Trial by Fire : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Trial by Fire

TBFby Tad Gage and Joe Harb

It has been a long-standing tradition for pipemakers to create tobacco mixtures to complement their pipes. Dunhill, Davidoff, Ashton, Castello and Larsen are examples of pipe companies that made the pipe/tobacco connection early in their histories and are still going strong with pipes and tobacco blends. Today we have tobacco introductions coming from pipemakers like Eltang, Tsuge, Savinelli, Nørding and Brigham, to name a few.
There are golden oldies sadly no longer around, like the excellent Sobranie-manufactured GBD line of tobaccos (the tobacco is gone, but the pipes remain). However, we’re seeing a few classic pipe and tobacco combinations getting new life, including the Comoy line and now Barling. The new Barling tobaccos we’re reviewing aren’t recreations of old Barling blends like Royal Hunt and 1812 Mixture (blended by the renowned Ogden’s). However, these new blends manufactured by Planta bring back a name that hasn’t been associated with a branded pipe tobacco for a long time.
Riffing on a theme, many pipe shops with branded pipes (usually made for them) have offered a complementary line of tobaccos. We thought it was high time to revisit the hardly new but still noteworthy line of tobaccos bearing the Astley’s name. Like Fribourg & Treyer, the Astley pipes and store are gone, but the tobaccos (from Kohlhase & Kopp, which is doing a remarkable job of sourcing tobaccos of superb quality) keep the flame alive. Being on the pipe and complementary tobacco theme, we smoked out a creative new entry from the venerable Missouri Meerschaum Company, which has introduced a line of tobaccos blended by Russ Ouellette and formulated to be smoked in (what else?) corncob pipes. — Tad Gage
tbf-astleys2Astley’s No. 2
Virginia Mixture
Gage: The tin aroma to me was a most unusual smell of baked cinnamon apples—something I’ve never encountered in any tobacco, aromatic or not. And No. 2 is not an aromatic—just a load of Red Virginia and a little Perique. The medium-ribbon cut lit well, although a few hours of open-air drying knocked back the moisture content a bit, requiring less vigorous puffing for a mixture that can get Virginia hot pretty fast. Immediately, this mixture delivers a honeyed, pear-like sweetness somewhere between a nicely aged Virginia and a stoved Virginia. Like a dash of pepper serves to add an interesting balance to many sweet dishes, the Perique lends a spicy yet silky backdrop. No. 2 is a well-done tobacco that is less about the blender’s skill and more about letting a couple of superb tobaccos do their thing.

Harb: Red and gold Virginias and Perique are the prime components for this blend. The tobaccos are cut into fine, short ribbons, and there is a bright, tangy aroma in the tin. Although the tobaccos were moist, they dried quickly with several minutes of airing. For a primarily Virginia blend, the flavor level is a notch below medium, but the Perique adds some body to the blend and mixes well with the other tobaccos to provide a smooth, slightly tangy and lightly sweet note. This blend of Virginias burns clean and dry and leaves a mottled white ash. It is an interesting variation on the typical Red Virginia tobacco and may be attractive to those who enjoy a good Virginia blend.
tbf-astleys44Astley’s No. 44 Dark
Virginia Flake
Gage: Beautiful brindled little square chunks, sliced thin, greet you somewhat awkwardly from a round tin, leaving a lot of empty space. Lightly break up the chunks into flakes if it feels better to fill out the tin. You’ll need a little breakup anyway, and the dense, moist flakes benefit from a short drying. The fruity aroma of the dark aged Virginia flecked with bits of bright flue-cured leaf hints at pure Virginia pleasure. Whether I fully broke up the flakes or left a considerable number of them intact, No. 44 lit easily and burned with remarkable steadiness for a flake Virginia. There was plenty of dried fruit, an almost spicy character found in truly great Virginia leaf and a unique Worcestershire sauce umami that lent a subtle, savory quality throughout the smoke. The tobacco is pressed but not stoved, and it stops just short of the more assertive fruit of a stoving-processed leaf. While best smoked slowly and savored, it stayed cool even when subjected to more assertive puffing. This is a valedictorian of Virginias, mellow and interesting enough to be an everyday kind of smoke. It’s so good now that I am not sure how much it can or needs to change with aging, but more time in the tin might create some interesting variations.

Harb: The aroma of this dark-brown Virginia is slightly sweet and tart. In the tin it is a little moist, so I let it dry a bit before I rubbed it out. At the first light it produced a mild flavor and had a tendency to overheat, but this could be avoided with a very slow, soft draw. Dark Virginia Flake is described as full- flavored on the label, but I felt it was closer to a medium-level. As I progressed down the bowl, the flavor level increased a bit as the tobacco underneath was flavored with the smoke, but the blend did not achieve a level I would describe as full. Still, it is a good straight Virginia blend and was very satisfactory.

Also reviewed in this issue’s Trial by Fire are tobaccos from Barling, Missouri Meerschaum Co. and other tobaccos from Astley’s. Read the rest of the reviews by subscribing to Pipes and tobaccos magazine or the online digital edition.

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