Things Is What They Is…

3rd June, 2010: Posted by glpease in Editorial

Except when they isn’t.

Some of the tobaccos being branded today with old, established names are a good example. And, yes. I’m about to rant a bit.

Some of these “recreations” are fine tobaccos, to be sure. They taste good, smoke well, are carefully made, and well presented. They are just nothing like the originals, the real thing. If they were called something else, I would likely have no trouble with them, but when I see those old labels, and those old names, very specific expectations are formed, based on my experience with the originals, and not one of the new ones comes close to meeting those expectations. So, as good as they may be, I cannot seem to get past the cognitive dissonance that’s created by the differences.

Whenever I think about the past, it just brings back so many memories.

-Steven Wright

I have significant issues with many, if not most, hell, if not all of these recreated classics. Three Nuns, for instance, is NOT Three Nuns if it has no perique in its formulation, and the current manufacturer of the blend admits there is no perique in it. Huh? It may be a fine tobacco, today, but Three Nuns, it ain’t.

Some of the German-made “Scottish” tobaccos, too, bear almost no similarity to the originals they replace, which were made by two houses concurrently, both considered by many veterans of the pipe to have been the finest blenders of tobacco in the weed’s long history. Nor do the modern branded “Balkan” blends taste like the originals, but that’s been going on for a very long time. Then, there’s the Dunhills that everyone is on about, and, the list goes on. We’ll each have our blends that have changed through changes in manufacturers, changes in ingredients, cheapening of products motivated by profits, not by taste. Are we being duped? Sort of.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to tobaccos, of course. When Heinz bought Lea & Perrins, they mucked up the Worcestershire sauce to the point where it barely recognizable. Corn syrup? No malt vinegar? One can only wonder what else they’ve done behind the labeling requirements. The real thing is still available in Europe, fortunately, at least for now, so all is not completely lost in that department, but what of our loved and lost tobacco blends?

Bean counters and shareholders should not be utilized as the arbiters of taste. But, apparently, at least with the big firms, that’s exactly the case.

I’ve often been asked if I could recreate some of my old blends, using different leaf. The answer is, of course, yes, but they wouldn’t be the same, and I would have to call them something else. There’s just no way I could do anything else. If nothing else, it would confuse me to open a tin of something called Renaissance, only to find something different in the tin, something that did not taste like what the label says it is.

So, for those of us fortunate enough to have smoked the real things, we can legitimately pine for what is no longer made, despite new blends that wear the old livery. For those of us fortunate enough not to have had them, we can enjoy the newly produced versions, without the challenge of overcoming expectations wrought by experiences that can no longer be recreated. I’m not 100% convinced that’s an advantage, really, though it may be of some consolation. For me, I’m afraid, history has dealt me a hand of four aces of skepticism when approaching anything that claims to be a recreation.

As pipesters, we’ve got a dizzying variety of fabulous blends from which to choose. Some are modern, others, more traditional in style. Some have the potential to become tomorrow’s classics, but let’s all hope that they remain what they are over time. If not, the dissonance, the lament, the Remembrance of Things Past, will continue, as it likely has from the beginning of time.

Things is what they is.


(As always, your comments are welcome.)