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Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch Series—Exploring Small Batch and Limited Release Pipe Tobaccos

Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch Series—Exploring Small Batch and Limited Release Pipe Tobaccos

Posted by Greg Rosenberg on 6th May 2024

Updated from original published Aug 12, 2022


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Carolina Red Flake
Sansepolcro
The Beast
Sun Bear
From Beyond
Eight State Burley
Folklore
Palmetto Balkan
Steam Works


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, making use of different tobacco grades or specialty ingredients. 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 familiar Cornell & Diehl Small Batch blends and what makes each of them the treat that they are. 


Carolina Red Flake

Cornell & Diehl Carolina Red Flake

Carolina Red Flake, first released in 2016, came from unlikely inspiration.

Cornell & Diehl's main Red Virginia grade was getting low, and would soon need to be replaced. As mentioned before, even two varietals of the same name will have distinct qualities, so head blender Jeremy 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

Cornell & Diehl 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 does Sutliff Tobacco in particular special releases, some blends from the Birds of a Feather series for instance.

It was announced with the roll out of  Anthology, Cornell & Diehl's thirtieth anniversary blend, that through a long effort coordinating with 31 Farms, Cornell & Diehl 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

Cornell & Diehl Sansepolcro

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. 

Reeves has tinkered with the mixture a bit since its introduction in 2016. In addition to changing grades, which is to be expected in these Small Batch mixtures (and any blend given enough time), the most recent iteration from 2024 sees Dominican Black Cavendish and Bright Virginias further developing the nuance and smooth characteristics of Sansepolcro.


The Beast

Cornell & Diehl The Beast

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 Cornell & Diehl's special Red Virginia Cavendish, and just a bit of Dark Fired Kentucky. 

In March of 2023, The Beast returned with all the power it possessed before. But of course, this time that sinewy Louisiana spice came from Cornell & Diehl’s proprietary, genuine St James Perique made in collaboration with 31 Farms, introduced the prior year.  


Sun Bear

Cornell & Diehl Sun Bear

Sun Bear is 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 apiary.

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

Cornell & Diehl 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.

Just as myriad, minute variables factor into a particular grade of tobacco, the characteristics of honey are also heavily influenced by such details. For honey, the flowering vegetation providing the pollen and nectar makes all the difference, hence why Reeves had to find a good replacement from not just any apiary to supplement the rest of the necessary honey for the original. Every apiary will produce honey that tells the story of  its flora.

The honey used in Sun Bear Black Locust was sourced from the apiary 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

Cornell & Diehl Sun Bear Mountain Flower

In 2022 came Sun Bear Mountain Flower.

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.

Sun Bear Tupelo

Yet another wonderful reprise of Sun Bear features an exceptionally rare honey, white tupelo. This ethically sourced honey is produced with the nectar from the white Ogeechee tupelo tree. This northern Florida flora blooms for only two weeks. Reeves continues to get the most out of the small batch model, bringing another fine iteration that wouldn't be feasible otherwise. 


From Beyond

Cornell & Diehl From Beyond

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 Virginias, Izmir and Basma as the Oriental component, Latakia, and St James Perique. Like Carolina Red Flake w/ Perique, From Beyond uses Perique that is grown and processed in St James Parish.

The 2023 release of From Beyond maintains the grades of the previous iterations with the exception of the Latakia, which has been replaced with special Turkish Latakia.

“The Turkish Latakia is such a step up in terms of quality from what has traditionally been available in Latakia for many, many years at this point,” says Reeves. “There’s a company in Turkey that is made up of a group of guys that have a lot of experience in the tobacco industry from different parts of the industry who essentially got together to try and re-envision the way that Latakia is produced, to try and make it something that was a more elevated component than what it’s previously been.” 


Eight State Burley

Cornell & Diehl Eight State Burley

Cornell & Diehl has long been ambassadors for the often under-appreciated 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.

In 2022, Eight State Burley made a return with a few amendments. 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.


Folklore

Cornell & Diehl Folklore

In February of 2022, Folklore was introduced, the first of the small batch line to be released as a 16 oz Crumble Cake brick. Proving to be a worthy mixture in the Small Batch lineup, it got its first re-release in January 2023. 

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.

Cornell & Diehl Folklore

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. 


Palmetto Balkan 

Cornell & Diehl Palmetto Balkan

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 available Latakia and the lost Syrian variety.

"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 Virginia side. Izmir and Basma leaf are present as the Oriental component.

2024 saw a return for Palmetto Balkan, this time using their Turkish Latakia, which goes through a proprietary process developed specifically to approximate the fine, wine-like character of Syrian Latakia.


Steamworks

In late August 2023, Cornell & Diehl introduced Steamworks—a Small Batch mixture that highlights Oriental flavor and the depth and transformative flavor that can be brought on by the stoving of tobacco. Stoving—or, steaming— tobacco is often associated with the process of cooking out much of the flavor of Virginia or Burley to make Black Cavendish, and while this process-specific variety has a great deal of merit for its use in a blend, reducing  the stoving convention to this one application misses the diverse and interesting characters that the process can bring to the leaf when thoughtfully applied with varying intensity.


Six Virginia grades are present in Steamworks—two of which have gone through the steaming process to near blackness, with the other four “steamed to color,” as Reeves puts it, “basically deepened to a dark brown or purple color.” The result is something that takes on the inherent creamy, sweet, mellowness of Cavendish, with more subtlety and nuance from the preserved Virginia flavor. It’s finally given a bit of weight with St James Perique to add dynamic and spice, and is complemented by a forward flavor of matured Oriental through a mixture of Izmir, heirloom Black Sea Sokhoum (both 2005), and Katerini from 2006.


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.