If you already have an idea of the kinds of pipe tobacco that you like or the specific ingredients of pipe blends that you enjoy, then making your own blend is a simple matter. Getting is just right, with the right pouch aroma, the right strength, and aroma fullness…these are more challenging, though still not difficult.
a. Where to Start
How you begin will depend on whether you already have specific ingredients that you need to work with, or instead, can obtain any ingredient that you think you might want to use. How you do measurements and document them can make the process of blending tedious or a delight‑complicated or simple. Some folks use a precision scale (accurate to tenths or hundredths of a gram) to carefully weigh out their blend ingredients. This is admirable but is far more consistent than the tobaccos that will be blended. The exact character of a tobacco ingredient may change from one purchase to the next. It’s an agricultural product. It varies.
If your ingredients are roughly in the same shred size (and degree of “fluffiness”), then you can measure by volume. That is, you can just count tablespoons (level or heaping or whatever, but be consistent) of each ingredient, and document that. An ounce to an ounce and a half (weight) of tobacco blend is about 16 tablespoons of ingredients. It is not unreasonable to bend in increments of 1/16 of a batch‑1 part per 16. Sometimes, you may recognize the need to be more delicate, and measure using a half-tablespoon (32 of them for a test batch), but that is surprisingly uncommon. [The late Craig Tarler of Cornell & Diehl recorded many hundreds of pipe blend cards with blend ingredient measurements of 16ths, considering it in terms of ounces per pound of the blend.]
However, you go about measuring the blend proportions, write it down, either on the exterior of the Ziploc bag that contains the final blend, using a Sharpie, or on a notepad. You will likely need to refer to it for the next test blend.
1) Known components
If you can obtain whatever ingredient might be called for, then go to popular websites that sell or review commercial pipe tobacco, and see what information is available on a blend you know you like. While that will probably not provide many meaningful proportions, it may be enough of a clue to get you started. Plan to make very small test batches of about 1 ounce of the blend. If you have no clue about relative proportions within the target blend, then begin with equal proportions of each ingredient. Smoke a bowl. If a batch seems close, but not quite there, consider which ingredient seems to be underrepresented, which might be overstated. Make only a tiny adjustment for the next test batch.
2) Working with the tobacco you already have
Begin your trials by smoking a separate bowl of each available ingredient straight. (You probably don’t want to do that with Latakia or perique.) But get to know the characteristics of the potential ingredients. Take notes.
does it cause a tongue bite?
front or back of the tongue?
how potent does the nicotine seem to be?
what is the overall fullness of the flavor and aroma?
is it sweet? bitter? sour? peppery?
is it enjoyable straight?
In blending what you have, one approach is to bring together ingredients that complement one another in their answers to the above questions. Another is to attempt to amplify certain qualities by combining two or more ingredients that seem to feature them.
This kind of pipe blending is a truly blank slate. You are the only judge as to whether or not a blending test batch is better than one of the individual ingredients alone.
Remember that with any air-cured or flue-cured tobacco you might have, you can turn some of it into Cavendish and some of it into perique, if you don’t already have those components.
3) Blending hints
Burley and Maryland will tend to increase the potency of a blend, in both throat hit and nicotine. Burley contributes its distinctive aroma, while Maryland is fairly neutral in the aroma.
Oriental leaf usually diminishes the nicotine strength, may add subtle floral notes and may contribute a bit of sweetness. All of these factors differ by Oriental variety.
Flue-cured Virginia tends to lower the total nicotine, brighten the aroma and feel, and counter some of the throat hits of burley. Darker Virginias are fuller and slightly less acidic. The lower pH (greater acidity) of flue-cured tobacco contributes to tip-of-the-tongue bite.
Dark-air-cured leaf significantly amps up the nicotine and diminishes the bite of flue-cured. In that regard, it can fully replace the need for perique, though it contributes a quite different aroma.
Perique adds a full, rich, deep aroma to a pipe blend. It can completely eliminate flue-cured tongue bite, but if used in excess, can create its own back-of-the-tongue-bite, and dramatically increase nicotine absorption from the blend. A starting point for pH balancing flue-cured with perique is to add perique to the blend in a proportion of about 3 parts perique to every 5 parts of flue-cured. Adjust your preference from there.
Latakia adds a full, smoky aroma, but one that is more like a somber incense, rather than barbecue. By weight, it tends to lower the nicotine concentration of a blend. Typical Latakia proportions range from about 15% up to 50%, though some commercial blends go as high as 75% Latakia. A middle-of-the-road Latakia blend will have between 25% and 35% Latakia. As the proportion of Latakia increases, so does the vague taste of what is described as “soapiness”, as well as a sense that your tongue may have been used as a doormat. Very high Latakia concentrations (50% on up) are often reserved for the last bowl of the evening.
Cigar leaf in a pipe blend usually refers to a small proportion of Maduro leaf from Pennsylvania Broadleaf, Lancaster Seedleaf, or a similar, American variety. This broadens the flavor profile and adds a touch of sweetness. Using leaf from most Caribbean (e.g. Habano) cigar types will cause your pipe to smell like a cigar butt.
If your ultimate goal is to create a plug or even an aromatic blend, you should settle on a happy blend before the additional processing or flavoring.
b. Pipe Tobacco Recipes
These are only a few examples of pipe blend recipes. The “frog” series is exclusive to WLT.
Black Frog – a robust Balkan blend:
Latakia 43.5 %
Virginia Bright 37.5%
Calico Frog – a milder Balkan blend with full Perique
Latakia 18.75 %
Virginia Bright 43.75%
Top Frog – English-style Oriental blend
Virginia Bright 50.0%
Stacked Basma 20.0%
Curiosity – A rich, American burley blend
Virginia Red 23%
Skree – a basic Virginia / Perique blend
Lemon Virginia 62.5%
The book, Blend Your Own Pipe Tobacco: 52 recipes with 52 color labels is available to purchase through this link at wholesale price.
c. Selecting and using WLT pipe blend kits
These whole-leaf blend kits include various tobacco leaf components that can be shredded and blended in the same ratio that is provided, or adjusted in any way you like. They are shipped with a little spray bottle of the casing, specially designed for enhancing tobacco for cigarette use. You can try the casing on a small batch, to see if you prefer the blend with or without casing. These casings do not render the bend sticky or even what might be considered “aromatic”.
The Balkan Tradition kit is surprisingly close in character to the now extinct pipe tobacco blend, Balkan Sobranie Smoking Mixture (Balkan White). Experimenting with it is an excellent way to begin exploring English-style Balkan mixtures.
For pipe blending, you may prefer to shred the leaf to a coarser shred than for cigarette use.