For new pipe smokers, the vast number of blends available from today's blenders can be intimidating. On the other hand, it can cause what some refer to as Tobacco Acquisition Disorder, when one buys all the tobacco they can fit in their house. I experienced both in my early days smoking a pipe, going through periods of smoking only one or two blends, and others when I determined to smoke every blend on earth at least once.
I tried some tobaccos before my palette was developed enough to appreciate them. In hindsight, I wish I had waited to go after some of those top shelf blends until I had more experience with the different tobaccos and blend types that they exemplify. In my opinion, the best approach is slow and steady, taking the time to discover what suits one's own taste and branching out from there.
To help new smokers along their leaf pilgrimage, I've compiled a list of pipe tobaccos I think new smokers should try. Each of these blends, again my opinion only, are approachable enough for new smokers to appreciate, but complex enough to keep in a regular rotation for years to come. To provide a more comprehensive map to tobacco appreciation, I've chosen two blends from each of the five most common types: Aromatic, Virginia, Virginia-Perique, English, and Burley.
The Aromatic family of tobacco blends is the most diverse and difficult to define. While other blend types are differentiated by their components, Aromatics are set apart by their use of added flavors or toppings. Virtually all pipe tobaccos include some added flavors as part of the casing process; Aromatics, however, employ more pronounced flavorings. To further complicate things, not all blends with a noticeable top note are aromatics. While this can be confusing, most blenders define Aromatics as any tobacco blends that feature flavors that alter the room note of the smoke, the room note being how it smells to people not smoking that tobacco. Below are two excellent Aromatic mixtures that use added flavorings thusly, and offer a smoking experience that newcomers and veteran pipe smokers can appreciate.
Sillem's Cophenagen blend combines Virginia, Burley, and Black Cavendish flavored with a topping of Amaretto and toasted nuts. This is a delicate mixture, and one of my personal favorites, offering a complex smoke that begins with prominent top notes that meld with the tobacco as the bowl progresses. The toppings at work in this mixture are noticeable but not overpowering, making this a tobacco that will delight the palate all the more as a smoker gains experience.
One of C&D's most popular blends, Autumn Evening is a straightforward mixture of the boutique blender's proprietary Red Virginia Cavendish lightly topped with a delicate maple syrup flavoring.The mellow Cavendish serves as an excellent base, pairing its natural spice with smoky notes from the maple. This mixture is an easy smoke and has become a comfort blend for many smokers, perfect for moments of simple pleasure.
Virginia mixtures are rather straightforward to define, as the name suggests, they're composed exclusively of Virginia tobaccos. Virginia tobacco is a diverse leaf type that includes various grades, each with their own flavor and smoking characteristics. Expert blenders employ a mix of Bright, Red, and Orange Virginias to create sweet and rich blends that showcase the best this complex varietal can offer.
Mac Baren's HH Pure Virginia is a hot-pressed flake composed entirely of Virginia tobaccos from select growing regions in North America and Africa. Its profile is deep and bready, with bright highlights and a distinctive hay-like grassiness. Compared to Mac Baren's other Virginias, such as Virginia Flake, HH Pure Virginia is slightly less sweet and citrusy, more redolent of freshly baked goods with a little spice and a deeper, more molasses-like sweetness. A rich and easy-smoking flake, it's also one of our most popular Virginia blends, favored by pipe smokers at all levels of experience.
Sutliff's Virginia Slices are a mix of A-1 grade, flue-cured Bright Virginias with a sweet topping that perfectly complements the tangy, grassy notes of the tobacco. Pressed into an easy to rub out flake, this blend is an excellent choice introduction to Virginia blends that offers a new experience with each bowl.
Virginia-Perique blends, or VA/Pers as they're often called, are traditionally Virginia based mixtures that employ Perique to add spice and depth to the smooth Virginia base. These blends can include varying amounts of Perique from barely detectable traces to 50% and above.
This VA/Per flake is a straightforward mix of its namesake components, distinguished by a larger proportion of Red Virginias. Councilor provides a mellow smoke with enough body and spice to keep smokers engaged at all stages of their journey.
Widely considered the gold standard of Virginia-Perique mixtures, Escudo combines a perfectly balanced mix of its namesake components to create a deceptively complex blend, full of rich hay and fruit notes. One would be hard pressed to find smokers who don't enjoy this blend. If you want to know what the archetypal VA/Per tastes like, this is the blend to try.
English mixtures are an interesting category of tobaccos that include a wide variety of flavor profiles and components. Generally speaking, an English blend is any mixture that includes Latakia, often paired with a mix of Virginias and Orientals as a condiment tobacco. Many English blends fall into the subcategory of Balkan blends, featuring a more robust Latakia portion of Latakia and Orientals with diverse combinations of supporting components.
This unique flake cut blend is Latakia-forward mixture, paired with Virginia, Orientals, and Black Cavendish. It also features a light licorice topping that adds a balanced sweetness and complexity to flavor profile. Bengal Slices was the first Latakia mixture I ever smoked, and it couldn't have served as a better introduction to the incense-like qualities of that rare leaf.
Chelsea Morning showcases Greg Pease's affinity for balanced Latakia mixtures, offering just the right level of smokiness for those who prefer more mild-mannered English blends over Latakia bombs. It all starts with a base of sweet Red and Bright Virginia leaf, with fragrant Orientals, smoky Cypriot Latakia, and a pinch of Perique added in layers during the blending process. This traditional mixture is a great introduction to English blends that maintain a harmonious balance between their constituent parts.
Similar to Virginia mixtures, Burley blends are based around the namesake leaf, appreciated for its cool burning characteristics and rich earthy flavor. Burley mixtures can include any number of other components, and often feature some form of topping to balance Burley's natural alkalinity.
Part of C&D's Melville at Sea series, Redburn is a robust blend of White and Dark Burley, complemented by Red and Bright Virginias, with a touch of Dark-Fired leaf. The mixture is then topped with rum and molasses and pressed into an old fashioned crumble cake. A full-bodied blend, Redburn offers a rich earthy smoke with hints of sweetness, perfectly balanced to create an approachable blend that smokers will appreciate more with every bowl.
Dominated by Burley from three continents, HH Burley Flake is supported by complementary additions of Virginais and a touch of Dark-Fired Kentucky for a rich flake that delights with Burley's nuanced boldness. A true Burley showcase, this blend allows smokers to familiarize themselves with Burley's unique characteristics in an experience that remains engaging over time.
While far from comprehensive, these 10 blends are an excellent starting point for new pipe smokers interested in exploring the multitude of flavors with confidence. Each of these blends represent a different family of tobacco mixtures, and there are many hidden gems to discover as one's palate and technique develop. Armed with these suggestions, I wish any reader new to the hobby good luck and easy puffing.