My hipster/yuppie neighbors talked me into getting into wine. They like it because, per point of ABV, it is cheaper than beer and less abrasive than distilled alcohol. So we sat down by the hot tub and drank a few glasses, with the focus on “tasting” the flavor as we got steadily drunker. (more…)
The practice of smoking a pipe requires some patience and technique, but rewards the smoker with a greater degree of flavor and a slower, less jagged exposure to Nicotine. In addition, the process of smoking itself — preparation, lighting and nurturing the blaze — provides an activity that is pleasureable in its own right. (more…)
Interest grows in The Beast, the latest concoction by famed blending house Cornell & Diehl, which was inspired by Aleister Crowley and built around his favorite recipe of rum soaked Perique. As it turns out, all of the lore and fame is deserved, because The Beast is a densely flavorful blend for the experienced smoker without going overboard and becoming the dreaded “acquired taste” that is not enjoyable by the casual smoker.
St. James Parish Acadian Perique is notoriously difficult to work with. This tobacco is fermented under pressure in barrels to remove some sugars and bring Nicotine to the fore, giving it a reputation as an ingredient in high-powered blends. In the presence of different tobaccos, it reveals multiple faces of its flavor: sometimes an acidic fruity taste, or the sensation of pepper on a dried fig, and in some cases, it tastes almost like a pickled jalapeño. For most smokers, more than one part in ten within a blend causes uncomfortable levels of spiciness and Nicotine, so these blends are kept in the back of the pipe cabinet for the hardcores and well-worn codgers.
With The Beast, Cornell & Diehl brings a new face to Perique. At first open, the tin gives off a smell like fertilizer and olives in brine, but then the smell of the rum comes through clearly over a strong natural tobacco scent. As it dries, the tobacco and rum combine to give off an impression of fermentation with a rich undertone, like fall leaves decaying into humus. In addition to the St. James Parish Acadian Perique, the blenders added Black Cavendish, Red Virginia Cavendish and a tobacco that I think is as intense as Perique, the Dark Fired Kentucky Burley that originates as a strong leaf which gains potency when it is smoke-cured and aged.
The first match brings out the top note of rum and successive waves of sweetness as the Cavendishes and Perique wake up to the heat. Then, the dark and smoky taste of the Dark Fired Kentucky Burley rises to the fore. At this point, the tastes combine, and it is this singular flavor that dominates the taste profile of this blend to the bottom of the bowl. Imagine a summer day barbecue, with meat dipped in a sauce of tomatoes, wine, molasses, teriyaki and a shot of rum. Ablaze over the grill, it gives off an enticing scent: a rich natural smell, giving rise to a flavor as powerful as the olfactory stimulation.
The Beast smokes smoothly and gives off a milder but still potent version of Crowley’s famous recipe which is its heart. You will taste the Perique basted in rum as a spicy fruit, like peppered date-stuff jalapeños that have been charred over an open campfire. Its supporting cast is just as important. The Red Virginia comes through as a tomato-like, vinegar-ish flavor, and together with the black Cavendish, it sweetens the blend and makes the spice and fruitiness blend into the rest of the leaf to create a single flavor. The Dark Fired Kentucky Burley creates the barbecue effect and lifts this blend up into the realm of serious intensity in both Nicotine and woodsy, nutty, natural flavors.
The wisdom of the blenders comes through in how little the top flavor obstructs the natural flavor of tobacco underneath, and how well these different leaf types meld together into a single flavor that is all their own. Some will taste notes of ketchup, leather and perhaps a hint of a fine stout beer; others will note the smoky tempest of the dark leaf alone. But really, these are fragmentary descriptions. The whole comes together into a mulled, smoky flavor with the fruity/peppery flavor of the Perique channeled into a sweet and spicy mixture. It burns evenly, down to fine grey ash, and while it pops out of the tin relatively moist, requires little if any drying. I left these samples in the pipe for only a few minutes before setting them gratefully ablaze.
Now, a bit of warning. This is a Crowley-inspired blend, and it probably is not for the newly-minted pipesmoker or those who look for the word “mild” on the shelves of their local brick & mortar tobacconist. In intensity of Nicotine strength, The Beast is probably medium to strong or slightly stronger, with the mysterious effect of the Perique which brings out additional dimensions to the Nicotine effect. You may find yourself making goat horns on the side of your head with your fingers, or perhaps chanting in mixed Hebrew and Enochian toward the stars… it is not a knock-yourself-flat blend, but this leaf has a potency that will satisfy even the most hard-driven pipe smokers while not damaging the rest.
As the bowl winds down, the flavors separate from that singular core and mingle. Olives, wine, teriyaki, blood, and the fires of Hell, with hints of a sweet inner core like the smell of death on an August afternoon… mysteries from beyond the boundaries of time and space… strange eyes move in the darkness as fell voices are heard. My favorite time to smoke this is at twilight, looking out into the forest hung with Spanish moss, as human sounds recede and the tumult of nature takes over. There, a kindred sensation is felt to The Beast: a fierce independence and great strength, tempered into a picture of beauty and solitude, under infinite stars.
I loathe a chocolate beer, or any other such testicle-neutralizing fru-fru nonsense, but a beer that has a flavor like that of chocolate can attract my attention. Imperial Stout is like chocolate, coffee and whole grain bread mashed into liquid, run through fire, and then smoothed in vast casks of ancient stone. It has a smooth flavor and feel, high alcohol punch, and dense labyrinth of flavors.
Now, keep in mind that reviewing Sam Smith beers and giving them the thumbs up is like shooting fish in a barrel. The shocking review would be one that found one of their products inferior, mainly because they do a good middle-of-the-road job turned up to A+ levels. It is hard to find a better brewery, at least that does not involve hiking for a day to meet some rather spaced-out monks. But, the question with Sam Smith is how to enjoy their beers and why, because not every beer fits every occasion.
With that in mind, Imperial Stout is not an everyday beer. It is more a ceremonial beer, probably more appropriate for the center of the day than its end. It is unrelentingly rich from start to finish. This is best drunk in an iron flagon with a thick cigar in hand, preferably while holding a weapon and/or torturing dissidents. It is a strong, violently excellent beer that may not fit except during special occasions in your life.
My first thought when drinking this beer was: someone finally fixed Coors regular. This is what is called an adjunct beer, meaning that they use overstock of cheap grains like corn to brew the stuff, and keep other ingredients low, resulting in a sweet light beer with a warm fermented but not malty taste.
Personally, I like these, because they are all-day beers: simple but not simplified flavor, gentle and yet enough alcohol to keep interest, and thin / mild so that you can drink 38 of them before you decide to sing along with “Wonderwall.” Corona Familiar is no different, joining other “beach beers” like Caguama and Landshark Lager in my stable of tools for casual alcoholism.
Unlike its watery/uriney cousin Corona Especial, Corona Familiar is somewhat hearty but can still be a relatively hydrating and yet refreshingly intoxicating — at 6% ABV — beach beer. It has more of an squash-like fermented flavor, probably from the corn and rice used, but burns clean and leaves a pleasant mild intoxicating effect about appropriate for lawn chairs, sunny days, blue skies and ill-advised relations with women named Candi.
Unlike most beach beers, this one can be found in its 32oz size for under $3. That makes this wino beer for people who do not want to end up under bridges or in vans down by the river. While I admit violent bigotry against all Corona products for the name alone, this one is worth buying again.
Hollywood Food Store
1660 Westheimer Rd # A, Houston, TX 77006
For those who have known Houston over the past 30 years, the Hollywood Food Store at Westheimer and Dunlavy is an institution. At the heart of the Montrose District, it offers imported cigarettes and alcohol to late-night revelers. Located right next to Shaw’s tattoo studio, it is situated in the epicenter of rebellious cool, at least for 1980s kids in the days before every conformist counter-worker had double sleeves.
Little-known to many is that it is also one of the older pipe stores in this city of millions. For years, this location was where downtown workers and city residents stopped to get Galoises, 555 Specials, John Players, Dunhills and a variety of pipe tobaccos and hand-rolling supplies. Unlike just about anywhere else, you can find not just Drum and Bali Shag on the shelves, but Carter Hall and Prince Albert as well as a dozen glass display containers of house blends (most likely Lane Limited varieties).
Hollywood also sells pipe supplies and now Chinese pipes for those who want to launch into this experience at low investment. While most of the tobacco action in this sprawl of suburbs takes place in the outer rings, and many of us avoid the pretentious pipe shop in the tourist village, Hollywood has serviced pipe, cigar and cigarette smokers for generations with its wide selection and sobriety-optional service.
A typical night out in the 1980s involved heading downtown from the outer edges where comfortable suburbs held the daytime stability and nighttime frustrations of the working drudges, hitting Sound Exchange to see if any new metal was in the stacks, stopping at Hollywood for smokes and beers, then sneaking those into Numbers or The Abyss to see a show and maybe score drugs in the feces-festooned restrooms (to this day, there are probably Houstonians who have acid flashbacks any time a sewer pipe explodes). Over the years, and very few upgrades, Hollywood has continued this mission with an unassuming but vital presence for the pipe smoking community in this Southern/Midwestern city.
As the great IPA trend wears down, people have gone looking for a new sensation and since they like sweet beers, many have settled on “tourist beer”: following the model of Corona Extra, this is light grain-and-honey tasting beer with increasing amounts of alcohol. Dropping into this fray, Cerveza Caguama provides an interesting entry through a 4.6% ABV beer with the flavor profile of Corona Extra but the specific flavors more commonly found in Carta Blanca. It pours out with an aromatic distillation flavor, then quickly goes into the cereal scents which define its basic flavor. Of very light color, this El Salvadorian beer — named after the Great Loggerhead Turtle, as all of their marketing will tell you — drinks easily cold or warm, but the warmer it gets the more a yeasty undertone emerges. Its saving grace is its gentleness which along with its relatively monotonic flavor profile and high alcohol content make it a relaxing afternoon beer.
As part of their buildup to Winter Thrice, Borknagar is releasing a beard oil, thus pushing the boundaries a little further for band merchandise. Now, I tend to give my own beard very simple care (cheap razors, cheap shave cream, occasional scissor trimming to keep the length manageable), so the idea of applying any sort of beard oil is foreign to me, and I’m not exactly persuaded to start by the existence of this product. Those who are should note that Borknagar’s foray into this genre of lifestyle products is enabled by Rædical, a company that sells several different variants of the stuff. Borknagar’s beard oil is admittedly a rebrand of one of Rædical’s previous products, but it also comes with a wooden box and band logos, which are both clearly essential to the beard oil lifestyle.
Malt liquor receives the same media treatment as the gangsta culture with which it is associated, which is equal parts fear and awe. It is portrayed as a demonic drink that lures one into evil wickedness, but, sotto voce, that this can be a lot of fun.
The reality is far more mundane: Malt liquors occur when major beer companies double-brew their seconds, or the stuff that wasn’t quite up to snuff for the first round. Every company has seconds and the tendency to upcycle them is not just good business, but avoiding waste. Even wino wine is seconds — “Mad Dog” 20/20 is seconds from the Mogen David factories that make Jewish ceremonial wine. King Cobra is the strengthened seconds of the Annheiser-Busch brewing company, who bring you the infamous Budweiser, which is the Big Mac of beers because it is sweet and consistent.
King Cobra not surprisingly takes a similar path. There is some flat bitterness in the taste, but generally this beer is simply sweet. It has a grainy taste with a slight influence of hops, but mostly like a rice beer, stays within the sugar spectrum with beer overtones. It goes down smoothly despite a slightly bracing initial taste and uninspiring mouthfeel and yet, at 6% ABV, this problem does not last for very long. Soon it tastes merely like Budweiser: a warm, sugary, slightly urea-tinged beer with a faint metallic taste in the background. This beer has a thicker taste, more toward oatmeal than flour if you take my metaphor, but it is not mystically different. The real problem is that it is a blast of sugar like most mass-culture products, which means that the hangover is brutal because your liver deals with the dual assault of beer-flavored Shasta and the alcohol they add to keep it real. If you pound down this stuff, you should do as we did when we were kids drinking Schlitz “The Blue Bull” (which, from memory, tasted more like beer than the King Cobra) and drink a full glass of water and then some PowerAde to reconstitute your body after the equivalent of eating a half-dozen donuts.
I once went on a brewery tour at Annheiser-Busch and when we came to the “free beer room” at the end, I noted to the guy asking for our beer orders that there was no King Cobra. He was a gentle fellow and went to a secret tap in back to get me some. Apparently, Annheiser-Busch isn’t exactly promoting this beer except by marking it $3.64 and slapping it on the shelves at the far end where winos, college students and Republican presidential candidates go. This is not bad beer. It is too sugary for me, and some of the awkward tastes — a bitterness, a flat metallic undertone, even a yeasty taste that seems like the yeast aged wrong — make it something I will probably never reach for again. But it needs demystifying; this is nothing but fortified Budweiser and it’s not bad at all.
“Meeeeester Crowley, what goes on in your head?” came the wailing voice from the radio. Louder than that, I could hear the fluorescent lights above, and the beating of my heart. The texture of the paint on the walls seemed to break into a kaleidoscope of demonic faces. And I deserved all of it, because I had put myself here, smoking the tobacco of the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley himself.
The decision happened several weeks ago when I was reading about Crowley, a life-long pipe smoker, and his odd preferences for tobacco. Never a huge reader of Crowley — I’m more into Anton Long and Aldous Huxley for weird metaphysical science — I became interested when I read that we have no solid record of what he actually smoked, only a network of hints through his writing and rituals.
My first task then was to figure out what Mr. Crowley was indeed smoking. Lore holds it that he smoked “straight Perique soaked in rum,” but this leaves much open to interpretation. Perique originally referred to the tobacco that Pierre Chenet, having learned the method from the Choctaws, would press and ferment in barrels in what is today St. James Parish, Louisiana. This thousand-year method reduces acidity and sugars in the tobacco so that the body can absorb more of its indole alkaloids.
Unfortunately, after that time the use of the word became muddled. Some blenders coined the term “Perigue” for any Burley which had been pressed and aged, creating a fermentation effect. Sailors used to pinch some of the raw tobacco from their cargoes, soak it in rum and wind it tight in old sails to press it. And as Perique production dropped off in the 1950s, not only did some inferior substitutes arise, but many blenders phased it out of their blends, creating more confusion.
This left we step one to pipe smoking union with the Great Beast: figure out what he was actually smoking. Smoking the “real” Perique from St. James Parish seems unlikely because Perique is used in tobacco blends like a condiment in food. It has a strong peppery and fruity taste, and smoking it alone would be like drinking hot sauce or eating raw onions. Perhaps he smoked the Perique of the sailors, or “Perigue” of ingenious tobacco makers. But as with all things in his life, the clues are hidden and numerous, stretching across time and space…
This deepens the mystery, as Perique is mentioned nowhere else in the book. Crowley mentions ordering “rolls of black Perique” which he then cuts manually, bringing to mind the Perique of the sailors and not of St. James Parish. But even that cannot help us, because St. James Parish Perique could also be delivered in “rolls” or “ropes,” a popular method of curing, storing and transporting tobacco. Ropes remain popular to this day, and are prepared as Crowley describes: cut into thin slices, or “coins,” they are then pushed apart with friction or “rubbed out” to produce thin-cut leaf tobacco.
So that tells us nothing, basically.
Perique remains popular today, by the way. Smokers favor it for its deep flavor and strong Nicotine content, as well as the way it can complement other flavors like Virginias (sweet) and Burleys (nutty). But to smoke it straight is unheard of, although a few brave volunteers have tried it. For that reason, many smokers are skeptical that Crowley actually smoked it straight because it is an abrasive, disquieting experience that would not have been much fun — and Crowley was a known hedonist.
This returns us to the question of what Perique Crowley was smoking. If he was smoking rum-dipped and sheet-pressed tobacco, he would have been enjoying a much milder blend than the St. James Parish Perique. But if he was smoking the St. James Perique, it seems unlikely that he was enjoying the pipe at all. Then there is the complicated term “soaked in rum.” Did he mean actively wetting it with rum? Or did this merely refer to the rum used in the sailor’s recipe, and indicate that it was not St. James Perique at all?
Admiral Fitzroy, by no means the least of English poets, was wont to observe — at least he was always putting it on his barometers — “Long foretold, long last: Short notice, soon past.” So please settle down in that Oxford Basket Chair, draw the table close, for you’ll need that jar you bought at Bacon’s in your first teens because Calverle hypnotized you into doing so, fill the old Meerschaum (the nigger with the hat is the sweetest) with the pure Perique of St. James’ Parish Louisiana, throw some coals and a log or two on the fire, and put your legs on the mantlepiece; for if the laws of weather apply to literature, this ought to be a terribly long chapter.
You can smoke a pipe, and find the port, while you wait; for I’m in no mood to write it just now. Do you realize it’s half past three in the morning?
Not only does he tell us what his Perique was — the St. James Parish variety — but by using the word “pure,” he puts emphasis on the fact that this is the Perique he wants, and nothing else will do. In a strange twist of fate, the use of St. James Parish Perique may strengthen his narrative, because if it were shipped to England it would most likely be in ropes to keep them moist for the journey, especially since Perique is sensitive to light (like the Great Beast himself) and so is often stored in forms that hide most of the leaves from the light.
(The unfortunate verbiage in the above quotation describes his Meerschaum pipe. Meerschaum is a soft semi-gelatinous stone when wet, and clever people carve things into it, then let it firm up as it dries. He is undoubtedly referring to the subject of the carving and not an actual person.)
That left only one mystery: the “soaked in rum.” He could not have meant that he drenched the tobacco in rum and then lit it because it would not have burned owing to the high water content in rum, although he would have gotten a blue alcohol flame. That suggests that his use of the term “soaked,” much like it is used today, refers to a “top flavoring” or an alcohol-based flavoring sprayed over the top of the tobacco before a final drying. Tobacco is very sensitive to moisture and molds easily, making it toxic, so alcohol is used by the water in it must be allowed to evaporate. Rum is about 40-80% alcohol.
This means that Crowley bought his Perique, cut it into leaves of a size he could smoke, and then soaked it in rum but then dried it before smoking. At last I had my recipe for going insane with the best of them. As I made preparations, I wondered if I would end up in a strange photo, making horns on my head with my thumbs, my gaze straight ahead and fixed as if on some demonic world beyond.
Step 1 was to acquire some blender’s Perique, which I did from Rich Gottlieb over at 4noggins. It comes in two forms, granulated and long ribbon, but the long ribbon is stronger so I got that and sliced through it a few times to make it easier to smoke. Then I put down a plate and dumped the Perique on it, watering it loosely with rum (some Captain Morgan’s I found under the couch) until there was some standing liquid in the plate. That, I thought, should be an adequate definition of “soaked.”
Step 2 was drying. The plate went into the cupboard and was sealed away for several days, only exposed to the light for a daily turning. The rum gradually evaporated entirely, leaving dry and stiff leaves. Sitting in my kitchen, wishing to ancient gods that I had an EMT team present in case I had made this tobacco blend wrong, I loaded up an old faithful pipe — I have no other kind — and gravity-filled it with these strange leaves, then dumped in some more and tamped the top. Time for Step 3. I took a deep breath, lowered the flame, and drew in the thick and ethereal smoke.
Pipe-smoking is not like cigarette smoking. It is more like playing a trombone or transcendental meditation: all in the breathing. The smoker starts with a blaze that sends up a lot of smoke, which is why smokers take short puffs at first; pipe smoke is not inhaled like that of cigarettes, but kept in the mouth, so short puffs are need. Then, the smoker draws on the pipe like sipping air through a straw, about every ten seconds filling the mouth with smoke and exhaling a few moments later. This keeps a steady stream of flavorful smoke through a cool pipe, delivering measured doses of nicotine to the nervous system. After a few moments when the paint screamed at me in ancient Syriac incantations, and the stove looked like the face of an Aztec war god, I settled into a normal rhythm.
And…? you ask. How was the Great Beast’s tobacco?
Good. Very good, in fact, so much that I’ve done it several times since. The rum both sweetened the Perique and removed some of its peppery edge, leaving it with a flavor more like strong brandy. The drying also reduced the wetness of the Perique so that it burns better, and somehow gave it a smoky flavor like Latakia or Dark Fired. While the Nicotine level remained high, it was more on par with my regular tobacco, Royal Yacht, and not as extreme as many ropes or the utter skull-crusher that is the Cotton Boll Twist. And the flavor toned down the spice in the perique while making its fruit flavor less extreme, giving it the complex scent and flavor palate of a fine wine, or at least what I imagine wine above the $7 limit tastes like.
I kept smoking. Strange — I was enjoying this! The flavor had gone from plum or fig to something like a dark berry dried in the sun, or even grapes at the edge of becoming raisins, but with that extra kick of spice that made the tobacco taste more vivid than sweet. The smoke curled around my head and for a moment I thought it spelled out something in Kabbalic and Alchemical characters, but then it dissipated. I shook my head clear and kept on smoking. The Great Beast may not have taken my soul, but he knew how to make a tasty tobacco blend.