A Balkan love affair

As I’ve worked my way through a dozen or so new pipe tobacco blends, I’ve developed a real affection for Balkans. The English tobaccos I’ve tried – Consummate Gentleman and Early Morning Pipe – are fine, and I do enjoy a bit of Latakia in the blend. That said, mixing in some Oriental just adds a little kick that I really enjoy.

I think the first one I tried was Sutliff’s Balkan Sobranie Original Mix Match. That was an eye opener! It had that smoky English note to it, which I like. Along with it, though, is a very noticeable undertone of something wonderful. It almost reminds me of Sen-Sen, though just a little hint. Somewhere between anise and an aromatic resin, like frankincense. It sounds horrible, but it’s actually quite nice. I’m assuming that’s the Oriental coming through

Since then I’ve tried White Knight and Arango Balkan Supreme, and I’m ordering a tin of Black House to try out. They’re all similar to some degree, but so far the Sutliff has been my favorite. It and White Night are almost identical, which is no surprise considering I think they’re the same thing in tinned and bulk form.

It’s possible I may tire of the taste, so I’m not loading up with pounds of this stuff, but so far I’m loving it. I’m still keeping the English and 1-Q and the rest in my rotation, but it’s a rare day that I don’t smoke at least one pipe of a Balkan mixture.

Sutliff Match Sunrise

This is supposedly Sutliff’s attempt to match Peterson’s Early Morning Pipe blend. I ordered an ounce from Smokingpipes.com to see if it’s close or not. I really enjoy Early Morning Pipe, as well as Consummate Gentleman, when I’m in the mood for a little of that smoky Latakia flavor.

The tobacco is ribbon cut, a little more “stringy” than EMP. I found a couple of chunks of leaf in there – nothing alarming or inconvenient, it’s just a different cut than the Peterson branded product. It needed a few minutes’ worth of drying time, again nothing out of the ordinary. It’s not excessively moist or too dry. I loaded up the bowl of my recently refurbished meerschaum lined Tinder Box pipe.

First, to address the main question: I don’t think the flavor is really that close to Early Morning Pipe. There’s not really enough Latakia for that. It is however quite nice. It burns well with no tongue bite. I didn’t dry this lot out quite enough, I guess, because the tail end of the bowl got pretty soggy and I had to cut my sampling short. Just based on what I’ve smoked so far, I would characterize the flavor as being closer to a Balkan than a Latakia-forward English blend. I also didn’t get much of the more exotic Oriental notes, but I’ve still got a bit of a head cold that’s not helping me at all with tasting things. It’s still early, and I reserve the right to change my opinion as I have more experience with this blend. Overall so far I like it. It’s not an EMP clone but it is quite nice; it’s mild, not overly smoky,

Peterson Early Morning Pipe

I decided to try this blend based on some very enthusiastic recommendations from the Reddit r/PipeTobacco forum. It’s a blend of Oriental or Turkish, Virginias, and some Latakia. I can’t help but to compare it to Consummate Gentleman, an Ashton English blend. EMP definitely has less Latakia; it’s not as smoky either in the tin, in the pipe, or in the room after you smoke it. So it’s not quite as in-your-face. Think Johnny Walker Black to Consummate Gentleman’s Aardbeg or something similar.

I find that it burns well, if I’m careful and diligent to keep it tamped (but not too tight). The further down in the bowl I get, the more conscious I have to be about not puffing too fast. This blend will stand up and slap me with a harsh note if it gets too hot, but it rewards taking it easy and smoking it slowly. Along with that comes a slow smoke; I spent probably 45 minutes and, when I thought I was done with the bowl, found there was a pretty large dottle of unsmoked tobacco left. I could have gone a full hour or more and still not hit the end of that bowl, and that was with a pretty conservative loading of the pipe. A guy could probably get a couple hours of smoking out of a full pipe. That would, at this point, be way too much nicotine for me. I’ll have to remember, though, that I could let the pipe go out after my morning coffee, tap out the ash, and get a nice lunchtime smoke out of it as well.

I still like my aromatics, but I like EMP more and more every time I smoke it. Pipes & Tobacco sells a “Match” blend that I’m going to try out and see how it compares, since it costs about a quarter as much per ounce.

Mac Baren Vanilla Cream

I bought an ounce of this because I wanted to try another vanilla blend. Some of the others I have are pretty well flavored with vanilla, but this one sounded good.

The first two bowls I tried didn’t end well. Although the moisture level felt about right in the bag, smoking it resulted in a dense, soggy plug in the pipe that would neither stay lit nor pass air. The second time I actually broke it up with my pipe tool and re-lit it. Then I dumped it out, as I found it harsh and not at all pleasant to smoke.

For the third bowl I let the tobacco sit out for about 45 minutes on the deck railing. It felt quite dry and crispy after that. On the plus side, it lights well and seems to stay lit pretty well. On the minus side, it seems somewhat harsh and has a fair amount of tongue bite. On top of that, I’m smoking it in my Peterson Atlantic. That pipe tends to collect water and gurgle with almost everything, but this stuff seems to generate more moisture than most.

It’s just not what I was hoping for at all, really. I’m glad I only bought an ounce of it. I’ll probably give it one more chance in a straight pipe with a filter – either a cob or the Kildare. I don’t really think that’s going to help much, though. I’ll likely dump the last bit into a new jar to be joined with other odds and ends to make an “infinity jar” and let it hang around with some good influences for a while.

Borkum Riff revisited

OK, I tried it again. My first experience with Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey didn’t end well. Tonight I loaded up my MM Country Gentleman cob with another bowl, no filter, and gave it a smoke. It was fine, all the way to the end.

Next time I’ll dry it a little less, and load a little bigger bowl. It is, in my humble opinion, pretty unremarkable. I didn’t get anything resembling a Bourbon flavor to it, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that either my palate is utterly undeveloped (or just unrefined) or I just can’t taste anything. People post tasting notes on tobacco and booze like they’re wine connoisseurs. I see claims of getting notes of chocolate, citrus, figs, plums, and so on. To me it tastes like pipe tobacco. There was a time many many years ago when I sometimes smoked Sobranie Black & Gold cigarettes; in those I could taste chocolate and spice. In pipe tobaccos… whiskeys… nope. Well, except for certain Islay Scotch. Iodine, Band-Aids, rusted sea anchors, for sure. And there’s a Latakia blend that I can taste some resinous Mediterranean or Middle Eastern woods. The more subtle points, though, escape me. Maybe I just need to be clubbed over the head to notice a flavor.

Late October 2022 update: The more I smoke of this stuff, the less I like it. I’ve got at least an ounce left, so I’ll try a few different approaches before writing it off completely, but of all the aromatics I’ve tried, this one keep disappointing me. It seems really easy to get a “scorched” taste that is really unpleasant. I don’t know if it’s too much topping that burns too hot, or what. I’ll try it in different pipes, and see if I can slow down my cadence enough to enjoy it, but so far it’s not been worth the effort. There’s no hint of Bourbon taste or anything close to it, and if it’s not going to live up to its name I’d rather be smoking 1-Q or something reliable.

Battle of the Codgers, Part 3: Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey

I should wait to post this until I’ve given it another chance. I really should. But I won’t. I’ll update later, when I have had a second bowl… any maybe a third, if the second one isn’t as absolutely horrible. You see where this is going?

I tried this tobacco the other night. The first thing I noticed was the utter lack of anything that I would describe as “bourbon whiskey” about it, either the aroma when I opened the pouch or the taste when lit. And I mean anything. But, hey, I have – apparently – a completely uneducated, uncultured palate. Still, I was a bit disappointed. I remembered Dad smoking this stuff back in the 70s, and it smelled amazing. Well, the blend has been through at least two manufacturers since then, and the years have apparently not been kind. Happens to us all, I suppose.

The first half of the bowl was entirely unremarkable. Not particularly pleasant, not particularly unpleasant. No real apparent flavoring, at least not in my uneducated opinion. Still, not a bad smoke. Just not a great one.

Then about halfway through or maybe a little further than that, something magical started to happen. And I don’t mean magical in a wonderful Good Fairy wand waving kind of way. More like magical in the witch dipping an apple in poison kind of way. The kind of magic that brings Chucky to life. The tobacco developed a very distinct flavor profile. Unfortunately that flavor profile was nearly identical to the aroma that I got years ago when I was using a propane torch to remove integrated circuits from a fiberglass circuit board. Yes, the smell of scorched epoxy is what I noted. I’m not making this up.

I’ll try it again, if for no other reason than I can remember the dating scene from Hitch, where Will Smith has a date with Eva Mendes that turns into a complete disaster. Who knows? Maybe I accidentally got a big chunk of the plastic pouch in there when I packed the bowl. Maybe one of the stink bugs that take up residence when the weather cools off crawled in and I didn’t notice. Maybe someone set fire to an old TV set and the wind was blowing int he wrong direction. But I’m all about second chances, so I’ll try it again.

Eventually.

Battle of the Codgers, Part 2 (Amphora)

The second of the Old Ones I decided to try was Amphora original. There are numerous flavors of Amphora, but this is the original blend and probably the one I remember from the 70s.

The aroma from the bag is absolutely wonderful, if you love tobacco. My wife doesn’t think much of it in comparison to something like BCA or 1-Q, but it’s got a lot less topping than those. I suppose technically it’s an aromatic, but mostly it’s tobacco, and lots of it.

I let this air out for an hour or so – maybe less – before loading up the Savinelli Bing’s Favorite and lightning up. The flavor is definitely stronger than the Half & Half, not too strong, and with virtually no bite on the tongue or in the nose. Now, I’m not experienced enough to know which flavor is burley and which is Virginia and which is Oriental, but the flavor is nothing at all like the H&H. It’s a little more “exotic”, I suppose you’d say. I like it, but I also noted that it seems to have a higher nicotine content than most blends I’ve been smoking. I could feel the nicotine a bit, though nothing like Bayou Morning (thank heaven).

I also noted that it stays lit better, I think, than anything else I’ve tried so far. I was fully halfway through the bowl before I needed to relight. The ash is quite fine and the smell of it reminds me of a fine Cuban cigar. Just the ash, not the smoke. It seems to burn evenly and not too hot.

Will Amphora be my new best friend and daily smoke? Probably not. Will I keep some on hand and enjoy it fairly regularly? Probably, yes. I can see it as one to enjoy when I’ve got the time to sit down and really enjoy a pipe.

As I write this, the pipe is sitting on the table a little over half smoked. I’ll finish it off in the morning and see how it does then. It’s really quite nice and I’m looking forward to it.

Update: The rest of the bowl didn’t disappoint. I tried another bowl a couple of days later in the Peterson Kildare, and it was quite nice as well. It burned to the bottom of the bowl with no excess moisture and not too many relights. It likes to be tamped a little tight to burn well.

Battle of the Codgers, Part 1 (Half & Half)

A few days ago I decided I’d like to try out some of the so-called “codger” pipe tobacco blends. These are the ones that our fathers, grandfathers, and maybe great-grandfathers smoked. Brands like Half & Half, Prince Albert, Borkum Riff and so on. I mean, if something has been on the market for decades and is still sold, there’s got to be a reason, right?

Through the magic of the Internet and the US Postal Service, today I received a package with a few blends to try. Half & Half, Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey, and Amphora – plus some Mac Baren Vanilla Cream, just for good measure. I remember Dad smoking Borkum Riff and Amphora in the 70s and 80s.

I decided to start out with something completely new to me – Half & Half. The first thing I noticed when I opened the sealed pouch was the incredibly wonderful aroma of this stuff. You’re not hit with the smell of toppings or flavorings, just a rich tobacco smell. If it smokes half as good as it smells this could be a winner!

I loaded up a bowl in my Peterson Atlantic 221, a bent billiard, and tried it out. Of course, it’s a different experience than an aromatic blend. I love the mix of burley and bright Virginia. There’s just a tiny hint of bite on the tongue and in the nose, but not enough to distract. Just enough to let you know you’re smoking tobacco, not candy. There’s nothing to cover up the flavor of the tobacco, but it doesn’t try to club you over the head (looking at you, here, Latakia). My wife said the smell was “just OK”, not the wonderful smell of the aromatics and Cavendish I’ve mostly been smoking but not as bad as the Latakia blend.

Unfortunately I seem to have packed the bowl a bit too tightly or tamped a bit too much, as it quickly developed a draw not unlike a plug of concrete and required a re-light every couple of minutes. I ended up cleaning out the bowl about 2/3 of the way through, but not before developing a real appreciation for this blend. Overall it seems a solid, very likable smoke. I can understand why it’s been on the market for over a hundred years.

I’ll revisit Half & Half again with a little drying time and a more careful packing of the pipe. And don’t take my two mentions of Latakia to mean I don’t like it… I’ve got some Consummate Gentleman in a jar for those times when I’m feeling like some serious smoky flavor. I like it, but like Lagavulin it’s not an every day thing for me.

Update: The second bowl smoked well also. I should have let it dry some before packing, and I’ve really got to watch not to pack or tamp this too tight. It’s the opposite of Amphora in that respect.

Update 2: The third bowl was even better. I let it dry longer than I had planned, a couple of hours, but it still smoked well. I was more careful about packing and tamping. It smoked quite well all the way to the bottom of the bowl, with I think two re-lights and a tiny little dottle. Very well behaved and consistent all the way through. That was in my Peterson 221, so no filter.

Mixing tobaccos

I’d heard – well, read, since I know virtually no one personally who smokes a pipe – a lot about Haunted Bookshop. This is a Cornell & Diehl tobacco blend that a lot of people seem to love. The local shop carries it in bulk, so when I bought my Savinelli pipe and he offered a couple of samples to try out, Haunted Bookshop was one of them.

I did like the taste. It’s not an aromatic, and the so-called “room note”, or how it smells to those being exposed to your demon second-hand smoke, is not as sweet but isn’t bad.

The tasting, however, did not end well. I tried a small amount, maybe half a bowl, of HB followed by a similar small amount of Bayou Morning, a Virginia Perique blend. Now, this is pretty serious stuff, for me at least. Lots of tobacco flavor, no sweeteners or flavors. It’s definitely no Captain Black. That’s fine, but I was unprepared for the massive nicotine hit. After years of not smoking at all, then slowly starting to smoke a little aromatic blend on a pipe occasionally, my nicotine tolerance was about zero. I enjoyed the smoke, but not the two hours of sweating, clammy nausea that followed and had my wife wondering if she should call an ambulance because I was having another cardiac event.

I put those two tobaccos in jars next to the Latakia blend that I like, but only occasionally. One thing I like about pipe tobacco is that it seems to be like wine… stored properly it only improves with age, for the most part.

This morning I decided to try a little experiment. I mixed up a batch of about 2/3 black cavendish (Lane Ltd. BCA) with about 1/3 Haunted Bookshop. I packed a full bowl in my Bing’s Favorite, deciding to let the new Peterson rest a few days. So far I’m quite pleased with it. The BCA tames the HB down quite a bit, while the HB gives some flavor and character that the pure cavendish lacks. It burns well, and my wife tells me it smells good. No tongue bite at all, it’s not the least bit harsh and the nicotine content is low enough to not bother me.

Now obviously I’m not the first person to figure this stuff out, but it’s interesting to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t work so well.

Ashton Consummate Gentleman

I was looking for a tobacco to try some Latakia. Boy, did I find it!

I was attracted to Consummate Gentleman by the tin and the name, to be honest, as well as the description. I wanted to try a Latakia blend. I’d also never tried a tinned tobacco before, just bulk tobacco bought by the ounce. OK, I take that back! I’d bought a 100g tin of tobacco at the Danish Pipe Shop in Copenhagen, and loved it. It’s a totally different type of tin, though.

Just opening the tin was a new one for me. The lid wasn’t coming off with any normal human amount of force. It’s pretty well vacuum sealed. Finally figured out to use the tip of a butter knife to twist under the lid just enough to break the airtight seal and let some air in, then it opened up easily.

I was immediately struck by the strong, distinctly smoky aroma. Wow! If you like Laphroiag or Lagavulin you’ll probably like a Latakia blend. It smells a bit like a smoldering barn. It’s the kind of aroma that your male friends will love, and will cause most women to recoil in horror. There’s a paper liner in the tin to keep the tobacco from being in direct contact with the metal, as is the case (I believe) with all of the flat, vacuum sealed tins of this type. The tobacco was tightly packed and required a little rubbing or digging to get it to separate. Once I got some in hand, it seemed quite a bit less moist than the aromatics I’m used to. Some of them can feel downright oily or goopy; this was not overly dry, but I didn’t think I’d have problems keeping it lit.

Undaunted by the strong aroma, I loaded up a MM corncob and tried it out. It’s definitely a change from a milder aromatic like the Ted’s #1 (also known as RLP-6) that I’m used to as my daily smoke. There’s a lot of tobacco flavor in this one, rather than syrupy toppings. The Latakia adds a distinct smoky flavor that I didn’t find overbearing or too strong.

My wife was sitting a few feet away and said the smoke was tolerable, but not pleasant as is the smoke from the aromatic blends I’m usually smoking. As I figured would be the case, I didn’t have trouble keeping it lit. It’s not unusual for me to need to relight my pipe pretty often, but I think I made it through half a bowl of this with one or maybe two relights.

All in all, I like it. I won’t be making it my daily smoke, but just like a good Islay Scotch there are times when you’re just in the mood for a little bit of smoke in your life. It’s something different, and I’ll be keeping it around. I think this will be perfect for a nice little clay pipe I’ve got with a smaller bowl. I’ve got the tobacco in a jar for now, not knowing how well it will keep in the tin and paper.