So now we have a basic knowledge of the different types of tobacco used for pipe mixtures. Let's see if we cant put together a few guidelines for making them play nice together.
When I started blending, one of the first and best pieces of advice given to me by a famous blender was "To make a balanced blend use 2 parts of something sweeter and rounder, one part of something condimental and a dash of something to help it burn." So let's look at it like this
First we take that "Something sweeter and rounder". This is our base. Use a Virginia or a Burley or a mixture of the two. So if we're making, say, an English Mixture based on Virginias we would could use a wide variety of different Virginias. In this case lets make the base a blend of Bright and Red Virginia tobaccos. The bright will add a hay like sweetness which will harmonize with the tangy-sweet red.So for our example base we will use
-4 ounces of Red Virginia
-6 ounces of Bright Virginia
for a total of 10 oz.
For the "condimental" we'll be using Latakia. For a variation and more strength you could also use Dark Fired or a combination of both. so we'll use
-5 Ounces of Latakia.
Now for the "something to help it burn" we'll add
-1 ounce of Maryland.
You could also use Carolina Flake in place of the Maryland which is a bit sweeter but it's fine flake cut can cause it to precipitate out of a blend and you'll have to mix it up every time you want a smoke. Both will help the mixture burn.
Grab a bowl or throw it on a clean counter top and mix it all up uniformly. Seal it in a jar and let it marry for a couple weeks. You've just made your first "English Blend".
Now let's try a variation. We'll do a Scottish blend! There are around a zillion definitions of a Scottish blend and everyone swears theirs is the "correct" one. This is my blog so we're using my definition- a combination of Virginia, Latakia, Black Cavendish and Oriental tobaccos. Many of the Rattrays tobaccos are a combination of these varieties and if it was good enough for Charles Rattray, it's good enough for me.
Latakia and Red Virginia really complement each other in a blend so we will be using a base of pure red Virginia accented with a black cavendish to sweeten things up just a notch. for this example.
7 ounces Red Virginia
3 ounces Black Cavendish (Lane BCA, Rattrays Black Virginia, etc...
This is our base for a total of 10 ounces of tobacco.
To this we will add our "something condimental"
3 ounces Latakia
2 ounces Oriental
I suggest a simple Blended Turkish for this example to save yourself the added trouble of sourcing pure varietals. (Sutliff T19 is a good starting point.)
Finally we'll add our "something to help it burn"
1 ounce of Maryland.
Process as above- mix well, jar for a couple weeks and enjoy. I think you'll find that the components in this Scottish blend complement each other wonderfully. The addition of Black Cavendish to the base tempers and rounds the "tang" of the red Virginia while both are accented by the smokey Latakia and the ever so slight sour herbal notes of the Oriental. This is a very balanced blend.
So there we have a typical English blend and it's Scottish variant. For the last blend in this section let's take a look at a "Balkan" which will take us a bit further from the "comfort zone of our Base/Condimental/Combustant formula and take out the Maryland entirely. (Maryland helps with the even burn rate in any blend and I use it a lot in Aromatics as well as English blends with stoved virginia and black Cavendish which aren't the most perfectly burning varieties.You can omit it entirely from any blend, but I'm kind of a perfectionist when it comes to a nice even burn.
Here's our base:
5 ounces Red Virginia
5 ounces Stoved Cavendish
(Rattrays Black Virginia, Stoved Virginia, Green River Black or "Unsweetened Black Cavendish". You don't want to use an American style Black Cavendish here...we don't want any un-natural sweetness in a Balkan.
And here's our Condimentals which we are going to ramp up in proportion-
3 ounces Latakia
3 ounces Turkish.
Here it can be helpful to source a varietal Turkish like Basma, Katerini or my favorite, Macedonian Prilep. The proportions of a Balkan really show off the virtues of a good varietal.
This is your basic "Balkan" blend which will give a bit more of that funky Turkish sourness and Red Virginia tang that will balance out nicely with the plain black's natural caramel like flavor and the herbal smokiness of the Latakia.
You now have basic English blends under your belt. Feel free to experiment with different base tobaccos. Substitute Burley for the Virginia for an "American Style English". Switch out an aromatic Black Cavendish for the Black Cavendish for a "hybrid" blend. The possibilities and flavor combinations are endless.
Next up: Blending Burley! We'll be getting into casings and top notes.