Friday, April 29, 2016

Cornell and Diehl Small Batch: The Beast - Friday, April 29th

I'm fairly sure there are eldritch gods at work. If this post makes it out, please send help in the form of sage, salt, and maybe a barrel of rum.

In my first review of the Cornell and Diehl Small Batch line, I talked about how I used a pipe to meditate. I thought it was all in good fun and not something that anyone would actually take seriously.

I was wrong.

I am not sure what cruel and dark machinations are going on at Cornell and Diehl but what I DO know is that they have a preternaturally acute knowledge of my life. How else could you explain their recent blend, The Beast? It arrived on my doorstep with no warning, no notice. Seeing that it was from Cornell and Diehl / Laudisi Enterprises, I opened it like the fool I am. What horrors were nestled in-between the paper cushioning that cradled the demonic tin? What did I release from Pandora's Box?

I tried, to no avail, to contact them at Smoking Pipes. They said that they were very busy with the Chicagoland Pipe Show but I know lies when I hear them. They had gotten their evil tendrils into my sanctum sanctorum; answering my questions, calming my fervor, and heeding my pleas didn't matter anymore. Their work done, they retreated to silence. They will watch and wait as I damn myself through my own hubris.

MY HUBRIS. Oh how my vanity bested me. To be chosen to review such a coveted blend should have struck me odd but no, I deemed myself worthy to smoke it. Nay, not just deemed, but exclaimed. I should have known by the writing on the tin. Scrawled on the back in neat font, the tin reads:

"Legend has it that Aleister Crowley, famed adept of the Order of the Golden Dawn and founder of the Ordo Templi Orientis, is purported to have made a habit of smoking rum-soaked perique as a meditative aid."
In my hubris, I failed to read between the lines. How would they have known that I required a meditative aid? These blends were months in the making, were they not? How could they have foreseen what prose would fall from my digital quill? How could they cater to my whim in advance? But pride blinds quicker than then brain can register. I assumed that it was happenstance, a mere coincidence. Now I know that they have signed deals with ancient gods to ensure my fate. Here is the date of "manufacture" of the blend:

4/11/16. The evil was sealed in steel days before it arrived on my doorstep. What a fool, am I.

My last mistake was opening the can. I fear to take a picture of it lest it's evil be transmittable but whatever iota of malice that is transferred to you can only pale in comparison to the guilt I would feel should you accidentally buy a tin due to ignorance. Here, gaze quickly and remember all you can.

Should you ever cross this can, call a priest. Call several priests. This is the blend itself. Once again, look quickly. Note it's darkness, as if it is sucking in all light and warmth.

Do you have it in your mind now? Good. Now you shall be safe from rogue bundles and bags of this tobacco intent on corrupting you and your kin. Be wary in the coming days. It will be out there. It will have no label, no markings. An innocent bag of fragrant tobacco, drawing you in to sacrifice your soul.

Oh, but the fragrance. The tin is a heady smell truly befitting an occultist's smoke. It is of rich rum and smoke, like the belly of an ancient ship. Mingling between it is a peppery spice and subtle berries. It creeps into your nose and roosts, constantly fraying at your consciousness until you give in. You will yearn for it as you have yearned for nothing else in your life. It will break you to it's whim. You will pull some out and let it dry as the Nelson's blood used in its sacrifice leaves it damp but pungent. As it dries, the aroma will continue to haunt you until your willpower breaks in twain. You load a pipe-full and seek a secluded spot to rest your abnormally weary bones. And as the flame caresses it, you are lost.

The taste is like falling down a mine-shaft of hedonism. At first, the flavor of aged rum, cinnamon, and berries comforts and consoles you, telling you that all will be okay. But as you are swaddled in it's warm and blissful embrace, the ground comes up fast underneath you. By about midway through the bowl, the rum and berry flavor becomes less prominent...and The Beast comes out. It is not a mindless, ravenous demon, no. It uses it's silver tongue and guile to charm you. The Virginia cavendish and Perique base comes alive; oak and peppercorn dance between fleeting glimpses at the rum that has left you cold and alone. The dark fired burley gives a brimstone-esque flavor of nuttiness tempered with the fires of Hell. The black cavendish finishes with a slight sweetness, leaving you desperate for another puff. And you will. Oh, gods help you, you will.

It is too late. I can feel the corruption spreading. They released The Beast today and, if luck would have it, all of the tins are gone. Do not seek out this tobacco for it will destroy you mind, body, and soul. It's succulent flavor and alluring odor are but a guise. Do not seek out the tin. Do not unleash The Beast. For the tin is a pale horse looking for a rider...and hell comes with it.

I...I need to calm my nerves. Soothe my aching soul. On͜e m̢o͜re͏ p͜i҉p҉e̢ f̷ull͢ shóu͠ld do i͢t. Yes, just one more. Gi̷v̶e͏ ͞mè t̨ime to̴ ̧re̶st̀ a͏nd ͏t͟h͝i͟nk. The tin is still full, I am not lost yet. I ̕͢á͘m ͏s̵ơ̴ ̸̨w̷̧e̡a̸̧͡ŗy.́ ̡̕Me̶ḑ͢͢i̕͡tàti̴͟o̶̷̢n̷̢͝ ̷w̵͠ou̕l̵͝d͏́ b̡e ̶̕g͟òơ͜d̸͝͠.̸̛

J̃̊ͤ͒ͭͩ̊̆͒͗̌҉̨̜̗̝̬͕̩̞̜̖̯̺̤̝ų̴̵̬̫͈̹ͨͮ̒̉̑̏ͫ͊̓ͤ͊̃ͧ͂ͩͫs̷̛̼͍̮̤͙ͫ̊̈̆̀͜ͅt̸̷̡̘̼͕̭̥̖͙͍̳ͭ̎ͪ́̉̊ͣͥ̐ͤ̀͢ ̨̙͎̲̝̰͍͔͕͓̙̯̥̖͚̗̂͋̓͗͘͡o̴̥̫̲͔͕̟̥̗͙̙̘̞̲͔͇̪̱͐̑́͋͒̓ͭ͂̔ͥ͂͡͡n͂ͬ̉̋̆ͧ̂̆̽̇ͦͤ̚҉͓̤̤͕͉̩͕̭̜͚̖̥̳̰̝͈͚̫͍ȩ̻͔͓̭̣̻̳͒̓͋̏̂ͥ͋͆̑͂ͦ̌́͜ͅ ̡̢̰͎͎͍̮̞̹͖̬̲̗ͫ̅̉́̒̎ͥ̅͒̆ͩ̅̆ͨ̇ͭ͒̚͞mͨͦ̿ͥ̑̏̐͌ͮ̈ͤ̈̉͏̺̮͙̫̪̠̹̣͔ȍ̸̡̨̮̰̳͉͕̩̣̪̘͔ͨ̍̀ͯ̉͐ͅͅŗ̢̨͕͉̣̦̣̥̰̩ͫ̑̈̎͒ͧ̎ͯ͋̄̒e̵̳͕̼̹̒̎ͫ̋̿͊́ͭ͋̀͆͜͜͟ ̷̝̻̫͉̫͓̝̀̂̔̌͗́b̛̛͖̤͈̬͊̏ͩͤͦ͜ͅoͤ̾̃ͫͫ̈́͊ͮ̓͗ͣ̎ͨ͛̈͛̃̓͜҉̷̰̦̞̟̫̖̖̻͙̝̠̟̮̜͈͕̫͔͟w̖̞̺̱̫̻͔̼̯̗͈̣̦̌͂ͭ̇͌̀ͪͤͣ̔̉ͤ̈̔̊͝l̫̝̩̥͚̝̟͚̟͉̼͕̬̮̖͙̱̬̿̑ͥ́͂ͫ͟͢͜.̡̒ͨ̇̿͋ͧ̉ͬͣͤͫ͑ͦ̓̚͏͇͚̦̟͕̺͓̩̦͖̲̣͢͡͝

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

White 2 Tea Unboxing

I never liked the phrase "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Of all the things you could do with lemons, that's what you choose? Lemons are so much more utilitarian than that. How about "When life gives you lemons, make limoncello. Also maybe some whiskey sours. And some lemon marmalade." Much like life, don't limit yourself to just one option.

However, when life gives you a White 2 Tea Odds and Ends Weekend sale, the ONLY option you have is "order lots of tea." I'd never actually ordered from White 2 Tea before because a) I'm poor and b) shipping is astronomical. But after yelling at Paul on Twitter for awhile (several months, really), he relented and sweetened the pot for me. He told me to "go for broke" and he'd take care of the shipping because he's a fantastic person. Or he's just tired of me haranguing him on Twitter so maybe jamming some puer in my mouth will stop me from pounding away at my keyboard like a gorilla with rabies. Either way, it worked and I decided to throw enough cheddar at him to keep him in grilled cheese sandwiches for a few weeks. And since unboxing posts are all the rage right now (I actually think I missed the popularity mark by about 3 years), I decided I'd document peeling away the swaddling from my tea baby.

I put in the order on February 29th (lucky) and it arrived March 16th. I expected this, honestly. I think Paul had to back-pack to the shipping office near his tea cave in China so I figured it'd take a bit to get here. Also, ordering a plant product packed into brick form from China means a healthy perusal by U.S. Customs. But after patiently waiting (something I am not particularly good at), my cardboard crucible of joy arrived.

Kinda beaten up:

To be fair, it's actually not bad considering it traveled 11,722 km / 7283.7131 miles (as the crow flies) to land at my doorstep. I was worried that the cakes might have been cracked so I hurried to pop it open. Luckily, my fears were unfounded because it was packed VERY well:

Look at it. It's not the Ark of the Covenant so your face is safe. Cracking open the box released a smell that I have trouble describing. It was, in part, the funk of pu er. But it was also something else. It was the smell of...well...China. A smell that lingers faintly in the background at the Asian grocery store I go to. The smell of a different world, one that I can't place. Earthy, slightly spicy, a bit pungent. So, naturally, I huffed the box for awhile because I am deranged.

After a few good snorts, I pulled out payload:

Next came the scissors and began to disassemble the pile.

I ordered two cakes and four samples. Since I ordered over $50 worth of stuff, I qualified for a free piece of tea-ware. Paul also threw in a few bits and bobs as well, which were much appreciated. We'll start with the samples. Each were 25g and individually sealed.

This is probably my favorite one and I haven't even tried it yet. 2015 Milk, Cream, And Alcohol (Raw). Milk And Alcohol is TECHNICALLY a song by Dr. Feelgood. This is true. However, "milk, cream, and alcohol" is actually a reference to the lyrics of John Lee Hooker's "Serves Me Right To Suffer". And I love John Lee Hooker. A lot.

2015 Little Walk (Raw). This will be the only time I actually go for a walk.

2015 Pretty Girls (Ripe). Every time I see this one all I can do is hum Pretty Women from Sweeney Todd.

2015 Brown Sugar (Ripe). "So smooth you'll say 'Shit, Damn, Motherfucker.' " Now, on to the cakes!

2006 Old Bear Fangcha (Raw). Recommended to me by a few people (one of which I have a feeling it's named after). A supposed smoky bruiser of a tea that will hold up to tobacco pairings and cocktail usage. Probably should have bought another.

2015 Old Reliable (Ripe). Pu er is expensive. Really expensive if you decide to delve into buying whole cakes or even, heaven forbid, full tongs. So finding a cheap, quality cake is like nuclear fusion: possible in theory but borderline non-existent in practice. So I went for a cake of the Old Reliable because it was cheap and I wanted a full cake. We'll see how it drinks and, after that, if I can resist buying a tong.

Now, the miscellany!

2015 Smooch (Raw). An adorable little "travel size" cake that Paul threw in for me. I love smooches. Also, I love Hugs. Those white chocolate Hershey Kisses? I love those things. Sorry, I had white chocolate while writing this and I'm still thinking about it.

A White2Tea branded pu er cake pick. Perfect for prying apart cakes, chipping ice, and murdering Morrie in a Cadillac Eldorado.

An absolutely delightful teacup. Which makes me think he's psychic because I have a gaiwan and a pitcher but no teacup to drink from. So this was pretty handy.

All in all, pretty good haul. I'd like to thank Paul at White2Tea for putting up with me for this long and for (potentially) putting up with me even further. I encourage you to order from him because he's cool. I don't know how his tea is but if it's anything like him, it's gonna be good.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cornell and Diehl Small Batch: Straight Up English - March 17th, 2016

Life, lately, has been quiet. Contemplative, even. One would think that accompanying a time of reflection and solitude, a pipe would be clenched between teeth, slowly wisping smoke upwards as a smudge-bundle for the brain.

Truth is, I haven't smoked a pipe in years.

It's not that I haven't wanted to. I have. I spend INORDINATE amounts of time researching pipe tobacco blends, following new releases, building wish-lists. But...I haven't. I've been smoking cigarettes like a fool. A life of hasty kips out the door for a gasper before retreating to the warmth. It is a habit of a frantic mind, a mind frazzled by stress and excessive bodily wear-and-tear. Enjoying a pipe requires time and, frankly, a relatively serene mind. Many people say that the time they spend smoking a pipe is akin to meditation. I find my zen in video games and Youtube clips of people eating MREs. So pipes...pipes have fallen by the wayside.

However...the call of research and development has brought me back to the briar. A few weeks ago, Adam at Smoking Pipes sent me a message on Twitter. Not unheard of; we chat all the time. But in this message he had a favor to ask: try out a new pipe tobacco soon to be released. This piqued my interest. What was being released? I hadn't heard of anything from Laudisi Enterprises. So I inquired. He told me that Cornell and Diehl was coming out with a new line of limited-run tobaccos called Small Batch. He told me that the first release was to be an English blend, titled simply "Straight Up English."

I LOVE English blends.

I accepted (hence me writing this). He even sweetened the deal with a few other samples that I'll get to in a bit. But more important than the samples was this burgeoning feeling that it was time to pick up the pipe once more. Once again take up the art of fumigation meditation. A week later, a package arrived with the samples.

So...what IS Straight Up English? Well, this is the infographic that Adam sent over.

It gives a rough idea of what's going on in the tin. I asked for further clarification and he linked me to this quote on Pipes Magazine Forum.
"To tell true, the Virginia's interplay with the Latakia is the focus, but the White burley offered texture and underlying strength. The blend's single largest component is actually Bright Virginia from our supply of really special Canadian crop from 2013. The color, aroma and uniquely zesty sweetness of this stuff is just lovely to work with. But what this Bright has going for it in terms of character and sweetness, it lacks in the Nicotine department. And in my opinion, a lot of English or Balkan or Latakia blends tend to leave me wanting more strength. Thus, the small addition of White Burley helped to soften the Brights, and up the "Umph" a bit, though without focusing in any overt way, on the flavor of the Burley. Think adding flour to gravy vs. baking bread."

I have to admit, I've never finished smoking an English blend and then said to myself "I wish that had more nicotine" but that's just me. If I want nicotine I'll go for rope or just have a cigarette. But rounding the Virginia with Burley seems interesting. Personally, I like the contrast of the citrus from the Virginia and the clout of Latakia (like a hot-smoked lemon) but I'll give it a go.

The latakia makes it levitate.

Sample arrived as above and caused my desk to smell like a fall burn-barrel at a citrus orchard. Opening it up and pouring a bit out to inspect it revealed:

I'd pin it as a "rough and ready" ribbon cut. It's almost like a combo of ribbon and ready rubbed but that might just be me being out of the whole pipe tobacco game for so long. Loading it into my Missouri Meerschaum Country Gentleman presents no problems. It's a bit chunky but it's easy enough to pack and the perfect humidity.

In terms of flavor, well, the latakia is the first thing that hits the palate. It gives color and personality to the blend with its smokey flavor that fades to an almost black pepper spice. The core of the blend is the Virginias. Less of the citrus flavor I associate with Bright Virginia but more of an almost woody, cedary flavor. And at the very end is the Burley, giving a subtle nuttiness and almost creaminess.

This blend is a simple but well-crafted oak table. The latakia is the stain of the wood, providing the pop and color to the wood underneath. The Virginias are the solid oak planks, providing richness and backbone. And the Burley is there to sand the table smooth and reveal the grain. It's not fancy, far from it. It focuses more on complementing the Virginias than the marriage between the Latakia and Virginias that other blends do. It's not an after-dinner English, it's very much an all-day English. It can be smoked from your first cup of tea in the morning to the post-dinner brandy at night. That being said, I found it to be a bit light for my tastes. I like an English with a bit more clout. It has enough to it to make it an all-day smoker but not enough to make you pay attention. Even though I'm making it out like that's a bad thing, it's not. It's a solid smoke. Perfect for lighting and then staring off into the distance.

Perfect for thinking.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Blue Collar Reviews Series

I'm broke.

There are many definitions of broke. Some people have their version of broke, some have others. For some, being broke means they can't afford something new and shiny; a big ticket purchase like a car or house. For others, it's that they don't have any expendable income. For the unfortunate few, it's a case of barely making ends meet.

These are not my definitions of broke.

I'm not broke. I'm not even broke. 


This is how many dollars I have to my name:

That's not a lot of dollars. I mean, it is in comparison to what some people make daily around the world. But considering I owe, monthly, in excess of $900...that's not many dollars. I try not to let it get to me. I don't buy much anymore. I save and scrimp at all costs. I wait and hope that disability comes through which should cover my loan payments and supplemental insurance to complement Medicare. I eat enough cheap tuna that I probably have severe mercury poisoning. Luckily, my parents are helping through this tough time. I love my parents.

Okay, shit, this is a super depressing start. Lemme see if I can save this.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Barritt's Ginger Beer (US Version) - Thursday, April 23rd

I hate ginger ale. There, I said it.

Okay, let me elaborate a bit. I have a love/hate relationship with ginger ale, heavily leaning towards the "hate" camp. It's a fine soda, I suppose, except I have bad memories of it. It's always been a health tonic for me. It was drunk flat and warm while sitting on a Thomas the Tank Engine blanket while home sick from school with a stomach bug.When I had my spinal surgery, it was LITERALLY one of the only things I could consume for about six days. I still keep it on hand, occasionally, for when my medicine makes me nauseous but it's really a "Break In Case of Imminent Biscuit-Spiffing" kind of soda. And the brands out there do it absolutely no justice at all. I'm sure a properly brewed ginger ale could be good! But when you crack open a warm can of Seagram's, Canada Dry, or Schweppes, you're met with an overly fizzy, tooth-rotting sweet, and barely ginger flavored simulacrum of a beverage.

So I generally stick with ginger beer. It has that fiery ginger to salsa on my tongue and soothe a wonky tummy. It's a great mixer for bourbon, vodka, rum, or whatever else you feel like putting in there. But all ginger beers are not created equal. My stand-by (and the one I can get easily) is Reed's Extra and it is a zesty balm for my soul. But that's not to say I don't like branching out. Recently, while perusing Christmas Tree Shops (don't ask), I came across a four pack of Barritt's Ginger Beer. Here's a bottle of it:

I've heard of Barritt's Ginger Beer before and it's a not-very-common sight around here, even though US version is made one state over in NJ. After chilling a bottle and trying it when I wasn't feeling fantastic, I decided to do it justice and chill another one for review. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

I enjoy the labeling on it. It's not "hip", it's not flashy. It's gorram soda and it's been around longer than you have and you will like it. Taking a peek at what's inside yield's this:

A slightly cloudy maelstrom of ginger-based light diffusion. Which is odd, actually, because this stuff is manufactured, not brewed, so they must add some ginger squeezin's in there. Here are the notes:

Nose: I feel like an idiot describing the nose of a soda. This is what my life has come to, I guess. It's surprisingly light. Ginger is apparent but not much else. Doesn't have that sickeningly sweet aroma you get with HFCS. That one that permeates your nostrils and coats it like Augustus Gloop in the choco-tube. Slight herbal note in there which I'm guessing is from the Quillaia bark.

Taste: Clean. Sweetness first; the real sugar sweetness. It doesn't linger, it doesn't give that gross HFCS film on the tongue. The ginger comes and gives it oomph but it's not a hot ginger flavor. There's a bit of heat as you drink the entire thing but it's not the mouth-crumpling punch that Reed's doles out. It doesn't overpower the sugar but rather compliments it, if that makes sense. Bit of creaminess in there as well. Slightly lemony too. Carbonation is subtle with fine bubbles.

Short form: it's good. It's not in line with your traditional ginger beer but the subtlety of it is refreshing and let's whatever you want to put in it shine through. I have one extra bottle left that I will save for a medical emergency (such as when my rum needs a prescription). If you've done the math correctly, you may note that I drank one bottle before, drank one for this review, and have one left over. What happened to that missing bottle? Magic, friend. I tucked it into a snow-bank in February and it got cold enough to partially freeze. Semi-liquid and semi-frozen, I drank it and it was like manna from heaven. So if you want to try something delicious, maybe make it into a granita. Okay, scratch that "maybe" part. Definitely try it. I think that's where my last bottle is headed.