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.
This interview was completed with Blender Jeremy Reeves, Adam O’Neill and Ted Swearingen.
Like many Hessians, I enjoy Nicotine, not only for its calming mental state but for its cognitive benefits. While I love cigarettes, snuff, chew, cigars and cigarillos, my ultimate love is the pipe: a method of absorbing Nicotine slowly, with maximum flavor, that rewards the contemplative mind.
Cornell & Diehl is releasing a new The Beast tobacco blend. Some have said this is just an extended April Fool’s joke. Is it for real? When does it come out?
The Beast is certainly for real, and will be C&D’s second Small Batch release. There will be 777 tins made, and the official retail release date is April 29th.
What will The Beast be like, and will it feature tribute to Crowley’s lore-famed mixture of rum-soaked Perique?
The Beast is quite powerful and very heavy, being mostly Perique, and the whole blend has been soaked in rum for 7 days. It is undeniably Crowley inspired, and that in and of itself is our tribute.
Have you ever smoked rum-soaked Perique straight and if so, what did you think of it? How will The Beast compare?
I have and honestly I rather enjoyed it. I actually smoke our long-cut Perique straight occasionally on my drive home. If you puff like a freight train, it will knock your socks off, but if you just keep it simmering, the depth of flavor is mesmerizing, and the nicotine is slow to come on and builds nicely.
The Beast is a powerhouse, but it is not straight Perique. I like to think that we have tamed the beast a bit.
How long does it take you guys to invent a new blend recipe? Is there a lot of trial and error? What’s the most fun part?
That all depends on the specific blend in question. I always make several versions of a blend and try different approaches or methods. Sometimes I get it in the first few tries, and sometimes it takes weeks or months of experimentation. There are two blends that I have been working on for about 6 months, and they are getting close to completion but still aren’t quite right.
In the case of The Beast, Ted Swearingen and I collaborated on the blending. We each came up with several recipes and then smoked through the lot together with Shane Ireland and Sykes Wilford. What a time that was! Four guys in a little room smoking seven different versions of this really heavy, rum-soaked Perique blend for about an hour. By the end of it, we all were glazed over, dazed, sweating, and dizzy!
With the new C&D “small batch” line, you’re trying something different. Is this a way for C&D to “test the waters” with new blends? About how much of each small batch do you initially produce?
Yes and no. I don’t necessarily think of Small Batch as a way to test the waters for large scale production, but rather a way for us to be creative and try new things without having to commit to a blend that may be too niche to produce on a more permanent basis.
The C&D line is quite large already, so this model gives us more freedom to try things that might be be difficult in regular production or to use special ingredients that are in limited supply. The possibilities are a lot more open in Small Batch, because we are only going to make the blend one time.
The first round of Small Batch was “Straight Up English,” and we did 400 tins. They all sold in two hours. There will be 777 tins of The Beast released. Next time? That’s anybody’s guess.
Did this approach grow out of a previous marketing strategy by C&D? It seems like you were very adventurous in putting a lot of blends out there and seeing what “stuck” with the audience. How do you know if a blend “sticks”?
That’s actually a remarkably pertinent question given that The Beast is coming out under our Small Batch label. Our main vision for this line was to be able to be more flexible and creative in the blending process without having to commit to production of a large run. In the case of Straight Up English, we’d received some particularly good bright Virginias from Canada and wanted to showcase the interplay between those leaves and Latakia. In the case of “The Beast,” we just wanted a chance to tinker with Crowley’s famous blend, which is an idea we’d always toyed with, but we could never do before now.
As for whether or not a blend “sticks,” we use a combination of feedback and sales. Some blends might not sell so well, but get a lot of positive feedback. In these cases, we’ll usually just scale back production and keep the blend around.
When your team designs a blend, how do you handle the balance between “I would like this” and “our customers would like this,” or are the two very similar?
My approach is to blend things that taste like I want them to and then to consider whether there is broader appeal by taking it around the office and getting feedback. With a quite diverse group of pipe smokers with varied style and taste preferences all in one building, this approach helps me to hone ideas, improve blends, and gain insight into what other members of the pipe smoking community might think of whatever the blend in question might be.
Did you read any Crowley, practice any rituals or listen to any occult-influenced tunes during the invention and production of the blend?
Ted has read quite a bit of Crowley’s work, including The Book of Law, The Book of Lies, The Book of Thoth, and Liber 777 — the title that inspired the number of tins for this blend.
There was not enough room in the production area to make a proper altar, and not enough time in the work day to draw a sigil, but I listen to a lot of occult inspired music of many different genres. Pentagram, Diecide, Asphyx, Possessed, the Devil’s Blood, Celtic Frost, Bathory, Diamanda Galas, Skip James, Iron Maiden, Axe, Black Widow, Sabbat, Black Sabbath all find their way into my regular listening rotation.
Why a tribute to Crowley? Will you be doing tributes to other “interesting” writers?
It seems that Crowley’s idea of smoking Perique soaked in rum in order to reach an altered state for the purpose of performing the dark arts has really resonated with a number of people in the pipe community, inspiring many to try it, and many more to talk about it with varying tones of trepidation, disgust, or fascination.
We wanted to do something that was evocative of Crowley’s mixture but would also be a little tamer and more interesting than just Perique and rum.
I can think of no other author who has inspired such an intriguing bit of pipe lore than Aleister Crowley. That said, you never know where our next inspiration might spring from.
I write for the net’s oldest underground metal site and our audience are rabid death metal fans. Do you all listen to any heavy metal or death metal over there, especially when mixing up Perique? Why should a death metal fan adopt the pipe?
That’s really cool to know! I will have to check out your site!
As I mentioned earlier, I do listen to a lot of metal, and old school death metal is some of my favorite music. Cancer, Disembowelment, Death, Slayer, Onslaught, Monstrosity, Exhorder, Goreguts, Cannibal Corpse, Pestilence…. not counting my physical collection, digitally I have over four months of music, and I’d guess that about 60% of that is metal of various styles (doom, thrash, death, tech, grind, classic, prog, shoegaze, etc.). A couple of the other guys here listen to metal as well.
I think that pipe smoking goes beautifully with classic doom like Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus, or even the sludgy kind of stuff like Crowbar. I find that I have to concentrate a bit more on keeping my smoking cadence slow if I am jamming to something really speedy like Origin or Pig Destroyer.
How did you get into smoking pipes, blending and eventually working for an innovator like C&D?
Really, that all started in 2003, when I took a position as a sales clerk at a cigar shop in Chicago called Blue Havana. The owner of the shop rented a number of properties in the area, and as it turned out, one of his tenants was our shop’s Lane sales representative, Jeff. I smoked cigars and cigarettes at this point, but Jeff was a dedicated pipe smoker and gave me my first pipe, an old Stanwell sandblasted Billiard that was well smoked.
This pipe and Jeff’s careful tutelage really started my curiosity and interest in pipes and pipe smoking, but it wasn’t until I left that position in 2006 and went to work at Iwan Ries that pipes really clicked. I have always been an adventurous smoker, always looking to smoke something new, and Iwan Ries certainly offered more pipe tobacco and pipes in one place than any other shop. Suffice to say, I tried as much as I could get my hands on. It was also while employed at Iwan Ries that I first became aware of the greater pipe smoking community, eclectic and strange as it is. This was also the first time that I became aware of Smokingpipes.com.
When I left Iwan Ries in 2007, I went back to working in restaurants, and when I left Chicago to move to Portland, OR, Smokingpipes became my primary source of pipes and pipe tobacco. I was continuing to work in food service, making wood-fired pizza at Pyro Pizza. We were using local ingredients, making our own mozzarella, butchering, and curing our own meats, making our own sodas, growing our own herbs, etc. I had always cooked from a young age, but this was really creating food on a whole new level. I also had the opportunity to build two wood fire ovens for the company, which was really cool.
After a few years at Pyro, I learned of a job opening at Smokingpipes and decided, at the urging of my girlfriend at the time, to apply. They called me the next day, and a week later I flew to South Carolina to interview. I was hired in the Customer Service department for Smokingpipes.com. Cornell and Diehl had become my favorite blending house, and I was delighted to learn that they were merging with Laudisi, SPC’s parent company. Later it came to light that when C&D was to South Carolina, head blender Ted Connolly would be taking retirement, and toward the end of 2014, I was offered the position as his replacement, which I gladly accepted.
I began traveling to Morganton to train with Ted C. and the team in the beginning of 2015, and in May of that year the company relocated to join the rest of Laudisi in the new facility, located in Longs, SC. That’s the condensed version, anyway.
If people like what you’re up to, how do they follow your activities and those of C&D online? Is there a C&D tobacco you’d recommend to start with?
We’re pretty active on all of the usual platforms — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — plus, as you know, we tend to lurk around the forums.
New pipe smokers tend to roll with Aromatics when they first start out. As such, Autumn Evening (by far our most popular Aromatic) is perfect for newbies, as it smokes dry and cool, which means less relights and tongue bite. Plus it has the same unique red Virginia Cavendish we’ve used in The Beast, only with a topping of boozy maple.
This enterprising blend combines a raft load of Latakia with a base of Burley and bright Virginia, then salts it with Maduro cigar leaf. This presents a challenge because the Burley and cigar leaf both present dark, rich flavors, in contrast to the sweet of the Virginia and the spice of Latakia. Like lower sounds, however, these dark flavors are stronger than sweet or spicy, which means that bowls of this burn in three levels: first, a friendly but slightly overwhelming Latakia spice; then, a smouldering Burley sensation with undertones of cigar leaf; finally, a merging of the flavors into a pleasant hum of lower registers, with the Latakia emerging as a slight alkaline flavor.
While Billy Budd has its charms, the Burley flavors dominate this blend after the Latakia boils off, which gives it a different flavor than its smell and breaks the balance established by harmony of its ingredients. Cornell & Diehl’s Burley is second to none, and many of us enjoy its rich and nutty flavor, sort of like a cedar-roasted chestnut. In theory, the higher flavors of Virginia and Latakia would balance this out and hide the cigar leaf so that it retained a “condiment” status, but in actuality, the cigar leaf becomes too present and the Burley dominates everything else. The rough cut of this blend, which has big chunks of moist Latakia in with shredded Burley and semi-ready-rubbed Virginia, means that flavors do not occur in a smooth transition as they do with the thinner ribbon cuts from, say, Dunhill. Further, little marriage of the flavors has occurred as happens with blends from Peterson for example. Those little “maturation” processes can make a huge difference, and here it is definitive. This blend has a good start but needs improvement.
If you like strong English blends like Dunhill Nightcap, the full English offering plus Burley and strong Nicotine named Engine #99 from Cornell & Diehl should appeal to you as well. Where your standard English pipe tobacco comprises Virginia, Latakia and Oriental/Turkish strains, the Americanized English will add Burley and/or Perique as happens here. The result blends many textures into an identifiable form, much like a shag carpet turns all colors into a motion blur of difference.
In the case of Engine #99, the magic arises from the ability to restrain the incense-like Latakia with the more vinegar bittersweet Oriental tobaccos, then add some sweet and peppery Perique to thrust that forward, all while cruising on the base power of a mix of Burley and Virginia tobaccos. Like most blenders, Cornell & Diehl specialize in making many tobaccos out of a few ingredients, and they blend Engine #99 from the components of two other tobaccos, Red Odessa and Pirate Kake. This creates a tobacco of greater strength than most English tobaccos, but also more internal balance than the worst of them, similar to Dunhill Nightcap even if the ingredients differ with the omission of Burley in the the latter. As a result Engine #99 offers a velveteen full flavor with the Latakia and Orientals but smooths it out with the Burley and lets the Virginia, both sweet and powerful, do its work behind the scenes. This creates a tobacco suitable for all-day smoking if necessary but generally so intense in flavor and strength that it serves best as a coda to an event, if even the day itself.
Like most Cornell & Diehl blends, this recipe shows multiple stages of blending and treating the tobacco to not just marry it but ensure no jagged edges, even if part of the appeal of this tobacco is its over-the-top intensity. The components do not war with one another as they do with poorly conceived English knockoffs but instead harmonize with their differences balancing one another. Engine #99 does not take the English tobacco style anywhere it was not already going, but expands one of its paths to make the English flavor even more powerful. For this reason, it has cultivated an audience of English-lovers who nonetheless want more fire in their smoke and less of the sweet piquant nothing that many English tobaccos, under the influence of popular opinion, have become.