Rolling your own cigars

Guest post by Brian Parker.

Guest post by Brian Parker.

For those of you that enjoy a cigar now and then, probably never tried to roll your own. It’s fun, inexpensive, and you learn a lot about the craftsmanship that goes into the cigars you buy at your local cigar shop. I was lucky enough to have a friend drop off a bunch of cigar tobacco to me that he had ordered from LeafOnly.com (see also Whole Leaf Tobacco).

I was very eager to roll a cigar, but when I first opened the box to check out the tobacco leaves, I noticed the leaves were very dry. I thought maybe they were too dry to work with, and then I read online that that’s how they are shipped. They must be re-hydrated, stretched out and trimmed. Below is a step-by-step guide to rolling your own cigars.

Supplies needed:

  • Fruit pectin (found in the canning/baking section of grocery store, used for glue)
  • Scissors
  • Spray Bottle of distilled water
  • String (optional, I use dental floss)
  • Flat surface (I use a cutting board)
  • Sponge (optional, I just use my hand)
  • Whole leaf tobacco (filler, binder and wrapper leaves)

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Making the cigar glue. In a shot glass, add 1tsp of pectin and then add ¼ tsp of distilled water. Stir with a table knife and keep adding ¼ tsp of water until it’s nearly clear and sticks to the knife.

Step 1: Hydrate

Pick out about three leaves of filler, 1 binder leaf, and 1 wrapper leaf. On the wrapper leaf, be sure to find one with minimal tears and holes. Start with the filler leaves and spray each side lightly with water and set aside. Just one easy spray on each side will due. We just want the filler leaves wet enough that they don’t crumble apart when we bend them. The binder and wrapper leaves you want to get a bit more wet. Once you have both sides of the binder and wrapper leaves wet, put them aside and wait about ten minutes for the leaves to absorb the water.

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Step 2: Stretch and Examine Leaves

After you’ve waited ten minutes, gently grab the binder leaf, and slowly stretch it out. Be sure not to crack it; if it’s too resistant, give it another spray of water. You may have to do this a few times. Slowly fan it out until it starts looking like a full leaf. Do the same with the wrapper leaf. On the wrapper leaf, keep an eye out for holes and tears. If both the right, and left sides of the wrapper leaf have tears, use another wrapper leaf.

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Step 3: De-vein and Trim Leaves

We don’t want that big, single vein that runs down the middle of the leaf. It can cause uneven burning and looks bad. With the filler leaves, fold the leaf in half, then grab the vein near the top, and pull it to the stem. You should be left with two halves of the leaf. With the binder and wrapper leaves, cut from the bottom to the top of the leaves, leaving some of the thick parts of the veins aside.

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Step 4: Rolling the Binder

Gather up your filler and with both hands, roll and squeeze them into a general cigar shape. This does not need to be neat, or tight, just need the general shape. It should be about two fists long. Next, break them in half by simply tearing them with both hands. Next, combine them both into one, and try to make them even, so that they feel like they would make an even gauge cigar. Now lay out a binder half, with the veins facing up. Add a bit of the glue to the end of the binder by dipping your finger in the glue, and wiping it on the leaf.

Be liberal; you can even spread it down the leaf. Grab the bunch of filler and place it over the wrap diagonally so you can roll forward. Gently spread out the wrap, while rolling the wrap around the filler. Do not roll too tight. You still want some give when you squeeze it. A cigar that is too tightly rolled will give you a bad draw. It doesn’t have to look great at this point. Once you are close to the end, add more glue to the binder so it holds together.

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Step 5: Wrap, Cut, and Wrap Again

Since I am new to this hobby, I like to have two wraps on my cigars. I tend to have small tears or holes in my wraps, so to make it look nicer, I use two wraps. This means I am using both halves of a single wrapper leaf. Make sure your wraps are trimmed, and stretched out as much as possible. First use the wrapper half that may have a little more damage than the other, and start with that one. Do the same as you did with the binder. Veins up, add glue to the end, and roll.

While you roll, use one hand to roll, use the other to spread out the leaf. The wrap is made to look nice, so we want it to be as smooth, and wrinkle free as possible. Once you have it wrapped nicely and are ready for the second wrap, trim both ends with a cigar cutter or sharp knife. This is to give it that cigar shape. On your second wrapper leaf, leave some extra hanging off both ends. Add lots of glue to this one as we don’t want any bubbles or it to come apart. Roll it up tightly, careful not to tear the wrapper.

When you get near the bottom, add lots of glue and with the remaining wrapper, twist it and add some glue to the outside. It’s OK if it looks a little messy on the end, that part will be cut off before smoking. If you don’t have enough wrap left to leave the twist, use your string to tie a knot around the cigar to hold it in place. You can attempt to make a true cap, but I am not good enough to attempt that.

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The second wrap will cover up that crack.

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Step 6: Smooth, Dry, Trim

Now you are left with what looks like a cigar. In order to make it better looking, lay the cigar on a flat surface, and gently roll a flat object over it. In the picture below, you can see I used a DVD case. This helps smooth the wrapper and push veins down. You can do this a few times a day. Let the cigar dry. Don’t put it in your humidor or a Ziploc bag. Leave it out for at most 2-5 days, depending on how wet you got your leaves. If they feel damp, let it sit. Finally, trim off any excess tobacco from the foot of the cigar (the part you light).

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Step 7: Cut, Light, Enjoy!

Use a cigar cutter, or a sharp knife, to cut off the end. Just cut off about ⅛ of an inch. I like to light using a torch lighter, but not let the direct flame come in contact with the cigar. Instead, let the heat of the flame slowly heat up the cigar, while slowly spinning the cigar to get an even burn. I also recommend pairing with a nice single malt scotch whisky. I am really fond of Glenmorangie 12 right now and is sweet and mild enough to not override the cigar.

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Brian Parker has been a metalhead for over two decades and has created and nurtured the San Diego Metal Swap Meet since 2009.

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Dunhill – My Mixture BB1938 (2015)

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A long time ago, when times were more innocent, a tobacco company created a blend called “Baby’s Bottom.” The idea, before the scatological and pedophile implications of our present time drive it from your mind, was that the mixture was smooth… as the proverbial buttocks of a baby. Not much different than King Kobra malt liquor, which back in the relatively-halcyon 1980s told us “Don’t let the smooth taste fool you,” while all of us wondered what the heck they were talking about. Sensing the same resistance all of us have in these cynical days to innocent names, Dunhill returned this one under the name My Mixture BB1938, keeping the nomenclature they developed when their primary business around 1912 or so was keeping track of custom blends for customers.

To cut to the chase, My Mixture BB1938 is a light English comprised of a blend of sweet and bold Virginias, capped off with Latakia, and gently stoved or aged to make it very mild, with a slight vanilla hint on top of it. I heard of this blend earlier today when I tried the Pipes & Cigars BB1938 Match, which is very similar but felt like it had some Burley in it and much more of the vanilla topping. Back in the 1950s when this was a popular blend, “mildness” was prized by pipe smokers. This catch-all term referred to blends that you could not screw up because they were low in nicotine, pleasant in “room note” or the smell after burning, cool burning, and easy to light and keep lit. That meant saying goodbye to coughing wives, pipe burn-out and vomiting in the sink near the employee entrance. With this blend, Dunhill achieved that mildness by denaturing the Virginia and Latakia, and leaving out the Orientals that might otherwise create a slight vinegar taste, creating instead a sweet, soft and gentle mix that you can burn all day without blinking. The Latakia dominates the flavor with a background note of gentle sweetness, with Virginias intruding only as a supporting note of mixed sweet and nutty flavors. It compares favorably to the American Cavendishes but owing to its origins as an English blend, derives its flavor more from the sudden mixing of different elements than a streamlined single flavor. The original is far superior to the Pipes & Cigars version, which comes across as a misplaced aromatic, where the original tastes like a light English without the bitterness and bite gentle crested with vanilla.

As a designer of tobacco products — since they outsource manufacturing and marketing — Dunhill stands as one of the finest outfits on earth. They aggressively find market niches and exploit them by taking a middle-of-the-road approach and then improving until until it is if not a luxurious experience, at least a highly satisfying one. My Mixture BB1938, like Early Morning Pipe and Standard Mixture Mild, targets the broadest segment of pipe smokers who want to enjoy eight to fifteen hours of smoking a day without having to worry about the complexity of pipe or tobacco. You can sit at your computer and puff away complacently for hours, dumping out the dead ash and dottle when each pipe dies, and never be interrupted by the needs of your pipe. Where Early Morning Pipe is like their Mix Mixture 965 a Scottish English with added Cavendish, and Standard Mixture Mild approximates their classic English with the edge taken off, My Mixture BB1938 cuts everything to the minimum and presents instead a conveniently accessible, moderately priced, and soothing tobacco for the working smoker. It might be able to improve itself with the addition of some of the gentler Virginias that the BB1938 Match from Hearth & Home uses, or even some light Burley to cool its burning. As much as I generally dislike tobacco blends with this little nicotine, the flavorful and comforting nature of this one — which we might view as an ancestor of mulled Latakia brands like Esoterica Penzance — keeps me loading the pipe again and turning back, placated, to whatever task has been keeping me from seeking out Royal Yacht and burning down a stack of it.

Quality rating: 4/5
Purchase rating: 5/5

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American Snuff Company – Cotton Boll Twist

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Many (but not all) pipe smokers claim that they smoke for the flavor, not the nicotine. This is on par with wine drinkers talking about the “aura” and “palate” of a wine as they approach the end of the second bottle and begin slurring their words. For most of us, the pipe is a complete experience: taste, smell, feel, activity and yes, nicotine.

Why? Because Nicotine is a god among stimulants, providing cognitive benefits as well as relaxation. Because it helps us see our dead ancestors. Because it is fun. Pick one or more of the above, but be honest in recognizing that for many of us, nicotine is part of the trip. Accordingly, many smokers seek out a nicotine “holy grail”: the most intense nicotine blast that one can experience in a pipe.

A number of candidates arise, most from the Gawith Hoggarth stable, but rumored to be beyond even that in intensity are twists. These are nearly raw tobacco, taken from curing and wrapped in a distinctive shape, then allowed to age so the sugars in the leaf ferment and that dead vegetation flavor leaves. Twists are normally designed to be chewed and then placed against the cheek where nicotine absorption occurs through the membrane, but since the dawn of recorded history on the topic, smokers have been known to hack off bits of them and smoke them for a cosmic Nicotine experience.

You can get twists a number of places. Here’s a semi-comprehensive list:

These contenders for the holy grail of mind-blowing Nicotine trips are generally not all that expensive, in keeping with their functional origins in agricultural work. They do not have fancy flavors or extensive steps taken to reduce their rougher edges. But they do offer a staggering dose of the magic lady.

In my search for pipe smoking’s holy grail, I acquired an American Snuff Company Cotton Boll Twist, rumored to be one of the stronger twists. It arrived in a plastic bag, looking very much like a roughly dried leaf. Upon slitting the bag and removing it, I noticed a scent of old leaf, perhaps with undertones of oil, and felt how dry the twist was in my hands. But I noticed the hands were shaking.

Pipe smokers are famous for their lore, and while much of it is not strictly speaking factually true, almost all of it has metaphorical meaning, like religion or Texans telling tales where the fish keeps getting bigger or the boar gets meaner. It was entirely possible that this thing would kill me. They would find me, tense body twisted into an impossible pose in my comfortable share, surrounded by ashes flung aside during my final convulsions. The M.E. would shake his head sadly and proclaim death by misadventure, and I would be buried in a simple grave with the marker reading only HERE LIES AN IDIOT. This fear gripped me as I turned the twist over in my hands.

Being a somewhat intrepid sort, at least with my own life, I put it on the cutting block and hacked off an inch, then sliced it vertically and again, horizontally, to create small cubes. Because the leaf was dry and unpressed, these quickly expanded to tiny flakes — approximating the size of rough cut tobacco — of dry, slightly greasy vegetation. Figuring that here went nothing, I loaded up my favorite author style pipe and set match to tobacco, then waited for death to swoop down from the clouds and seize me in a spasm of final agonies.

Nothing of the sort happened.

First, I recoiled from the flavor. Almost no tobacco is actually “raw,” since you sort of have to dump something on it to help with the aging process and rehydrate it after drying. But this is as raw as it gets and it has a flavor that resembles, well, dried leaves. It burns quickly too, making me rehydrate the second batch. But for that first bowl, I lit, tamped, gagged and then lit again. After a few more puffs — slightly sour like the first notes of a newly-lit cigar — I found the flavor to improve. The nutty broad flavor of Burley replaced the raw taste of flame. Then a slight sweetness, very light, drifted to the surface. The more it burned, the better it tasted, although an oily undertone like old butter from an all-night restaurant persisted, and sometimes there was the slightly bitter “green” taste of minimally cured plant matter. But by the end of the first third of the bowl, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

And then… it hit.

Like a serpentine form uncoiling in darkness, Nicotine wound its way through the smoke into my brain. My jaw dropped and cold sweat broke out on my forehead. I could see my fingers twitching like insects in the spastic repetition of instinctual motions. Sounds receded, and I could no longer speak. I could feel every hair like a finely-tuned instrument, detect even the slightest breeze brushing over my skin. “Unholy mackerel,” I thought, “This may indeed be the end.”

But I survived. And I hung on, chopping up another half-inch and adding the collected leaf-bits to a small bowl over which I draped a hot damp towel. I waited. And then I reloaded, lit, tamped and blazed. The same bitterness struck, the oily smoke curling around my head, but then the rancid butter and cut grass flavors faded and the nuttiness returned. The faint sweetness emerged as well, as did the Samurai warrior that is Nicotine. But this time, I rode the dragon. I felt myself pass into the shadow realms, and like the mythical Jenkem users of central Africa, I spoke to my dead ancestors. I enjoyed every minute of it.

In terms of raw strength, this tobacco is not more excessive than Samuel Gawith 1792 Flake or the infamous Gawith Hoggarth “Happy” Brown Bogie. It has some strength on those, but does not leap to another cosmic level. However, like a tropical storm it attacks quickly and holds you with an iron grip. In this case, it is pleasurable. Subsequent bowls revealed that this tobacco mixes extremely well, and even a pinch of an English mixture mutes its flavor extremes. Its heavy Burley takes the flavor of whatever it is mixed with, making this an even more enjoyable experience. But that power — the raw, infernal power — remains.

The stronger ropes from UK tobacco makers, or even some of the home-grown Perique mixes that the Americans concoct, most likely match this in strength. Part of its reputation comes from the fact that as a dry tobacco, it burns quickly and thus injects more smoke into the mouth (this is the same reason people like flake tobacco; the compressed flake burns a lot more leaf at any given instant than loose tobacco blends). But part of it is a sensible recognition of the dark forces at work within this demon of a twist. I paired it with Incantation Onward to Golgotha in recognition of its infernal strength, and sipped green tea to keep me anchored in the world of reality. This may not be the holy grail of Nicotine abuse, but it is one of them. And I am glad I found it.

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Joseph Stalin, pipe aficionado

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Lots of good people smoke pipes. Some bad ones — can people even be categorized as “good” and “bad”? — do as well. One of the more interesting cases concerns Joseph Stalin, Communist dictator most famous for his brutal methods. But, as I am prone to remind people, his methods worked and he brought the Soviet Union to its greatest strength out of all of its dictators.

He smoked in a somewhat unusual way:

“I have my first cigarette or pipe, depending on how I feel; sometimes I crumble a Herzegovina flor cigarette into a pipe, sometimes I smoke it straight. The first smoke of the day is important for setting your mood. If a pipe draws hard or leaves bitter juices in the bowl, if a cigarette is harsh and sears your windpipe, it can get you started wrong. To some this might see egotistical absorption in my own minutiae, which it would be if those minutiae did not affect so many other people. After a good smoke, if I am brought a list of Enemies of the People scheduled for execution and I spot a familiar name, I might easily write, in my own hand, that the person in question is to be sent to the camps, whereas if a bad pipe has soured my mood, I’ll sign the list without even looking.” – The Autobiography of Stalin by Richard Lourie

Although I enjoy a good pipe, it has never affected me this way. Then again, you are unlikely to find me signing death lists whether I have the power or not. Even more, the category “Enemies of the People” makes my skin crawl and reminds me how the Democrats and their loony wives treated metalheads back in the 1980s. Here are some of Stalin’s pipes, some rumored to be gifts from fellow strongman Winston Churchill:

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Another source gives us more insight on the ironic truth — much like how SJWs hide their privileged origins — behind Stalin’s choice of tobacco:

So what was ‘Herzegovina Flor’? The smokes were produced at the Moscow ‘Java’ factory, which was originally established by Samuel Gabai, from Kharkov, in the 19th century. Gabai’s idea was to produce a tobacco like no other, so he found a tobacco plant in Java, grew it in Herzegovina and then shipped it to Moscow. The products initially became favoured by the elite nobility and fledgling bourgeoisie. So Stalin, as the leader of the first worker’s state was in a quandary. If he smoked the cigarettes, he would give the wrong impression. So he opted for the common man’s pipe, but since he couldn’t tear himself away from the flavour of the tobacco, he decided to use it to fill his pipe. Eventually, the elite origins of the tobacco were forgotten and it became indelibly associated with the man himself.

Stalin smoked expensive cigarettes, but hid that fact by smoking them in a pipe, since at the time pipes were the domain of the common man. Pipes required relatively unprocessed shredded tobacco which without government taxation to equalize the price is always cheaper than cigarettes, which contain relatively little tobacco compared to your average pipe pouch. It does not seem appropriate for a Man of the People — or even a People’s Hero SJW — to be smoking expensive cigarettes. The genius of Stalin is that over time, he changed expectations such that his expensive cigarettes became associated with his brutality instead of their formerly elite status.

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Cigar Pairing: 1993 Punch Churchill & Woodford Reserve Bourbon

The weather is absolutely perfect here in New York, with a surprisingly warm 73-degree temperature and gentle breeze coming in from the south. Knowing I won’t have many more days like this I figure its the perfect day to sit outside on my back patio, light up an excellent cigar and pair it with an equally remarkable bourbon.

I reached into my humidor and immediately went for my prized possession — a flawlessly preserved 1993 Cuban Punch Churchill. Now that it was chosen, I had to decide on which bourbon to pair it with. Not knowing the exact strength profile of the cigar, I decided it would be best to choose a middle of the road bourbon that wasn’t incredibly strong or forceful, but still had plenty of character — Woodford Reserve immediately came to mind. It has a wonderful upfront taste with a short and pronounced finish that I thought wouldn’t overpower the cigar. Once I poured myself a taster’s glass worth of the amber goodness and headed outside to begin.

In my opinion, Cuban cigars are not what they used to be. Over the past 20 years, poor soil management, deteriorating quality control and general apathy has led to a dramatic decline in quality and consistency — consequently buying a Cuban cigar today is a hit or miss affair. However, the cigar I was about to smoke was from a different time, when quality and consistency were still high and Cubans were the gold standard in taste. Since I never had this cigar before, I decided it would be best if I smoked it a bit to truly taste it before even attempting to pair it with the bourbon.

After toasting the foot of the cigar and lighting it, I let it settle for a minute or two until the head cooled down to its normal burning temperature. Once the cigar settled down, I took my first few draws. The smoke was rich, but not overpowering, with well-defined, upfront flavors of black pepper, leather and earth. Underneath those flavors lay the very distinctive metallic-like quality prevalent in most Cuban cigars.

The flavors blended together quite well and produced an incredibly balanced profile. This Punch is a very complex cigar, and the mix of flavors constantly evolves as you smoke it. At one moment, the leather is more pronounced; the next moment it would be another flavor at the forefront. The finish is light and pleasant, with lingering spice and metallic tastes in the mouth and nose. Overall, I would score this as a legendary smoke. I’ve had a few cigars that are better, but this is certainly one of the best I have ever experienced, and achieves legendary status easily.

Fortunately, my pairing instincts were correct, and the experience truly got out of hand when I introduced the Woodford Reserve. Both the cigar and the bourbon benefitted from each other, and the synergy between the two truly hit my sensory sweet spot. The bourbon blunted a bit of the metallic taste of the cigar and enhanced the smoke’s spicy character, while the cigar’s leather and earth notes played quite well with the Woodford’s caramel and spice notes. After a puff and a small sip, I would sit for at least three minutes, taking the whole experience in before even contemplating another.

This is one of the best pairings I have ever had, and the experience left me relaxed and fully satisfied. The only thing that would have made it better would be having a prime porterhouse beforehand. It’s very rare to experience a pairing such as this, and I certainly savored every minute of it. I only wonder what would have happened if I upped the bourbon game and tried the cigar with Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old. Alas, I’ll never know.

While Woodford Reserve is easy to find, getting your hands on a 1990s Punch is quite difficult, if not impossible to procure. I’m lucky that I have a very (very) rich hedge fund manager as a client and he is well stocked with classic Cubans — that’s where I got this incredible smoke. That being said, below are some cigars that are much easier to find that pair well with Woodford Reserve:

Partagas Black Label
Tatuaje Brown Label
Nica Rustica by Drew Estate
Don Pepin Garcia Blue Label
Old Henry by Holt’s
Diesel Unlimited Maduro

 

Chris Pervelis, best known to most of you as Internal Bleeding guitarist and composer, also writes for a number of underground metal publications.

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Pipe smokers are the rebels of the 2010s

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Take your TARDIS back to the hazy 1960s. A buttoned-up Dale Carnegie America has encountered the new rebels: like the beatniks, but simplified, the hippies shock society by systematically violating its standards. They smoke marijuana, have promiscuous sex, listen to loud protest music, and live in squalor, much like the Bohemians of the 1900s that the beatniks were imitating.

Now spin the dial forward to 2015. Television lauds the hippies, who are now old and grey and telling us how we should think. Rock music is used in every commercial, played in every grocery store, and government agrees with the protest lyrics — as do the large, buttoned-up corporations. Promiscuous sex is the norm and marijuana is legal in many states and tolerated with a wink and a nod in others. How do you rebel against the rebellion?

One way is to smoke a pipe, which violates the taboo of our current social pretense of “health” and moral “goodness”:

Interestingly enough, a side-effect has arisen as marijuana becomes more prominent at Stanford. As support for it rises, that for tobacco seems to be waning and a prejudice rapidly forming against it. Recently the Faculty Senate postponed voting on an all-campus smoking ban (tobacco only, recall), that would in essence push all forms of tobacco smoke to the other side of Campus Drive. The only spaces allowed for smoking would be designated outdoor areas and, interestingly enough, faculty/staff residential areas. Slight hypocrisy aside, the ban was designed to be a preventative measure against any sort of respiratory problems resulting from potential second-hand smoke.

The radicals are now in charge and have become old and boring. Anyone singing their song is just bleating. But they have their taboos, too. They fear tobacco and alcohol, masculinity and strong warlike music such as heavy metal. If you think humanity should have a future, you owe it to yourself and the rest of us to rebel against this new generation of buttoned-up nannies and their attempts to control us.

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Cornell and Diehl – Engine #99

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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.

Quality rating:

4/5

Purchase rating:

5/5

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4noggins – Jesse’s Own (2015)

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Pipe smokers can be divided into several camps. Some favor the over-the-counter (OTC) blends like Prince Albert, others like full aromatics with interesting flavors, and some others prefer the naturals which use minimal or no flavoring. All tobacco is cultivated from a relatively bland-tasting plant into something with discernible flavor, and in the process blenders use “casing” to give the tobacco background and moisture, and may add a “top flavouring” that is either like a second casing, or what we know of as the defining trait of aromatics, a syrup of sugar, flavorings and humectants that renders the taste of the original tobacco moot.

Jesse’s Own seems designed to lead smokers away from aromatics toward the more interesting but less “safe” world of natural blends. With aromatics, if you want your tobacco to taste like watermelon, it is possible as it is with soft drinks or the scent of air fresheners. With naturals, you will taste the tobacco with possible complementary flavors that do not obscure the original tobacco. It takes time and experience to want to taste tobacco in closer to its natural state, as the range of flavors decreases as does their vividity. Like a fine steak or wine, this requires a sensitive exploration of different flavors within a single taste, rather than obscuring them with a uniform sweetened sensation. Like aromatics, Jesse’s Own is sweet and spicy in flavor, and mild in nicotine and smoke. It brings out the variety of flavors in naturals, built on a base of Maryland and Virginia tobaccos with Oriental, Latakia and Perique added as condiments.

The result is a gentle smoke which first presents its Latakia component, giving way to the reedy vinegar taste of the Orientals, then blooming into the spicy fruit texture and taste of the Perique backed by a broad warm harmony of Virginia and Maryland tobaccos, which are very similar and both fairly sweet. No matter the pipe experience of the user, this tobacco blend will be easy to light and enjoy for an all-day smoke. Its light nicotine content guarantees that no one will get a rumbly tummy from too much of the Dark Lady, and its sweet flavor provides a perfect framing to the spicy — like General Joe’s Chicken at a Chinese restaurant — which puzzles and delights the tongue. Hardcore naturals smokers can enjoy this as well for its lack of sugary flavor replacements. Its unusual mixture providing what one commentator called an “American English” style tobacco, Jesse’s Own seems aimed at the middle ground currently occupied by Dunhill (BB1938, Early Morning Pipe, Standard Mixture Mild) and other all-day English blends. While Jesse’s Own may not be intensive enough for the grizzled naturals smoker, it provides an excellent transition for the new pipe smoker and a flavorful, gentle smoke for the rest of us.

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Peterson of Dublin – Irish Oak (2015)

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The first flavor that rises off the burning mulch of Irish Oak is a vinegar taste merged with the sense of fresh-cut vegetation, but that rapidly gives way to a deeper almost chocolate taste of strong tobacco. Like a good English blend, the flavors in this mixture support each other without overdominating, and while they separate over time unlike some of the more refined English conglomerations, they work together to form a gestalt which brings out inner conflict as a type of balance. This blend from Peterson will not be an immediate favorite, but can win over a smoker over time as its strengths become apparent.

The official description reads, “A rich blend of Brazilian and African Virginia leaf with Cavendish and rare Louisian Perique,” but the end flavor is more like a rich Cavendish with hints of Perique and the Virginia having picked up a more vegetative flavor, perhaps from the sherry barrels in which this blend is supposedly matured. While this tin is generally classified as a “luxury” tobacco, in our broken times “luxury” means merely not botched. It is not a flatterer or fancy hugbox to avoid confronting tobacco in its feral state. Irish Oak balances its elements while keeping them wild, and offers a challenging palette of flavors for the experienced smoker. In a market flooded with various English and English-inspired tobaccos, this offering from Peterson of Dublin keeps its head up and stays idiosyncratic, delivering a complex smoke as a result.

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Prince Albert – Prince Albert

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The pouch note of this tobacco summarizes the experience; in the words of one noted taster, “It smells like a brownie.” Rich burley mixes with a faint touch of vanilla and a dose of cocoa, which manifests in a smoke in which the nutty burley flavors form a continuum with the chocolate.

Prince Albert belongs to that predominantly American genre of semi-aromatics, meaning that while it has flavoring, it is more like a top casing than the soaking of fluid given to aromatics. A working definition of aromatic: any tobacco blend where the flavoring essentially overwhelms the tobacco. Semi-aromatics on the other hand — like Prince Albert — feature mostly tobacco flavor, complemented by a top note. This distinction, while seeming fragile, nonetheless conveys what this blend is about. If you like the taste of well-matured burley with a hint of sweetened cacao, Prince Albert will provide hours of complication-free — the dominant trait of over-the-counter (OTC) blends like this one — joyful puffing. It is worth taking the time, since this perennial favor packs relatively light nicotine, albeit more than many aromatics.

This blend is designed for all-day puffing by people otherwise busy at everyday tasks who enjoy keeping a pipe in the mouth for little sips of nicotine with a wholesome flavor. Some have noted that this rather dry tobacco mixes well with other blends, and this reviewer can confirm that the introduction of another more powerful seasoned burley makes for a flavorful and more sustaining experience. At its heart, however, Prince Albert stands alone as a whole experience: a packet you can grab at just about any drugstore, easily packed and lit, that burns evenly and exudes hours of gentle flavor and quietly excellent smoke.

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