G. L. Pease
The tobacco of Semois—the seed, the soil, the climate, what in the wine world is referred to as terroir, along with ages-old traditional methods of growing, harvesting and curing—there is simply nothing like it produced anywhere else in the world. It’s one of those rare and unique things, like the cigars of Tuscany, that has no peer. If you want to taste Semois, you must taste Semois; nothing else comes close. Yet, only a few outside of Belgium know much, if anything about this rare gem, because there are now only three growers/producers, and local demand consumes much of the available supply; it’s all but unavailable outside of its home turf.
Semois presents a gentle, lightly floral, herbal scent, riding on the stronger, more earthy notes of pure tobacco. These aromas derive not from additives or flavorings, but from the land itself, and from the traditional toasting methods employed in its production. The result is a strong, smoothly rustic tobacco with a flavor that is somewhat reminiscent of Kentucky’s dark-fired leaf, yet completely different. It does not pretend at finesse or sophistication, but has an honesty about it, an authenticity that is increasingly rare in a world where such things are too often swallowed up by modernity, thrust into the contrivances and machinery of mass-production, and spit out the other end devoid of their soul. Semois remains genuine, the real thing, thriving only in its own little bubble, ignoring of the rest of the world and the passage of time.
What appeals to me even more than the tobacco itself, though, is the story of it, and nowhere has this story been told as beautifully as in Wil S. Hylton’s engaging account of his own journey to Semois, specifically to the home of Vincent Manil, one of the three remaining producers in the valley. Tobacco That’s So Brooklyn but Made in Belgium has just been published in The New York Times Magazine. I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Wil before he left on his trip, and have been anxiously awaiting this. It was worth the wait.
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.