As many of you already know we have started importing some of the GL Pease tobaccos from America. Greg (Mr Pease) is one of the tobacco industries celebrities online, not that he would agree with such a statement. His articles and magazine features are heavily read and his word is final on many debates regarding tobacco.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr Pease, we have arranged a short interview.
When and how did your love for the leaf & briar start?
It's hard to pin it down. A high school science teacher smoked a pipe, and I always admired him, and loved the aroma. I bought a cheap pipe and some Borkum Riff and experimented a bit, but as it is for most of us starting out, it wasn't exactly successful. Being "underage" and not having anyone in my family to turn to, I was left to my own devices, and never quite made it go. Then, a couple years later, I recall being at a ball game with a friend and his brother, who smoked a latakia mixture, which rekindled my interest. Then, when I was a student, I wandered in to Drucquer & Sons in Berkeley, and it was all over. This was late 1979. I spent all my free hours there, and absorbed everything I could.
What styles/tobaccos did you really take a liking to when you first started pipe smoking and did it change much?
I was smitten with mixtures early. I'd tried a few aromatics, and we never had a very happy relationship, but as soon as that smoky stuff found its way into my bowl, it was love. Not surprisingly, my first malt whisky was Laphroaig, and I still love it, too. Drucquer's, in addition to their house blends, carried a wide range of imported tobaccos, and I was drawn to the big three, the Dunhills, the Rattrays, the Sobranies, and the somewhat lesser known mixtures, like State Express, and so on. I found myself really taken with the old English blending houses, and wanted to try everything I could get my hands on. It was a great time, as people weren't really into aging tobaccos in the early 1980s, so you could often find dusty old tins of stuff at a deep discount in little out of the way tobacconists. I've enjoyed a lot of virginias and flakes, as well, but mixtures have always been my first love.
Did you start blending as a desire to make your own blends or to alter existing ones to more suit your own palette?
I got to blending at the shop, following the recipes, learning how the process was done. I couldn't help playing, experimenting with different leaf, different proportions, smoking all the base tobaccos straight. For me, it was like being in an ice cream shop. After a while, I started figuring out how things worked, what was harmonious with what, and, more importantly, what wasn't. In time, I was making up my own blends, helping customers with custom blends, and doing some standards for the shop. It was a lot of fun, then, and is a lot of fun now.
What where your first few tobaccos created and did they ever see the light of day? or just for your own personal use?
The first commercial blend I did was Sublime Porte, which was in the Drucquer catalogue until they went out of business.
Have you worked with C&D from day one or originally did they provide the tobaccos you used and later worked much closer?
Originally, I worked on my own, sourcing tobaccos from various suppliers, C&D being one of them. I was doing it all. Blending, tinning, labeling. At some point, things got to the point where I had to help, so I contracted C&D to manufacture on my behalf. I now create the recipes, the manufacturing protocols, and they do the production and distribution.
What are your preferred tobacco to work with? Any tobaccos (other than Syrian) that you wish you could use?
I'd love to be able to get my hands on quantities of oriental varietals, and, yes, of course Syrian. I've really enjoyed working with Kentucky dark-fired off and on, and have been exploring Maryland more deeply. Honestly, each of the tobaccos is fascinating in its own way. I never get over the mysteries that still present themselves when two types of leaf combine to create something unlike either of them.
I gather that you use no moisture retainers in your blends? Is it just that you dont need to, or does the Purity help create better tobaccos?
Since my tobaccos are packed in sealed tins, there's no need for any sort of humectant, and that's one of the reasons I have steadfastly refused to my blends in bulk. Personally, I think PG has gotten a bit of a bad reputation by being overused. In small quantities, it's not the evil green monster it's often believed to be, though many manufacturers go overboard with it. But, yes, I do feel that tobaccos are better off without the stuff.
What is your ethos when creating tobaccos? and how long does it take from concept to final product?
I often approach a new blend with something specific in mind, but it can be a very fluid process, so the end result may, sometimes, be very much different from what I'd originally set out to do. There's a bit of serendipity in the creative dynamic, and sometimes going with it can result in something more exciting than if I'd imposed too much rigor. Once in a while, I'll go back to the original idea after the fact, just to see if it still has any traction.
On the other hand, there are things like Westminster, which gripped my brain tenaciously until it was done. It was a 13 month process, start to finish, to go from what I knew I wanted to manifesting it. It was a real labour of love, and it's still one of my faves.
When it comes to ageing your tobaccos, should smokers cellar your blends for a minimum period of time before digging in?
This is one of those personal choice things. I like to experience the way tobaccos develop over time, just as I do with wines, so I'll lay down a few tins, smoke one fresh, one after a month or so, one after six months, and so on. Young tobaccos have their charm, and so do mature ones. Often, their personalities change over time, and there's no real answer to "how long should a blend be aged." It's one of those things each of us has to experience. I could go on about this at length, and my article, "Saving For a Rainy Day" addresses this. (http://pipesmagazine.com/blog/out-of-the-ashes/saving-for-a-rainy-day/)
Here in the UK pipe smoking is going through a revival, is the same thing happening your side of the pond? Do you feel that the on-line smoking communities (Facebook, YouTube & forums) are helping break down the stereotypes that pipes are for retired gentlemen?
I think we're seeing some of that revival, as well, and it's great. The on-line communities have done a bit to fill in the gap left by the declining number of real brick and mortar tobacconists, providing a source of information and fellowship for those who want to engage more deeply in the pipe's culture, not just puff on a pipe. It's a great boon to the new pipe smoker. We've never had more access to a greater number of tobaccos or pipes than we have today, and much of that has been driven by the web. As far as I'm concerned, anything which promotes engagement with the pastime is a good thing, so I'm all for it. As for pipes being only for retired gentlemen, I think that stereotype was broken down long ago.
When we think of American Pipe Tobaccos, Burley & Cavendish with tons of casing spring into mind. Your tobaccos are more like the English blends of yesteryear. Was the American Market calling out for these tobaccos or does this represent your own personal tastes?
It's what I like, what I was raised on, so to speak, and I think it's something the market, at least some segments of it, are craving. The market has always been there. As I mentioned, there was a ready availability of UK produced tobaccos when I started out in the early 1980s, which implies to me that people were, even then, wanting this sort of thing. I'm just trying to do it closer to home.
Do you have any more creations cooking up at the moment?
I've always got a few projects in the works. Right now, I'm working on some things that I'm really excited about, but I'm not ready to reveal anything about them just yet.
Finally anything extra you would like to add about you or tobaccos?
In addition to my blending, I write monthly columns for Pipes Magazine, and also have published a lot of articles on my own web site, especially in the Briar & Leaf Chronicles. I'd love to invite your readers to wander through those pages. I'm told there's some good stuff buried in those dusty tombs.