Mac Baren - HH Vintage Syrian 3.5oz
One of the best ever
Five Stars! Folks who rate this down for lack of Latakia have likely only smoked Cyprian Latakia and, in my opinion, have not developed their palates yet. Folks who still refer to Latakia blends as "English" don't know the history of English blends or they wouldn't still be using that term to mean Latakia blends in general. Enough of that. MacBaren makes wonderful tobacco. The HH line is the best of the best, named, I believe, for master blender Henrik Halberg. Vintage Syrian is a smoky mix of the best Latakia (in my mind), vintage--that is, Syrian that has been aging and which even now may be gone and only existing in blends already in the pipeline, Turkish Orientals, Virginia, and some dark-fired Kentucky. It is loose cut so you get all the individual flavors in every pipeful. One unique thing that I've found is that I can actually smell the room note with this tobacco, and I can't say that about anything else I smoke. It simply adds to the overall pleasure. Your mileage may vary. This is perhaps my favorite tobacco, and my shelves hold perhaps fifty types.
Samuel Gawith - 1792 Flake 50g
The addition of Tonquin Bean probably gives 1792 the edge over similar blends, but I happen to love that flavor so it gets five stars from me. This is an extraordinarily strong tobacco. A surgeon friend of mine, a very long-time pipe man, got nicotine-sick on this when I folded a couple of flakes in one of his pipes--he is not a "folder" while I am and I wanted to show him how folding changes the experience with the same tobacco. I have never had an issue with 1792 but I can sense the strength of it. Frankly I find the comments of smokers who LOOK for a "nic hit" to be juvenile--sorry fellows, that's MY opinion--that's not what pipe smoking is all about. If I never noticed nicotine in my tobacco I'd be happy, but my experience here does urge me to caution new smokers or those susceptible to nicotine-sickness. I've had some other friends cut 1792 with a favorite VA or Burley blend and the wonderful flavor of 1792 still came through, they told me, they didn't get the same strong effect of the nicotine, and they enjoyed the 1792--cut back. I've never tried that but it's an option. You know yourself better than anyone. If you like strong tobacco, if you love Latakia, if you are a fan of the Tonquin Bean, and if you are also a fan of flakes, this might be just the smoke you've been looking for. It's one of my favorites, and I smoke a wide variety of blends.
Carter Hall - Carter Hall 1.5oz Pouch
Don't Dismiss It because it's OTC
I am 61 and started pipe smoking at age 18 with the original Borkum Riff and Captain Black, their aromatic properties winning my allegiance. I never tried Carter Hall before. Then at our last pipe club meeting one of our senior members, threw a pouch each of Carter Hall, Half & Half, and Sir Walter Raleigh on the table and said "try out what your grandfathers smoked, boys." We did, and I found that I had given these OTC (over the counter) blends short shrift. Are we all tobacco snobs sooner or later? ;-) We get so wrapped up in our tinned blends of Balkans and Syrian Latakias, Virgians and St. James Perique, that we forget that sometimes simple is okay, and maybe even good. I've got perhaps fifty blends at home and am cellaring many good ones for even more variety, so perhaps that's why I was open now to these OTCs, of which I personally liked Carter Hall best. It is a nice blend of Burley--which I've always slighted--and Virginias. Some claim a top note--perhaps, but it is undetectable by me over the flavor of the Burley and Virginia. One large point seems worth making. It seems common knowledge that one "sips" Virginias, rather than smoking them like the pipe is a runaway locomotive on a steep downhill grade. Well, this applies to a Burley-VA blend as well, and in my further experimentation with straight Burleys of late, I suggest that Burleys are to be sipped as well. I guess my approach is this. If the flavor of a tobacco is subtle, sip it slowly and let the smoke move around in your mouth, approaching your various taste buds until it finds the ones that resound with pleasure. If you accordian the smoke in and out, your taste buds will not enjoy the tobacco. Frankly this is why so many new smokers go headfirst into heavily cased aromatics, or, lately, strong Latakia tobaccos early on. I believe they are looking for a flavor hit that engulfs their taste buds like a jalapeno. The pipe smoker with a few thousand bowls behind him comes to realize that in this way at least, smoking a pipe is like drinking a fine bourbon or single malt scotch. (Or wine, for you guys reading this and still wearing your tie). You get nothing but drunk gulping booze. That's only fun until you pass your teen years. With a pipe, smoking it like a cigarette is not fun at all, for you or your tongue--or your palate. I bet you thought I'd never return to talking about Carter Hall. Tobaccos like this are a great treat for your palate because they are mild, yet when smoked slowly, in small puffs (sipping), they reward us with a very pleasing flavor and yet are gentle on a tongue that may have been abused by our experimentation with other blends that are not nearly as gentle. I recommend Carter Hall as an inexpensive and pleasant way to while away the hours between the next pipeful of Samuel Gawith 1792.
Savinelli - Giubileo d'Oro 50g
For a latakia blend I consider this mild. I smoke it folded in various large bowls so I can enjoy it for a long smoke. The blend of VAa and Latakia is near perfect to my mind. It doesn't require smoking slowly like a straight VA but all the delicious VA flavor comes through, enhanced by the perfect amount of Latakia flavor without being overpowering. I normally smoke VA and VA/Pers with a Latakia blend about 25% of the time, but if you really want more Latakia flavor that is easier on the palate, give this a try.
Reiner - Long Golden Flake (Blend No. 71) 100g
Good but mild
I don't believe this has a "wollop of nicotine" as some claim, but I suspect some folks are more susceptible to nicotine than others, so take that into consideration. It's also not Orlik Golden Sliced by another name. I believe the Orlik is a good bit stronger, and as I prefer VA/PERs on the stronger side, I have drastically cut back smoking the Reiner LGF. If you really prefer a milder smoke yet are a real fan of Virginias, this might be exactly what you are looking for. It smokes well and has a pleasant VA flavor. I do like the long ribbon, makes for easy folding if you like to smoke that way. I can't quite see why Reiner uses such a large can as it could be shortened by half and the tobacco would still fit.