The Celebrated Bengal Slices

23rd August, 2010: Posted by glpease in Editorial

When I was a young pipester, a relative newcomer to the fold, I was always deeply intrigued by The Celebrated Bengal Slices. There just wasn’t anything else quite like it. The rich, wonderful tobacco, served in their elegant little black, red and gold tins had the deep Latakia flavours that I loved, along with a beautiful pressed virginia sweetness and exotic oriental spice, all harmoniously joined together and augmented with a delightfully subtle, artfully and precisely applied floral note. (To be clear, this is not the aromatic version, which was, even to my inexperienced mind back then, an abomination against all things sacred.) Legend has it that this was Balkan Sobranie, pressed into cake form and thickly sliced. Given the credibility of the fellow who originally told me the story, I’ve no reason to question this. In fact, everything that I’ve learned about this blend through the years has provided more credence to the claim. Read more…»

Giving Marty the Spotlight

20th July, 2010: Posted by glpease in Editorial

Long-time friend, and well-known pipe purveyor, Marty Pulvers, has posted a thoughtful commentary on his site regarding Dunhill’s current attitude towards pipes, smokers’ requisites and tobaccos, the very commodities responsible for their decades-old success. These things, along with their consumers, have been methodically relegated, over recent years, to the dusty, cobweb filled back rooms. And, now, it appears they might rather simply forget that these products, and those who have loved them, ever even existed. A shame, really. Read more…»

The Accidental Blender

6th July, 2010: Posted by glpease in Editorial

Some tobacco manufacturers collect their tailings, the little bits of blended tobacco that are left over after packaging, and sell them as bargain blends. You never know what’s going to be in them, and they’ll never be the same twice, but they’re cheap, and some smokers enjoy the adventure. Me? Not so much.

What would happen, say, if one of my accidental “blends” turned out to be the most fantabulous blend ever produced, and dozens or even tens of dozens of enthusiasts from around the globe - a massed hoard of the world’s pipe smokers bought it, loved it, ran out of it, and then arrived, pitchforks and torches in hand, pounding clenched fists angrily upon my door, demanding more of last month’s Bert’s Blend. (Bert was the name of the chimney sweep played by Dick van Dyke in Marry Poppins, in case you’ve forgotten. It seems a fitting sobriquet for such a blend.) As I’d never be able to reproduce it, my sometimes vivid imagination can easily paint the ensuing doom drenched nightmares of finding myself pilloried in the village square at dawn, being pummeled by bushels of rotting fruit and pouches of Mixture 79. (I wonder if anyone remembers how to actually pillory someone.) Read more…»

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. Read more…»

In Memory, 1996-2010

6th April, 2010: Posted by glpease in Editorial

He came to me 14 years ago, a young dog; a furry, frenetic, non-stop, spinning ball of perpetual motion. At the shelter, they’d called him Rocky. It didn’t fit. Taz fit. He drove me nuts. He drove Pasha and Kismet, my other two dogs at the time, nuts. Anything that looked even vaguely alive was something to spring upon, a trait particularly annoying to the gophers that poked their unknowing heads from the security of their holes, only to find a bounding wolf, all four paws high in the air, descending upon them. Taz never got more than a snout full of dirt, but he never tired of the sport.

For the first few days that he lived with me, I was almost convinced that his energy was more than I, or the other dogs could live with. But, his boundless enthusiasm and constantly wagging tail won me over. And, his snuggles. And his intelligence. He was one of the special ones, and I knew he’d settle in, or I’d just get used to him, or both. He wasn’t always easy to live with, but neither am I; we both had things to learn. Read more…»

The Back Room

18th February, 2010: Posted by glpease in Editorial

Almost every Saturday, you’d find us there. The back room at Drucquer & Sons’ Piedmont Avenue store would be haunted by pipemen, sitting, standing, smoking, drinking from the never-empty coffee pot, sharing whatever old tobaccos had been discovered languishing, forgotten in the back of some out of the way tobacconist’s shop - “That old stuff? I’ll give you a deal if you want all six” - or rescued from the dusty shelves of antique stores or the attics of friends of friends - “My father smoked a pipe.” It was a time when pipe smokers weren’t exactly in vogue, but neither had we been disenfranchised by a society of nannies bent on destroying anything that resembles pleasure for its own sake. We gathered. We socialized. We showed and told of our recent acquisitions, and sometimes traded them. And, we smoked. Read more…»

Westminster Immortalized on YouTube

10th February, 2010: Posted by glpease in Review of the Day

Now, for something completely different. Here’s a hysterical parody “review” of Westminster. “I, myself, prefer bacon fat.” Love it.

“For me, no way. I don’t do salt.” Just bacon fat.

I love this. Spread the word. Let’s see how high we can drive this guy’s hit count. It was at 618 when I put this up.

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…»

Balancing Acts

22nd January, 2010: Posted by glpease in Editorial

Developing a new blend can be an interesting confluence of delight and frustration. When I conceived the notion of the Old London Series, I had some things in mind. The tobaccos would be produced in the style of the old London tobacco houses. Rather than blending cut ribbon, the leaf would be blended as strips - more or less whole leaf with the midrib removed - pressed into cakes to comingle for a few days, then cut and tumbled into ribbon form. The goal was threefold; the pressing would integrate the flavours of the different components a little sooner, and a little more fully, a slight fermentation could take place, increasing the complexity of the mixture, and finally, the cut of the blend would be more consistent.

Chelsea Morning was the first blend in the series, and I was instantly thrilled with the results. Because of this method of manufacture, it’s a very different tobacco than it would be were it made using today’s more conventional methods, and it does remind me in some ways of some of the long lost blends of yesterday. This all lands squarely on the delight side of the equation. Read more…»


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