26 December, 2004

While we continue to search for another source of Syrian Latakia to replace what we lost, the probability of finding any at this time is quite low. Renaissance, Raven's Wing, Mephisto and, of course, Bohemian Scandal are, at present, no longer available. Whatever stocks remain on the retailers' shelves is all that there is. When the situation changes, I'll keep you all informed, but in the interim, perhaps it's a good time to try some of our other blends!

Keep an eye on this column for an announcement of our upcoming new Virginia blends, in the Fog City Series. I'm shooting for a first release in February, and am quite excited about the new blends. The first two to come will be a straight VA, and a VA/perique. Both of these are showing great promise, and rely on some very old techniques. (And, no, they are NOT flakes...)

23 November, 2004

Bad News. Yesterday afternoon, Craig called me. Nothing unusual - we talk at least once a day. But, I could hear in his voice something was terribly wrong. It was.

In the morning, our leaf processor's warehouse containing nearly all of the available Syrian Latakia that was brought into the country burned to the ground. A few pounds remain here and there, but of literally tons of this sublime leaf, all that is left is ashes and dust. As bad as this is for us, it's far worse for the importer, who still owned the majority of the leaf lost.

The business impact is obvious. All of the Syrian Latakia containing blends, from both GLPease and Cornell & Diehl, can not be produced. Whatever is currently on the shelves is all that there is, or will be in the forseeable future. Trade relations with Syria are somewhat sensitive at present, and while we're working through every possible channel to replace what was lost, we have no way of predicting when we'll be able to get another shipment.

Of course, this situation does not effect any of our other blends, and we will proceed as normal to produce them. However, there is no way to replace what we can not get. This Syrian leaf is truly a special and unique beast.

The personal impact is perhaps less obvious to those who don't know me well. Bohemian Scandal has been and is very special to me. It has been a labor of love to create it, and the joy it has brought me with every bowl I smoke, every letter of appreciation or thanks I receive, every great review I read is inexpressible. That it can't be produced, that I can't continue to share it with the pipe world, that I can't even get any more for my OWN rainy days, has really got me down. If you see me on the streets, you'll recognize me by the black armband with a tobacco leaf on it.

We have confidence that we will one day be able to get more of this magnificent leaf; the only question is when. I hate to bear bad news, but the news must be borne by someone, and Craig and I thought it better if it came from me than through the grapevine - which is remarkably rapid in our little corner of the tobacco world.

2 November, 2004

For the past few weeks, I've been smoking a couple of prototype Virginias blends almost exclusively, with occasional forays into the world of Latakia, especially the Scandal. These two are really something, and I'm nearly ready to say, “This is it!” and release them. One is a delicate, light Virginia blend, ideal for those who want something with a nice Virginia sweetness, a little added complexity, and that's very gentle on the palate. The other is a little fuller, and includes just the right amount of perique to provide a nice spice, and greater depth. I'm excited about these two, and the others I have planned for the new Virginia series I'll be launching soon. So far, those on my informal “panel of experts” have enjoyed these, so all that's left is the final production details and labels. It seems like it's always down to that, doesn't it?

It's been over a month since an article has appeared in the Briar and Leaf Chronicles. I promise, something is coming. In fact, I'm working on several, but developing these Virginias has really kept me busy. There will be articles on tasting and evaluating tobaccos, a tobacco taster's lexicon, a piece about sour briar, a little story about a 40+ years old tin of Rattray's Black Mallory, and others. Please stay tuned! I'll try to keep the articles flowing more regularly once these Virginias are to market.

26 October, 2004

When you have lemons...There has been a continuing problem with the plastic overcaps on the 2-oz tins - they don't fit tightly. We've been trying to find a solution to the problem for months. You'd think that a standard sized overcap should fit on a standard sized tin, right? After some investigation, it turns out that both the overcaps AND the tins are slightly out of spec. The caps are a tiny bit too large, and the tins are a tiny bit too small. With both things at opposite ends of the tolerance spectrum, we get loose fitting caps. We're still working on it, of course, hoping to find a solution. But, in the meanwhile, I chanced upon something today that may actually be even better than a properly fitting overcap...at least for the time being.

As I've said in the past, the plastic caps, when they fit, do a fine job of keeping moisture in, but they are somewhat permeable to non-polar molecules, such as those that comprise many of the flavor and aroma components of tobacco, especially when aged. Of course, when the plastic overcaps don't fit, neither polar nor non-polar molecules have much chance of remaining in the tin. So, that tin is leaking moisture AND flavor. What to do?

A friend told me that he routinely put a couple layers of plastic wrap over the tins before putting the overcap back on, and that this sealed things up nicely. I figured this to be a “good thing,” but was still worried about those pesky flavor and aroma volatiles. Enter aluminum foil!

Cut a square of the stuff about 3“ on a side. Place it over the tin, form it to fit, and install the overcap. Not only will this provide a pretty tight seal, it'll also help keep all the goodness in the tin, where it belongs! While I still maintain that once a tin is opened, it's contents should be smoked, preferably within a couple of weeks, this little trick might help to preserve the unsmoked tobacco for a longer period. It might even work with the tins from other manufacturers, too. I wonder if I can get them to pay me a royalty...

6 October, 2004

The CORPS show was an absolute blast! The wonderful energy of the show kept me well fueled, and I set a new record of 40 hours without sleep. After the marathon, a brief 6 hours with eyes shut bolstered me for the rest of the event. My hat's off to Linwood and the rest of the CORPS crew for putting on a fantastic show. It's not a small show, but not the biggest. The wonderful spirit of the event, though, is HUGE.

“Virginia Legends,” the blend I did to commemorate the CORPS' 20th anniversary, was very well received. Several people expressed some dismay that they wouldn't be able to get the tobacco on a continuing basis, so I talked to Linwood, asking if there would be any objection to my bringing it out as a member of the Heirloom Series. None! I'm going to work out a few production details, design the label, give it a new name, and make it ready for prime time. For all who have been pestering me for a new Virginia blend, it's now well on its way! (I'm pretty enthusiastic about this one, myself. I only have a couple tins of the show blend, so I've GOT to get it into production before I run out!)

24 September, 2004

After much demand, and with the success of Bohemian Scandal's 8-oz tins, we've decided to begin migrating from the 8-oz bags we've been using to tins for all the blends. Of course, 2-oz tins will still be available. Additionally, I've redesigned the labels for the Original Mixtures. Both the large tin and the new art will make their debuts with Haddo's Delight soon. We'll be changing over gradually over time - we still have LOTS of the old labels, and I hate wasting paper... If you're curious, here's a preview. I like it!

26 August, 2004

Bohemian Scandal is being shipped, in both 2-oz and 8-oz tins, though the demand has exceeded our initial projections, and the first two production runs have completely sold out almost immediately! We're getting it out as quickly as possible, but if your favorite tobacconist doesn't yet have it, please be patient. It's coming...

19 August, 2004

At long last, the Bohemian Scandal labels have are printed, and the tobacco has started finding its way to retailers' shelves. I have yet to put up a page about this blend, but there's more than a little information about its genesis in the Briar and Leaf Chronicles article entitled, “A Magic Carpet Ride.” I'm very excited about this blend! The Syrian Latakia is truly special. At the upcoming NASPC show in Columbus, both Smoker's Haven and Pipes & Pleasures will have it available for sale, and Art Ruppelt of Ming-Kahuna has graciously offered to have samples at his table for tasting.

I am also very honored to have been asked to once again produce the NASPC show blend, this one known as Aragorn. This tobacco is very limited, and will only be available at the show.

11 August, 2004

The Blender's Notebook feature has been renamed, and moved. The new name of this column is “The Briar and Leaf Chronicles,” as it more accurately reflects the contents of the articles contained within it. Old content will redundantly remain, for the time being, in the old location, as well as in the new, but all future work will be done in the Chronicles, and eventually, I'll probably just put redirects on the old pages. Please update any links to BlendersNotebook to reflect the change. The new URL is http://www.glpease.com/Chronicles. I hope this doesn't cause too many headaches...

4 August, 2004

Finally, I have completed the artwork for the Bohemian Scandal label. It's shown on the front page of the site. It's just a matter of printing and labeling and shipping to retailers now. Sometimes, the blending is the easy part! In the Blender's Notebook, you will find an article entitled “A Magic Carpet Ride” that discusses the creation of this blend. I'm very excited about it!

30 June, 2004

Not really news, per se, but a recommendation to read Rob Lyons's article, The Epidemic of Epidemiology related to the absurd misapplication of statistical methods, masquerading as science, that have resulted in draconian public policy as concerns smokers, particularly the smoking bans that have been enacted as a result of faulty conclusions drawn by these so-caled studies. It's well worth the read. Great for those who want to understand a little more about exactly how “Lies, damn lies, and statistics” are used to dupe the masses...

21 June, 2004

For all those in Europe who have been asking if there was an easier way to acquire my blends, I'm pleased to say that there finally is. Daniel Schneider of Synjeco has brought the full GLPease line to his on-line shop in Switzerland. I realize it's not in the EU, but it's a whole lot closer than anyone on this side of the puddle! I'm very excited to add Daniel to my list of retailers, and know that he'll do a great job representing the blends in Europe. Who knows what the future holds for still wider distribution! Thanks, Daniel, and welcome to the family!

As for the Syrian Balkan blend alluded to in the last news item, there's more information about the tobacco (which will be called “Bohemian Scandal”), the process, the workings of a tobacco blender's mind - all in the latest Blender's Notebook article, A Magic Carpet Ride.

29 May, 2004

I took the Syrian balkan and the straight Virginia prototypes to the Chicago show with me, where they played to overwhelmingly positive reviews. These will be released over the next few weeks, the Syrian first, the Virgina sometime after that. These will be the first two blends in a new series. Anticipate another news item when they're ready to fly.

Since the Balkan will be the first to hit the shelves, I'll write a few words about it. (More can be read in the Blender's Notebook entry, Sifting the Sands of Time.) This blend owes its existence to chance, in a way. As many will recall, we had a shortage of Syrian Latakia back in the end of 2002. After much scrambling, a source was found, and a ship-load of Syrian began wending its way to our shores. Finally, in June of 2003, after the ship saw more Ports of Call than a merchant sailor, the tobacco arrived, cleared customs, and went to the cutter for processing. I said then that the quality was superior to the previous leaf, and time has demonstrated this to be an understatement. The existing blends that rely on Syrian (Renaissance, Raven's Wing, Mephisto) took on exciting new dimemsions with this wonderful tobacco.

Because of the truly exquisite nature of this Syrian Latakia, I began to work on blend concepts using it as a focal point, rather than as an adjunct to the wonderful Cyprus leaf. It took months of experimentation to gain sufficient depth of understanding of this tobacco to produce a blend that met the lofty goals set in my mind for it. I think it was worth the time and effort. This is really good. While I never smoked the great Balkan blends before the first great Syrian Latakia shortage of ca. 1960 when fresh, I have smoked a lot of vintage tobaccos from that era, and had in my head some notion, possibly delusional, of what they may have been like when young. This blend is the result of allowing that “train of thought” to run its course. I'm really excited about it, and think lovers of Balkan style blends will be, too. It'll take 40 years or so to know if it really hits the mark set by those great blends of yesteryear, but I've got time...

Now, all I need is a name for it. Stay tuned!

9 May, 2004

The finishing touches are being put on a new Syrian Latakia based Balkan blend. This tobacco may give us youngsters some hint as to what some of the legendary Balkans of the 1950s and before may have tasted like when they were young. Of course, I don't have a working time machine (damn those singularities and worm holes, anyway) so it's only an educated guess. The blend is very tasty, with plenty of oriental character, a wonderful spiciness and a long, elegant finish. Being based on Syrian Latakia, it's not as weighty as the more common Cyprian based blends, but is more wine-like and elegantly refined. A friend compares it to a fine Burgundy, while the blend's Cyprian cousins are more Bordeaux-like in character. To the wine lovers amongst us, I think this is a fair analogy.

Too, the Virginia that has been under development for many, many months is approaching readiness. This blend reflects a fair amount of research into the processing techniques of yesteryear. It's got a great, true Virginia character, with a lovely sweetness, a pleasing zestiness, and a wonderful complexity more often associated with old cut plug versions of flue cured leaf than the convenient ribbon cut of this new entry. It smokes well young, and the sugar content is high, promising a long future in the cellar. So, after all my promises of working on a straight VA, it's finally nearing fruition.

Neither of these tobaccos is quite ready for release, but their debut is imminent. I'll have sample quantities of each at the Chicago show. Once I get back, I'll begin doing the label art and so on. Anticipate a further announcement here within a few weeks...

9 April, 2004

What's that? No news in over two months? Chalk it up to laziness, forgetfulness, or the fact that I've just been way too involved in some experiments, the creation of new blends, that sort of thing. Or, maybe I've just been spending far too much time at the salle fencing. Enough excuses. There are new things on the horizon. I've been working on 1) a new Balkan blend, with a base of wonderful Syrian Latakia and some delightful orientals; 2) a straight Virginia blend (it's true!); 3) a couple of aromatics that are coming along, but still not quite where I want them; 4) did I mention the Virginia?

There's still a lot to do before any of these things is ready for the market, but they're coming. I'm thrilled with what's come out of the “lab” so far, and have high hopes for some exciting new blends. After a lot of research on traditional tobacco processing techniques, I may have unlocked some of the old secrets, some of the things that made those old blends SO wonderful. More to follow. In the meantime, back to the lab...

28 January, 2004 Luca Di Piazza, a passionate collector and seller of fine pipes, runs a site in Italy caled Neat Pipes that is really worth visiting, expecially if you like Castellos. Luca is really involved in the marque, and presents some very special pieces. Most recently, he's put up an entire page of shape #55, a slightly bent pot that is a true Castello classic. There are some amazing pipes to see there, including a spectacular seven-day set, and there are even a few left to purchase. Whether or not you like the shape, it's well worth a look to see the variety in finishes and variations, especially a rare and diminutive “Le Castelline” version.
27 January, 2004 Martin Farrent's Pfeifenbox continues to grow, and is a fantastic resource for the afficionado of fine pipes. I feel particularly honored to have been interviewed by Martin, who asked some challenging questions on the evaluation of pipes. I really had to probe a little to fit some words to concepts that are really somewhat internalized - not always an easy thing to do!
1 January, 2004 Happy New Year! I hope that 2004 is a wonderful one for all my vistors, and for the world. May it bring health, happiness, prosperity, and peace to all.

The Blender's Notebook section has become quite popular, and will continue to be updated with new entries. I'll be babbling on quite a bit about pipes and tobaccos this year, so visit often. There should be at least SOMETHING new each week.

News from 2003