Images courtesy of Smokingpipes.com
Our winter issue reviews conjure up thoughts of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There is the Ghost of Christmas Past: a lovingly re-created grouping of tobaccos celebrating the blends from one of the greatest shops ever, Drucquer & Sons of London, and after 1928, Berkeley, California. Greg Pease, who worked at the store and mixed these blends, has brought them back to life for us to experience and enjoy. Ghost of Christmas Present: G.L. Pease has brought us two new blends, reminding us of today’s exciting blends but with the prospect of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Scrooge clouding all we know and love in the pipe tobacco world. And finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come: a bittersweet portent of the future as McClelland releases its classic Christmas Cheer blend for 2016 and also its 2017 flake with the anticipation that FDA regulations will make it no longer feasible for pipe tobacco manufacturers to create limited-run and seasonal blends without mountains of red tape and onerous fees. We can hope Scrooge sees the charring light and changes his ways, but in the meantime, we can buy (and cellar!) these creations as connoisseurs. — Tad Gage
Gage: This was another of the shop’s old blends, dating back to before the shop relocated from London to Berkeley. This bright golden mixture of Virginia, White Burley and brown Burley, flecked with dark Latakia and Perique, has a light, neutral tin aroma. The medium cut lights and burns easily, and all I can say is that this is one of those Burley blends on steroids. The Latakia and Perique combine to create a smoky accent similar to dark fired Kentucky. Like Lane Ready Rubbed or Solani Aged Burley Flake, the subtle combination of ingredients enhances the Burley, elevating it to a “codger” blend well above Carter Hall or any straight Burley mixtures. Sweet yet earthy, this interesting mix could easily be an everyday kind of favorite.
Fabian: Bolder than some of the others in the group, but not the strongest, Inns of Court takes an interes ing approach by relying on Burleys for the body, instead of Virginias. Warm, mellow and reminiscent of toasted nuts, this tobacco leads one to expect lots of flavor from the Burleys. It’s slightly citrusy from Virginias, which add a bit of brightness to the center of this blend, while the Latakia adds a decent helping of smoke and creaminess without drowning the brighter notes. As the lower tones of this blend work together to form an exceptionally deep and wide base, it is surprising to find how mild Inns of Court comes across. Finding a suit- able match for this tobacco was difficult, but a good cup of coffee, with or without your favorite alcoholic or nonalcoholic addition, should be a good starting spot and a match for the character of the Burleys present.
Drucquer Levant Mixture
Gage: One of Drucquer’s classic blends, Levant is a super fine cut, but with the odd tab of leaf that escaped the cutting knife. This medium stout English blend features a healthy portion of Cyprian Latakia supported by red and a hint of bright Virginia. The star of Levant’s show, however, is the excellent and very sweet small-leaf Turkish Izmir. The Latakia dominates the tin aroma, but a quick and easy light immediately generates plumes of smoke and a sugary, loamy flavor. It’s a “soft” blend, very gentle on the palate and cool-smoking, yet interesting from start to finish. And what a finish, diminishing to nothing but ash every time while staying sweet and cool. A fine Oriental mixture true to the original, it smokes great, and should be even sweeter with a few months of cellaring.
Fabian: Closest to being a Balkan blend out of the bunch, Levant Mixture focuses on the Latakia present in the blend and really tries to let it shine. Once burning, the Cyprian Latakia rises to the fore, building a delightfully robust, smoky base while managing to stay in sync with the Virginias and Turkish. With the Virginias and Turkish hot on the heels of the Latakia, the middle note is somewhat sour and slightly sweet. Having just a hint of sweetness from the lighter Virginia, Levant Mixture manages to stay mellow enough to be an all-day smoke, but with enough body to keep the Latakia lovers happy. I found that gin-based drinks worked quite well as a pair, so long as the gin was kept pretty mellow. A gin and tonic let the floral notes of the gin help to make the Turkish bloom but wasn’t so strong as to destroy the humble sweetness of the Latakia.
McClelland Christmas Cheer 2017
Gage: When I look at my collection of aging pipe tobaccos, there’s something comforting about the cheerful red tins and leaping McClelland whales on various vintages of old Christmas Cheer. The 2017 Cheer, from a 2013 crop grown near New Hope, North Carolina, will be the last on the shelf. Like a game-winning grand slam by a retiring veteran in the ninth inning of the last game of the World Series—if ya gotta go, this is a great way to go out.
Potent cinnamon tin aroma reminiscent of an oven-fresh apple cobbler on a chilly winter day wafts up from the tin. This aged, broken cake is exceptionally smooth even now, but it’s a slightly playful youngster with an easy grassy flavor, Granny Smith apple tartness and a pollen-like sweetness. Although this is a “young” blend in the same way a 10-year-old Bordeaux wine is young compared to its 20-year- old self, it is so fresh and loaded with apple, grass, sugar and cinnamon that it would be a shame to order a bunch of tins for aging and not open one or two tins right now.
It was a bit surprising that a single-crop vintage could offer so much complexity, but the tobacco was clearly processed in several different ways and then cake-aged before slicing. Smooth and bite-free, even when diligently puffed, this sugary flake is well-deserving of hoarding.
Fabian: Just like the 2016 Christmas Cheer, this blend is a wonderful Virginia flake. Packed and lit, 2017 is full of earthiness and spice, with a decent amount of a sweetness reminiscent of cocoa and berries. A little heavier than 2016, 2017 has more rotund body and is lacking some of the sweetness of 2016’s overall finish. The red Virginias may lack a bit in brighter notes, but 2017 makes up for this shortcoming with the fuller lower end. Though a mulled cider or mead would also pair well here, a hot buttered rum with your favorite spiced rum would match the earth tones while augmenting the sweetness considerably.
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