Embarcadero - A Point of Departure

2nd July, 2007: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Stories

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As the release of Embarcadero, the newest entry in the Fog City Select approaches - begin looking for it in mid July - I’ve been asked a few questions about it. What was the inspiration for this blend? What did you have in mind? What’s it like? Why Embarcadero?

They’re fair questions, and I had to do quite a bit of probing into some of the dusty bric-a-brac shelves of my mind to come up with something that would pass for reasonable answers; after all, it’s been a few months since I started working on it, and a whole host of synapses have fired since then, or so I’d like to think.A little background: The Fog City Selection is about Virginias, for the most part. With the exception of Ashbury, a delightful blend on its own right, but something of a misfit in the series, like an adopted cousin from another country, this collection is dominated by Virginia tobaccos, bright, red, and everything in between. The series begins with Montgomery, a bright, zesty blend augmented by a bit of wonderful dark-fired Kentucky burley for substance. Telegraph Hill follows with the addition of perique. Lombard brings in other condiment tobaccos, including a delicate kiss of Cyprian Latakia. Laurel Heights is a darker, duskier virginia blend, again with whispers of Latakia rustling in the breeze to bring added complexity to the mix. Finally, Fillmore presents similar, darker virginias, sweetened and soothed by perique, pressed, and sliced into delightful broken flakes. What was to come next? (Will I ever produce a straight, pure Virginia blend? Maybe…)

Please forgive what may seem like a slight of near heresy to those who are dedicated proponents of fine flue cured tobaccos. While Virginias can be truly delightful in their own way, they do present something of a limited spectrum of flavor and aroma. There are quite a few excellent examples of straight Virginia tobaccos on the market, and I’ve smoked many of them, enjoying their charms, but they always end up seeming just a little one-dimensional to me. They present nice flavors, lovely sweetness, interesting subtleties, and do develop and change somewhat throughout the smoke, but I’ve always found myself becoming a little bored with them as the pipe smolders toward its end game, and wanting more. Like a great wine that presents something new, some little surprise with each sip, I want my pipe tobaccos to do something similar. I admit to the quirk of a slightly short attention span, and often find myself needing some little kick to bring me back to the experience after a while. That’s what condiments can do for a blend.

So, I started exploring some of the classic Virginia blends I’ve enjoyed through the years. There is a long tradition of employing other tobaccos in VA blends to bring in those important extra elements, resulting in added dimension to the smoke. They were still Virginias, but the addition of a little seasoning raised them up to something more, much in the same way that the addition of a little spice and a hot grill can transcend a great piece of steak from tasty sustenance to a memorable experience.

Most of us who have been around the pipe for a while are aware of the magical pairing of Virginia and perique. The Louisiana leaf softens some of the edges of Virginias tendency toward sharpness, and adds subtle hints of stewed fruit to the aroma and flavor. But perique is not the only condiment that has been employed to excellent effect in the greatest of the great old blends.

The inclusion of a pinch of Latakia in Laurel Heights, which a few have complained about, but many more have complimented as some sort of masterstroke of ingenuity, really wasn’t my invention, however much I’d love to take full credit for it. This was actually a not uncommon practice amongst some of England’s best tobacco houses in the past, and I stole it. The admission of this little plagiarism makes me no less proud of the final result. I employed similar thievery when I concocted Fillmore. (Yes, Virginia, there is a little of the smoky stuff in that one, too. Some, those very sensitive to its presence, will easily notice it; others would only notice its absence.) Seasoning is a good thing.

This brings me back to Embarcadero, after another little detour - this time, to the near east; specifically, to Turkey.

Some time ago, we were able to fix a reliable source for some exquisite Izmir leaf. We’ve always had excellent orientals available to us, but this stuff is special. It’s so good, it can almost be enjoyed straight. Why almost? To begin with, pure orientals are notoriously difficult to keep lit. The delicate anatomy, combined with the natural oils and the chemistry of the leaf conspire to create a tobacco that either wants to burn, or go out completely. Keeping it in the important middle zone, that splendid smoldering that delivers the best flavor and aroma, is a challenging exercise best left to only the most patient amongst us.

More significantly, without other tobaccos to provide structure, to balance the flavors, it can fatigue all but the most jaded of palates. When combined and skillfully balanced with other tobaccos, though, such as with Westminster, the Izmir works pure magic; it adds a wonderful character to the smoke, its own flavors enhancing and strengthening the interplay of all the other components of the mixture. It goes with the Latakia like eggs with bacon, and the Virginias form a lovely plate on which to serve them.

When I was contemplating the next extension to the Fog City range, this superb Izmir struck me as a ideal way to add some excitement to a wonderful Virginia blend. Once again, I borrowed from those who have pre-deceased me, and began working on what was to become Embarcadero. Choosing top grades of rich, highly sugared red Virginias, the same flue-cured components that are featured in Fillmore, I worked to find just the right balance between the Virginias’ and the oriental’s characters. I wanted the Izmir to be part of the orchestra more than a featured soloist. It had to be discernible to the critical palate, while not upstaging the other players. There was much to be done. Now that the chairs were filled, I had to get busy on the rehearsals.

Even when things go smoothly, it always takes time to get a blend in tune, to arrange the parts so all the players show their best. This becomes even more crucial when a tobacco with a strong voice is used. A little too much, and it can stand out like a dissonant piccolo. A little too little, and it might as well pack its bags and go home, leaving its seat empty. Embarcadero was no exception. It took several iterations to begin to home in on what would become the final blend. Once it got there, though, there was no question, at least in my mind, that the extra effort was well spent, and Embarcadero was ready for its debut.

Like Fillmore, Embarcadero is presented in a broken flake form. The tobaccos are pressed together to integrate, then held in cakes to ferment slightly before being sliced, gently broken and packed. In the tin, the tobacco presents itself as a field of beautiful, medium reddish brown, shot through with darker strands of brick-red and flecks of the Izmir’s bright yellowish olive. It’s beautiful to look at. Its aroma is equally lovely - delicately sweet, subtly fruity, with an undertone of zestiness. Deeper whiffs bring hints of cocoa and citrus, hinting at those decadent dark chocolate covered orange sticks - do you know the ones I mean? Embarcadero invites long, lingering breaths of its enticing aromas, as well as short sniffs. Each brings its own appreciation for the interplay of perfumes encapsulated in the tin.

In the bowl, the smoke is as comfortable as a pair of old jeans that fits just right, but offers much more when the attention is focused. This is a fragrant, natural blend. The virginias present a subdued sweetness with sumptuous body and a velvety “feel.” Toasty flavors, hints of nuttiness and roasted coffee come through in waves, along with the exotic, intriguing spice of the orientals. While tempting to compare it to the other blends in the series, or even with other tobaccos in a similar genre, this one really stands out as unique. I’ve been enjoying it since the final prototype was in my hands, and continue to find additional charms with every smoke. This is good stuff!

Why Embarcadero? The Fog City Selection has been inspired by San Francisco - it’s places, its history, its climate, its culture. I imagine the bustling docks over a century ago, where the New World embraced the Old, and worked together to create a place unlike any other. The Embarcadero runs along those docks, and is still a place of excitement and enchantment for those who live and work nearby, and for those who visit. It’s a point of departure, but also of arrival. It fits.

Besides, I like the way it sounds.

-glp

P.S. In finding the best way to smoke this one, I’ve tried rubbing it right out to a fine ribbon, folding the bits of flake, rolling it into a loose ball, and every other method I could think of for packing it. For me, it seems to work best to keep the tobacco chunky, gathering enough to loosely fill the bowl with vertically aligned pieces, then giving it just enough of a press with the thumb to settle it, and go. Once under way, it smolders effortlessly, and slowly, delivering a long, lingering, leisurely smoke. The same “technique” works well with Fillmore and other broken flakes, as well. Give it a try! You may find that a little experimentation can be richly rewarded.

27 Responses

  1. Aristidis Kritsotakis Says:

    Hi from Crete,Greece.
    Hope i can get a tin or two of Embarcadero in Europe.
    Kind Regards
    Aristidis.

  2. Matt (Talonr1701) Says:

    Can’t wait to grab one up…..Love Fillmore, so I’m sure it will be a winner.
    Cheers,

    Matt

  3. Vito Says:

    I was fortunate to try some of the pre-production tinning of Embarcadero. It is simply transcendent stuff—quite unlike any of GLP’s previous creations…well, except Fillmore, maybe, in the sense that it too is a departure into new territory.

    But Embarcadero is in a class by itself, not only among Greg’s pantheon of pipeweedages, but in the broader world of pipe tobaccos in general. Here’s a link to a full review of Embarcadero: http://forums.knoxcigar.net/viewtopic.php?p=68654#68654

    Glom onto a tin of this stuff when it becomes available. It is a very special tobacco indeed.

    Vito

  4. glpease Says:

    Thanks for the note,V. Me? I’ve been enjoying Embarcadero as an almost-daily smoking experience now for a few weeks. The production version is even more engaging than the prototype, in my opinion, which is a good thing. It’s always nice when things come together as expected! ;)

  5. Misha Says:

    Why suddenly interest in Oriental hits American tobacco companies this year? You concocted Embarcadero, C&D came with Sunday Picnic and Red Carpet, McClelland presented its Grand Oriental series. Considering that just one year ago Orientals considered hopelessly endangered species, this massive intrusion of new Orientals looks very impressive.

  6. Bernard Gegan Says:

    I vastly enjoy G. L. Pease’s
    Cairo blend. Is Embarcadero at all similar to Cairo?

  7. glpease Says:

    Embarcadero is blended from some similar tobaccos, but the result is quite different. Embarcadero is deeper, richer, fuller, while Cairo has more bright notes, both from the use of brighter virginias and from the addition of perique. Embarcadero is red virginias and Izmir - no perique.

  8. vladimir Says:

    Tobacco both for biassed experienced and for the inquisitive beginner “,” both in alarm, and in luxury, both in pleasure, and in grief -Embarcadero always with me “.

  9. David Elkins Says:

    A stellar addition to the line. One that I plan to enjoy on a regular basis.

    Thanks for your effort!

    David

  10. Mark Calhoun Says:

    I was excited to finally receive this tobacco after much anticipation. It was well worth the wait. I have tried and wanted to like many Va-based blends, but usually found them lacking. Embarcadero is a notable exception. This is a wonderful tobacco - complex and bold, creamy, well behaved and easy to smoke - just a pleasure in every way. The Turkish complement to the Virginia base is inspired. I am usually an English/Balkan smoker but Embarcadero has finally given me a Va-based blend alternative that is well entrenched in my short list of favorite blends.

  11. dave Says:

    Just got my tin of Em. Looking forward to the first smoke, which I plan to share with two of my good friends. Also picked up a large tin of Fillmore, which, being my introduction to your blends, became my favorite tobac last Fall.

    Well done sir, and Thank you.

  12. Matt Robillard Says:

    Just sitting here have some Embarcadero in a Bjarne Churchwarden that a good friend gifted me for my Birthday recently. I’ve come to the realization that this blend does WONDERFULLY in a Churchwarden….The flavors become so pronounced. If you haven’t tried this-Give it a shot. I don’t believe you’ll be sorry.
    Off to go play Scooby Doo with my daughter,,,,
    Cheers,

    Matt

  13. Bill Wagner Says:

    It’s a shame a cookie company hijacked the image this brings to mind and turned it into something banal.

    Ignore Keebler entirely and start over fresh : Embarcadero is what the Elves smoke in Rivendell. That touched with magic.

  14. Robert Rowe (AKA Kilted1) Says:

    As mentioned in the form of a question by someone else, I was expecting something similar to Cairo. For me Embarcadero is a very different blend, far deeper, more deeply resonant notes from both the Virginias and the Oriental (this Izmir is something truly special).

    I’m still studying this blend for full review at a later date, for now I’d have to say Embarcadero is easily my favorite in this category, would that Georgia weren’t presently experiencing record drought as I’d love to load up a bowl and carry my fly rod to some pristine trout waters. Embarcadero seems a fine compliment to a trout stream or river.

  15. Nathan Arce Says:

    Last week when the rain had stopped, I sat in one of the nice little parks near my office and had a bowl of Embarcadero (In a Peterson System 302). Sitting, relaxing, looking at the cliff above Sansome St. at all of the houses perched on the hill and down Battery St. at the historic brick buildings in this area it occurred to me how well this blend wove itself into what I was seeing. I have worked and lived in the Embarcadero for over 15 years and have a great love for this special part of the city, this blend does it proud. Thank you for the inspired genius Mr. Pease. :o )

  16. Dallas S. Volk Says:

    Embarcadero to me, seems like an american interpretation of Sam’s Flake by Samuel Gawith. American in the sense that Gawith uses tobaccos grown in Africa and South America. A very nice change of pace for those who like classic forms of virginia flake.

  17. Mike Mitchley, South Africa Says:

    Greg, a sublime Va blend - probably my favourite of your stable. An easy-going, relaxed smoke, but something special.

  18. Matt (221b Baker St.) Says:

    Greg I just tried this blend and love it. I am not a VA smoker or Vaper either. 99% of the time its Englishs for me. But this blend is superb.

  19. Ivan, Russia Says:

    Literally, I can say that the Embarcadero and Telegraph Hill are my most favorite tobacco blends.
    Uniquely, the rich and mysterious flavor.
    I would like to thank Mr Pease because he always gives us the joy of their unique tobacco blends!

  20. Martin DAmore Says:

    I just opened a 10 year old 4 oz can of Fool’s Cap.I liked it 10 years back when i first started buying it and love it now even more.Here is the original description on the back.
    Fool’s Cap is a blend of several varieties of red lemon and dark stoved virginas,artfully combined with just enough unflavoured black cavendish for a subtle sweetness and the finest st. james parish perique,for its piquant spice and fullness of body. Fool’s cap is a rich tobacco of medium strength with a pleasing room aroma which delights and amuses the senses.
    As i type this im enjoying this tobacco more so than any other to date including my 10 year old three nuns!
    Im only sorry to say i have 1 can left of this and will hold on to it for another 10 years at least now.
    Can number on bottom 009917.
    Im hopeing i may be directed to something very similar as this is no longet made for many years.
    Mr Pease can you suggest a similar virgina perique blend only such as this?
    Also many thanks for the pleasure of enjoying such a fine tobacco.
    Martin

  21. glpease Says:

    Thank you, Martin, for your update on the Fool. It was quite a special blend. I worked for a long time getting the balance just right between the virginias and the perique, but the effort paid off. Some of the ingredients, I’m sorry to say, are no longer available, so I cannot recreate it exactly.

  22. Deirdre Says:

    Regarding your FAQ’s

    Greg, your website is one of the best, and I’m not picking fault here but just pointing out that you have one outdated answer in your FAQ’s:

    In the following answer, you need to work Key Largo, Lombard, Maltese Falcone, Robusto and Westminster into the lineup.

    Cheers,
    Deirdre

    Q: Which of your Latakia blends is the “fullest?”

    A: In order of decreasing “fullness,” a difficult subjective description to nail down, I’d rank them, Abingdon, Odyssey, Blackpoint, Charring Cross, Raven’s Wing, Samarra, Renaissance, Kensington, Caravan, Ashbury and Piccadilly. Of course, this is NOT the order of decreasing Latakia. Abingdon does have the most, followed by Odyssey, Charing Cross and Raven’s Wing, if you add the percentages of the Syrian and the Cyprian. Piccadilly has the least. It’s not the percentage of any particular ingredient that matters, but the interplay between the intensities of the flavors and aromas. Caravan has the highest percentage of Oriental tobaccos, which make quite a bold statement. Odyssey, Abingdon and Charing Cross are monsters of Latakia goodness. They’re huge, but still quite complex, and each presents a surprising level of subtlety underneath its powerful exterior.”

  23. glpease Says:

    Deirdre, you’re a dear for saying there’s only ONE outdated answer. I suspect there are several, but it’s very kind of you only to point out this one. I’ll get to it. Promise.

  24. Andy Says:

    Hello,
    I just want to give my appreciation for the fine blends from GL Pease.
    I do have a question for Mr. Pease. There is an almost mythical tobacco blend known as Balkan Sobranie Original Mixture (praise it’s name) that seems to have been heaven on earth for pipe smokers. I was never fortunate enough to try this legend myself.
    Would Mr. Pease consider reproducing it?
    It seems that there is a ready market for anyone that is able to.

    Thanks,

    Andy

  25. Andy Says:

    My apologies.
    I realized that I have mistakenly posted the above to the Ebarcadero section.
    I have also since found that you have been asked before about reproducing Balkan Sobraine, so I’m not trying to pester. (Just hopeful, like so many others).

  26. glpease Says:

    No worries, Andy.

    As for lovers of Balkan Sobranie, I generally recommend Charing Cross. But, the problem is compounded more by the fact that Sobranie’s recipe changed many times over the years (after the Redstones sold the rights to the blends to Gallaher), so when people ask about “Balkan Sobranie,” I always have to respond with “Which version?” The differences were not subtle.

    Charing Cross is similar in character to the oldest Balkan Sobranie I’ve tasted. I cannot say it’s the same, and would not. The Latakia is different, and the lack of straight Yenidje (that’s another story) changes the aroma, but the overall feel of the blend is similar. I’ve always suspected some special processing to be behind some of the original’s unique taste. I may be zeroing in on some similar techniques. Time will tell!

  27. Jon Burton Says:

    Andy,

    I, as well, have never tried the Balkan Sobranie, but am a fan of that genre of tobacco, the Balkan, in general terms and those similar. I have tried LOTS of blends that claim to be similar to the Original BS, and they are all so different that I almost have to laugh when I think about it.

    I have however recently become familiar with the G.L Pease Charing Cross that the man himself suggested to you here, and in my opinion, no right-minded pipeman would suggest that he is not, at least, a “tongue to trust.” So, if he says its similar, I for one believe that-especially seeing that I’ll likely never taste the original. And if Charing Cross does indeed taste like the old Sainted Blend, I can say, that I see what all the fuss is about! Charing Cross is an absolute feast of a pipe tobacco. So, maybe after trying it, you’ll say about the old Balkan Sobranie: “who needs it!” I joked to my fiancee the other day about it: if offered this, or thanksgiving dinner by Wolfgang Puck, I would take the pipeweed! I need a pipe with a hump in the stem to smoke it because I cant keep my pipe from gurgling cause my mouth waters from the smell of it!

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