I don’t smoke a lot of pipe tobacco; I would definitely consider myself a cigar guy all around. Forgive me if this reads like a cigar review. I do love English blends for some reason, and have shied away from the aromatics and VaPers, although I have tried a few I like and some that were not kind to me at all. I was intrigued by the idea of the McClelland Stave-Aged 35 Virginia Ribbon as soon as Bob called me after visiting the McClelland booth at the IPCPR. Well we got them in this week and had to crack one open to investigate. I grabbed my Kirsten pipe and packed a bowl to give it a try. I have only smoked one or two of McClelland’s tobaccos in the past, but was always impressed with the quality. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, here is the blurb from the tin:
So McClelland’s 35th anniversary is coming up and what better way to celebrate than with an American classic, Bourbon (with a twist)! Instead of aging the tobacco in the barrels, they decided to age the barrel in the tobacco. Inside every tin is a piece of charred Kentucky Bourbon white oak barrel imparting a subtle, long-aged whiskey aroma and flavor giving the tobacco a soft, mellow character. Happy 35th anniversary McClelland!! Cheers!!
My familiarity with legit Bourbon is rather limited, but I am usually a fan of the aroma and flavors though straight, I find the punch a little overwhelming. I am more of a gin and tonic or Scotch guy when I am not going for dark craft beers.
I was not disappointed when I opened the tin and took a whiff. The whole thing, chunk of wood and all, had a wonderfully sweet smell that had notes of vanilla and brown sugar. The tobacco itself was not overly moist and did not stick together when I pinched it. I loaded it into the pipe and lit it up. My initial thoughts were ‘sweet and cool with a subtle spice on the retro-hale.’
As I got into the bowl a bit, there was a good volume of smoke. For the first few minutes I had to relight a few times, but that is not a knock on the tobacco. That is simply my novice pipe smoking status. Although I have a decent collection of pipes and have had at least one for years, I don’t smoke them often enough to be proficient. Flavors of chocolate began to develop after the initial light settled in. The smoke itself is almost creamy and very smooth. I do not do a lot of Virginia blends, but I understand that they are rough if you are not careful. This was none of those things. The smoke was very pleasant and smooth, and I feel like the pipe selection also had a good deal to do with the coolness of the smoke.
At about the halfway point of the bowl, notes of maple and brown sugar started to develop along with the vanilla undertone. The taste was deepening and gaining richness as the bowl burned down. I did have to do another re-light but that did not affect the taste much. In fact it made it a bit sweeter.
Ultimately, the Bourbon taste was not the forefront of the tobacco. It was a fantastic accompaniment to a well blended and aged Virginia blend. The smoke stayed wonderfully dry and remarkably cool to the bottom of the bowl. I would add this to my rotation of pipe tobacco, as infrequently as it happens, for certain. It’s already aged well, but I would imagine if I grabbed some now and held it for a while, it would be spectacular.