By Adam J. Smith
Tin Notes: This remarkable blend formulated by Fred Hanna provides a multi-layered, rich taste experience. The highest quality Syrian Latakia combines with small amounts of Cyprian to form the base for an exquisite array of rare and precious Orientals - sweet Drama, exotic Yendje, and more. Red irginias compliment the blend, adding sweetness, richness, strength and creaminess. Smoke this mixture and listen for the echoes of savored memories.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Wilderness as, amongst other descriptions, a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human activity together with its naturally developed life community.
It was with this in mind that I struck out this morning to smoke my customary final-bowl before sitting down to review a blend. Seeking the solace that the name connotes, I headed for a local trail system with my favourite briar in tow. Surely, the tobacco gods were smiling upon me this morning, for as I approached the trail-head, a weak morning sun began to break through the ominous clouds which the West Coast is known for.
Slivers of golden light danced fleetingly across the mélange of yellows, reds, browns, and greens the fall season is known for. Dew-drops clinging to the foliage glisten like individual diamonds. The earthy rich smells of the forest pervade your senses. Off in the distance, a dog barks, while a brook babbles happily close at hand. As the sun begins to gather strength, the local fauna begins to stir. A skunk slinks back to her den through the ferns. In the trees, chipmunks and squirrels begin to chatter and frolic. A pair of deer warily emerge from the tree-line, scouting for a place to drink. Whiskey-jacks and Stellar Jays hop about my feet, seeking a handout.
Slowly and carefully, I raise my pipe to my mouth, and with a flick of my Zippo, am enveloped in creamy-wreaths of rich smoke, slowly winding it’s way ever sky-ward, dissipating amongst the canopy overhead. Pure bliss ensues.
Truly, this was one of those perfect moments. You know the ones…everything just seems to fall into place. We talk about them with hushed tones and hallowed rhetoric. This is the reason we are pipe-smokers. And let me tell you, you are in for a tin full of perfect smokes with this blend.
Upon opening the tin, one finds a rough cut ribbon, a blend of coppery reds, blacks, and browns, with the occasional hint of khaki green and tan. The tin aroma is simply amazing, with no hint of the characteristic McClellands ketchup smell; but rather a slightly smoky, almost wine-like earthy richness prevails. My tin (dated 2010) arrived slightly moist, requiring a half-hour out of the tin prior to smoking. I found that this blend responded well with a three-step packing method, or an "air-pocket" method, and was well behaved during the packing process.
A pre-light draw brings hints similar to mulled wines; slightly sweet and spicy, with a definite fermented flavour. A mild, smoky aftertaste lingers on the back of the palate.
Charring light reveals a rich interplay of sweet Red Virginias and the sweeter Oriental leaf, namely the aforementioned Drama. The two variants of Latakia don’t overpower, but weave a delicate balance with the herbal notes of the Yendje; providing a unique and complex flavour profile that is not unlike a sweet-mulled wine, with just the slightest hint of camp-fire.
True light reveals the full complexity of this blend. While the overlying flavour is that of pine-gum (for those who don’t know, it is a traditional "gum" made by boiling pine pitch), the subtle undertones really make this blend. The base of Red Virginias remain quite bright and in the forefront, supported by the sweeter Oriental leaf found in abundance in this blend. Rich, earthy tones of fruits and caramel abound, all underpinned by a slight herbal note, indicative of the Yendje in the blend. This is supported by the amazing interplay of the two variants of Latakia; providing both a slight smokiness and a deep red-wine note on the back of the tongue.
As one progresses through the mid-point of the bowl, the blend grows ever spicier; with hints of cracked pepper and cayenne dancing across the back of the palate. The interplay of the Latakias, while still present, begins to slide into the background, while the earthy and caramel like notes of the Virginia leaf asserts itself. The slight herbal notes begin to blossom and round out, providing a truly unique experience.
At the heel of the bowl, the Latakias begin to assert themselves towards the forefront of the flavour profile, however, never completely dominate. Oddly, the characteristic peaty notes of the Cyprian remain very subdued, while the almost incense like notes of the Syrian leaf offer themselves up in a prominent way. The mixture of Orientals (which I suspect is not limited to just Drama and Yendje) continues to assert itself, bringing an interplay of sweet herbal notes that mix fleetingly with the rich caramel tones of Virginia.
This blend takes to the flame fairly well; I find that minimal relights and fiddling are required. This quality remains from false-light through to the heel, which hasn’t yet revealed more than a couple of scraps of dottle.
The room-note on this blend is WONDERFUL! Not something I ever expected to say about an Oriental forward English blend; but there it is. Caramel notes prevail, with hints of mulling spices, and the slightest of campfire odours. I have had compliments on this blend from even the most vehement of anti-smokers.
By extension, this blend doesn’t smell quite so wonderful on the facial hair (or at least not to my wife). The caramel and spice notes dissipate quickly, leaving the characteristic Latakia note.
This blend undergoes an interesting change when the Delayed Gratification Technique is applied. While the sweeter Virginias become muted, almost taking on the flavour of a dark-fired leaf, the Orientals provide a deeper and more complex profile. Like many Balkan or English style blends, the slight underlying spicy notes of pepper and cayenne grow much bolder when DGT’d. All in all, a very interesting variation on the flavour profile - almost like two different tobaccos!
I can only offer two knocks against this blend. The first is nicotine content - this blend could use a little more "oomph" for my liking…as it stands, I would compare it with a light cigarette. Secondly, and much more importantly, I smoke this blend too fast. I don’t mean that I load a bowl and puff like a steam-engine on a 40 degree grade, but rather I can’t keep out of my tins! I set some aside to age, and two weeks later I am in it like a dirty shirt!
This truly unique and excellent blend, featuring a delicate and complex balance of Syrian and Cypriot Latakia, and should satisfy both lovers of the dark leaf and those just dabbling in it’s exotic mysteries. The supporting cast of Orientals and Red Virginias provide a wonderful, subtle and sweet complexity that is not to be missed. This blend has rapidly shot up to the forefront of my rotation, indeed becoming as close to an "all day smoke" as I’ve come across. Don’t let the complexity of this blend scare you off; while the flavour profile is by no means monotone, this blend is perfect for all day smoking, and won’t leave your palate fatigued. If you’re looking for a sweet Latakia blend with deep and subtle nuances, look no further!
I highly recommend it!
- Adam J. Smith