By Adam J. Smith
Tin Notes: Rare Syrian Latakia, with its renowned mellow smokiness, is balanced with naturally sweet Oriental tobaccos and aged Virginia leaf to create a satisfying blend reminiscent of classic Syrian Latakia blends of old. Formulated by Tad Gage to reflect the character of original Three Oaks Pipe Tobacco, it tantalizes with intriguing differences.
Before I start this review, you should know that I went through hell to obtain, and finally, smoke this blend. After calling around to half-a-dozen tobacconists, I finally found one with it in stock. The wife, on hearing that I am headed downtown, decides that her and our son should join in, and make a day of it. Packing up a picnic lunch, we traipse off to the city center.
Abandoning the wife and child to their own devices, I made my way up to the pipe counter. Half listening to the tobacconist help the customer in-front of me (a fellow purchasing his first pipe and blends, I might add!), I scanned over the selection of pipes, and finally the tobaccos. The McClelland section was fairly well stocked - names likeBlackwoods Flake, St. James Woods, and all the Frog Mortons jumped out at me. Tins of Three Oaks Original abounded. But alas, no Syrian! With a gulp, I approached the counter, and asked the proprietor if they had any tins I wasn’t seeing.
"Nope, what you see is what you get."
Head hung low, I again began to scan the shelves, looking for…something…different. After 15 odd minutes, the fellow wanders back over to me."Was that Three Oaks Syrian you wanted?" He asks, "Were you the guy that called up? I set our last tins aside, to make sure we had it in stock.", and with that, he produced a box from behind the counter with a few tins, stamped 2010, marked Reserved.Scurrying off with my purchase like Gollum with the one ring, I met up with my wife, and now very angry, child.Informing me that he needs to eat lunch, we agreed to head to find a park to sit down and enjoy our picnic lunch in. Wolfing down my meal, I reached for my newly acquired tin and favourite pipe. Reaching for the tab, I notice the sign, under which sits a pair of uniformed police officers, enjoying a break;
"Vancouver Parks are Smoke Free"
Damn! Foiled by the man! Finishing our lunch, we head back for home, where I know I’ll finally get my smoke. As we traveled along, a good friend phoned me, seeking a partner for a mid-evening hike. With the wife’s blessing, I once again packed up my favourite pipe, grabbed my new tin, and hit the road. Finally, a chance to smoke a bowl, my municipality has no compunctions about allowing me to smoke in our parks.
Let me tell you, it was well worth the wait.
Upon breaking the seal, the tin note is rich and smoky, with just a hint of the ketchup odour McClellands Virginias are known for. After breathing for 10-15 minutes, this note begins to undergo wonderful changes, with strong notes of apricot and apple-cider, underpinned by the perfumey-smokiness of the Syrian Latakia leaf.
The tobacco itself is a rough cut ribbon; with mixture of browns, tans, bronze and black leaf, and ready to smoke directly out of the tin, with no drying time required beyond a few minutes breathing.
I find this blend works the best for me in a squat, wide bowl, such as a pot or squashed-tomato shape. I prefer a hybrid "2 Stage" packing method. The pre-light draw brings very mild hints of perfumey-incense with an underlying smokiness.
With the false light, the high sugar leaf makes itself known, with flavours of butter-toffee and sweet herbs (cardamom, saffron) prevail, with just the slightest tang of smokiness from the Latakia leaf.
With the true light, the full complexity of this blend comes to light. Through the first quarter of the bowl, the blend stays true to the sweetness detected upon the false light, with the prevalent flavour of butter-toffee taking center stage. The Oriental leaf backs up the sweet notes with mild hints of cardamom, saffron, and star anise, while the Syrian Latakia melds beautifully in the background with its unique perfume-like smokiness. This is underscored by a mild spiciness, akin to green-peppercorn, with an almost dusty note.
As the bowl progresses through half-way, the flavour becomes markedly more robust, with the smoky Latakia taking a slightly larger role. Supporting the rich, salty, incense like flavour are hints of apples and citrus, and rock sugar, while the underlying herbal notes of the Orientals continue to come through.
Around the three-quarters point, the blend undergoes yet another shift, with a salty-sweetness again taking the forefront. Very mild notes of chocolate and peppermint dance fleetingly across the tongue, while the Latakia and other Oriental leaf seem to combine into a flavour not unlike green-tea leaves.
This blend takes to a flame wonderfully; although not truly a "fire and forget" blend, it seems to require minimal maintenance. It should also be noted that this blend does actually burn to a fine light grey ash - I know, I know, believe me, I feel like I am cheapening this review by writing this, but it really does…when I tip my bowl, it looks like crushed cigar ash with just a sprinkle of dottle.
The room-note on this blend is on the sweeter side of the spectrum, and while the perfumey, incense like Latakia smoke does dominate, it doesn’t overpower the herbal sweetness of the rest of the blend. The wife scale (my measure of room-note) places this blend firmly at 7/10, making it the most pleasant "English" type blend in my stash.
If there is any downside to this blend, it’s the nicotine level. Although I don’t crave a cigarette while I am smoking it, I do find myself wanting one within an hour of finishing a bowl.
To summarize, this is a superb blend, providing a mild and complex, yet delicate balance of sweet and savoury flavours sure to intrigue. This blend is a true chameleon; while there certainly is Syrian leaf, it is used very sparingly, allowing the Orientals to really shine. At times, this blend could almost be confused with a cased aromatic, it’s simply that sweet. Perfect for all day smoking, this blend can be pushed fairly hard without bite, and despite the overwhelming number of flavours detected, tongue fatigue doesn’t ever seem to become an issue.
A great blend to either cut your teeth with Syrian Latakia, or as a rest from the usual brash blends, this blend is a welcome addition to the cellar.
-Adam J. Smith