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The Tobacco Files - Sutliff Pipe Force Episode IV

The Tobacco Files - Sutliff Pipe Force Episode IV

Posted by Greg Rosenberg on 12th Jul 2023

Pipe Force Episode IV is live!

Last year, Sutliff introduced the Per Jensen Signature Series with Birds of a Feather. The collection included six pipe blends, each containing at least one special, rare tobacco. I knew that the series would return this year with a new line of mixtures, but I was anxious to know what thematic thread would run through this collection, if one would at all. Then the folks at Sutliff introduced me to Pipe Force and two special tobaccos—Stoved Rustica and Stoved Katerini. Each blend in the series will use at least one of these. 

I'm exited to get into this series and Episode IV, but the best introduction to Pipe Force is from the one who mixed these blends—

Pipe Force

Another step into the tobacco world, or should I call it a new galaxy has been discovered concerning two brand new experiences in pipe tobacco. These are Katerini Oriental and Nicotiana Rustica, both tobaccos have been transferred into Cavendish tobacco.

It all started with my visit to Jamestown (Virginia) and learned that Rustica had been smoked by the Powhatan people in that area of Virginia, USA. Back home I came up with the idea to make pipe tobacco using Nicotiana Rustica, and the result was HH Rustica.

Last year I was gifted the Katerini Perique which I used in some of the tobaccos in the Birds of a Feather line of pipe tobaccos. I can assure you that it is seldom to get your hands on new sorts of pipe tobacco and use them for the first time ever. And especially when you reach my age you imagine that you have seen everything, but real-life surprises you time after time so just keep your mind open.

This year I was asked by Jeremy Mckenna of Sutliff Tobacco to create six blends that were going to be named Pipe Force. As always, my mind was thinking in which direction to take the blends and especially how they could differ from current blends. One night the idea came to me and as trivial as it sounds, the beauty lay in the simple idea. Why not expose Katerini Oriental and Nicotiana Rustica to the special Cavendish process and try to make deep black tobacco? Both contain natural sugar, so the prerequisites were in order. The Cavendish process makes the original tobacco slightly milder, and since Rustica is a strong tobacco, it shouldn't hurt and Katerini was tried as Perique with a light fruit/floral note. So, what is not to like?

My goddess of happiness turned out to be Jeremy Mckenna, CEO of Sutliff Tobacco. After I explained my idea to Jeremy, he was equally excited and offered to make the two new Cavendish tobaccos. It's always special when 2 tobacco brains think the same thoughts, not so common, but it happens. Jeremy and his craftsmen performed miracles, and the result was no less than amazing. At the same time, the two Cavendish tobaccos were completely new types of tobacco that no pipe smoker had ever tasted.

Mixing these tobaccos was done with awe, just trying completely new flavors was out of this world. One thing didn't change though, it was still trial and error until the blend was as it should be. I hope you will enjoy these new Pipe Force blends; they are special individuals with their very own flavor profiles.

Pipe Force – a series that celebrates pipe smoking by showing innovation isn’t a thing of the past, there are still frontiers to explore.

Happy smoke

Per Georg Jensen 

Coincidentally, when I was introduced to these tobaccos I had recently finished writing  a deep dive into Cavendish, digging into the murky history and significance of the processing convention. I was very much in the weeds, just fascinated with Cavendish/stoved tobacco and its historic and continued role in the blender's arsenal. So, you can imagine how intrigued I was when samples of two stoved tobaccos that had never been processed in such a way appeared on my desk. 

Now, the first blend of the Pipe Force series is upon us, Episode IV - First Sergeant Deckard (yes, these blends will be released IV, V, VI, I, II, III. I'm sure most can glean the reason for this quirk). 

Side note before we begin—

I think its necessary to clarify some terminology. 

Now, we all know that Cavendish is a stoved tobacco, but not all stoved tobacco is Cavendish, which must come from the Cauvignon Plat region of France.

Okay, okay—I'm just kidding. Stoving is the same process as Cavendish—darkening with steam, heat, and pressure. The techniques and equipment used to achieve these ends certainly vary from one blending house to another, but there isn't some modification to the process that determines whether the result is a Cavendish or stoved tobacco. 

I'll be referring to these tobaccos as Stoved Rustica/Katerini as I have been, but as you can see in Jensen's communiqué introducing the series, Rustica/Katerini Cavendish is another way to label them. 

Sutliff - Pipe Force Episode IV - First Sergeant Deckard

Sutliff Signature Series Pipe Force First Sergeant Deckard Episode IV pipe tobacco

A light, Oriental-focused English mixture accentuated with two novel, stoved tobaccos—Rustica and Katerini. The Orientals are musky and herbal, bringing much of the flavor alongside Red Virginia tang and wood as well as spice from the Stoved Katerini. The Stoved Rustica offers a stout body and peppery sensation, harmonizing with a light Latakia smokiness.

Entry 1

Before he was the Mac Baren tobacco savant we know today, Per Jensen was a pipe maker. Georg Jensen Pipes was established in 1954 by Per's father. With his sister, Per would come to run the company from 1980 until it was sold about two decades later. 

In the months leading up to the first launch in the Birds of a Feather series, Uno, I had begun taking an interest in pipe restoration (maybe a generous term for the sprucing up I do). One of the first estate pipes I acquired was a lovely Georg Jensen bent Egg. It became tradition to have the inaugural smoke of each blend from the series in this pipe. I planned to continue this with Pipe Force, but then I thought, why not treat myself to another Georg Jensen to devote to this series?

Georg Jensen tobacco pipe restoration

I found this handsome Georg Jensen De Luxe and gave it a clean. I'm very taken with it and it will make for a wonderful clencher, which is always a plus for trying blends I'm simultaneously writing about. 

Okay, on to the actual tobacco.

Pre Smoke

Breaking the seal on Pipe Force Episode IV, I find a nicely intact Sutliff-style plug; ribbon—as opposed to whole leaf—that's pressed and cut to easily pull layers from the side of the block to be rubbed down to the desired consistency. Definitely won't need a knife to prepare this plug. 

Sutliff Pipe Force Episode IV cut

There isn’t a strong tin note, but bringing my nose to the open tin, I get a light smokiness, and what seems to be a vinegar note I associate with some of Sutliff's Reds such as the Red VA Crumble Kake or 515 RC-1.

I take a strip from the side and break it down into reddish and dark brown ribbons, with just a few bright pieces peeking through. Moisture content is fine enough, however, I crumble a few bowls worth to set myself up for later. I find that just having that loose ribbon in the closed (but not sealed) tin will have the moisture more to my preference for smokes to come, at least in the short term.  

Lighting up

I instantly notice woody spice. The Oriental flavors are clear as day, a joint effort between the Oriental component and the Stoved Katerini I imagine. It contrasts gracefully with the dark earth and woody flavors of the Stoved Rustica, while some of that Sutliff Red Virginia tang accents.

Sutliff Pipe Force Episode IV in Georg Jensen tobacco pipe

The Latakia is very tame in Episode IV, adeptly underscoring the Stoved Rustica's BBQ character. 

There's a complexity of savory flavors in this smoke. I can imagine the Stoved Rustica and Orientals and perhaps the Stoved Katerini are all in collaboration in some way here. I'm very eager to try the Stoved Katerini and Rustica again in isolation and see how that influences my experience with Episode IV, if at all. With any complex blend, it takes familiarity for some nuances to come through, but with two varietals processed in an unprecedented way, I'm all the more fascinated. 

Going into the final third or so, Episode IV seems to lean more earthy, but not in an acrid or burnt out palate way, as is sometimes the case with the final act—there are still dimensions to the profile, and the Rustica takes a slight lead on the Oriental.


I'm changing things up a little bit with this column. Usually, after having journaled a few more smokes of the featured blend, I'd consolidate my developing impression with Entry 2. Since I'm reacquainting myself with these new stoved tobaccos in isolation, I figure I'll share my impressions of them before returning to my exploration of Episode IV, hopefully a bit more perceptive to the nuances of the novel tobaccos' roles.

Stoved Katerini

First, we have Stoved Katerini. Katerini is an Oriental sub-varietal. The initial inspiration for the Per Jensen Signature Series was the special  Katerini Perique featured in Uno and Anomalous of the Birds of a Feather series. Now Katerini has been put through the stoving process. One point of interest here is the sugar content of the Oriental tobacco, which, of our basic pipe tobacco varietals, is second only to Virginia leaf—a result of sun curing preserving more of the natural sugars. This is an important factor when considering how the leaf takes the stoving process. 

Stoved Katerini pipe tobacco

Stoved Katerini seems to retain much of the Oriental floral spice notes. I get a herbal tea quality from Oriental tobaccos, often with that citrus tinge like a bit of lemon. Its recognizable here, but the stoving has accentuated that citrus and caramelized sweetness in a unique way. Despite the mellowing of the stoving process, it retains some of that sensory experience familiar to Oriental tobaccos, gently engaging the sinus. 

Stoved Rustica

Next we have the Stoved Rustica. This one is very interesting, as we have the notoriously robust Nicotiana rustica, undergoing a process notable for its mellowing and rounding of the natural tobacco roughness. 

As I understand it, this Rustica was hot pressed prior to stoving—a practice employed by Per Jensen to tame the powerful tobacco when developing the popular Mac Baren HH Rustica. I believe the hot pressing helps to retain some of the natural sugar as well, which may be beneficial for how Rustica takes the stoving process. 

Stoved Rustica pipe tobacco

The strands of Stoved Rustica are strong and leathery. There is that unmistakable BBQ dark note that is present in HH Rustica, clearly not totally extinguished in the stoving process.

Lighting up, I'm instantly met with some savory, smoky flavor. There's a floral side with a definitive sweetness, very much with the caramelized "warm" sweetness that a Stoved Virginia delivers. Spices and a soapy floral lilt are about. It's interesting what complexity there is to find in this single component. Even still, there's a distinct "rounded" character here, which is to say it is placated in all the sharp, rough areas. 

However, it's not as though Stoved Rustica is entirely declawed. Although it certainly seems to be through the first third or so of a bowl, that body and nicotine hit does develop. It's certainly tempered from the pre-stoved Rustica, but definitely the strongest stoved tobacco I've had.

Entry 2

Right now I have Pipe Force Episode IV in my Sasieni One Dot Billiard, which I  dedicate to English blends. But I have tried it in quite a few contexts the last week or so, and I have to say, it’s one of those blends I can expect something different from each time.

The Oriental character is always a main player, but sometimes the sweetness and dark fruit attributes from the Red Virginia seem to come more to the fore, though that is not so much the case in my current smoke. In my Sasieni, there was a floral, spicey start, leaning more into the smoky attributes, which I imagine has something to do with this pipe's intimate relationship with the English style.

Sutliff Pipe Force IV in Sasieni One Dot

Speaking more to my general experience with Episode IV, it’s certainly a balanced yet animated debut of these stoved tobaccos. Smaller bowls seem to accentuate the spice, especially in the sinus, but in any pipe, the sensory experience is a central feature of the blend's character. Episode IV is hearty—not a knock out—but certainly bold. It’s those sensory attributes lighting up the sinus and palate that may make this an evening smoke for me. Or at least to be smoked knowing I won’t be finding much nuance in a subtle Virginia for some time after.

Strength:   ◙◙◙◙◙◙◙○○○
Flavor:     ◙◙◙◙◙◙◙○○○

I’m reminded a bit of Birds of a Feather in how the first release in the series, Uno, debuted Katerini Perique as one component in an elaborate assortment of varietals, from base to the condiments. But then we had Anomalous later in the series, which gave us the Katerini Perique in a more simplistic VaPer format, allowing the smoker a chance to really locate the unique tobacco in a less busy context. 

Even in the layers of Episode IV, there is little trouble finding attributes of these stoved tobaccos, especially the Rustica, but they are pieces of this complex medley. Whereas next in this series, we’ll have Episode V (definitely a favorite of mine in the series). Minimalistic yet refined, this is a blend of Virginia, Katerini, and Rustica—all stoved. Here, these unique tobaccos are truly showcased in that less busy context.

If that sounds interesting, make sure to mark your calendrer for September 13th. 

Until next time...

Thanks for sticking this one out, there was a bit more to get into outside of just my experience with the Pipe Force Episode IV.

I know many out there have or will have already had each of the Pipe Force blends by the time of their respective releases through purchasing samples at pipe shows. Going forward with this series, I encourage any who would like to offer their own impressions to reach out. I think it'd be neat to feature more perspectives in the columns to come.

But besides that; feedback, advice, requests, corrections, friendly hellos? Always welcome—