McClelland Tudor Castle Series – Arcade

Kyle Weiss
This cheeky review comes at a good time on both the calendar and in my life. I will fully admit I am not a “McClelland guy” when it comes to pipe tobacco, and I’m also of the opinion you smoke what you damn well please because it pleases you. Is it appropriate to rib the guy smoking something you do not? Of course it is. We’re all in this together, and if not for a little fraternal crap-talking. Pease-heads are snobs, McClelland guys are ketchup-smokers (that swear they can’t smell it), and Lakeland lovers are into sniffing soapy granny-panties–no one likes the aromatic guys: they’re just newbies or sweethearts. These are not hard-lines usually, as many of us switch it up between lines and brands, not to mention styles and mixtures. It’s also part of the fun. If you’re new to this game, it won’t take long to figure out pipe guys love their pipes and tobacco, and love perhaps a little more their opinions about them–whether they voice them or not. I’ve made a partial living at this point doing just that! It’s a great world to be in, provided you have the right skin thickness…

…”…what smells like bad ketchup?” I kid you not, that is the reaction I got when I first cracked into this 2008 tin of McClelland Tudor Castle Series ‘Arcade.’ This was from a non-smoker, so the lack of bias was perfect. I laughed. I chose this tin because a while back I promised a friend, one who is a staunch lover of McClelland that I’d love this tobacco–even more if I could manage to wait ten years to smoke it. He swore it would smoke better than any Gawith, the depth and volume of Pease, and would make me a changed man.

The hiss the tin made when I peeled back the seal was fairly hefty. I hesitate going into any tin that has any age on it. It’s a time-capsule…it has to be special if you’re going to dive into it, right? It’s a beautiful tobacco that patiently waited for me, went through two moves and two relationships, and at least four jobs. It’s a dark, rufous-colored selection of slices and chunks, sporting a hint of rusty-red and plenty of aging crystals glistening in the late morning sun. Yeah, it smells like ketchup, but far, far less than I would have expected.

I will give McClelland one thing: they know how to press and cut their tobacco. It’s a joy to work with, usually being a little on the drier side (good for smoking, not so great for quick aging, as I understand it), and is easily broken down into little strips and crumbles that take a light.

I’m pissed. Upon first light, the acidic-attitude of McClelland normally hits me quickly and I’m wondering what I got myself into. Not this time. McClelland also tends to make me sneeze as there’s something in the smoke that tickles my nose. Also, this wasn’t happening. There’s a peppery nature to the smoke, Perique is on stage. In a good way. I can feel it coat the tongue how only it can, and it isn’t overwhelming. There’s a very calm caraway-seed/rye bread note on the back end that forces me to delve further.

Not much changes through the halfway point of the bowl of Arcade. One thing that drives me bonkers about McClelland is it seems like there’s something missing: spirit. It’s not the tobacco I don’t like, but I miss whatever that little thing is that I find in tobacco I like. McClelland has done an excellent job making a tobacco that is easily smoked, they are hands-down probably the winner for that one. It might be that abuse of my tongue with spicy food, being a professional cook and licking rocks for exploration geology has made my palate a tad unique. Who’s to know? What I do know is I am not bored with this particular tobacco, there’s something in it I’m enjoying, simply the flavor-volume turned down to innocent levels.

Three-quarters in, a bit of thick, gooey tobacco goodness redeems itself and I’m at what I hope are the rocket-boosters to other worlds of flavor. Boosters on, but delayed launch: there’s a ton of smoke, and I can pick out the spiciness of the Perique, the rye-bread seediness and perhaps now a bit more thickness. It’s a nice pastrami on rye, if I were to assign it a dish. I’m reaching for the spicy mustard (rather than the ketchup), but they seem to have run out. Launch cancelled after all.

Finishing the bowl was a breeze, but I still wanted something else. The missing element. The spirit, the vibe, the personality of the tobacco. It stayed shy and pleasant. It’s the kind of tobacco you introduce to your parents, not the kind with which you spend all night partying and drinking. McClelland, again, has never had what I’d call “performance issues.” While my subsequent bowls reacted much the same be they cob or briar, there’s a consistency I have to tip my hat toward. Nicotine is mild, and do pair it with milder beverages so as not to upset its delicate nature.

Ten years of aging and my promise fulfilled, McClelland fans can rejoice knowing Arcade, among others, really benefit from letting tins sit for double-digit years. This was, if I might say, the best bowl of McClelland I’ve had since I had a small, intense yet temporary affair with aged Dark Star a few years ago. You really can smoke this stuff all day without worrying about tongue fatigue, and maybe that’s the intent. Any smoker at any stage of their interest in the subject and hobby can easily give McClelland a go without a steep learning curve on preparation or packing, and one does not need serious nicotine tolerance.

I have fun trying these aged tins as they come about and sharing my findings, I hope you’ll do the same and age a few things you might not normally to see how they change. Try things, but be true–stick to what you like, even if that means taking a few digs from your comrades of the briar cauldron. Don’t forget to dish out a few yourself.

Cheers, everyone.

11 Responses

  • Ha ha, great review. I really like Arcade, but I have yet to find a Virginia based McC blend that I didn’t like. Yeh yeh yeh, I smell the ketchup, but I don’t taste it. Weird thing is that I don’t actually like ketchup on my food. Keep ’em coming Kyle!!

  • Thanks Cosmic.
    I swear, if I had a burger for every time the ketchup debate came up, I’d be nearly 250lbs again. I don’t like ketchup on my food either, really. I’m glad you enjoy it though, more for you. I’m okay with any tobacco that inspires someone to pick up a briar and smoke it. For that I respect the stuff. Maybe if I sprinkled a little beef jerky on my next bowl I’ll “get it.” Hahaha

  • Give the tin a week, the flavors will be more complex and likely a bit more up front. Some of the compounds produced by the yeast and bacteria during aging will oxidize and become more flavor-active. In addition to biology there are a lot of chemical reactions occurring over the life of a tin.

  • Renfield… Was a week too little? This tin I’ve been peckin’ away at for a month! I appreciate the bio-science tip–Mr. Pease has been a boon of knowledge in what I know about the leaf. On the other hand, if I had a dollar for every tidbit that is thrust my direction about why a tobacco didn’t do what it was supposed to do because of science variable “A” through voodoo “infinity” I’d be having monthly pipe orgies one of my private islands. 🙂
    All humor aside, I believe I know where the confusion may be. When writing reviews as I do, without the pedant of literal step-by-step activity, I write my experiences as a discovery. It’s a culmination of three to four weeks of repeated experiences tied together with the scope of one one general experience.
    Then again, if I had another dollar for every time a guy has a great experience with something subjective another does not, pilot error is immediately assumed–which could be. However, any man should trust his senses more than that of another, and if under reasonable I cannot work the stick and rudder, I move to something I can operate. This holds no bearing on the honor, spirit and integrity of the other man nor his tastes or choices. It means my time is best spent getting comfortable with things I know to enjoy.
    This is the essence of pipe smoking. With simplicity in mind, the easiest way to rational enjoyment is the idea, by my reckon.

  • Nice review. I don’t smoke a lot of McClelland blends, but I do enjoy them when I do. Yeah, the smell is there – fermenting Virginia tobaccos, they say – but it never interferes with the taste.

  • Great write up. I’m a novice pipe smoker, but I’ve tried McClelland twice and enjoyed both varieties. But I do get the “ketchup” comments. Personally, the smoke comes out great for me.

  • Interesting read Kyle, thanks. When my first batch of McClelland tins of Virginia flakes arrived on this side of the pond I was quite mortified by the ketchup smell. I was given prior warning of this but I was still taken by the stench. Thankfully I was also told it didn’t transfer into the smoke and this turned out to be perfectly true.

  • First time I’ve read your literary work. You’re a great story telling genius. Love it.

  • …and thank you guys, as well!
    I had no idea McClelland was going to call it quits at the time I wrote this. To be honest, I felt a little bad. McClelland, ketchup or not, had a lauded place in the pipe smoking world. Not to be one to kick a dog when it is down, it deserves the respect and position it took with those who were fans. Whenever a tobacco company shuts down, or most commonly, gets bought out or taken over by a different company, we all feel it–the latter being (somewhat) preferable to the former.
    We’re all in this together, after all. I hope everyone was able to get the McClelland they like and love before it disappeared forever.