Welcome back to another episode of Briar to Binder. In this installment, our two favorite blending geniuses — C&D's Head Blender Jeremy Reeves and Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust's Master Ligador Steve Saka — complete their journey through Dunbarton's new StillWell Star line with a deep dive into the final blend in the line: Navy No. 1056. A luxury pipe tobacco cigar representing Saka's ideal impression of the traditional "navy" pipe tobacco family, Navy No. 1056 is a 6" x 52 Toro with Ecuadorian Habano wrappers, Mexican San Andrés binders, and fillers combining Steve's finest black cigar leaf with Jeremy's unique blend of Red and Golden Virginias, sun-cured Orientals and a touch of Latakia — elevated by a splash of what Steve calls "naval rations" (it's rum). Watch the full video above to learn more about this excellent cigar and its similarities to traditional navy pipe tobaccos.
Note: The following transcription has been edited for clarity and brevity.
[Jeremy Reeves]: Hi everyone. I'm Jeremy Reeves, Head Blender of Cornell and Diehl Pipe Tobacco Company. And for this episode of Briar to Binder, I'm pleased to once again welcome Mr. Steve Saka, the Founder and Master Ligador of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust. Today, we'll be talking about the StillWell Star Navy No. 1056. Now, you've got a really interesting story about this blend's name, right, Steve?
[Steve Saka]: The navy part is obvious, because it's a navy blend. Each of the StillWell Stars have a number assigned to them, and generally speaking, I'd like to keep it a secret as to why those are all numbered the way they're numbered. But in this particular case, the 1056 is an homage to the ship that I was stationed on when I was enlisted in the US Navy. I was stationed upon the USS Connole FF 1056. It was a fast frigate so it almost just seemed appropriate to number this one with the number of the ship that I served on.
[J.R.]: Very cool. And for the blend itself, we used a navy-style mixture for the pipe tobacco portion of the filler, which featured mostly Virginias and Orientals, with a little bit of Latakia soaked for seven days in rum.
[S.S.]: And the pipe tobacco blend is also produced as a crumble cake. I don't know why, but there are just certain pipe tobaccos that are just better as a cake. Even though they've already been cut into ribbons and basically finished, when you go back and put it in a press and make it into a crumble cake, for whatever reason, it changes the character of the pipe tobacco.
[J.R.]: It really does. Pressing can bring out a certain sweetness and richness that isn't really there in the same way when it's just a ribbon-cut mixture. And that's why we do it.
[S.S.]: But of course, I take those crumble cakes and rub them all out by hand to get it back into a form that we can put into the cigars. But it makes a difference. You sent me samples that had not been pressed, and then you sent me samples that were pressed into crumble cakes after we had determined the final blend, and I could distinctly tell the difference. Ultimately I decided that the crumble cake was the way to go.
[J.R.]: Do you find that the same thing happens when you press cigars?
[S.S.]: Yeah, the pressing of cigars has a tremendous impact. When you press the cigars, though, it's more about changing the combustion rate and the draw of the tobaccos — that seems to be the reason for the impact. But with the pipe tobaccos, it's definitely changing the flavor characteristics, because in the end you're always rubbing them out and you're smoking them in the unpressed state. And even though we're talking about the Navy 1056, we also found this to be true with the English No. 27. The English No. 27 is delivered to me in a cake form that we, then, rub out by hand. The Aromatic and the Bayou, on the other hand, both come to me in a ready-to-use, ribbon-cut form.
[J.R.]: Right. And as far as the filler tobaccos on each of these, you made special filler blends to complement the pipe tobacco. Can you tell us about the leaf you're using to work with the Virginia, Latakia, and Orientals?
[S.S.]: It's similar to the English blend, but it's a little bit lighter. I'm using slightly thinner components to make it a little bit softer and a little bit smoother, because I wanted those notes of the navy pipe tobacco to shine through. I found that, if I went too heavy handed with the cigar blend, I would start to lose that sweetness. And I also didn't want to lose the aromatic nature of the dark rum, because that dark rum aroma is so important. It's what makes a navy blend a navy blend, so I didn't want the cigar blend to overpower that. From a strength perspective, I would probably put the Navy 1056 at almost dead medium.
[J.R.]: Yeah, I will agree with that. I don't find the intense build-up that you pointed out when we discussed the Bayou No. 32, but there's a lot of flavor variation throughout the cigar. I think more so than the other four.
[S.S.]: And I have to tell you: That's not because of my skill, that's because of your skill. It's really the navy pipe blend that's driving that transition and the notes and nuances. In this particular case, it was really me kind of getting out of the way of the pipe blend and not ruining it with the cigar blend. So of all of the StillWell Star blends, this is the one where I was probably the most cautious than the most reserved. Even though it isn't the mildest one — the Aromatic No. 1 is the mildest one — this is the one where I was really careful to not tread over the pipe tobacco. I wanted that essence of a navy pipe blend to shine through in both flavor and room note.
[J.R.]: I would say that is a testament to your skill as well. I think that a lot of times, as a blender, the temptation is to make a really big impact, but sometimes simply dialing back and letting things have room to breathe yields a more interesting result.
[S.S.]: I think you hear professional chefs say it all the time: edit yourself. You know what I mean? Don't throw in everything, but focus on what's the most important. The other things are supposed to be complementary and enhancing, but don't treat everything like it's a plate of nachos, you know what I mean? And that was the case here. It was a case in all of them, really, but in this particular blend, in the 1056, I took more of a step back with the cigar tobaccos because I just did not want to lose the essence of the navy.
[J.R.]: I think that it is such a complex set of flavors, dancing in and out of the different components. But at the same time, the rum actually seems to add a unifying character to the whole thing. And you get these really nice sort of molasses notes.
[S.S.]: As I was saying, there's an underlying sweetness, but without it being syrupy. So it's kind of peculiar if you think about it, because the Aromatic No. 1 actually has a sweetened head to it, where the Navy 1056 has no additional sugars added to the blend in any way — in neither the pipe side nor the cigar tobacco side.
[J.R.]: Right. We're using tobaccos that have natural sweetness to them, and then using the alcohol basically to sort of distill flavors out of each of them. I imagine that's a certain amount of what's going on with the cigar tobacco as well.
[S.S.]: I know this might be an issue for some people, because I get these questions from consumers who are concerned about any sort of alcohol consumption for whatever reason. But I just want them to understand that the alcohol has been flashed off when the pipe blend was made. So there is no actual alcohol in the cigar. Additionally, on the cigar side of things at the factory, we also end up drying the tobacco to also make sure that there are no lingering alcohols in it, because if there were, it would totally mess up the combustion rate of the cigar and it wouldn't burn as evenly and coolly as we want. So I don't want anyone out there to worry about the alcohol portion. It's an enhancing agent. It adds flavor, but in no way whatsoever is there any actual alcohol in the cigar itself.
[J.R.]: Right, exactly. The moisture level, as well as the actual chemistry of the alcohol, is gone. Yeah.
[S.S.]: I don't know, We kind of got into the weeds on that one, didn't we, Jeremy? But it's damn good.
[J.R.]: It is really good.
[S.S.]: Highly recommend the Navy 1056. And it's available now from Smokingpipes.com
[J.R.]: Thanks for joining us guys.
Tagged in: Briar to Binder Cigars Cornell and Diehl Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Jeremy Reeves Steve Saka StillWell Star