Pipe Tobacco Reviews

Mac Baren’s Next Move

E. Roberts
Well the days keep getting shorter, and the nights keep getting colder…and we’re getting older, too.
Winter is well and truly here, and so is some new tobacco, just arrived in the post: Mac Baren’s Dark Twist, as well as a sample pouch of Modern Virginia Loose Cut. With so much more evening time to enjoy each day, a suitable companion for the pipe is a must. Mac Baren, as always, obliges handily with their wares, both old and new.

Dark Twist is one of Mac Baren’s stable of truly classic blends developed in the 1950s and 60s (’55, to be exact), a few of which have been reviewed here at PipesMagazine.com—see our write-ups of Mixture Scottish Blend, Roll Cake, and the erstwhile Burley London Blend. In fact, it’s becoming somewhat of a Christmas tradition to review Mac Baren tobaccos—last year we indulged in some Navy Flake at holiday time, which reminds me it’s time to crack open another tin of that blend after this review.


Well played, Mac Baren. Well played.

Mac Baren has an unbelievable stockpile of tobaccos and equipment, and the blending knowledge of several generations of tobacconists to put it together like nobody else can. One of the few manufacturers able to produce coin tobaccos, Dark Twist is a shining example of the genre. From the company literature explaining the process:

Whole leaves are used as wrapper for the rope and the inlay is divided into two groups.
The first group contains 100% pure Virginia tobaccos, meaning that the whole leaves are used as wrapper leaves and the leaves with small imperfections are used as the inlay.
The second group contains whole Virginia leaves as wrapper and Dark Fired Kentucky as inlay, meaning you see the dark tobacco in the centre and the brighter Virginias around it.
After the tobaccos have been spun into ropes it is stored for weeks and then cut into small coins. The blend of Dark Twist is broken down as follows. For every 2 coins of Virginia tobacco there is 1 coin with a centre of Dark Fired Kentucky.


Control the center.

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Coin cut, spun cut, roll cake, or round flake—no matter how you slice it, it’s my favorite presentation for a tobacco. The process derives from the Age of Discovery, when sailors would wrap their precious tobacco leaves up tightly in sailcloth, perhaps spiced with a bit of rum, in order to preserve it for long hauls between ports. The physical pressure would crush the cell walls and allow the tobaccos to meld their flavors agreeably, and time would work its magic in mellowing the leaf comfortably. The process is mechanized now, of course, but the effect is the same—brilliant tobacco in an appealing, tactile format.


It’s all about tempo.

This blend is all about richness of flavor. The Virginias tend toward the dryish, woody notes typical of African strains, while the Dark Fired Kentucky lends additional earthy bass to the mix as well as some strength. Topped off with the Mac Baren signature of maple sugar, the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts. Very lightly sweet and rather mild in the tin, a bit more aroma can be coaxed out of the leaf when breaking up the coins. It’s quite enjoyable to fine-tune the mixture of one’s smoke from bowl to bowl by separating out the coins: selecting only Virginia coins for one sitting offers a sharp, snappy smoke that tingles on the palate; sorting out several Dark Fired centers and packing a large, deep bowl leads to a hearty, meditative session wherein the reviewer’s eyelids begin to sweat from the nicotine. The overall palate and profile is like a red velvet cake, if that red velvet cake were made of leather and dried hay and old wood.

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It’s your move now.


A new contender.

A newcomer to the Mac Baren lineup, Modern Virginia has leapt to the top of my "to be cellared" list. PipesMagazine.com broke the news here in October of its release, and to facilitate introduction to the market Mac Baren has produced 20-gram sample packets, which retailers can include with orders. Billed as Virginia sourced from two continents and blended with a bit of burley and Mac Baren’s Modern Cavendish, topped with a light fruit note, this is a worthy addition to the brand’s pantheon. The loose cut is basically a shag tobacco, faintly sweet in the pouch. It’s easily one of the best small-pipe blends I’ve encountered, perfect for a quick, flavorful smoke. While technically an aromatic blend owing to the topping, don’t be misled into thinking this is of the more confectionary styles of aro. In true Mac Baren form, the flavor of the tobacco itself is primary, with the gossamer-thin veil of topping laid ever so lightly over the profile. For the smoker it is a delicious, natural tasting blend, and for bystanders the room note carries the faint hint of sweetness amicably. I look forward to reviewing fully both the loose cut and flake varieties of this new concoction in the coming months. Well done, Mac Baren, and thank you for the holiday gift.


A perfect shag for small pipes.

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    oldtom
  • December 11, 2014
Mac Baren Blends are many of my favorites.
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    oldtom
  • December 11, 2014
Mac Baren Blends are many of my favorites.
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    ststephen
  • December 11, 2014
Over the last few years,I've been going through a lot of their blends, including a pound of Vintage Syrian, one of my faves. I got a 2nd tin of the Solent Mixture, and I'm looking forward to cracking a tin of Old Dark Fired within the next half year. I should try Dark Twist too, but currently I'm working my way through a tin of Acadian Perique
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    romeowood
  • December 16, 2014
Mac Baren certainly occupies its own category in my book, for all its blends and in particular the flakes. I still mourn the loss of Burley London Blend, yet perhaps it's partly because of the knowledge that the pounds I have squirreled away are the last of it that amplifies the enjoyment...or not; I really loved that tobacco. If it wasn't for all their other blends being as good as they are, I might hold a grudge against Mac B.
Happy Holidays!
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    gecokat
  • December 16, 2014
What a beautiful story of photographs, they add an amber warmth to the entire article.
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    docwatson
  • December 17, 2014
MacBaren and a Nice Kaywoodie Bulldog, now that's a picture that will make me reach for both. Great article as always Bill and MacBaren has always been a favorite in my stable of tobaccos. One overlooked blend "Club Blend" is one fine mellow and mild blend that can be smoked all day. The spun/twist tobaccos are amazing and many will improve over a few years of ageing. Lucky you, stocking up on the discontinued London Burley Blend. Glad you had the foresight to do that. Keep up the fine articles they are what makes pipesmagazine the best site on the net.
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    Cortez
  • December 18, 2014
I admire your gift for turning a phrase. Nice piece of writing and sharing of the experience.
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    Cortez
  • December 18, 2014
Dang! I always forget to mention how much I appreciate the illustrations that accompany the copy.
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    andystewart
  • December 28, 2014
Thanks for a great piece Bill - as always. It's brutal coincidence that the two blends you describe so enticingly are two that I nixed from my last order in favour of two more tins of H&H Viprati! The topping on the Modern Virginia concerns me a bit, but the Dark Twist sounds superb. Both will definitely make the cut on my next order!
Andy
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    kcghost
  • January 2, 2015
Just an excellent review with great photos. Well done Bill!!
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    beerzombie
  • March 15, 2015
Non sequitur but... if you're up for a game of chess, I'm "BeerZombie" on Chess.com!
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    romeowood
  • March 15, 2015
We love non sequesters around here, Beer! I'll have to dig around for my password to that account; I know it's around here somewhere....
.
I had another taste of Modern Virginia at the NY Pipe Show, and it still hit that spot between an aromatic and a 'straight' blend. Looking forward to my order of a few tins. Don't worry Andy, they'll make more :D
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    andystewart
  • March 16, 2015
LOL - thank God for that! I bought some Dark Twist in Berlin and it's fast become a staple; once I sorted out my cadence to avoid tongue bite, the flavour and aroma are superb. Modern Virginia is yet to come, but I'm looking forward to it!
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