When you picture someone enjoying a pipe, is he frantically puffing on a big ol’ bowl of some Latakia blend as he lounges by the pool, covered in SPF 4 Million, roasting like a wild boar at a Luau? Or do you imagine someone curled up by the fire with a nice book and a wee dram? Pipe smoking and cool weather just seem to go hand in hand, which presents a bit of a problem during the warmer months.
Here at Smokingpipes.com HQ we are experiencing full-fledged hot-and-humid summer weather. I was born and raised in Southern California, where every day of the year is a mild summer’s day. Having recently relocated to the South, I can categorically say that this feels like the first real summer of my life. Now, in my years as a tobacco enthusiast, if I had a nickle for every time that I have heard someone say “this is cigar weather” when the days became longer and warmer, then I would finally be able to afford a seven day set of Dunhill DR five-stars. While I can’t argue with the sentiment that a good stogie flat-out works on a hot day, I refuse to submit to Mother Nature’s whim and abandon my pipes until autumn.
Sometime last week, during a particularly warm afternoon, Andy stopped by my desk with a request for a warm-weather tobacco recommendation. Having recently spent no small amount of time discussing this very topic with my tobacco cohorts, Josh and Jeremy, I jumped at the chance to apply our theory:
A quenching Summer pipe tobacco should be mild-medium in strength, and full-flavored. Blends with plenty of flavor will tend to keep one from “smoking hot” since over-puffing is all too often a result of the smoker trying to get more flavor from a tobacco than it has to offer. The smoke must be satisfying even in smaller doses since you may not want a lengthy smoke in the heat. Small-chambered briars and corn cobs are perfectly suited to warm-weather puffing, with cobs being the preferred tool for those residing in areas that are prone to extreme humidity; corn cob pipes smoke cool and dry, and do a great job of absorbing unavoidable moisture. Ideally, a warm-weather blend will be predominantly Virginia-based with Burley to add body and, if condiment tobaccos are a must, cool-burning Perique is the clear winner over Oriental varieties and Latakia.
Keeping all of this in mind, I began to sift through my pile of jars and tins until I found the golden tin labeled: “Reiner Blend No. 71”, and handed it to Andy. Blend No. 71 or, Long Golden Flake, is a medium-strength flake comprised of golden Virginias, white Burley and a bit of Perique; it delivers plenty of creamy, flavorful smoke and burns well. I caught up with Andy later that day and asked what his impressions were. He found the blend to be “light, yet full of flavor and the perfect strength.” He said the blend burned slowly and the flavor intensified as the bowl progressed, but it never became hot or acrid. The end result was a “satisfying and refreshing smoke, perfect for a hot summer’s day”.
In our experimentation, we have returned to old favorites such as Reiner’s Long Golden Flake, Escudo, Cornell & Diehl's Briar Fox and Sunday Picnic (every blend in the C&D Simply Elegant series deserves consideration), and don’t forget the exception to the “no Latakia” rule, G. L. Pease’s Key Largo; a perfect seasonal change of pace for the dedicated heavy-English/Balkan puffer. We have also discovered several other perfectly suitable swelter smokes including Cornell & Diehl's Five O'Clock Shadow, which is rich, very flavorful blend, packed with cool-smoking Perique, and a new favorite. The new Seasonal Flakes recently released by Samuel Gawith are winners across the board and, although we currently favor the Springtime and English Summer flakes, we have sampled and can’t wait bring out the Scottish Autumn and Winter Time flakes when the weather finally does cool down.
These are, of course, simply guidelines and let’s face it; rules truly are meant to be broken. While I always look forward to summer yard work during which I exclusively enjoy Samuel Gawith’s 1792 in my cobs, for the past few days Jeremy (he’s a bit of a wildcard) has been smoking a lot of Cornell & Diehl’s Easy Times which is a stout blend of Red Virginia, Dark Fired Kentucky and Latakia!
A little trial and error is necessary when trying to find what works best for you so put away your large-chambered briars and those heavy Latakia blends, and stuff your favorite corn cob with some Virginia because Summer ain’t just for cigars!
It’s time again: a blind taste-test with our own Smokingpipes staff serving in the roles of experimental subjects A, B, and C. Or, as it were, Subject Josh, Subject Shane, and Subject Jeremy. For today’s entry I’ve done something a little different; instead of popping off down to the warehouse to search through rows and rows of tobaccos, I simply reached over and grabbed a tin buried amongst the clutter of my desk (half of which is other tins, to no one’s surprise I’m sure).
So, here we go – with Reeves kicking things off in poetic verse:
Ziplock baggie on my work desk, contents are unknown.
Mostly black, with specks of tanness, contents are unknown.
Smells of sorghum, black molasses, deep brown sugar, fragrant wood.
In the background, smoke and vinegar, very subtle, smells quite good.
Packed so easy, just gravity, barely needs a tamp,
Lit up quickly, sweet and spicy, barely needs a tamp.
No I'm sure now, it is only vinegar topped Stoved Virginia!
McClelland surely is the maker, from the get-go, there's no doubt.
Sugar topping, tangy VA, perhaps there are some Orientals about.
I detect no Burley, Perique, etc., etc., in my snout.
I think this would smoke quite lovely, in a corncob, fishing trout.
Ziplock baggie on my work desk, all will be reveal’d.
When in the blog posting later, your name is unseal’d.
Then will I go to the warehouse, searching for a tin of you?
I believe that is precisely what I shall intend to do.
Next up, Josh Burgess, our resident Ph. D (History), engages in a casual-dissection-and-light-dissertation of his own:
I dumped the plastic bag of tobacco onto a sheet of paper to examine the cut and take a sniff. I think we technically classify something like this as a ribbon cut, although there are lots of smaller chunks. Looks and smells like a McClelland Blend. There’s that tell-tale vinegar sweetness that others call “ketchupy”—I think it smells like A1 sauce. Components are particularly dark, lots of browns and blacks with only a few pieces of lemon colored ribbons. Based upon the smell and look, I’m expecting a lot of rich stoved Virginias. There’s a nagging question in the back of my mind: does this blend contain Latakia? I’m sad to say that I can’t tell at this point. I don’t detect it, but with a blend this dark, I don’t entirely trust my nose. Not knowing which briar to select, I grab a cob from my office book shelf.
Moisture content seems about right, but it takes a bit of effort to light. Initial flavors are of sweet and rich Virginias. Stoved Virginias are quite prominent with their deep brown sugar notes, and their sweetness is present throughout the bowl. I detect a few mild aromatic elements—perhaps some vanilla and something fruity. No Latakia here after all. Flavor profile remains pretty consistent throughout the bowl, but in the second half I do get a little more tanginess from the VAs. On the whole, I’d consider this a mildly flavored and rich crossover blend—something that McClelland is quite good at achieving. I’m going to guess Deep Hollow.
Finally comes Shane Ireland – on merit of being the last one to get his review done and to my desk:
You all know how this works; Eric drops a nondescript bag of "mystery" on the desks of several unsuspecting puffers and we struggle to identify and review said tobacco blindly. The baggy which this installment is based on contained mostly dark tobaccos. The blends appears to be largely comprised of Stoved Virginia with a few flecks of tan and chestnut colored leaf. The aroma from the bag reminds me of brown sugar or sweet and tangy BBQ sauce, while Adam Davidson thought the smell was closer to Worcestershire... I had to let this dry out significantly in order to achieve optimal smoking moisture, or lack thereof. Despite feeling fairly dry to the touch, I didn't find this baccy to take a flame easily and the taste upon lighting was slightly sweet, faintly tangy and similar to the aroma from the bag; caramelized brown sugar, some spiciness, and vinegar. Midway through the bowl, more Virginia sweetness and slight tang. I'm not sure if I'll even finish this bowl. With so many fine (more complex) blends around me, this certainly does not stand out; unoffensive, yet uninteresting.
Disappointment from the disappointing – so it goes. And so it proves: Different strokes for different folks, or as it were, different palates.
As for the tin, it was McClelland’s (no hiding that) Royal Cajun, a blend of dark-stoved and lemon Virginias, and “Cajun Black”, a modern component developed by Steve Cooley, and described by McClelland as such:
”Cajun Black derives from Virginia seed brought to Southern Kentucky long ago to grow in that fertile, heavy soil where it was crossbred to create dark fire-cured tobacco. It is stalk-cut and hung over slow-burning hardwood slabs in a three- to five-step smoking process for 2 to 3 weeks until it turns a deep chocolate color and achieves its distinctive smoky flavor.”
Well, I’m glad McClelland’s inclusion of Mr. Cooley’s efforts can at least be appreciated by two out of three people. The two, I will note, who were also conscientious enough to get their reviews in early – one even in rhyme.
It is with no small amount of pride that we announce a new, comprehensive search engine, one which works in a similar manner to our Pipe Locator, except that it will help guide you in your never-ending quest to find the perfect blend – as opposed to, well, pipes. Imaginatively titled ”Tobacco Locator”, it is located in the top-right menu on every page of the website. Whether you wish to search for a broad family of tobaccos, or for a specific blend, you need merely select from a series of criteria and click the “Find It!” button.
Any search engine, and the Tobacco Locator is no exception, will initially default to "everything", and then continue to narrow the number of results presented with each restriction added. The potential problem you are most likely to encounter will arise from placing too many restrictions on your search (usually identified by a notification of "No Results"). Example: a friend recommended a bulk tobacco, the exact name of which escapes you at the moment, but you are pretty sure the blend contained Virginia, Burley & Perique and you click all three buttons. If, ultimately, the mixture doesn't contain Burley, that blend will not be included in your results. We have found that the best searches usually involve 1-3 restrictions, followed by a bit of scrolling on your part. We also suggest that you steer wide of the more subjective restrictions. While Burley (not subjective) will always yield a Burley result, room notes and strengths are opinions, opinions differ, and thus become a prime candidate to yield a false negative.
As any of my annoyed coworkers will confirm, once I begin research on a subject of interest, I will chase that metaphorical rabbit not only down the hole, but catch it, dissect it, and place its tissues under a microscope. My near pathological compulsion for pursuing curiosity doesn’t allow for cursory glances. Example: beginning about six months ago, tobacco joined my long list of “must research to death” subjects. On day one, I noticed a ton of crazy-bad information out there on the subject of tobacco aging (by its very definition, fermentation is an anaerobic process, if O2 is present, it’s respiration). Fast forward two weeks, and I am in a discussion with a research team in the PRC, who recently isolated what they believe to be the two microbes most responsible for the flavor and fragrance of flue-cured Virginia. Recently, I caught sight of a domestic rabbit, one which we all have encountered countless times before: Perique. This time, however, I followed my compulsion to give chase – and my regard for the properties of Perique became immeasurably enhanced.
Whether you love, hate, or find yourself completely ambivalent about the leaf, Perique is a singular, fascinating anomaly within the world of tobacco. A bit of the “cool” that is Perique lies within elements of its unique production process, but skipping past the (admittedly interesting) history of the condiment tobacco, which is readily available with seven keystrokes and two clicks in a Google search box, the coolest information can be found in the finished product itself.
On the first matter, while Perique isn’t unique in having to undergo Torquemadan torture during processing (Cavendish doesn’t exactly receive back massages and warm stone treatments on its path), the use of oak whiskey barrels/and or oak blocks, insanely high pressure levels, retention/inclusion of all run off byproduct, plus a multitude of “turn, press, and return to storage” over the better part of a year, is. The upshot is that Perique-in-the-making goes through multiple periods of an anaerobic (true fermentation) state, followed by brief exposure to O2 (while microbes can convert sugars in an anaerobic state, they work much more efficiently in the presence of oxygen). Chilling with a fine bowl of red Burley and Perique back in (say) the 1600’s, the Algonquians knew that that they had something special going, but it took the advent of advanced GCMS (gas chromatography – mass spectrometry), as well as running out of all other tobacco subjects, save Perique, to understand why it was different.
(Channeling the Don Adam’s character, Maxwell Smart) “Would you believe...?” Of the nearly 350 components identified in Perique, fully 14% (47) are singular to this ‘truffle of tobaccos” – think about that for a tick. No other tobacco can claim the presence of whiskey lactone (cis-Oak lactone), not having been subjected to whiskey-barrel wood and high pressure. How could they? Twenty-six of the exclusive isolates were esters and alcohols commonly found it fermented products. While I will spare the reader from the eye glazing, exact constituent names, such as Gamma-Undecalactone (5-Butyl-4-methyldihydrofuran-2(3H)-one) (another Perique-unique, one which possesses a fruity, peach-like note), hosts of other volatile oils and esters heretofore solely associated with flowers and fruits – but not tobacco leaf – have been cataloged. Much to my surprise even Frontalin, the aggregation pheromone of the Southern Pine Beetle, was present (but I wouldn’t read too much into that).
Up until now, I usually preferred my Perique somewhere between the 7-15% ranges. Then again, once I really started flipping over hot sauces, those rated around 200,000 on the Scoville scale became just another way to say “Zesty!”
Certainly you have heard of pipe dreams, but what of tobacco dreams?
It has become a ritual for me, once a week, to wander down to the warehouse and do a little tobacco shopping. Typically, I will grab a few tins of my perennial favorite but with such a wonderful selection available to, it's only natural that in addition to my "usual," I pick out something new to try. I don't have to tell you this, but every now and then, one of those new blends has a profound effect and ends up claiming a spot in the regular rotation.
Some time ago I made the trip downstairs to the warehouse and grabbed a few tins of McConnell’s Scottish Flake, one of my standbys. Looking around for something new, I noticed the Wessex shelf and remembered Josh mentioning to me that he really enjoyed Wessex Brown Virginia flake. I have loved many blends from Wessex, but the BVF was one that I somehow overlooked. "Why not?", I thought while adding a tin to my stack. I paid for the tobacco and rushed home to crack open the experimental tin.
This is where things get a bit hazy.
The tin note was luscious. The moisture level directly from the tin was ideal and the beautiful, medium-brown flakes rubbed out effortlessly and felt like velvet in my hands. It would take at least another page for me to adequately describe the flavor, but I will say that it is creamy, full-bodied, and chock-full of dark, dried fruit notes and an aroma of freshly baked bread. As my first bowlful approached its end, I felt enlightened; I felt my spirit finally at peace, floating contently through time and space and into other realms that were strange and beautiful. Truth be told, I'm not even sure just how long I was "out of it."
The next thing I remember was walking into Sykes' office. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity, but I’m afraid I must request an indefinite sabbatical," I told him. "Although it will be very difficult to leave this place, I have to summon the courage to see this journey through." He couldn’t tell if I was serious as I continued my cryptic explanation. "I will take my final pay in the form of Wessex Brown Virginia Flake, please". I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life. Fortunately, Sykes is an understanding man who knows exactly what it’s like to find a tobacco that one can really share a life with. We shook hands and he wished me well.
I gave my car away, abandoned my home and set out on foot with a rucksack full of Brown Virginia Flake, a few trusty briars and my loyal canine companion by my side. I walked and walked until the days turned into months. I slept under the stars. I fished in the streams for my supper. I carved "BROWN VIRGINIA SHANE WAS HERE" in the oak trees. Young women smiled and winked at me as they passed me on the side of the road; they knew I couldn’t care less and they wanted me more because of it. Others would tell me that whatever I was smoking smelled wonderful. "I know," I would reply and I would be on my way. The world finally made sense to me. I was free and happy. One evening I took the last few puffs of a bowl, laid down my head, the night sky above, and drifted to off sleep.
Seemingly in an instant, I awoke in a panic. I looked around and recognized my living room furniture, my apartment; my old life. It was all a dream? The confusion was devastating. Did I really imagine all of that? I looked over to the end table and noticed an open tin of Wessex Brown Virginia with a few flakes missing. I really had tried the blend, and it truly was dreamy.
Shane Ireland: Copywriter & Customer Service Representative
A couple weekends ago I brought a few ounces of flake tobacco, in an unmarked bag, over to a little get-together Adam was throwing. When Jeremy asked what it was, I handed it over; he gave some a sniff and pronounced that the blend was clearly one of Gawith, Hoggarth & Co.’s.
Well that won’t do, I thought – this was supposed to be the next “Mystery Tobacco”. So it was that, in order to make life more difficult for those I work with, I determined from that moment to find another flake, one far less commonly known; one, in short, that they would never identify unless I was so kind enough as to tell them.
Eric presented each of us with three attractive flakes—thin and mottled brown with a few black and tan strips. Moisture content is ideal for a Virginia flake. Aroma promises a mild to medium smoke and is reminiscent of a freshly opened bag of sweet feed: hay, oats, and molasses. I cut the flake into quarter-inch cubes and gently loaded them into one of my favorite VA pipes. Upon the first lighting, the tobacco delivers on all the promises made by the pouch note. As the bowl proceeds, the tobacco develops a nice harmony between a light citrus note, sweet hay-like middle tones, and a richer earthiness. By mid bowl, the lighter notes are mostly gone and the smoke becomes quite rich, earthy, and sweet. A slight spice note, perhaps cinnamon or clove, with stewed fruit presents occasionally. I suspect that the three of us will disagree on whether or not this tobacco contains Perique. For me, some of the tobacco’s richer notes suggest that it does, albeit in a fairly small quantity. While the tobacco may lack some of the complexity that I find in darker Virginias, its only serious fault is a slight harshness in the bottom third of the bowl. On the whole, this tobacco is quite good, and there aren’t all that many VA flakes that are going to smoke better fresh from the tin.
Yet another of these haunting little packages arrived on my desk a few days ago. Mysterious tobacco with a smoke-by date scrawled in red marker. This time the package contained three well-formed flakes of brown tobacco specked ever so slightly with black flecks. The flakes hold up well, and yet are pliant and easy to manipulate. Apparently so am I since all it takes is to drop off a baggie with some tobacco in it and a date written on it and I am likely to smoke it and write about it by the date indicated.
This flake rubs out easily and burns well, effortlessly in fact. I set my pipe down once during the first run for about five minutes and when I took it back up I found that with three gentle puffs the bowl was right back where I left it with no relighting needed. If only other aspects of the multi-tasking that made me set the pipe down in the first place were so time insensitive.
I find myself to be a little befuddled by this particular toby. Occasionally I am reminded of Wessex Brown Flake during the smoke, but just as it comes, it goes. The topping on this is so reminiscent of honey-suckle! Really tasty and quite sweet, but rich tobacco flavors are present as well. I am almost certain that this contains VA and nothing else, though perhaps there is a hint of Perique. I mean FAINT.
So easy going and forgiving that heavy puffing yields no tongue-bite, only thick clouds of smoke and fuller flavor. Sipped this is deliciously nuanced with subtle spice and creamy textures, powdered sugar, spice cookies and sweet dinner rolls. I liked this best in a broad GBD long-shanked Pot which I folded and stuffed. Smoked on one light for over an hour and still got another 30 minutes out of the next light with plenty of smoke volume! Wow!
I think it's an Orlik product though not one I can place in my mental tobacco lexicon, but I can't wait to find out what this is so I can either buy some or go back to the tin I may have stuffed somewhere and give it a revisit, perhaps with some age. Nice stuff.
I was both delighted and terrified when Eric tossed me a baggy of nondescript, medium-brown flake tobacco. “The time is nigh” I thought out loud to myself; it would be my very first Mystery Tobacco experiment!
The flakes looked familiar, smelled familiar, and rubbed out easily. I gave the rubbed flake a bit of drying time before loading into a favorite pipe of mine that has a chamber on the larger side of my preferred range. The charring light was easy enough and I immediately tasted honey and the side stream smelled of Virginia sweetness and bread still in the oven. I’ll admit that although Virginia flakes comprise about 90% of my rotation, this one wasn't “doing it” for me. I was getting a little harshness while snorking (exhaling through the nose) and there didn't seem to be much flavor despite being medium-bodied.
This morning, knowing that Eric would be expecting something more substantial than “meh” for a review, I brought my trusty, little Dunhill Cumberland Poker. I gave the chamber a quick ream and rubbed out a few more flakes to dry. I am now on my third bowl and suddenly; this Virginia flake is revealing its deepest, darkest secrets like a former child star on the couch of an overpriced therapist. I am still tasting honey but with an added clove-like spice. There is a faint Speyside spirit finished in oak Sherry cask note, grains, toffee, iced black tea, cornbread with honey-whipped butter and more vanilla-clove spicy sweetness. I must have missed it in the larger bowl, but in this narrow Poker chamber I can detect a hint of spicy condiment tobacco. I am unsure, however, if it is Perique (most likely), Dark Fired or a spicy topping…There is a creamy element that reminds me of certain almond and chocolate flavorings utilized by the boys over in Kendal, but I am sure that this was produced in Denmark, and probably by Orlik. I am now enjoying this mystery flake quite a bit. Time for yet another bowl methinks…
There are quite a few flavors and aromas that are familiar and recognizable, but I do not believe that I have smoked this particular blend before… My best guess would be Comoy’s Cask No. 4 or Stokkebye 1931 flake. Thanks, Eric! Now the entire Internet knows just how unrefined my palate is!
And now we enter the end-game. They’ve smoked it, they’ve enjoyed it, they all want more of it, but only I know its name. The cards are all in my hands. That is, except for the minor detail that I’ve simultaneously backed myself into a corner. In order for this article to have any point, beyond toying with the minds of my co-workers, I will need to reveal the blend’s identity to the general public.
Well let’s just spin it as I’m feeling particularly considerate, generous, and merciful, rather than say that I plotted myself right up against a wall. Deal? Deal.
It’s dark, it’s hot-pressed, and it’s here: Mac Baren’s new HH Latakia Flake has arrived. Between the briskness with which those about the office emptied our taste-testing tins, and the universal praise found in early reviews, by all appearances the blender of Old Dark Fired has once again knocked it out of the park. Again they've produced a dark, flavorful, and distinctive flake tobacco, this time using heat and pressure to create a mellow, flavorful marriage of Latakia smokiness, natural Virginia sweetness, Turkish spice, and earthy/nutty Burley-ness.
Each element remains distinct in the smoke, producing a complex interplay of flavors, while also remaining easy to enjoy. One particular pipe-fellow over on TobaccoReviews, who made a point to mention being primarily an aromatic smoker, has even recommended HH Latakia Flake as a readily pleasing introduction to Latakia. As much as many of us (myself included) have taken a shine to Mac Baren’s Old Dark Fired, it would seem this latest HH flake does have it beat in terms of accessibility. While the dark-fired Burley and flue-cured Virginia composition of ODF is something of a barely-street-legal V8 powerhouse, HH Latakia Flake offers a V12’s smooth, luxurious delivery. A proper, stimulating smokiness remains in play, it’s just that this time they have taken it in a more delicately balanced and sophisticated direction.
"I returned to my desk the other day, just after lunch, to find a mysterious zip-lock baggie, cryptically labeled '4/21/14' in red marker. It was filled with what at first glance appeared to be... pipe tobacco, but I couldn't be sure. A chill passed through me. How did this baggie get here? Who was it from? What could it mean???!!!! WHYYYYYY??!!!
Then I remembered that Eric does this kind of thing about every two weeks, leaving mystery tobacco on the desks of those of us who have expressed interest in writing reviews for the blog's blind tasting entries. No reason to freak out.
Thinking much more clearly now, I began to examine the contents of the formerly scary but now familiar baggie. The tobacco was mottled brown and bright, speckled densely with black and the aroma was mild but distinct aroma of VA with more than a hint of Latakia smokiness.
I must say this is mellow and light and with sour tones of Bright VA leaf making themselves most notable, underpinned with a kind of nuttiness. Despite the amount of black leaf observed in the bag, the Latakia component remains far in the background like a lone Basso Profundo in a boys’ choir. The room-note is also quite mild, I'm told, with little of the Latakia presence coming through and the hint of perhaps Burley perhaps even a small amount of Dark Fired. I think this would be a good all-day kind of smoke for someone who enjoyed very light English tobaccos and did not want a strong room-note. Perhaps this is Planta Mild English. All-in-all what started out as a chilling mystery turned out to be a very harmless and gentle experience."
"Appearance: Handsome ribbon cut, consisting of what appears to be roughly 50% red and bright Virginias, 20-25% Cyprian Latakia leaf, with the remainder showing the tell-tale hues I associate with Perique. If there are Orientals, processing has changed size and color enough that I cannot visually detect them.
Tin note - Latakia dominant, with slight raisin notes playing in upper third of the nose (fragrance).
Pack - Good moisture, springy, with a lively rebound on the first and second gravity load/tamp.
Toasting light - A very inauspicious beginning, for which I am willing to shoulder a good part of the blame. Using a pipe rescued from our 'pipe science' victims, I grabbed a torch, hit the tobacco like Mike Tyson, and roughly 60% of instant combustion went up my nose. The net result was that I now, though far too young to have taken part in the Chicago Democrat Convention riots, feel an unexpected solidarity with those who were maced.
First third of the bowl - Not unexpectedly, Latakia instantly established the tempo. Not a 'Latakia Monster' by a long stretch, but still solidly the center of the team. (Latakia begins to become the dominating note/taste when it starts climbing above 20%, and will be the proverbial 800lb gorilla at the 30% mark.) That out of the way, I found myself wishing it was a Cyprian behemoth, for the peppery aspects of the Perique (if it wasn’t Perique, it should consider a career as a stand-in) assaulted my palate like a rototiller on paper mache. Did I say 'peppery'? Make that pepper-spray. I had a flashback to basic training. The only thing that was missing was a DI yelling 'Don’t rub your eyes, and don’t you dare puke on this Drill Sergeant’s ground!' Putting the pipe down and taking three long pulls of coffee, I tried again. This time, it was closer to an inoffensive, if unremarkable, Latakia smoke, the room note about what you would expect from the same – until a new claymore mine of pepper went off. Testers are not supposed to compare notes. Having said, I did walk by Josh grinding his way through a bowl. My expression conveyed 'Anything but Latakia and despair?' 'I kind of sense some clove.' 'Heh, "Cloven Hoof" maybe'.
Second and third part of the bowl: Didn’t happen, I simply didn’t have the motivation to power through. To be as fair as possible, maybe I was having an off day. I just can’t imagine being that much off my game."
"It’s nice to see an English blend make its way into our blind tastings. Pouch note is welcoming—musky sweetness from the Virginias and fairly subdued smokiness from the Latakia. The cut is uniformly thin, which means that the tobacco packs and takes a light well. Surprisingly, the Virginias predominate on the charring light, but they move into the background pretty quickly. Thereafter, the taste is rather predictable—smoky Latakia, light tanginess, perhaps suggesting the presence of Orientals or Perique (I’m not quite sure which), and a fairly pronounced topping of cloves or allspice. Flavor doesn’t develop much throughout the bowl. The last third of the bowl, in fact, becomes a bit acrid. On the whole, this is not an offensive blend, but it’s ho-hum. With so many other interesting and delicious English blends on the market, I can’t imagine reaching for this one again."
Well, that was instructive. In particular, it suggests there’s something we can take away from the combined presence of Josh’s comment on “cut is uniformly thin, which means that the tobacco packs and takes a light well”, and Bear’s “I grabbed a torch, hit the tobacco like Mike Tyson…” There’s a reason not to use torch lighters to light a pipe, even if it is a pipe science box pipe."
The blend? It was none other than Leo, winner of the People’s Choice award for the 2012 John Cotton Throwdown. Given that the blend won an award that hinged on mass appeal, I’m not too surprised it didn’t particularly wow the experienced palettes of Josh and Jeremy. Given how Bear went about things, I’m not surprised at the manner in which it wowed his.
We all know the drill now: I pick a tobacco, I choose a few victims volunteers and we get their impressions of a particular blend or leaf without prejudice. Well, in theory at least. As you’ll see, sometimes there’s just no disguising certain “real McCoys”.
“The appearance of this tobacco is unusual. The majority of the tobacco is a deep brown, almost black, rough cut that looks a bit like a rubbed out flake or coin, but there are a few golden ribbons here and there. The pouch note is subdued and natural, with hints of spice, charred meat, and what we euphemistically refer to as “barnyard” in wine tastings. The charred meat notes that were discernible in the pouch predominate upon the first lighting. As the bowl progresses, this flavor settles down a bit into a richer, more well-balanced smoke. By mid bowl, the tobacco has taken on added intensity and complexity with notes of spice (black pepper in particular), cedar, leather, and tar with a very subtle sweetness.
This blend is a big, full-bodied tobacco that produces copious amounts of pungent smoke. The flavor profile suggests that this is primarily a Virginia tobacco that has been dark fired. I’d wager that it’s one of the Kendal twists, although I’m a bit puzzled by the presence of the thin, golden ribbons. (Maybe this is some of Eric’s chicanery.) While this tobacco is interesting and definitely packs a nicotine punch, I can’t imagine smoking it unless I were impressed into hard labor onboard a 19th-century whaling vessel, where its pungency would mask the smell of death and despair, or attempting to understand Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, where the very generous nicotine dose would help me share in a vision of Xanadu.“
“Upon opening the zip-lock bag ambiguously marked "3/18/14" I noted a very subdued but deep aroma similar to must and smoke. Big chunks of black tobacco and thin ribbons of gold spread lightly throughout, Virginia Ribbon perhaps. Inhaling more deeply, the smell of this blend comes across with subtle spiciness, oil, hints of clove, but no sweetness. Packs easily and takes flame slowly. The flavor is unmistakably that of Black XX Rope or Black Irish X, both of which I smoke regularly. It looks as though a small amount of Kendall Gold has been blended into this, but the majority seems to be a chopped black rope. The taste is a strange amalgam comprised of meat, motor oil, sage, chipotle, creosote, graphite and occasionally BBQ sauce. Not for the faint of heart (or lung) where the pouch note was subtle and subdued, the strength and body and room-note are potent. Not acrid or tinny at all, much more earthy, musty, muddy, boggy. Let me be clear, since I realize that the descriptors I have used may sound off-putting to many; I like this blend. A lot. File this under "Acquired Taste" alongside Islay Single Malt Scotch, Chocolate Covered Bacon, Dirty Oysters, Bone Marrow, Calf's Brains, etc...“
[Ed. – He’s being serious here. In Jeremy’s company I’ve taken part in the tasting of everything from tinned seal to lambs’ livers.]
Well, I tried. Tried and failed, that is. What I tried was disguise the blend I’d chosen this time around. Why I failed was the same reason I tried: the stuff was just too distinctive. Even after cutting it, rubbing it, shredding it, drying it for 24 hours, and mixing in a tiny pinch of Kendal Gold to add some different color, Jeremy, Josh, and Ted (the lattermost just by being nearby) all at one point or another brought up in conversation the very blend I’d picked – Black Irish X. There is, simply, no mistaking these extra-dark Irish ropes; not if you’ve smoked them before, and not even if you’ve just been in the same building as someone smoking them.
Introduction: I tossed little bags of tobacco at Bear, Josh, and Jeremy and told them to smoke it. When asked what it was, I refused to answer, instead opting to repeat my demands, with one small addition: Smoke it, and then write about what happens to you.
The idea of course is to get their impressions uncolored by previous knowledge of brand, blend composition, reputation, and what have you. Clearly, telling them the nature of what they’d be loading into their several pipes was right out, then. They’d have to find that out for themselves.
“The pouch note promises a mild aromatic: smells of a grassy Virginias with a light topping—anise, oats, vanilla, and fruit. Appearance is golden and light brown, cut into long, thin ribbons that pack easily. Upon the first lighting the tobacco’s aromatic qualities, particularly berries and vanilla, come to the forefront of the smoke. A quarter of a bowl in, the topping is less pronounced, replaced by hay-like golden Virginias along with a little spice and nuttiness. The latter suggests a pretty significant Burley component that becomes more pronounced near the bottom of the bowl. Flavors become deeper and earthier, with only a whisper of vanilla. Overall, this is a mild smoke, what I would consider a Danish aromatic, reminiscent of Mac Baren’s Golden Extra with a light topping. Not a tobacco that I would reach for often due to its lack of depth or complexity, but it is not without its advantages. Room note is pleasant, which would make this a good choice for a smoker who wants a more natural tobacco flavor while still pleasing any non-smokers in his company. Smoke can become a little acrid upon relights or if pushed.”
“I find this medium golden ribbon to be long and stringy in its cut and subtly sweet and boozy in its aroma. Prior to the light I am fairly certain that this contains Burley and Virginia. No darker tobaccos or oriental component is notable at this point. On the light Burley makes itself most noticeable and then settles down, letting VA take the fore. Mellow and sweet, kind of boozy topping, I can tell that this tobacco would bite back if puffed too heartily, but sipping suits it just fine. On the relight, I got kind of a sour note like oriental but once again this just trails off land eaves the VA with a slightly more pronounced Burley component. This reminds me of Sherlock Holmes by Peterson.”
“Reaching into the unlabeled baggie (reminding me a bit of my youth), I pulled out a generous amount of my mystery blend. Springy, slightly wiry and already at what I consider perfect moisture level, I spread out the same to do my usual “pick the clumps apart” ritual, which turned out to be pointless (there were no clumps, just ribbons, ready to be smoked. The tin (ok, ”baggie”) note was that of a fairly light aromatic. Hints of vanilla, caramel, maybe even a bit of maple-like fragrance wafted up, but (again) light.
It packed beautifully, and the toasting light released a scent which I can only refer to as “Pancake House”. No, not choking syrupiness; the smell of pancakes cooking on a hot griddle in the back, maybe combined with some bread in the toaster for the folks sitting at table #4. Full light: for about the first three minutes, the dominant room note stayed faithful to the charring light, so much so that I found myself wondering when more “pure” tobacco elements would start to assert themselves. I received my answer about five minutes into the smoke - quite a nice balance started to present. As I moved further into the bowl, the maple/vanilla/caramel faded a bit, and hints of cassis started winking at me. It was something that, while pleasant, I would never had anticipated. Usually, berries/cassis/kier-like elements will make themselves immediately known from the pouch note, and not only had I detected none, I didn’t notice any for the first third of the bowl. The new notes and the formerly dominant ones shifted back and forth for the remainder of the bowl, which, along with some very subtle spice I couldn’t identify, amounted to be the major points of interest about the tobacco. I found it overall to be (basically) dichromatic in flavor, simply shifting in note dominance at different points. While not likely to become one of my go-smokes, I could see this becoming a staple for a light aromatic smoker who isn’t obsessed with layering or nuance, and would like something that’s consistent, easy to pack, and easy to light and keep lit.”
And the blend was?Norway Pipe Cut, by Newminster. Despite differing palates and differing pipes, Josh, Bear, and Jeremy all readily identified the primary VA/Burley content of the blend, though the Oriental leaf’s presence seemed to be more elusive. Curiously, both Bear and Josh noted a slight spiciness that neither one could pin down, even though out of the three guinea pigs contributing pipe-fellows, Bear was the one picking up the aromatic qualities more than the base tobaccos, while Josh and Jeremy were getting more from the VA and Burley.
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