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.