Trial by Fire : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Trial by Fire

TBFby Tad Gage and Bobby Fabian

What is an aromatic tobacco? Today, we usually consider it a cased or flavor- topped blend. Often, the topping over- powers the base tobacco, or has been used to mask bland or inferior base tobacco. But reading the labels on the tobaccos of old, we find that “aromatic” was a term applied to many unflavored mixtures, from the heaviest Latakia mixtures to Virginias—those the manufacturers, at least, thought were particularly rich and flavorful. For this round of reviews, we continue to examine new aromatic (topped) mixtures that add nontobacco flavors but also discreetly complement fine-tasting leaf. From fruity to fizzy cream soda to stout “aromatic” English mixtures, one could argue that the term “aromatic” should be expanded to its rather prosaic, all-embracing moniker of old. — Tad Gage

tbf-hh-macbaren

Mac Baren HH Pure Virginia Gage: The newest in the HH line of classic, uncased English tobaccos (named for Mac Baren founder Harald Halberg), Pure Virginia presents well-aged sliced flakes with a light raisin tin aroma. Although the sourcing isn’t revealed, there is an air of Virginias from the United States as well as the rich, chocolaty scent of Virginia from equatorial climes. Pretty damp from the tin, it needs rubbing out into pleasing long threads or, alternatively, a day or more of drying time and a few pinches of rubbed out for combustion if you want to smoke it as a full or lightly broken flake. The tobacco is relatively uniform before being pressed into cakes, so there wasn’t much difference in taste between rubbed out and flake. The char- ring light delivers a peppery and not entirely pleasing punch to the sinuses, along with cocoa, freshly dug root vegetables both slightly sweet and smelling of earth, and something akin to the scent of weathered wood. After a little experimenting, a 10-minute rest after the initial light helped the tobacco to settle down and avoided much of that early-bowl bite. It packs a nicotine punch toward the end of every bowl, providing a brief adventure into the world of dark twist. In today’s competitive world of excellent Virginias, this one rates as good.

Fabian: This ended up being a very rich, bold tobacco overall. Less grassy and more full-bodied, it is sharp and should be taken slowly. Surprisingly enough for a Virginia flake, I found it to have lots of almond and cocoa tones, though slightly flat in the finish. Being such a round and robust Virginia flake, one shouldn’t be taken off guard by it, and the tobacco shouldn’t have any- thing paired with it that isn’t powerful in composition. Smooth, well-aged and complex blended whiskeys complement this bold flake. Although a pricey choice, Macallan’s 17-year-old scotch added the right amount of body and flavor, contributing its own lighter, richer notes on top of the Pure Virginia flake.

Cornell & Diehl Bourbon Bleu (Cellar Series) Gage: This gorgeous golden block of lemon and red Virginia, a touch of Kentucky dark fired, Perique, and bourbon
tbf-bourbon-bluetopping crumbles easily and is ready to smoke. The fourth in C&D’s Louisiana- themed Cellar Series including Chenet’s Cake, Old Grove and Oak Alley, Bleu is the latest offering. The featured flue- cured lemon Virginia seems short on sugar content, leaving a bright but somewhat hay-like taste. More sweetness would have complemented the light bourbon flavor, although it becomes sweeter in the final third of the bowl. This flavor profile, however, makes it possible to pair with sweet beverages (it was very tasty with hot chocolate and café au lait) without becoming cloying. The convivial Virginia/bourbon room note is an appealing plus. The Cellar Series, presented as blends designed to age, has proved excellent right from the can, and this is no exception. Its light, lemony tang is a fine aromatic/English crossover and should appeal to both straight English and light aromatic puffers. While aging won’t add sugar, Bourbon Bleu is a cake that will likely gain flavor and mellowness after a year or more in the tin.

Fabian: This blend was a shocker when I first popped it open—my first impression was that of Captain Bob’s Blend. Once I let the tin sit open for a little bit, the more nuanced smells were finally present, and the slight bourbon note started to shine through. Once it was lit, I found this tobacco to be surprisingly devoid of any strong bourbon topping, with the tobacco really getting to shine through. Grassy and light, with the bourbon adding a nice middle note not unlike toasted caramel, Bourbon Bleu really does make for a complex, if not a lighter, blend. This tobacco paired very well with (not too surprisingly) a glass of bourbon whiskey to accentuate its light bourbon flavor. Blanton’s bourbon, rich with caramel and vanilla flavors, was a particularly pleasing companion, giving this tobacco a base to really shine upon.

Other tobaccos reviewed in the Spring 2016 edition of “Trial by Fire” include blends from G.L. Pease, Lane Limited, Daughters & Ryan and Peterson. Read the rest of the reviews by subscribing to Pipes and tobaccos magazine or the online digital edition.

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Category: Spring 2016, Trial by Fire

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