For September's Mystery Review I came out of the gate a little strong, with a blend that has more of a cult following than a wide audience. Andy still got it, though he'd smoked it once before, albeit in sub-optimal conditions (being more focused on the shoot than the blend). This time I thought I'd be a little gentler on them, going with something more widely popular — though still one of my personal go-to blends.
Opening the bag, the tin note is mildly sweet, with perhaps a very, very light hint of mustiness. I believe it was stronger last week when Adam originally chucked the bags on our desks, but after a week or so, it seems to have faded a little. The cut is also considerably mixed, consisting of some larger pieces of broken flake, some lighter, and some darker-hued leaf as well. At this point, I was suspecting this to be Perique based purely upon visual impression and that aforementioned mustiness, alongside some broken Virginia flake and (I'm guessing) Burleys.
After a sweet, mildly toasty charring light, I'm met with a touch of fruit/hay, with the pronounced sweetness taking an initial starring role. If there's a topping, it's definitely a lightly-applied one, but the very presence of said topping also leads me to think the darker-hued leaf to be Cavendish. Progressing through the bowl, I encounter more flavors of hay with a light earthiness, coupled with a bit of melon-like flavor and some bursts of nuttiness. Cocoa also came through sporadically at times, though only in subtle increments.
Based on the cut, I would guess this is a Mac Baren blend, though I'm honestly not sure. If this is the case, however, the subtle note and pure tobacco flavor should narrow it down a little. So, my final guess is Mac Baren's Scottish Mixture.
This is an interesting one. There's something familiar here, but I can't seem to put my finger on it. The cut seems to be a mix of ribbons and chunkier bits of broken flake. Not really a clue though, given that Adam's been known to rub out blends before handing them to us in little baggies. As far as components go, there are definitely Virginias in the mix, as well as some brown Burleys and some darker flecks of what I initially thought was Perique.
On the charring light, you're met with a smooth, pleasant sweetness. I'm thinking honey? Maybe even a little vanilla? There is a touch of spice on the retrohale as well, but it's not exactly that strong peppery spice I'd expect from Perique, so I'm guessing that's not present. Further down the bowl, the sweetness fades slightly, and the Virginias and Burleys come forward and really shine — offering a nice breadiness that stays on the palate and satisfies to the last puff. The bite can be a little sharp, so I had to adjust my cadence slightly. Once you slow down and really sip the smoke though, that sweetness comes back out, but again in a very natural, complementary way.
After several bowls of this, I still can't point to specific blend or maker, but I do enjoy it. Maybe Mac Baren? Either way, it's clear we're dealing with a Virginia-based blend with a slight aromatic character — offering a pleasant room note while still keeping the tobacco's natural flavor front and center. Good stuff.
The first thing I did with this tobacco was look at it, as is the usual course. The second thing I did, as always, was to smell it. This led to a problem: was my proboscis hallucinating? That is, was I experiencing some sort of probiscarian hallucination? Was I smelling things? If I was those things were Lakeland, however faintly, despite this tobacco looking very much unlike the Lakelands I have smoked. It wasn't nearly dark enough, or at least the vast majority of it is wasn't — what it looked like was a lot of broken Burley and (light) Virginia flake mixed with a dash of Perique. None of the really dark leaf was bound to the light-to-medium colored chunks, suggesting Adam didn't just rub out a flake to disguise it from us. There is of course a not-so-fine line between suggesting something isn't so, and it not being so. So, the only certain thing I can do at this point is set this leaf on fire.
Chunky as this broken flake may be, I'm not rubbing it out all the way first, before stuffing it into a bowl. If Adam wanted me to do that he could have rubbed the leaf out (or finished rubbing it out) himself.
Initial light: stubborn. With a little persistence though I did get it to light properly, and was welcomed with a little woodiness, very briefly, before it settled into subtle sweetness and very slight toastiness. Maybe there is some Burley in this, but if so it's not hitting me much either in strength or nuttiness: this tastes and retrohales more like a lot of pure (or heavily) Virginia blends I've smoked. I'm reminded of the most recent generation of Three Nuns, but not as mild — same flavor, but just more of it. If that black leaf is anything but Cavendish, I'm not detecting it; if it is black Cavendish, it's keeping itself out of the way of the rest of the leaf. I detect no aromatic note of the sort usual attached to black Cav, nor, for that matter, lakelandness.
I don't know what this is but I rather like it. It's easy once going. It's (naturally) sweet enough to enjoy without being distracting or requiring much concentration. Sipped it feels like it might bite if a longer draw was taken, but doing so every once and while actually can produce a slight variation in the taste that I would actually describe as a cooler sweetness. Pushed harder I do believe it would bite, though. Likewise, my pipe did start to gurgle halfway through the bowl, but that was probably my fault. I allowed no drying time at all, having procrastinated until well past the last moment to get this review to O'Neill. Sorry, O'Neill (it's okay Eric, just trust that there will be a reckoning - Adam).
When Adam dropped a small, unlabeled ziplock of tobacco on my desk, I knew it was time for another Mystery Review. That's usually a big clue...
Without even opening the bag, I could tell that this had to be Mac Baren Mixture Scottish Blend. The cut screams "Mac Baren", and I've smoked enough Mixture to recognize it. When I did open the bag, the complex aroma of honey and spices confirmed my suspicions. I didn't need to smoke this blend to make my guess, which may have ruined things for Adam, and certainly made this installment briefer for me than past Mystery Reviews, but the silver lining is that I scored a few extra bowls worth of a classic blend. If you haven't tried this one, don't hesitate to grab a few ounces — it's a perennial favorite of pipe smokers the world over for a reason.
So, with two votes for Mac Baren Scottish Blend, a third to Mac Baren of some description, and a forth with no guesses, it's probably no surprise that it is, indeed, Mac Baren Mixture Scottish Blend.
I guess I was a little too gentle this time. In fairness, when I handed Shane his sample I looked him straight in the eyes and said, "No telling," knowing full well that he'd guess correctly without even opening the bag. Still, I won't be so gentle next time.