Saturday, February 1, 2014

Talking pipe Volume 3: It's called what?

  G.L Pease is a noted Tobacco blender. Some would say he's an artist. He's definitely passionate  about his work. I had the fortune to run across one of his articles while researching for this particular thread. For years of pipe smoking, I have known the names and types of my favorite blends of tobacco. Aromatics, Virginias, English, and so on. And I was wrong. It turns out that Americans are a little myopic (GASP!).
  What we call English blends........we're the only ones that call them that.  I'll start with some common (American) nomenclature, and then explain our American vanity.

 Common Types of Tobacco blends:

  Aromatic:  A sweetly scented blend. Normally a blend of Burleys and Virginias, Cavendish pressed, and cased with a flavoring "sauce". Sweet flavors and smells define these blends. Captain Black, Lane 1-Q, anything with a title containing "cherry" or "Vanilla" definitely falls into this group. For locals of the Fresno area, our beloved "Pipe Dream" is a well known aromatic (and one of the few aromatics I still love.)

  English: A definite "Non-Aromatic" blend consisting of Orientals, Virginias, and a healthy dose of Latakia.  There may be other notes as well, such as Burley or Perique, but the Latakia is the defining note in these blends, and what gives them their "campfire" aroma. In some of the stronger blends,  "tire fire" would be a more accurate description of the smell. McClelland 5110, Cornell & Diehl Epiphany, Dunhill 965, and Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader are some, to name a few af the more recognizable English-type blends.

  Virginia: A straight forward name for a blend consisting of.....Virginias!  Naturally sweet, unflavored Virginia varieties are the only ingredient here. You will see many other names in several of these blends: Carolina, Kentucky, Malawi, etc. These are still Virginias, but grown in different regions, and imparting different qualities to the leaf. You'll also see a rainbow of colors here: red, brown, yellow, orange, all denoting how high off the stalk they were picked. Then there are the different cures: flue, sun, air-dried, etc. and of course, how it is cut: flake, spun, ribbon (but I've talked about all that before, haven't I?) Everyone seems to have a different favorite Virginia blend, so I'm not even going to try to name any.

  Virginia/Perique: or VaPer for short is another literal name for a blend. Two ingredients: Virginias (see above) and that mysterious and rare leaf : Perique. If you'd like to know more about Perique see my previous posts. These have much of the sweetness of Virginia blends, with the fruity, pungent flavor and odor of the perique.  As an added benefit, it is said that the mysterious qualities of the perique diminish the "tongue-bite" of other tobaccos. Is it true? Sure, why not? McClelleand 2015, Stokkebye Luxury Navy Flake, Hearth and Home Louisiana Red, and Cornell & Diehl Bayou Morning are just a few of the better examples of this type.

  Scottish: Similar to English, but the orientals take a back seat, maybe they are left out entirely. Also, it is quite common in this type to see an unflavored cavendish to sweeten the blend. These are close in flavor and aroma to "English" blends, but softer, sweeter, and easier on the olfactory senses.  McClelland "Frog Morton" is the most popular and easily recognizable Scottish blend, though usually mislabeled as "English".

  Balkan: So named after ONE blend. One blessed blend SO universally beloved, that it changed the way the whole world talked about pipe tobacco. Or at least what we called one specific niche of blending. Balkan Sobranie was, from what I've heard, the best. period. It's also damn near impossible to get any. It's still out there, but the ingredients have become rare, so they can't make much. The term "Balkan" has come to mean an English-style blend where the orientals take the lion-share of the flavor credit. The same type of ingredients as in an "English" blend, but in different proportions. In typical "English", Virginias take the most space, followed by the Latakia, then the orientals present to balance the mix. For Balkans, reverse that.

  There are more categories than I've mentioned here, but I wanted to hit the big targets while I had your attention. Now that you know the names, let's talk about how I've just lied to you.

  Did you notice how I kept putting "English" in quotes like that? It's because it's misleading. In the early days of Tinning and shipping tobacco, blends from England were called English, while those from America were American. Still with me? England had these nifty regulations called "Tobacco Purity Laws". They said, among other things that if you wanted to sell tobacco, it had to be tobacco. Nothing else. ABSOLUTELY nothing else. No casings, flavorings, or preservatives. Americans had no such compunctions. So, Brits would buy American blends that were sweetened with flavors that defy computation, and in some cases, reason (tonquin bean, anyone?), and Americans would buy English blends that were pure and hearty. Soon enough, the purity laws were repealed, and imitators arose, calling their blends "America Style Tobacco". Of course, that worked both ways, and American producers made "English Style Tobaccos" that WEREN'T flavored. Have I lost anyone?

  The British had a simple system. Virginia blends were so named, Burley blends were called "Burleys", and blends laden with Latakia were called "Latakia Blends". Hell, they still are. Look at tobacco tins from england, there are plenty. You'll never see a "latakia blend" refered to as an "English Blend" by anyone but an American. When did English come to mean what it does? Sometime in the early 20th century is anyone's best guess. Who decided to call them that? Doubtlessly, some dumb American. HOWEVER: the British do still call aromatics "American". Go figure.

1 comment:

  1. The Canuks also have their own version of the tobacco purity laws. Though I only got to experience it with cigarettes.