A Rekindled Love of Burley

Burley Pipe Tobaccos

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.

Burley Pipe Tobaccos

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.

    Current Burley Rotation
  1. Mac Baren Golden Extra
  2. Solani Aged Burley Flake
  3. Mac Baren HH Burley Flake
  4. G.L. Pease Barbary Coast
  5. Cornell & Diehl Burley Flake No. 5
  6. 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!


    • Kameel Elian on August 14, 2019
    • Having just one favorite is a hard one. My experience was much like yours but instead of SWR it was LL RR after than I fell in love with ABF ,HH old dark fired , and G&H burley and bright. I have since become mostly a Lakeland guy but I revisit my burley favs regularly.

    • Robert Earl on August 15, 2019
    • As a cigar smoker, the tobacconist that helped me start my pipe journey steered me toward English’s and VaPers. I told him I enjoyed robust flavors, and detested flavored cigars. After being hooked that very day I began the same journey wanting to taste everything!! I have not found a burley mixture I enjoy, but I try them a few times a year to make sure... Burley just isn’t my thing....

    • Steve Riddle on August 15, 2019
    • Burley Flake No. 2 is my favorite and I'm out of it. Got to get some ordered. Sure wish it was available in bulk or the larger tins.

    • Steven Emas on August 18, 2019
    • Very interesting. Golden Extra is my no. 1 also along with HH burley flake,ABF. Virginia’s are next in line with HH Pure Virginia, OGS, PS’s Bullseye, Luxury Flake. Sutliffs Krumble kake Virgina and Perique Virginia,also part of the Rotation. I must add Lanes RR in the line up,until recently receiving a couple of tins that were over dosed with PG. Last year they were great and you could detect the cocoa and lite molasses,but recently only PG. it saddens me because back in the 60,s it was my go to. The package ones were not a problem,but the tin was.

    • Adam T. Valleau on August 18, 2019
    • I started smoking a pipe in 1979. My first tobaccos were blends like Borkum Riff original, Kentucky Club Aromatic (RIP), and B&M aromatics like #10 from the Tinderbox and Irish Pub from Fader's in Baltimore (RIP). Later, I discovered Latakia and English/Balkan mixtures. Still later, I found the pleasures of Virginias and Va/Pers. Now, after 40 years of pipe smoking, I'm pretty well established as a Virginia and Va/Per smoker. But still, I really do enjoy nice, easy-going, not too strong burley blends. My favorites include Mac Barens Golden Extra, HH Burley Flake and some of the OTC-type blends like Sutliff Ready Rubbed (Edgeworth match), Lane Ltd. BLWB, and Hearth & Home Chatham Manor. Golden Extra is probably #1 for me, and I actually prefer the Sutliff Ready Rubbed over the Lane version. It is just more flavorful to me. And about the only true aromatic in my rotation these days is Lane's HGL (I love it). Then there's my recently discovered Presbyterian! Yet still, I am trying out blends I've never had before. I have tins of Solani Aged Burley, HH Old Dark Fired, Cabbie's Mixture, Kramer's Father Dempsey, and C&D's Awaked Elder waiting in the wings. I guess my tastes are pretty ecclectic. But the Virginia and Va/Per blends remain the ones I most often smoke.

    • Rob Cappuccio on August 19, 2019
    • Spot on, Kaz.
      An open mind is the best pipe smoking accessory any of us could ever have!
      As for your list of Burley blends, they are spot on the same as mine, and are different enough from each other to make themselves a nice change to suit any mood.
      And as a Virginia fan myself, to get the best of both worlds I'd also strongly suggest Virginia Burley blends like Solani Silver Flake and Germains Brown Flake... stout, flavourful and masterfully put together.
      Where Pure Va blends offer refined taste experiences, they can sometimes be 'thin' on the palate....the addition of a quality Burley adds a beautiful amount of body to round out the experience to near perfection.

    • Dan H. on August 19, 2019
    • I suspect that like a fair number of people, I was turned off from burley when I first started smoking a pipe. It never seemed to get the love that VA-based or English blends received. I think I fell victim to not taking what I read with a grain of salt. Eventually, I begin to experiment with burleys and found that I truly enjoyed them, from the semi-aromatic "codger" blends to the lightly cased flakes like Solani ABF to the more unflavored, natural blends like so many C&D burleys. And of course, I love the dark-fired Kentucky based blends. Right now, my favorites are MacBaren's Bold Kentucky and HH Burley Flake, Amphora Burley, Watch City Slices, and C&D Big N' Burley. Still love VA-based blends and Latakia blends, but I'm glad I opened my mind to burley, as I usually begin each morning these days with a stout burley blend and some coffee.

    • Smokebacca on August 19, 2019
    • Great article, Kaz. I too seem to have ever evolving tastes in tobacco. When I started in the early 90s, I thought I would quickly settle on a favorite blend and be done, but then came the I-haven't-tried-that curse. Nowadays, I will still reach for something new when I can. I think a lot of pipe smokers go through a similar evolution in tasting to develope their palate. I struggled with understanding Burley like no other. I'm still working on it, but have gotten comfortable with recognizing Burley blends I like and why.
      My favorite Burley is hands-down Sir Walter Raleigh original, though it took me a quarter of a century to discover it, if you can believe it.

    • Nick Wayne on August 19, 2019
    • When I first started smoking a pipe, I too started off with the OTC burley blends. Like many others, I suffered great tongue bite in the beginning. I had never heard of tongue bite before, being a cigar smoker, and the experience shocked me. I started looking online, first at medical searches and databases, to see what was going on with me. I never realized it was tobacco related until many hours later. Reading online at the time, through the forums, there was great discussion about tongue bite being attributed to burley tobacco, with even some people calling it burley mouth (I've also heard steam, chemical burns from casings, sugars in VA tobacco, and on).

      I judged burley based on what I read and my experiences, but now after 13 years a pipe smoker, I can say that my issues with tongue bite had more to do with my smoking methods and tobacco preparation, and not the contents of the mixture. A couple of years ago, I tried to get into burley, but was off-put by the nicotine content of many of the blends. Being a little sensitive to it, I should have stayed away from the likes of Irish Flake, in the same vein that I pass on ligero heavy sticks. But again, I judged burley to be strong, and not the tobacco for me.

      But like Kaz mentions, I grew a craving for this leaf. I did enjoy the flavors I got from burley my last go-around, so I decided to pick up some other blends and I'm loving every second of it. HH burley flake showed me I can have the nutty, earthy, buttery, and roasted flavors without a kick to the teeth (no really, when I get to much vitamin N, I can feel it in my gums). I think I'll take a look into golden extra next and then unto plethora of blends I've turned a blind eye to for more than a decade (I'm looking at you, C&D bulks).

      Thank you for the article.

    • Terry Jakes on August 20, 2019
    • I to have gone to the burley Virginia tobacco. I prefer a flake and love Solani and Macbaren HH burley flake. Another good blend is Pegasus. it can be found in bulk and tin forms. It is a heavy burley
      tasting tobacco., but in a ribbon form. Another blend that is good in Winchester. It is a blend of black cavanish, burley and Virginia.

      I will add the Macbaren golden extra to my next order.


    • Beellzzabass on August 26, 2019
    • Great article, & one many pipe smokers can def relate to. I have been smoking a pipe for over 20 yrs & I went on a similar journey of discovery before settling (but never set) on a rotation of leaf that always satisfied my hunger. Living in a rural area & knowing little about the hobby, the first tobacco I bought & tried was Captain Black Royal, simply because of the pouch note, & I really enjoyed the initial flavor, until mid bowl when the bite & dampness really started hampering my attempt at enjoyment. I soldiered on however, until I crossed paths with a music teacher, with whom I started lessons, that was a true study of the briar & leaf. He introduced me to higher end pipes, & the traits & quality’s that separated them from your typical drug store pipe, as well as vastly increasing my knowledge on the nearly endless selection of tobaccos that were out there. This was before the internet so I was very fortunate to befriend this teacher of sacred music, briar & leaf. He also was the spitting image of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, A.KA. Mark Twain; if you can believe the irony in that.. Well to make a long story short, I went from Aro’s to Balkan Sobranie, & several English blends, to Virginia’s, & after avoiding Burley blends for years based on false information that smoking Burley was just like cigarettes, I discovered Mac Baren’s Golden Extra, Solani ABF, Mac Baren!s Norwood (RIP), which I loved, Amphora Burley was a recent, & immediate favorite, & finally my all time favorite, that I love, & crave everyday: Wessex Burley Slice. Though hard to acquire at times, this flake has the most intriguing, intricate, & addicting profile of any tobacco I have ever put fire to, & I am a dedicated disciple. In my world of smoke, Burley currently rules, & Wessex currently wears the crown. Thank you for this enjoyable article & sharing your experiences with the amazing, but sometimes overlooked, Burley leaf.,

    • Jason Escott on December 20, 2020
    • I only smoke dark burley with 30% dark fired kentuckywith 10% izmar i mix mix myself.The dark burley comes bone dry ,the dark fired kentucky comes too wet so some adjustment required,

    • Jason Escott on December 20, 2020
    • You might find the above too high in nicotine,if so just up the izmar which is low on nicotine to up to 30% not more.Dark fired kentucky works as low as 15%..I am not exact just by volume it is not an exact science.

    • Joe Thornton on October 10, 2022
    • One thing that jumped out at me in this well-written piece was your penchant for Cabbie's Mix. Where in the world do you find it? I've looked for three years, and was told by my tobacconist it was no longer imported into the USA. Can you share?

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