For all intents and purposes, all pipe tobaccos are based on three different families- Virginia, Oriental and Burley. A great many different sub-species and variations on these primary "Varietals" exist.
"Condimental" or "spice" are uniquely processed tobaccos used to accent a or entirely change the character of a blend. They are not something easily produced by the home or small scale blender, but luckily all are readily available.
Latakia- Originally produced in the Latakia port city of Syria, Cyprus, Greece is now the only major producer of this pungent leaf.Not a varietal itself. Latakia is produced from Oriental leaf which Cured over low burning fires of native pine wood and needles, this black leaf is characterized by it's smokey herbal aroma and smokey "plum pudding" flavor. It can be used in amounts imperceptible to the smoker to add only a cooling effect to blends, used in moderate amounts for a rich plum pudding like flavor or used in up to 60% of a blend (such as Watch City's Ahab's Comfort)
A note on semantics here. You'll hear the term "English Blends" used a lot. The origin of this word comes from England's strict purity laws which forbade many aromas and additives to be used in the manufacture of tobacco. Technically, therefore, any blend which has not been flavored with a distinguishing aroma or flavoring agent may be referred to as an English blend. In the American market, the term evolved to mean any tobacco without a distinguishing flavor or aroma added, containing a characterizing amount of Latakia. For our purposes, this, the latter, is what we at Watch City refer to as an English blend...
Perique- True Perique is produced only from tobaccos grown in the St. James Parish region of Louisiana, using methods the Acadians derived from the Choctaw Indians who fermented their tobacco by stuffing it into hollow logs to ferment.
Today, true Perique is only produced by Mark Ryan of the Daughters and Ryan co. Burley tobaccos are hung to cure, de-stemmed. moistened with guarded-like-state-secret casing and packed into bundles, These "Tourquettes" as they are called are then placed in oak barrels and subjected to tremendous pressure from overhead screw-jacks. The resulting "anaerobically" fermented tobacco is characterized by a very acidic Ph., a fruity, pungent and somewhat vinegary aroma and a high Nicotine content. Used sparingly in Virginia blends, Perique adds a pleasant stewed plum and fig flavor that is loved by many smokers. Used heavily, a peppery sensation can be achieved which some enjoy and others don't. It can also be used in English blends, and I've seen it successfully used in some Burley Blends (KingFisher by Butera) as well as in some aromatics.
Fire Cured (also called Dark Fired)- Made by curing Kentucky Burley over smouldering hardwood fires, Fire Cured tobacco has a low, smokey barnyard aroma. Famously used "Parodi" or "Toscano" type cigars, premium cigar manufacturers have also recently been incorporating it into their products (Drew Estate's Kentucky Fire Cured).
A little bit truly goes a long way here. Used (very) sparingly Fire Cured leaf can add a wonderful sweet-smokey note to a blend. Use just a little too much, and it can sting like an Asian Hornet and dry your mouth out. out of many, many test batches, I've only been able to use it successfully in two blends; Watch City Slice and, very very sparingly, in Watch City's Fat Bastard. Other successful commercial blends include MacBaren's Old Dark Fired (whose judicious use of the leaf is tempered by their "Hot Pressing" method which seems to take away any trace of bite).
Next Up: Blending Basics!