At the start of our November mystery review, I'd decided to go easy on our intrepid reviewers. With two and a half correct guesses out of four, clearly this was a mistake, and one I don't intend to make again. Well, maybe I'll give them a respite at some point in the future, but it won't be today. Anyway, enough preamble, let's get on with the review.
Inspecting the bag left on my desk by the ever-elusive O'Neill, I see flakes of a fairly dark hue, marbled with some flecks of lighter leaf intermittently spaced throughout. With a brash and ill-placed self confidence, I opened the bag to the smell of Latakia. There were other components that permeated the tin note, maybe a few hints of hay or sweet grass (leading me to suspect a larger quantity of Virginias), but the campfire-like aroma of the smoky leaf played a dominating role here for sure. The flake's leathery texture and significant moisture level had me thinking this could be some Samuel Gawith flake.
Though I've found a few blends within this genre that really speak to my tastes, a few of which I do occasionally crave, I often find that smoking any given English blend for the first time is a bit like starting an old, stubborn lawnmower. It takes some priming, patience, and coaxing, but after about 15 minutes of smoky relights (even for a blend with as a small a percentage of Latakia as this one has, which I'm guessing was around 10%), things begin to putter along quite reassuringly. Here, the blend opened up to a pleasant and gradual crescendo of sweetness, culminating in a sometimes smoky, sometimes toasty-sweet experience after about a third of the way through the bowl. I thought I detected an almost Lakeland-like floral contribution after about halfway, but I suspect this was likely in my imagination.
After the final third, it burned down to a fine, white ash, with a little moisture at the bottom of the bowl. Overall, given the light Latakia content and subtle sweetness, I'm inclined to think either Bob's Chocolate Flake by Gawith and Hoggarth or Samuel Gawith's Mayor's Chocolate Flake. However, I'm guessing these with trepidation. May Adam have mercy on my palate.
For this month's mystery review, Adam threw us a curveball. Well, he threw me a curveball anyway. My experience with English blends goes about as far as an occasional night with Sam Gawith's Navy Flake, and not really much (or anything) else. So as far as guessing the blend, I don't have much.
The cut is a flake, similar in style to many of Sam Gawith's or Gawith Hoggarth & Co.'s lineup. There's obviously Latakia in the mix, as the tin note immediately greets you with fragrant campfire-like notes, but there's also a good bit of sweetness as well: rich dried fruit and plum with hints of, maybe... cocoa or chocolate? It takes a bit to rub out and it's pretty moist right out of the tin, as many of SG and Gawith Hoggarth blends are, but no drying time is really needed.
Upon the initial charring light, the Latakia steps up, makes its introduction, and wows the palate. Deep, incense-like, smoky notes reign for the first few puffs, but the Lat eventually takes its bow and steps back into a more supporting role for that sweetness I mentioned earlier. There's obviously some pretty choice Virginias here, but the overall flavor is richer and darker than your typical bright or red Virginia mix, or even my familiar Navy Flake. I'm guessing there is some sort of topping or casing to this — something rich to complement those deep flavors like vanilla and cocoa, giving it a dark chocolate-like balance of bitter and deep sweet characteristics.
It burns fairly evenly once you get past the second charring light, leaving behind a nice, grey-white ash. The sweetness only develops more and more as you get further in the bowl, with the Latakia pretty much disappearing after about the halfway point — meaning we're probably looking at very small quantities of the condiment leaf (my guess would be anywhere from 8 to 12%). As you near the bottom of the bowl, there seems to be some kind of spiciness coming through that I just can't put my finger on. It might just be the nuance of the small proportions of Latakia mixing with the Virginias in the smoke; it might be something else entirely, but there is definitely some spice on the retrohale.
All in all, I'd say this was an interesting experience — especially for a humble smoker of mostly Virginias and Virginia/Perique blends. While the Latakia definitely makes its presence known (more so in the beginning), I'd still maintain it's modest enough to make for a nice change of pace for those who don't predominately smoke Englishes.
Immediately after checking the contents of my little plastic bag, I knew that Adam was trying to pull a fast one on us this time. The flakes are not uniform, with one side of them being about standard thickness, and the other being paper thin. This leads me to believe that these flakes were not cut at whatever factory they came from, but rather by hand with a pocket knife or the plug cutter we have floating around the office. I also smelled a little bit of Latakia in the bag.
I'm pretty familiar with the Latakia Plugs and Cakes that we carry, and I don't believe this is one of them.
At first light, I get some Latakia creaminess, a little campfire smoke, and notes of damp foliage/earth. There's a hint of cacao which turns into a distinct milk chocolate sweetness as the bowl progresses. There's also some faint floral notes on the retrohale and side stream. Based on the taste alone, I'd guess that this was made in England, and there were moments where I was almost certain I was tasting a Gawith product. Once I gave up on trying to guess what it was, then I realized how much I was enjoying the smoke. It's like making buttermilk biscuits and s'mores over a campfire, after a whiskey or two.
A fast one indeed Shane, and I must say that I'm impressed with how our reviewers handled themselves. Yep, despite going to the effort of securing some Samuel Gawith Mayor's Chocolate in plug form from a friend in the UK, slicing it into flakes (though this may have been my undoing, as apparently my flake cutting skills are sorely lacking), and then distributing them after having walked out of shipping like it was no big deal, we still got some fairly close guesses.
I guess Daniel technically came closest, having actually named the more commonly available Samuel Gawith Mayor's Chocolate Flake, but he also named Gawith, Hoggarth & Co's Bob's Chocolate Flake in the same breath, so as I'm sure anyone who has spent any time with both of these blends can attest, points must be deducted for such an egregious mistake. Sorry Daniel, but there's no quarter to be had here.
That being said, he still narrowed it down further than Andy and Shane, who rested on their laurels after concluding that it was from one of the Kendal blenders. Still, all three had practically the same tasting notes as myself from this version of my favoured Kendal chocolate blend. The Latakia does indeed seem, if not stronger, at least more prominent, and the tangy sweetness from the Virginias more subdued, lending itself more to the subtle milk sweetness of the cocoa. I suspect all of this is an effect of leaving the blend in it's plug form for longer, but I also suspect that leaving a tin of the flake in the cellar will provide much the same results.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a tin of the flakes in my cellar that I set aside my first week here at Smokingpipes.com, and I think it's high time to break into it.