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 than 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 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 Mango 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 100g
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 blend 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.
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 100g
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 100g
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 Deer Tongue 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 Deer Tongue 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 Deer Tongue 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
Deer Tongue sans Burley anyone?
Deer Tongue 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 Deer Tongue, 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 Deer Tongue 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 Deer Tongue 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.
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 Revelation Match and C&D's Epiphany. Both are worth trying IMO. They seem to try and capture Revelation's reported glory from slightly different angles, 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, 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 DFK.
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.
Peterson - Wild Atlantic 40g
Interesting name...and a good pouch tobacco.
So there between the Americas and The British Isles lies the Wild Atlantic. The name is apt actually. Wild Atlantic is marketed as a “Traditional English Blend” but seems custom built for the milder aro-smoking American piper who may venture into English waters so-to-speak. It does have the flavors one would expect from an English blend. However, this will not put you to bed like Dunhill Nightcap. It wont raise your eyebrows like Lane Limited Medal of Valor. No, this is a very tame English. You can taste the Latakia flavor as well as some oriental, but it is rather mild non-the-less. It reminds me of a weak version of Missouri Meerschaum American Patriot. Wild Atlantic is a fast burner that can get a bit ashy quickly. It's a pouch rather than a tin if you believe that means something. But, I don't want to put anyone off Wild Atlantic. It's a good one to carry in a pocket or glove box for a quick smoke on-the-go and it'll suffice for that Latakia fix until you can light-up your favorite Lat-bomb. I'm fond of the ribbon cut they use...it's almost a shag you have to pull apart. Nice, I like that. It has a reasonable price tag for what you get and I do believe I'd buy this again. Enjoy.
Murray's - 1921 Cunningham 1.75oz
My best-of-both-worlds flake!
I mentioned 1921 Cunningham in my review of Escudo: Navy De Luxe and realized I had never reviewed it. That wont do. This is my go-to Navy Flake and my go-to VA/Per; my best-of-both-worlds flake. I'll break it down...it is a VA/Per with a rum casing. Ta da! This is no alcohol drenched drugstore variety...this is a Murray's. This is an exceptional, highly underrated, full taste and strength Virginia amicably married to the most beautiful Perique in all of Louisiana that got rum drunk on the honeymoon. This flake has got to be aged before distribution because I fell in love with it fresh from the tin...each time it's like I'm smoking a 10 year old tin from the cellar. But, and this is the best part, if you can wait, it really doesn't take much time for this to peak. I've found that my human taste buds are incapable of detecting anything sweeter and more savory smooth than this one gets around 6 months. That's it. By then the rum is like a top shelf private stock, the Virginias are sweeter than a first kiss, and the Perique mellows out and gets along like fighting brothers separated by their Mama at their sister's wedding. 1921 Cunningham is near perfect for me. I hope it's as good for you.
Balkan Sasieni - Balkan Sasieni 50g
The start of a great journey.
I first tried this not long after I bought my first pipe. I had given up on cigarettes which never tasted good to me. I remember walking around the local mall and passing a tobacco shop displaying pipes. I went in and the owner politely asked if he could help me find what I was looking for. We chatted it up a while and he eventually sold me a pouch of Sasieni. I used to think he sold it to me as a joke probably hoping to put me off pipe smoking at such a young age (I was in college at the time). If he had, boy did that backfire. The man had given me a new pastime! I didn't know what Latakia was or who or what Balkan meant, but I fell in love with smokey, earthy, creamy tobaccos thanks to him. It wasn't long before I was back in the shop asking for more like that Ball-Can Sassy Knee. I learned of and tried many great English and Balkans blends after that. I'm pretty sure now, that guy wasn't joking around, he sized me up, and like a good tobacconist, he knew exactly what I would like. Sadly, the shop changed hands and I never knew what happened to the guy. Then 25 years later, in a small town out in the country, I walked into an old town square (literally a Brick & Mortar) tobacco shop and chatted it up with the owner. Eventually we both realized who we were...I had cut off my long hair and put on the pounds and he had grown bald and no longer sported a long white beard, but instantly we felt that recognition. That's why I love this hobby. To this day I still think of him while smoking and love to tell the story that started...with Balkan Sasieni.
A & C Petersen - Escudo Navy Deluxe 50g
Oh boy, this will be a tough one.
I sure hope I don't upset fans of Escudo, but I try to give my experience as best I can and let readers ultimatley decide for themselves. Part of how I feel about Escudo is based on built-up expectation. When I finally tried this, I was expecting so much more than what I got. I initially thought I must cellar it, which I did. I tried it after a week, then after a month, then I decided I'd cellar it for a few more months hoping to let it age a bit. It's getting there, but it's now in the cellar for the forseeable future as it'll obviously take a year or more. So, what was really wrong? Nothing really. It's pretty good. I tried the fold/stuff, I tried it rubbed out, in both briar and cob...it smokes good, not at all difficult. The taste was nice, but it seemed a little harsh. I had a similar experience with Dunhill's Elizabethan. I do enjoy other VA/Pers; I've had Stokkebye's Bullseye Flake which is often compared to Escudo and I liked that rubbed out. I also enjoy C&D's Bayou Morning which is stronger and yet not as sharp. Perhaps my favorite would be Murray's 1921 Cunningham which is near perfect fresh from a new tin. The Murray's may not be an apples-to-apples comparison though since it also contains rum, which I also like. We each know what we like. Escudo isn't bad - it's quite good. But, it's just not my go-to VA/Per.
Missouri Meerschaum - Great Dane 1.5oz
Man's best friend.
Missouri Meerschaum's line of tobaccos were supposedly blended specifically with cobs in mind by Russ Ouellette himself. Honestly, they smoke well regardless of the pipe used because they are quality blends. Great Dane is an aromatic, so anyone not into aros can stop right here. I don't mind the occasional aro but I was never a big fan of cherry until this came into my life. The cherry is subdued but pops in and out accentuating the overall experience. I get mellow body from the Burley, the American style Cavendish sweetness, and plenty of fruity Virginia - all in balance. The vanilla and caramel are more constant but mostly play in the background quietly. For some reason this blend reminds me of Sutliff's Mark Twain if it had a cherry component. Another similar blend is Sutliff's Queen Anne's Revenge which replaces the cherry with rum. Great Dane is a good anytime blend for just about anyone. It's not overly moist for an aromatic (thank you). It is ready to smoke straight from the pouch and is maintained easily while smoking. The room note is a crowd pleasing fresh-from-the-oven cherry pie aroma complete with buttery crust. Great Dane makes a great late-Summer-early-Fall blend that as I recall goes great with a root-beer or cream soda beverage. Enjoy.
Pipe Tools & Supplies - Pipe Cover
And to top it off...
I only have a couple of these but when you need one, man are they indispensable. I tend to be on the road for long stretches and rather than dangerously load on the go, I pack a few big bowl pipes before I leave so when I'm ready for another, all I have to do is grab and light. My pipes are usually bouncing around in a cup holder and these covers keep them packed rather than having tobacco everywhere in the console. The same goes for loading one and having it ready in a coat pocket. And, there are times when you find yourself outdoors and the only place to smoke seems like a wind tunnel, that's where these covers earn their "wind cap" status. Its not fun to get hot ashes blown in your eye, let me tell you. You can even re-light right through the cap! So for those outdoorsy types or just 9-to-5ers, these pipe covers are worth every penny.
Pipe Tools & Supplies - Rubber Pipe Bits (2 pack)
Yeah, I'm an old softy.
For years I never bothered with these things. I think when I first tried them they tasted like a car tire must. That was years ago and just not so any more. These bits provide the lasting protection and comfort you want. I tried using shrink tubing for a while, but I didn't like having to heat them on and I had to replace the tubing every month-or-so from my teeth wearing a hole in them. Plus, these are much cheaper than tubing. Win-win. So, now I've totally switched to these rubber bits. I'm a clencher and I do a large percentage of my smoking while driving and these have made life so much easier. I ended up buying them for all my pipes which helps protect the stems from chatter, and every new pipe I buy gets one. I'm not sure how long they last as I haven't had to replace one yet; once-a-year, maybe? I don't know. The point is they last a long while. Try them and see. I'm a softy convert, you may just like them too. UPDATE: One thing I've noticed is that these work best if slid on past the button and not left over the button as the picture shows. It's a lot less intrusive and more natural feeling on the pipe that way. For those that are wondering, these things stretch pretty far. I've been able to get them to fit everything from a Missouri Meerschaum Danish bit to a Savinelli 320 stem. Hope this helps. WARNING: I need to add a warning about using these with vulcanite/Ebonite stems. The softy bit completely blocks out sunlight. So while the rest of the exposed stem oxidizes, the portion under the bit wont. This can create a nightmare when trying to restore a stem back to it's original solid black luster. So while I stand by my review, I would not recommend them for vulcanized rubber stems. Most of my pipes have acrylic stems so I didn't know. Thanks to Mike from Briar Blues of the YTPC for pointing this out.
Comoy's - Cask No.2 3.5oz
MOM! The chocolatiers are in the wine cellar again.
Okay, who comes up with this stuff? How can such a sublime blend start with a basic Burley/VA/Black Cavendish chocolate/vanilla blend (overdone IMO) and then turn up the WOW-factor by adding port?!? Well, it works and works well. This is one of the blends I refer to as unique. Singular, if you will. I had not tasted anything like it before nor since. Unfortunately, that makes it damned difficult to describe in words for you. I can try... No one flavor stands out as overpowering. It is all blended well and balanced. It's got a flat ribbon cut that has dreamlike mechanics. It burns rather slowly for such a ribbon too. It did seem a bit moist at first, but this burns nicely on the slightly moist side. The port I think is the magical ingredient here. It gives what could easily be a bland, run-of-the-mill blend a slightly sour note and an aftertaste similar to a dry wine. Imagine that? The fruity wine taste comes through lifting everything else to their utmost profile without tasting like a chemistry set was involved. I don't know what else to say...it's quality tobacco done Comoy Cask style. Try it.
Mac Baren - Cherry Ambrosia 100g
Cherry? Yes. Ambrosia? Not so much.
Two lousy stars...yeah, let me start by saying that I DO like many Mac Baren brand tobaccos. Not to mention how many other brands they bring to the States for us (Capstan and St. Bruno being favorites of mine). But, they do have a bit of a reputation for burning hot, especially the Virginias and that's where Cherry Ambrosia lost me. As for the quality of leaf, the cherry aroma, the cut, the fancy tin design...all worked for me. I even like the 100g option. But when it comes down to it, I might still have some of this somewhere because I didn't return to it very much. Why? It simply was too harsh. It seemed to burn fast even if sipped at the slowest cadence I could manage and after the first third of the bowl all I got was hot air taste. My best friend has often said “Any aromatic that starts out smelling that good but loses its flavor quickly, just isn't worth your time and money”. I do try to keep an open mind that this may be just what some pipers want, but I felt I should at least share my experience and let others proceed with that in mind. If you like cherry aros, I personally feel there are many, many others out there, that are far cheaper too, that make for a much more enjoyable smoke. Lane Limited: Very Cherry comes to mind first. In full disclosure, I'm not a huge fan of cherry tobaccos, but I want to stress that it was not the cherry flavoring that ruined this for me. It was just too hot to handle.
Sutliff - Alexander Bridge 1.5oz
There's nothing like the Alexander Bridge lit up at night.
I've always had good luck with Sutliff Private Stock tobaccos. Maple Street, Molto Dolce...Alexander Bridge is no different; all fine tobacco blends of quality leaf. Alexander Bridge is a nice anytime simple blend with a slight vanilla and rum aroma and taste, and I do mean “slight”. It's very mellow, and blended with some expertise I think. The combination of VA, Burley with such casings has been done ofttimes before but rarely this well, and almost never this mild and sweet without Black Cavendish being included. Maybe that's what sets this apart? It somehow relies on the natural sweetness of the Virginia and the mild nature of lighter Burley to pull off this notable blend. The mechanics involved are typical of a fine cut tobacco. You wont have any troubles loading, lighting, or enjoying this in any pipe. I'd add that this one would be great for newcomers to the hobby. It's much better than many aromatics out there and natural tasting enough to begin exploring flavors they may come to enjoy later. - Bonus points for the Private Stock series having such great tin art, tobacco this good should be dressed up right.
Larsen - 1864 Perfect Mixture 100g
A bit dry for my liking, but still quite nice.
W.O. Larsen is a brand with many positive reviews. Having never tried any of their selections I settled on "1864" based solely on description. It's not a bad blend by any means, in fact it is very much as described with a promising and pleasant aroma and a mild to moderate room note. The tin is beautiful, and inside the tobacco comes sealed in a foil bag...very nice. So, why not 4 or 5 stars? Well, it was totally dried out right out of the vacuum sealed bag I unsealed myself. I'm not sure how this could have happened or if this is rare or typical of the brand. Personally, I would like to have tried this same mixture a bit moister. Overall, if the description sounds good to you and other reviews have led you to "1864", I'd say try it. If you have no issues with dry tobacco you could easily enjoy this "Perfect Mixture". If however, you like your aromatics a bit on the sweet and sticky side, you may want to try another.
Sutliff - SPS 2000 - Sunset Rum
Sunset Rum became my go-to for about a decade.
I'd be remiss if I didn't review Sutliff's Sunset Rum. A bit of back story...I began the pipe hobby in the early 90s and unlike most pipers who start with aromatics I began with stout Balkan blends. Dunhill's My Mixture 965, Balkan Sasieni, Butera's Pelican, Esoterica's Pembroke and G.L.Pease's Abingdon were among my favorites. I was young and liked a nice heady smoke. This went on until I finished college and then one day I dropped my pipe while getting out of my truck. GASP! My favorite pipe hit the pavement and took a nasty ding causing my mind to go into panic mode. I had many pipes I smoked regularly, really nice pipes too mind you, but I bought a display case and basically shelved them all. It was not my intention to stop smoking my pipes, but I became paranoid and keeping them from damage became paramount. I did not however give up smoking pipe tobacco. I simply started rolling my own pipe tobaccos more and smoking my pipes less. That's where Sunset Rum came into my life. Many of the blends I regularly smoked in a pipe just didn't have the right cut for rolling in papers. In my search for a finer ribbon cut blend I discovered Sunset Rum. That's when I discovered aromatics and decided some were actually pretty good in their own way. In fact, Sunset Rum became my go-to RYO blend for about a decade. These days I've returned to my pipes and the luxury of English/Balkan blends and the universe is right again. But, I'll always have a fondness for Sunset Rum. It's funny how a single act can change a person so profoundly, and yet without such detours in life we might never try something new. Life is full of tangents. Sunset Rum was a nice long adventure I took after college. I'm happy to say it smokes great in a pipe as intended too. Enjoy.
Sutliff - Frosty Mint
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
Wowy! Okay, so I can't say Sutliff's Frosty Mint is bad. It was way frostier than I expected for sure. It has a smell like cheap perfume and I wish I could say it doesn't taste that way but I can't. But the thing is, I couldn't put the bowl down. In fact, I felt strongly pulled back for another, and another. I couldn't shake it out of my head for a week or so. It has this super cool smoke that was just, well, frosty! It truly lives up to its namesake. Listen, this reminds me of Captain Black Grape in so much as it just sounds like an awful idea and yet it's just not that bad in practice. Now, this isn't going to turn into a go-to tobacco, but it's a fun change of pace. I'd say this would please anyone who used to smoke Menthol cigarettes before pipe smoking. That rare breed should love this. Anyone else daring enough to try be warned...this will haunt your pipe with a ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future! Luckily I used a cob. But, forget what you've heard about cobs not absorbing flavors, Sutliff's Frosty Mint proves they can be ghosted beyond use. I can't say I love it, but I also can't say it's horrible, a solid 3 stars tobacco you'll just have to try for yourself.
Pipe Tools & Supplies - Savinelli 6mm Balsa Filters (20/pack)
If you filter your pipes...
I feel the need to share my experience with these tried and true Savinelli balsa filters. Piper's usually argue til blue-in-the-face for or against pipe filters. On this issue, I'm in the middle. I have pipes of many a make and model. As a rule, if it was designed to use a filter, then I use one. But, I cannot bring myself to use anything other than these. The lifespan of a filter is another hot topic with most users agreeing you can get more use than recommend, but I tend to think it's subjective and effected by types of tobacco smoked and how far the smoker is willing to put up with pipe funk. I actually use these filters as a gauge to help me remember when to do a cleaning. In most cases a Savinelli filter last about a week to ten days before I need a clean one. I might add that while Savinelli makes 9mm filters, it's perfectly fine to use two 6mm if you cut the top of the triangle off of one lengthwise and stack them together in a sort of diamond shape. The triangular shape of these allows plenty of airflow and do a great job of soaking up moisture. I can't speak to how well they filter harmful smoke, but if your that worried about it, stop smoking. Anyone who's ever sucked bits of tobacco into their airway on a charing light knows what filters are good for, namely preventing this from happening. I can say I've never had balsa effect the taste of any tobacco variety. These work particularly well in any Missouri Meerschaum filtered pipe too. So, if you want to try a filter and want the best, you can't beat Savinelli balsa wood.
Kramer's - Father Dempsey
Blessed be, Father Dempsey.
I have enjoyed English/Balkan blends for over 20 years now. Dunhill: My Mixture 965 was one of my first pipe tobaccos and I've enjoyed many, many English blends since. I recently tried and liked Hearth and Home: Black House. I've been fortunate to get my hands on Balkan Sobranie too which lives up to it's reputation well. I even enjoy Bengal Slices. But these days I have three English blends that I like best... Peter Stokkebye's English Oriental Supreme, Lane Ltd.'s Medal of Valor, and Kramer's: Father Dempsey. In fact, each of these three has a similar taste that I can easily interchange. From what I can tell though, Father Dempsey has been around the longest of these three. It has a very creamy smokiness; is not at all harsh. The orientals give it a buttery mouth-feel and a sweetness I really enjoy that marries well with the Latakia smokiness. Father Dempsey's got a ton of flavor...it's rich, full, smooth...simply an awesome balance of the components involved. The cut packs well, lights effortlessly right out of the tin (or bag, it is available in bulk). The flavor has some complexity, but doesn't require a lot of thought to enjoy, and it lasts from first light throughout. I don't know who the real Father Dempsey was, but if Kramer's blended this specifically for him, he had great tastes in tobaccos.