Tasting Notes: Drucquer & Sons: Loch Ness
Welcome back to Tasting Notes, everyone. On today's episode, I'll be reviewing a very special blend: the latest entry into the Drucquer and Sons line, Loch Ness. Drucquer and Sons is a historic brand of pipe tobaccos originally made by a shop in the Bay Area. This shop was very special to many pipe smokers, particularly to Greg Pease, who first began experimenting with blending behind those doors. The Drucquer and Sons' line was revived several years ago by Greg, and it's been a little while since he's blended something new. I was particularly interested in this latest mixture, Loch Ness, because I really enjoy Scottish-type mixtures and because Greg is, of course, a wizard when it comes to blending with Latakia. So let's dive in!
Components and Cut
As you might have guessed based on the name, Loch Ness is a Scottish-style mixture. There's a lot of debate concerning its exact definition, but generally Scottish mixtures comprise the same base components as English mixtures — Latakia, Oriental and Virginias — with the addition of Perique. Some examples would include blends like Peterson's Nightcap or McConnell's Scottish Blend; typically these blends are a little richer, a little fuller. Aside from the Perique, grown and processed on a single farm in St. James, Louisiana, Loch Ness also features Lemon and Red Virginias, Orientals, and Cyprian Latakia.
We'll come back to those components, but what's perhaps even more interesting about Loch Ness as a Scottish mixture is how Greg has changed the format. Rather than going with ribbon or broken flake cut, Pease has combined all of these components in ribbon cuts, pressed the melange into a crumble cake, and then sliced it into what he's calling a crumble plug. Essentially, you're left with these little plugs that are made of a ribbon-cut mixture, meaning that you're easily able to sort of tear off a chunk, break it up really lightly, and stuff it into your pipe. Aside from the easy packing preparation, the blend itself really benefits from the pressing process: it marries the flavors of all of these components in a really interesting way, giving a matured, almost aged character. This new cut is also likely going to affect this blend's aging potential in a positive way, but we'll return to that in a second.
The crumble plugs are quite nice, and they are easy to break apart and prepare. The moisture content from the tin is perfect, too; I really don't suggest any drying time here, even if you're used to smoking your tobaccos a little more dry. There's tons of complexity to be discovered here, and I found that when left to dry, even for five minutes, there was less nuance than bowls I'd smoked fresh from the tin.
On the tin note, Loch Ness is really nuanced and complex with a deep, rich finish on the nose. Right away, I get a really leathery sort of aroma. There's a little bit of loam, a little bit of an earthy quality, and a faint but noticeable sweetness. And this is where things start to get really interesting: I also get those sorts of tell-tale stone fruit notes I associate with Virginia/Perique mixtures, particularly black cherry. So there's this rich, fruity bouquet sitting atop a foundation of an earthier and slightly smoky base. That's a pretty good indication of what the smoke has to offer, but maybe just not the whole picture.
Flavor: First Half of the Bowl
Once in the pipe, Loch Ness starts off bready with a distinct sweetness that remains prominent throughout the bowl. There's a tangy character, a little bit of a zesty quality which I'm attributing to both the Orientals and the Virginias. There's a creamy backbone, as well as a little bit of earthiness that sort of supports those sweeter flavors, especially in the first half of the bowl. The bready notes are reminiscent of shortbread or sweetbreads, and the fruitiness is really prominent here. I don't really recall another blend, even another Scottish-style blend, that included both Latakia and Orientals that offered this sort of fruitiness — which, again, reminds me so much of Virginia/Perique mixtures. There are some pretty noticeable fig notes here; I know I said black cherry in the tin note, but in the smoke, there's a hint of what reminds me the most of blackcurrant. So all in all, Loch Ness just explodes with these really lovely, tart, jammy, and rich kinds of sweet flavors, which complement the sweeter bread-like notes so well.
Flavor: Second Half of the Bowl
During the second half of the bowl, the earthiness and Latakia's signature creosote-camphor-campfire notes do intensify, but they never dominate or take over. Instead, you begin to pick up more of the earthy quality from the Orientals and also from the Latakia — that nice, creamy texture and more of the charred oak or campfire sorts of notes. On the bready notes, those seem to deepen as well; what was a sweetbread or a shortbread sort of turns into a buttered toast, maybe even buttered rye toast. The flavors just get a little bit more malty, a little more full. There's a touch more pepper on the retrohale, but it's never overly spicy on the palate, and that jam-like, fruity tanginess still persists.
Similar Blends and Aging Potential
Many English or Scottish blends tend to be more savory than they are sweet; while Loch Ness is super rich from the start, I would say that, overall, the experience is a little more dessert-like than most other Scottish blends I can think of. The flavor is medium-full, and the strength is just a hair over medium. For me, this is an all-day smoke. If you're a smoker of heavy Latakia blends, you'll find that Loch Ness would be an excellent breakfast smoke: it stands up well to a strong cup of coffee and has enough oomph to jumpstart your day. For the rest of us, who may smoke Latakia blends only occasionally, it's still something you can easily enjoy throughout the day as it shares overall flavors and smoking characteristics with things like your Virginia/Periques or Virginia/Oriental mixtures.
Overall, Loch Ness is a captivating and fascinating blend. It's sort of mystifying in a way and very difficult to pin down. It'll likely take many bowls, or maybe even tins, to really wrap your head around its nuance and complexity — to really become familiar with all its myriad flavors. In my opinion, Loch Ness is cut above most of the other Scottish blends that I can think of, even mixtures that I've smoked for years. Fans of G.L. Pease's Chelsea Morning are going to love this. If you enjoy Sam Gawith's Skiff Mixture, or Peterson's 965, or even Drucquer & Sons' Prince's Blend, you're going to feel right at home, but Loch Ness will likely have a little bit more complexity and intrigue — something closer to G.L. Pease's Quiet Nights or even Peterson's Nightcap, but less spicy.
Loch Ness is a little more balanced all around, and its sweetness and fruitiness are a little more prominent than any other blend I can think of that features Latakia. Moreover, because of that upfront sweetness fresh in the tin, and because of the crumble plug format, Loch Ness is going to age very well and well continue to develop in really interesting ways in the long term. So make sure that you smoke at least a tin fresh to wrap your head around all of these intermingling flavors, but don't be shy about putting some tins away, because this one's going to be rewarding in a couple of years.
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Shane,With deep respect, I feel I must point out that you're misusing the term sweetbreads. The culinary meaning is not sweet breads such as come from a bakery, like shortbread, but to certain edible parts of animals such as the heart, thymus, pancreas, and other organ meats. Quoting an etymological source online, "It is thought by historians that they are called “sweet” because they taste richer and sweeter compared to typical meat, and they are “bread” because the old English word for flesh is “bræd”. Sweetbreads are the thymus and pancreas glands of animals."
Hobbit, with no air of passive aggressive “respect”, understand the context and don’t be a dick.
Tho' it's been under the radar for decades, you would probably find Rattray's Accountants Mixture (especially the original and the McConnell's made) similar to your description of this "new" blend. I don't believe that Perique was used in Accountant's - I think that I remember an unflavoured black cavendish was the component. A fuller blend, but mild enough for an all days smoke - quite mellow, tho'. Black Mallory was similar, but the fullest of the Rattray's - more latakia for the evening enjoyment. Of course, it's no longer what it was, but then, not much is.
@Very Like A Hobbit Except For Their Hairy Feet So I am aware of the term sweetbread, but in this context, what I'm referencing are the various sweet breads that many of us are familiar with. Perhaps it's a term I'm comfortable with because I grew up on "pan dulce" (literally translated to sweet bread), but I'm also positive I've heard others use the term in English to describe the same sorts of flavors.
@Linwood I'm actually revisiting a bunch of English staples at the moment--been on a Latakia kick for the first time in a while. The Rattray's stuff is all excellent, but Accountant's is next on my revise list. Red Rapparee remains one of my top 10 Latakia blends of all-time!
@Shane: Sorry if my well-intentioned advice was unwarranted. I was honestly just trying to be helpful. Thanks for explaining and also for not calling me a dick.
Any thoughts as to how this compares or differs from Blairgowrie, Drucquer's other officially designated Scottish blend, and one of my personal "must have" favorites?