Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Westminster and Westminster: Side by Side

I know that, on the surface, what I'm about to say here will seem ridiculous. I am about to compare a GL Pease blend with one from Altadis. Taken at face value, we shouldn't even bother. Greg Pease is known for quality English blends that showcase latakia, while Altadis is known for over-flavored aromatics that leave goop gunning up your pipe. I think it's safe to say that no one would ever be making this comparison if both blends weren't named Westminster.

The back story on this started at Pipe Chat, spilling over into Smokers Forums, drawing Mr. Pease into the mix. We can stipulate that Greg's Westminster was Westminster before Altadis' Westminster came along. Between Cornell & Diehl blends not being distributed in Europe and Altadis letting the non-smoking office staff name the blends, we get the Sutliff Private Stock Westminster, which is "skillfully blended latakia with Virginia and Turkish," to compare with Pease's Westminster, in which "New World red Virginias are enhanced with a gentle caress of bright leaf, then lavishly seasoned with rich oriental tobaccos and generous measures of noble Cyprus mountain Latakia."

What I'll offer here if honest first impressions. There is no guarantee that my impressions of these blends will change over time, but that's the nature of first impressions.

Westminster A: This is the Pease Westminster. I know that Altadis starts with A, but Greg's was around first, so he gets the A. We're going to call this a refresher sniff, a reminder to the olfactory senses before I leap into the new stuff.
It's every bit as robust as I remember, bold and smokey with a healthy tart sweetness (if such a thing can exist) that really makes my mouth water in a way that is counterproductive to a dry smoke.

Westmister B: The Altadis blend comes in one of those nice Sutliff tins that holds in all the flavor and keeps the tobacco from drying out, which I've always found to be a vast improvement on the normal plastic bags their bulks get. The flavor is overwhelming with a spicy sweetness of Turkish with the latakia actually understated a bit, at least in the tin note.

I don't waste any time in loading up the pipe. For the purposes of our experiment, I'm smoking in pipes that usually smoke latakia blends so there's no surprises. It lights easily and smokes well. The orientals fluctuate in strength throughout the bowl while the VAs and latakia seem to remain steady through most of the bowl. I am getting some bite, but it may be largely because I'm puffing too hard trying to put this one through its paces. The latakia comes on a little stronger at the bottom of the bowl, just in time to provide a welcomed crescendo at the end.

Westminster A: Smokey and satisfying from the first light, just the way I remember it. This blend has been smoked and studied since it came out. There's plenty of reviews of what is probably my favorite Pease blend, so I won't go into this too far. It's good; smoke it.

Verdict: The only two reasons to smoke these back to back is to, first, decide how close these two actually are and, second, to say which is better.

To answer the first part, these blends aren't all that close. They have the same basic ingredients: Virginias, latakia and orientals, although Altadis uses Turkish tobacco and Pease doesn't specify which orientals he uses. But the effect is two completely different smokes. The Altadis version plays up the orientals, while the Pease plays up the latakia, both to good effect. The Altadis comes off sweeter, while the Pease is savory. I can safely say that no one will mistake one Westminster for the other.

Now the second answer, and this one is much harder. And that's the interesting part, that this isn't the slam dunk you would expect. Based on this one side-by-side comparison, I have to pick Greg's Westminster. It's a much more seamless blend, with less distinction between the various tobaccos and a much more subtle combination. I can't, however, say with any certainty that I would give the same answer if I let a tin of each sit for six months to a year. It seems the Altadis version does need more time for the flavors to marry, and giving it that time could make a world of difference.

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