PIPE TOBACCO: SOME G. L. PEASE BLENDS REVIEWED
It has been said that McClellands blends their tobaccos with the aficionado of matured Virginias and Flakes in mind, so that even their English-style blends will have that aged Virginia fruitiness (described as prune or plum, though recently also called ketchuppy). McClellands are fine blenders, and their more recent English-style products are very good indeed. Evenso.
G.L. Pease, on the other hand, clearly has the sensitivities of a smoker of English-style blends. All of them have a fine, winey, somewhat dry tin aroma, and a mildness and velvety tongue-feel which is extremely pleasing. Smokers of the old Balkan Sobranie mixture in the white tin will certainly appreciate these products, as will many who have smoked Dunhill's Standard Mixture or the 965.
The following are notes from when I was comparing these blends, trying to decide which ones I wanted to stock up on (it will be remembered from this posting http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2006/03/new-book.html why I am stocking up).
ABINGDON: Broad ripped ribbon, brights and darks, high contrast. Toasty, with noticeable Latakia. A good Balkan aroma, full rounded flavour, smoky, wine-like. Burns richly.
The finish is between sec and robust, ending on a toasty note. The overall taste is centre of the tongue. Powdery ash, velvety. Recommended.
BLACK POINT: Broken ribbon, bright to medium brown, with darks. Speckled. Dry aroma, full range Anglo-Turkish, whiff of Perique, hint of an aged Virginia smell. Winy, Champagne-like. Clean smoking. Crumbly ash, gritty to dust. Highly recommended.
CHARING CROSS: Broad even cut, medium contrast with intermediary hues. An intriguing fruity Turkish aroma. A medium Balkan mixture with a fully developed Oriental fragrance. Burns clean, tending toward hot. The ash is a brittle medium grit. Note: too many stalks in the tin.
KENSINGTON: A broad range of Virginias and Orientals, both in appearance and in taste. Matured aroma with a smooth nose. Burns evenly, finishes clean with a fine ash. The tin aroma suggests toasted Virginia more than it states Latakia. Highly recommended.
RAVEN'S WING: Longish ribbons, dark brown to near-black, scant contrast. Has a full, toasty, very woodsy, aged aroma. The taste is tangy and dry, with a well developed beginning, but thins out near end. Fine ash.
SAMARRA: Ripped ribbons, slightly broken, in medium brown to dark speckled. Sec aroma, touch of Perique. Tastes smokey, robust flavour (pressed Virginia), medium on the Turkish. Mellow, slightly uneven burn, ash brittle to fine.
For those readers who are somewhat baffled, a few notes of explanation:
1) Virginia. Virginia is a large flue-cured leaf, high in natural sugars and medium on the nicotine level. It often actually refers to tobaccos from places like Rhodesia, India, and the Carolinas. Also called 'flue-cured'. Traditionally it was aged in bonded godowns after import into the British Isles, often under slight pressure, which allowed fermentation, and kept down infestation by shrotzim.
2) Oriental. Also called Turkish, though much of it used to come from the Balkans, and some of it comes from Greece or the Crimea. A small leaf, high in resins and therefore flavourful and aromatic, but extremely low in nicotine.
3) Latakia. A medium leaf Oriental (Shek el Bint) from Al-Taqqiya in Syria, or nowadays a Smyrna-seed small leaf from Cyprus, smoke-cured till dark, which gives it an aromatic, tangy, smoky, creosote-like reek. It is the wood-smoky component in English blends. Smells strong, and drives people who prefer fruity aromatics up the wall. A tangy flavour.
4) Burley. Large leaf air-cured. Unlike flue-curing, which kills the leaf fast and preserves the natural sugars, air-curing destroys the natural sugars while maintaining a high nicotine level. Burleys, and their milder cousins the Maryland tobaccos, are often cased with sugar solutions to make them milder on the tongue. Pressing and aging do them little good, but the Cavendish treatment (pressure, heat, and flavourings) are particularly successful. Burleys are the fundament of some of the best plain blends, some of the worst aromatic blends.
5) Cavendish. Might as well be called Dutch-process. By the application of heat and pressure in a closed environment, flavouring matter is permeated through the leaf. This leads to some pretty ghastly results - aromatic mixtures that reek of chocolate, cherry, vanilla, peach brandy. Originally this was used to increase the sugar content of Burleys, to make them milder in taste, and to emulate the effects of aging or maturing on Virginias. Substances used at that time were at first mild sugar or honey solutions, then molasses, then vanilla and prune juice (giving it an aged aroma), till eventually the Dutch threw caution, common sense, and good taste to the wind, creating tobaccos with hardly a whiff of natural aroma left. The effect can be best described as Levantine cat house, attracting fruit-flies and cheap tarts.
6) English blends. Also called Balkan blends. Many are actually made in Germany nowadays. Usually a blend or mixture containing Virginias, Orientals, and Latakia. The standard medium English or Balkan Blend is about half Latakia, with the balance split fairly equally between Virginias and Turkish.
7) London Mixture. Usually a medium English blend with the addition of some Maryland to round out the Turkish.
8) Flake. A tobacco pressed into cakes. If kept under pressure and aged, the natural sugars increase by a process of fermentation, and the sharp edges mellow out. Not all commercial flakes are aged, though some are stoved. The compact nature prevents infestation while increasing storability.
9) Strong, light, and similar terms. These are used to refer to both flavour and nicotine content, and can be confusing unless the context is understood.
Virginias are strong (nicotine and sugars), but mixtures that are mostly Virginia are called light.
Latakia blends are called strong, but are considered lighter because they have less nicotine.
Turkish is full of flavour, but does not have enough nicotine to keep an addict happy, and is a light tobacco.
Burley is often described as light or medium, but has virtually no natural sugars and needs casing or sauce to taste mild. On the other hand, its choc-full of nicotine - hence American blend cigarettes, which contain some inferior Oriental style tobaccos for flavour, much Burley for nicotine, and some cheap Virginias for finish.
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What are my qualifications for talking about tobacco?
I first started smoking a pipe in as a teenager in the seventies. During the last two years that I lived in the Netherlands I smoked only English-style blends, usually the Balkan Sobranie. After returning to the US in 1978 I discovered Drucquer & Sons in Berkeley (on University Avenue just below Shattuck), a store from which both my father and uncle had purchased tobacco when they were at Berkeley. Shortly thereafter I took a part-time job there, and within the next year started experimenting with my own blends (none of which I would recommend), and learning how to restore collectible pipes.
Since leaving Drucquers I have always been within a mile of a decent tobacconist, and have spent many happy hours and way too much money experimenting with new blends, new mixtures, promising looking tins from old-world companies with names no marketing department would touch, and stinking up the apartments where I've lived.
I have long preferred English-style blends, but I've smoked many other types of tobacco.
I utterly despise aromatics, considering them an abomination, and the people who smoke them in some way deficient.
Final note: The names of the Drucquer blends will undoubtedly bring back fond memories for some people: Blend 805 (their most popular product, a medium English), Royal Ransom (the heaviest Latakia blend they made), Levant Mixture (more Latakia than 805, less than Royal Ransom), Trafalgar (I believe this was the highest old Mr. Drucquer ever went on Latakia), Arcadia (mild, Turkish, noticeable inclusion of toasted Cavendish). I'm sorry, I cannot remember the names of their lighter English blends, nor the Burleys and American mixtures, as I did not habitually smoke them.
Drucquers went out of business in the nineties.
I still have some of their 805 and Royal Ransom. And no one is getting any. It's all mine.