I’m a Grinch. I detest winter for a long list of reasons, and dread the calendar’s inexorable march toward the holidays. Peterson’s Holiday Season blend is one of the few saving graces this time of year. Since 2009 the esteemed blending house in Dublin has been offering a yearly gift to pipe smokers with a special holiday blend, and added a summertime blend to the lineup in 2010. Produced as a limited run of 5000 tins, these seasonal blends are wildly popular and often sell out soon after their release each year. Fortunately, at press time several of the site sponsors still had a few tins of the Holiday Season blend in stock—so if you haven’t indulged already I highly recommend picking some up. My own tins were purchased upon their release in August and transferred to mason jars for safe keeping immediately upon arrival.
Tin: Opening this festively tinned gift will envelope you in the sweet, warm aromas of Christmas time; "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" is no hyperbole here. Close your eyes and inhale deeply, and you will also identify the fruitcake notes of the plum, the sweet treacle of honeycomb, and the warming spice of cinnamon pastry. Year after year I’m impressed by how adroitly these seasonal blends are topped, living up to their tin descriptions perfectly—it’s never a stretch to find the flavors as advertised. The artwork is festive and charming, and makes the tin a keepsake in its own right. The tobacco is a gorgeous pasticcio of oranges and browns, in the mixture of ribbon and rough cuts that are characteristic of these seasonal blends from Peterson. It arrived at the proper moisture content for enjoying straight from the tin, and nothing has been lost these past few months as it rested in a mason jar.
Char: I can’t light this blend without hearing Bing crooning The Christmas Song. Seriously nutty notes dominate, the burley synergizing exquisitely with the Virginia tartness and Cavendish sweetness. The charring should be done sparingly, only to even the top of the bowl for burning, as it takes to the light easily and can suffer from over-cooking.
Top: The structure of this blend is apparent as the true light takes, the tobaccos evenly balanced to offer their full flavor in harmony with the aromatic dressing. The flavors are well defined and true to the tin description of honey, plum and cinnamon. Testament to the high quality of the blend, the topping never competes for the tobacco flavor; rather, it enhances impeccably. The various Virginias are the core of the design, and their natural notes are directed in consonance with the flavorings to sublime effect, drawing out the natural sweetness of the leaf and giving it form.
Reelin’ in the years with Peterson’s seasonal blends.
Mid: As the bowl progresses, the flavors deepen, though not considerably. With many blends this would mean a dull, one-dimensional smoke; here it is quite the opposite. The middle bowl carries on with a delicate interplay of the aromatic flavors—dancing sugarplums, gingerbread cookies and nut brittle weave in and out of the melody. I remember a particular delicacy of childhood: the cinnamon "snails" my mother would make by rolling strips of the leftover piecrust dough in cinnamon sugar and baking until crisp. The only downside is the desire to smoke too quickly, and thankfully the tobacco is more than forgiving when pushed. Despite repeated bowls and frequent fast puffing, tongue bite is never an issue, nor is palate fatigue.
A tobacco lover’s Christmas gift.
Finish: This blend marches on like a toy soldier, finishing with a clean major-chord coda at the heel and leaving behind a whisper of dry ash. The aromatic component remains true to profile throughout the bowl, never turning sour or synthetic, never eliciting the slightest gurgle. If anything, it invigorates the palate and leaves a succulent aftertaste, even with concurrent smokes. Ghosting shouldn’t be a problem, even with non-dedicated pipes, as it leaves behind a very clean sweetness that is again very tobacco-centric. The nicotine content is light enough for repeat smokes yet hearty enough to recommend it as a postprandial digestif.
Room Note: Consider this blend a crowd-pleasing holiday-in-a-pipe when smoking in mixed company this season. It’s like bringing your own chestnuts, open fire and Christmas cookies to the party, and is guaranteed to inspire admiring compliments. While putting this tobacco through its paces I frequently found myself nosing directly from the bowl as though it were a brandy snifter; it’s so tasty that merely enjoying the retrohale wasn’t enough. It will cling lightly to clothing and retains all of the sweet balance of the bowl, recommending it as a wonderful holiday perfume for wool sweaters and tweed jackets.
Packed with obvious care in the whimsically designed tin, presenting the highest quality leaf in perfect cut and moisture, and exuding ambrosial aromas true to description earn an easy perfect score of 15 for presentation.
The draw & burn couldn’t be better in the bowl, producing clouds of smoke worthy of old St. Nick himself. I am only chagrined that I do not yet own a churchwarden worthy of packing it in—35 points.
Perhaps I have not waxed poetically enough about the flavors—they’re superlative in every regard. While my personal preference still holds the 2010 blend to have been the non plus ultra of Peterson’s specialty offerings, I can find no fault with this year’s blend. In flavor and aroma there is such shade and nuance that I’m tempted to score the highest points again, and will only refrain from doing so in order to leave room for a tobacco to supersede this one. As such, I feel that a 46 out of 50 is not too generous for this blend that is not only delightful in its own right, but manages to invoke the spirit of the season it commemorates. This is truly a gift to aromatic smokers from the Sallynoggin crew.
Cellar or Smoke?
If you’re lucky enough to pick up some of the remaining tins, I can personally vouch for the longevity of the blends when stored. I still have a couple pounds of the 2010 Holiday blend socked away which I enjoy as a Christmas present to myself each year, and it holds its balance, structure and wonderful aromatic flavor even after years in the cellar. Enjoy some now and save some for next year’s remembrance of Christmases past. As an aside, Enya’s "And Winter Came…" makes an ideal musical accompaniment to the blend for peaceful yuletide meditation. It’s saying something when a blend inspires even this Grinch to enjoy a Christmas album.
Blend: Special Reserve 2013
Blender: Kohlhase & Kopp
Cut: Mixed—ribbon & coarse
Tobaccos: Virginia, Burley, Cavendish
Room Note: Crowd-pleasing aromatic
Tin Size: 3.5 oz.
Tin Age: New—under 1 year
Tin Description: Topped with a hint of delicate black Cavendish and nutty Burley matched with expressive flavours of honey, plum and cinnamon. The result is a divine tobacco created on a base of sun drenched mature Virginias combined with different cuts to guarantee a taste of complete harmony.