Cyprian or Syrian? (Part II)

9th February, 2010: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Editorial

Since The 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. “We found this ‘vintage’ leaf in an old warehouse. Do you want some?” No, thanks. “Why not?” Um. It’s awful, m’kay?

Though there are blends being produced that do actually contain Syrian leaf, there are some that profess to, but I find some of these claims suspect. Yes, I know what the labels, importers, sellers and other pipe smokers say, but I remain convinced that some of these blend have Syrian Latakia in them in the same way that Churchill’s martinis contained vermouth: “I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini.” Read more…»

Cyprian or Syrian? (Part I)

5th February, 2010: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Editorial

I’m going to grumble a little. And possibly even rant. It’s my column. I can do that. No one will criticize the reader for stopping here, but there may be something informative, and my grumblings can occasionally be amusing, if not downright endearingly sharp-witted, so you may want to read on anyway, forewarned of what is likely to come.

The past five years have hosted continued discussion about the availability of Syrian Latakia, why can’t I get any, who has it, what blends it’s in, why some manufacturers seem to have no problems with supply, whether or not the whole warehouse fire situation was a ruse, and on and on. There seem to be a great many experts who know more about the supply of unobtainable leaf than I do. If you really know someone in whose basement bales of this mysterious supply of Syrian leaf are sequestered, please, be so kind as to make an introduction so I can get some. Seriously. Read more…»

Befriending those Beguiling Virginias

29th January, 2010: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Technique

A great virginia can be a wonderful smoke, but for many of us, at least for me, getting the most from the experience doesn’t always come easily, or instantly. I recently read a post on one of the forums written by a fellow who enjoyed many mixtures, and liked the sweetness he experienced in virginias, but lamented that, for the most part, that sweetness is only delivered in hints. I can relate. One of the reasons I was a dedicated Latakiaphile for so long was this very phenomenon. I’d puff a bowl of virginia, enjoy it for a while, but before the end of the bowl, I’d find the experience lacking. Where did the flavour go? Where was all that sweetness I was promised?

The sweetness of a tobacco has to do with the levels of sugar in the leaf. This can be naturally occurring, as in some virginias, and especially bright leaf, or added, as is the case with many virginia blends. It’s not uncommon to find sugar levels of 20-25% in bright leaf, and if the tobaccos are cased, it can be even higher. Sugar equals sweetness, right? Read more…»

When the Door is Ajar - Opening Aging Blends

28th January, 2010: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Science

The following question is paraphrased from one that was asked on one of the forums today. I suspect it’s a fairly commonly asked question, and figured it had a place here in the Chronicles, along with my response.

Does it ruin the aging process to open a jar once in a while to sample? Should I only open the jar when I’m ready to smoke the entire contents?

Ruin it? No. Change it? Absolutely.

The biological and organic reactions that are taking place in the tin/jar alter the little sealed environment. Gasses are being consumed (especially O2) and generated (CO2) by biological processes, and further organic reactions are taking place more slowly, depending on what’s present in that environment. The instant that seal is broken, there’s a rapid exchange of air with the surrounding environment, and everything — everything — that was going on before is going to change. Different reactions will begin — not necessarily bad ones, just different.

It will never be the same again. It cannot be. If you take two jars, age them for a year, open one and re-seal it, then come back in another year, you’ll find two different tobaccos. The will probably not be dramatically different, but they’ll certainly be noticeably different, and if you extend those times - five years and five years, for instance, the divergence of the two samples will be much more dramatic. Read more…»

Us vs. Them

20th January, 2009: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Pipes, Enjoyment, Cigars

From what I’ve read on various pipe smokers’ fora, there is some crossover between cigarettes and pipes or cigars and pipes, however, “We,” as pipe smokers, seem to be more than a bit jingoistic about the way we choose to enjoy tobacco. Pipe smoking is seen as superior by many, both smokers and non-smokers alike. I suspect this has much to do with the historical image of the pipeman as thoughtful, educated, considerate. We’re not all Albert Einstein or Fred MacMurray, but there is a strong iconographic link, forged over decades, that still persists to some extent today, even despite the popular influence of the rabid anti-tobacco movement.

The pipe draws wisdom from the lips of the philosopher, and shuts up the mouth of the foolish: it generates a style of conversation, contemplative, thoughtful, benevolent, and unaffected.

—Wm. Makepeace Thackeray

Personally, though I thoroughly enjoy both pipes and cigars, I have never really been a cigarette smoker. Sure, I’ve had more than a few of the little things over the years in moments of weakness or curiosity, and some have been exquisite. I fondly recall the Balkan Sobranies in their little tin boxes, and the French Boyards, with their black tobacco and yellow corn-paper, sweet and powerful in flavour and in effect, not to mention the Old Holborn RYO tobacco that was splendid. I’m sorry to say these have gone the way of all flesh, even though I would only rarely indulge in their guilty pleasures. Read more…»

Just Old Tobacco…

10th August, 2007: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Enjoyment


Old tobacco is amazing stuff. I mean the really old stuff, the vintage tins that people talk about and pay astronomical sums of money for. By now, most of us are cellaring tins of our favored blends for the blessings that time bestows upon them, and, of course, we should keep doing this while we continue to explore the pleasures of getting to know tobaccos in their juvenescence, and at various stages of their development. In fact, some enjoy their smoke most when it’s still possessing the exuberance of youth, and some tobaccos seem to lend themselves particularly well to being enjoyed while young.

I’m talking about something different, though. I’m talking about those distinguished old blends, long unavailable; those marvelous and revered tobaccos that have been sitting on dusty shelves for years or decades, lying in wait as little hermetically sealed time capsules containing something of both our collective, and our individual pasts. There is sometimes much more in those tins than old weeds. Read more…»

Robusto - Revival of a Classic?

3rd August, 2007: Posted by glpease in Tobacco


A few weeks ago, I received from a friend a generous sample from a 40+ years old knife lid tin of the venerable Sobranie Virginia #10. The sample was vacuum packed in thick, freezer safe plastic film, and arrived looking more like a Slim Jim than tobacco. My friend had sent email telling me it was on its way, so the anticipation was already in top gear, and the arrival of the little sausage put that anticipation into overdrive.

I didn’t instantly open the sausage-like package, but allowed the suspense to linger a bit longer, waiting for just the right moment to begin the exploration. When I finally slit open the top, fresh air crept in, coaxing just a whiff of the aroma out. One of the things I love most about opening old, puffy tins of vintage tobaccos is that explosion of scent that erupts as soon as the seal is broken. The vacuum-pack robbed me of that, and forced me to work a little harder for my first of what would prove to be many rewards. Sticking a nostril under the bag, I began to tease the still tightly compressed tobacco apart, releasing some of its goodness to the air. Read more…»

Embarcadero - A Point of Departure

2nd July, 2007: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Stories


As the release of Embarcadero, the newest entry in the Fog City Select approaches - begin looking for it in mid July - I’ve been asked a few questions about it. What was the inspiration for this blend? What did you have in mind? What’s it like? Why Embarcadero?

They’re fair questions, and I had to do quite a bit of probing into some of the dusty bric-a-brac shelves of my mind to come up with something that would pass for reasonable answers; after all, it’s been a few months since I started working on it, and a whole host of synapses have fired since then, or so I’d like to think. Read more…»

2001 - A Tobacco Odyssey

27th April, 2007: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

In an on-line forum, Paul wrote, “There are comments made, here and there, that if you leave a tin of tobacco in your car on a hot day in direct sunlight that it increases the aging process.” I’m sorry to say this just isn’t correct, and, in fact, a lot of fine tobaccos may find themselves ruined, or at least not as good as they should be as a result of this “technique.”

Recently, a friend sent me a little unlabeled sample of something, and asked me what I thought of it. I wasn’t very impressed. I found it overly sweet, out of balance, lacking life, and overall, rather mono-dimensional. I wrote to him, identifying what I thought was in the blend, and sharing my impressions, explaining that the tobacco tasted like it was really over the hill. His response? “It’s 2001 Odyssey, dude.” What? At least I’d identified the components correctly. But, what had happened to the tobacco that I know so well? Had Kubrick returned from beyond to mess with my friend’s 2001 Odyssey? [Sorry… -glp] Read more…»

Fillmore - Almost One Year Later

2nd March, 2007: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

Writing about tobacco is a challenging thing, sometimes. The list of adjectives, those that are appropriate, isn’t infinite, and quite a few of those that are have been overused almost to the point of being completely debased, nearly valueless currency. What does spicy mean? Complex? Rich? Creamy? Certainly, these words all have their meanings, their legitimate value, but, by the gods, even I have been too-frequently guilty of spraying them haphazardly on the wall when I have been too lazy to seek better ones.Yet, here I am, finding a need, or at least a whim, to write something about tobacco, and hoping that in the process of simply doing it, I might find something more fresh to say. If I don’t, I apologize. There’s a limit to how much time I will agonize over this. Read more…»

The Road to Westminster

5th January, 2007: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Stories

The passage of time can be a strange thing. The engagement we experience with the things of life can dilate time in ways that almost seem drug induced, confounding our sense of rhythmic transit in ways that are inexplicable, producing a sort of temporal dissonance. So it is for me with the history of Westminster’s development, and while it feels like well over a year since I first found myself submerged in this project, it was really only in March of 2006 that I was going at it it full tilt. The background to the project, however, extends much farther in history, in some sense, back to my earliest days of pipe smoking, when a particular tobacco caught my fancy, and hasn’t really let it go. Read more…»

Kensington - Three Years After

13th July, 2006: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

The Classic Collection has been around for a little over three years, now. Last week, I pulled one of the first production tins of Kensington out of the cellar to see how it was doing. The tin I grabbed was just a little puffy on the bottom, brining greater enthusiasm to the prospect of exploring its contents. Read more…»

« Previous entries · Newer entries »