Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mixing your own

Recently there was a question at My Pipes Community about blending your own tobacco. Now, professional tobacco blending is a real art form that requires extensive knowledge and experience, plus a healthy dose of natural talent like any other art. However, there's no reason why the casual pipe-smoker can't have fun doing some kitchen table blending on his own.

A first recommendation: blend small amounts. If you screw up and create the most mind-numbingly horrible tobacco ever invented, you want to be able to throw it away without losing too much of your inventory. Get a small digital scale that will measure very small increments, such as units of at most 1 gram and/or fractions of an ounce. Such scales are cheap and easy to find. I got one some time ago via eBay. Keep a record of what you mix and how you mix it.

Just because your good idea doesn't blow your mind when you first light it up doesn't mean it's a failure. Leaves of varying flavors need to meld together for a while. Allowing time for the leaves to "marry" almost always improves the flavor. My method is to put the new mix in a jar and shake it up real good to get everything mixed, and then vacuum seal it. I have Food Saver vacuum sealer and I use the bags-on-a-roll so I can cut my own size bags. The vacuum-sealing not only helps to preserve it, but also when the bag squeezes down on the tobacco it has a "pressing" effect. If you let such a bag sit for a few weeks, you will have to tear off hunks and rub them out before loading them into a pipe. And yes, I said "a few weeks." I have a general rule of not declaring a new mix a success until I've had an ounce or two vacuum sealed for at least a month so I have a decent sample to pass verdict on.

But where to start, and what to use? I've been a big fan of Cornell & Diehl for a long time, and Mr. Tarler will sell straight leaf of just about anything for your own personal blending experiments. If you order one of the 5- or 8-item samplers, you should be able to get just about every kind of leaf you need. Of course, there are many other places to buy straight leaf, just check around.

One good way to start is if you have a particular liking for a certain kind of "spice" tobacco such as Latakia or Perique. Try adding varying amounts of your favorite spice leaf to already established blends to spice it up a little and make it even more to your liking.

I have come up with two successes so far by adding a spice leaf to already existing blends. One is made by using C&D's Gray Ghost (Virginia and maduro) and adding Perique. The ratio is 13/16 GG and 3/16 P. I do it in increments of 1/16 because when you do come up with something good and you want to order it in bulk, it makes it much easier for Mr. Tarler to mix up your custom blend (each 1/16 becomes a full ounce when ordered by the pound). I call this blend "Don't Tread On Me." The version above is the "mild" version, and is more forgiving to innocent bystanders (it is quite robust). The version I really prefer is stronger, and mixed 5/8 GG to 3/8 P.

The other I haven't really named yet (well, in my experiment spreadsheet I call it "Nightgaunt"), but it is made by mixing 7/8 Yale Mixture (C&D blend of Virginia and Latakia) with 1/8 Perique. Yes, I am a real Perique lover, and I always have some straight stuff on hand for blending experiments.

I don't usually start out by measuring everything exactly. I usually start by just throwing a couple of bowls worth together and giving them a try to see if I want to go further with it. A couple of days ago I threw together some Perique and Balkan Sasieni. I didn't measure it, but it was roughly 70% Perique. It was good and had a real kick. Today I mixed up some Perique with C&D's Oriental Silk (which already has some Perique in it), at about 50/50. This one is actually quite good and I think I'll be refining it in the future.

I don't have any advice for mixing aromatics. I don't care for most aromatics and I have never done any such experimentation with them. Although now that I think about it I can't help wondering what 1792 Flake would be like with a little Perique mixed in.

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