The holiday season has crept upon us again, and with it the urge, in me at least, to indulge in some unabashed aromatic smoking. In normal times, the holidays are a reason to enjoy feasting and the company of family and friends; aromatics of course make for a pleasant atmosphere for smokers and non-smokers alike, while the pipe itself hearkens to a sense of tradition and hearth concomitant with the season. In these uncertain days, while we may not be able to enjoy all of those things in the traditional manner, I do hope that our readers are able to find a reasonable facsimile thereof in some small measure.
Looking back on this past year, I find something missing: Peterson special editions. It used to be I looked forward to them annually—summer, limited, and especially the holiday blend. Sadly, they are no longer, but some cellar diving did unearth a curiosity: a jar of Sunset Breeze dated 2014, my favored blend from their standard lineup, which it seemed only fitting to compare to a new production tin. With the K&P portfolio of blends being acquired by Scandinavian Tobacco Group in 2018, would it be the same old blend? Would it even still be palatable? My worries proved unfounded, as upon opening it, it smelled every bit as sweet and almondy as it should, identical in nature to a fresh tin, if only the slightest bit muted. Preferring the ideology of a tropical sunset to a winter’s chill, it all seems to come together perfectly for this smoke.
Peterson tobaccos have never let me down, at least not in terms of smoking enjoyment. I am, however, more than a little heartbroken that their holiday blend series is a thing of the past. From my first tin in 2009 to the last, extremely difficult to obtain tin from 2019, the special editions were a sort of side adventure that I anticipated embarking on, both for the aromatic creations—some of which were remarkable, some wacky, some forgettable—but also for the tin art; tins that I now keep various trinkets, sewing kits, pens, and other odds and ends in, but which also encapsulate memories of those years within—the year I went to the Chicago show, the year I started writing for PipesMagazine, the year old Romeo passed on, the year I broke off an engagement. I daresay we pipe smokers tend toward being a sentimental lot, if anything.
Just looking at the blood-orange red tin of Sunset Breeze evokes for me the sense-memory of its delicious amaretto aroma. The bouquet of the fresh tin as well as its color is, as expected, a bit more vibrant and bright as compared to the jarred sample, though the latter has retained the larger part of its aroma, if a bit more tempered and a smidge darker of leaf. Inhaling deeply nets a full bouquet of almond, orangey citrus, light cherry hints, and the faint nuttiness of the burley threading it all together. Pomander balls, those clove-studded oranges my aunt was famous for making, come to mind—recommending this blend suitably in the range of the traditional scents of the season. Speaking of the leaf, comparing the two vintages reassures me that STG has taken great care in its stewardship of the Peterson marque—aside from the darkening of the color, the cut and texture of the leaf from the samples are remarkably similar, and the aroma of the casing is spot-on the same. I see the same melange of lots of dark Cavendish with burley and Virginia crosscut, artfully arranged in the Peterson manner.
From charring light to about mid-bowl, it’s all about the room note. The nose aroma for the smoker is enticing and spicy with a promise of sweetness, and is certainly a crowd-pleaser for bystanders—as prescribed, always an excellent choice to recommend for lighting up at any gatherings. Care and patience are rewarded with Cavendish-forward blends like these, for they can be a dangerous temptress, urging the smoker to puff a little too fast while chasing the translation of aroma to flavor, only to be rewarded with a sharply bitten tongue. To that end, I find that a double espresso, or at the very least a strong black coffee, makes a perfect accompaniment for tending the start of the bowl to balance out the alkalinity of the blend as well as a counterpoint to the flavors—perfect for the after-dinner cup.
The second half of the bowl is the real reward for the patient smoker. The components of the blend by now have fully orchestrated and mingled into an earthy, slightly floral melange, redolent with the amaretto sweetness, and it is here the smoker will find those tastes they’ve been chasing while sharing them with the room. The nuttiness of the burley is perfectly suited to the almond casing, and is just slightly sour and sweet enough to satisfy the post-prandial craving. Smoked sparingly, it leaves a light and pleasantly soapy and nutty aftertaste on the palate, not unlike an almond in the shell. It’s always good enough to beg another bowl, so I’ll often find myself packing several in succession; usually smaller sized pipes, and there’s always a cob handy, which suits the blend well. I also find it does best prepared bone-dry for smoking.
Enjoying the pipe after a holiday feast also makes a perfect time for contemplation. For my part, I’ll be spending what is likely the last holiday with an old friend, a companion for the past couple decades who’s been around the world and back with me, my cat Le Stryge. We’ll reminisce about the tastes of yesteryear, and not give too much thought to the year ahead, at least for now. We’ll give some thoughts to those who have left us, blessed us by their passing, and though it will be a quiet Christmas with just the two of us, we’ll be contented, him purring in my lap and fur smelling faintly of amaretto smoke.