Not too long ago, Brian Levine and I chatted on his radio show about brick-and-mortar tobacco stores, tobacconists and how special (and arguably essential) they are. As is known, I worked for a few years behind the counter of a local Tinder Box, which is now closed. There is a silver lining, and that is through a pair of Nicaraguan brothers that opened up their version of a tobacco shop in the exact location. The brothers are wonderful. Marvin is the brother I know best, he’s usually the face of the store, and I first met him when they had much humbler digs a few years ago. They’re flourishing now, and this second location is giving life to my old shop. Their main focus is cigars, but the former manager of the Tinder Box has convinced Marvin to have a modest selection of pipes and tobaccos as well. I spent some time there recently and it was good to see everything old becoming new again. The life and vision the brothers brought to my old stomping grounds is nothing short of refreshing. If you’re in Reno, Ruiz Cigars is the place to go.
With the holidays well behind us, we’re about ten percent through the new year, and it’s already been a hell of a ride. The complexities of doing even the smallest task are taxing, and I have had enough with trying to be patient with Perique or relax with an outspoken Latakia. When I want to not worry about any effing thing, Virginia is the quiet one, the stoic and strong one, the one who is always there but never intrudes. Hardly needy, ever-patient and classic, I wanted nothing more than this kind of simplicity.
Sometime just over a year ago, a few Hearth & Home releases came about, along side a ton of other tobaccos, and I was overwhelmed. You’d be surprised how tough it is doing only twelve reviews a year and knowing you haven’t even scratched the surface of new releases. Better late than never, I really wanted to dive into “Bright Night,” a Hearth & Home pressed and rested crumble cake of, you guessed it, Virginias.
The loose square of tobacco in the tin has a wonderfully warm, reddish caramel color to it, and doesn’t smell of much, a little grassy, a hint of fig and a distant citrus wink. It’s unassuming, sitting there, under a small circle of black paper, waiting for something to be done. Not too dry and not too moist, it breaks apart easily into small bits, pieces and ribbons. I had a tough time getting my bowls filled with the draw I like, it seems the tobacco is not only cut and processed a little on the small side but is also somewhat springy.
First lights have quite a flavor punch to them, it’s very wood-like and follows up in flavor with the grassiness my nose caught when I first opened the tin. There’s a peppy quality to the smoke of Bright Night that tingles the senses, a gently meaty umami on the upper palate, and a medium mouth-feel to the smoke as it is rolled around the tongue. Packing issues aside, it took me a few tries to really get the draw I wanted, and I noticed it in my relights. At first, there were many. Once it got going, it was easy enough to smolder and keep the fiery momentum, but I was prepared with a lighter nearby just in case. The nice thing about this were the relights, because the burst of flavors were like a toasted croissant. If tobacco has an attitude, the least it could apologize like this.
By the mid-bowl of Bright Night, a rather pithy and bitter flavor would at times unbalance the delicate flavors I liked. It happened in nearly every pipe, during good weather and bad, night or day. It’s a mild bitterness, but it kind of made getting to know this tobacco a bit of a bumpy ride. It was distracting more than it was a deal-breaker. Despite this, I found some cocoa notes, that same wonderful mouth-feel and the small whiffs of smoke coming off the bowl smell pretty damned nice. It’s much easier to keep the bowl lit at this stage, as the tobacco seems to hold the heat a little better—which is a thin margin to play with. Too much heat, the tobacco can get overheated and even sweat, causing steam. Too little heat, and the poor smoker is left tugging desperately to get the combustion ratio of fuel to oxygen to stabilize, which is tiresome. Bright Night does a great job handling itself, it simply takes a little getting used to.
End-bowl experiences return to the beginning with Bright Night, except with a natural concentration of flavors. This brings about even more flavors, where they haven’t changed theme, but more color. It’s more an amplified resonance of flavor. A good Virginia can do this with ease. If one thinks of a stringed instrument, usually tuned in fourths or fifths, the lower string can be fingered to match an open string. When played together, they are always slightly off one another, because they are two different things attempting the same thing. It gives depth and character, and technically more volume. Analogy aside, I look forward to these concentrated end-bowl flavors and not all mixtures can achieve this—and I expect them out of a good Virginia blend. The pithy tastes turn fire-roasted citrus, the cocoa joins in on the sides of the tongue, and the toasted attitude carries the rest. Some attentive tamping at this point made any packing challenges in the beginning manageable here.
Bright Night is a sleeper in my book. It’s just the right amount of everything: Lively, simple, subtle, and tasty. It has a moderate nicotine kick, and I really enjoyed smoking it in the morning. It can have a little trouble with pairing, some days tea worked, other days coffee did. Water and whiskey were the same. I found it best left by itself, in a small pipe and enjoyed for shorter periods of time. Despite the slightly bitter annoyances and the cut, I certainly don’t feel I wasted my time with this tobacco. The whole reason I picked it up was for simplicity and comfort, to try something new that would give me the same feeling like walking into my old shop and finding it was different, but the same.
I think that’s an important celebration in the dynamics of life, to appreciate change. Like that humble little tobacco shop I worked in, the one with so many fond memories, it’s kind of like Bright Nights: a fresh take on a classic theme. Change is inevitable, and if it’s for the positive, I say pack it, light it, and enjoy the ride.
- Editor Rating
- Rated 4 stars
- Hearth and Home Bright Night
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Hearth and Home Bright Night Tobacco Review