Dan Tobacco - Hamborger Veermaster 50g
Dan Tobacco makes two Virginia flake tobaccos that I like to keep in my tobacco bar; Tordenskjold and Hamborger Veermaster. Both are excellent entries into the world of premium flakes, but while Tordenskjold is an exceptional straight VA flake (with a pinch of Perique), Hamborger Veermaster is its slightly sweeter more Navy flake like cousin. While there is no rum topping disclosed, I consider it a Navy flake based on its flavor profile. Hamborger Veermaster is a very mild and sweet flake with qualities reminiscent of sweet iced tea. Very much a lighter and sweeter version of Tordenskjold. The VA is predominately golden hay-like brights, and has a sour tartness that mellows with age. Hamborger Veermaster is wonderful to age too. If you choose to cellar it, I recommend three years in a half-full Mason jar, beyond that I can't tell a difference. It's perfectly enjoyable without age, in fact this would be a good place to start flake tobacco exploration if you're new to them. It is light and easily smoked all day in any weather. While VA is generally popular in the warmer months, I've enjoyed this tobacco late into the Fall with surprising taste differences resulting from the seasonal changes in humidity. I've never gotten any harshness or bite with it and I think if you do, it's probably not from the tobacco. Flakes can be tricky since they deceptively hold more moisture. A properly packed bowl should be firmly packed, but must still allow for easy air flow. It takes practice. Once adequately lit, just sip. Flakes tend to want to burn slowly. It's not something you want to rush. I mention this because people tend to want more flavor from a lighter, milder tobaccos like Hamborger Veermaster and you can't get more flavor by puffing harder or faster at it. If you prefer, you could always thoroughly rub out the flakes prior to packing or dry the flakes for a quicker burn rate. Whether you're already a fan of Virginia flakes or you're new to pipe smoking and whether you decide to age it or smoke it fresh from the tin, DTM's Hamborger Veermaster is one of the best. Enjoy.
Mac Baren - Plumcake 3.5oz
A more subtle Navy blend.
Several years ago my first time trying Plumcake was lackluster. “What?” you say, but it's true. Initially, I couldn't see what was so appealing. It was a nice blend, sort of mild, a mostly ribbon-cut blend, and something that could easily be puffed all day, but nothing special. I had so much to learn. I jarred it up and left it alone for a couple of years during which time I expanded my palate exploring many other tobaccos. When I returned to Plumcake, I was more experienced and better educated about subtle blends. From that point on, I was a fan. This blend doesn't have a strong goopy rum-drenched flavor, nor is it Latakia heavy. Passing up Plumcake because “aromatic” or “Latakia” is in the description would be ill-advised. This is a gentle, mild-medium strength blend with character best smoked slowly if you want to understand how it became a classic. The natural tobacco flavors are more prominent than in most aromatics and less overpowering than most English blends. The rum casing isn't meant to be the dominant flavor and isn't directly detectable most of the time. Even the Latakia is used only as a condiment. Of course, the aging effect had mellowed the blend even further, but I've had fresh tins since then and now see what I couldn't that first time. While aging the tobacco is nice, it's not what makes Plumcake so pleasant, that's in the way it's blended, because it's fine right out of a fresh tin when you're ready. Simply a superb Navy blend. Hope this helps.
Cornell & Diehl - Gray Ghost 2oz
What complexity! What flavor! What obscurity?
Cornell & Diehl has such a huge selection to choose from that I still find surprises I've never heard of. No tobacco surprised me more than Gray Ghost. To be honest, I'm not a fan of cigars. I don't smoke cigars. I don't understand cigars. Every attempt I have made to enjoy them, even with help of aficionados, has left me scratching my head and returning to my beloved pipe. However, I LOVE the smell of cigars. The room note of cigar leaf does far more for me than their taste. Gray Ghost is a seemingly simple blend of Cigar and Virginia leaf. The blended ribbon cut is soft, dry, and perfectly ready for a pipe fresh from the tin. It packs effortlessly and burns moderately with very few re-lights. In most ways, I compare it to a Virginia/Perique blend that has a high percentage of Perique (probably around 25%, something like Bayou Morning) where you start to feel it in your throat in a good way knowing any more would be too much. Here the cigar acts in the Perique's stead to add spice and volume to the naturally sweet and slightly tangy Virginia. I assume the Virginia itself is a blend of Bright and Red leaf forming a nice foundation for the cigar to build upon. But, what sets Gray Ghost apart is it's room note. Yes, as pipe tobacco smokers, we rarely care about the room note, and may even have a hard time smelling the room note at all. Not so with Gray Ghost. I don't taste the cigar so much as I enjoy the aroma surrounding me while I smoke what is essentially a nice Virginia. The taste is predominately Virginia with a thicker mouth feel like you'd get from a more voluminous smoke, perhaps even Burley. But, combined with the smell of the burning cigar leaf, the overall experience is quite nice. I can't say what cigar fans would think of this blend. Maybe they find it an abomination, maybe not. As a pipe smoker, I enjoy it, and even if you're not a cigar fan, maybe you will too.
Edward G. Robinson - Edward G. Robinson's Pipe Blend 1.5oz
It is what it is, and that's okay.
I had heard so much about this blend and the actor it's named for, I thought I'd give it a try. My first time, I was not impressed, but my opinion changed drastically once I realized my mistake. I had initially bought this along with many other Latakia blends thinking of it as an English or English-Aromatic. It is far from English and not really a cross-over either. I felt I had been misinformed as to its goodness and set it aside for months. In the meantime, I finished the other Englishes and was making my way through several samples of tobaccos of old (Field & Stream, Kentucky Club, Sugar Barrel, Flying Dutchman, Barking Dog, Model, etc.). Sutliff, the makers of Edward G. Robinson, have a vast selection of match blends for many of these long-gone favorites and I haven't found one yet that I didn't like. After all that palate stretching it dawned on me, Edward G. Robinson has more in common with these old tobaccos than anything else. In this new light, it all made perfect sense... the easy-to-pack ribbon cut, the slightly drier leaf, the use of Latakia as a light condiment, the Burley base with a singular top note... this was a codger-style blend! As such it's very light, quite mild, and just an easy-going sort of tobacco that serves better as a snack than a meal. It is easy to light and keep lit. I can puff on it effortlessly and go about other projects without having to concentrate on nuances or complexity, and I kind of like that about it. It was tailor-made for that bygone era when smoking all day long was what pipe smokers did. As such, it couldn't have been a blend that would knock you on your butt after one bowl or nothing would ever get done. It is what it is, and that's okay. To put it respectfully, this is the sort of blend popular in the 1930s and 40s when Edward G. Robinson himself was in his prime. Since my revelation (no pun intended), I've enjoyed Sutliff's Edward G. Robinson's Pipe Blend on many occasions and if you take it for what it is, I think you could too.
Amphora - Kentucky Blend 1.75oz
This is dark-fired bliss.
Amphora has done a stand-up job with their new tobaccos. Amphora Kentucky is my favorite of their recent entries. When I'm trying something new in a category I'm familiar with, I take note of how captivating it is. With Kentucky blend, I went through an ounce inside a week and had ordered more before seeing the bottom of my first pouch. When a tobacco grabs my attention away from everything else I could be smoking like that, I know I have something special in hand. The cut is Amphora's usual broken flake sort. The tobacco retains moisture longer than expected, but nothing that effects its smokability. I never needed dry time before-hand, and just continued to load from the pouch until it was gone. It never really dried out on its own, either. The blend is comprised of Virginias and dark-fired Kentucky with the Kentucky being boldly recognizable. If you're a fan of VA with a just a little KY, this is not that sort of mixture. The robust Burley used contains more than a touch of nicotine, but the fire-curing has seemingly transformed the leaf into a manageable level. The VA provides just enough natural sweetness to take the edge off, leaving us with a cool, balanced, flavorful mixture. The presence of the Virginia is felt more than tasted. Without it, the Kentucky would be dry, overly woody, and possibly harsh (something more like Sail Ivory/Natural). This blend is naturally delicious. I couldn't detect any flavoring agents whatsoever. This is a working man's smoke, something to have in the morning to get you up and moving and keep you going throughout the day. I'd also point out that this is offered at a very reasonable price point. With wonderful dark-fired flakes such as the Mac Baren HH offerings usually costing more, their “better-ness” is solidly challenged by Amphora Kentucky blend. Though, that's not really fair considering they are all Mac Baren made. This is dark-fired bliss. Enjoy.
Amphora - English 1.75oz
Wish it had been better, but it is very good.
My love of English blends goes back to the beginning. I didn't start out on aromatics, I dove into the deep end right away with My Mixture 965, Balkan Sasieni, and G.L. Pease... back then anything Pease did, basically. It doesn't seem that long ago that Amphora came back onto the US market strong. I wasn't a big fan of the Black Cavendish, but all the others have been really good. So much so that I had high hopes for this, maybe too high. I was loving their Kentucky when they released Amphora English. From the first time I tasted their Kentucky, I knew they could do a good English, and they did. This belongs in a tin, it's that good. It is a pouch blend, but they do a good job of sealing them and I haven't had any issues with dry tobacco. Most of them I end up drying a bit, actually. I've been smoking the English for a month now and it seems to get better with growing familiarity, but it also seems a little plain to my palate. I'm sure there are smokers new to English blends that might consider this full flavored, but I find it to be a good, basic Latakia mixture with average woody notes and campfire aroma. Good, but simple. That must have been what they were going for and I feel they did well. I wish it was better, but it's still very good. It's a medium-strength Latakia blend worth every penny. It has a similar cut to the other Amphora broken flake-style blends and may require re-lights or drying, but overall a nice addition to Amphora tobaccos. Enjoy.
St. Bruno - Ready Rubbed 1.75oz
Why pay more for the same great tobacco?
St. Bruno Flake has been around for decades and is often included on must-try Virginia lists. You may have even seen one of the old TV commercials on YouTube, they're quite funny. Or, maybe you've heard that St. Bruno was the patron saint of pipe smokers, though I could not verify that one. What we have here is a Ready Rubbed version of that famous Virginia and dark fired Kentucky Flake where the Virginias seem aged to perfection. It is very Virginia forward, with the Kentucky in a supporting role and carries a somewhat sweet flora aroma in the pouch. Deep red to brown in color, this is not a bright Virginia of grassy notes, but rather a rich and tangy flavor comparable to ketchup or BBQ sauce. That's not to say St. Bruno tastes like either, but it has that same sweet and spicy combination with an obvious vinegar aroma. In my opinion, the uniqueness of St. Bruno's flavor comes from their use of vinegar as a preservative. This does nothing to harm the Virginia though, in fact, it's all the better for it. It helps cut the bite of the Kentucky and mellow the overall flavor into an always cool tasting smoke. I've actually tried to smoke this as hot as I could and never came close to tongue bite. So, how does it compare to St. Bruno Flake? As near as I can tell, this is identical to buying St. Bruno Flake and rubbing it out yourself for a lot less money. The Flake version often costs half again as much as the Ready Rubbed pouch where the work's been done for you. The pouch actually works well to keep the tobacco fresh too, maybe even better than the square-style Flake tin. The tobacco comes moist but smoke-able, but I let mine air-dry one or two full days just for ease of lighting and keeping it lit. This tobacco can hold it's moisture for a lot longer, so don't be afraid of it drying out quickly. Both versions of St. Bruno age superbly. The sugars in the Virginias combine with the vinegar easily making this sweet enough to smoke anytime of day or even as a palate cleanser between smokes. With a little age it smokes much sweeter too, like you'd expect from quality Virginia. Whether you've had St. Bruno Flake and wished it didn't cost so much or you're just looking to try a unique old Virginia tobacco without the hassle of prepping flakes, St. Bruno Ready Rubbed could be just what you're looking for. Enjoy.
Lane Limited - Ready Rubbed 1.5oz
A nice blend that helped change my mind about Burley.
I had been on a long journey to expand my palate and figure out what so many pipe smokers saw in Burley tobaccos when Lane Limited re-introduced Ready Rubbed to the world. It got so much attention, some founded in truth, some in nostalgia for the long-gone Edgeworth Ready Rubbed of the past, that it had my attention and I had to try it. Having had other Burley blends that soured or turned to a cigarette taste quickly, I found Lane's Ready Rubbed to be quite the opposite. I actually enjoyed it as a light, soft, all-day blend. It didn't take long to finish the pouch, less than a week as I recall. I haven't yet plopped down the cash for a tub, but I have occasionally sought another pouch. The tobacco is a wide ribbon cut that is easy to pack and light. The flavor is faint but redolent of hot chocolate. I do wish this flavor came out a little more, especially since there's not a very strong Burley flavor either. Perhaps that's why I liked this as a Burley explorer? As such, I would consider this a great blend for first-timers, either new to pipe smoking or new to Burley blends. It didn't bite me at all. Being a fan of lots of different styles of tobacco, and having weathered some of the worst aromatics and Virginias for bite, I rarely get tongue bite anymore. Having said that, if you get tongue bite from Lane Limited's Ready Rubbed, something went way, way wrong! Now, in all seriousness and for full disclosure, Sutliff also makes a match for Edgeworth's Ready Rubbed and it is actually the one I prefer. I don't like to compare the two though, I like them both for different reasons. I feel that the Sutliff version should please more experienced pipe smokers looking for a heartier blend with a bit more nicotine oomph. Two different blends, meant to be replacements for one of the greatest selling blends of a bygone age, spanning patrons of the hobby from beginner to veteran smokers alike. Give them both a try and I'd bet you'll like one or the other, if not both. Enjoy.
Sutliff - Ready Rubbed Match
The formidable Ready Rubbed match.
Not long ago Lane Limited re-introduced the world to Ready Rubbed, a blend that is meant to be a replacement for the long gone Edgeworth Ready Rubbed blend. While that blend is a nice smooth, all day sort of soft Burley any fan can enjoy, it didn't blow me away the way this Sutliff's Match blend has. I'm not comparing either to the original Edgeworth as I haven't had it yet. But, of the two blends meant to be at least a tribute to Edgeworth's, Sutliff's version is the more formidable of the two. For starters, it is a different cut made up of little nuggets of flavor, similar to a chunky-cut flake that's been rough-cubed. The impression I get is a hearty and nutty Burley that even without the flavoring would still be enjoyable, but it is the flavoring where this match soars above Lane's version. The famous Edgeworth taste is a sort cocoa flavoring with a hint of brown sugar or molasses and perhaps a touch of anisette. If you are familiar with Sir Walter Raleigh original (which I also love), it is playing in the same ballpark on a different team. When I tried the Lane Limited Ready Rubbed, I liked it, in fact it was one of the first Burley blends I liked in my attempts to expand my palate. As I grew to enjoy other Burleys, like Solani's Aged Burley Flake for example, Lane's Ready Rubbed seemed lacking. Enter Sutliff as the remedy. This is both flavorful and pure slow-burning enjoyment. Sutliff has sourced Burley that seems to have a bit more nicotine oomph too. It is slightly harder to get lit, but once it's going, it lasts. The flavoring is most evident at the beginning, fading slowly through the bowl, but rather than die out leaving you with a bland, dull tasting tobacco, it becomes a nice Walnut sort of flavor that remains pleasant as you finish. As a rule, I'm less inclined to enjoy an aromatic that loses flavor quickly, but I don't consider this an aromatic. “Does it have a flavoring?” Yes, but lots of non-aromatics do. This is squarely in the Burley-based category and should be considered such. The flavor change is part of the journey, and one I'm happy to return to again and again. Enjoy.
Cornell & Diehl - Virginia Flake
Baked bread broken flake!
C&D's Virginia Flake is relatively new to me (at the time of this review). It's not new, but with C&D offering so many Virginia-based tobaccos that seem to get more attention and praise, I simply overlooked THE Virginia Flake. I had just finished a tin of Carolina Red Flake, and as good as it is, it wasn't the right VA for what I was craving. I enjoy every VA I try to some degree, but I find myself searching for a taste that I know is possible but unfortunately is not always present, namely, a yeasty baked sour dough flavor. On a whim I took advantage of smokingpipes.com's CHAT feature and asked Kaye Farinelli a simple question: “What's the breadiest VA you have for me to try?” I half expected her to say something I was already familiar with, but She quickly asked around for opinions, and came back with “C&D Virginia Flake”. It was an excellent recommendation and exactly what I was looking for. I've been unable to put this down since I got it. It's a broken flake that benefits from further rubbing out and I let it dry out a little. It's not moist, in fact it's fine to smoke right away, but drier tobacco lights easier, burns more evenly, and improves flavor IMO, especially with slowly sipped Virginias. Dare I say I enjoyed it more than CRF? That's about all I can say given my brief introduction. I've only had an ounce so far, but I'll be sure to buy more. As good as it is, this is definitely one to jar up and age a few years. This flavor bomb should only improve with time. If you enjoy the taste of baked bread from Virginia tobaccos and have not tried C&D's Virginia Flake, you are missing out on one of the best and surprisingly underrated VA around. Enjoy.
Half and Half - Half and Half 1.5oz
Listen to codgers, they know.
Lately, I've been strolling down Codger Lane quite a bit. After years of seeking only premium tins like anything less was not worth my time, I've learned that the more I think I know about tobacco, the more I have yet to learn. To my surprise, with rare exception, I have found that time-honored so-called “codger” blends are some of the best. Half and Half is no exception. Based on the simple principal of offering an equally Virginia/Burley blend when the majority of pipe tobaccos were either mostly or all Burley, Half and Half made it's own niche. It has a mellow pleasant smell in the pouch/can, and most people enjoy the lingering aroma in the room. It's probably one of three aromas that people lovingly identify as someone smoking a pipe, even if they no nothing about pipes and tobacco. The textures are soft and easy to load, catch light and burn at a nice rate, and the flavor is consistent from matches to ashes. The taste is mild and pleasant. It reminds me of sweet corn, but the formula contains many different flavors and notes from the common alcohol/anise combo to less common kitchen spices and nuts. A flavor profile often imitated, Half and Half is the original in its category. Like many old recipes, it's good because there's nothing wrong. It doesn't need to change or improve, it will always be successful. Although it's production has changed hands a few times, I've heard it said it remains remarkably unchanged. Listen to codgers, they know. Half and Half continues to have widespread adoration because it was right from the start. Enjoy.
Cornell & Diehl - Sun Bear 2oz
The blend I didn't even know I wanted til I had it.
About a month ago Cornell & Diehl released Sun Bear as a Small Batch offering. Initially I was intrigued by the inclusion of Jeremy Reeves' own bee's honey as a flavoring. To keep bees is a labor of love. To use their honey in a tobacco may just border on eccentric dedication to the craft. More power to you Mr. Reeves if you keep producing the likes of Sun Bear. I am a fan of Virginia/Oriental blends and no stranger to honey-flavored aromatics, but I had never thought to marry the two. Sun Bear shows just what a great combination this produces. This flake has a nice mottled color and Goldilocks moisture level. The tin has an aroma that reminds me of Fig Newtons and this carries over into the room note as well. The flavor is the best part, full of Virginia fruity goodness with a mild figgy flavor. And, it's supposedly made from Bright VA, not Reds? The orientals are SO there and yet SO tame. Perfection. They come across similar to a ultra-mild Lakeland but are quite sweet at the same time. So easy to smoke, I kept waiting for the Orientals to blanket the flavor, but they just stayed mellow and let the Virginias lead the way. A bit old fashioned tasting in my book, like that special something in a homemade pie that you'll never get from store-bought. Sun Bear captures that “something” in a big way. I wanted to take it all in before writing a review and now I see it's sold out, but if it comes around again you should definitely try some. As is always the case, I wish I had bought more.
Missouri Meerschaum - Country Gentleman 1.5oz
Perfect for long Summer days.
I enjoy Virginia Perique blends, especially during unbearably hot Summer days. Country Gentleman seems perfectly designed for just such occasions. Personally, my palate likes VA/Per tobaccos a little on the milder side. Having said that, I enjoy a smoke with a flavor punch, and this one represents both well. It's a nice ribbon cut and usually a tad on the dry side, both of which make for easy loading and lighting. Compared to some other popular VA/Pers like Bulls Eye Flake, Escudo, or even Drexel VIII (also in a pouch), Country Gentleman doesn't require all the fuss of a flake or coin. The flavor is mostly Virginia and Kentucky based. I get the high, hay-like VA notes with a smoking woods condiment. Not at all like an English, but just the right amount of smokey spice that when combined with the tangy Perique makes a flavorful counterpart to the Virginia's mellow sweetness. This is a great blend for those wanting to try a Virginia Perique blend blindly. For those who already enjoy a good VA/Per, this is surprisingly good for a pouch blend and mild enough to enjoy anytime. I've been impressed with each of the Missouri Meerschaum tobaccos. Though blended specifically for corncob pipes, Country Gentleman is enjoyable in whatever sort of pipe you prefer. I wish Country Gentleman was available in bulk. Thankfully, the pouch wont break the bank and may even save you some over similar higher priced tins. Enjoy.
Prince Albert - Prince Albert 1.5oz
Time-honored traditional Burley.
Prince Albert Pipe Tobacco is one just about everyone's heard of. So much has been said already, but there are still so many pipe smokers that have not tried it. The basics are Burley, nutty, cocoa... but there's more to it. This blend strikes me as representing the phrase “What's old is new again”. Recently, there have been some entries onto the market being advertised as new ideas. The John Cotton's Double Pressed and Sutliff's Crumble Kake tobaccos come to mind. If you've had any of these you are familiar with their softness. They can be as soft as cotton candy and come apart so easily they truly are easy to load, light, and enjoy. But, this is an old idea, and one that Prince Albert seems to have been using a long, long time. Yes it is a nice mild Burley. Yes, it has nutty flavors and a powdered cocoa taste. But, equally important is just how soft and easy to work with Prince Albert is. I recently fell in love with Sir Walter Raleigh regular. And, while they have their differences, they share much in common. Both are Burley, both have a similar flavor profile, but Prince Albert has that feel, that softness. Prince Albert is also lighter on the flavor, making it easier for first-timers or for an anytime blend. It's just so darn easy to smoke. If you've read this far, through all the reviews... seriously, you should have ordered some by now!
Dan Tobacco - Tordenskjold Virginia Slices 50g
An exceptional Virginia flake.
Tordenskjold Virginia Slices is worthy of praise by any Virginia fan. It is a fairly light smoke with a good bit of flavor and has an all-day easiness to it. It is a blend of mature red and bright VA with a touch of the Perique. If you like tea-like Virginias with a hint of sourdough, this should be very pleasant for you. If however you enjoy a Perique punch, this may lack the oomph you're used to. The flakes are thin with a naturally sweet Virginia aroma. I don't smell or taste any topping whatsoever. The impression one gets from a fresh tin is that it's already been aged for more than a few years. The flakes are uniform and neat, easy to prepare regardless of the packing method you use, and they hold high consistency of form, texture, and taste. The moisture of the flakes seem perfect; never too dry nor wet. The price is not bad for an imported tobacco either. Availability can be sparse, but it comes around more often than say, Germain or Rattray's blends. I'm not sure if it's because of availability, or close-to-the-vest secrecy, or lack of online discussion, but Tordenskjold rarely gets the attention given to similar flakes that people clamor for. Personally, I think it deserves more and I'm happy to do so. Enjoy.
Sutliff - Z92 Vanilla Custard
A vanilla blend's vanilla blend.
Wow! I should have wrote this review ages ago. I first discovered Vanilla Custard a few years ago while I was on an wintertime-fueled aromatic kick. This great Sutliff blend is by far the best tasting vanilla tobacco I've ever tried. To put that in perspective here's a list of some others I've had: Captain Black Royal, Lane 1Q, Mac Baren Vanilla Cream, C'est La Vie, and Sutliff's own 1M. All good vanilla blends, sure, but Vanilla Custard ramps things up a notch. Tin note: vanilla (from across the room), color of ribbon: vanilla (a nice golden brown), taste: vanilla and then some! Vanilla Custard is aptly named. You're not just getting a generic vanilla taste, you get the whole taste of a rich creamy dessert akin to, well, Custard. Think vanilla gelato, or pudding...maybe even a slight eggnog flavor (nutmeg?). Creamy and rich all around. As for it's smoking properties I have to say it fairs far better than many aromatics. It has strong flavor but it is not artificial tasting vanilla. It has a consistent flavor that weakens, but never quite goes away throughout the bowl. It is somewhat moist but doesn't turn to steam the minute you put a match to it like so many others. It will leave your bowl with a bit of moisture and I can't warn you enough how this will ghost even a cob. And, as you would expect, with a flavoring like this you wont get much natural tobacco flavors. This is a Cavendish for when you want pure vanilla flavor and a room note to match! Enjoy.
Sutliff - Tobacco Galleria: Fox & Hound
Why is this not in a tin?
If you are an English lover and looking for a great tobacco blend that wont break the bank, you may not find a better choice than Sutliff's Tobacco Galleria: Fox & Hound. This blend has a lot going for it. The Latakia is cool and smooth burning with that all important smokiness for good English flavor. The Virginia seems to have some age to it with a fermented fruit tanginess that is bolstered by the (I'd guess substantial amount of) Perique. The Burley plays a supporting roll but brings a nice dry nutty flavor to the overall taste. You could stop blending there and have a nice English mixture, but I believe the addition of the Turkish orientals is what adds the “wow” factor for me. Slightly pungent or sour, the Turkish gives this a richness that boosts the flavor and makes this somewhat mild-medium blend appear to be much bolder than it actually is. I believe this to be firmly in the medium range, though I can't quite pin down the nicotine content. It seems to be more than I expect each time. This is probably from the Burley and I actually like the nic level even as an all-day smoke. The ribbon cut is nice and color ranges from medium-brown to black, mostly having a darker appearance. The tin note is a sort of dry musty aroma but this translates more to room note than to taste. I am pleasantly surprised at how good this blend is for it's price. The quality here could easily sell in a $10 tin. Luckily, Fox & Hound has a great value and taste that English fans on a budget can appreciate. Enjoy.
Ashton - Artisan's Blend 50g
Not just for Artisans!
Artisan's Blend is a tobacco blend that proclaims it is “for the experienced pipe smoker”. I agree with that statement to a point. I think to get the most out of it, it would help to be, but it is not necessary. This is probably not one I'd hand to a new pipe smoker, but if you've tried a few Latakia mixtures and understand how Orientals can play with flavors, then this is a good one to try. It has a common rough ribbon cut and colors range from tan to dark brown. It lights easily, burns slow and cool, and doesn't bite. The flavor is both delicious and strong. The Virginias within give the blend a slight sweetness, but they don't stand out in the shadow of the Latakia and Orientals playing off each other which is where the majority of flavor comes from. It is a full-flavored blend of mostly aromatic woods and earthiness with a touch of spice. I can't tell how much Perique is used, and I can't pick it out per se, but it's definitely there adding a richness to the blend (the tin says a “touch” of Perique, but I'd guess more). I'd easily give this a 5 on taste. It tastes much better than the somewhat ordinary Latakia-rich tin note would lead you to believe. All in all, this is a wonderful blend for lovers of Latakia and Orientals. Word is out though about how good it is, so availability varies. Thankfully, it's not overpriced. That makes Ashton Artisan's Blend a must. Enjoy.
Sir Walter Raleigh - Regular 1.5oz
Granddad and I (Part 2)
I loved my Granddad. He remains my watermark of a real man. A Bataan Death March survivor, he came home from WWII determined to make the best of life. He retired a Lieutenant Colonel and moved to the open country of Texas where he raised two sons and loved my Grandmother unending. I was his only grandchild and he would do anything for me... anything. He had taken up the pipe and it gave him much joy. But, sadly I was a kid in the 70s brainwashed by PSAs every Saturday morning. I used to cry every time I saw him smoke and I'd say “Granddad, I don't want you to die.” Eventually, he gave up smoking entirely. When I was in High School he passed away of cancer anyway. I choose not to cry over this memory. It makes me mad because he had every right to do whatever he wanted and he loved the pipe. I blame the anti-smoking campaigners for using a naive child to do their dirty work. He deserved to smoke his pipe and love his grandson and not to have to choose between them. I choose not to dwell on it, I'd rather look forward. Granddad always said, if you want to do something “Just do it.” (he had a way of cutting through the BS). What I wanted to do after I began smoking a pipe myself was find and try what he had smoked. After a lot of searching the only tobacco I've found that seems to be the one is SWR Regular. I tried SWR Aromatic too, but it's the Regular that brought back memories... the smell of Granddad's wood working shop, of the Summer air riding with him on the tractor, of all those Christmas mornings, and yes, even the Saturday mornings watching cartoons. Everywhere he smoked his pipe I have fond memories of today. He was a man that lived life to the fullest on his terms. That's the sort of man that would like Sir Walter Raleigh Regular. I have no way to know for sure, but my gut says “That's the one.” every time I taste it. A SIDE NOTE: If you've read some of my other reviews, you know I also struggled for a long time with Burley blends, so it was quite a shock that I liked this one at all, let alone more than SWR Aromatic. Since then I can't get enough of it and smoke it on a daily basis. I can't believe it took nearly three decades to try this classic. Life is funny. Enjoy.
Sir Walter Raleigh - Aromatic 1.5oz
Granddad and I (Part 1)
Sir Walter Raleigh is a venerable brand that has pleased pipe smokers for generations. As best as I can remember, my grandfather was one of them. All I have of his pipe smoking things is his reamer which bares the 'Sir Walter Raleigh' name. I tried for years to remember what he actually smoked hoping to try it for myself someday. During WWII he probably smoked Lucky Strikes, but no one remembers what he smoked in his pipe. So, for years I relied heavily on whatever I'd come across to help jog my faded memory. When I saw Sir Walter Raleigh online a light bulb went off. Suddenly, I thought of Granddad's old lazy chair, the end table where he often laid his pipe, and a fuzzy image of a pouch of tobacco that seemed to come into focus just a bit. I ordered a pouch of Aromatic to try first. It is a thin shag more suited for RYO cigs than a pipe but it did alright. I couldn't taste Virginia or Burley through the flavoring though. It is heavily topped with some alcohol that did nothing but burn hot for me. I don't want to give the wrong impression. It seems to have a uniqueness to it, but as aromatics go, I like a more subtle topping. It does pack well and stays lit. It could even continue burning if left unattended. It's not an ultra-sweet candy tobacco. It has more in common with Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey than say, a Captain Black OTC. It's not overly moist, which I liked. Ultimately, I like to think SWR's Aromatic version is probably not what Granddad smoked. The room note rang no childhood memory bells. Overall, I wouldn't buy this for myself, but I do see what others may like about it. I wanted to like this one, to find that familiar aroma from my childhood, but this wasn't it. Don't be discouraged from trying it. Many people love this tobacco and so could you. Luckily, SWR Regular was still out there for me. Hope this helps.
Rattray's - Black Mallory 50g
Birds of a feather...
I must be honest here, I'm only on my first tin of this wonderful tobacco. It will not be my last. I fell in love with Black Mallory from my first bowl. One of my all-time favorite blends is Butera's Pelican, and this is the closest thing I've found. While not identical, Black Mallory has much of what I love about Pelican. It is a smooth, somewhat stronger than average Balkan style blend with a sultry aroma and taste. And, while Black Mallory isn't always easy to find, it's easier than Pelican by far. If I'm not mistaken Black Mallory has been around much longer too and seems to be a fan favorite of the Rattray's line going way back. The blend came with perfect moisture and there was noticeable suction release to the lid upon opening. I doubt my tin was very old though since the tin sports new artwork (not as pictured). But, it taste like it's mellowed from age. It is so easy to smoke I find myself getting lost in its richness. No bite, no sharpness, no adjustments necessary... it agreed with me in every way as if smoking a life-long favorite blend. The Latakia is upfront and balanced perfectly with the Orientals. The smokey Latakia is both rich and mellow, not at all over done, but definitely stronger than you'd expect. The Orientals come across as creamy and incense-like without any annoying perfume chemical twinge. This IS the definition of “balanced blend”. Every component is supporting the others and is a relevant and crucial element. Any one component is hard to find, but the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. Fans of Latakia mixtures and Oriental blends should try Black Mallory for sure. Luckily, it still manages to fly under the radar so-to-speak. It's an old classic, but enjoys a slight niche anonymity. Enjoy.
Stanwell - Melange 50g
Pecan pie fans rejoice!
Stanwell's Melange mixture is breathtaking. As aromatics go, this is quite nice. Aromatics can sometimes be less than quality tobacco heavily flavored to hide that fact. Stanwell would never. This is a fine combination of quality tobaccos with just the right amount of flavor essences to enhance the best of what the components have to offer. The aroma from a freshly opened tin can make you want to eat it, lol. Once lit, the best part is that most of the tin note translates to flavor. The Burley nuttiness shines through, but where you may expect Walnut flavor, here it tastes like a buttery pecan. This marries well with the Black Cavendish and Virginia sweetness and calls to mind flavors associated with praline or peanut brittle. The Orientals help metamorphose the normal flavors you'd expect. It tastes like pecan pie to me, from the candied pecans and buttered flaky crust to the ooey gooey creamy mixture within. But, somehow Stanwell manages to do this without making the tobacco overly saturated itself. I find the moisture level good (as aromatics go) and the ribbon cut is great for ease of packing and lighting. It could be dried before if you prefer without losing too much flavor, but it's not necessary. Because it is so high in sugars, it can bite if you huff' 'n' puff' quickly. Just slow down and enjoy the fine taste. Believe it or not, this has some depth to it. About halfway through the bowl when the topping is spent, rather than becoming tasteless as many aromatics would, it becomes more natural tasting and mellows into a nice all-day VA/Burley sort of smoke. The finish is reminiscent of a glass of tea to rinse the palate. I think this would appeal to fans of Sutliff's Creme Brulee or Peterson's Sweet Killarney. Enjoy.
Solani - Tropical Flake-639 50g
Not exactly paradise.
Solani makes some truly delicious tobaccos. However, the Tropical Mango Flake didn't do it for me flavor-wise. Strong fruity flavors can and often do ruin a perfectly good tobacco. I'm not saying it's a bad flake, I leave room for others to find out for themselves, but every time I tried to come back to this one I was left wishing I could taste tobacco. And, it doesn't (to me anyway) taste much like Mango or any other tropical fruit much either. The taste is just an amalgamation of strange individual flavors that fight each other until the whole team suffers. I'd really like to know if this flake starts out as 633? If it does...man, what a waste? And, at Solani's price range this tobacco left me sorry I hadn't gone for two other tobaccos instead. The flake is standard to most Solani flakes in size and thickness. Moisture content was pretty wet. I tried it fresh, then dried, and then aged versions of both moist and dry. It lights and burns fine under all these conditions, with the dry samples having less of that peculiar flavor I mentioned, and the moist samples needing way more re-lights obviously. It will burn clean and leave a dry bowl which is nice. Overall I think this could be a good tobacco, but the flavor just didn't suit my palate. I guess it may work for someone who likes aromatics and wants to try an aromatic flake, but there are so many other flakes, even other Solani flakes I'd recommend ahead of Tropical Mango Flake. For a nice refreshing light fruity flake, my go-to is Erinmore. Hope this helps.
Peter Stokkebye - PS306 English Oriental Supreme
English, Balkan, Scottish? It's all good.
I love a good mellow creamy Latakia combined with fragrant exotic Orientals in a blend. A fan of English and Balkan mixtures as a whole, I've tried oh so many. But, finding ones that are perfectly suited to my palate and so beautifully measured is rare. So uncommon in fact that I have settled on three that do it for me every time: Kramer's Father Dempsey, Lane's Medal of Valor, and this one, PS English Oriental Supreme. We've all read descriptions and thought “they all have the same components, why do they taste so different from each other?”. That's the beauty of pipe tobacco. Slight variations in procured leaf, the aging process, (sometimes) casings or toppings, blend percentages, etc. all effect the outcome, but what English Oriental Supreme taught me was that regardless of the Syrian vs. Cyprian Latakia debate, my palate enjoys Cyprian. With Syrian Latakia being ever harder to get I'm fine with this revelation, lol. To me Cyprian starts out more mellow than Syrian could ever get with age. It has a bite-free coolness that harmonizes with orientals to become transcendent. Here's the real surprise though, this doesn't have any Orientals apart from the Latakia. None. The Latakia is carrying the show. And technically Latakia is an Oriental, but there's no Basma, Izmir, Yenidje, etc. is what I mean. The other two blends I mention both claim Latakia and Orientals separately. I don't remember if I bought this or it was shared, but I remember my first smoke of it being with friends...timeless. It was a reset button for my brain. I'd been smoking Lat-blends for 20 years or more, but English Oriental Supreme was an awakening; a renaissance. It soon became an every-day-carry of mine that I'll likely never put away. Enjoy.
Peter Stokkebye - PS400 Luxury Navy Flake
A favorite first shared by a true friend.
Peter Stokkebye is synonymous with quality bulk blends. Two of the most recognizable being Luxury Bulls Eye Flake and this one, Luxury Navy Flake. Pretty much any PS blend that starts with “Luxury” is going to be good, lol. This one is a straight up Virginia/Perique blend (a VA/Per) and man, is it a good one. It's a little more full flavored than the Bulls Eye coins because Navy Flake lacks the Cavendish. This is a good VA/Per for beginners if not Bulls Eye Flake. It's sort of a watermark for VA/Per flakes, actually. If you like it and want something stronger I'd recommend Escudo. But with this being readily available and sold in bulk at bargain prices, you'd be hard pressed to find a better VA/Per for an all-day favorite. The flakes are thin and fold-and-stuff well. But they can also be thoroughly rubbed into a great ribbon too. Either way it is a pleasant smoke every time. In fact, the consistency of these flakes is remarkable. Considering the quantities Peter Stokkebye must be producing to meet the demands, it truly consistent in availability, price, flavor, and moisture...all of which are perfect every time. If there was a downside to Luxury Navy Flake it may be that most smokers might expect a “Navy” flake to include a rum flavoring, which I've never tasted in this. I'm sure this tobacco has a special recipe of flavors, but it taste so natural to me I don't care what it is. I've heard it compared to Erik Stokkebye's 4th Generation 1931 which I personally have not tried (yet). It is also similar to Comoy's Cask No. 4. But, for the aforementioned reasons, most reviewers compare others to this by saying "Why not just get Luxury Navy Flake?" It's a standard in our hobby and a personal favorite of mine. Enjoy.
Orlik - Dark Strong Kentucky 50g
This stuff makes me drool.
Mention “Orlik” among smokers and the subject will turn to two standards in the industry; Orlik Golden Sliced and this one, Dark Strong Kentucky. Dark Strong Kentucky is a delicious blend. To understand the greatness of this once unavailable flake, it's important to understand dark-fired Kentucky Burley. Hopefully, you know what Latakia is and how it's made, Kentucky (or DFK, as it's known in my club) is made with Burley in much the same fashion; smoking the Burley with woods and herbs to impart a smokey, woodsy, earthy and often barbecue-like spiciness to the leaf. I think of it like this, if Latakia reminds you of smoke from a BBQ pit, then dark-fired Kentucky is what you get when you add the meat and sauce! There are many blends out there with Kentucky in them (some of which only list Burley as an ingredient), but Orlik's Dark Strong Kentucky is slightly different. Where most Kentucky based blends are strong and can lack a pleasant room note, contrary to it's name, this one is not too strong at all and its room note can draw a crowd's curiosity. I'd say it's medium strength, but because it has a molasses-like flavor and sweetness to it, its bark is worse than its bite. It is in the sweeter style of BBQ (think Kansas City or Memphis style), rich and tangy, but also sweet and full flavored. It comes somewhat moist pressed and cut into approximately one inch square flakes that resemble aged smoked bacon cuts with the light Virginia being sandwiched between the Burleys. Because of the moisture, I usually let them dry a while (sometimes a few days) and/or rub them out thoroughly to prepare. Like many flakes it takes a little more effort, but is very rewarding for it. Whether you rub 'em or stuff 'em, it's a slow smoke either way. If you're interested in trying a dark-fired Kentucky tobacco for the first time, this is a great place to start. If you find you like the flavors but wish it had a more vinegar base, I highly recommend St. Bruno as your next step. Enjoy.
Mac Baren - Vanilla Cream 3.5oz
Still in the cellar. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Mac Baren is such a great tobacco company. Not only do they have such a great lineup of there own, plus the HH line, and now Sutliff, but they also distribute so many other lines to the States that I call favorites. I love them so much, so it pains me to say, “I don't know what went wrong with Vanilla Cream”? So many reviewers that I thought I trusted led me to this one and I have struggled with it ever since (nah, I still trust those reviewers). There is just something about Vanilla Cream that seems so harsh on my palate. I get the vanilla in the tin note and occasionally the flavor too, but most of the time I feel like I'm having to fight it all the way. In the end, it's just not worth the hassle. I don't need another vanilla tobacco, I have plenty of go-to blends in that genre, some of which are probably also by Mac Baren, lol. So, if you like Mac Baren's Vanilla Cream, great. I think that's great, but after struggling to enjoy nearly 100 grams for over a year, I'm cellaring what I have in hopes that age will do it justice. The Virginia will only mellow and sweeten. Maybe some of the flavoring will be lost, but maybe that's what it needs. I'll pull it out in a year or two and give it another try. Until then I'm keeping my fingers crossed and moving on. Hope this helps.
Lane Limited - 1-Q
If you only have one in your queue, make it 1-Q.
So, there are so many reviews out there for 1-Q I'm just going to shoot from the hip with this review. No one is going to look at 150+ reviews and decide to read my book-length meanderings. So first off, this is IMO the same as Captain Black Royal. I can NOT tell them apart! So if you already smoke Royal and love it, you can run along and enjoy a bowl while I discuss (I can't believe I'm saying this) THE MOST TALKED ABOUT BLEND EVER! Seriously, this is where it all begins. If you're new to the hobby and don't know what to try first, most people start with this unassuming, easy going, every pipe smokers best friend: Lane 1-Q. I actually started with a heavy English, but that's another story. Yes, 1-Q is simple, sweet, toothless (meaning it wont give you tongue bite), has a nice flavor (mostly vanilla and generic sweetener), and even pleases most non-smokers with it's pleasant room note. The ribbon is fine, burns consistently and evenly at various degrees of moisture, in any pipe you care to smoke it in, and leaves little to clean up when you're done. It's got a helluva reputation. Now, it can be polarizing among pipe smokers. Some people knock it for being so one dimensional. Others claim it's just too sickly sweet and lacks natural flavors. But, for every naysayer, there are countless others that smoke this exclusively as an all-day blend, many who have for decades. It may be a blend, but it's all Cavendish, so anything that went in ready to buck and kick come out like a well behaved gelding. I've said it before, if you can't smoke 1-Q , you need to find a different hobby. If you start here and have trouble, bless your heart. If on the other hand you love it and want more, there are literally hundreds of blends for you to move on to from here. Or, be happy and smoke this the rest of your life...you wouldn't be the first. Enjoy.
John Cotton's - Numbers 1 & 2 1.75oz
Let's keep the decorum, shall we?
I know that Russ Ouellette worked hard to bring the John Cotton line back into production and from what I can tell he seems to have done a good job matching the originals (this isn't his first time). John Cotton's Number 1 & 2 was originally two different blends. Long ago fans started mixing them together and that's what we have represented here. I couldn't begin to tell you what they are like separated, but they work well together. Knowing how it got it's name doesn't make the name any better. “Number 1 & 2”, really? That's possibly the worst name I've heard for a tobacco blend since Merde de Cheval. Regardless, it's a somewhat sophisticated English blend of some character and definitely worth a try. It's on the lighter side but has surprising depth. I prefer it as a morning smoke, but I could see this being a go-to all-day blend for most fans. The mechanics are perfect...it's so easy to puff on. I especially like the fact that it has no obvious added flavoring. Number 1 & 2 is very much the sort of blend that fans of true tobacco taste crave. It's very consistent in flavor and texture and has always had the perfect moisture content for me. It's a very refined sort of English blend. It is a tad bland (some may say too bland), but that's part of it's charm. It's a light English, that is still full flavored, without added sweeteners nor too much Latakia. The Latakia is there, very much so, but it is subdued and blended well. I know that the price can seem high, but I think that it's that good. If you like light blends of any kind or an easy English mixture, this is for you. Enjoy.
Iwan Ries - Three Star Blue 1.5oz
Chicago's tried & true - Three Star Blue!
I'm not sure what I can add that hasn't already been said about Iwan Ries' Three Star Blue so much of this will cover well trodden ground. Three Star Blue is a wonderful and original tasting tobacco. It's somewhat English, somewhat aromatic (in a good way) but very unique in flavor and aroma. For me it's one of those that there is no substitute for. If I'm in the mood for this, nothing else will come close to that taste. It's a medium strength blend to me, others say it's a lighter all-day sort. I think it can be deceptively robust at times. Aside from the flavoring they add, the other thing I like best is that it's so well blended that none of it's parts stand out. Each of the tobacco types present work in unison to promote the overall taste and experience. There's a reason it's been around so long. Speaking of age, if you don't know who Iwan Ries is you need to find out before sundown or pack up your pipes (I could be wrong but I've always pronounced it like “E Vaughn Reese”). And, of course Three Star Blue is practically synonymous with Iwan Ries. They have other blends of Three Star tobaccos, but Blue is the one that gets all the recognition. My pouches always seem a bit on the dry side but I can't complain. I think they light and burn more evenly than you'd expect. It leaves a nice dry bowl having disappeared leaving barely any fine ash behind. It is also one of those blends that smokes great in any pipe regardless of shape, size, or material. If you haven't tried it, you should. If you find you don't like it (as if), I'm sure you'll have no problem finding someone who'll take it off your hands. Enjoy.
Gawith Hoggarth & Co. - Black Irish X
Give any man too much rope...
The Black Irish X was one of my first rope twist tobacco I ever tried. I'd heard about and seen them plenty of times but never wanted to try them for several reasons. First, they had no descernable aroma, nothing friendly anyways. Next, they seemed like more trouble than it was worth. Finally, their scarcity made me think if I liked it and couldn't get a hold of it...well, I've got enough tobaccos like that. But, once I tried it, none of that mattered. Over the years I've come to realize that what a tobacco smells like usually has nothing to do with how it tastes, that the ritual of preparation is a big part of the hobby and usually tobaccos that require it are worth the extra effort, and if you want something bad enough you will find a way to make sure you have it on hand. I keep a nice chunk of Black Irish X in a jar for when I'm in the mood. I use a cigar cutter to cut it into coins that I rub out and dry before smoking. I've tried to smoke it in coin, but it requires too many re-lights. Also, I seem to taste the deep rich flavors better when I let it get a tad dry before loading. It smokes best (for me anyways) in a wide shallow bowl. It is strong. The rumors are true, you will want to have a full stomach before partaking. I've turned green from smoking this too much under the wrong conditions. But, if you give it the time and respect it requires it can be a nice change-of-pace smoke for anyone wanting to try a heavy hitter from time to time. This is definitely not the Virginia you're used to and absolutely not for beginners. Hope this helps.
Cornell & Diehl - Orion's Arrow
You'll get no quarrel with me.
I'm glad I happened across this blend (love the smokingpipes.com Tobacco Locator). I'm a fan of both VA/Perique blends and VA in general, but I also have a long standing love for Balkan blends and the intoxicating Orientals they contain. I often wondered if these loves would cross paths and that's when I discovered C&D's Orion's Arrow (what a cool name). This blend claims to have near equal parts of two Virginias, Perique and Turkish. WOW! First off, we know it's half VA, and you can't go wrong with that base, but that also means there's 25% Perique – no small amount, and then a quarter Turkish (which could be any number of Orientals, but I'm thinking Izmir most likely) to add a creamy aromatic quality. As soon as I read the description I knew this would either be awful or outstanding. It was outstanding. It is a medium to full strength blend leaning to full. I'd give it a 4 Strength and a 3 Room Note, taste is definitely a 4. It also has a good nicotine kick. Anyone picking this up expecting another all-day VA/Per, beware. This is potent stuff. Scott L.'s “sleeper” description is spot on. This holds it's arsenal secret until showtime. It's an unassuming ribbon cut, nice and perfect for loadin' and smokin'. The bag aroma is kind of fruity, with the Virginia grassiness being dominate, but the Turkish/Perique half of this blend steals the show with it's sour ripeness; very spicy and sharp. The way they all come together in the smoke is like grace under pressure. I'll admit, I tried to add a little Latakia to this thinking it could be a great Balkan blend but I was wrong. The amounts are all off for it to become a Balkan that way. Thankfully it is perfect the way it is. If you are a fan of Orientals and VA/Perique blends what are you waiting for? This blend is custom made just for you. Enjoy.
Castello - Castello Collection 2oz
A collection of... great Virginias!
First, thanks to Dan L. for his review of Castello Collection which directly influenced my purchase. Second, as you'd expect, this review is based solely on that one tin and not a history of having familiarized myself with this tobacco, so keep that in mind. This is a great pure Virginia tobacco. Probably by coincidence, I found myself having this in the mornings too. It paired well with black coffee and a rising Autumn sun. It's a firm broken flake with a good moisture level that took the flame better than expected (didn't need drying after all). Being a blend of Virginias, you get all the best; hay, bread, tang, some slightly sour notes (but in a good way), plus tea-like qualities... just a pure taste of Virginia in all it's marvelous ways. I can only assume this would become a 5 star review if I aged a tin, which I plan to do. But for my first experience, I can say this is a beautiful tasting tobacco from a freshly opened tin. I especially liked the fact that I could detect absolutely no added sugars or sweeteners. Some may find that makes this a harsher smoke, but I found it a case of less-is-more that benefits the true taste immensely. I too am surprised Castello Collection isn't talked about more often. I'm sure I will. Enjoy.
Capstan - Flake Yellow 1.75oz
That other Capstan Flake.
I'm a huge fan of Capstan Original Navy Cut Flake (the Blue tin), but I alternate between that and Capstan's Gold Navy Cut Flake (the Yellow tin). Actually, what happens is that I end up opening a can of Gold when I open a tin of Blue and find it's not matured enough to my liking and have to jar it and wait. Capstan Gold is much more ready-reliable; rarely wavering in aroma, flavor, perfect dryness, and availability. As I said in my review of Capstan Blue, it can be inconsistent, but Gold is very consistent. At least that's been my experience, yours may be different. The flakes are thin, easily rubbed-out or folded for loading. The moisture levels are always near perfect for lighting. As with any flake, it can be a tad harder than a ribbon cut to get lit, but once lit you are in for a good long smoke. I fold and twist/stuff my Capstan flakes and average 45 minutes per flake in a medium sized bowl (usually a Billiard). The flavors are fantastic: bright Virginias (hay, grass, tea) but are a solid medium strength smoke (with Capstan Blue being a bit fuller strength). For those of you familiar to Orlik Golden Sliced, the flakes are so similar it's uncanny, but OGS is a VA/Perique and Capstan Gold claims to be a pure Virginia flake. Overall, both Capstan Blue and Gold are top-notch tobaccos everyone should try. It bares repeating that the Flakes and Ready-Rubbed versions differ greatly (not sure why) and I am reviewing the Flake version specifically. Enjoy.
Vauen - Oxford Blend 50g
What a great tasting... tea?
So much has been said about Vauen's Oxford Blend tasting like Earl Gray tea. I only drink hot tea on rare occasions (usually with Chinese food). I can probably count the times I've had Earl Gray tea on one hand. But, the flavors of Bergamot (similar to orange zest) and milk (which is often added to Earl Gray tea) are flavors I think of as Creamsicle; orange and vanilla flavored ice cream bars which are a real treat for kids in the Summertime (originally called Dreamsicles). Not only do I detect these flavors in this great aromatic mixture, but it is almost as refreshing too. It never bites. It burns rather cool. It's not even remotely chemical tasting. As aromatics go, it is not sopping wet or gooey and acts like a nice bright Virginia most of the time even tasting like hay or tea occasionally too. It's a nice ribbon cut that packs easily and burns consistently all the way down. I find the flavor of Oxford Blend to be similar to Holger Dansk Original Mild Orange too, but Oxford is slightly more refined tasting and slightly milder. The cut is a bit more consistent and of finer ribbon as well. Overall, I like both, but Oxford is just tastier. Like I said, I think this is a very refreshing blend. Sometimes when I'm having several bowls of heavier blends, this is one I can smoke in between to cleans my palate and sort of re-set when changing blend types. It is mild enough that it would be a good one for new pipe smokers to start out with, especially if they have a sweet tooth. This blend is a good example of how different various pipe tobaccos can be and why flavor is so important to our hobby. And, as flavored as this is, I can always taste the tobacco and that's so important to me. I've liked all of the Vauen blends I've tried so far, and Oxford is one of their best. Enjoy.
Lane Limited - Partagas 1.75oz
Hermano G. Lane.
I just reviewed Lane Limited's HGL. Immediately after posting the review I felt like having a bowl, but sadly I was completely out. I could have grabbed some Captain Black Original and thrown in some blending Latakia, but why bother? I remembered I had a tin of Lane Limited's Partagás pipe tobacco. Knowing how similar Partagás is to HGL, I was elated. I did something I don't usually do, although I've had Partagás pipe tobacco many times, I thought I'd sit and have a bowl to refresh my memory just prior to writing this review. Man, my memory served me well. I'm not a cigar smoker, so I don't pretend to know how this compares to Partagás cigars, but this is a fine pipe tobacco. Please keep in mind there is no cigar leaf in this blend. This is a nice soft ribbon cut blend that is wholly in the Aromatic English cross-over category. As such, it will please fans of those niche blends with one foot squarely in aromatics and the other tipping its toe into the English pool. It's light to medium in strength, leaning more to the light side. It's a ribbon cut, so it loads easily and burns evenly. It's not one to be rushed or over-stoked, and try not to over-tamp, but you shouldn't have much trouble carrying on. The flavor is consistent, but can decline if smoked too aggressively. I've never kept HGL around long enough to test the sameness theory, but the one thing I like about Partagás is that it has a sweeter edge to it, similar to Captain Black blends. Those of you sensitive to humectant sweeteners may find this too sweet, but I think it's balanced and not overly unnatural. If you prefer stronger doses of Latakia, this may not do it for you. This is a great all-day, all-year blend for me. I'm actually surprised I still had some. The blend could have easily been called Captain Black Latakia Blend or a tin of HGL rather than the bulk variety, but I guess it can't hurt to have a legendary name like Partagás. I hope this helps.
Lane Limited - HGL
Lane Limited's answer to a Latakia-free Captain Black line.
You have to take things you read or see online with a grain of salt, but long before I ventured online to check my thinking, I had come to the realization that there were certain Captain Black/Lane Limited equivalents. Namely CBW (Original) was the same as RLP-6 and CBR (Royal) was Lane's 1-Q. Believe what you want to believe, I'm not trying to convince anyone of this, but HGL is a bit different. While other tobaccos may be the same or (at a minimum) similar, HGL takes it a step further by adding something the Captain Black line lacks; namely an all-day English Cavendish blend. It's not a secret that HGL was Herman G. Lane's personal blend, thus “HGL”. And, that blend was basically RLP-6 with a wee bit of Latakia added. Brilliant idea, Mr. Lane. So that makes HGL basically a Captain Black Original with Latakia. That works for me. This is a mild, flavorful blend that has a nice soft quality to it. It is somewhat sweet and light for an English blend thanks to the Cavendish, but it's a very pleasant smoke that works great as an all-day blend or a beginner's blend for those wanting to try something more in the direction of non-aromatics. It is on the light side of English, so don't expect a Lat-bomb. If you've ever had John Bull Royal English, it's in the same ballpark. For those of you that tune in to the YTPC (YouTube pipe community), Padre Piper often gives this one his blessing, which is how I found out about it. Thanks Padre! I may not ride a Vespa anytime soon, but I'll try any blend he recommends; we apparently have similar tastes in tobacco. Enjoy.
Hearth & Home - BlackHouse 1.75oz
The portents of dark storm clouds.
The imagery alone had me hooked on this one. For some (possibly unwarranted) reason, this blend reminds me of Gothic horror. Some other worldly dark forces gathering to enact unspeakable evils from an otherwise unassuming mansion... yeah, it's probably just me, but I will say the tin art is where it all started. But, there is some dark complexity going on with BlackHouse. Like it's brother-blend WhiteKnight, this was a Russ Ouellette homage to the late Balkan Sobranie OSM. But where WhiteKnight was a straight forward (more) English powerhouse, BlackHouse has so much more going on making it a real Balkan blend. The deep flavors mingle and coalesce into a perfectly balanced blend. Here, the Orientals and Latakia share duty to make this a true winner. It seems like there's some Perique in there too which plays well with the orientals giving this a refined richness. The ribbon cut is more like Sobranie's than WhiteKnight and the flavors are much deeper. It burns cool and isn't harsh at all, quite the opposite. It is creamy yet quite strong...it can sneak up on you. It may seem a mild, creamy, woodsy smoke on onset, but then morph into a complexly stronger than expected bowl (think Dunhill Nightcap with a broader selection of flavors). I kind of like this feature. Most of my favorite tobaccos start out great and then somehow manage to get better throughout the bowl. BlackHouse does this in every way. I like to load a large bowl, the larger the better, then delve in. Fans of oriental forward mixtures and Latakia strong Balkans will surly enjoy BlackHouse. It probably goes without saying but, if you're not a fan of English/Balkan blends, don't venture into the BlackHouse. Enjoy.
Germain - Special Latakia Flake 50g
Germain's Star of the East Flake.
Germain's is one of the brands that can be difficult to acquire. Luckily, the pipe smoking community are a great bunch who help one another when they can. The staff at SmokingPipes.com have always been so helpful! I especially like the One-Time Alert feature available on out-of-stock items, this can be essential to obtaining certain blends, so if you're not using it, you're missing out. And, if you love Latakia flakes, you don't want to miss Germain's Special Latakia Flake. This has a very similar structure and taste to Cornell & Diehl's popular Star of the East Flake IMO. Perhaps Germain's is a touch sweeter, but both are rare enough that I'd settle for either when and where I can get it. The Special flakes are chunky and not overly moist, which I find uncommon for Germain's tobacco. In other words, this was perfect for smoking straight away. And what a delicious smoke it is. The Latakia is strong yet not overpowering and is the predominate flavor sure to please its fans. The flakes crumble almost like a cake and when gravity packed, can provide a long, slow smoke. I get a good hour-long smoke out of a medium sized bowl, easily. I find it doesn't require as many re-lights in a wider, shallower bowl; so an Apple or Prince works great (it seemed to smoke best in my Peterson 408). As with many tobaccos of limited runs, I choose to cellar in jars and partake sparingly hoping to make it last until I can find them again. Germain's Special Latakia Flake is too good to go untried. If you can find it, make sure to get a tin. If you can find two tins, share one with a friend. Enjoy.
Hearth & Home - Fusilier's Ration 1.75oz
My first experience with Fusilier's Ration followed my already ensconced love of Bengal Slices. I'm unclear as to which of these blends came first for Russ Ouellette, but both deserve to be tried. Bengal Slices is much better IMO (see my review), but I want to focus on Fusilier's. My first impression of Fusilier's was judged unfairly based on my experience with Bengal. It wasn't until much later that I grew to like Fusilier's on its own merit. Initially, I wanted Fusilier's to be just like Bengal based on what I'd read. Russ meant Fusilier's Ration to be an homage to Bengal Slices, which he had helped re-introduce to market. In truth, they are both similar in flavor and cut, but there is a distinct difference between the two tobaccos. I don't think anyone who tries both would say they are the same repackaged tobacco. Fusilier's Ration is less refined and more... well, a “ration” as apposed to a proper meal. The smokey English-esk flavors are there, the ease of crumble cake preparation too, and like Bengal Slices there is a distinct taste of licorice though not nearly as pronounced as it is in Bengal Slices. A side note: I read somewhere that the anise flavor is a natural occurrence when Latakia (made from Smyrna) is mixed with more unsmoked Smyrna and may not be a topping or casing at all? Anyway, it's there but in far less potency. Perhaps that's the main difference, Fusilier's is like a muted cousin of Bengal Slices; you can see the family resemblance, but one is clearly in the shadow of the other. I recently went in halfsies with my friend on the Special Reserve version of Fusilier's Ration and while it seemed more refined, it too takes a silver to Bengal's gold (IMO). So what are the benefits to Fusilier's? Because of Bengal's popularity, Fusilier's is often easier to procure. Also, it's usually cheaper as well (not counting the Special Reserve). Think of a more all-day version of your favorite type of tobacco...if you like Bengal Slices uniqueness, but only partake on rare occasion, then Fusilier's Ration is the perfect way to treat yourself between those indulgences. Both are in my Wintertime rotation. And, I'm sure there are those that find Bengal Slices too strong that prefer Fusilier's Ration because of its matte characteristics. Enjoy.
Hearth & Home - WhiteKnight 1.75oz
Master blender Russ Ouellette reportedly made WhiteKnight as a tribute meant to be reminiscent of a historical variant of Balkan Sobranie. As I've never had that make (1970s version), all I can report of WhiteKnight is what I am familiar with. I consider this to be a good Latakia mixture that leans more toward the smokey side of English and less to the more oriental forward Balkan mixtures. This may seem contrary to what it was meant to be, but I would expect much more from the orientals to call it a Balkan. The smoke is reminiscent of Dunhill's My Mixture 965 (which I've always enjoyed) and brings to mind my experiences with Syrian Latakia even though both are made using Cyprian Latakia today. Fans of Latakia should love this blend regardless. There is much to love here. It is a rather coarse cut that seems perfect for this mixture, any finer and I'd think that it would burn hotter and become harsh. As it is, this has a good steady burn rate and the flavors are consistent throughout. I have had the odd experience of this losing flavor though when smoked aggressively or when outside and stoked by the wind, so the slower you can manage the more flavor you're likely to get (which is usually good advice, but even more so here). It seems appropriate to mention that this bares little in common with Balkan Sobranie of today, so if that is a tobacco you enjoy, know that WhiteKnight is quite different: it lacks the silky ribbon that burns smooth, or the creamy and slightly sour oriental flavor (even with the Yenidje), or even the consistency of flavor apart from the smokiness. The Yenidje unique flavors are present, but seem less consistent than I'd like. But, again, it was not meant to be like today's Balkan Sobranie, so that's probably not a fair comparison. If you gravitate to English blends and love the campfire-like aroma and taste, this would be a good tobak for you to try. If you enjoy a more silky smooth woodsy smoke, this may not be the best Latakia mixture for you. I wish I had had the Balkan Sobranie of old, if it was even remotely like WhiteKnight, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. Hope this helps. A side note: can we all agree that the new tin art with a third of the space taken up to tell us what we already know is not deterring anyone and only ruins the otherwise lovely tin art?
Hearth & Home - Magnum Opus 1.75oz
The quintessential R.O. blend?
Russ Ouellette is a phenomenal blender having created some of the best blends and re-imagined blends out there. His work is measured not by the number of blends but by whole series of great blends he's created. So when he created a blend called “Magnum Opus” which by definition should be an example of an artist's work that best shows their talents and contribution to the art world, it is definitely worthy of our consideration for consumption. Magnum Opus is all about the subtlety. At first try, this may make you scratch your head. It's an English blend, for which Russ has created many others that smokers may consider his true Magnum Opus: tribute blends like WhiteKnight and BlackHouse, or revitalized blends like Bengal Slices and the John Cotton's blends...what a list! So why this one? The tobacco candy-store is full of lighter English blends which work great as a stepping stone toward better English blends after which aren't going to cut it. Rarely is a mild English done so well it's one you come back to time and again. Hearth & Home Marquee Series Magnum Opus is such a blend. The more time you spend with this, the more subtle complexity you'll discover and enjoy. This is one of the fullest flavored all-day smokes for English lovers. Having said that, it surprises me that a good friend of mine likes this one so much because he doesn't like Latakia blends at all. In fact, it's the only English blend I've ever seen him go back to by choice while all others taste “soapy” to him. I think this is the art of Ouellette's blends. It's such a workable blend it pleases just about anyone. This blend is expertly balanced with Virginia, Latakia, Orientals and Perique. The Orientals particularly give this an almost naturally aromatic note, and no other toppings can be detected. The Virginia provides all the sweetness keeping it light and airy, never bitey or harsh. And the Latakia is ever-present but never overpowering. The Perique however, is IMO, the binder that makes it all work so well (...and we know Russ knows his Perique). Without the slight richness of the Perique's fermentation this might seem more like a starving artist's work than the Starry Night that it is. This is a delightful blend. Enjoy.
Daughters & Ryan - Windsail Platinum 40g
Keep an open mind and think outside the box.
There seems to be some debate over Windsail (Platinum in this case) being RYO cigarette filler or pipe-suitable premium tobacco. To which I say, “why not both”? If someone wants to roll their own, can they not choose to fill with premium pipe tobacco? I rolled my own cigs for years using pipe tobaccos which had a suitable cut to allow it. What I got was plenty of tasty smokes with the convenience of cigarettes where and when I dare not take a pipe. I switched back to pipes after 10+ years at my wife's request (bless her). She confessed the papers ruined the room note for her. Windsail is a very finely cut ribbon that would be perfect for RYO, but it works great in a pipe too. I find that soft fine ribbons such as these need considerably more packing in a pipe bowl than most ribbon or mixed cut blends. Some pipe smokers may not have a good experience if packing as they usually would. If not properly prepped this will burn way too hot and way too fast to get any flavor or enjoyment. You'd be surprised how tightly this can be packed and still allow airflow; always check your draw. So about the taste...this is a light (I'd say) pure Virginia leaf of a golden variety just barely darkening to a more orange hue. As such you'll find a hint of hay and less tang than darker varieties. It is an unadulterated honest tasting VA. It's not as sweet as matured red Virginias, but it is not devoid of sweetness either. Part of what I like about Windsail Platinum is that it lacks any noticeable chemical sweetener topping. It is a very tobacco tasting tobacco. This could turn some smokers off, but I'm sure it will please others. If you've ever tried the popular Lane Limited 1Q and felt it behaved fine, but had an unnatural sweetness, you may like Windsail for it's natural flavor. If you are a fan of topped aromatics, you'll probably find Windsail lacks the sort of flavors you enjoy. I hope this helps. Enjoy.
Orlik - Golden Sliced 50g
Testament to Virginia/Perique pleasure.
Orlik Golden Sliced flakes are about as safe as you'll find for new pipe smokers to try among non-aromatic tobaccos. The flakes are predominately Virginia with a tiny amount of Perique (still debated?). It is a mild-medium strength tobacco that can be enjoyed by fans of Virginias in general or as a mild VA/Per flake. The Perique is nearly undetectable. Unless you let the tin age for some time, you may not even notice the Perique at all. Don't get me wrong, these are delicious flakes from an early age and don't need to be aged to enjoy. What time can do is miraculous though. The Virginia becomes sweeter and fruitier and as such will no longer give the Perique a place to hide. The Perique provides a slight peppery spice that I really love in the retro-hale. It's never too strong, and is oft times regarded as never enough for fans of hearty VA/Pers. The flakes are smoke-able fresh, dried, or slightly moist...however you find yours. I prefer these flakes on the slightly dry side, mostly for the ease of lighting. As flakes, they burn a little slower, which makes for a nice half hour smoke per flake in my case. I usually fold and twist these into the bowl to load them which works great since they are so thinly sliced. I like to smoke OGS in a comfy billiard, but I've enjoyed it in many shapes and in both briar and cob. Some say this blend is bitey, and it can be if pushed too fast. Just relax and sip on it slowly and you should do fine. If you still find it harsh, just give it some time to age and sweeten up and you'll see it makes a big difference. That's about all I can say; Orlik Golden Sliced is almost universally praised, and readily available. If you have never tried it, then it's time you should. Enjoy.
Sutliff - 515 RC-1
Like a phoenix rising...
First, let me say that this Sutliff bulk tobacco came out of nowhere for me. I honestly couldn't tell you if it has been around a long time or is something new. What I am positive of is that I hadn't heard of it until McClelland announced they were closing down. That news hit me hard, because there were so many McClelland blends I never even had the pleasure of trying let alone the loss of favorites. Then suddenly all the online communities seemed to be abuzz about a 5100 Red Cake match available in bulk from Sutliff. I had to try it. Sutliff's cryptically named 515 RC-1 was not only good it was one of the most flavorful naturally sweet Virginia tobaccos I've ever had. It immediately required a spot in my rotation... my taste buds demanded it! You get the basics; fine ribbon cut, matured red VA, it's simple in appearance as well as behavior...it does exactly what you expect and want it to do. That's such a rarity if you think about it. Something so pleasing and workable and yet so simple. Sutliff, you did good. So, the downside...the flavor here is so good it makes you want more of it. Unfortunately, it is what it is. Smoking more, harder or faster, wont get more flavor out of it than it has to give. And, you should be disappointed in yourself for ever thinking you could (I admit I am). And, it has to be said that the same thing that led me to find 515 led plenty of others too, making it surge in availability. If I were a greedy bastard my suggestion would be a one star review and “look away”, but I can't not share such a fantastic VA. My suggestion is buy it when you find it. If it sounds good to you, it wont disappoint. This is one where I feel the internet hype measured up. Enjoy.
McLintock - Black Cherry 50g
I'll bet this isn't what you were expecting.
Whatever you think of when you hear “cherry blend”, put that out of your mind. You'll have to or McLintock's Black Cherry is going to make no sense to you. It's not the candy-maraschino flavoring you'd expect from a cherry blend (which incidentally is from sugar and almonds, not actual cherries). This cherry is like actual fresh cherries, dark ruby in color almost black, complete with stems. Now, add to that the aroma of a coffee shop during a morning rush. We're getting closer. Now, imagine the smell of freshly tilled earth lingering in the open air after a rain. Now, put it all together – and that's just the tin note. As if the smell wasn't strange enough, the taste has to be acquired. I smoked almost an entire tin before this blend made any sense to me, but when I realized it's appeal, I was glad I stuck with it. It is somewhat moist but not overly so and made up of mostly (if not all) Black Cavendish. I say “mostly” because there is some color variation in the blend. The cut reminds me of Holger Danske; some chopped bits, some short ribbons...it's a mixed cut blend. It packs and lights pretty good for an aromatic and stays lit better than most with only the occasional re-light. A hint of whiskey flavor finally comes through in the smoke, but isn't bitey. The fresh produce cherry aroma disappears almost completely and the coffee aroma translates to a Burley-like chocolaty taste. But, the loamy soil stays put, coming through the smoke like a peaty fermented taste I still can't place...maybe whiskey barrels full of fermenting fruit and soil? Overall, it's got an obscure flavor that will either wow you or possibly make you puke depending on your palate range. This definitely is on the outskirts of my own palate, but I still grew to like it considerably. Any negative reviews are probably either expecting the normal cherry topping and nothing like this or perhaps misunderstand the differences between American and Danish aromatics. This is a pungent aromatic that I could easily see people disgusted by, but I'm not one of them. I hope this helps.
Lane Limited - BCA
The very definition of American style Black Cavendish.
Every now and then I decide to right a review of a blend that seems so well known I'm not sure why I bother. I have smoked BCA for so long, I should have wrote this long ago. Unlike most pipe smokers, I did not start with aromatics, instead falling instantly in love with Latakia mixtures and then only later deciding to branch out into aromatic flavors to expand my palate. Most would gravitate from starting with something like BCA toward stouter blends. I only mention this to help explain that BCA is quintessential among aromatics. When I finally got interested in trying aros, and if you're new to pipe smoking or aromatic blends yourself, it seems everyone suggests BCA. And, it's for good reason. This particular Black Cavendish is moist, overly sweet, contains only one type of tobacco...all things that most pipers frown upon, and yet this remains a best seller. Why? Because it defies all the naysayers. It's moist, but lights and burns fine even so. It's sweet, but nothing else can satisfy that sweet tooth like it without being sickly sweet or tasting artificially sweet. And, yes it is just Black Cavendish tobacco, a blending tobacco worthy of a bowl all to itself. It's capable of so much more than just an everyday smoke too. It can be used to blend your own mixes, added to strong blends to mellow them out, or added to sweeten just about any blend. I've done all of these things with BCA and buy it in bulk quantities for such occasions. After dinner, when everyone else is having dessert, when I'm in the mood for something sweet, I like to smoke a bowl of BCA...that's what I call dessert! Enjoy.
Lane Limited - Andullo 1.75oz
My favorite blend with cigar leaf.
Lane stumbled upon a great idea with Andullo (is that pronounced “An-do-yo”, “An-do-low” or “An-dull-oh? I'm not sure). Andullo is a sweet and savory blend of flavors that are both robust and full-bodied like a dark twist tobacco and then sweet and mellow like some light unassuming aromatic – all at the same time. Unbelievable. First the tin note, this blend smells like a rich chocolate fudge cake, I'm talking death-by-chocolate! And, some of that translates to flavor, but not as much as you'd expect. What does transfer over to taste is the sweetness. But wait! This is not a aromatic lightweight that's overly sweet, it has just enough sweetness and by that I mean just right for the blend. I'm not even sure I'd consider this taste aromatic. It smells like an aromatic, but doesn't taste like one. It has a deep earthy richness that borders on pungent without going over the line, which is probably brought on by the Perique-like process the cigar leaf is put through. Much of the sweetness has to be from the Black Cavendish, as it has a similar profile to BCA, Lane Limited's best selling Black Cavendish blend. There's a fair amount of Cavendish in this blend, but it's in the correct amount, and never seems to be too much. The Latakia is harder to pin down. It's presence is felt in the mellow creaminess and the smokey flavors are there slightly, but somehow the overall experience is nothing like any Latakia blend I've ever had. It does not taste like an English or Balkan. In fact, I don't know how to describe the taste other than to say it's good and worth a try. It's not smokey enough to be an English, to robust to be an aromatic, and doesn't quite fit into any category other than “contains cigar leaf”, and even then it's nothing like other cigar leaf blends either. You just have to try it to see if it's agreeable to your tastes. The only thing I would warn people about is that it does come on the moist side and where you may want to dry it out, don't. Like a saturated aromatic (such as BCA) this should be smoked somewhat moist and does just fine. In this instance, drying it only weakens the flavors. I hope this helps.
Lane Limited - BL/WB
Big Love (for) White Burley.
I'm still learning what I do and don't like about Burley blends. I've struggled to understand what others find so appealing about them for years. But by continuing to try them, I'm getting there. I'm fascinated by Burley's versatility. Able to absorb flavors, Burley is somewhat of a chameleon leaf (as in aromatic blends) and often are used in blends like a stealthy ninja (as with dark-fired Kentucky) to great effect. But without a flavoring, for me, they can range from bland to bitter. So, with straight Burley blends it's just a matter of finding the right one prepared the right way. Which brings me to this Lane Limited favorite commonly referred to as “Burley Light/Without Bite”. I can't believe I'm saying this about a Burley blend, but I have nothing bad to say about BL/WB. It's cool burning and mild in strength. It does not bite. It tastes like tobacco, not chemicals or something other than what it is. It's pleasant even. It's often compared to Lane's Ready Rubbed and I can see the similarities (I like Ready Rubbed too). It's more of a chopped cut than a ribbon and it lacks the birds-eye curls of Ready Rubbed, so it burns slightly faster. The color of this blend can only be described as “brown”, lol. It's not interesting to look at, but who cares? Other reviews mention a flavoring, but I don't get anything but a mild sweetness and a light nuttiness (less nutty than Ready Rubbed). It's not any obvious flavoring you'd usually find in an aromatic blend. It has a certain airiness to it that is pleasant in its own way and seems to get sweeter with age. I wish I could properly credit the person that came up with the phrase “unicorn farts” because BL/WB's has them. It will be unassuming one moment and then give a burst of flavor and aroma the next – now that's magical! Before I finish my review and because it is a pet peeve of mine, I have to mention that unlike many Burley blends this does not smell or taste like cigarettes, which is ultimately why I like it so much. I'd say this is an anytime smoke, especially if you're new to Burley blends or to smoking a pipe in general. I hope this helps.
Samuel Gawith - Grousemoor 50g
A hunting I will go, a hunting I will go...
First, I have to thank Padre Piper of the YTPC for recommending Grousemoor. This little gem of a Virginia blend wasn't even on my radar and now I can't seem to get enough. So, it's a Lakeland blend, right? Yes, I think it is. It has just a whisper of that “essence” and this is by far my favorite Lakeland yet. Lakelands are not for everyone, but everyone should at least try them. Grousemoor is a great way to introduce yourself. The topping is so faint it could easily be mistaken as the natural result of the blended delicious Virginias. This blend could easily be an awesome VA blend without the Lakeland essence, but then it wouldn't be nearly as unique. The cut is a fine ribbon bordering on shag; it packs nicely. I like to pack it in quite a bit more than usual. Because it is so shag-like you'll still get a good draw and it'll burn much slower this way. The taste is indescribably good from first light to ash. The flavors are mostly Virginia, as they should be in an all VA blend. The essence added is totally unique. I doubt I'd ever find another blend with this flavor profile. And, since it's a 200 year old recipe, if anyone was going to try to copy it, they've long since fell by the wayside. Okay, one last thing that I had to look up... it's pronounced Grouse like “house” and moor like “door” with plenty of room for regional accents to color, lol. Man, I love this stuff. Enjoy.
Sutliff - Match 20
And my mixture remains 965.
I guess based on how much I've raved about Dunhill's My Mixture 965 being an English standard coupled with the Dunhill news, my friend picked up a bag of Sutliff's 965 match to see just what sort of potential replacement it offered. He really seemed to like it. I eventually gave in to curiosity and had to try the match for myself. I think it's fair to say that I'm more familiar with the Dunhill version, but I was completely surprised how much I liked this match blend. It has all the hallmarks that made 965 great. The ribbon cut is not the same, less refined, but preforms okay. It's bulk, but seemed to maintain a nice moisture level for weeks. That's where the differences end folks. The flavors are rather spot-on IMO. I joked with my friend that I may not be able to tell them apart on a blind taste test. Yes, it was that close! So, then I thought...”Why is this so similar?”, and then it dawned on me. When I first started smoking Dunhill's blend 25yrs ago, it more than likely had Syrian Latakia. Over the years it has slowly changed a little with the more common variety of Cyprian Latakia being used. Cyprian Latakia is more mellow and smooth, creamy even, which works with VA to make the blend just slightly sweeter. Matching “sweeter” is something Sutliff can do. So, I must conclude that if you're thinking this will match old tins of Dunhill 965 from your cellar you'll find this match sweeter, but if you're looking for it to match the more recent tins of Dunhill 965, you'll be much rewarded. Me personally, I still give the win to Dunhill either way, but with its days numbered and Sutliff having such a great bulk match, I can easily see my loyalties wavering. I hope this helps. UPDATE: We now have My Mixture 965 readily available thanks to Peterson, and as far as I can tell theirs is identical to the final tins Dunhill released, but I still believe for the price and convenience of bulk, I have no problem with Sutliff's match (now Match 20). BTW, I failed my blind taste test with flying colors!
Vauen - Zeppelin 50g
Led Zeppelin jokes aside, this is a classic blend.
I have been happy with every Vauen tobacco I've ever bought. Zeppelin, or “No. Z” as they label the tin, is no exception. I'm not sure why they would want to name such a great medium English blend “Zeppelin” but I think it has more to do with the noble family name than the Hindenburg disaster or English classic rock legends Led Zeppelin. Fact is, this would be a good tobacco no matter what name you gave it. It is a classic in its own rite with a well balanced blend of Latakia, Virginia, Burley and a touch of Black Cavendish. The Virginia and Latakia hold the center stage with the Burley adding support with the Black Cavendish almost lost in the mix. Some reviews claim this is a sweet English-aromatic blend, but I don't think so (try Vauen's English Blend No. 22 for that). It may be on the light to medium scale, but it is an English blend. In fact, I'm not certain that they use a sweetened Cavendish here. What little sweetness I get seems to be more from the Latakia and Virginia working so well together. The flavor is definitely more smokey than sweet. The Latakia and (Kentucky?) Burley produce that barbecue bouquet, albeit on the light side (it's not like Three Nuns strong). The cut, packing, lighting...all fairly standard. This isn't a top shelf English blend, but easily could be an all-day, EDC. If I had to think of another blend this reminds me of, I'd say Presbyterian. While Presbyterian has a little more going on with the orientals, they have a similar anytime appeal in strength and flavor. Zeppelin should please any English fans. As long as you're not hoping for a Latakia overload, this should do you fine. Enjoy.
Dan Tobacco - Bill Bailey's Birthday Blend 50g
Once a year may be all I need.
I was lured in the direction of Bill Bailey's Birthday Blend by reviews that said it was flavored with Blue Curacao. I generally like tobaccos flavored with spirits or liqueur even though I've found that as a whole they tend to burn hotter. I'm also a fan of tobacco blends with a singular taste, be they aromatic or not. Birthday Blend certainly manages a unique taste and is definitely an aromatic blend. The tin note is very sweet and reminds me of jelly donuts for some reason. It is somewhat moist from the tin, and could benefit from a little drying, but not too much or you'll lose some of the flavor too. The cut is a basic run-of-the-mill ribbon cut, nothing special, but adequate for enjoyment. I found it best to lightly pack the bowl, i.e. little to no tamping. The charing light is a bit harsh and not indicative of the flavors to come. First draw was akin to burnt sugar or some such ruined sweet. After the bowl has a proper light and allowed to slow down a bit, flavors more reminiscent of the tin note came out. The slower you puff the better, which leads to some relights, but no bother, by this time it becomes a palate pleasing tasty treat. The flavoring may or may not remind you of Curacao, but it is light and citrusy, somewhat orange tasting and overall I think whatever is used works well with the already sweet blend of Black Cavendish and Virginia. This isn't the sort of blend I'd make a routine of. But once in a while, maybe once a year on my birthday or some other such holiday, I could see myself reaching for this one in the cellar again. Enjoy.
G. L. Pease - Abingdon 2oz
An old favorite that's still easy to find.
With so many great tobaccos becoming increasingly hard to find in stock (Esoterica, Sobranie, Germain's, etc.), it's nice to see G.L. Pease: Abingdon is still around and easy to purchase. I started smoking Abingdon some time in the early 00s I believe, I remember it was a relatively new blend then that I enjoyed from my first bowl. It became an instant favorite along with many of Pease's early blends (many of which, as Padre Piper would say “Ain't der no more”). Abingdon always stood out to me. It is similar to Balkan Sobranie and (then Butera's) Pelican, so it's a smooth, creamy, smokey, cool mixture that is excellent for a long slow mellow smoke session. The Latakia and Orientals are blended perfectly with some tasty Virginia to provide a ton of flavor. It tastes like the best leaf possible is used with never a compromise. It seems deceptively simple, but is actually probably a tricky blend to pull off unless you're the talented Mr. Pease. While there are similar tasting blends out there, most are high priced imports and rarely available. Abingdon is not only a fantastic English blend, but one that you can rely on finding easily and at a reasonable price. I'm glad to say this has a place in my rotation. Enjoy.
Sail - Aromatic 1.5oz (Green)
My kind of aromatic: unadulterated.
Sail: Aromatic has a wonderful niche among aromatic blends. Sail seems to have perfected NOT covering up the natural flavors of the component tobaccos. With Sail: Aromatic, they have added Latakia (and probably used less Burley and more Virginia than Sail: Regular) to give this blend a cool, slightly smokey aroma. It's not a Latakia heavy-hitter, but along with the Orientals it becomes an almost Balkan style blend. And yet, it doesn't seem to fall victim to the flavors I associate with Aromatic-English crossover blends either. It retains a rather unique profile. If they've added a topping or casing, they've made it totally undetectable. If they want to call that an “Aromatic”, that's my kind of aro! It's not an American style aro for damn sure. All of the tobaccos here seem very potent. Like Sail: Regular, this is a medium to medium-full strength smoke with bold flavors and aroma. I'm always able to pick out the various natural flavors and still enjoy their combined aesthetic. The mechanics never disappoint, always packing and lighting easily. Freshly opened, the pouch is moist, but not overly so. I usually finish the pouch before it gets too dry, so it retains a nice moisture balance for some time. The flavors throughout a bowl are very consistent. Anecdote: I remember I was smoking this outside a service station waiting on truck repairs once when suddenly I was surrounded by a small crowd (two couples, as I recall) that seemed to have flocked to me solely to ask about the aroma from my pipe. It's the sort of story that you hear happened to others, but I remember being startled by it when it actually happened to me. Naturally, a certain pride came over me and I was happy to tell them I was smoking “Aromatic Sail”. Maybe the days when people reacted positively like that are gone, I don't know, but if anything can help people see tobaccos aren't all bad for you and actually have a pleasant rewarding side, Sail: Aromatic's certainly a contender. Enjoy.
Sail - Regular 1.5oz (Yellow)
Honestly, I still prefer Sail: Aromatic, but...
Not long ago I wrote my initial review of this blend and gave it rather scathing remarks. I've tacked UPDATEs on the end of reviews before, but I felt my opinion of Sail: Regular had changed so much, It deserved a re-write. My first encounter with Sail: Regular came at a time when it was extremely hot and dry where I live (with temps hovering around the 100° mark) and a lot of my smoking experiences were being hampered by my heat induced misery. And, unlike my reviews of blends I've enjoyed many times, this was more of a blind date. I should never have tried to review a blend under such conditions; my apologies. Initially, the blend seemed overly harsh, cigarette-like, and bitter. I have since found that had little to do with the tobaccos and everything to do with my attempts to adjust to the sweltering Summer. Since then I've spent more time with this blend under better conditions and have grown to like it enough to give it another star. Unlike many pouch blends, Sail excels at unadulterated tobacco flavors. The blend is spearheaded by the Orientals and Burley used. The flavors are bold and it's a medium to medium-full strength blend. I'm not sure what Oriental variety Sail uses here, but they are somewhat strong combined with the Burleys. Being strong, it can and will bite if you puff too aggressively. The Virginia helps keep this from being bitter but I don't detect any of the normal flavors associated with Virginia other than a dry hay quality that compliments the Orientals. The Black Cavendish must be of the unsweetened variety, probably just meant to round out the blend and is practically undetectable. The mechanics of the cut are nice and it lights well and stays lit. It has good moisture level that held up well in the Summer heat without becoming too dry. Overall, I still prefer the Aromatic, but I now believe Sail: Regular is a bold tobacco blend that should please Burley and Oriental fans. I hope this helps.
Mac Baren - Dark Twist 3.5oz
A nun by any other name...
In my time trying all manner of coin cut tobaccos and mixtures containing Dark-fired Kentucky, I came across three blends that were near clones of each other, with perhaps subtle differences that I could barely detect: Mac Baren's Dark Twist, Mac Baren's Latakia Blend (may no longer be available), and Bell's Three Nuns which if I recall was made by Mac Baren. Of these three I preferred Dark Twist. Actually, if we are talking about VA, DFK and Maple flavoring, I prefer Orlik Dark Strong Kentucky, but Dark Twist is really nice. It's a tad sweeter than Three Nuns and less harsh, though both can bite if pushed. Mac Baren's Latakia Blend obviously included Latakia whereas Dark Twist contains none that I could ever detect. Somehow they remain similar to each other. Dark Twist's maple casing is not over the top, I'd say it's well in the background. Orlik DSK is probably the sweetest of these. With Dark Twist the Dark-fired comes through bold and in the front of the mix, while the Virginia helps sweeten the pot. The “coins” are lightly spun and practically rub themselves out. I eventually gave up on trying to stack and stuff them, though you may try. The coins are on the small side compared to Escudo or Luxury Bullseye Flakes averaging nickel sized. The nature of the spun rope from which these are cut makes for a guessing game of flavors. Dark Twist is always a delight to partake, but the flavors one gets can be a mixed bag depending on how much of any one component you happen to get into your bowl. One bowl may have more VA, another more Kentucky. They don't seem blended well, but as I said, all is tasty. The dryness of the coins varies from tin to tin and from place of purchase (I even found a B&M that offered to open a tin so I could smell it... I wont buy there again) But for the most part, Dark Twist is a treat if you like Kentucky. Enough said, enjoy.
Cornell & Diehl - Star of the East Gold 2oz
Some men prefer Blondes.
Long before I tried the much renowned Star of the East Flake, I was a fan of the Gold. But, they are quite different from one another to me. The Flake is obviously rich in Latakia, but while Gold has a fair amount, it is more of an oriental mixture. The Turkish is much more pronounced and there is probably a heavier dose of Virginia too. Overall, Gold is sweeter and lighter, but still packs a ton of flavors. I've bought both bulk and tins of Gold and found them both perfect for smoking, not needing any dry-time at all. Cornell & Diehl uses quality tobaccos and this is the sort of blend where they prove they know how to blend them. Honestly, I prefer this to the Flake (I know, blasphemy), but to my taste buds, this is more complex in the flavor department. It has a lighter quality to it that retains its complexity while being a milder all-day smoke. I love a heavy Latakia smoke like any fan would, but too much Latakia (the Flake boasts 50%) can be one-dimensional at times. Gold has a multifaceted flavor profile squarely in the Oriental/Balkan category. This is one I like to have on hand. If we were talking about women, I'd prefer a dark-haired beauty, but since we're talking about Star of the East, I think I prefer the Blonde. Enjoy.
Cornell & Diehl - Star of the East Flake 2oz
Flakes make a big difference.
I enjoy Latakia mixtures, so after being a fan of Star of the East Gold, I thought it was high time I tried this flake I kept hearing about. By “hearing” I mean it seemed like everywhere I went online there were references to this flake being a must try. So rather than try the Star of the East (regular mixture), I got my hands on a flakes tin. Short story: yep, it is quite good. Long story: It's a Latakia flake. It's good. But... and this is where I blaspheme, I've had better. Germain's Special Latakia Flake comes to mind. Not to mention Esoterica's Penzance. But, Star of the East, even with all of its recent fame is still way easier to come by than either of those. Perhaps that is what fans of this flake need; something akin to flakes that are not readily available. This is a good Latakia flake, don't misunderstand. But, there may be a bit of hype based on availability. Regardless, this (broken) flake stands on its own merits. My tin was perfect in moisture. It packed well and burns nice and slow. The flavor is rich and wonderful throughout the bowl. It's a bit on the heady side compared to the Gold version, which I guess is to be expected. I enjoyed this mostly in the cool mornings, but it can easily be enjoyed anytime of day. If you are on the fence about trying this one, I'd say go ahead without worry. If you love Latakia, you will love this flake. Enjoy.
Cornell & Diehl - Cavendish Cut Burley
Not bad, but a bit confusing.
I'll start by saying that I struggle with Burley tobaccos usually. I continue to explore various Burley blends hoping to someday find ones I really like, but my go-to favorites tend to be Virginia and English blends. Now that you know where my tastes lie, I can tell you this is an okay blend. It didn't WOW me, but it was nice enough I'd smoke it again. If you're familiar with Lane Limited: Ready Rubbed, this blend is in the same ballpark. I've had many Cavendish blends (I like Captain Black OTCs for example) but there is little here that reminds me of Cavendish. In fact, isn't Cavendish a process and not a “cut”? So, the name alone is a bit confusing. No matter, they got the Burley right, which I think is the lighter, white Burley variety. It's nice and airy, not harsh enough to bite, but Burley enough to hint at cigarettes ever so slightly. Too much of that sort of room note turns me off in a big way, but this doesn't do that. It does contain bright Virginia, but other than a slight sweetness occasionally, the Burley is clearly running the show. The mechanics are fine, it easily packs and takes to flame readily. It burned away faster than I expected. Toward the bottom of the bowl I found I wanted to dump some ash (not the ember, just the pile of ash – Billiard smoked). It started to taste more like ash than tobacco the closer I got to finishing the bowl. For me, this is another (just) good tobacco that's just not what I'm looking for. Others may love it. There are a few Burley blends I've grown to like a lot: Morley's Best and Crooner are at the top of my Burley list. I even like the before mentioned Ready Rubbed, but Cavendish Cut Burley fell short of my higher expectations. Don't be afraid to try it and judge for yourself. I hope this helps.
Holger Danske - Original Orange 50g
A blend worthy of the hero's name.
The Holger Danske brand has four blends that are all nice, but this is the one I buy most often. The brand gets it's name from the historical heroic knight Ogier The Dane (a.k.a. Holger Danske) and he would probably have liked this original blend had it been around. It's a hearty blend of Virginias fit for a legend. The Danes have a long honorable history with tobacco and many of the Danish aromatics that are available today vary from what we would call an aromatic blend in the States. The primary difference being the use of more natural tasting components or additives to enhance rather than cover the bold natural tobacco flavors. As aromatic blends go, I like this because despite its “Mild” name, it is a medium bodied smoke with a strong essence that marries extremely well with the Virginia used. It's not exactly orange flavored, or at least it's not like hard candy or orange soda. It seems more like tea steeped with orange peels and other spices resulting in an aroma more in common with potpourri. Don't let that description turn you away though, it is actually quite unique and worth a try. The first time I had this I didn't know what to think of it, but I found myself almost craving that unique flavor and aroma. It's a rough/ribbon cut that burns sort of slow, but is not syrupy or saturated like American aros. It is in fact on the dry side of perfect for lighting and doesn't require many relights unless you have a particularly deep bowl. Original Mild Orange is a great Summer/Fall blend that I enjoy any time of day. It pairs well with tea. And, it's not hard to find in stock and is usually reasonably priced. I count this blend as one of my favorite aromatic blends. Enjoy.
Cornell & Diehl - Seersucker 2oz
The waiting is the hardest part.
Here's another blend that was shared with me by Souldawg175. I don't think either of us have the patience to cellar something for 7-10 years as this is meant to peak (actually we do occasionally run across tobacco we forgot we had pushing the 15 years mark, lol). When tobacco arrives we are like kids in a candy store. So, we popped the top to jump right in figuring we would probably cellar the rest. Man, this is a odd mixture. It seems like a smoky Dark Fired blend, but then there's black Cavendish, and you've got Balkan worthy orientals, and oh yeah, let's put some cigar leaf in there with the customary VA/Burley... talk about an experiment! The smoking experience was just as all over the place with hints of greatness lingering on every puff. Actually, it was more like a school master scolding us for our impetuous impatience. It had many wonderful notes but not really playing a song just yet. One thing I did like was that it seemed to smoke cool. For all the strong elements it came across as medium strength and milder than I expected. This too should grow with age and mellow even more and I expect the sweetness to improve. The cigar leaf might discourage some, but it's not overpowering. In fact, I found it hard to pick the dominate tobacco out of the lineup which suggest blending competence and a knack for kitchen sink blending. We'll have to wait and see how this progresses, but every indication is that it will only get better. Hope this helps.
Cornell & Diehl - Billy Budd 2oz
A classic novel becomes a classic C&D blend.
Billy Budd is a small batch blend that I was thankful to try offered by my friend Souldawg175. I think he was interested in the use of cigar leaf and testing the Burley waters in his ongoing attempts to find one he might like. It smells earthy in the tin and is the familiar C&D ribbon cut. Moisture was good, sort of ready, but might benefit from a 10-15 minute dry time. Lighting was easy, but I found I needed a few relights early on. The flavors here are defiantly what I consider Full. My initial thoughts compared this to Dark Brown twists and I felt a nicotine level slightly above my comfort zone. The taste was wonderful. I'm not a cigar smoker, but when cigar leaf is used in pipe blends right, it can be a great condimental leaf. Unfortunately, I have yet to try Billy Budd Blonde which might use cigar leaf as a condiment, but Billy Budd has a strong dose. So much so that the Latakia has to take a back seat. I feel that this tobacco is probably worth more than 3.5 stars to most smokers who would gravitate to Billy Budd, but personally I felt it is in that class of blends that cater to strong blend smokers and cigar fans and not a very enjoyable blend for rookies and most moderate strength smokers. Like my friend, I struggle to find Burley blends and keep trying. C&D makes some that I do enjoy, but Billy Budd is probably not for someone who is Burley shy. There's no escaping the fact that Billy Budd has been a runaway hit fans love. I will have to try Billy Budd Blonde at some point as it may just meet my personal needs of this sort of mixture. Hope this helps.
Drexel - Drexel VIII 1.5oz
Another great Drexel pouch tobacco!
I just did a review of Drexel VI (Silver) which is a great English blend. After enjoying that one so much I had to check out the others. Drexel VIII (Bronze) is not just a Virginia/Perique blend, it's a damned fine VA/Per flake! Not a broken flake either, I mean they put a stack of nice thin fold-able flakes inside the pouch. Whoever is in charge of what should be put in a OTC style pouch at Drexel loves to break the rules, and I'm glad of that. Like VI, VIII is a fantastic tobacco. This VA/Per flake is near perfect. It's not too strong, but far from mild. It's a good anytime, quintessential VA/Per that should please any fan. The taste is natural and unadulterated as far as I can tell. I found it's moisture level ready to go. I like to keep my flakes as whole as possible so I used the fold and stuff method. It lights up fine, maybe a couple of re-lights which can be expected with flakes, but otherwise a great smoking experience. The flakes burn rather slow, and that's a good thing IMO. I've mentioned before that I struggle with some more popular VA/Pers (Escudo for instance), liking them, but not really in love with any of them. Drexel VIII easily has become one I can love. I plan to have this on hand when I need a VA/Per fix. That leaves Drexel II (Gold) for me to try. If Drexel's Cavendish blend is as good as their English and VA/Per tobacco, I can't wait. Enjoy.
Drexel - Drexel VI 1.5oz
I love trying something new, especially when it comes into my possession unexpectedly as this did. Before I begin to gush, just know I can't believe I haven't heard more praise for Drexel's tobaccos (check out my review of VIII too). For a pouch blend and English at that, this was unbelievably good. I've done reviews for Peterson's Wild Atlantic and Super Value English, and mentioned I like John Bull Royal English on more than one occasion...all pouched English blends. None of them come close to Drexel VI (Silver). Freshly opened, this was a bit on the dry side, but smoked great. It's a lovely ribbon cut, and the aroma spoke volumes to what would follow. Look at those ingredients folks. This is a classic English recipe. Rich in Latakia, mellow sweet with Virginia and enough orientals to fill in all the right flavor gaps, all balanced perfectly and then left alone. I don't detect any additives normally found in pouch blends. The taste here is all natural with not even a hint of glycerol. Like I said, it was on the dry side, so I loaded using a simple gravity feed and light tamp. It lit up and smoked fantastic. The flavor is Latakia strong which is how this easily outperforms the others I mention. The taste is consistent from top to bottom. It mostly burned itself out leaving very little ash and a dry clean bowl. While I was smoking this for the first time I immediately thought how similar the taste was to G.L. Pease's Abingdon! I had to grab another pipe and do a side-by-side and I was spot on, it's at least very similar. I was so impressed I had to order more Drexels to try. The pouch didn't last long. Totally bingeable. Enjoy.
Gawith Hoggarth & Co. - Grasmere Flake
How Lakeland can a Lakeland get?
From what I understand in my limited knowledge of the subject, Lakeland refers to a love it or hate it “essence” often found in tobaccos from the South Lakeland district of Cumbria, England and from the city of Kendal therein. Often this essence's essence (ahem) is hard to pin down. That's because each tobacco blend or flake considered a “Lakeland” or “Kendal” has a unique recipe based on attempts to create blends under the now defunct Tobacco Purity Law. The law strictly limited what and how much could be added to enhance tobacco. As a result many of these tobaccos make use of floral compounds. In this case, Grasmere Flake uses Rose and Geranium. Let that sink in for a moment. Citrus notes and nuttiness in a tobacco profile is one thing, but we're talking flowers here! Well, it's not all that bad. Sure comparisons can be made to perfumes and soaps since most of them also contain floral compounds. That being said, Grasmere is one of the most floral flakes I've ever had. The tobaccos used in Grasmere are really good, but only after you can get past the mental block set by the aroma. It takes some getting used to. Okay, maybe for some a lot of getting used to, but it is a brave change-of-pace that has its own rewards. If you decide you want to try a Lakeland tobacco, I'm not sure this is the best place to start; baby-steps. If you already know you like Lakelands, then you probably already enjoy Grasmere. Personally, it pushes my limits ever so slightly, but it is another nice flake from GH still done the traditional way and for that it's worth a try.
Captain Earle's - Mystic Blend 2oz
Interesting journey shared.
Full disclosure: I've only sampled this one and it was an interesting journey shared by a close friend. This marked my first time with this blend and Captain Earle tobaccos in general. Hoping the rest are just as good, I will be trying more Captain Earle blends, soon. Mystic is sort of a kitchen sink (nine?) blend but whoever the master blender is, they really know how to balance out this circus one act at a time. Probably the most curious aspect of Mystic for me was that they managed to have all of those tobaccos present and yet keep them separate. What I mean is that each component came through like an ever changing procession of goodness rather than mingling together as you would expect. Part of the allure is seeing what flavor would come with each puff. Even the retro-hale was different each time. Then, just as you're getting use to this (and kind of diggin' it), they all meld into a bold English taste towards the end. It's like a fireworks show made up of individual bursts one at a time, maybe two at a time, then followed by one big finale! I liked this a lot. I wont bore you with the mechanics, just know that it's nothing to worry about. This is quality leaf, blended with style, producing a very unique and enjoyable blend.
Amphora - Special Reserve Black Cavendish 1.75oz
A not-so "Special Reserve".
Every now and then I get to try something someone else shared with me that I'm glad I didn't buy for myself. I don't think this will hurt any feelings, I'm pretty sure my friend didn't think it was all that special either. I know it claims to have Virginia and Burley, but all I could taste was the Black Cavendish most of the time. As for it being “double-fermented”, it made no discernible difference to me. This has a similar problem I see with a lot of aromatics and that is it's unbalanced and Black Cavendish heavy. I like many BC blends and aromatics in general, but just adding a ton of BC to a small percentage VA/Burley base is not a recipe for a good aromatic. I'd rather have a really good VA/Burley blend making up a large portion of the mixture with just a sprinkling of Black Cavendish to help punch up the already present natural sweetness of the VA and smooth out the Burley bite. Otherwise, just smoke blending Black Cavendish straight, right? The only Burley I tasted here was unpleasant and bitter. I didn't detect any artificial flavors, but there was definitely something chemical tasting that I felt in the back of my throat. It's called a “Special Reserve”? Words mean something, and anything mass produced is nothing special. It's like Red Delicious apples...what a great ad campaign to name the most bitter skinned apple “delicious”. Some aromatics also lose their aroma quickly and then taste like nothing really; just bland, which was ultimately why this didn't work for me. If you want to try this, I'd suggest a little drying time to help get it lit, but I doubt aging would help.
Butera - Pelican 2oz
Some pipe smokers cellar too much.
I'm using this review to rant a bit not just about Pelican, but also Balkan Sobranie, any of the Esoterica blends, any that are hard to get in the States more than once in a while like Sam Gawith and Hoggarth et al, Germains, etc. Some of you cellar too much and I think you know who you are. It's like a Jeff Foxworthy joke... “If you have more tins in your closet than most Brick & Mortars have to sell, you might be a tobacco hoarder.” But it's not all that funny to those of us who can't ever seem to buy any of these beloved blends and flakes. I love Pelican, have for years, but it's also been way too long since I came across a tin to buy. Maybe it's not coming back. I hope it does. I understand cellaring tobacco, I even do it myself. The difference being I don't hoard tobacco like the end of the world is nigh, accumulating more than you could ever need. All too often when I'm searching the web for a favorite I get results that are in someone's cellar and unavailable for the rest of us. Anyone who keeps checking knows which ones we'd love to get our hands on just one more time. There out there, just already owned by others. Then there's the Dunhill & McClelland departures, and I know it wont be long and they'll be stashed away too. I do alright, but obviously there are some out there buying hundreds of dollars worth when these tins are in stock intending to make a fortune reselling them on eBay who never intend to smoke them themselves. If you have a cellar full of tobacco you intend to smoke or use as trade, great, but if your cellar is more of a stock room? I'm all for capitalism, but these middle-men are just jacking up prices. Let's not confuse Supply & Demand with Demanding Suppliers. Kudos to Smokingpipes.com for limiting amounts, I think buying 5 or more tins at a time is being a bit greedy, especially with limited productions. I know some pipers who'll fork over a small fortune on eBay, but that's not me, especially when there are so many tobaccos that are available that help keep the sanity. If you can get yourself a tin of Pelican, it's a wonderful Balkan blend and I hope you go ahead and crack it open to see for yourself. It's like having a hot rod that you never take out of the garage. Some things in life are meant to be memory makers, not simply dust collectors. I hear you, I “should have cellared more (myself) years ago and I wouldn't be in this mess”. Aargh. UPDATE: I just want to say the pipe smoking community is full of great people, many who go out of their way to help fellow hobbyist, and where and when they've helped me, I am truly thankful.
Lane Limited - La Gloria Cubana 1.75oz
Someone did their research.
So here we have another pipe tobacco sporting a cigar namesake. To be honest, I'm not a crossover cigar smoker, so I did not know it was a cigar brand until after I had tried this. Two things led me to La Gloria Cubana pipe tobacco: the English mixture description and the Mucha-esk tin art. Like Lane's other cigar-named pipe tobacco blends, it contains no actual cigar leaf. I guess cigar smokers will smoke a cigar if they want cigar leaf, and with a few exceptions, so would most pipe smokers. While most cigar-named blends attempt to find favor among aromatic pipe smokers using Cavendish heavy blends, with La Gloria Cubana, they decided to come up with a blend for the discerning pipe palate and created a full-on English. This mixture holds it's own against some English greats (Lane Limited's Crown Achievement begs for comparison). This has all the hallmarks: smooth, sultry, rich Latakia, floral orientals that add depth and character, a touch of Perique spice playing hide-and-go-seek with a shy Virginia sweetness...all in perfect balance with one another; very well blended! This could easily be a renowned English blend under any name, Lane just happened to use it to mark La Gloria Cubana's foray into pipe tobacco. This blend is so well done, I'd like to see La Gloria Cubana give us a whole line of pipe tobaccos (anyone remember the greatness of Drew Estates' pipe tobaccos?). The leaf is quality and the cut is somewhat coarse making it a slower burner. It loads and lights well. I didn't have any relight woes. Moisture level was spot on. It's a rather full bodied blend that may be too much for an all-day. It's not strong on the nicotine, I'd say mild-medium. But, it can be potent in a similar way to Dunhill Nightcap. As always, the Cyprian Latakia is too smooth to bite and simply euphoric. I would and have recommended this blend and will definitely restock my cabinet with this Cuban glory. Disfrutar!
Lane Limited - Wild Hare 1.75oz
A not-so wild hare that's more like a fluffy bunny.
I bought Wild Hare on a whim when the name caught my eye. I have pet rabbits and just loved the tin art. I've even got a memorial pipe (Chacom New Festival 183) named after my favorite Harlequin Rex, Romeo. I smoke lots of different style blends and this one is a nice anytime aromatic. Its properties are easy-going with a good basic ribbon cut that'll give you no problems. It's the sort of tobacco you might consider safe for someone trying the hobby for the first time. The name makes me think of Radagast Rhosgobels, but the blend has more in common with a cute domesticated lop. There's nothing wild about this ride, just easy goin' bliss. As aromatics go, it is mostly Cavendish with some Burley but the topping is never cloying and not overly moist. It has a faint sweetness of vanilla or nougat and the Burley imparts a slight chocolaty flavor. Something about Wild Hare reminds me of Captain Black Original too, though it lacks Virginia tartness. Overall, I'd recommend this one, it is a solid 3 star tobacco worth a try. So, hop to it!
Mac Baren - Symphony 3.5oz
A Night on Burley Mountain.
The star of this ensemble is the Burley Mac Baren uses. It's first chair quality. The blend comes together with a rich, creamy goodness that's hard not to love. There's the nutty flavors you'd expect, but also a tartness that I assume comes from the (aged?) Virginia. The freshly opened tin can be a little overwhelming, quite strong, and dare I say, a tad harsh. But, aging changes everything! It's not until this has sufficiently spent hours in preparation that the show is ready for an audience. I guess I let mine age about 6 months (I'm terrible about waiting), after which I really got the “chocolate” essence and the sweetness of the VA came through. My impression at this point was similar to homemade chocolate chip cookies. But, far from being a confectionery aromatic, I see Symphony as a selection of natural tobacco flavors being expertly conducted. I'm not even sure I'd call this an aromatic? I also love the slow-burning properties of this blend which I attribute to the broken flake cut. Just the fact that the components were pressed, sliced, and ready rubbed for us shows the lengths Mac Baren went to in order to make this a success. Score!
Lane Limited - Medal of Valor 1.75oz
Once I discovered Medal of Valor, it didn't take long for it to become one of my go-to Latakia mixtures. I've mentioned before that it is extremely close to Peter Stokkebye's English Oriental Supreme and Kramer's Father Dempsey, but there is just something about Lane's Medal of Valor that wins by a nose. Literally, while they each taste fantastic, Medal has the room note to match. From the beautiful tin-art to the fine white ash, when it's all said and done, Medal of Valor is exactly what I love in an English/Balkan blend. It's got a perfect ribbon cut, nice and springy! The velvety strands pack so nice. Lighting and puffing is so effortless. It's got the Latakia caliber Lat-fans look for. The orientals add a heady depth and character, incense-like and creamy. The Perique adds just enough spice to the already excellent Burley and Virginia base to help round out the complexity and complete the mixture. Fresh tins provide a fun merry-go-round of flavors, but aged this one melds together into pure mellow magic! Perfect enjoyment either way. Plus, as if it wasn't unbelievably cheap enough already, it's available in bulk too! Not only do I recommend Lane Limited: Medal of Valor, I can't recommend it enough. It is commendable. Highest honors indeed.
Cult - Embassy 50g
Embassy? I wonder if they called it Embassy because this is a safe space tobacco blend? It technically qualifies as an English-Aromatic with the inclusion of a tiny bit of Latakia, but don't look for this to please a Latakia desire. This mixture weighs heavy on the aromatic side of the scale. As such, it will probably please the masses. It's made with good tobaccos and served up ready to smoke. The mechanics are fine. This is a basic, all-day, easy smoke throwing its hat in the Burley/Virginia/Black Cavendish ring. Is it me, or are there just too many of these blends on the market? At some point there is very little difference from one to the next unless you luck into a rare exception that stands out. Cult's decision to add Latakia to this blend does little to make this pop. It's not bad. If you like English-Aromatic mixes, you'll probably like this blend. I smoke both English and aromatic blends and I do like this blend. It's just not anything that I'd be drawn back to...not one that will get inside my head and cause a craving. Still, it's good for what it is. Hope this helps.
Balkan Sobranie - Balkan Sobranie 50g
Over-hyped or well deserved?
I think it's both over-hyped and well deserved. The scarcity of Balkan Sobranie has elevated it to mythical status, which is just a bit over-doing it IMO. Some of the prices I've seen just are not warranted. Having said that, I want to be perfectly clear I DO believe it is a solid tobacco blend worthy of some distinction. It is tasty and boasts a super-fine ribbon cut that behaves beautifully when loading and lighting. I've never had a freshly opened tin that was not perfect for smoking. The tobacco feels so soft and silky. It clings to itself almost like a shag. This is not merely “a” Balkan, it can be said this is possibly “the” Balkan that the term “Balkan” refers to about similar blends. As such it is an oriental fronted mixture balanced with a good amount of Latakia, where the Latakia never seems to take over. It is surprisingly mellow and not at all high in nicotine. That's part of the hype I hear also; that it's such a great Latakia bomb it's super strong...all lies. This is a gentle mixture that I'd smoke any time of day were it not for its rarity. Because it is so hard to secure, I tend to only allow myself its indulgence at special times (while on vacation, reunions...new additions to the family, etc.) and not as part of the weekly rotation. I wish I could. Enjoy.
Cornell & Diehl - Latakia
Whole Lotta Latakia Love!
I bought some of this luxurious, creamy, smoky leaf with every intention of using it to add some oomph to lighter blends I thought desperately needed more Latakia. Then while sharing our purchases at the Relaxatorium one afternoon, my buddy Souldawg175 loads up a Missouri Meerschaum General (huge bowl) and proceeds to smoke this stuff straight. I was gobsmacked. I thought he was crazy. I knew he liked Latakia blends, but my Gawd! I have smoked Lat-blends for 25 years and never thought to do such a thing. Then I tried it myself and I should have known he'd not steer me wrong. This was a great opportunity to see just what Latakia has to offer for blending. Without any other tobacco present, there is nothing there to question. If you taste something or experience something, it has got to be from the Latakia. I often wonder when smoking blends if something I'm tasting is the Latakia or from other orientals, so this was a great help to my learning palate. On it's own it is kind of one-dimensional, but man, what a dimension! This is obviously the Cyprian variety of Latakia, it's much mellower and smooth without aging than the Syrian. I've had both types and I know blends of old required the Syrian and all, but I think I actually prefer the Cypress variety more. Get some and see what Latakia truly is and does for a smoke. Here's a free recipe to try: 50% C&D Latakia/40% C&D Virginia Flake/10% C&D Izmir for a great full strength traditional English blend. If you like things more complex, try swapping C&D Bayou Morning in place of the Virginia Flake! You can thank me later.
Super Value - English Mixture 1.5oz
You can't judge a pouch by it's cover.
Before you pass judgment based on the totally generic cheapo sounding name, know that this brand is actually produced by Sutliff. When I learned this, I was intrigued. Then, I kept seeing video reviews claiming this was actually good stuff, so I bought a pouch to try. I consider this a good blend for an aromatic smoker to try, NOT someone who's already into English blends. As English blends go, Super Value: English Mixture is about as far away from top shelf as it gets. However, to my surprise this is not all that bad and actually quite pleasant. The reviews I had seen nailed it! It may be mass market tobacco, but it's far from what you'd expect. The Latakia IS as weak as you'd expect, but there's enough to hint at “English” flavor. The Perique is even harder to find. I don't consider this “Medium” strength either. It is extremely light and airy, bite-free, and has a soft worry-free ribbon cut. It's weak, but tastes nice. It's cheap, but not poor quality. It's mass market, but may just appeal to select individuals. If you try this as your first English and enjoy it, I recommend John Bull Royal English, another very light English with a much better Latakia flavor and aroma (sadly, not sold at smokingpipes.com).
Cornell & Diehl - Morley's Best
A Burley blend that is never Boar-ing!
I'm not a huge Burley smoker, but I do enjoy Burley blends if they are exceptional and well blended. Morley's Best is a highlight for me. I love Latakia mixtures, which is why I initially tried this, but where Latakia would normally dominate a blend, here it is merely a condiment that mellows the sharper Burleys. The Virginia too is relatively low in the mix, providing a sweet character to round the blend. I am glad they use a VA broken flake here, I think it helps this blend be the slow-burner that it is. C&D uses some of the best Burley I've had. Morley's Best has three different cuts all strutting their stuff. It has a hearty nuttiness, a clean waxy-tooth feel, never bites, and packs and lights splendidly. Each bowl is so well behaved and flavorful. Some Burley blends remind me too much of cigarette smoke which turns me off, but I get very little of that with Morley's Best unless I let it dry out too much. Unfortunately, I never tried Blue Boar and I don't really know much about it. I've read that Blue Boar additionally had Turkish orientals and figure it wouldn't be hard to add some C&D Izmir (in small amounts) and give that a try if Morley's Best isn't true enough for Blue Boar fans? Just a suggestion. Cornell & Diehl never ceases to amaze me with quality tobaccos blended in so many unique and delicious ways. Among them all, Morley's Best manages to stand out. Enjoy.
Cornell & Diehl - Shelbyton
To each his own poison.
I have to start by saying I ordered Shelbyton by mistake getting it's name mixed up with Shandygaff. I didn't mind, I'd never had either of them and I'm sort of addicted to trying new blends so Shelbyton still met my requirements. I like Black Cavendish blends usually, and I love Virginia and Dark-fired Kentucky, especially together, but I was not expecting the “tawny port”. Whoa! “What the @$%# is this”, I thought. It was like a really good mixture that someone had liberally added cooking sherry to. Joking aside, it's not that bad. It was fun for a while. I don't think I'd order Shelbyton again for myself...maybe, but I know that it's not a bad blend by any means, just way different than what I expected. For what it is, it is rather unique, and I'm sure this is someone's favorite tobacco for it. I'm not terribly experienced with port flavored tobaccos, but one I did enjoy (which I reviewed) was Comoy's Cask No. 2. The composition might be a similar recipe, but where Comoy's Cask No. 2 was balanced and thought out, Shelbyton seems more like a “Hey y'all, watch this!” captured moment that may seem funny at the time, but has the potential to be a regrettable memory someday. Still, to each his own. One man's meat is another man's poison, right?
Cornell & Diehl - Mad Fiddler Flake 2oz
The first step to recovery is recognising you have a problem.
Mad Fiddler Flake is part of C&D's Old Ones series with H.P. Lovecraft themes and featuring lesser known tobaccos. Mad Fiddler contains Kasturi, a very musky and spicy Indonesian cigar leaf. I chose to start the series with this one because it was a flake. Everything about this series was pleasing to my senses. I've enjoyed Lovecraft's works for years and always enjoy trying new leaf, especially orientals by name. To be honest I'm still unsure if Kasturi is considered an oriental or not, but to my knowledge I had not had it before. When the tin was opened it had an earthy pungently sweet smell I couldn't place. It smelled good, but unfamiliar. It packed fairly well being already broken, but first light hit me like a lightening strike! My impression evolved, so don't let this discourage you, but the first puff was dreadfully harsh and tasted of burnt rubber. I literally choked and coughed repeatedly trying (too) hard to tame it. I was obviously woefully unprepared for this one and was taken aback. This did not match reviews at all. New tobaccos sometimes call for new techniques, this, I knew, would. Confused but determined to like it, I muscled through the bowl straining to slow my cadence and close to the end of the bowl, I caught a glimpse of sunshine piercing through the stormy weather. Had I not, I might have given up. This flake was strong and my head was swimming physically and mentally. I couldn't attempt another bowl the same day. I let it air a while eventually returning to it again every week or so struggling to find that element of greatness again. It was on the moist side and never seemed to dry out. I decided to keep it in the tin rather than cellar. Months later, halfway through the tin, I opened it to find a rich sweet earthy aroma...something had changed. The harshness I had initially had faded a little more each time, but now the flavors had melded like molten steel in a forge. The components came through boldly and I had my first bite-free Mad Fiddler experience. Had I gone mad? Had the tobacco changed or had I acquired a taste for it as it was all along? It was to be a mind changer. Either I or the flake had done a 180. Every time I return to it, it has become so unique and pleasing in a way no other tobacco has; something so hard to describe. I credit this flake with making me a better smoker. I really believe that. Mad Fiddler remains strong but eventually allowed me passage through it's fascinating other worldly realm. Once I stopped forcing it, it accepted my intrusion. I can't say this is for everyone. I wont even suggest you try it. But, if you are an experienced piper that craves a new experience like a moth to a flame, Mad Fiddler Flake could be your undoing or your most beloved treasure found.
Cornell & Diehl - Founding Fathers
A name invoking American independence is always good for an American style aromatic like this, but having sampled it, all I can think of is the forbidden fruit of the underworld. The “exotic fruit” in question here is the Pomegranate which you can smell in the tin note. If you'll get out your Mythology 101 textbooks and turn to page...you'll remember that was the fruit that trapped Persephone in the underworld. I'm sure it is perfectly safe for smoking; I have yet to get stuck in the underworld and I'm pretty sure she was already in the underworld when those rules applied. Patriotic imagery and Greek mythology aside, this is a well blended mixture for those who enjoy a bright and fruity tastefully sweetened Burley. The pomegranate taste marries nicely with the natural flavors and isn't top heavy. Founding Fathers features C&D's quality leaf and blending expertise and is neither too sweet nor too moist. The Black Cavendish successfully gives the bold Burley a gut-punch bringing them eye level with each other within the mix. The cut is nothing special but packs and lights good for an aro. The flavors are inconsistent in a good way, each taking turns rolling in and out randomly. There's good complexity here for so few components. This blend should please aromatic fans unless you can't stand pomegranates. I enjoy a slightly complex aromatic and this one pleases. I enjoy Founding Fathers in the Springtime, but I'm sure it's a year-round favorite for others. Enjoy.
Missouri Meerschaum - American Patriot 1.5oz
Never leave an American tobacco behind.
I've been smoking a bunch of English blends lately...I guess I can go ahead and cancel that appointment with the shrink. If you are a fan of Latakia blends, nothing compares to that quintessential taste. I reviewed Peterson's Wild Atlantic not long ago, when I really should have done this review first. American Patriot is very similar to PWA, but is the clear winner of the two. It's a bit stronger in flavor than Wild Atlantic but still fits nicely into the all-day English variety. Missouri Meerschaum's blends have a better price tag too. American Patriot is a great EDC tobacco. It's not too strong, not too weak, has good mechanics, and an awesome flavor for such a middle-of-the-road English. If any of you have had John Bull Royal English, American Patriot has that great bold Latakia flavor without the glycerol sweetness. So, it is a lighter English blend that still has a ton of flavor you crave. Is it a meal? No. Is it a good snack to tide you over? Definitely. The only downside is the availability and that's a big one. For some reason when it's out-of-stock, it stays that way a while. I hope it's not discontinued? I'm probably just being paranoid after the McClelland and Dunhill news. Maybe, I should keep that appointment after all?
Lane Limited - Crown Achievement 1.75oz
English Crown or Balkan achievement?
This is as good a review as any to visit the English/Balkan debate. I'm not saying I'm right, but here's how I use the terms: both English and Balkan blends have VA, Latakia and orientals (I know Latakia is an oriental too, stay with me here...). To me it's a matter of prominence within a blend, not the origin of the leaf. If it is Latakia heavy, a “Lat-bomb”, or otherwise Latakia forward I consider it English whether other orientals are present or not. Why the term “English”? I have no clue. I've heard in England they refer to these blends more correctly as “Latakia mixtures” (Brilliant!). Or, if the predominant feature are other orientals, regardless of a Latakia presence, then I think of it as a Balkan. I'm stubborn, but my understanding was influenced by the early 90s. Back then the term “Balkan” was commonly misused to mean any Lat-blend the way “English” is used today. When the only info you have is from a local B&M and they're wrong about something, you tend to be wrong too until someone sets you straight (not that the web has helped the debate). Nowadays, in casual conversation, I'm fine with these terms being used interchangeably since they both convey “non-aromatic”. Can they include other tobaccos? Sure, as long as the core tobaccos are there. Crown Achievement has Perique and it takes nothing away from the blend but adds a subtle spice upping the ante. I've never had it without Perique so I can't compare, but included this is a stellar blend. Crown Achievement is so well balanced that by my own definition, I can't tell which component is foremost and thus if it is English or Balkan. It is definitely a non-aromatic mixture. It has depth and complexity many never reach. It cooperates mechanically. Is consistent. But above all, it is a strong creamy Latakia/oriental blend of some character. In the end, it doesn't matter what you call it. I like to call it “Crown Achievement”. Aptly named, it is a pinnacle of rich & tasty tobaccos sure to please Latakia fans. Enjoy. PS: Don't get me started on how wrong the term “oriental” is.
Captain Black - Dark 1.5oz
C'mon, don't be afraid of the dark.
Along with Captain Black: Royal, Dark is one of my favorite Captain Black tobaccos. It is my go-to when I'm in the mood for a Black Cavendish. I guess most pipe smokers who enjoy Black Cavendish have tried Lane Limited: BCA, which makes that a great comparison tobacco. Dark is different in several ways. For starters, Dark is rarely as wet and gooey, which is not to say it isn't moist, most Black Cavendishes are, but it lacks the over saturation. Without the goop, Dark manages the mechanics of packing and lighting much better too. Dark is also a substantially fuller smoking experience. Since it is made from Green River Burley, it gives you a more robust and hearty feeling both in mouth-feel and billowing smoke. Dark also has a slightly different flavor than most Black Cavendishes. Most who've tried it will tell you it's got a vanilla flavor or maybe caramel, and that may be true, but I think the Cavendish process brings out a natural sweetness that is often mistaken for vanilla. I've always detected a dark chocolate aroma and taste with Dark. It's not like milk chocolate; it is more like Dutch cocoa powder used in making chocolate cake or brownies...very rich. In fact, it has been my experience that the older this tobacco gets, the more pronounced the cocoa flavor becomes. I once found a forgotten pouch of Dark that had waited in a coat pocket for Winter to come around again and I was surprised at how chocolaty it had become (it stayed relatively moist in the pouch too!). Whether you get vanilla or cocoa (or both), Dark is definitely a sweet smoke that should please any aromatic fan. It just happens to please dark chocolate fans (like me) too. Enjoy!
Captain Black - Premium Edition Black Sea 1.75oz
Captain Black movin' on up English style!
Sadly, Captain Black continues to get lumped in with drugstore cheapos. This bias is so unwarranted. As evidence I offer Black Sea for your approval. Captain Black has developed these “Premium Edition” blends and released them in tins no less possibly to help change all of that. Black Sea is the Balkan/Aromatic(?) offering and it stands up well to scrutiny. Let's start with the components...the Cavendish is barely sweet and is little more than a wallflower at this party (thank goodness). The Burley too is not very strong, but does provide a good medium base for the true winner here which is the Latakia. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first Captain Black use of Latakia and IMO they've made a good show of it. Welcome to the adults table. I miss the orientals that should be here just a little that would really help the retro-hale, but luckily the Latakia holds it's own. Others have mentioned that the Latakia is too strong for their tastes, but I see this as CB not wanting theirs to be yet another weak Balkan. Fans are often left wanting more Latakia in similar offerings, that's not the case here. This wont blow you away like say Dunhill's Nightcap, but it is a good medium bodied blend for anytime of day. Okay, so the mechanics...I find it having ready-to-smoke moisture and nothing difficult about the prep and packing. It lights easily and the smokey flavor does last throughout leaving little dottle. I didn't get a cigarette taste, but that would be the Burley if you're sensitive to that. As for it being called an “Aromatic”, I'm not sure why. I have had so-called crossovers that ran way sweeter, some even to the point of not really being Balkans at all. Black Sea carries the Balkan banner proudly. So, congratulations Captain Black on Black Sea, a blend that I feel could win over many of your naysayers. Enjoy. UPDATE: I know English blends mellow with age, and this is no exception. The Latakia eventually mellowed out considerably and overall the blend developed that characteristic Captain Black sweetness of their Cavendish blends. It's still a good blend and I stand by my review, but wanted to let everyone know this is probably not the best to keep long term once opened. Smoke it up fresh and you'll be fine.
Capstan - Flake Blue 1.75oz
Blue skies, blue waters, and Blue Capstan.
I love the imagery of tall ships and a sailor's life. That's what I think of when I hear “Capstan” (with a Stan Rogers song playing in my head). But most people think of Middle Earth. Nearly everyone has heard that J.R.R. Tolkien smoked Capstan and possibly created the high fantasy genre in the process. It would be a stretch to think the tobacco alone made that possible and a discredit to his intellect. Having said that, it's not hard to see what he found so appealing about Capstan. What you may not know is that tobaccos age and mature and then peak. We all like to get a tin and eagerly crack it open and dive right in, but this leads to a lot of differing opinions of taste and experience. Not every batch is the same readiness and it takes careful consideration with a flake like Capstan to know if it's time to smoke or time to wait. I've had some that were wonderfully sweet and bready right away, but I've also had some that were bitter and sort of pungent from a freshly opened tin that benefited greatly from the passage of time. I believe that Capstan is good quality and that it's blenders keep in mind an end result that given various crops of tobacco require adjustments to be made if that end goal is to be consistent. If you find you have a negative experience with this flake, please don't throw it out in haste, be patient and return to it after a week, a month, 6 months...eventually you'll discover why this tobacco is revered. It is a survivor for a reason, don't be misled by rash decisions. Good things come to those that wait.
Tsuge - "Gunjin" God of Samurai 50g
A comforting embrace,
Gunjin was my first sojourn into Tsuge pipe tobaccos. Made for Tsuge by Drew Estate, you know this is great quality with impeccable taste. Gunjin is a misleadingly mellow mixture with a strong spirit. The blend consists of high Virginia, bright and bold, sweetened ever so slightly with black Cavendish, but it is the orientals that make the blend. Consistent in taste and character, this is a great example of how powerfully strong tobacco can lull you in with soothing gentle puffs (and this one really snuck up on me). It is a fine soft ribbon cut, the kind you love to load and light. It burns slow allowing plenty of time to transcend beyond similar tobaccos limitations into an almost surreal relaxation. About 45 minutes into a bowl, you just sort of awaken from a stupor and realize the bowl is empty and you're done with little recollection of where your thoughts have been. Abruptly, you find yourself back in reality left with a sense that you've just returned from a long relaxing journey of the mind. I don't mean to make it sound like an illicit substance, far from it. Gunjin is more natural like the way rays of sunshine can gently cause you to fall asleep sunbathing or while in a warm car. Gunjin: The Samurai God is like a personal protector watching over your safety allowing you to get meaningful rest. Don't we all need a little more of that?!
CAO - Moontrance 50g
By the light of the Moontrance, all will be revealed?
I feel obliged to tell you that I've only ever had one tin of Moontrance, so keep that in mind. It was touted by many reviews and blogs making it seem like a favorite of the CAO pipe tobaccos. I had already tried Eileen's Dream and Moontrance seemed like the next logical choice. All tobaccos have a peak age and sometimes it's hard to know when that is. Unless the manufacturer specifically says when that is, I assume it is meant to be ready when I receive it. That's just not always the case. The Moontrance tin I had was not ready. The cut is a coarse ribbon cut, that packed okay. It took several strikes to get the char going because it was too moist. I recommend drying this one. From the description, the flavor was nothing like I expected. In fact, it was awful with only hints at something there worth exploring more. I kept coming back to it hoping to find what others loved so much and eventually (about 6 months later) all of a sudden it had changed drastically. It was like a different blend altogether. By now the flavor reminded me of Moon Pies, complete with creamy marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker (could this somehow be related to naming this tobacco?). That's not really what the description calls for, but it was good. It had metamorphosed to become a nice aromatic. Eventually I liked Moontrance, I just wish someone had given fair warning how much time it needed. I imagine some might just toss the tin rather than allow for it to mature, which is sad since it turned out pretty good. Maybe it was just the tin I had; perhaps your tin will be great from the start. Either way, you should find enjoyment at some point. When it's ready, it is definitely worth smoking if confectionery tobaccos appeal to you. Hope this helps.
CAO - Eileen's Dream 50g
Sing sweetly my dear...sing to me of your Irish dreams.
I love this tobacco. I don't always smoke aromatics, but when I do they have to knock my socks off with uniqueness. Solani's X: Sweet Mystery, Peterson's Sweet Killarney, and Vauen's English Blend (trust me this qualifies) are all aros I enjoy, and one other I'm quite fond of is Eileen's Dream. This blend is (ahem) based on the CAO cigarillos by the same name, so let me start by saying I've had them both and they are the same in name only as far as I can tell. I didn't much care for the cigarillos, but the pipe tobacco is a total winner. This blend sounds like the kitchen sink of an Irish bakery, but trust me all these flavors combine into one tasty concoction. White chocolate, cream, nuts, coconut milk...what a list! What I taste is Baileys Irish Cream with maybe a pecan sandies aftertaste? Point is, it is yummy. Usually aros are goopy, but CAO does a good job of keeping it slightly moist and ready to smoke from the tin. And, it smokes pretty good slightly moist which puzzled me at first. Some blends just do better that way, I guess. I learned the hard way to do this by airing out a tin until it was “just right” by other standards and somehow it lost much of it's flavor? I'll never do that again. If Eileen's Dream needs to be wet, er that's how I'll enjoy it! It's a bit of heaven every time.
Pipe Tools & Supplies - B. J. Long Bristle Tapered Pipe Cleaners (80 pack)
These are my go-to cleaners for, er cleaning.
I'll keep this short and to the point...I use these for cleaning all my pipes. The bristles break up the build-up and the tapered ends help clear it out. After which, I follow up with regular cleaners of course. Unlike other brands, B.J. Long bristle cleaners can hold up to a scrubbing if you've let your pipes go too long or if you're doing a restoration that seems like the pipe's never been cleaned. To help sweeten my briars I use liquor, usually Metaxa Ouzo for a cool clean taste that IMO doesn't interfere with tobacco flavors after a short airing out. Some cleaners fall apart quickly when slipped through spirits, but not these. I don't think I've ever had any fluff come off of these (or bristles for that matter). Simply the best I've used and they're inexpensive too. A must have. These make great stocking stuffers for the holidays too.
Bengal Slices - Bengal Slices 1.75oz
Possibly the best reintroduced tobacco to be had.
I want to thank Russ Ouellette for bringing this wonderful tobacco back for us. Much appreciated. If you don't know the story, look it up, it's fascinating. Bengal Slices truly is a unique tobacco. Much has been said about it's extraordinaire smooth and creamy nature and clean taste. The taste is so well blended it's practically in a league of it's own. It has the richest Latakia, smokey and full flavored, but it's very mellow and toothless. It has flavorful orientals that add complexity rarely had in a blend (Yenidje?). And, then there's the top note...I don't really know if it's licorice or anise and I don't really care, as long as they never change it. It makes this smoke nice and cool without taking any of it's flavors and complexity away. In fact, the Bengal Slices experience made me reevaluate what is five star taste and strength and when exactly can it be said to have five star room note? Taste and aroma are always so subjective anyways. But, this one blend (actually it's not a blend, but rather a sliced crumble cake) puts rating systems to the test and turns them upside down. Almost everyone I know says it has a great room note, something rarely bestowed on a Latakia forward tobacco. And, Bengal Slices proves that a tobacco doesn't have to taste like baked goods or candy to have unbelievable flavor; it's frequently given high marks for taste. This is not an uber-strong tobacco either, in fact I find it mellow enough to smoke anytime of day in spite of being Latakia heavy. Bengal Slices is just mesmerizing, defying similar blends as simply ho-hum. The closest I've had was another RO called Fusilier's Ration, and even it can't hold up next to Bengal Slices. The original slices was made ages ago by Sobranie...and although Balkan Sobranie has it's well earned reputation, IMO Bengal Slices is better still.
Pipe Tools & Supplies - B. J. Long Extra Fluffy Pipe Cleaners (32 pack)
My mom once had a poodle this fluffy.
I'll start by saying I like B.J. Long products. I've gone back and forth on these Extra Fluffy cleaners and I have come to like them in certain applications. You'd think they'd be very absorbent, and they are, but unless you have a wide open stem and a drought hole bored 7/32, these can be a bit tricky to slide in while smoking to remove gurgle. The wire is pretty stiff, but the bounty of fluff on these makes it a tough task while holding a lit bowl. They slide in much better on freshly cleaned pipes as a final stage of cleaning. I personally think these are good for removing as much moisture as possible from pipes that you plan to store for long periods of time as long as they're not left in the pipe during storage. These are also good for dying stommels for those of you into pipe making. I used them to dye a cob pipe that turned out great without all the mess. These may not ever replace regular pipe cleaners or their uses, but it's nice to have an Extra Fluffy available when you need one.
Pipe Tools & Supplies - Blitz Pipe Cleaners (80 pack)
These candy canes didn't help sweeten my pipes.
As pipe cleaners go, you could definitely do a lot worse than the Blitz. These work best during a smoke for absorbing moisture build-up in the shank with a quick pass through. And, by absorbent I mean the thicker end. Of course, you pipesters that use filters...I don't know what you do, because those pesky filters do get in the way of a swabbing. I'm kidding, I use balsa filters myself sometimes. But, I can't imagine these being good for much else to clean your pipes. Frankly, I was disappointed having heard such good things about Blitz. My experience made me return to B.J. Long before I'd even finished my Blitz supply. As cleaners, Blitz don't leave behind much fluff, but they couldn't clean out even the mildest build-up, so what's the use? Maybe if Blitz made an actual bristle version? Or, made them cheaper? These can also be made into a quick bowl cap if you pack-and-dry for smoking later, and smarter kids can use them to make little animal figures for the dumb kids to play with...you get my point. They're okay, but kind of meh. Besides, they look like friggin' candy canes, which didn't even register until I realized I didn't like them, now I can't not see it.
Cornell & Diehl - Crooner
Nostalgia in a bowl.
I'm not a big fan of Burley forward blends, but I have to admit to liking this one. I've tried all of the Deertongue blends (I think) and believe this is the best of them...it's certainly the most popular. Even still, it's a love it or hate it tobacco. I think what I like about it lies in its simplicity. You have a great cube-cut Burely (with dreamlike mechanics) and just the right amount of natural condimental Deertongue and that's it! It's no surprise the Burley steals the show. It is a full-bodied Burley that's creamy to a fault, but the Deertongue adds a balanced sweetness that is crucial to the flavor of Crooner. My first time having Crooner I went on a binge and didn't want anything else, that's how good it is! Eventually, it was just too much Burley too often for me and I had to ween myself off, but I do still enjoy a bowl from time to time. Some guys claim this is there go-to blend and it's not hard to see why. And, no, you don't have to smoke Crooner from a Savinelli Bing's Favorite, but hey, if you got one....
Cornell & Diehl - New Market
Deertongue sans Burley anyone?
Deertongue is an interesting leaf to say the least. Perhaps it would be more at home in a Native American sandstone pipe, but it's a nice change-of-pace for anyone's pipe. It has a sort of muted vanilla and slightly minty taste with a somewhat sage-like smell. There's not a lot of blends out there using Deertongue, but I think the one's that are use it well, mostly as a natural condiment. The most famous would be C&D's Crooner, which is a strong (great cube cut) Burley forward blend. Then there's C&D's Gentleman Caller for the Perique fans. And, C&D's Engine #382, which comes closest to New Market, but differs in that it contains Burley just like the others mentioned. So, that leaves New Market alone; the only Deertongue including blend with no Burley (unless you count the unflavored Cavendish, which I don't). And in this niche, New Market does perform well. It has good mechanics. I've noticed that it comes at the best moisture level it's going to get and can dry out rather quickly if not jarred. But overall, This is a nice blend for anyone wanting to try Deertongue tobacco. Keep in mind that it's not for everybody, and even those who try this because of the lack of Burley may not like it. But, you'll never know unless you give it a try.
Carter Hall - Carter Hall 1.5oz Pouch
Throw away tobacco? That's crazy talk.
I've made it a point to always have some good pipe tobacco on hand. I'll give Carter Hall the credit for that at least. I've heard good things about CH for years. It's one of those blends that's been around since dinosaurs smoked on their porches. So, one day I was out and about and bought a Dr. G on-the-fly and needed a smoke...and there was a box of Carter Hall. It was cheap, handy and had an age-old reputation – sold. I'm not sure where things went south. The Grabow pipe is still around and smoking fine, so it wasn't that. The weather was nice. I was with good company and even in a good mood. Inside the box was a nice vac-sealed pouch containing a dark flat-ish ribbon cut, burgundy in color, that seemed an alright moisture level. Everything was going good. I loaded it up and started a char-light. That's when my taste buds screamed at me...”DIRT!!! WARNING: YOU ARE SMOKING DIRT! Remove from mouth and rinse to continue.” You think I'm joking? No way, that's the only flavor I got from Carter Hall - dirt. I tried hard to give this a fair evaluation. I think I wanted it to be good so bad that I tried convincing others “it's not too bad”. In the end, I don't think I could finish the bowl. Truly, this is the worst tasting tobacco I've ever had. To this day whenever I hear about a bad blend, I want to ask, “Is it Carter Hall-bad?” I give it one star – one for every time I've ever thrown tobacco away. UPDATE: I continue to try CH every so often just in case. I've grown fond of many Burley blends over the past couple of years and think CH may yet hold some secret I've missed. I've heard that the tubs taste better than the pouches. I'm not sure how that could happen, but I suppose it's possible. I know CH has its fans, and for that I try to keep an open mind about it.
Captain Black - Royal 1.5oz
Royal is part of my regular rotation (don't judge me).
Captain Black unfortunately gets pigeonholed into drugstore fair. They are actually quality blends at a reasonable price – Win/Win. Both Royal and Dark are in my regular rotation. I like a good solid English blend with the rest of 'em, and I like purity flakes and VA/Pers, I even like Burley blends sometimes, but sometimes...sometimes I like an aromatic too. Captain Black is great for this. The Original (White) is quite good, but Royal just steps up the sweetness to where I like it. It's ultra-mild, a fine ribbon easy for packing and lighting, burns away to very little ash at a moderate rate. It has a discernible topping that isn't quite vanilla, but certainly is generically sweet (I assume a glycerol humectant?) but it doesn't seem too artificial or ruin the natural flavors of the tobacco. It is all Cavendish so the sweetness could be a result of the process too. I don't know what they use, but I like it. It makes for an easy anytime smoke that's good all year round. It's also great for beginners until they get a feel for what they can tolerate. If you can't smoke CBR, you need a different hobby. If you just can't bring yourself to try Captain Black, just go ahead and get Lane Limited 1-Q. I'm pretty sure they are one-in-the-same. Why 1-Q can be rated so highly and Royal be often overlooked because it's Captain Black is beyond my comprehension.
Cornell & Diehl - Epiphany
Gotta love free tobacco. Thanks Souldawg175!
My friends and I get together weekly and share whatever the “tobacco fairy” has brought us. I showed up one Saturday to find two variations on Albie Einstein's supposed favorite: Revelation. I never had Revelation so for me it was a chance to try two new blends; Sutliff's Revelation Match and C&D's Epiphany. Both are worth trying. They seem to try and capture Revelation's reported glory from slightly different angles, The Sutliff match includes Dark-fired Kentucky whereas Epiphany does not (or at least it isn't listed as included). Souldawg175 tried them both and liked the Sutliff a lot, but didn't care for Epiphany. I'm no dummy...you see he loves his “DFK!” blends and more importantly, he has little to no interest in strong Burley unless it's blended way down in the mix. He's right. Epiphany is very Burley forward, and it can get a little cigarette-ish towards the end of the bowl, but I've had far worse. I feel Epiphany is a good blend overall; it has easy mechanics, is a good anytime sort of blend and it's comprised of quality leaf. From what I've read the original Revelation was known as a hearty Burley blend. Maybe Epiphany comes closer to the original than Sutliff's match, I don't know, but I like it. So, the following weekend I brought some C&D Latakia (for blending, which he likes “50/50; Latakia/Latakia”, as he puts it) and we managed to make an amicable trade. If you can't get your hands on some free-trade Epiphany, I think it's worth the cost of admission...even without dark-fired Kentucky.
Captain Black - Grape 1.5oz
Ahhh, Captain Black "Purple". Who knew?
I don't recall ever sitting down for a smoke and thinking “I wish they had a grape flavored tobacco”. The idea alone sounds so wrong...or like a fake non-tobacco they'd sell kids at the ballpark like candy cigarettes. Even among aromatic fans, it's got to sound odd at first. Of all the drugstore variety tobaccos I've had, Captain Black usually does pretty good blends and I kept seeing positive reviews so, I bought this to try with my buds and surprisingly, we kind of liked it. It is sweet with no bite at all, tastes just like you'd think, and overall this is palatable stuff for an aro. It loads and smokes about as good as Original (White), and leaves little dottle behind. I have a soft spot for Captain Black Royal and Dark when reaching for an aromatic, and Grape has become a decent third option. It's a blend that you just have to try (if you're so inclined). I'm sure it's one that you'll either love or hate. If you are NOT a fan of grape flavored Nehi, Airhead taffy or Bubblicious gum, don't waste your time because it is that GRAPE! It has a pretty strong aroma to match too. I made the mistake of leaving it in my truck the first night it was unsealed and it took a week for the grape odor to subside. I could smell it inside my truck from ten feet away! Probably just as well, you don't want this near other tobacco...it might just ghost them through proximity. Speaking of ghost...well, y'know this is going to, I'll leave it at that. I'm still puzzled that it's as good as it is. Just reviewing it makes me want a bowl.
Three Nuns - Three Nuns 1.75oz
When two nuns aren't enough and four nuns is too many...
A lot has been said comparing the latest version of (Bell's) Three Nuns and it's predecessors, but all I've ever had is the modern take. And that I can tell you, is pretty good. It's dominating character is some tasty dark-fired Kentucky. The Virginia and Burley fall in behind the DFK with Burley coming in second most but not all of the time. The cut is curly, a.k.a. coin, and they are not tightly spun. The coins are small and fragile, basically lending themselves to an easy rub-out and they have a good moisture level. You could try to stack these but they're too small to fold. If you've had Mac Baren Dark Twist, the cut is the same. In fact, the two tobaccos are very similar. In my experience the Bell's is fuller bodied and a bit stronger in the nicotine department, but the flavors are the same...smokey without the Latakia campfire. I enjoyed this one fresh off finishing a Dark Twist 100g tin to make a side-by-side comparison for myself and I think I prefer the Mac Baren, but because they are so similar this could just be the tins I had. The Mac Baren was 7 years old, and the Three Nuns only a few months and I know that can make a big difference. If either of these sound good to you, get a tin of each. Three nuns should be tried by all. Tobaccos with pedigrees as old as this one that are still around deserve a try. Enjoy. UPDATE: Since I posted this review, Three Nuns has expanded to a nine nuns lineup: Red, Green and Yellow. It's worth mentioning that the Green tin contains Perique like the original version by Bell's. If you're looking for something akin to older versions, you may want to start with Three Nuns Green.