Carry Me Back…

22nd September, 2004: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

This evening, I just want to see where the muses take me. It’s a little indulgent, I realize, but what’s the use of having a web site if you can’t indulge on occasion? It’s been a fascinating few weeks since the release of Bohemian Scandal. Naturally, I’m excited by the response the blend has received. While I knew I liked it, there’s always a nagging little fear, sort of a stage fright, I suppose, a little performance anxiety when a new product is released. I get really wrapped up in blends while I’m working on them, and am always a little concerned that my enthusiasm for what I’m doing may transcend reality, or colour my perceptions in ways I don’t anticipate. I sit on beds of nails until the first reviews begin to trickle in, and only then can I relax a little. The reviews are coming, and they’ve exceeded my wildest expectations, so I’m starting to relax. Sort of. You’ll understand the point of this confession soon enough.

For some time, I’ve been working on a straight Virginia blend. Once the Scandal was put to bed, I worked up a fevered pitch on this project. I’ve researched a lot of old methods of tobacco production, some of the “secrets” of olde that made many of the ancient tobaccos what they were. I’ve found out a lot of fascinating things, and have performed many experiments to validate the theories that coalesced within the swirling mists as I attempted, metaphorically, of course, to travel back in time to revisit some of the blends we’ve lost. Along with some delightful successes, there are always things that don’t quite go the way I planned, but these, too, provide wonderful bits of information, and sometimes clues to other mysteries, like pieces to a seemingly boundless puzzle. I enjoy all the experiments, even if the results are less than pleasant.

For some reason, though, I can’t seem to keep from fiddling with the “straight” Virginias. A little oriental, perhaps, or some perique. Indeed, a little perique always perks up a Virginia wonderfully, but it’s no longer a straight Virginia, is it? There’s the rub, so to speak.

Straight Virginias just don’t seem to “do it” for me. All the blends that I try and enjoy have something lurking in the shadows, some enhancement, something that puts a little bend in the “straight” part of the graph. It’s not that I don’t like Virginias. It’s only that I find they need something else to supply some dimension. They always seem a little flat to me, or a little murky. It could be my palate, jaded by so many years of enjoying richly flavoured, Latakia laden mixtures. It could be my love of complexities and nuances. Or, it could be that I just don’t fully understand what the Virginia is telling me.

During this process, I’ve consulted with friends who are dedicated Virginiaphiles. They have been generous in their recommendations and their samples of things for me to try. Each time I find something that grabs me, I detect the presence of something that is not Virginia. There’s either some topping, or some condiment leaf, or some body-enhancing air-cured tobacco. On and on it goes.

When I offered to do something special for the CORPS, a blend to help celebrate their 20th Anniversary show, I got very excited about the possibilities. Of course, it had to be a Virginia blend; what else would be appropriate for the Richmond based club? So, the pressure was on. I poured through my blending notes, analyzed the results of different experiments, brought together a few things, and prepared the first prototype. Flat. In speaking with Linwood, I was told that a little Latakia wouldn’t be a bad thing. Okay. I can do that. I played some more, adding a little Latakia, a little perique, and ended up with something that was quite nice, but the Latakia, even at the small percentage used, was still too forward. Back to the drawing board.

The real problem I was having with the straight VA was a lack of depth. It had nice sweet notes, a pleasant tang, and good middle range, but it needed some bottom. I wanted tympanis. I wanted the bad-ass bass wave on which all the other notes would hang ten. I found it in the form of some Kentucky dark-fired leaf. Bad-ass describes this stuff well. It’s assertive and bold, and smoked straight, any but those who can mainline nicotine would find themselves crashing to the bottom of the surf. Just the thing, applied judiciously, to pump up the volume.

After a little further tweaking, things started to come together. If the dark-fired leaf was to be the Moondoggie of this beach party, perique had to be its Gidget. Perique adds a nice fruitiness, and in tiny amounts, really enhances the Virginias without making a dominant statement of its own. Okay, and just a TINY bit of Latakia. What’s a beach party without a bonfire?

When the final recipe was done, I sent some off to the boys. Linwood told me that everyone at the club loved it, and that we had a go. So, here’s a rare case where the performance anxiety is short-lived, and gets to be extinguished even before the tobacco is in the tins. I should be happy, right? (I told you I’d get back to that confessional stuff, didn’t I?)

So, another blend, albeit a limited edition thing, (this one will only be available at the CORPS show in October) is ready for prime time, and STILL, I have not produced a “straight” Virginia. Fortunately, I don’t know when to quit. I’m the Energizer Bunny of tobacco blending. I’m still working on that straight Virginia, but I have a feeling a couple other blends will find their way onto the list of things I have stage-fright over before the “right” straight Virginia finds its way to market.