A Number One Virginia

E. Roberts
Just a little while longer. Nineteen days, two hours, fifty-six minutes and a handful of seconds, to be exact. A little under three weeks, if all goes well, until we’re home free. We’re almost there … must … hold out … for … spring. In the meantime, I’m fortunate to have a tin of Mac Baren Virginia No.1 on hand to see me through to the end of the current ice age.

Perhaps I am overeager in my anticipation of the change of season; snow in March tends to have that effect on me. Virginia No.1 fuels that anticipation with its aroma promising long days, short nights, and all the smells and tastes of a hot, dry summer. This classic blend from Mac Baren’s venerable stable has been a mainstay of their lineup since its introduction in 1957, and one taste is all it takes to confirm the reason for its enduring relevance.

A classic that’s still going strong.

Beginning with a balancing act of a dozen different Virginias sourced from three continents, the mixture is pressed into massive bricks, left for several weeks before being sliced into flakes, and then partially rubbed out for packing. It’s a process that takes a lot of time, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. One may recall the unexpected sellout of the entire initial stock of their Old Dark Fired when it was released: rather than cut short the processing time in order to ship more, Mac Baren’s response was simply, "Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the next batch." So be it; the way the flavors meld and marry under pressure is part of the magic of the blender’s alchemy, and time is a variable that can’t be replicated by any other means. Mac Baren may be a blender on a massive scale, but their attention to process is what ensures their products maintain such a high quality and consistency.

Pressed tobacco ready to be sliced

Roughly broken flakes packed tightly in the tin release a dry herbal bouquet on opening. The smells of hay bales drying in a lazy sun immediately come to mind; transporting me back to summers spent Upstate, deep in farm country. The textures of weatherworn wood are there too, the hint of leathery oak barnboards and fenceposts. Grass and heat and the chirrup of crickets in the midday swelter are on the edge of the cloud of smoke rising from the bowl. Though lightly cased with the typical Mac Baren flavoring of a hint of maple sugar, it’s so subtle as to be entirely in the background of the flavor profile. No.1 is by no means an aromatic, nor is it on the dry, sharp end of the spectrum of simpler Virginia blends. For being an all-Virginia blend, sharpness on the palate is plainly absent, and tongue bite isn’t even a notion.

A warm pipe is like a portable fireplace; certain solace in the hoary winter.

On Mac Baren’s scale of strength, aroma, and room note, No.1 pegs a 2 out of 5 all around; a very fair assessment. The strength is certainly on the mild side, delivering a solid but refined smoke with just enough of a kick to satisfy one’s craving. The flavor is likewise mild yet fulfilling, and exceedingly well rounded for an all-Virginia mix. I liken it to a quality blended Scotch: exhibiting the best characteristics of its constituents in concert with each other in order to present a fuller profile altogether. It actually more resembles a traditional Virginia-burley blend in terms of its ease of burn, mild palate feel, and roundness of flavor. It is easy to recommend as an all-day smoke, either in the tin or the convenient pouch, and produces a faintly fragrant smoke of mild spice that bystanders can appreciate.

Ode to Smoking Pipes.

Smoking straight down to the bottom of a bowl with only a match or two isn’t something you can guarantee. After all, we each smoke with different pipes and different techniques, not to mention the constant variations in environment and time. What you can do, however, is to manage the variables to create a burgeoning chance of that near-perfect smoke being a regular occurrence. This is another one of Mac Baren’s fortes. It begins with the presentation, from the simple streamlined graphical art of the tin—another reminder of summer sunshine with its golden halo—to the perfectly colored and sized broken flake within, packed at just the right moisture. I find that more and more I look to Mac Baren tobaccos as studies in refinement, of a Zen-like practice in constant craftsmanship.

So easy it almost smokes itself.

So if you find yourself still swirling around with the winter doldrums, take heart. Spring really is right around the corner, at least on the calendar. Crack open your own tin of No.1, find a good warm spot to sit and smoke in, and have a daydream of the season to come.

Beware the ice of March.

5 Responses

  • Great write up! That’s one I’ve been meaning to try. Have to add it to my wishlist on smokingpipes and include a tin in the next order!
    My condolences on living back east. I’m in Vegas and it’s in the 80’s right now lol.

  • After only a year I can see my Va #1 turning darker in the jars.
    I enjoy the light honey flavor in this blend on a hot summer day with a cold drink.

  • Good article.
    I tried this blend some years ago before I developed a love of Virginias.
    I need to try it again.

  • I have a sample of this blend on this on the way and I’m looking forward to trying it just as much as I am looking forward to the arrival of warm spring days.
    The cart full of pressed tobacco bricks some how resembles a cart of gold bars when I look at it. 🙂