Mixing It Up With Mac Baren

E. Roberts
What do you do if you’re a world-class tobacco blender with thirty-five or so different tobaccos just sitting around? If you’re Jørgen Halberg, then you create Mixture – Scottish Blend,
(née Scottish Mixture), one of Mac Baren’s flagship products since 1958. Further, what do you do if you’re a tobacco reviewer tasked with enumerating the range of flavors in said tobacco? You smoke a lot of it. A LOT. Not that it was too much trouble, mind you—I’m willing to make that sacrifice for my readers.

Regular visitors to the magazine will note that I’ve been focused on the Mac Baren line of offerings for some time now, since the spring months. The change of seasons in the northeast seems to be a particularly fitting time for their blends; perhaps the right balance of cooler temperatures and slight humidity are ideal, the climate of their Danish provenance, so to speak. My first taste of this tobacco was actually almost two years ago, at a pipe club meeting, and I noted that it was, "quite good…bright tin note, hint of white grape, but mainly leathery tobacco sweetness…worth getting a tin to look into." There are a lot of tobaccos out there to smoke, obviously, so it’s no surprise that it took some time for me to revisit this blend. Timing is everything, and as autumn descends I find the perfect companion in this Mixture. While classed as an aromatic blend, it is quite subtly so—while there is a definite topping, it serves to elucidate the tobacco’s natural sweetness and lend structure to the whole, rather than the more forward American-style notion of aromatics.

The taste testing laboratory.

Opening a fresh tin (just under one year old) reveals again that hint of white grape, as well as notes of honeycomb and the faintest whisper of the maple sugar that defines Mac Baren’s special Cavendish. After some time resting in the tin, further subtleties of milk chocolate, woody notes, and a mineral freshness are sensed. All of these top notes are cradled well by a hearty, very earthy, tobacco baseline of decidedly leathery character. Visually, the claim of more than thirty-five constituent leaves is easy to reconcile; here we have beautifully variegated broken flakes of pressed Virginias and burleys ranging from brightest lemon to chocolaty brown, mahogany ribbons of loose Virginia, smaller granulated bits of burley and deep black flecks of Cavendish, all well-packed and at perfect moisture in the 100-gram tin. The tin art is simple and clean in keeping with the rest of the Mac Baren line’s revamped branding: a white field with a burgundy border and lettering, hinting at the placid nature of the smoke.

Packed to the brim, and at the perfect moisture for smoking.

Pipe smoking is all about slowing down, relaxing, and taking time to engage fully in the experience, and Mixture is an ideal pace setter. The sweetness of the smoke comes through lightly, and if chased too eagerly may tend to bite—a tendency easily obviated by proper cadence. Slow and mindful sipping rewards the smoker with a drifting interplay of flavors that really exhibit the nuance of balancing so many different leaves so deftly. From the charring light’s Virginia tang of hay and nutty, peppery burley, it quickly settles into an undulating, orchestral composition of sweetness and earth. Sharp notes are counterpointed with heavier, creamier notes, pointing to a good variety of burley in the blend. The unmistakable chocolaty pecan and walnut notes of lighter burley give way to the heartier wood and leathery saltiness of dark-fired leaf, even as the brighter citrus and hay of Virginia compete for center stage. There is a certain dry edge to be felt from what I believe to be African or perhaps Indian varietals of the Virginia, with notes of turmeric and nutmeg, which are in turn balanced with the moist sweetness of the special Cavendish lending butterscotch and honey to harmonize.

The room note is equally gracious and nuanced, with more of the sweet and spicy notes coming through, which make for a real crowd pleaser. When enjoyed in the company of friends, descriptors such as "classy", "delicious", and "warm and soothing" were noted, and unsolicited. Mixture produces a good amount of smoke to share with those around you, and lingers on wool sport coats as a decidedly masculine perfume. Best packed a bit loosely, the broken flake serves to regulate a cool and slow easy burn down to a dry ash with few relights. When finished, the palate holds on to the sweeter flavors, and adds a slight mineral water aftertaste that does not fatigue, lending itself to repeated bowls to accompany one’s contemplative moments.

1, 2, 3…35!

Yet another praise to sing of Mixture’s extraordinary balance is its chameleon-like character in regard to drink pairings. Being a tea lover, I was amazed at its ability to meld with and accentuate a variety of teas, from a sweet blueberry matcha to more rustic Monkey Picked Tieguanyin, to a Moonlight White Tips with decided honeysuckle notes, to a basic Earl Grey. It evinced equally sure footing with adult beverages, finding a clear voice with white wines such as the Matthiasson White Napa Valley 2011, a standout pairing. Wine is often a difficult drink to pair with tobacco, tending to overwhelm the palate and degrade the finer notes of a smoke. Mixture proved up to the task, admirably. Moving on to headier spirits proved no trouble as well, allowing Mixture to flex its palate when paired with gin and tonics in a personal farewell to summer. Hendrick’s and Bombay Sapphire are old standbys, and thanks to the forum members here I’ve discovered Fever Tree tonic, which amplifies the herbaceous and medicinal flavors spectacularly.

Finally, Scotch whisky was a natural choice to see if it would pair with a "Scottish" mixture. I won’t get into what makes a "Scottish" blend as pertains to tobacco—that warrants exhaustive research and offers no clear conclusions—but I will elect that if you come across a bottle of Balvenie PortWood Aged 21, you would do well to add Mac Baren’s Mixture to the table for a complete (and nearly religious) experience. Lighter, delicate Scotches sing well with this blend; eschew the peaty malts for floral and grassy ones. A simple Glenlivet 12 with two ice cubes is a perfect jumping-off point for such an exercise. Feel free to add your own beverage pairings in the comments section—I just ordered a sleeve of Mixture to add to the cellar.

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10 Responses

  • Good review. I love this blend, always in my rotation. I find it goes very well with Jack Daniels Honey on the rocks.

  • Nothing wrong with inviting Gentleman Jack to the table, batdemon! Basil Hayden is practically my neighbor…

  • Wonderful review as always. This is a lovely, complex tobacco and if I could smoke all day, this would be a natural choice. Keep those reviews comin’!

  • About 20 years ago we had a local store called “Mom’s Cigars”. Mom had a barrel of old dried out pouches of MacBaren tobaccos for sale for 50 cents each. Being near broke at the time I started smoking whatever was in the barrel, eventually buying most of it. There were several mixtures, but primarily Scottish. I didn’t like it at first, but for 50 cents, I got to like it. Very much so, in fact. When all the discount pouches were gone I started buying fresh cans of it. They weren’t as good as the dried out pouches, but weren’t bad. I didn’t taste any of the interesting flavors mentioned in the review, but found it to be a good solid all around blend.

  • This is one of my favorite late afternoon smokes. I think the review is dead on, and have paired this tobacco with tea and later in the evening, spirits. As a new pipe smoker I am anxious to see how cellaring this mixture from bulk buys will enhance the experience.

  • Another descriptive and entertaining review that makes my mouth water just reading the article. I do have some Balvenie Portwood and will make it a point to pair MacBaren’s Mixture with a dram this evening. If only more smokers would take the time to relax and not smoke so vigorously with MacBaren’s Blends there would be fewer puffers saying that they suffer tongue bite. I’ve always enjoyed MacBaren’s blends and they will always be a staple in my rotation. Thanks for another great review and needless to say the photography entices one to light up right now.

  • That Balvenie Portwood is something special, isn’t it Andy? As to the oft-cited tongue bite, I think it’s an issue that can be obviated by taking care to neutralize one’s palate before smoking, and by sticking with the blends and smoking the same one over a period of a few days to allow the palate to calibrate to their particular house style of casing, namely the maple sugar mixture mentioned in company literature. Approach them thoughtfully if you’re not a regular aro or Mac Baren smoker, and you will be rewarded handsomely.

  • Just received this blend for Christmas. I’m new to pipe smoking and have only enjoyed aromatics so far. Well this blend just took me worlds deeper into understanding and appreciating complex and rich tobaccos! I think it’s bringing me to enjoy English blends down the road! Thanks for the awesome review!! Pipe on!!