The first tobacco I ever smoked was a Burley blend, and for the first six months of my pipesmoking life it was the only tobacco I smoked. I knew virtually nothing about pipesmoking, I just woke up one morning a week or two before my 23rd birthday and decided that I wanted to smoke a pipe. The blend was an old American classic, Sir Walter Raleigh, and I purchased it from a local smoke shop, along with a cheaply-made, overpriced basket pipe from a very nice young woman who was working behind the counter.
The shop was far more accustomed to selling incense, posters, and pipes made from blown glass, but the employee who assisted me seemed to know enough about the two pipe tobaccos in their inventory to make my choice simple. "Do you want something sweet and flavored or something with a more natural tobacco flavor?" she asked me as I was selecting a pipe from the basket. I looked up to see that my options were Captain Black Original and Sir Walter Raleigh. I already knew that I wanted a more natural tobacco flavor, and as a lover of history I definitely couldn't say no to a blend named after Raleigh. I purchased my new pipe, tobacco, pipe cleaners, and Czech tool and excitedly departed to try it all out. I loaded the bowl, struck a match, and immediately fell in love. The nutty, woody, slightly chocolatey notes from the silky Burley smoke was exactly what I had imagined pipe smoke to be, and I relished my bowl down to the dottle.
For weeks I looked forward to getting home after work for my session with my pipe, and it wasn't until months later I discovered the treasure trove of pipe tobaccos available online. Once I had discovered the bewildering myriad of pipe tobacco, I went on what seemed an endless quest to try everything. Every blend, every style, every taste and experience out there I pursued, wanting to learn more and more about the varietals and blending styles from around the world, going from Burleys to American aromatics, European aromatics to Englishes, to Lakelands, to Virginia flakes and Virginia/Perique mixtures.
After about 18 months I finally settled on my preferences, developing a taste for Virginia flakes and Virginia/Perique mixtures; however, I still occasionally indulged in English blends and Lakelands. Coming to present day, my tastes haven't really changed much. I still primarily smoke Virginia flakes (HH Pure Virginia being my favorite) and Virginia Perique mixtures (I can't ever seem to get enough of Cabbie's Mixture), but now I hardly ever smoke Englishes. All things considered, my tobacco preferences have stayed pretty consistent over the years, until one morning a few weeks ago when I awoke to a surprising sensation. I had an insatiable, burning desire for Burley.
Since my fateful introduction to pipesmoking and Sir Walter Raleigh, I have smoked many Burley-forward tobaccos. Some I really enjoyed; others, I detested. Burley is a strange animal, depending on the origin of the leaf, the process it undergoes during blending, and the tobaccos it's married with. I walked into work and hurriedly bought a tin of Mac Baren's Golden Extra, broke the seal and loaded my J. Alan Billiard. This pipe has the largest chamber of any of my pipes, a little larger than a Group 4 but not quite a Group 5, and I chose it because I needed a Burley fix. I lit the bowl and let the cocoa, anise, and nutty notes wash over my palette. Yes this is what I was wanting. This is what I needed.
After the anxiety of not having any Burley-based tobacco immediately at hand had dissipated, I began to contemplate why I didn't have more Burley in my current rotation, especially considering it was my first tobacco. I made a list of Burley tobaccos that I had smoked and enjoyed, and set myself the goal of revisiting all of them to see if they still satisfied me the way they did at first. It didn't take long to make my list, which included what I was currently smoking, Mac Baren Golden Extra, in the number one position, followed by Solani Aged Burley Flake, HH Burley Flake, G.L. Pease Barbary Coast, Cornell & Diehl's Burley Flake No. 5, and Gawith & Hoggarth's Rum Flake. All of these deliver unique but classic Burley flavors that are satisfying and delicious to my palette, and while I still love my Virginias as much as I ever have, I feel my tastes have shifted and broadened to require integrating Burley into my rotation.
- Mac Baren Golden Extra
- Solani Aged Burley Flake
- Mac Baren HH Burley Flake
- G.L. Pease Barbary Coast
- Cornell & Diehl Burley Flake No. 5
- Gawith & Hoggarth Rum Flake
The shifting of taste with pipe tobacco is such a mysterious phenomenon, but an enjoyable and exciting one that I believe we all experience at some point. I share my account of my rekindled love of Burley with you in this spirit of camaraderie, as well as to perhaps spread the fire and encourage others to sample these tobaccos which are often overshadowed by aromatics, Virginias, and Englishes. There is a lot of variety to be found here, from the sweet and naturally chocolatey, to the earthy and nutty — the odds of there being a Burley blend out there for virtually any taste are quite favorable. Do you have a favorite Burley tobacco? Feel free to share what it is and why it's your favorite in the comments below!