Trial by Fire : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Trial by Fire


by Tad Gage and Joe Harb

It is our sad duty to announce that this issue contains the last “Trial by Fire” reviews from contributor Joe Harb. For the past 10 years, Harb has written insightful and entertaining reviews for this magazine, often smoking late into the night to provide descriptions and determine the nuances of hundreds of different tobaccos for the edification of us all. He is retiring, but not disappearing. We’ll still see him at pipe shows, so be sure to congratulate him and thank him for the fine work he has done to the benefit of tobacco enthusiasts everywhere.

This time around, we’re reviewing a significant line extension for the venerable Rattray’s brand, including the expansion of the brand’s aromatic selections (which means something when you realize Rattray’s had no aromatics during its first 90 or so years). German manufacturer Kohlhase & Kopp (K&K), which rescued Rattray’s several years ago, is no longer the producer of Peterson tobaccos. To some, the new Rattray’s tobaccos bear a striking similarity to some of the Peterson tobaccos K&K once made, including the dark fired Kentucky Stirling Flake. However, K&K has put its own spin on these new offerings. Joining Stirling Flake in the growing number of available dark fired Kentucky tobaccos is the newly introduced Mac Baren HH Bold Kentucky and its kissing cousin, HH Old Dark Fired. After nearly disappearing as a pipe tobacco option when Orlik discontinued its excellent Dark Strong Kentucky a few years ago (rumor is, it will be returning to the market), dark fired Kentucky flakes have been making a run for the roses. And, speaking of venerable, we decided to review one of the most pungent and popular tobaccos of all time: Escudo. — Tad Gage

Rattray’s Red Lion
RattraysRedLionGage: A bold yet mellow tin aroma greets you upon opening this medium Balkan blend, offering the scent of Greek Basma, Virginia and Latakia, with an undeniable hint of black Cavendish. Easy to light and extremely cool and mellow, this medium-cut ribbon mixture made an immediate impression with an even-handed contribution from all the tobaccos. This blend distinguishes itself with the subtlety of the tobaccos and a discreet use of Cavendish that complements the Basma sweetness to produce a blend I can honestly say could be an all-day, everywhere smoke, with an appealing, aromatic room aroma and yet a puffing profile that’s all English. This comes very close to having no direct peers as a sweet-smelling, great-tasting English mixture.

Harb: The description on the label classifies Red Lion as a traditional but unique English mixture. The blend is composed of Latakia, selected golden Virginia, aromatic black Cavendish and sweet Greek Oriental Basma. The aroma of the Latakia was very faint in the tin, with the aromas of the Oriental being more prominent. In the smoke, the Oriental also dominated the flavor. And it was this character that came through once it was fired up and burning smoothly. Red Lion was easy to pack and light, and smoked smoothly. By mid-bowl the flavors of the Oriental almost completely overpowered the character of the Latakia. The Virginia and aromatic black Cavendish mixed well with the other tobaccos, adding some sweetness and fruitiness, but it is the Oriental tobacco that makes Red Lion more deserving of an Oriental classification than a classification as an English blend.

Rattray’s Sir William
RattraysSirWilliamGage: The mix of tobaccos on this one threw me a little, with Burley from India and Thailand accenting Virginia leaf. Pipe tobaccos are now grown around the world, including Indonesia and countries in Africa, so why not Thailand and India? This pleasant-looking medium-ribbon cut definitely conveyed its light whiskey topping in the tin aroma, but it was not overpowering. It also had a moderately moist springiness more typical of freshly opened non-aromatic blends than sauced blends. It lit easily and its aromatic profile was closer to lightly topped tobaccos like Orlik Golden Sliced or Reiner Long Golden Flake than a fully sauced aromatic. I had a tough time keeping it lit straight from the tin, but the good news is that it dries down much like an English blend. There was a nice balance between the Virginia and the Burley, with only a hint of Burley earthiness complementing pleasantly and naturally sweet Virginia. The whiskey flavor actually came across like whiskey, with a hazelnut kick when smoked. It tasted clean, with no bitter aftertaste or ghosting in the pipe. Toward the end of the bowl, there was some casing bitterness and nicotine bite that encouraged enjoying about 85 percent of the bowl and calling it quits.

Harb: This is a blend that features selected Virginias, Fired Kentucky, Indian and Thai Burley. It is then seasoned with whiskey and presented as thin ribbons in a Cavendish cut. I let it dry to a crumble before loading into a pipe. Once lit, I found the flavor level approaching medium. The unspecified flavoring agents somewhat muted the flavor of the tobaccos in the blend.
The Kentucky fired tobaccos give the blend a medium depth of flavor, and the Burley added a moderate level of body, which may entice those looking for a moderate level of nicotine.

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Category: Summer 2015, Trial by Fire

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