Review by eboehm
Westminster by the master artisanal tobacco blender GL Pease, is a delightful English Blend in the Heirloom Series, one that serves well as an all day smoke, responding readily to variances in pipe shape, bowl size, as well as to the individual nuances of the smoker. As such, it serves not only as an ideal introduction to the style of blend for the novice, but, due to a number of unique characteristics, also serves as a mainstay for a number of experienced tobacco pipe smokers who prefer English Blends.
What I hope to present here are a number of observations on this unique blend. The intent is to ascertain whether other pipe brethren have had similar experiences, and to promote the blend to the novice, because it serves as a wonderful benchmark to this style of blends. As many of you know, this blend was an attempt to riff on the original Dunhill London Mixture as detailed on the article The Road to Westminster.
As GL Pease states "Though not exactly the same as my beloved old pre-Murrays London Mixture, it carries that spirit with it, and delivers a great deal more than I"d thought possible at the outset". I have never tasted the original blend, first introduced in 1928, nor the Murrays incarnation, but I do know that todays Dunhill London Mixture can't hold a candle to Westminster. My greatest fear would be the discontinuation or alteration of the Westminster blend.
After 20+ yrs. of smoking English Blends, usually quite regularly, ranging from 5 to 15 bowls per day, I can honestly say that I have yet to come across a blend as intriguing as Westminster. There is something about it that really grabs hold of my attention, namely, the complexity, depth and layers of flavor as the bowl proceeds, as well as a number of magical qualities that I have rarely found among other blends. In short, this is true "pipe food" and is based on extremely high quality leaf, in finely tuned proportions, constituting, presumably, a closely guarded secret.
First off, unlike many blends, this blend retains its exquisite flavor upon relighting multiple times, even days later. That is, the volatile components are stable, despite prolonged exposure to air (i.e., oxidation). This means that I can smoke a bowl, and save the rest for later. If anything I find it gamier upon a re-light, even up to a week later. I can't say this for too many other tobaccos, which prove to be disappointing upon re-light even several hours hence, let alone a week later. Presumably, this is due the retention of volatile oils that give the unique flavor to Westminster. Thus, the chemistry of the blend appears highly stable, rendering it quite adaptable to nuances in the choice of pipe, bowl size, as well as, presumably, behavioral differences in the smoker. It is not a fickle blend. And that is why I can recommend this blend to the novice, as it is extremely forgiving.
Secondly, Westminster delivers a lovely "bowl smell", which is a metric that I rarely hear mentioned in tobacco reviews. You always hear talk of the room note (of which I could care less), and of course the all important flavor to the palate, but how many of you out there like to sniff your bowls, especially during the end of a long burn, towards the bottom of the bowl, when things begin to get delicious? For me, this blend produces a bowl smell of butternut squash, or roasted pumpkins. The bowl smell seems remarkably tied to the temperature of the burn. At lower temperatures, as recommended in a slow burn, the cucurbits mentioned above come through strongly, but at higher temperatures, I get nasal quaffs of subtle spice, dried figs and raisins. Presumably these sweet smells originate from the sugar-rich fire cured red Virginias in the blend. Incidentally, this sugar-rich component lends itself remarkably well to the aging of the blend, and I have had smokes from three year old cans that are simply superb. The dense, smoky, out-back campfire pit sweetness derives from the noble Cyprian mountain Latakia. The orientals, which I've heard somewhere is Izmir Leaf, also contribute to this unique bowl smell (note: some forums fail to mention the orientals in this blend). In short, this is a blend to smell, as well as smoke. Even when extinguished, there is a sweet bowl smell that lingers on for quite some time.
Third, it's hard to get bite out of this one, even if you go at it hard. Of course, a slower smoke will reveal more subtleties, like a slow draw on any tobacco, but even when chugged on forcefully, all I get is an amplification of the wonderful taste. Other blends, taste remarkably differently when sipped versus pulled on strongly. Most blends loose their taste when smoked hot and rapidly, leading to tongue bite and palate scorching. Not so with Westminster. This blend seems to provide the same flavors under both manners of consumption, and pulling strongly, on occasion during the smoke, only reinforces what one is after in the blend. In other words, Westminster delivers, no matter the rate of combustion. This is a true measure of chemical stability, and I know of few other blends that do this.
Lastly, Westminster performs well in all of my pipes, from Group 2s thru Group 6s, no matter the bowl shape, from pots to dublins to bulldogs, bents or straights. Even problematical or, shall we say, temperamental pipes, which tend to get relegated to the specific blends that they do well with, or whose ghosts I have not been able to completely extinguish with salt and grain alcohol, do well with this blend. In short, I have never had a bum smoke with this blend.
Finally, one is left with two impressions. The first is that it is evident that a very fine, high quality leaf is being employed, but one that remarkably retains its vigor under a range of different smoking conditions, so as to never disappoint. The chemical stability of the blend is attested to by the retention of smell and taste upon a re-light, long after extinguishing. The second impression, of course, is that the proportion or ratio of Virginia, Latakia and Orientals are matched perfectly - truly symphonic in scope. To be honest, I can not say that I love all of the GL Pease blends, but Westminster is a remarkable blend and one that will go down in history as the bench mark of what can be done with an English Blend. Regarding packaging, I have noticed a recent trend in the industry to maximize small volume tins, to the exclusion of the 16 oz volumes, that I prefer. Westminster however is still available by the pound. Could we hope perhaps to persuade Mr. Pease to provide this in bulk? One can only wish!