The Seattle and New York Pipe Clubs–organizers of the 2011 Balkan Sobranie Throwdown–announce a new edition of the event for the Chicago Pipe Show this coming May. This year’s competition is the John Cotton Throwdown, featuring John Cotton Nos. 1&2 Medium.
The John Cotton Throwdown is sponsored by Sutliff Tobacco Company,
an Altadis company.
Do pipe smokers love vintage tobacco blends? If heated pursuits of old favorites on eBay are a reliable indicator, you betcha.
Prices have reached nearly unimaginable levels. Nine days ago, on March 4th, a sealed, full, 2 ounce tin of Balkan Sobranie 759 sold for a whopping $1,325! Although this is a recent high, it is not at all uncommon for 759 to sell for $300 to $700 for a sealed flat tin.
How the Throwdown came to be
Great tobacco vintages are highly sought after. It is precisely for this reason that the concept of a tobacco-blender Throwdown was conceived by brothers Matt and Jon Guss. Would it be possible for today’s master tobacco blenders to recreate legendary vintages? If so, imagine how happy today’s pipe smokers would feel to be able to enjoy ready access to them.
If Russ Ouellette’s Black House or McClelland’s Blue Mountain are among your favorite English pipe tobacco blends, thank the producers of last year’s BALKAN SOBRANIE THROWDOWN. These two spectacular blends emerged from a blending competition that was the runaway hit of last year’s Chicagoland International Pipes and Tobacciana Exposition, aka the Chicago pipe show.
Inaugural Throwdown a resounding success
Some 400 pipe smokers filled the show’s smoking tent to capacity to watch a conversation among Throwdown judges, interviews with the contestant-blenders, and the grand finale: the announcements of the Throwdown Competition Winner (Russ Ouellette, Hearth and Home) and the People’s Choice Award (Mike and Mary McNeil, McClelland).
Last year’s event prompted a lot of buzz in the pipe-smoking world, much of it skeptical. “How is it possible to recreate Balkan Sobranie’s 759? The same component tobaccos don’t exist. What about recreating the aging effect? I’ll believe it when I smoke it.” These are a small sampling of comments I read or heard on the Throwdown.
That was the whole point of the Throwdown: to showcase the considerable skills and talent of three leading tobacco blenders. Speaking as one of last year’s judges, I was more than a little surprised by how close the contestants came. I know my fellow judges, Joe Harb and Rick Newcombe, were impressed as well.
Throwdown Co-Chair Matt Guss sums up the Throwdown concept: “Walt Disney said, ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’ So we challenged three expert blenders to do just that. Come as close as possible to recreating a legendary pipe tobacco and have three knowledgeable judges evaluate their efforts. Impossible? That’s what we call a tobacco blending Throwdown.”
Chicago Show Chairman Craig Cobine says, “The Throwdown was not only a spectacular event for the 2011 Chicago Pipe Show, it led to the release of several wonderful blends that pipe smokers are now enjoying.”
This year’s vintage target
Although it doesn’t sell at Balkan Sobranie prices, my favorite vintage tobacco is John Cotton’s No. 1&2. I love it. So, I am thrilled that the second annual Throwdown Competition will focus on recreating John Cotton’s Nos. 1&2 Medium. If this year’s blending contestants come as close as did last year’s contestants, chances are that I’m going to have access to some great new daily smokes. I can’t wait.
Sutliff Tobacco Company, an Altadis company, is the John Cotton Throwdown sponsor this year. “Altadis USA is thrilled to sponsor this event.” Says Paul Creasy, General Manager for Altadis.
This year’s contestants
The contestants this year are Steven Books of the House of Calabash, Dick Silverman of Chief Catoonah, and Leonard Wortzel of Lane Limited.
Last year’s Throwdown winner, Russ Ouellette, will move to the judge’s bench where he will be joined by Marty Pulvers and yours truly. I can’t wait to experience the tobaccos that the blender-contestants create in response to the John Cotton Throwdown. Must-have blends will be coming to our cellars soon.
How it works
Here’s how it works. Judges and blenders are given identical samples of 28 year old John Cotton 1&2 tobacco. The blenders use all their skills to come as close as they can to the original blend. Naturally, this is an aged tobacco with unknown ingredients and can’t be cloned, but that is the challenge for the blenders. Their blends will be compared to the original sample and evaluated on 4 criteria: Taste, Look, Aroma and Overall Smoking Qualities.
This will be a blind test. The judges won’t know whose blend is whose because the entries will be identified as X, Y and Z.
In the weeks leading up to the show the judges will sample the contestants’ entries on a blind basis, deciding how close each comes to the original John Cotton 1&2. Contestant blends will be evaluated by each judge and given up to 100 points. Results will be totaled by the organizers before a lively panel discussion between the blenders and judges. Finally, the judge’s choice for the Grand Prize Winner will be revealed at the conclusion of the hour long event.
When and where - Arrive early!
The 2012 John Cotton Throwdown will take place at the Chicago Pipe Show in the Pheasant Run smoking tent at 5pm on Saturday, May 5th. Everyone at the show is welcome to attend but a full tent is expected so early arrival is advised.
The People’s Choice award will be repeated, as well. The two awards are substantively different. Whereas the Throwdown Grand Prize is given to the blender who the judges determine has come the closest to recreating John Cotton No. 1&2, the People’s Choice Award is given to the blender whose submission is best liked by those who compare the three blend submissions. Judges and blenders will have the original John Cotton No. 1&2 benchmark sample. Due to a limited quantity of the original benchmark, show attenders will not have the benchmark sample.
Free samples of the three contestant tobaccos will be distributed in the MegaCenter on Friday and Saturday morning until supplies are gone.
A ballot will accompany each sample packet so that show attendees can vote for their favorite of the three blends. Votes will be tallied and a People’s Choice Award will be presented to the winner and announced during the Throwdown event.