The Blends of Summer

By G. L. Pease
There’s more than a little irony to be found in the notion that, as I begin to write an article about seasonal smoking, and especially summer smoking, the sky is spitting rain at my windows, the wind is laughing behind my back, and it’s not particularly warm. Of course, last week, it was hot and blue, a welcome relief from the protracted spell of dreary days we’d been having, which is why the thought for this came to me in the first place. I probably should have begun writing then, but being infamous (at least to our illustrious publisher) as a procrastinator (I call it being busy), that wasn’t going to happen. The idea germinated, at least, and now that it’s time to actually do the writing, I’ve probably all but forgotten at least half of the little pearls of brilliance that formed in my oyster when the idea first came to me… What’s a boy to do? Onwards.

Change is in the nature of all things, and pipe smoking is no different. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the sylphs will throw a knuckleball, sometimes in the form of miscreant weather. But, what does weather have to do with pipe smoking?
I’ve often found myself envious of pipe smokers who can puff contentedly on their favored smoke at any time of day, on any day of the year, wherever they happen to be. I’ve mentioned before how environment can play a role in the experience of a blend, and there’s nothing that exemplifies this, at least for me, more than changes in the seasons, and for reasons I can’t quite explain, I’ve always fallen victim to the influence of the climate’s folly.

Through most of my years of pipe smoking, I’ve been a fairly single-minded, committed latakiophile, and, accordingly, my attention in the fall and winter has focused on heavier, darker latakia mixtures. Their deep, richly intense and lingering flavors and wood-fire aromas, clinging to the air like frost on the windowpane, have always brought me the most pleasure when it’s cool, misty and grey. They offer me a sense of deep satisfaction, and, whether inside or out, the combination of cooler days and dusky latakia-laden blends suits my mood and my tastes like no other.

When spring plots its arrival, I tend to move gradually towards somewhat lighter blends, wandering into the weeds with sweeter virginias and perique blends on occasion, but latakia and oriental tobaccos have continued to play the featured role. As the weather warms further, as spring begins to give way to summer, I find myself craving less of the smoky stuff, and more of the lighter, less lingering leaf, always looking for tobacco choices that play well with nature’s theatre. The fuller mixtures seem to make my palate uneasy. They’re too dark, too rich, too demanding, too something for me.

But, it’s when summer arrives in full battle regalia, on those sultry, humid days that make me feel as though I’m being held prisoner in a greenhouse, that I’m disinclined to smoke anything at all, and when I do have the urge, I’ll generally reach for a cigar. Cigars were made in and for this kind of weather, so they seem a natural fit. I’ve never quite figured out why pipes and hot, humid weather don’t work well for me, but it’s been true for as long as I can remember, and because of this, for most of my piping years, I’ve rarely touched a pipe in the hottest of weeks. That all changed one miserably sweltering, muggy day in July or August of 2008, shortly after the release of Key Largo.

The mercury on that late afternoon had brushed up past the century mark (that’s about 38˚C to the Fahrenheit challenged), and the humidity felt like it could be expressed with a similar numbers. Not wanting to even think about working in my hot, stuffy kitchen, I decided to do my cooking on the back patio. While attending the grill and gazing over the overgrown field of sun-dried weeds – the inevitable result of a neglectful and reluctant gardener conspiring with a relentless sun, following the natural bounty of an overly enthusiastic spring—the idea of a smoke, for some inexplicable reason, popped into my head, probably to give me something to think about besides the weeds. Rather than grab a cigar, I thought I might have a go with a briarful of the new blend. It seemed right. A little cigar leaf, not too much latakia, some nice oriental spice and a solid virginia backbone sounded like something that would do the job nicely.

At first fire, flavors tangoed beautifully on my tongue. It was more than a little surprising that I could puff on a pipe in that climate, and derive real pleasure from it, but there it was. It was good. What was even more surprising was the synergy between the aromas from the grill and the taste of the tobacco. It was almost transcendent, and even better than a cigar would have been under the same circumstances.

I think of this event, today, as a fortunate confluence of the fates, because it was that very synergy that wrestled with my attention and began to change the way I looked at and thought about the summertime smoking that had previously been so unpleasant for me. I began to explore other blends, finding that lighter virginias were wonderful, too, and even some burley blends. I’ve found a small repertoire of blends that can vanquish those sultry daemons that had fouled a few weeks out of every year since I took up the pipe, but Key Largo remains at the vanguard of my summer smokes.

It might seem silly to more normal folks that anyone would spend so much time thinking about tobacco choices and environmental factors, but things like this have always kept my possibly deranged curiosity piqued. And, I know it’s probably a flaw in my character that I’ve never been able to find contentedness with one or three blends for all seasons, all times of day, all states of mood, but so it goes. I’m too fickle for that. I admire those who can smoke the same few blends constantly and never tire of them. I cannot, and even if I could become a one blend smoker, I don’t think I would. It’s just too much fun to play the field. So, whenever the "What three blends would you take to a desert island?" debates flare, I’ve found myself driven nearly to the mental paralysis of catatonic fugue. It’s not like the "Ginger or Mary Ann?" question, which, by the way, I can answer. At the thought of the question, I become mired in thinking about the fact that there would be too many days of self-inflicted abstinence if I didn’t have just the right tobacco, surrounded by a few dancing days of reckless smoking with complete abandon, as if those days might be my last. Then, after minutes of transient hopelessness, and a few shakes of the head, something approaching rationality returns, and I’m grateful I don’t have to make such intractable decisions in real life.

But, it’s always annoyed me that hot weather and the pipe were such poor bedfellows for me. In hindsight, I realize it was my prejudice against the very blends that would allow me to do so that kept me from enjoying my hot weather smokes. I had no idea what I was missing! Now, despite years of summer’s yearly vexation, an accidental epiphany has opened the screen door and my little world of tobacco choices has become wide enough and diverse enough that I can always grab the right blend for the right time, and enjoy a pipe during any season.

Your turn.


[Editor’s Note: Watch for the new Summer blend from G. L. Pease coming out later this month. Triple Play is a Virginia/Perique blend with just a little bit of Dark-Fired Kentucky. Here is a sneak-peek at the tin label.]

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.

See our interview with G. L. Pease here.


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12 Responses

  • I too have noticed the same phenomenon as the seasons and other environmental variables change; but I can’t claim to have been as analytic as you have been. Rather, I found myself unconsciously gravitating toward different blend types, and my recognition of the emergent patterns was only gradual.
    Not being a Latakia smoker, my experience was somewhat different than yours, yet there is an interesting commonality: my cold weather, dry air blends of choice were Burley/Va mixes and darker tasting VaPers, while at other times of the year I discovered my preference for the brighter Vapers and sharper Va flakes. I am fortunate to have a diverse cellar — if not a particularly large one; and, like a kid in a candy shop, I find the decision making process endlessly fascinating.
    Thanks for an article that reassures me that this isn’t “all in my head.”

  • Never thought about it like that Greg; this land of damp and fog has made it less of an issue than in sunny Ca. Global warming may change that (but I don’t talk about that due to living next to a river at not much above sea level). Key Largo may be a good contender for my trips to Saudi Arabia or the Far East though.
    There is of course an alternative explanation for your discovery of the delights of non-Latakia blends – natural aging! Many smokers of my age smoked Latakia mixtures for years and gradually moved over to more pronounced Va.s and Va./Per’s in our “mature” years; loss of taste buds perhaps (or demise of our habitual diet blends). I’ve only recently re-discovered the pleasures of mixtures and that because of the good American blends now abailable -DV- to substitute for the coarser and coarser evolution of English mixtures available in UK.
    Like you though, I’m a tobacco tart and could never settle to one blend however good (although there are of course favourites).

  • Cortezattic writes: “I find the decision making process endlessly fascinating.”
    Ain’t that the truth? Even after all these years, it’s never gotten boring. In fact, as the choices proliferate, the combinations become even more fascinating. Sure, at some point, the paradox of choice will make it more difficult to make a sensible selection, but what a great problem to have.
    Jim wrote: “Key Largo may be a good contender for my trips to Saudi Arabia or the Far East though.”
    I look forward to reading about your experience with this one, fellow tobacco tart.
    As for the effects of natural aging, I’ve actually found that my palate is more acute today than it was 30 years ago, likely through continued focus and unconscious “training,” so I suspect the demise of the old standards is of greater influence upon our maturing tastes. Certainly some blends that today carry the same names as those we knew 30 years ago don’t have nearly the character they did before being emasculated by tobacco conglomerates that make their blending decisions based on bottom-line profits over tobacco quality. At least, that’s my present delusion, and I’m sticking with it. (I won’t mention names; they’re well known to we prospective geezers.)

  • Another fine article Greg. I do wish you continued time in your delusional state, it does seem to bring out some of your best work. Remember, there is only a fine line between brilliance and being delusional. There seems to be quite a few offerings for one to make almost endless possibilities of tobacco for almost any type weather/season.

  • Great article. I actually experienced a seasonal feel for a blend recently myself. I cracked open a tin of Peterson’s De Luxe Mixture a few weeks ago and as I was tasting the honey and walnut mostly, with a hint of vanilla in the background, I thought to myself, “This would make for a great winter smoke by a fireplace.”. To me the walnut flavoring, which was to the forefront it seemed, just felt like it was meant to be smoked infront of a fireplace while watching Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or one of those cartoon “Frosty The Snowman” movies.

  • For many, many years I was a one tobacco smoker. and it was a simple blend of burley nad bright tobaccos. All year ’round too. It wasn’t till a year or so ago that I came upon a forum and dipped in to the conversations there. Wow! How could I have been so blind/ignorant to the BIG world of so many blends.
    These days it seems that I’m carrying maybe eight different opened tins at my reach not counting my cellar. it’s like a different blend for every mood and time of day. Anything heavy goes late in the evening. Normally I smoke latakia outside on the porch as latakia doesn’t mix well with my home environment. Cigar blends I like becasue many that I’ve smoked seem to be heavy and I know that usually a cigar/latakia blend will fit tha bill when I’m looking for strength.
    Just yesterday when I was grilling some steaks I found myself filling a small bowl with a strong latakia blend. And I noticed that it all seemd right; pleasant weather and a strong blend and the smell/ambience of the grill doing it’s dance with the steaks inside was so relaxing that I turned the grill down low as to be able to savor the experience even longer. The steaks didn’t mind at all.
    For me all I need is a choice and I’ll take it and then wind up expanding my tobacco choices. I’m like a kid saying what else ya got? It seems like there is not enough blends to satisfy my TAD. I did recently observe that when life presents less challenges I find myself reaching for VA/VaPer blends. I’m not sure why except the stronger Burley and latakia blends calm the nerves best for me. When I’m smoking lighter blend I tend not to even look for strength and subsequently don’t inhale much at all leaving pipes smokings tastes to be the focus.

  • Thanks for the ever illuminating thoughts Greg. I too have noticed a flavor and enjoyment disparity in the seasons. I tend toward the lat and orietal heavy stuff in the winter and move to virginia and vapers in the summer.
    The virginia seems to have a summertime affinity that I can’t explain. Maybe it’s the hot humid days in the tobacco fields of their birth that holds the key. Maybe they just seem to marry well with the terroir that they hold in their DNA. whatever the cause, it’s a pattern that I have been subject to as well.
    Funny how so many of us pipers are finicky in so many ways. The hobby tends to lend it charms to the more analytical among the populace. And the opinions are as varied as the people who smoke these magical weeds.

  • What a lovely read! Such Prose! Thank you.
    In my 17 years as a pipeman, and cigar-smoker, I’ve noticed-though the travels that my business takes me- that I am quite sensitive to the climate/conditions when it come to smoking. If I stay at home (in Southern Ohio) I like what I like, and the seasons don’t seem to affect my tolerances. Perhaps I do prefer more latakia in the colder months, but they certainly don’t bother me more in the summer. However, there have been blends that were absolutely delicious on the beach on vacation that taste like bad syrup back home. And there are blends that are delightfully robust at home, that taste like a burning spice rack on the road.
    I certainly haven’t figured out exactly why in every case (salty air has to matter, right?) but it certainly noticeable, and I don’t think I’ve imagined it!
    Thanks again for the read.

  • For something as apparently simple as pipe smoking, the “system” isn’t simple at all, and the pipe smoker is easily the most complex part of the equation. It’s always a treat to read about the experiences of others, especially when they are different from my own. We all come to the pipe with our own methods and preferences, not to mention our expectations, and in sharing our experiences, we can in some small way see pipe smoking through another’s point of view. What a wonderful thing, pipe smoking. Even after 30 years, there are things to discover, and it’s certainly never dull! So, my thanks to you, gentlemen, for sharing your thoughts with the rest of us.

  • Thanks Greg. I will try some Key Largo on my next trip to Thailand. Also, I wonder if using a corn cob pipe is better in hot weather. The bowl will likely absorb moisture better, and may make the smoke cooler and drier.