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Across the Counter
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No.420 January 18 - 31, 2018

Creating a Tobacco Blend!

What has happened to all the “English” pipe tobacco blends?
Balkan Sobranie - the Classic English Latakia blend; 3 Nuns - the classic Perique blend; Gold Block - the classic Turkish blend; St. Bruno - the classic Virginia Flake; and all the other exotic blends that used to fill our shelves?
Times have changed, new blending processes have evolved, and pipe smokers’ tastes have accepted these changes as the norm for a pipe tobacco blend today.

So how are these new blends created?
After a fair amount of research it comes down to the realisation that there are two parts to a pipe tobacco blend.
The basic “component” tobaccos and the “condimental” tobaccos.

Component tobaccos: There are three most commonly used component tobaccos in the wide range of these Modern blends.
“Virginia” is flue cured tobacco using indirect heat to dry out the leaf, while still preserving the most sugar possible. There are two types:
“Bright Virginia” – short period of drying under intense heat retains the highest amount of sugar in the leaf creating a sweet, tangy taste.
“Red Virginia” – the leaf undergoes a longer drying period under lower temperatures. This creates more caramelization in the leaf with toastier sweetness.

“Burley” – is air-cured tobacco dried by hanging it out in the air. White and Dark Burley are the two best known varieties.
“White Burley” – is just air-cured, losing most of its natural sugar in the process. The taste is more like unsweetened cocoa or dark chocolate.
“Dark Burley” – also air-cured but the leaves are bundled and stacked up one on top of each other. The pressure generates natural heat which creates fermentation delivering a sweet, spicy, taste similar to raisins, cloves etc.

“Black Cavendish”, the third base component is not really a tobacco leaf – it is a process combining heat, steam and pressure on Bright Virginia. Thanks to its very high sugar content, the process causes the tobacco to caramelise into a dark, almost black colour, losing most of its own flavour.  This loss of flavour leaves the tobacco open to absorb other flavours from other tobaccos, or from flavouring agents. It helps spread these flavours more evenly throughout the blend.
The Cavendish treatment of heat, steam and pressure can be done with, or without, additional flavourings being introduced. They are aptly known as sweetened or unsweetened Cavendish.
Black Cavendish invariably falls into the sweetened category.

Condimental Tobaccos
These are the tobaccos which can add natural flavour, nuttiness, sweetness or strength to a blend.
We look at five of the tobaccos most used for these purposes.

“Turkish” – a variety of sun-cured tobaccos with very aromatic aromas and flavours.
They certainly have interesting names – Izmir, Katerini, Samsun, Smyrna, Drama are just a few.

“Latakia” – An Oriental tobacco that is fire-cured over exotic hardwoods in Cyprus and other areas.
It has a cool burning quality and a low nicotine content. Its signature smokey, bushfire-like aroma often stamps a blend as “English”.

“Dark-fired Kentucky” – Burley, fire-cured over American hardwoods. Similar to Latakia but with more nicotine and a variety of flavours depending on the wood used. A little goes a long way in promoting smokiness in a blend – it is sparingly used.

“Cigar leaf” - Chopped up carefully it blends well with Virginias or dark-fired Burleys, giving them a good lift in strength.

“Perique” – a real rarity, grown only in St James Parish in Louisiana. It has small, intense leaves that are cured in oak barrels. They are pressed as full as possible, after which serious pressure is applied. The leaves simply stew in their own juices for 12 months, turning almost black with a deep fermented fig or stewed fruit flavour.
Used sparingly Perique can either bring out a sweetness in a blend, or if overloaded will dominate the blend with mushroom-like flavours.
Read more about Perique

So these are the Blenders’ toys, and they are complicated toys.
Establishing a blend is a painstaking exercise and there can be many pitfalls on the way. The characteristics of the blend must be maintained, year after year. Consistency is paramount.
Those blends with the highest percentage of natural base tobaccos are the most subject to change. It is the skill of the Chief Blender to see that any change will be introduced so slowly that it will not be noticed by regular smokers of the blend in question.

Wesley’s Houseblends  - developed over the years using local and imported tobaccos.

Back to the English blends.
In our range of Houseblend tobaccos the original English blends we introduced many years ago are still there.

Nos. 50 and 55 (Balkan Sobranie Latakia type)  A blend of broad cut, fire-cured bright Virginia, with dark tobaccos for body and the addition of Latakia and a little Turkish to balance the flavour.

Perique Navy Cut No.58 (Three Nuns Perique type) Ready-rubbed, fruity, medium strength flake, with a high percentage of Perique. It is rich and slow burning.

Golden Flake No.13 (Gold Block – Turkish type) A lighter blend of medium strength flakes and Turkish for natural aroma and smoothness. Slow-burning, not too rich, ideal for out-door smoking       

Three-quarter Flake No.15 (St. Bruno type) Ready-rubbed, of slightly more than medium strength for cool smoking, it is a blend of rich, matured flakes.               

And look at our popular “Modern” blends.

No.43 Old Gold The smoothness of Turkish and Burley, with the slight sweetness of gently matured Virginias, and a little top-dressing for a pleasant aroma gives a delightfully easy smoke, mellow as Old Gold.

No.46 Full GoldSmooth and satisfying – a popular aromatic Burley combined with Matured Virginias, Turkish and a hint of Perique.

No.47 Vanilla GoldLightly matured Virginia, smooth Turkish for natural sweetness, and a delicate Vanilla aroma.

Read more.

Storage:
You can store your tobacco in an airtight jar or plastic container such as Tupperware; pop in a Humydrol.
But for everyday use you need to carry smaller quantities in a tobacco pouch.

We offer the HK range with very good latex linings and airtight closure. Roll-up, Companion Zip, Pipe bag with pouch; Leather or soft Synthetic.
They’ve been on a stock-reduction sale at Wesley’s Rosebank at less 40% - now available to you too.
ONLY from Wesley’s shops, and online from the website.

From 25 January to 7 February 2018
71-HK…..… range of tobacco pouches less 40%
Normal prices from R99.50 to R595.00

The tobaccos are worth trying - or pick up a Taster pack, to whet your appetite.
And at the same time invest in a new tobacco pouch.

Your smoking pleasure is our business.

Colin Wesley

No.420 January 18 - 31, 2018

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

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Across the Counter
Fortnightly Articles
"Conversations with Customers"

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No.421 February 1 - 14, 2018

Top Cigars 2017 – Cigar Aficionado

For the last 13 years these have been announced in the January issue of the following year.

In the early years I was always amused to see that at least one or two Cuban cigars featured in the list. Since Cuban cigars were illegal in the USA my sympathies went out to those cigar producers whose advertisements kept the magazine alive, and who were losing out to a less than fair competitor.

The 2017 list rates three Cuban cigars which are not as illegal anymore:
No.4   Bolivar Belicoso Fino
No.11 Partagas Lusitania
No.19 Romeo Y Julieta Short Churchills (Nos 4 and No 19 are available to us)

Other Top 10 cigars that might be available to us are:
No.3  Oliva Serie V Belicoso
No.5 Alec Bradley Tempus
No.7 My Father Cigars The Judge Grand Robusto
No.9 Plasencia Alma Fuerte Generacion V

Two outsiders that might reach our shelves are:
No.1 Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Eye of the Shark
No.2 Padron Serie 1926 No. 2 (Natural)
But don’t hold your breath on these two

Click here for pictures and descriptions of these 9 cigars – well worth reading.

As I went through the list, looking for the cigars which could be of real use to us, I noticed a few interesting trends.

  • Eight, yes 8, out of the top 25 cigars have tapered Belicoso-type heads;
  • Only two of the cigars have extra-large ringsizes, one Ring 58 (#9) and one Ring 60 (#7),
  • Not a nub size in sight - the shortest cigar is 124mm (4 7/8 inches) long.

I wonder if these stats don’t show a swing away from those extra thick cigars that can be difficult to handle, and which require inventive opening to prevent a really full blast of smoke confusing the flavours?

Some comments were made about side issues which weren’t actually taken into account in the decision making, but showed up in the final choices - the variety of shapes for example.
Besides the cigars with the tapered Belicoso-type heads, there is a Perfecto, there are Box Pressed cigars, and a “demi-press” (read about the #1).

As a result of the re-introduction in 1986 of the Cuban Cuaba cigars I think most of us are familiar with the Perfecto shape – the original shape made in Cuba. For the first few good puffs one experiences pure wrapper leaf, building up through some binder leaf and then blossoming out into the full taste of the filler, binder and wrapper – an exciting progression.
In Dutch short-filler cigars you could try the Balmoral Oxford – the format “Tuitknak”.

But a specifically “Box Pressed” cigar?
I had always accepted the explanation that box pressing was almost by accident through cramming cigars into a box that was just a little too small. Once taken out of the box and given a gentle massage they rounded out a little – no problem.
But this is no longer the case.
Devotees of the square cigar claim that they are better than their round counterparts in that they smoke smoother, are richer in taste, are less likely to be plugged, and do not unravel as easily – nor do they roll off the table!
Today, due to the demand, some cigars are deliberately “Box Pressed” before putting them in their boxes, which are then labelled “Box Pressed”.
Come to think of it, in the machine-made smaller cigars, Villiger Export cigars have always been square, and very popular.
Maybe there is something more to square cigars than that they don’t roll off a sloping surface.

Another fundamental that has changed and may be followed by others, is the concept and function of the binder in a cigar.
The binder was originally conceived to hold the filler together and to help control the burning rate of the cigars.
Because the Cuban leaves are relatively small it has often been a structural necessity to use two similar leaves to make an efficient binder.
What was a construction technique has become a flavour technique by using two different leaves as the binder.
This adds extra natural flavour to the cigar.
In My Father Cigars The Judge Grand Robusto they have used two Nicaraguan binders (Corojo and Criollo) adding more strength to the blend, obviously successfully.
Alec Bradley Tempus combines Honduran and Indonesian leaves for the binder.
Things have changed.

Another given which I have always accepted is that the wrapper is reputed to provide 60% (30% to 90%) of the end flavour of the cigar.
That was definitely true of the traditional ringsizes: 42, 44, 48.
But the thicker the cigar, the less the influence of the wrapper, and the more dominant the flavours of the filler blend and the binder.

The #2 cigar is the Padrón Serie 1926 No.2, named for the year the legendary José Orlando Padrón was born (died December 2017).
His passion for his cigars and attention to detail often meant that his day would start at 6:30, walking with a lit cigar in hand between bales of fermenting/maturing tobaccos.  He would stop, reach deep into a bale, extract a leaf, look at it, shred it, wrap it around his cigar, and puff. Then make a pertinent comment on its fermentation progress.
Since 2004 when Cigar Aficionado started their top 25 cigars list, a Padrón Cigar always made the top 10, three times at No.1. This passion from his whole family will ensure that the business will continue to make great cigars.           
“The man will be missed but his heritage will carry on.”  

A comment on the Ring 58 Perfecto “Plasencia Alma Fuerte Generacion V”: Not to be smoked on an empty stomach!
This applies to all rich cigars.
Before a meal try one of the premium short filler cigars.

Top Cigars 2017 – Cigar Aficionado

You’ve bought a few of these top cigars and will want to take them to share with friends.
How will you carry them?

Top Cigar Cases

There is no doubt that the cigar cases from Alfred Dunhill and from Ramos (Ubrique) are a cut above the rest – true examples of perfection. They satisfy all the criteria for a good cigar case – practical and beautiful.

From February 8-21, 2018 we offer
25% off Ramos Cigar Cases
15% off Dunhill Cigar Cases
Normal prices from R1070.00 to R2800.00

Even if it is only once, you must try one of these great cigars.
A premium cigar is still the world’s most affordable true luxury product.

Colin Wesley

No.421 February 1 - 14, 2018

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

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Across the Counter
Fortnightly Articles
"Conversations with Customers"

Back to:
Aspects of Pipe Smoking
Aspects of Cigar Smoking
Commentary Articles
Complete Archives Index

No.422 February 15 - 28, 2018

A different taste!

It all started with a question:
“Would it be detrimental to my Meerschaum pipe if I smoked a variety of tobacco blends in it?”

In the world of Pipe Smoking, Meerschaum is considered to be the most neutral material when it comes to questioning the pipe influence on the taste of the tobacco being smoked.
This comment has often been made to me from serious pipe smokers after the introduction of a Meerschaum to their collection.
However, being very porous, any moist condensate will be absorbed and expelled very slowly through the wall of the bowl. This leads to a process described as the “colouring” of the bowl from white, to yellow, to eventually the rich polished dark brown found in old Meerschaum pipes. It may also leave a “ghost” of taste from the tobacco itself.
The effect of the “ghosting” will be greater if the tobaccos are markedly different, eg a heavy Latakia flake compared with a light aromatic Virginia.
If the tobaccos are more similar, and if the pipe is left long enough to dry out completely each smoke may not be as affected by the taste from a previous smoke.

But maybe you are one of those smokers who has found his favourite tobacco, which tastes good and burns perfectly for you, and you don’t really want a different tobacco.
But it would be nice to have an occasional change?
A Meerschaum would be a really good choice.
In a nutshell, its merits are:
Lightness – no strain on your teeth;
Power of absorption – no soggy dottle;
Length of life – indefinite, provided you don’t drop it on concrete;
The purity of tobacco flavours achieved by this rare mineral – meerschaum has a neutral taste; you
experience the taste the blender intended.
Cleaning is simple - just scrape out the bowl with a blunt tool or the back of your pipe knife blade (being careful not to scrape the Meerschaum).
In addition, since there is no build-up of carbon in the bowl, you can smoke a size smaller than usual.

Strambach Meerschaums from Austria.

Strambach MeerschaumsMeerschaum lumps, like briar roots, divide up into blocks of various qualities to make pipes with a range of from ordinary to the very best. We have received our second shipment from Vienna, from the only meerschaum pipe manufacturer in the EU still manufacturing their pipes to the formula developed by the founder in 1904.
Yes they are not as light as the Altinay meerschaums, but the pricing is more affordable.
No fancy hand-fitted case to pay for, and the peg fitment is reliable Teflon, with a push-pull action.
One of the models has a 9mm filter option.

What are the other options for the occasional “change of taste” if you don’t have a Meerschaum?

Let’s look at them:

Meerschaum-lined pipes – made in Italy.

Meerschaum-lined pipesA Meerschaum inner bowl is inserted into a briar bowl – giving the durability and appearance of a briar bowl, with many of the advantages of meerschaum.Meerschaum-lined pipes

Black sandblast filter pipes

Smooth non-filter smaller bowl pipes.

Note: The meerschaum bowl darkens with smoking. If you forget it, you may damage the meerschaum as you scrape out remnants of a nice cool dry smoke. Use the blunt edge of your knife, or a simple pipe tool.

The Missouri Meerschaum (aka the Humble Corncob)

Corncob
These pipes are made from an extra hard, extra-large hybrid of corn which is dried for two years before being dipped in a plaster–based mixture to give the pipe its smooth finish.
It is then lacquered or varnished. As with many modern pipes they offer a 6mm filter option.
Conveniently they don’t need to be “broken in” - just fill it up and smoke it.

The constant ClayThe constant Clay:

Introduced in the 1500’s the Clay pipe was the
unchallenged pipe for the next 250 years.
Why?
– it’s inexpensive, elegant, porous.
It offers a cool smoke, won’t burn out
and it doesn’t affect the taste of the tobacco.


The Calabash

 

The Calabash

 

South Africa’s unique pipe originated in the early 1900’s.
The little Karoo still supplies gourds to the few people in the outside world
who put together the finished Calabash pipe with Meerschaum bowls.
Those made at home have bowls made from plaster of Paris.

 

 

At present we have limited quantities of all these options.
We offer you the opportunity to try one or more at a special price:

From 22 February to 7 March, 2018
25% off the normal price of
Strambach Meerschaums, Meerschaum-lined pipes, Calabash pipes, Corncob pipes, Clay pipes

Beat the rush – secure for yourself a change of taste in a future smoke with your favourite blend.
Your smoking pleasure is our business.

Colin Wesley

No.422 February 15 - 28, 2018

You can read previous articles from "Across the Counter" in The Library.

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