Trial by fire : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Trial by fire

by Tad Gage and Joe Harb

We decided to review two tobacco brands that are so old and established, and frankly so coy in their descriptions, that they’re hardly the buzz of the pipe world. Robert Lewis and James J. Fox tobaccos are products of two of England’s oldest and still-operating tobacco merchants. Lewis was founded in 1787, and the shop, the world’s oldest continuously operating tobacconist, is still going strong at 19 St. James Street in London. J.J. Fox got its start about 120 years ago. As a collector of vintage Barling pipes, I’ve long had a fascination with Fox, long one of Dublin’s renowned tobacconists and a major pipe retailer. Many old Barlings carry a J.J. Fox stamp because the company made so many briars for the store. Fox opened its first store in London in 1947. Over the years, Fox focused on cigars but continued to feature many of its time-tested pipe tobaccos.

These two venerable names became intertwined in 1992 when they merged, becoming James J. Fox and Robert Lewis. Today, Fox of St. James focuses on cigars and Lewis’ emphasis is on pipes and tobacco, but the two operate in tandem. Three Lewis blends are more than a century old, while Tree is a youngster of 50 years. Both Lewis and Fox tobaccos are manufactured by Kohlhase & Kopp. Relatively recently, production of the Fox tobaccos appears to have changed from Planta, another fine German maker, to Kohlhase, and there appear to be some distinct changes in taste as a result—enough so that smokers who were disappointed with blends in the past may want to give them another try. Both Planta and Kohlhase are among the world’s best manufacturers, employing quality leaf, but in the case of the Fox mixtures, the switch seems to have had an appreciable impact. Also note the lines have been trimmed from past offerings, and we reviewed the tinned pipe tobaccos available in both the U.S. (distributed to retailers by Monjure International) and overseas. —Tad Gage

Lewis Wingfield Mixture
TBFWingfieldGage: With a tangy, modestly fruity tin aroma, this very fine cut ribbon of burnished gold, tan and black Virginias promises something interesting and potentially hot smoking. Fine-cut Virginia leaf can be fickle, demanding careful puffing. Before even describing the smoke, I’ll say I liked it best aggressively dried and slowly smoked. Moist, fine-cut Virginia mixtures frequently offer the worst of both worlds: tongue bite from the sugars and a challenge to keep lit.

I found the origin of the blend’s name telling: named for Walter Wingfield, inventor of lawn tennis. And like the genteel, grass-court, wood-racket sport that tennis once was, this blend, while no patsy, never gets up in your face, nor does it deliver a 110 mph serve.

As some reviewers have noted, the cut may resemble a roll-your-own cigarette mixture. The taste does not. The mixture features well-aged leaf, and while the content description is skimpy, there’s likely a mix of U.S.-grown leaf and some stouter, spicier and sweeter sun-cured Virginia tobaccos from hotter climes like Brazil, Africa and/or India. The mixture is creamy and nutty, yet a bit peppery. It has no distinctive bright vegetal characteristics of flue-cured leaf, nor the deep, fruity resonance of stoved leaf. To call it a middle-of-the-road Virginia mixture would be accurate, but might imply it’s boring, which it isn’t. There is restraint in blending and satisfaction in its simple barnyard, loamy goodness. It is as discreet as tennis whites, but serves and volleys with aplomb. It is a fine selection for a discriminating Virginia fan.

Harb: This primarily Virginia blend is presented as a very fine shag ribbon cut, with a medium moisture level. The aroma in the tin is tangy, with a light sweetness. The ribbons make packing and lighting easy, and it burns fast. On first light there is a delicate sweetness with an earthy top note and a bit of body. The rich flavor of Virginia tobaccos stayed pretty much the same through the bowl, only growing in intensity toward the end. Wingfield is a nice blend to introduce the flavor character of the Virginia genre.

Other tobaccos reviewed in this issue’s installment of Trial by Fire include:

Lewis 123 Mixture; Lewis Orcilla Mixture; Lewis Tree Mixture; J.J. Fox Dorisco Mixture; J.J. Fox Squires; J.J. Fox Hibernia; J.J. Fox Bankers Mixture; J.J. Fox Campanile and J.J. Fox Provost, read the rest of these reviews by subscribing to Pipes and tobaccos magazine or the online digital edition.

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Category: Spring 2014, Trial by Fire

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