syria: I spent some time on the telephone with the major oriental leaf broker in the US to get a definitive answer to this question, and it’s not a happy one. The simple fact is that Latakia has not been grown and manufactured in Syria now for over ten years. What there is of it in warehouses is all there is, and very likely, is all there ever will be. The vintage leaf that we lost in the fire was very, very special. A couple of manufacturers still have some supplies of that leaf, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Further, I’ve tasted a lot of blends claiming to contain Syrian Latakia, but you couldn’t prove it by me. It’s possible that they’re adding a few shreds of the stuff in order to stay within the letter of any laws that may exist, but their overall flavor and aroma is clearly that of Cypriot leaf. I cannot speak to the blends produced by most manufacturers, but I’ve had conversations with friends at McClelland and MacBaren, and can say without a doubt that they are, indeed, using vintage Syrian Latakia where they claim to be, so if you enjoy the blends they’re making with it, you’re still in luck, at least for the time being. But, enjoy it while it lasts; when it’s gone, it’s gone.

preview_A_Can_HH_Vintage_syrian_smallOf course I will be missing some but blends that still contain (or are claiming it contains) Syrian latakia are:
– None, there are no blends left with a considerable amount of the real Syrian dark leaf. Perhaps there are blenders who still have some shreds left, mix them with a huge load of Cyprian latakia and call it Syrian, I don’t know. It surely will not taste like original Syrian.
See my list of updates below for more information.

EDIT 07-04-2013: I heard from a very reliable source that German tobacco producers Kohlhase & Kopp and DTM (both also producers of HU Tobacco) sadly no longer have Syrian latakia. Because of this I have removed all HU tobacco and Kohlhase & Kopp (Ashton and Solani) blends from the list.

EDIT 04-11-2014: On the 2014 Inter Tabac fair I spoke with Mr. Per Jensen of MacBaren. I was wondering how long the Syrian latakia stock of MacBaren would last that they use for their excellent HH Vintage Syrian. Mr. Jensen very honestly answered that he guessed that in about 7 or 8 years they would run out of the Syrian dark leaf.

EDIT 07-11-2014: I just heard from Paul that on the Inter Tabac Fair he had spoken to one of the two export managers of Planta with whom he has a good connection. He asked him if Planta’s Syrian latakia really contained Syrian latakia. The export manager answered that they still had Syrian stock but that they were not able to buy any more in the last years. How long their supply will last? No idea…

EDIT 08-08-2015: I just read at the Pipes Magazine forum that someone spoke with Per Jensen of MacBaren at the IPCPR and there he said their Syrian stock would last for about 4 years..

EDIT 22-09-2015: Apparently sales of MacBaren’s HH Vintage Syrian are going well. I spoke with Brian Levine on the Inter Tabac some days ago and according to him they will run out of Syrian leaf in about 2 or 3 years. After that the blend will be discontinued. I also dared to ask him if small amounts of Cyprian latakia are mixed with the Syrian dark leaf (there were some rumours..). A resolute “no” followed. Only the size of the tins had changed (from 100 gr. to 50 gr.), nothing else.

EDIT 30-01-2017: From the Facebookpage of Ted Gage: “Syrian tobacco is gone. Used up, done, and gone forever. There will be no McClelland Syrian Three Oaks, or other blends using the supply of McClelland Syrian. Bummer, but we knew it was coming eventually.” In a short while I will remove their blends of the list. For now: stock up folks!

EDIT 12-03-2017: After a discussion with one of the great names in the pipe smoking world I have decided to remove MacBaren HH Vintage Syrian from the tobacco list. There were rumours before that MacBaren was mixing amounts of Cyprian latakia with the Syrian dark leaf. I already had suspicions some time ago but choose to believe the MacBaren folks and ignore my taste buds. The “great name” with much better taste buds confirmed my old suspicions. There is a difference in taste between the old tins I have and new ones. Further I have deleted all tobaccos claiming to have Syrian latakia from my list. McClelland had the last real Syrian dark leaf and they have run out of it recently. All other companies who say they still have some stock are lying in my opinion or they have some left-over shreds that they put in the blends to stay within the boundaries of laws. Taste-wise you are not going to notice it. Blends simply sell better with the Syrian latakia label on them. So in short, the Syrian dark leaf is totally gone now. Don’t let anyone or anything fool you and oh, tobacco companies, be honest to your customers.

EDIT 29-03-2017: In my latest update I was jumping to conclusions too fast about MacBaren’s HH Vintage Syrian. I should have done my homework (like I normally always do) first. On the PipesMagazine forum a discussion erupted about that I solely relied on the taste buds of my anonymous expert and myself without any further proof. Then Per Jensen, product manager of MacBaren. chimed in. Here are the most important excerptions:

I normally don’t comment on rumours coming from an anonym source, but I will make an exemption in this case. In 2006 I created the HH Vintage Syrian as a single standing tobacco. Since the first making of this blend the recipe has not changed, it is still made after the 2006 recipe with Syrian Latakia.

If you compare an older tin with a new one, the taste of the older will of course be slight different due to age. If a pipe smoker perceives this as the newer tin contains a lesser quality tobacco, I would consider this to be a genuine mistake. The HH Vintage Syrian is created like no other Latakia blend, because it also contains Dark Fired Kentucky. In comparison with more “normal” English blends, you will, as pipe smoker, experience another taste in HH Vintage Syrian as in your favourite English blend. HH Vintage Syrian is not your typical English blend and there are so many other good blends out there which will satisfy your taste for Latakia. HH Vintage Syrian was created to be different.

However, no matter this discussion HH Vintage Syrian will be leaving soon, as our supply of Syrian Latakia is coming to an end. Latest in February or March next year the last of the HH Vintage Syrian will leave Svendborg, Denmark, so the guy who created it will also be the one to put it down. That HH Vintage Syrian is leaving us, I have stated over and over again, and I have never made it a secret that it would disappear and also when.

Of course my expert and I discussed this. We really tasted something different in the newer tins as opposed to the older ones, and it was not the dark-fired Kentucky because that has been in all along. Besides, there are other latakia blends with dark-fired Kentucky, see this list. My expert missed the distinctive resiny, pine-like aroma that the Syrian latakia once gave the blend and that is not present in the current tins. But he did detect the sweeter, earthier, more camp-fire and leather smell and taste of its Cyprian cousin. Suddenly he came up with something: What if MacBaren was not using the same Syrian batch as in the beginning, the same batch Cornell & Diehl and McClelland also bought? It could be that they ran out of that batch some time ago and acquired a different Syrian latakia from some leaf broker. That way there is still Syrian in HH Vintage Syrian, it could explain the difference in taste and Per would be telling the truth. So I mailed Per that theory and kindly asked him for an honest answer. Which I got:

First of all I want to inform you that of course I stand behind my statement on pipesmagazine.com. As I have mentioned time after time during the years we would be out of Syrian Latakia latest in 2019 to 2020. The reason that we stop the production already in beginning of 2018 has more reasons than one. First our stock is lower than predicted 7 years ago and second we had to destroy some of the Latakia because it did not live up to the standard we demanded.

At the time when rumours started about the shortage of Syrian Latakia, we contacted our vast network of tobacco suppliers to hear if they could help us obtaining Syrian Latakia. We managed to get 6 batches from different sources, some small but 2 of batches were bigger. Since then we have blended the different Latakia from Syria in order to get an even taste. At present time the rest of the Syrian Latakia we have is blended out of only 2 different batches where we in the past blended at least 4 different together.

So yes, we have been using different batches in HH Vintage Syrian and in February 2018 the book of Syrian Latakia will be closed. 

So there was a difference after all. In the first years the same batch that Cornell & Diehl and McClelland also bought was used and later on various batches from different sources were mixed together. Of course we don’t know if those leaf brokers who sold MacBaren their later Syrian latakia offered the real stuff. For example, in his Cyprian or Syrian? (Part II) blogpost well known master-blender GL Pease says (amongst other things) this: Since The (warehouse) Fire, there have been more than a few samples of “Syrian Latakia” arriving in my postbox from various suppliers. Some have been no more Syrian than I am. Others have been of such low quality I wouldn’t use the stuff to smoke fish. But for now I am going to give HH Vintage Syrian the benefit of the doubt. I can’t research it any further. Regardless which latakia from whatever quality is used, it is still an excellent smoke.

I want to thank Per Jensen for his honest answers and my anonymous expert for his knowledge and expertise.

EDIT 05-01-2018: At the end of last year MacBaren master-blender Per Jensen discontinued his HH Vintage Syrian blend as can be seen in one of his Instagram posts. So I removed it from my list.