Hey Buddy …Whatcha Smokin’?

E. Roberts
The smoke from my pipe was drifting over to the next table where a couple sat,
smoking cigarettes and chatting over drinks in the backyard garden of a local watering hole in Brooklyn. We were there to enjoy the first glimpses of spring and sunlight, I with my notebook and pipes in hand to fill out my tasting notes, he and his girlfriend with their beer. "That almost smells like a cigar, only spicier," he continued, and explained that he smoked cigars but had never tried a pipe, though they intrigued him. I explained to him that it was a Virginia / Perique mixture that was custom blended by my friend at Nat Sherman; at that point the well-dressed couple was more than politely intrigued as we went on to chat about all things tobacco for the next several rounds. I had fortuitously brought along an unsmoked Missouri Meerschaum, and was able to gift them their first pipe experience—she enjoyed the occasional cigar with him, she said, and was as eager to try it as he was—which made for one of those chance meetings that new friendships are made of, and possibly new pipe smokers.

"To travel is to own the World." – Burton Holmes

The blend in question is called Wayfarer, a creation of Christopher McGrath at Nat Sherman. Chris joined Nat’s about two years ago, making the move down to the Big Apple from Upstate with his wife. With an enthusiasm easily described as unbridled, he has already taken great strides in lifting the pipe and tobacco presence at their flagship Fifth Avenue location. One of his aims is to foster a return to the golden age of tobacconists by expanding the Nat Sherman branded labels, presenting custom and limited edition mixes, and offering bespoke blends. Naturally, Chris set himself to the task of mixing up some tobacco; Dragoon was the first of these experiments, a stunner of a Latakia mix, which was recently followed by Wayfarer. While they are not regular production run tobaccos, one can order them directly by calling up Chris at the store. His batches are truly hand-blended on a made-to-order basis, and have already garnered an ardent local following.

"Genuine travel has no destination. Travelers do not go somewhere, but constantly discover they are somewhere else." – James Carse

So what does this Wayfarer taste like already? As you may have guessed from the gentleman who thought it smelled rather like a cigar, this is a powerfully pungent blend. "Piquant" just doesn’t do it justice. "Hearty" likewise falls far short of the mark. Comprised of a whopping 30% Perique (!) complemented by red, bright, and stoved Virginias, this is a gentle giant of a tobacco—strong enough to kick you to the curb and take your wallet, but much too refined for that. As a confirmed fan of Perique, I was in love at first taste, of course. Perhaps counterintuitively, the über-rich leaf does not destroy the blend in this immoderate amount. Its peppery aspect is there in all its glory, of course, with the fruity notes largely subsumed to a background color in the richness. And oh, what richness! This is hardly an apéritif smoke; it’s a meal unto itself—just don’t smoke it on an empty stomach.

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." – Martin Buber

The Virginias here are to be congratulated for standing up against this proportion of Perique and being able to balance it while presenting their own flavors with clarity. They manage to frame the composition just so: with a brightness on the light that is classic lemon VA, followed by a sweetness characteristic of the red and stoved that directs the melody toward the succulence to be found in this much of the condiment leaf. Always plying their flavors on the edges of the smoke, keeping it from becoming too dark and bass-heavy, they succeed in showcasing the depth and complexity available in the Perique. Hints of liquorice play through sweetly, then swing to a salty tang that tickles the edges of the tongue, then back to a thick, truffle-like earthy body. In the retrohale is where the peppery burn is boldest, at times enough to make the eyes water.

"My inspiration for the name comes from the idea that a VA/Per should be smoked slowly and with care, in order to taste the nuanced, changing flavors. Much like a wayfarer travels from place to place, this blend changes as you smoke it." Chris couldn’t be more spot-on with his characterization of the blend. It sets its own cadence, encouraging an ever-so-slow smoke that lazily swings between spicy and savory. Fans of VaPers will be enthralled, and perhaps a bit surprised, at how heady and singular an experience this one is. If your interest is piqued, and I know it is, give Chris a call at (212) 764-5000, shoot him an email at CMcGrath@NatSherman.com, or stop by Nat Sherman at 12 East 42nd Street to order up a few ounces of Wayfarer, and let us know in the comments section where this blend takes you.

"One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." – Henry Miller

After a tobacco like that, what can I review next? That’s a good question—why don’t you tell me? Is there a tobacco out there you’ve been curious to try, but you haven’t seen an in-depth review of? Or perhaps you’d like to compare how your tasting notes of one of your old favorites measure up to scrutiny? PipesMagazine.com invites readers to submit their requests for a tobacco to be reviewed in an upcoming column by yours truly. Blends must be widely available current-production blends—I’ll need to get a tin to smoke, after all. State your requests in the comments section below, and stay tuned to see if your pick is chosen to be reviewed next month!

Christopher McGrath of Nat Sherman

15 Responses

  • Nice write up and a good promo for Chris and Nat. Since this blend has so much Perique should we call it a PaVer?

  • I’ll have what he’s having! 30% sounds challenging seeing that 5% is the norm from what I’ve heard or read. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to try some Wayfarer though.

  • Yes please, Bill! I love Glyn Quelch’s blends with 20% Perique, so this sounds like a winner. Just got to see if Chris delivers to England. On the tasting request and sticking with VaPers, I’d be very grateful for your notes on Peter Henirich’s Curly Block. I hear it’s a dead ringer for Murrays’ DNR, so should be right up my street, but I can’t find a proper review of the blend. Thanks for the heads-up on Wayfarer!

  • And it seems this crowd-sourcing idea needs a little kick-start, so here it is: A CONTEST!!
    Suggest a blend to be reviewed in the comments section of the article. I’ll put the eligible blends suggested into a random selector spreadsheet, and whomever submits the one chose will win a tin of the previous month’s review blend, courtesy of me. This time around it’s Wayfarer, of course, and I’ll send off at least a 2 oz. bag direct from Nat Sherman. I’ll contact you via PM once selected. This is run by me personally, not by PipesMagazine.com, so don’t call Kevin complaining if you don’t win.

  • @ kcghost : I resisted the urge to call it a PerV, didn’t I? It’s damn good though, and I think a lot of cigar smokers will appreciate the intensity of flavor, as well as Perique fans. Don’t forget the 70% Virginia!
    @ Andy: It seems that the closest available on this side of the pond is Heinrich’s Curly Special–remember, I have to be able to source it as easily as any of the readers, and our site sponsors are the first place to look. Let me know if you can find it on the InterWebs for US and I’ll enter it in the hat!

  • This sounds like a skillful crafting of a high Perique, if not Perique forward, blend that lets the dark leaf shine in its own right. If I understand, it is currently available in bulk directly from Nat Sherman in Manhattan, and I wonder if it will later be offered in tins as is their 536 English and some other blends. Based on my enjoyment of 536, which I first met in the Nat Sherman smoking lounge, I look forward to trying this one too.

  • I’d love to see a review of the limited release of Sam Gawith’s Squadron Leader with Perique!

  • Like your writing style. Very good idea to have an un-smoked cob on hand, just in case. You never know when you might meet a new friend. I have been newly intrigued by Tudor Castle. A Oriental/Turkish, Perique, Virginia blend. The Yenidje seems to be the key component that makes the magic happen. It is just goodness all around.

  • I enLanejoyed your review, for your next one how about Lane’s new Medal of Valor.

  • Just smoking my first bowl Wayfarer right now (thanks Bill!). What a fantastic taste! 30% Perique sets your tongue atingle and the nose atwitching, with sweet and tangy virginia providing relief and depth. Far and away the best of the Nat Sherman offerings I’ve smoked.

  • @JackSwilling and @SettersBrace are the winners! While I would have loved to review all the selections, I’m limited on time. Stay tuned to PipesMagazine.com for the upcoming review article.

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