Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch Series—Exploring Small Batch and Limited Release Pipe Tobaccos
Posted by Greg Rosenberg on 12th Aug 2022
We’ve seen many small batch and limited run blends from a number of brands lately. It seems each has a story of its own, so we wanted to explore these releases and the blending houses behind them. Here, we’ll focus on the Cornell & Diehl Small Batch series.
Since 2016, Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch series has brought us fantastic and imaginative pipe tobacco blends in limited runs. These blends are often reintroduced with the original recipe or adapted iterations of it, making use of a different tobacco grade or specialty ingredient. These being some of the beloved blending house's most cherished creations, you have to wonder why they aren't available year round—what makes them so different from those blends that are?
In tobacco blending, as is the case in any number of industries, consistency is crucial. It’s generally important to manufacturing that the current production is going to be as identical as possible to the one a customer bought last year.
Ensuring consistency requires a good deal of maintenance, especially when your product is a natural one. When a blending house purchases a single tobacco grade, that stock might last a long time, but it will inevitably need to be replaced, and it's not as simple as switching this bright leaf with that bright leaf. Climate, soil, and any number of variables affect one harvest from another, and a good match for the current, whittling stock must be found.
This is all to say, the demands of consistency can impede creativity, or at least impede a blender's license to explore certain whims. Especially for smaller, boutique operations. The Small Batch model gives Cornell & Diehl the opportunity to consider more specialized ingredients without the constraints imposed by a need for constant and indefinite reproduction. Beyond the sourcing of unique tobacco, it also allows for more specialized processes to be used for certain blends, those that are too labor and/or resource intensive to integrate into regular operations.
So, let's take a dive into some of the most appreciated Cornell & Diehl Small Batch blends and what makes each of them the treat that they are.
Carolina Red Flake
Carolina Red Flake, first released in 2016, came out of an unlikely inspiration.
Cornell & Diehl's stock of red Virginia was getting low, and it would need to be replaced soon. As mentioned before, even two varietals of the same name will have distinct qualities, so Reeves set out to taste many red Virginia grades in search of a proper match to the dwindling stock. It was in searching for this replacement that he came across L2DH-0-15.
“One of the grades that I was sampling was L2DH-0-15,” Reeves explains in a 2020 interview with The Virtual Pipe Club. “And when I tasted it I was blown away by the flavor of it but it was not a good match for the red Virginia that we were currently using, it was wildly different but it was delicious. And so I knew, okay well I can't use it as a replacement grade for what we’re currently using for our main production, but this is too good not to do something with.”
This exceptional leaf was blended with other Virginias from North Carolina to create this Old Belt tribute. Carolina Red Flake was a success and enjoyed yearly limited productions of the original recipe, but as expected, the component eventually needed to be replaced. The 2019 production was the last to feature L2DH-0-15, being replaced with SM218 for a second iteration. Similarly, this was a red Virginia that was distinct from the main red Virginia component used in Cornell & Diehl blends, but with a flavor hard to resist taking advantage of.
Carolina Red Flake w/ Perique
In 2020, another take on the blend came to be with the Small Batch VaPer Carolina Red Flake w/ Perique. This blend saw stoved and unstoved 2018 red Virginias mixed with genuine St. James Perique from a 2002 production. St. James Perique is unique as it’s made entirely from the Burley sub-varietal grown in St. James Parish, as opposed to the mixture that results in Acadian Perique—what most all Perique blends contain. However, there are some exceptions, as you'll see a few other blends in the Small Batch Series use genuine St. James Perique, as well as Sutliff Tobacco’s Uno and another yet to be released blend from their own small batch production, the Birds of a Feather series.
Announced with the recent roll out of Anthology, Cornell & Diehl's thirtieth anniversary blend, Reeves has revealed that through a long effort coordinating with 31 Farms, they have arranged for the consistent, exclusive production of St. James Perique. But prior to this development Acadian Perique was almost exclusively used, and is still the norm for other blending houses.
Sansepolcro, named for the city in the Arezzo province of Italy, is another great Small Batch blend. It is in this city that one of the main components of the mixture is grown and processed—an Italian Dark-Fired leaf.
The tradition of fire-curing tobacco goes back a long way in Italy, and remains a staple of many popular Italian cigars. The Dark-Fired leaf provides a spicy clove-like flavor and is the perfect complement to the sweet, tangy red Virginias.
The Beast is truly a fitting name for this blend. It’s daunting as a beast, and is blended in recognition of the self-described Beast himself, the infamous pipe smoking occultist Aleister Crowley. It’s rumored that Crowley’s “blend” of choice was straight rum soaked Perique.
Now whether that’s true or not is open to debate, perhaps it’s just a rumor too felicitous not to stick, or perhaps it’s a half-truth muddled by semantics (“Perique” was often misapplied to tobacco that had not been processed like Perique). But if anyone was to have such a brazen preference, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the founder of Thelema.
The Beast is a somewhat subdued take on the fabled mixture. We have a whopping 51% Perique content in this blend that has been soaked in rum for seven days. Then comes Red Virginia Cavendish, and just a bit of Dark Fired Kentucky.
Sun Bear was another wonderful blend to come of the Small Batch series. A mixture of Virginia and Oriental leaf, Sun Bear pulls it all together with a very special ingredient that isn’t a unique tobacco, but a very special topping - natural honey. The tobacco is then tamed with a light topping of silver tequila and elderflower. Truly an approach to top flavoring entirely about serving the tobacco and creating something natural and special.
A good portion of the honey used for Sun Bear came right from Reeves’ own production as a beekeeper. However, Reeves found he couldn’t quite fulfill the amount of honey required for the batch, so he went taste testing to find a good match for his honey, which was found in a local South Carolina aviary.
Reeves explained the inspiration behind Sun Bear to the good folks of the Virtual Pipe Club:
[Sun Bear] was really designed to be a blend that I could enjoy smoking in the South Carolina heat and humidity and I think that that blend holds up really well, not only in terms of being a pleasurable thing to smoke in summer, but it is also, for me, very very evocative of the smells and flavors that mean summer to me personally and I hope that others have that same experience, but it was really put together to be a summer blend.
Sun Bear Black Locust
In 2021, we got another iteration of the beloved mixture, seeing the same recipe with a replacement of the original honey.
Much in the way minute conditions affect tobacco taste harvest to harvest, honey is very similar. Or better put, like most any natural product, their characteristics are affected by a slew of variables. For honey, one of those variables is a bee's diet, hence why Reeves had to find a good replacement from not just any aviary to supplement the rest of the necessary honey for the original. Every aviary will produce honey that reflects the conditions surrounding it.
The honey used in Sun Bear Black Locust was sourced from the aviary of fellow pipe smoking beekeeper, Victor Seested. This nectar that came from hives situated around Black Locust trees, whose flowers produce an especially lovely honey. It’s tart, citrusy, and sweet in a not cloying way.
Sun Bear Flower Mountain
At the time of writing, Sun Bear Mountain Flower is the most recent iteration of Sun Bear, and in fact, the most recent of the Small Batch releases.
Just like Sun Bear Black Locust, Mountain Flower sees the same delightful mix of Virginia and Oriental leaf topped with silver tequila and elderflower, but with a new source of honey. This time, organic Mountain Flower honey brightens and enriches the Sun Bear profile. This Mountain Flower honey is a mix of wildflower and blackberry honey sourced from a Morganton, North Carolina family-operated apiary.
The blending house describes the mixture—
Despite its unique casings, Sun Bear: Mountain Flower is not an Aromatic, but a complex Virginia/Oriental flake with both top and bottom notes of mutual sweetness. It appeals to customers across the smoking spectrum without targeting an individual flavor profile, and is a rare summertime treat that every smoker can open and enjoy immediately or purchase in multiple tins to put away and age.
Released in 2019 at the Chicago Pipe show, From Beyond is a Small Batch blend which is also a creature of another popular series, The Old Ones. This places From Beyond in the company of other popular blends such as Mad Fiddler Flake, Dreams of Kadath, and Innsmouth, each related by their Lovecraftian inspiration which is manifest in the exotic profiles of these blends.
As for From Beyond, Reeves conceived of this mixture after smoking Dunhill Nightcap which had been maturing since the 1980s. The distinct strength and flavor with the smoothing of time made for something special that Reeves set to approximate over months of trial and error. The dedication was well worth it. The blend features red North Carolinian and bright Canadian Virgnias, Izmir and Basma as the Oriental component, Latakia, and St. James Perique. Like Carolina Red Flake with Perique, Perique that is grown and processed in Saint James Parish.
Eight State Burley
Cornell & Diehl has long been ambassadors for the often underappreciated Burley leaf. Often seen only for its qualities as a base or its effects on body and strength, the blending house notoriously speaks to the integrity of the leaf and its nuanced, subtle flavor. As Miles Davis said, “it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” At the center of this advocacy and embrace of Burley is Cornell & Diehl as a proud arbiter of the American tobacco tradition, but one can’t attest to Cornell & Diehl’s prevalence in this role without mentioning the late great Bob Runowski, whose mastery of and passion for the varietal continues to speak to us through his classic Burley creations such as Pegasus, Haunted Bookshop, Epiphany, and Bailey’s Front Porch, to name a few.
In Eight State Burley, Cornell & Diehl seals that appreciation in a love letter to the varietal and the regions with a rich history in its cultivation.
Released in 2021, the original Eight State Burley was the natural result of Reeves coming across a stock of well-matured white Burley from 2015. It had “all of the classic nutty, malty, chocolatey, sort of notes that I expect from nice Burley,” explains Reeves. “But the extra age on it had really just mellowed these things out, and there was just no brashness, there were no rough edges to it, and it was really elegant.”
Naturally, Reeves wanted to build a blend around this white Burley to showcase its superb attributes. Three 2005 Orientals were added for a little more depth of flavor—Samsun, Black Sea Sokhoum, and Katerini. Then came some 2014 dark Burley, 2017 Canadian brights, and 2018 red Virginia.
2022 Eight State Burley
Then we have 2022 Eight State Burley. This return saw a few amendments in the source leaf. Most importantly, the stock for which the blend was created had been depleted in the first run, so Reeves set to finding another supply of white Burley of comparable flavor and maturity. Fortunately, he acquired a 2014 grade of just such a leaf. Lastly, the bright Canadian leaf was replaced with a 2019 harvest.
2022 has been quite a year for great Small Batch releases. One first run of a new installment in the series came in February with Folklore, the first of the small batch line to be released as a 16 oz crumble cake brick. Folklore offers a concoction of five flue-cured varietals forming a base on which St. James Perique, Kentucky, and Kasturi leaf deliver an excellent and fascinating profile.
The Katsuri leaf is a unique aspect of Folklore’s flavor. Katsuri is seldom used in pipe tobacco mixtures—the Indonesian leaf, also called Fenugreek, is more commonly associated with its culinary uses and its inclusion in clove cigarettes as a spice.
Another special ingredient is of course that genuine St. James Perique.
In May of 2022, Cornell & Diehl introduced Palmetto Balkan into the Small Batch pantheon. This Balkan was blended to honor the Oriental-forward, Syrian Latakia sporting mixtures of yesteryear.
There are many blends out there that are crafted to approximate Balkan Sobranie and similar blends of yore, and whether they are matches for the original profile or not, they are enjoyable in their own right. The difficulty in creating match blends is the difference in the leaf available today, in this case, Syrian Latakia. For Palmetto, Reeves experimented with the processing of Cyprian Latakia to narrow the light between the now and once ubiquitous smoky sub-varietals.
"I wanted to see if there was a way to take current Cyprian Latakia and bring out some of the sweeter elements and I found a process that I think draws out some of that," Reeves explains. "So I wont say that it's a one to one match but I do think you'll find that this particular blend has some interesting less smoky and more Oriental forward character to the Latakia itself."
Palmetto Balkan, which was offered in 8 oz tins, includes red Virginias from 2017, as well as 2019 tips that are more to the orange side of Virginias. Izmir and Basma leaf are present as the Oriental component.
More to come...
This is just the start for Cornell & Diehl's Small Batches. There will no doubt be returns and reworkings of at least some of these blends, and new ones all together. But you have to keep your ear to the ground. With the limited supply of each batch, they come and go quickly.
To keep up with new releases, limited and otherwise, as well as regular sales, you can join our email list (at the bottom of the page) for updates.