Trial by fire : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Trial by fire


By Tad Gage and Joe Harb

We were excited to review four new offerings from the New York Pipe Club, a storied club whose past and present ranks include some of the world’s top pipe collectors, tobacco gurus and all-around aficionados. Expectations ran high for what this group of connoisseurs had to present in mixtures blended for them by Russ Oullette of Hearth and Home Tobaccos. From the venerable Boston tobacconist L.J. Peretti Co., a couple blends that, while not newly introduced, perhaps haven’t received the attention they deserve—a commemorative Burley mixture and the re-introduced Original aromatic blend. You will not believe what this aromatic delivers. And from noted tobacciana author and collector Fred Hanna, the painstakingly developed Legends and Wilderness blends, crafted by McClelland Tobacco Co.

Peretti 1072
: Created to celebrate the company’s 140th anniversary, 1072 demonstrates how a tobacconist who has been doing this since 1870 knows how to do Burley right. Long a favorite, particularly of American puffers, Burley has unfortunately fallen on hard times. A sharp reduction in U.S. Burley farmers, fewer available varieties and a kind of “mass production” approach to much of the remaining Burley has made it pretty difficult to develop a truly interesting Burley mixture. Great Burley can still be found—it’s just a greater challenge.

The mixture has the minimal visual appeal and aroma of straight Burley—mostly medium browns and tans, with only the slightest hint of fresh, forest leaves aroma. On close examination, there are subtle differences in the color and texture of the blend, promising something perhaps a little different. Yes, there’s a bit of small cube cut, medium ribbon strips of varying hues, and a few chocolaty chunks that look almost dark-fired. This is getting more interesting!

After a quick and easy charring light and few minutes of rest before re-lighting, the mixture settles into a comfortable and slow-burning smoke. Is this really only Burley? No, I’m guessing there is a hint of Oriental leaf and perhaps a touch (not even visible) of Latakia. Still, this is not the usual Burley, serving as a delivery system for aromatic casings tobacco! Unlike so many Burley-forward mixtures that deliver rather thin flavors of earth and nuts, this is rich and complex. There is a pronounced nutty character, but it has all the complexity of something like unctuous cashews, spicy pistachios and sweet Brazil nuts. Sweetness in an unflavored Burley blend is something to write home about. Richness in a Burley mixture is almost unheard of. It leaves a light and sweet taste on the palate, with a hint of peppery spice.

The mixture remains smooth and complex from start to finish, maintaining its significant interest and burning to fluffy white dottle. There’s no sweetness from nicotine, of which Burley has relatively little. This is a fine, anytime smoke, and an excellent first smoke of the day. The per-pound price may be a little daunting, but this bulk-only blend is truly a prince among Burley mixtures. Personally, I believe 1072 smokes much better either lightly moist or lightly dried. It lost considerable character if allowed to get toasty dry, so if you buy more than you can smoke in a couple weeks, do yourself a favor and store the rest in a Ball or Mason jar. It isn’t a candidate for cellaring, but by preserving the moisture it will last quite awhile. An extremely neutral room aroma won’t give anyone a clue how much flavor you’re getting from this mixture.

Harb: Introduced by Peretti to celebrate its 140th anniversary, 1072 is a lightly aromatic and sweet Burley blend with a rich taste and depth of flavor. The amount of Turkish and Latakia tobaccos that have been added is just enough to contribute to the depth, but not enough to overwhelm the nutty flavors or the sweetness of the blend. Blend 1072 is very smooth with a very pleasant flavor. It burns cool and dry to a gray ash. It should appeal to Burley lovers who want an enjoyable change from the straight Burley selections that abound.

Peretti Original
: This Burley-based aromatic doesn’t present much in the way of visual interest (brown, tan, brown and more brown), and I found the tin aroma negligible. But that first light delivers a terrifying explosion of baby powder and lavender smoke that’ll make you do a double take. But then, Original settles into a well-mannered aromatic blend that’s more of a throwback to old-time scented aromatic mixtures than the more recent development of heavily sauced, potent-smelling blends.

The lightly floral taste, which I can only describe as incense-like, is a trifle disconcerting if you aren’t used to it. Given time, the taste actually grew on me by delivering a remarkably soothing smoke and an appealing lavender finish. It’s difficult to imagine the flavor or know whether you’ll like it unless you’ve smoked some of the more floral, soapy aromatics of the past or perhaps a more recent tobacco in the Lakeland style. What really distinguishes Original is some really fine Burley base tobaccos. Despite its powdery flavor, you can definitely taste the underlying tobaccos, which provide a dry and earthy juxtaposition. It’s definitely an interesting experience—and one best saved for a meerschaum, cob or briar dedicated to aromatics, because it does leave a pronounced ghost in the bowl.

Harb: Peretti describes this blend as a real old full-flavored favorite that is again available. It is a Burley-based blend that has a floral/sweet aroma in the pouch, and at the match, the floral flavor, with a bit of sweetness to it, was right on top. Once charred and stoked to embers, the flavor level was medium, and the underlying nuttiness of the Burley came through easily. Original Mixture has medium body, with a good kick on the palate, so it is not for the faint of heart. I didn’t get much of the soppiness like that in the so-called ‘Lakeland’ style of flavoring, but the overall effect was akin to those types of blends. The flavoring softens by mid-bowl but continues as a pleasant taste for the remainder of the bowl. Original Mixture burned slow and cool throughout the bowl, and left a nice gray ash. It is an original Burley delight for those wanting to relive some of the pleasures of old.

Hanna/McClelland Wilderness
: The tin aroma alone tells you there’s a lot going on in Wilderness, and Hanna makes no secret that, indeed, this mixture has a plethora of components. There’s Cyprian and Syrian Latakia, several individual types of Oriental tobacco including Yenidje, Drama, Mahalla and several types of Greek Basma, balanced and sweetened by red and dark stoved Virginias—12 tobaccos in all. Anyone who has tried a hand at blending tobaccos knows getting the right balance of even a few tobaccos is a challenge.

It’s a lot easier to go wrong with this many tobaccos than to hit the nail on the head. The result, however, is something complex and symphonic in nature. The mixture lights easily, although a couple days drying in the tin with the lid on aids combustion—it’s a bit moist out of the tin, which requires more vigorous puffing, raises the combustion temperature and burns off some of the subtlety. Wilderness is robust but never strong. The unique sweetness of the Orientals is complemented by a more sugary sweetness from the Virginia leaf. Having worked with both Syrian and Cyprian Latakia, Hanna’s combining the two made sense in this mixture. The Syrian lends a unique resinous smokiness, but Cyprian, with its drier and earthier character, keeps the Syrian leaf from becoming overbearing.

Wilderness has been out for a while and, of course, I’ve read other reviews of the blend. Most are very positive, but there have been some smokers who felt it had too much going on. To me, the interplay of 12 different quality tobaccos is truly something special, and pretty rare in a time when individual varietal tobaccos are extremely difficult to obtain. The only thing Wilderness requires is slow smoking and sufficient dryness to aid combustion. Don’t let it go out for any length of time and try to relight—all the complexity disappears and the flavors go off. This blend should cellar very well, allowing for additional marrying of the tobaccos and time for the Virginia sweetness to develop even more.

Harb: This blend is a kissing cousin of Legends, with high-quality Syrian Latakia added, the Cyprian a lighter touch, a base of primarily red Virginia, and with Yenidje used instead of the Mahalla, which slants the blend more to the Oriental category. The Oriental Drama tobacco adds sweetness to the blend as it does to Legends. The strong points of Wilderness are the variety of flavors that are layered into the smoke and the way the flavors don’t significantly diminish throughout the bowl. An added bonus is that Wilderness smokes smooth and dry, and leaves a soft, gray ash. Either of these blends would be a good introduction to the English/Oriental blends, but it would be a coin toss for which one to try first. Just leave the coin in your pocket and try them both. Both may end up in your rotation.

Hanna/McClelland Legends
: The visual appearance of Wilderness and Legends—dominated by dark tobaccos—is similar, but one ripe and fruity whiff advertises a pipe tobacco with a greater focus on deep Virginias and smooth Oriental leaf. If this were a flower, Latakia would be the stem but the Virginias and Orientals would be the leaves and flowers. From the first light, a few different types of Virginia leaf, including McClelland’s signature dark stoved Virginia, deliver that typical sugary sweetness. But definitely present is what I think of as a musky, nectar-like sweetness from Oriental leaf, particularly Mahalla and the very sugary Drama.

Smoked by itself, Drama leaf (grown in the Thrace/Macedonia region in northeastern Greece between the Balkan and Mediterranean seas) is incredibly sweet but so delicate to be almost tasteless—like a single grain of bee pollen dissolved on your tongue, and with a similar light, honey flavor. Deftly blended with heartier tobaccos, it blooms. It’s one of my favorite tobaccos, and exceptionally rare. The Cyprian Latakia in Legends lends a smoky character and coolness, but plays a supporting role. This is an outstanding offering, but if you’re a vigorous puffer, save your money. I’m a fan of smoking as slow and cool as possible to minimize combustion temperature, and it’s particularly important with this blend to protect the nuances of this mixture.

Harb: This is a blend that has stoved and red Virginias as a base, with a generous portion of Cyprian Latakia added for support. Mahalla and Drama Oriental tobaccos complete the blend. In the tin, pungent Latakia and sweet Virginias come up in the aroma. In the pipe, Legends was very smooth, with a medium level of rich and zesty flavors. The Virginias not only serve as a base for the blend; they participate in the flavor in every puff, particularly with a soft and slow draw. All of the components work together to give a rich, mellow smoke that is pungent, zesty and sweet, with a moderate level of complexity. Legends is truly an exceptional blend that can be smoked any time of the day in a variety of pipe sizes, and is a must-try for lovers of both English and Oriental blends.

Read the rest of the story in P&T magazine or the online digital edition.

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Category: Fall 2012, Trial by Fire

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