Trial by fire : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Trial by fire

by Tad Gage and Joe Harb

Capstan “Blue” Sliced Flake
Gage:
Capstan Blue is the darker and heavier blend, but the tin aroma of the tbfcapstanbluetwo is nearly identical. The flakes are perfect layers of dark leaf flecked with bright yellow strips and circles. Who needs to smoke it? The tobacco looks like a finely grained briar. OK, yes, it must be smoked, not just admired. Right from the charring light, Blue delivers a different and deeper, sweeter smoke than Yellow, which is somewhat brighter. Like a morning blend coffee versus a dark roast, both are equally outstanding and appropriate for particular occasions. Capstan Blue’s flake worked best broken as lightly as possible, and this technique actually worked well in small pipes and large because despite their density, the flakes burn with ease. Blue delivered strong overtones of dried apricot and less of the vegetal character of Capstan Yellow. This is also a fine candidate for aging. It’s crazy good now, with the potential to get even better with cellaring.

Harb: The lightly sweet tin aroma identifies a mellow Virginia blend. The presentation is as a pressed flake that has been sliced thin. When rubbed out, the loose tobacco is almost a shag cut that makes for easy lighting and helps keep the blend lit. It can also promote overheating if puffed too hard or fast, so sipping the pipe is definitely suggested to avoid a tendency for tongue bite. I like this delicately flavored type blend in a meerschaum pipe to help bring out the flavor, which is that of a moderately aged straight Virginia. There is little change in flavor through the bowl, but it does get slightly more intense toward the bottom as the burning tobacco spices the underlying tobacco. Capstan Blue may be desirable to some smokers as a change of pace from more deeply flavored blends. It is nice to see this blend available again.

Three Nuns
tbf3nunsGage: I have smoked, and owned, various iterations of Three Nuns ranging from the 1940s to current times. The oldest Three Nuns were very small spun coins, included Perique and were lightly cased with something that lent a cinnamon character to the tobacco. Some veteran puffers argued it wasn’t cased; others insisted it was. The old tins, in particular the Scottish product from Bell’s, are highly coveted and fetch high prices. Even subtracting the positive effects aging can have on old Virginia blends like Three Nuns, the Mac Baren reintroduction of the blend falls short.
I’m not sure why the Perique used in the original blend was omitted, but its absence makes for a decidedly different blend. It also lacks that subtle cinnamon character, and the Virginias certainly aren’t as deep in color or sweetness. It smells great in the tin, and the spun-cut coins are larger than the original Three Nuns discs, but quite attractive. It lights well with slight breaking, but smokes without any of the punch of Perique and that signature cinnamon casing. The new Three Nuns is a pleasant spun-cut Virginia tobacco, with hints of hay, cumin and black pepper. The Virginia was tasty but needed more sweetness and depth to compete with the original Bell’s Scottish product. It’s closer to the Three Nuns that was made in Denmark before it disappeared from the market, which I never felt held a candle to the original. Mac Baren is undeniably capable. Would it be too much to ask for a stab at an “old and improved” formulation?

Harb: As in past iterations of this popular blend, the tobaccos are wrapped into a round plug that is then cut into thin coins. This gives you the option to either break up the coins or to stuff them directly into the bowl for a slower smoke. I had some trepidation to try this blend because in past iterations it had been a butt-kicker overloaded with body for my taste. After sampling the first bowl in a small pipe, I found the level of body in this reissue either had been toned down, or I’ve grown to tolerate it because I didn’t get the head-spinning effect I had expected. What I did get was an abundance of body and a full, rich flavor from the Virginias. In a larger pipe, I got more flavor, with the level of body closer to the edge, but still not over the top. This could make it even more popular than it was for many pipe lovers.

Brigham Acadian Blend
Gage:
When I opened the tin of this Virginia-Perique, this blend hit me with atbfacadia Virginia fruity blast that smelled like something cellar-aged for several years rather than something fresh out of the tin. Well, a little secret: The Brigham blends were tin-aged for quite some time before being introduced. The clearly considerable portion of deep brown Perique yields both spicy and smoky aromas. The tin aroma certainly promised a special experience.
It welcomed the charring light, and was nicely moisturized in the tin. Keep it moist. I allowed a sample to dry down and the fine ribbon burned like tinder. This fine cut also invites fairly dense packing: too loosely packed and it tends to burn hot. This is a perfect opportunity for using Fred Hanna’s air-packing method, jamming a clump of tobacco into the bowl and leaving a small amount of open space at the bottom of the tobacco chamber. This facilitates burning with minimal draw, keeping the tobacco from overheating.
Slow, cool puffing allows the subtlety of the sweet Virginia to come out, creating the right balance with Perique. It’s a silky, easy smoking blend with hints of fruit and a pronounced hickory smoke flavor. This is one of the most Perique-rich Va/Per mixtures I’ve smoked, so if you like a healthy dose of the black stuff, this should be right up your alley. I believe this would cellar quite nicely, giving the excellent Virginia time to further sweeten and open up.

Harb: As the name implies, this is a Virginia/Perique blend. Presented as a medium to fine shag cut, Acadian Blend has a rich and tangy aroma, with the Virginias providing sweetness and the Perique adding a fruity tang. The tobacco is moist in the tin, and I let it dry to the crinkly consistency I prefer. At first light, there was both sweetness and tart fruitiness that was rich and smooth. There is enough Perique present to add body to the smoke, and it rounds out the blend perfectly. In a medium-sized bowl the blend became an exceptional smoking experience. By mid-bowl, the Perique began to dominate the flavor profile and continued to play a part to the end. Acadian Blend burned cool and dry to a nice, soft gray ash. This one is a definite recommendation to add to your rotation.

Brigham Heritage Blend
tbfheritageGage:
This fine ribbon cut features Latakia and Oriental leaf (described as Macedonia bright), with the added twist of natural brown Cavendish. Call me intrigued. The tin aroma is a pleasing mix of tangy Oriental and campfire Latakia. The blend lit easily and that Cavendish jumped forward with a vengeance, lending the smoke a predominantly crisp, toast-like flavor. It yields a cool and pleasantly smooth smoke, but both the Macedonian and Latakia refused to move front and center. A meerschaum seemed to bring out a bit more of the Oriental and Latakia flavors. Natural Cavendish can stand on its own, so buy this if you’re looking for a very pleasing Cavendish-forward mixture, with subtle support from Latakia and Macedonian leaf.

Harb: This is a blend that takes advantage of Latakia tobacco that is nicely complemented with Oriental Macedonia and a unique Cavendish. It is very moist in the tin but dried after several hours of airing. The prominent aroma when the tin is opened is that of the Latakia. The tobaccos are cut into thin ribbons, which made the blend easy to pack and light. At first light, the earthiness of the pungent Latakia was the prime flavor, with the Macedonia adding depth and richness, and with the Cavendish adding smoothness and sweetness that really balanced the blend. By mid-bowl, the Macedonia became more prominent in the flavor profile and somewhat masked the character of the Latakia. This is an excellent English/Oriental mixture that should satisfy both Oriental and Latakia lovers.

Brigham Hudson’s Bay
Gage:
Open this tin of matured and stoved Virginia broken flake and you’ll be tbfhudsonshailed by a delectable aroma of ripe fruit, dried cranberries and hazelnuts. But there’s something else I simply could not put my finger on. There’s a distinct scent of some exotic spice like mace or allspice, but that’s as far as I could get. This is the long way of saying this is a pretty interesting tin aroma for a blend with no advertised casing or non-tobacco flavorings.
The striped strips of flake don’t need any drying, but do benefit from just a light rubbing unless you have a pretty large bowl. As long strips, I found they just didn’t pack quite right. I haven’t before encountered an ingredient termed “stoved black Virginia,” and perhaps this is what delivers that spiced flavor. From the first charring light, it’s clear this mixture is aromatic in spirit. The blend walks a fine line between a straight Virginia and an aromatic. There’s plenty of smooth and fruity Virginia flavor, and that chai tea flavor of cinnamon and spice just keeps on coming: not in a bad way, but it’s quirky. It’s an easy smoking blend with plenty of aged Virginia flavor. If you’re looking for something a couple steps off the beaten path, Hudson’s Bay is definitely worth a try.

Harb: This is another Virginia blend in the Legend series, and it features matured Virginias that are complemented with a dark stoved Virginia to create a rich and tart aroma. It is moist in the tin, but dried quickly to a suitable consistency. The Virginias are lightly sweet and tangy, and the stoved Virginia adds depth and an attractive molasses character to the overall flavor. As with the other Virginia blends, this one benefits from a slow sipping rhythm to keep the heat down and still allow the variety of flavors to emerge. Hudson’s Bay is worth a try, definitely.

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Category: Trial by Fire, Winter 2014

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