Forgive me for going a bit off-topic right out of the gate. Personally, I knew it wouldn’t last for long, a new era of piping geared toward hipsterdom, one that started challenging some traditions of our lifestyle and hobby and embracing or even changing others. Pipes are getting artsy and wild, and tobacco has started to follow. There’s a current trend of anti-trend, one that seeks the newest, most obscure and best, with bonus points for being in limited supply. These are crown jewels in the coolest of the cool. Except the point is not to be cool, because cool isn’t cool anymore, if you weren’t aware.
It’s a new era, all right. Subculture is now mainstream, what was mainstream is seen as something boring and static and everything from tastes to experiences are staring to be manipulated by a generation; there is no stopping it. Millennials who are coming of economic age and are flexing buying power for not only them, but their young families. They’re buying and asking for things quite different than their fore-generations, things like exclusive products, saving money so they can live acetic & retirement-like lives now to go travel and explore while they are young–rather than older. They think not so much of the future, but of the now.
There is one good thing about millennial consumerism, though, and that’s their need for something different. While it can be frustrating to watch things change that have nothing wrong with them, some new, bold and interesting ideas are springing forth. Sometimes these ideas get inspiration from days and ideas almost forgotten. Sometimes they spit in the face of those days and go so wholly in the opposite direction it’s purely for bold rebellion. Sometimes they’re just being serendipitous because they can: as Cole Porter once sang, “…anything goes.” Is there anything underneath it all, though?
I, for one, am an “in-between.” Born in 1978, some sources consider me a millennial, others, a “Gen X.” More often than not I find I have more in common with Boomers or The Greatest Generation, perhaps even farther back. I prefer a simple life, a busy life, with basic responsibilities, hobbies and relationships. I fix rather than replace. I save more than I spend. Yet I also enjoy travel, new experiences and…fun. I don’t mind settling into a brand of pipe tobacco that hasn’t changed much in 50 years, or giving the new kid on the block a try.
On to Cornell & Diehl’s “The Beast.” There they sat, ten black tins of a new pipe tobacco my manager had ordered for my shop, as he often does, looking for something new and interesting to put on the shelves. The distributor finally sent to my shop their small-batch tobacco, limited to 777 tins. I bought tin 555/777 (am I cool, now?). I knew there may be some buzz about this stuff coming out, and I managed to blissfully avoid much of it. On the tin, there’s a lot of words and declarations, some useful, some not so much. Apparently, C&D has rolled up their sleeves and gotten creative. That’s cool, I guess (but not too cool). It makes me wonder what they were doing before if this is a bold new change. I’ve always liked C&D since they handle some of the legwork for GL Pease tobaccos and they offer a some of my favorite blends. The Beast’s tin inscription continues:
“Cornell & Diehl’s small batch blends are handcrafted in small quantities by our expert blenders right here in South Carolina.
Legend has it that Aleister Crowley, famed adept of the Order of the Golden Dawn and founder of Ordo Templi Orientis, is purported to have made a habit of smoking rum-soaked perique as a meditative aid.
To date, many a dabbler has pursued his own manifestation of this concoction out of sheer curiosity. We have too. And so in the spirit of the nefarious occultist himself, we sought to tame the Beast with our own rendering of the recipe, soaked for seven days in spiced rum, so that we might share our vision of it with the most inquisitive and brave of pipe smokers.”
But wait, there’s more! Components are listed as Acadian Perique from St. James Parish, LA; Red Virginia Cavendish of the single origin of North Carolina 2003, Black Cavendish from the Dominican Republic, and Dark Fired Kentucky from…well, Kentucky. They did well to use the subject matter they chose, justified and colored aptly in black background with red and white lettering in their motif. Me, I’m simply trying to figure out if I want to get into the tobacco tin or keep reading.
I like words, sometimes a lot of them–hence this review. I also like useful information, especially on tins of tobacco. It’s pretty common for flowery words to urge buying temptation. When I bought my tin of The Beast, I didn’t pay much attention. It was my own fault I hadn’t performed my due diligence. What made me nearly regret my decision was not fully acknowledging this might be an aromatic–soaked in rum and two kinds of Cavendish-style tobacco? What have I gotten myself into?
The strong aroma the tin puts off when it is first opened is…unlike anything I’ve smelled. Chocolate-covered dried apricots. Boozy raisins. Pimento wood or allspice drenched in triple sec. As a non-aromatic smoker who probably should read tins more closely before buying and opening, I was very concerned, because I feared I may have gotten neck-deep into something I wasn’t cut out to enjoy. Passing it amongst my colleagues and cohorts about the tobacco shop, The Beast yielded similar looks of confusion and curiosity. The other aspect we agreed upon damned moist it was. This was tobacco felt (and looked) more like soil substrate than it did tobacco. Two things were in order for me to proceed… let the tin breathe a bit and dry.
Two days went by with the tin left completely open to the elements on my desk. The strong aroma had since passed and the contents a bit more dry than before, but not cracker-dry. I stuffed my favorite leather-wrapped Noymer brand bulldog with a bowlful, as it has the tendency to resist ghosting more than my other briars. The first lights cooked off the last of the rum-soaked nature of the tobacco, and what remained was a slightly spicy and even a little heady experience–this stuff is beasty, after all! I wasn’t able to discern which flavors were actually coming from the additives/process used and which were the tobacco itself. I decided to let the tin sit for a while and air out some more. One thing was immediately clear, and thank goodness: while this is no ordinary tobacco, it is far from an aromatic.
This is where the story gets a little interesting, a twist in The Beast’s tale. The tobacco lightened up a little in appearance as evaporation took a bit more of the moisture, and I could now see slight color variations in the mixture. While I had a tough time picking out the dark pieces of black Cavendish, some lighter and darker leaves were intermixed and apparent if looked at closely. As per usual, I subjected the tobacco to other people, both first-hand and to those who were around me in social settings to get their opinion. Room notes proved to be agreeable to most, and those who were typically aromatic-only smokers started making confused faces and smacked their lips in an equally confused manner as to the flavor.
There is little to no up-front sweetness from sauces or toppings, but it is much sweeter than my Virginia- and Latakia-loving tongue is used to. Yet is isn’t something objectionable. Day-to-day, the performance of this tobacco, once a wet, heavy mess of strange smells, it proved to be wonderful. After some air-time, there wasn’t need for too many re-lights, tamping requirements were minimal and each puff was cool and comfortable. Flavors remained slightly spicy, the sweetness was a distant graham cracker whiff, with perhaps the dark-fired Kentucky leading the bulk of the experience to a warm, woody (think pimento wood again, ala Jamaican jerk seasoning) meatiness. Nicotine levels are above moderate, something that surprised me and I rather enjoyed. Oh, and ghosting didn’t seem to be a problem. It’s a nice beast, claws, trend and all.
It was then I had to face the fact there really was something pretty great underneath the hip facade of this tobacco. Soon, weeks go by, and I’d forgotten much about the writ of the tin itself and simply folded The Beast into my daily routine, driving with a bowlful, puffing on a little as I puttered around the tobacco shop, smoldered a pinch while I completed emails and correspondence for clients’ business, and lit up a few times while sitting fireside with a bit of scotch.
Cornell & Diehl has done something wild and remarkable here. I can nearly guarantee this is something completely different than what you might think outright, especially from reading the entirety of the label. In fact, this, along with the moisture content, may be the largest hurdle to get over when considering or taking on this tobacco. Those interested in aromatics will be disappointed at the hidden, beastly nature of this stuff if they were looking for a sugar-infused classic. Old timers and VaPer/Virginia appreciators will likely be put off by the Cavendish aspect thinking they’re going to waste their time tasting sauce rather than leaf. In both cases, both groups will be wrong, as I certainly was. If it weren’t for my oversight and simply grabbing the newest thing from one of my preferred pipe tobacco blenders, I might have not given it the chance I did.
Here I sit, though, nearly at the end of multiple tins of this small-batch creation ala C&D. Maybe my youthful, devil-may-care side has been satiated, even though my traditional, cantankerous side is grumbling. Fresh out of the tin and allowed to dry, The Beast is a very satisfying, fun and interesting experience. Yeah, it’s fun–that’s the point. I have to give the creative muscle-flexing of the blenders credit where credit is due. I fully appreciate production dates displayed prominently, which is more useful to me than knowing I was one of the special, number-proud owners of a limited run. One thing I need to let C&D know is lately their plastic lids on many recent tins of their products have not fit quite like they used to in the past (they seem too small), but that may be a temporary setback.
In the end, The Beast, for all its curiousness, unique approach, inspiration and undertaking, it’s a winner. I cannot say for sure it will be a tobacco for all occasions and all smokers, but this is another reason why we should celebrate this period of time in pipe smoking. The Powers That Be continue to increase regulations, over-tax and limit access to those of us who seek tobacco, yet the creative and new ways tobaccos are presented to us wholly tempt and pique interest. With the newest generations of pipe smokers coming into their own, Millennials are starting to make noticeable economic decisions on what they want.
I have a feeling this will not be the last time we see daring mixtures and blends marketed to us in ways common to other modern consumable products. There will likely be victories and flops along the way, but the last thing that can be said about them is “same ‘ol, same ‘ol.” As for me, I’ll likely be subjecting my generationally-confused self with my old codger estate pipes and old-school lighters, and occasionally introducing them to crazy, new concoctions once in a while. My advice? Don’t be too stuffy or too cool: I encourage the adventurous side any of you to give them a try as they come about, especially C&D’s The Beast.