Adam J. Smith
Tin Note: Balanced Smoking Tobacco - Cool with a rich flavour. From the Website: A robust English blend with character. Plenty of Latakia, Pressed Virginia, and Burley provide the base.
This blend surprised me - but in a very good way. With a very ambiguous tin description and a post-modern abstract label that would look at home on a cigarette package, I really wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I popped this tin. Expecting a cased Burley (perhaps something minty from the "cool" descriptor used in the liner notes), I was quite taken aback when I first popped the seal and raised the tin to my nose.
Pungent and smoky camphor and peat notes dominate, belying the presence of a healthy amount of Latakia, underpinned by an earthy, almost nutty sweetness. A slight fruity note hides in the background, diminishing with exposure to the point of being undetectable.
The blend itself is presented as a rough-cut ribbon, boasting a rather healthy portion of dark (read: black) leaf; perhaps as much as 40%. This provides a base for the coppery- and chocolate- browns and tans of the other component leaf. My tin arrived slightly damp to the touch, and although it can smoke directly out of the tin, a few minutes time to air does not hurt this blend.
I found this blend smoked well in any chamber shape and material to which I subjected it. When it came to packing, I found that I had the best success with the "codger pinch", while the "air-pocket" and "Frank" seemed to yield the worst results; namely a strong bitter element near the mid-bowl point (more on this to come).
A pre-light sip brings a mild peaty flavour of Latakia washing across the taste-buds, riding on the wings of an almost honeyed sweetness.
With the charring light, gentle honey-notes envelop the taste-buds, supported by the peaty-rich flavours of quality Latakia. An almost earthy nuttiness, interwoven with hints of creamy leather and an almost fruity, yet caramel like sweetness roll across the back of the palate providing an intriguingly delicate, and yet buttery rich background.
With true light, the camphor and peat notes of the Latakia take on a more secondary role, providing a strong base note which the other components build upon. Complex, tangy sweet notes abound, at times grabbing the taste-buds with an almost lemon-like sour note, while at others bathing one’s palate with a treacle-like sweetness. This is underpinned with a leathery nuttiness, which I believe comes from a Burley component; and has the added benefit of adding a thick creaminess to the smoke itself.
The flavour profile remains fairly stable through the mid-bowl point, however I do find that on tighter packs (for example, when employing the "Air-Pocket" method) that a strong bitterness can develop. This doesn’t remain, however, and after a dozen odd puffs, the flavour profile once again regains it’s pleasurable qualities.
As one progresses towards the heel, a wonderful, earthy, leathery, almost dark-fired flavour begins to develop, while the Latakia undergoes an interesting transition; developing from the camphoresque note so familiar in the Cypriot variety into the more tea-like note associated with the Syrian varietal of the leaf - before transforming back again. The creamy nuttiness remains prevalent, while the fruit and treacle notes combine, reminding me of the honeyed fruits sold on the streets of South East Asia.
The room-note on this blend, to my olfactory senses, is extremely pleasant. The burning-peat and camphor note of Cyprian Latakia is certainly prevalent, however it actually smells like Latakia tastes! My wife comments that "This is the first Latakia blend that she seems to enjoy as much as I do."; very high praise indeed! Unfortunately, this does not translate into the latent smoke left clinging to my facial hair and clothing; which is closer to a wet camp-fire.
This tobacco burns extremely well, requiring the sheer minimum of effort to light and maintain, leaving a small amount of dottle behind. The tobacco does indeed burn "cool", and one can puff like a freight-train before bite begins to rear it’s ugly head.
The Delayed Gratification Technique will provide reward when applied to this blend, highlighting the darker, earthier notes, while adding a slight musty flavour; akin to wet leaves. This is highlighted by the slight spiciness which I find many Latakia blends take on with this method; providing a very nice "dark" addition to the flavour profile.
I did find two detractors with this blend. First off, the nicotine level is definitely lacking. I often find myself reaching for a cigarette before my pipe has cooled when I am smoking this blend. Secondly, I find myself wishing the flavour profile (particularly the sweeter notes) were stronger in flavour. I oft find myself puffing like mad, trying to pull more flavour out of the blend (and, of course, achieving just the opposite).
In my research around this blend, I find that it is often sold with the tagline "Perfect for fans of Dunhill My Mixture 965", and often the two blends draw comparison.
So, is this blend a match to Dunhill 965? Simply put, no. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a true "match" blend; unless both houses are sourcing leaf from the same farms and following the same recipes, and processing with the same equipment, the best one could hope for is either a similar physical make-up, a similar flavour-profile, or, if extremely lucky, both.
That said, I don’t think that the fine folks at Altadis actually set out to make a "match" blend to Dunhill 965; but rather a complimentary blend. The differences are just too glaring - most noticeably the complete absence of Oriental varietals of leaf in Blend No. 5. As such, I take the statement "Perfect for fans of Dunhill 965" to mean just that - if you like the Dunhill blend, chances are you will like this blend, with a flavour profile of a similar ilk.
So, keep in mind, if one approaches Blend No. 5 expecting to smoke a bowl of Dunhill 965, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if one approaches this blend expecting to smoke a unique and flavourful take on a medium bodied Latakia blend, look no further. Although Latakia certainly does make up a major component of this blend, it does not overpower the subtle tangy and sweet notes; making this an excellent blend for either the smoker looking for an introduction into the world of Latakia-forward smokes, or for the Latakia smoker looking for a change of pace.
Mild enough for all day smoking, yet complex enough to intrigue the senses; I highly recommend it!