G. L. Pease
I loathe the heat. I returned this week from the delightful Kansas City Pipe Show, where I had a fantastic time despite high temperatures stifling humidity, only to find the weather at home even more unbearable. Today, for instance, the hell-spawned orb of torture delivered blazing heat, along with sweat-dripping humidity, and dead still air. Emphasis on dead. Mostly because of the absence of air-conditioning in my house, days like this are best handled by escape. I go to the bank. I go to the grocery store. I go to IKEA, where I can wander about through its air conditioned amusement park atmosphere to spend a couple hours in relative comfort, and snack on Swedish meatballs. I don’t necessarily have business at these places, but they offer temporary relief, and I’m grateful for their hospitality. I could live year-round in fall, or even winter, which in California is more like a suggestion of the season than the real winter people deal with in places like Montana. Or Greenland. But, when summer is snarling its loudest, I cannot wait for it to pass.
I know it’s cliché to talk about the weather, but we all do it; it’s the universal ice breaker. And, believe it or not, I’m actually doing it for a reason, here. When the mercury bubbles and threatens to burst through the top of the thermometer, as the temperature climbs to and exceeds the century mark, my tastes in smoke change dramatically. The big, rich latakia mixtures that normally find their way to my pipe become more oppressive than pleasant when I’m broiling. I often turn to cigars, but smaller pipes filled with lighter tasting blends can also deliver a wonderful smoke when the seduction of dusky Latakia sirens fails. This is no great revelation; I’ve written about it before.
Relatively recently, though, a new seductress has joined my summer harem. I’ve been puffing a couple of Chris Morgan’s interesting Briar Cigars, and finding them a wonderful foil for the viscous, clinging heat. Filled with Key Largo, one of my go-to summer smokes, they are the perfect company to an evening’s BBQ, especially when joined by a nicely chilled IPA. I’ll be writing more about these things in the future, but for the curious amongst you, I recommend checking them out.
I hope things are less insufferable where you are, but whatever the weather, let’s light up an appropriately enjoyable tobacco, and dive into this month’s Q&A.
John from Spain enquires: I have recently acquired several pipes marked Albertson - Splendid. of different shapes and sizes. Can you provide any information as to where these pipes may have been made? They are new. I found them in a small Tobacconist Shop in Spain. They were displayed on a board marked Medico Pipes. They are certainly are not Medico’s. I can see no flaws or fill ins and they smoke extremely well. They cost twenty euros each.
I am aware that Albertsons were originally made in Belgium and that the business was sold to Grubeells later. I think they may have been connected to The Hillson Brand made in Holland. As the parent company has gone bust I cannot get a reply to my emails. I also think there is a pipe Albertson Capitol. These however are marked "Splendid" for which I can find no reference. I would appreciate any information you can provide.
A: I’m sorry to have nothing to add regarding these pipes, but am publishing your question in the hopes that one of our readers may be able and wiling to shed some light on the mystery.
From Arno, whose questions are always interesting and challenging: I am a home-blender and often hear of terms like stoving, baking, adding aromas etc. In other words, the things you can do to tobacco besides just mixing them together. But how to do such things at home I have no idea of. And experimenting is not really an option. Tobacco is pretty expensive in Europe where I live and it would be a waste to see some good tobacco burned to a crisp in the oven for example.. So what can I further do at home to enhance my home-blends? Can you provide us with us some (rough) guidelines?
A: There’s actually a lot you can do to alter the tobaccos you’re blending with. I understand your trepidation - it’s terrible to find something you’ve been working on suddenly and without warning be reduced to a pile of ash. Unless, of course, the ash is in your pipe. But, the good news is that tobacco is fairly resilient, and can suffer a lot of abuse before going poof.
First, try steaming. You can put some tobacco in well sealed jars with a few drops of extra moisture, and heat the jar in a simmering, not boiling water bath for an hour or a few. The water bath will keep the temperatures from getting too high, and the jars will seal the moisture in. You’ll find that the tobacco, especially virginias, will darken, developing more sweetness, more deep notes. Don’t let the initial smell fool you - it can be pretty foul. But, once it’s had a chance to settle down for a few days, you’ll be in for a nice surprise.
Toasting is another option, though one that requires greater care and tighter monitoring. Spread the tobacco on a baking pan, set the oven for about 100˚C, and let the heat have its way. Watch the tobacco closely, toss it frequently, and check the aroma. (You can also do this in a dry skillet on the stove, but be very careful with the heat.) It’s like toasting spices; you want to enhance what’s there, not burn it. When it comes out of the oven, it’ll be too dry and frangible to handle, so be sure to recondition it. I recommend the damp towel over a bowl approach, as it’s easily controlled. It takes much more time for tobacco to take up moisture than it does to release it, so be patient.
Of course, you can experiment with the addition of different alcohols, like rum, whisky, or whatever tickles your fancy. Add a few drops to a bit of cotton wool, and seal it up in the jar with the leaf for a few days. If you want more effect, do it again. Go slowly, remembering there’s no turning back. Or, how about casing your home blend with a little honey or treacle? Dilute the sweetener 1:1 with water, and mix it well with the tobacco at an application rate of 5ml of your solution to 100g of tobacco to start with. Once well mixed, let the tobacco stand for a day or so to take up the solution, and here, a little heating using the hot-water technique can be beneficial. Just remember to re-dry before long term storage, or mold might sprout.
Have fun, take your time, record your experiments, and please report back!
From Luigi: On some tin labels, I often read about the presence of Bright Carolina leafs or Carolina tobaccos. I quote as example the McClelland Ashton Celebrated Sovereign description: "A classic English mixture made with Syrian Latakia, Turkish Djubec, matured jet-black Cavendish, Bright Carolina and Red Virginia". Is this Carolina a varietal or a synonym for Virginia leaf?
A: Leaf referred to as Carolina is a flue-cured variety, and could rightfully be called a virginia, but, generally, if the Carolina appellation is used, the tobacco is usually something a little special. The best Carolinas are golden, sweet, aromatic, delicate, with good burning characteristics, good natural sugar content, and excellent flavor and aroma. Just remember that tobaccos are like wines, and terroir plays a significant role in the final result. Every region has its own character, and sometimes subtle changes in micro-climate or soil can have a dramatic impact on the leaf.
From Jeb: Greg, with a palate like yours, along with the knowledge in tobacco flavors, I’m hoping you can help me out. I’m a big fan of rye whiskey, and knowing you have a good taste for the spirits as well, I’m looking for advice on what you would pair with both a good Rye (neat of course) and a Manhattan. lately I’ve been drinking Whistle Pig neat and Templeton in my Manhattans. The Whistle pig is pairing nicely with a good dry VaPer but I’m struggling with the sweetness and complexity of the Manhattan. I use angostura bitters, and sometimes a dash of blood orange bitters. Embarcadero does nicely with the blood orange version, but sometimes I feel the subtlety of the Izmir is overpowered by the rye. and of course, YMMV, etc.
A: It’s certainly easier to pair tobaccos with a good rye, as you’ve discovered. The spiciness of the whiskey, along with its bracing, palate cleansing effect is not easily overwhelmed by even very rich, spicy mixtures, and the whiskey’s clean finish is quite accommodating to a variety of tobacco types.
But, the more delicate, creamy sweetness of a well made Manhattan presents more challenge. Instead of going towards the oriental side, and I agree that the Izmir would tend to get lost between sips, I’d think a soft, sweet, well balanced straight virginia would be a good mate. Too much bright in the mix would result in something both too subtle and too edgy, too much red would tend to be too earthy. Union Square, in the right pipe, might be just the ticket. Or, instead of seeking harmony, try something contrasting. The delicate smokiness of a little Kentucky dark fired in a blend with a bit of burley; something like Montgomery would serve as an interesting foil to the drink, and neither would outpace the other. Or, be bolder still, and try it with JackKnife Plug.
My personal choice with a Manhattan, especially with an assertive rye, is Chelsea Morning. That little bit of Latakia, coupled with the nice virginias, orientals and touch of perique presents a nice bittersweet backdrop that both contrasts with and enhances the drink. And, yes, YMMV. Always.
That’s it for this month. As always, I look forward to your comments, and further questions. Keep those cards and letters coming, kids.
Since 1999, Gregory L. Pease has been the principal alchemist behind the blends of G.L. Pease Artisanal Tobaccos. He’s been a passionate pipeman since his university days, having cut his pipe teeth at the now extinct Drucquer & Sons Tobacconist in Berkeley, California. Greg is also author of The Briar & Leaf Chronicles, a photographer, recovering computer scientist, sometimes chef, and creator of The Epicure’s Asylum.