Pipe Tobacco Academy – Finding Your Holy Grail

Holy Grail of Pipe TobaccoStill having trouble figuring out what kind of pipe tobacco is best for you, Bunky? Still frying your tongue and dumping out near-full bowls of blends that you hated at first puff? Maybe the problem is that you’re starting in the wrong place because you don’t even know what style of tobacco works for you. That’s the reason I’m writing this- to help you narrow things down to make it easier to pick out some blends that you can enjoy when you’re in the mood.

To do this, I’m going to describe types of tobacco blends and then I’ll give you examples of products in that category. I will be including a lot of our own Hearth & Home tobaccos, as these are blends that I’m intimately familiar with, but there will be a number of others as well. There’s no guarantee that, if you happen to like a particular blend within a category, that you will necessarily enjoy another, but it’s a good place to start.

American Semi-Aromatic Burley blends- These are the tobaccos that Dad and Grampa probably smoked. They’re mostly Burley tobacco, but may contain Virginia, Carolina or Maryland in decent amounts, and other tobaccos, such as Orientals, Latakia or Perique in condimental amounts.
Semi-aromatic also means that there will be some flavoring added, but generally not enough to be tasted or smelled easily. The flavoring must be subtle to qualify for this group.

These are best if you want a mild flavor in a blend that you should be able to smoke all day.

Some examples of this type to blend- Hearth & Home Angler’s Dream and Old Companion, Carter Hall, Prince Albert, Half and Half, Hearth and Home TobaccoMixture No. 79, Sir Walter Raleigh and Walnut.

Aromatic- These tobaccos are usually Burley and/or Virginia based, and have a significant amount of casings and top dressings (flavoring agents) that cover the entire range of fruit and confectionery tastes. They constitute the largest selling pipe tobaccos, and the category accounts for over 90 percent of blends sold in the U.S.

The biggest complaints with these tobaccos would be their sometimes overpowering aromas, and the moisture level, which is often high enough to foul or sour a pipe.

Examples include our Hearth & Home Egg Nog, Classic Burley Kake and the entire Landmark Series, most of the tobaccos produced by Lane Limited (Captain Black), Mac Baren, Peter Stokkebye, and Newminster, most of the Sutliff Private Stock blends, along with the Premium Aromatic series by McClelland, and many of the European brands.

Latakia Blends, Virginias Forward- These blends have enough Latakia (a smoky flavored Oriental tobacco) that it is the dominant note in the mixtures. But in these tobaccos, the secondary flavor will come from Virginias, so the overall flavor has a smoky and sweet character, sort of like Memphis or Kansas City barbecue.

These blends are not only distinguished by their flavors, but also by their cool smoking qualities. They are generally not enjoyed by other people sitting in the vicinity of the smoker.

Some examples- Hearth & Home Admiralty, Victorian Stroll and Daybreak, Dunhill’s Early Morning Pipe, Cornell & Diehl’s Crooked Lane, McClelland’s Cyprian Star and Rattray’s Professional Mixture.

Latakia Blends, Orientals Forward- This category used to be commonly called “Balkan Blends”, but the overall inaccuracy of the term has caused industry experts, like Greg Pease, among others, to largely abandon the phrase. To fit in this group, the mixture should have a leading note of Latakia with the secondary influence being Orientals.

These tobaccos are usually very easy on the tongue, and are less sweet than the Virginia Forward type, but the flavors tend to be a bit more exotic and complex.

Examples include our Hearth & Home Larry’s Blend, Magnum Opus and BlackHouse, McClelland’s Bombay Extra, Cornell & Diehl’s Star of the East, Balkan Sobranie and Rattray’s Black Mallory

Virginia Blends- These tobaccos tend to be sweet, and made predominantly of Brightleaf or Virginia leaf. For this reason, they tend to be sweet, sometimes exhibiting citrus, hay, grass, toast, yeast and/or spirits notes. Other tobaccos, like Burleys or Orientals may be involved, but only in small, condimental amounts.

Although these blends are highly prized among connoisseurs, caution should be exercised as they must be “sipped” and enjoyed slowly, or they can become very hot and burn the tongue.

Examples include our Hearth & Home Marble Kake and Virginia Night, the New York Pipe Club’s Bowling Green, the McClelland Matured Virginias in the brown labels, Cornell & Diehl’s Briar Fox, Stokkebye’s Luxury Twist Flake, among many others.

McClelland Club Blend TobaccosVirginia/Perique Blends- These are very similar to Virginia blends but use some Perique, a spicy/sweet tobacco which adds flavor, but also helps to cool the Virginias down a bit. Other tobaccos may be used sparingly, such as Burleys or Orientals. Care should still be used to avoid the dreaded burn of “leathertongue”.

Blends in this category include- Hearth & Home Louisiana Red, Anniversary Kake, LJ Heart Burley and Virginia Spice, Cornell & Diehl’s Bayou Morning and Bayou Morning Flake, McClelland’s Blakeney’s Acadian Ribbon and Bayou Slice, Escudo, Villiger 1888 Cocktail Hour and a wide choice from other makers.

Virginia/Oriental Blends- Here, varying amounts of Orientals are added to Virginias to cut the sweetness and add complexity. They can still be a bit on the hot side, so use a slow smoking approach, and small amounts of other tobaccos, like Burley or Perique may be used.

Some examples- Hearth & Home Sweet & Savory and Virginia Memory #10, Cornell & Diehl’s Oriental Silk, McClelland’s #1, #6 and #8, along with some of their Grand Orientals entries.

Non-Aromatic Burleys- These are typically premium mixtures that are pressed and sliced, rich in flavor, with no noticeable flavorings. They tend to smoke very cool, but can cause tongue bite among those people who are sensitive to it.

Some of the best known are Cornell & Diehl’s Burley Flakes, Solani Aged Burley Flake and Wessex Burley Sliced.

There are other categories such as Cigar Blends, where cigar leaf is a significant influence in the flavor and Miscellaneous Blends, which don’t fall into any particular group, but it’s hard to refer to these, as their flavors and smoking characteristics tend to vary widely.

I hope this has been of some help, and if you have questions, you can call 800-494-9144 and ask for me, or email me at russo@pipesandcigars.com.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.