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Esoterica - Dunbar 2oz
Good but elusive Virginia
Dunbar is one of several ghost blends by the venerable Esoterica Tobacciana of the Jersey Isles. Its elusiveness on the shelves more than lives up to its shy character in the bowl. If you hit the sweet spot with the drying time, burn rate and weather, you will find an excellent darker VaPer that is at once sweet and comforting. At other times the blend remains reserved, though rarely dull. I have only tasted a tin about 10 years old, which is about as often as once finds Esoterica in stock. With luck, that is. I prefer Dunbar to Tilbury, though both are good. My Margate and Penzance tins I gifted away half-smoked long ago.

Dan Tobacco - Gordon Pym 50g
An average gentleman
To my palate, Gordon Pym remains a solid English offering that nonetheless lacks a few crucial traits to make it a favorite in my book. The note in the tin is very smoky, promising a quality offering of Latakia that the mixture indeed delivers. The cut makes for an easy packing a good burn rate, which further solidify Mr Pym's reputation as a dependable companion. Where the blend falls short, for me, is the dryness, not of the leaf but the actual taste. It seems like the best way to describe what I miss in the flavour department. Of course, I prefer my blends to *smoke* dry. But while the flavour delivers smokiness in spades, it lacks certain subtleties that make, say, McClelland's Wilderness a blends that stands apart. I admit that I prefer my steaks on the raw side of medium and that is precisely what is lacking in Mr Pym. It feels slightly overdone and thus a little arid, dull, and ashy. It reminds me the most, perhaps, of Esoterica's Margate, which I also did not care for much. Having said that, I am sure there are smokers out there for whom this could be a four star blend. Perhaps even the prince in their rotation. For myself, I prefer the rounder, sweeter Latakia mixtures out there.

McClelland - Balkan Beauty 50g
What a beauty!
In my humble opinion, the house of McClelland is the finest blender working in the US today. Their latest blend, Balkan Beauty, is a wonderful testament to this claim. Upon opening the tin, one is greeted with the classic nose of McClelland's English blends. Pleasantly pungent, it is at once sweet, woodsy, and slightly smoky. In a word, all that a delicious blend of this type should be. My tin - a fresh 2017 vintage - had a near perfect moisture content. While I normally let each bowl dry 15-30 minutes before loading, my usual pinching test suggests that this would not be necessary. The cut is fairly large so careful packing, especially to avoid overfilling the bowl, is necessary. I do normally end up rubbing out a couple of pieces just to be sure. However, once the tobacco packs down, it is fairly well behaved. The burn rate is consistent with what one expects in this type of blend. A couple of relights are always necessary but the bloom develops nicely and leaves fine dry ash. A white billowing smoke is a big benefit in my book and the Balkan Beauty produces it in great quantities. Of course, the real quality of a mixture resides in taste and this is where this beauty really shines. There is the leathery sweetness of McClellands Latakia, complimented by the pleasant sourness of the Basma leaf. The taste remains complex through the bowl with different flavours coming to the fore, then retreating for a time. As with almost all blends, the claim of this being unlike anything one has smoked are exaggerated. But for my part, I am only glad to find the flavours that I so love in McClellands English and Balkan blends getting a fresh interpretation. The Balkan Beauty tastes like another legend in the making, bearing unmistakable affinity to classics like the Frog Mortons, Wilderness and, Three Oaks. With the latter two now sadly out of production, the Balkan Beauty feels like a rightful heir to their well deserved fame. Gorgeous indeed!

McClelland - Collector: Beacon 50g
A shining light!
One of the very finest tobaccos I have smoked in my almost a decade of wanderings. The Beacon deserves its name, shining across the oversaturated supply of halfling mixtures, with strength of flavour and structure like no other. I am a big admirer of Virginia-Perique blends. I find their elusive sweetness enticing and have several open tins in constant rotation, always searching for those perfect moments when all the variables align and the blend comes to its own. What sets Beacon apart for me, first, is that those sweet spots are far more common and dependanble than many its competitiors. While blends like Solani 633 shine thanks to their creamy smoothness, their sugars taste drier and more straightforward to my palate. With Beacon, the sweetness is at once rounder and more complex, ranging from sourness to dark molasses. I love the characteristic smell of McClelland's vinegar that seems to scare off so many first timers. If that means more aged tins for me, I could hardly complain. For my part, I can forget myself with a freshly opened tin for a very long while. I find the Beacon smokes as well in colder weather as it does in warm. I have enjoyed it on a blazing and moist day in central Vietnam, just as I have in the biting Midwestern winter in the US. I do recommend drying it out a little, as the flakes come well moistened in the tin. They rub out beautifully though, never crumbling too much while still being pliable in the bowl. I very hearty recommendation to add to the hundreds before me. For once, a blend deserves every single star in spades.

G. L. Pease - Caravan 2oz
Not for me, thank you
I am afraid I am having to disagree with the more favorable reviews of this blend by Mr Pease. To my palate, Caravan remains harsh to the point of being unsmokeable. I have tried many a different bowl and day but the negative traits of this mixture remain essentially the same. The flavour is harsh - perhaps the right metaphor is shrill - and the overall experience rather unpleasant. I hope to find better offerings among Mr Pease's impressive line up. This Caravan, I let pass.

Gawith Hoggarth & Co. - Kendal Black Cherry 50g
Excellent old school aromatic
The Top Black Cherry is, without a doubt, one of the finer aromatic blends out there. Rather moist in the tin, a little drying out will benefit the bowl immensely. The smoke itself is dry and never bites, quite unlike many similar blends out there. The flavor is subtle cherry, woven through with wafts of sweet Cavendish of the highest order. Te ghost remains in the pipe, to be sure, but I would never smoke an aromatic in a pipe not dedicated to the genre. Gawith & Hoggarth's Top Black Cherry is a gourmet aromatic of the finest order.

Pipe Tools & Supplies - Savinelli 6mm Balsa Filters (20/pack)
Good start
The Savinelli Balsa system is a great introduction to one of the most neglected essentials of pipe smoking. They do not alter the taste in any way, take care of all moisture related issues, and are pracically free if you weigh them against future medical bills. I am giving 4 stars rather than 5 since they are not nearly as effective against tars and harmful particles as activated charcoal filters such as Stanwells, which are my favorites by far (but sadly not available from Smokingpipes). But the Balsa system is definitely a good start. The 6mm work identical to bigger 9mm siblings, the choice depending on the pipe you are using.

Pipe Tools & Supplies - Savinelli 6mm Balsa Filters (100 Count)
Good start
The Savinelli Balsa system is a great introduction to one of the most neglected essentials of pipe smoking. They do not alter the taste in any way, take care of all moisture related issues, and are pracically free if you weigh them against future medical bills. I am giving 4 stars rather than 5 since they are not nearly as effective against tars and harmful particles as activated charcoal filters such as Stanwells, which are my favorites by far (but sadly not available from Smokingpipes). But the Balsa system is definitely a good start. The 6mm work identical to bigger 9mm siblings, the choice depending on the pipe you are using.

Pipe Tools & Supplies - Savinelli 9mm Balsa Filters (15 pack)
Excellent filters
The Savinelli Balsa system is a great introduction to one of the most neglected essentials of pipe smoking. They do not alter the taste in any way, take care of practically all moisture related issues, and are practically free if you weigh them against future medical bills. Not nearly as effective against tars and harmful particles than activated charcoal filters such as Stanwells, which are my favorites by far (but sadly not available from Smokingpipes). But the Balsa system is definitely a good start. The 9mm work identical to smaller 6mm siblings, the choice depending on the pipe you are using.

McClelland - Grand Orientals: Classic Samsun 50g
Highly recommended
Ahh, the Samsun! Like all blends in the Grand Oriental line, this one is sure to please an experienced smoker as much as a newcomer. It is easy to fall in love with, while offering great depth to the more discerning palate. The palate is tantalizingly sweet, especially once you master the pace. Light in strength yet highly satisfying in flavour, room note, and the after taste. As great in the heat of summer as it is on a winter afternoon.

McClelland - Grand Orientals: Drama Reserve 50g
A grand keeper!
I am a big fan of McClelland's Grand Oriental line and the Drama Reserve might just be my top dog. To be sure, all blends in the line are keepers. What sets Drama apart for me is the slightly sour sweetness and depth of flavour. It packs and burns with ease, especially after some light airing. The smoke is rich and leaves a wonderful room note. Like all Grand Orientals, it is a wonderful smoke in warmer weather, though performs just as well in the cold.

Tabac Manil - Le Petit Robin 100g
A class of its own!
Now here is a blend that caught me unawares. Having smoked close to forty blends over the past decade, I was not expecting something to redefine what a pipe tobacco can be. Yet that is precisely my impression of Le Petit Robin. As others have noted, the cut itself is almost a category of its own. It is extremely thin and fuzzy in a very pleasant, bohemian way. I tend to pack Le Petit Robin quite light, and consequently, the burn rate is pretty much doubled compared to my regular Virginia-Perique and Latakia blends. Strangely enough, I cannot say I detected any negatives from this, despite having a palate prone to bite. The bowl ends faster and that is all. It burns very dry and clean, and I admit sinning against one of my ground rules by refilling the same bowl immediately once or twice. That this brought no noticeable ill effects to taste or moisture only proves how well behaved the little Robin is. The taste is even further apart from anything I have tried before or since. I find it hard to pin down the flavor but what it reminds me of the most is malty bread. The smoke is rich and creamy with hints of sweetness throughout. Overall, the flavour is not something I have ever found myself craving. But that is probably down to the fact that it is really quite unlike anything else and is thus an acquired taste in the true sense of the term. I can easily see this as an everyday smoke for someone who likes its unique taste profile. Whether you do or not can only be ascertained by filling a bowl - which is something everyone should do at least twice or thrice. If only to take a path less traveled. It will be an adventure worth the detour.

Esoterica - Penzance 8oz
Overrated!
If ever there was an overrated tobacco in the market, the grand old Penzance is one. I nabbed an 8oz. bag a while back so had plenty of room for experimentation with different bowls, climes, and moods. No matter where and when I smoked this, the taste remained harsh, slightly sour, and generally uninteresting. As far as my palate is concerned, Esoterica has nothing whatsoever on the likes of McClelland or Russ Oulette's creations.

Solani - Virginia Flake - 633 50g
Champagne indeed
I hope the recipe for this tobacco is never lost to the ages! A creamy, smooth smoke that is equally perfect for sipping on a warm afternoon and a chilly morning on the patio. Even more surprisingly, I have yet to meet a Virginia flake that would take light so easily, and stay lit with no maintenance whatsoever. In fact, it is the only blend I have had to "put out" with my palm after the charring light. It just keeps going and going. With competition such as Full Virginia Flake or some of McClelland's offerings, this is nothing short of a blessing. Which goes for the blend on the whole. Champagne indeed!

Lane Limited - Wild Hare 1.75oz
A perfect change of pace!
This is an outstanding blend that I feel needs to be recommended for wider audience. I should start this review with a disclaimer that I am by no means an aromatic smoker, nor an expert in the genre. In fact, it is the only aromatic in my current rotation of straight Virginias and Virginia-Perique blends and an odd Scottish mixture. My reason for purchasing a tin of Wild Hare was wanting to branch out a little, get a change of pace, and gain some personal experience with aromatics that tend to get a lot of bad press. I guess I got lucky because to my palate, Wild Hare is nothing short of spectacular! Why so? To begin with the practicalities, it is one of the best burning tobaccos I have ever tried. I began cautiously by drying it out for half an hour before every bowl. It takes the light and burns with minimum of matches to the very end. Clean, dry, and pleasant. In fact, I have come to the habit of smoking it straight out of the tin without any airing time - something I rarely do with any of my regular blends. The results have been consistent every single time. Like all aromatics it most certainly ghosts the pipe so having one dedicated is a must. Mine is a diminutive Danish Rhodesian with a very conical chamber. But the ghost it leaves is almost worth a star by itself. It simply smells delicious! What about the taste? One often hears of overly sweet, artificial tasting aromatics. To my palate, the Wild Hare is the very opposite of this characterization. The vanilla is there, with subtle sugars in the background. But it is by no means overpowering the gentle Cavendish-Virginia that makes up the bulk of this blend. Each sip is creamy smooth with a pleasant lingering aftertaste. Not an everyday smoke for me, certainly. But like a good dessert wine or a gelato, the Wild Hare that never fails to bring a smile when I do reach for it. I can thus wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone wanting to venture off the beaten path of unflavored blends for an occasional treat. As an added bonus, the tin art is one of the finest in recent memory!

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