By Bob Tate
Greg Pease is the owner of G.L. Pease, Intl. Greg began blending pipe tobacco over 30 years ago and in 1998 left his regular job of 18 years to pursue tobacco blending full time. In early 2000, G.L. Pease Tobacco was born. G.L. Pease tobaccos have become one of the better known premier pipe tobacco blends today. Greg makes it a habit of using only the best quality tobaccos that are available at any given time in his blends. G.L. Pease tobacco blends are made by hand and in small batches to maintain the integrity of his blends.
He also runs his own website [glpease.com] which is loaded with useful information about pipe tobacco and the G.L. Pease tobacco blends, all of which is written by Greg himself. You can see all of the G.L. Pease tobacco blends with their descriptions at glpease.com and cornellanddiehl.com.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Greg some questions. Here is our interview with Greg Pease of G.L. Pease Tobacco:
PM: When you first started blending pipe tobacco blends, was it more of a hobby or did you have plans to make it into a business?
GLP: I actually started exploring blending in my college years, when I first started smoking a pipe. I’d find myself spending nearly all of my free time at Drucquer & Sons in Berkeley. I asked a million questions, and probably drove everyone there a little crazy. The owner finally told me that I spent too much time there for someone who wasn’t working, so he’d give me things to do. I started out there learning pipe restoration and blending the shop blends, tinning them, labeling them. I got hooked on the whole sort of alchemical nature of tobacco blending. It wasn’t long before I wanted to make my own mixtures, and the bug never left me. I did a couple of house blends for the shop, most notably “Sublime Porte”. And, I was always playing with my own mixtures.
Then, in 1998, I ended up on eight-weeks temporary disability for carpal tunnel syndrome from my “other” career as a computer scientist for a high-tech company. I’ve never been the sort to sit around and twiddle my thumbs. I took a look at the list of things my doctor told me I wasn’t allowed to do, and blending tobacco wasn’t on there, so I started a company. Seriously, there’s more to the story, but the result is that once I got things rolling, I never went back.
PM: Did you ever imagine that your blends would be as successful as they have become?
GLP: It’s what we all hope for when we start a new venture, isn’t it? The past decade has been a wonderful journey. If not for the internet, and all the wonderful social networking groups of pipe smoking enthusiasts, it might never have happened. I’m thrilled with the response some of the blends have gotten. Some, especially the discontinued blends, have achieved an almost “Cult Classic” status, which is really fun. I feel blessed to be able to do something I really enjoy, and call it my job.
PM: Cornell & Diehl are the manufacturers of your G.L. Pease tobacco blends. You live in California and Cornell & Diehl are located in North Carolina, how do you go about collaborating on a new blend?
GLP: I do all the R&D for the blends here in California. Once I have a blend and the processes ironed out, the recipes and protocols are sent to C&D for a production prototype test. Any adjustments are made then, and the blend can usually go into full production after minor adjustments. Sometimes, it takes a couple of iterations, but in general, it’s quite a seamless process.
PM: Do you have a favorite type of tobacco to use when blending?
GLP: Every tobacco has its own unique characteristics, and can play a role in the development of a blend. As long as the leaf is good, I’ll work with it.
PM: When you are thinking about creating a new blend, what determines what that blend will be; such as English, Virginia, Virginia/Perique, etc?
GLP: It varies. Sometimes, I’m just working abstractly with a concept. I want the blend to fit into some sort of narrative, and tell something of a story. Chelsea Morning, for example, is one of those. For me, it expresses the morning light and the sounds and feelings of that part of the day wonderfully. The surprise for me of this one is how well it also fits in with the rest of the day. But, I still think of it as the morning blend.
With some, I’m shooting towards a specific taste target. Westminster for instance, started out to be something quite specific, a recreation of a classic old blend. I’ve written about that one in the Briar & Leaf Chronicles in an article entitled, “The Road to Westminster”.
Sometimes, I’ll be riffing around a certain tobacco “theme”, and it’ll just take me in a certain direction. This might lead to a fully developed blend. Or, I’ll want to make something specific, like a straight, pure Virginia flake. That’s where Union Square came from.
It’s all over the place, really. Inspiration sometimes comes out of thin air, and I don’t question it when it does.
PM: You have just recently developed a new blend that you were going to call “Quiet Nights”, but you announced on your website that you are considering a different name. Have you decided what the blend will be called?
GLP: A few people said they weren’t crazy about the name, so I thought it would be fun to run a little “Not Contest” from my News blog. It was a lot of fun, and there were some interesting suggestions made. Some of those may find their way to future blends. But, in the end, yes, a decision has been made, and it will be announced on my News blog, along with the prize-winners.
[Editor’s Note: During the production of this article, the name of the new blend has been chosen. It is “Quiet Nights”. You can read more about it on Greg’s website here: And The Winner is…]
PM: For the last few years you have been creating Limited Edition blends for the North American Society of Pipe Collectors (NASPC) for their annual pipe show, will you be doing that again this year?
GLP: I am doing it, yes, for the 2010 show. I’ve been doing it every year since 2000, so the 2010 blend(s) represent the 10th anniversary of my doing these limited blends.
PM: Can you tell us what the name of the blends will be this year?
GLP: The name and composition of these blends is always confidential until they’re released at the show. At this point, John Tolle of the NASPC and I are the only two who know the whole story of this year’s release. You’ll have to wait for the story until the show. I’ll keep doing these as long as the club asks me to.
|2009 NASPC Limited Edition – Gimli’s Stash
|2009 NASPC Limited Edition – Tree Beard
PM: Do you have a favorite genre of tobacco that you like to smoke?
GLP: I’ve always been a fan of Latakia blends, primarily, so that’s what I generally gravitate towards. I remember the first time I smelled Latakia. I was mesmerized by it. I couldn’t get over how wonderfully exotic and comforting the aroma was. It’s still like that for me. There are other styles that also appeal to me on occasion; Virginias, Virginia/Perique blends, Oriental blends, some Burleys. But, I’d say that the vast majority of what I smoke is a Latakia blend of some sort.
PM: Do you have a favorite pipe manufacturer/artisian whose pipes you prefer to smoke?
GLP: I like so many of the artisan pipes – I’d hate to leave anyone out. I also like a lot of the old classics, and some modern “production” pipes. Frankly, I think it’s a great time to be a pipe smoker. There are more amazing pipe artists today than ever before, and the quality of many factory pipes is at an all time high. There have been some that have suffered over the years, but others have taken the ball and are really running with it. The pipes I prefer to smoke are those that are well-crafted from excellent briar. It’s quite a range.
PM: What is your favorite pipe shape?
GLP: There are so many. Over the years, my collection has grown, morphed, shrunk, grown, and morphed some more. Bulldogs, princes, apples, lovats, billiards have always figured prominently, but so do some of the exciting riffs on those classics, and many of the asymmetrical shapes that are being done. There are SO many beautiful pipes. I can’t pick a single shape; I just love pipes!
PM: From all of the blends that you have created; only one, Barbary Coast, could be somewhat classified as an aromatic. Why don’t you have any true aromatics in your line of pipe tobacco?
GLP: I don’t really smoke aromatics, preferring more savory aromas from my pipes than sweet ones. So, I don’t feel I really have the experience or the expertise to do the style justice. I just don’t feel right about making something that I don’t smoke myself.
PM: Do you think that you will ever create a true aromatic?
GLP: Anything is possible!
PM: Which of your blends would you recommend for beginning pipe smokers?
GLP: That’s always a tough question. I think a lot of beginning pipe smokers are done a disservice by having a “mild” blend recommended to them early. It takes time to learn to smoke a pipe, to cultivate a sensitivity for the subtle tastes that pipe tobaccos can present. In an effort to get some sort of flavor out of the smoke in the early phase, beginners tend to puff harder, increasing the risk of hot smokes and tongue-“bite,” resulting in a less than satisfactory experience. I think this is actually the main reason a lot of beginners quit before they, or their pipes, become seasoned. A stronger tasting tobacco can help give them something to “hang on to” while they’re learning. I wouldn’t suggest something like Odyssey or Abingdon, but Chelesa Morning or even
something a little bolder, like Blackpoint might be a good starting point in the world of Latakia blends. Union Square is a great introduction to pure Virginias, while still being complex enough to give the more experienced smoker something to keep his interest piqued.
A lot of cigar smokers are taking up the pipe as an adjunct to their cigars. I often recommend Key Largo or Robusto to them. The influence of a little cigar leaf in these blends helps them find their way to appreciating the other flavors – the Virginias, the Orientals – while they’re acclimating to the pipe.
PM: How about pipers who love heavy Latakia blends or Virginia and Virginia Perique blends?
GLP: [For Latakia] Abingdon, Charing Cross, Odyssey, Westminster – or, leave the comfort of the familiar, and try something very different, like Key Largo, Ashbury or Chelsea Morning.
For Virginia blend lovers, there’s Union Square, Fillmore, Embarcadero, Montgomery, Telegraph Hill, Cumberland.
PM: What are some of the changes that you have seen in the pipe and pipe tobacco industry over the years?
See Greg’s answer to this, if Pease/di Piazza will be coming out with a new pipe, his new business venture and many other questions in our Interview with Greg Pease – Part 2!