Welcome back to another episode of Tasting Notes. For this installment, I'm stepping outside of my comfort zone and revisiting Aromatic blends, starting with Rattray's Bagpiper's Dream. I've long overlooked Aromatic mixtures in favor of Virginia/Perique or pure Virginia tobaccos, but I've recently realized just how many spectacular blends I've missed out on. So watch the video above for my full review, and keep an eye out for more reviews of Aromatic blends from me in the future.
Any fans of Rattray's Bagpiper's Dream out there? Anyone just getting into Aromatic mixtures? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Note: The following transcription has been edited for clarity and brevity.
So this is going to be a slightly different episode of Tasting Notes than you normally see from me, because I'm gonna take this opportunity to treat this as a bit of a confessional. Sad to say that, as a pipe smoker of nearly 14 years, I've spent most of my time kind of on the snobby side.
If you've watched these videos before, you've heard me say many times that I mostly smoke Virginias and Virginia/Perique blends, with a few English blends thrown in the mix. And that is very true; I don't think that's going to change, but more recently I've been venturing out into some Aromatic offerings. Offerings that I probably didn't give a fair shot, only because, like many of you out there, I'm sure, I found the term Aromatic to be pretty divisive. But it's a wide category, and there's a lot that goes into it. And I've certainly found blends in the Aromatic category in the past that I've smoked and enjoyed, but it's not something that I've delved into or really spent a lot time trying to understand or trying to appreciate, because I found a couple of tobaccos that I liked and have been sticking to those, mostly.
So, in an effort to sort of grow as a pipe smoker, I am trying to go back and smoke some older Aromatics that maybe I had written off early on or have missed over the years — perhaps with a little more skill under my belt and a bit better understanding of how smoking works and how to get the most out of the experience. So, I'm starting this little mini series of Tasting Notes, where I try a bunch of Aromatic tobaccos, with a blend by Rattray's. Rattray's is one of my favorite blending houses. I've smoked a ton of their Virginias and their English blends over the years, but somehow I never gave Bagpiper's Dream a try. A good friend of mine and likewise, a Virginia enthusiast, suggested that I try this blend and I'm finally getting around to it. And before I get into the specifics, I will say that it has blown me away. It is an excellent, excellent Aromatic. Maybe one of the most memorable and most, I don't know, likely to take a spot in my rotation that I've found in years.
Tin Note, Components, & Cut
So, before I light back up, let's see what the tin note is like. This is described as a blend of Black Cavendish, Virginias, and both pieces of broken flake and and pieces of coin, actually. So, I found a couple in here; there are like solid coins, big chunks of ready rubbed broken flake, a lot of Bright leaf and a lot of Dark Cavendish. Right away, the tin note is really engaging. It's rich, slightly sweet, and very boozy. Oh, I should say that this has been described as being flavored with Cognac as well. So, that flavor, that Cognac sweetness — like a little bit of fruitiness and little bit of that boozy quality — definitely comes through. It also reminds me a little of Italian Grappa.
Maybe more in the smoke than in the tin note, there's sort of rich, boozy and fruity character as opposed to what I would expect from something like bourbon, which is more reminiscent of charred oak with corn sweetness and things like vanilla. Now, there is something vanilla-like here, but mostly the quality that I get is that boozy Grappa, and brandy and Cognac kind of a thing. It's rich, but definitely not cloyingly sweet, and I was excited to load up the first bowl. I've smoked several bowls of it at this point, and one thing about Bagpiper's Dream to me, before we get into specifics, is that it seems to be a very fine balance between natural tobacco flavor and a sort of Aromatic quality.
Moisture Content & Flavor
So I've been smoking this directly from the tin, at the packaged moisture level. I don't give this much drying time at all. I do pack it a little more loosely, relatively speaking, than how I pack my Virginia bowls, but I find that it takes to the flame really well and behaves well, too. In the earlier stages of the bowl, there's an incense-like quality, though it's a little bit different from the incense-like quality of Oriental tobaccos. Definitely warming spices, maybe a little clove. Maybe a little bit of anise. The boozy quality and that Cognac flavor definitely come through, right away. But there's like this really rich, nutty sort of traditional tobacco flavor that reminds me of an old-school Burley type tobacco with just a little bit of sweetness.
I don't know if this is a blend I could smoke while working, because I honestly don't know that I'd get anything done. I don't think I'd be able to split my attention between what's going on here in the bowl and what's going on in the rest of the world. Basically, it is one of the most complex Aromatic mixtures that I've ever tried. It's not the same complexity that you'll find in a really well done Virginia/Perique or an English mixture; it's different, because the flavors are more subtle and there are just a lot more of them. It's not a one trick pony, and it's not monochromatic at all, or one dimensional. It's sort of redefining what I think of as a balanced Aromatic mixture. There's plenty of base notes, too. Sometimes I find the overall flavor profile of a flavored tobacco to be on the thin side, but this is really full and heavy on the palate.
Body & Room Note
The smoke is really silky and billowy, and it produces a lot of smoke as well. For me, this would be an excellent holiday blend. There are tons of flavors: Cognac, a hint of like chocolate covered cherries, and something that reminds me of rum cake. Just a lot of sweet and semi-sweet flavors, with a nice boozy quality that sort of ties it all together. And there's also that more natural tobacco flavor, and the nuttiness is just the perfect backdrop for all these rich and fruity and boozy notes.
I spend so much time thinking about and talking about Virginians and English mixtures. This is a really surprising blend. I've smoked several bowls at this point, and while I've found it to be very enjoyable across the board, I'm still finding new things about this tobacco that I enjoy and new subtle flavors.
One thing I think had been missing when I smoked Aromatic mixtures years ago was technique. You really have to be able to slow down and smoke slowly to fully appreciate an Aromatic mixture. Another thing is that Bagpiper's Dream just seems to have an added layer of complexity that I never experienced in other Aromatic mixtures; maybe it's the broken flake pieces or the coins, the solid tobacco flavors that provide the backdrop for the Aromatic flavoring. It's all come together and really has become more than the sum of its parts for me. It also has an exceptional room note that will be very well received in mixed company.
As far as Aromatic mixtures go, this one will likely do well in the cellar. I'm actually planning on laying down a couple of tins and seeing how it develops over time and with a little bit of age. The base tobaccos are there; the leaf is very high quality, and there's definitely some potential for this to mature or ripen even a little bit more. It'll be interesting to see how the Cognac flavoring and those dark fruit notes and stuff like that evolve overtime, too.
So, Bagpiper's Dream comes extremely highly recommended from me. I'm still a novice Aromatic smoker, I'll admit, but it's a great smoke and a great crossover blend for all of our English and Virginia guys. Thanks everybody, see you next time.