Jim Amash aka JimInks
When the fledgling Seattle Pipe Club held their first meeting in January 2001, the sole goal consisted of fun monthly evenings. This small, dedicated group of pipe smokers enjoyed each other’s company and discussed their mutual love of the gentle art that brought them together. Off topic subjects only further enriched their meetings and relationships, and the membership increased as the news got out that this monthly event was one not to be missed. In time, the club held summer picnics, annual dinners with awards and auctions, slow smoke contests, and invited special guest speakers from the most prominent members of the pipe community.
Joe Lankford was the right man at the right time for creating the Seattle Pipe Club blends. Joe and his wife Carolyn owned a tobacco shop in Dodge City, Kansas in the early 1970’s. This opportunity allowed him to begin blending on a small scale. In the early years he simply blended to please himself. The learning process included repeatedly smoking every known tobacco varietal independently so he could understand their inherent properties, and how they would interact with other tobaccos in the blending process.
This eventually resulted in his first creation, the Virginia based English mixture, Mississippi River, which was famously born in the middle of the night as he dreamed. He woke up, jotted down the formula, went back to sleep. The next morning, after he mixed up a sample, he decided he had the blend the way he wanted it. The ingredients were several Virginias with Oriental leaf, a pinch of Cyprian latakia and perique which Joe pressed to make the crumble cake form. Confident in his abilities, Joe decided he would only make blends that he would want to smoke on a regular basis. This was the point where Joe began to share his work with others.
Joe’s concoctions were originally given away to SPC members, who would urge Joe to accept money whether he wanted it or not. Pretty quickly, the demand exceeded Joe’s garage production capability. That changed in June 2007 when PipesandCigars.com introduced to market three of master blender Joe Lankford’s signature creations: Mississippi River, Plum Pudding, and Seattle Evening. With this forward step, SPC became the first and only club in America to truly create and market their own blends. An added benefit from the blends stunning success resulted in the Seattle Pipe Club becoming the best-known pipe club in America; a distinction that remains true to this day.
This article relates my long-time experience with the original eight blends that Joe Lankford created. Though they have all been well received in the pipe smoking world, I always felt the uniqueness regarding their creations, e.g., private club blends made public, deserved compilation in written form. I have carefully revisited each blend and updated my reviews for your consideration.
JimInks Rating 3.5 out of 4 stars
Mississippi River became the top seller in the line. In Mississippi River, the red Virginia is tangy, dark fruit sweet with a little earth, rather McClelland-like in that there’s a very mild ‘barbeque’ flavor present at the beginning. The stoved Virginias have a fermented sugary fruitiness. The Cyprian latakia is an important supporting player, adding a sweet smoky, musty woodiness that is obvious in every puff. The perique continuously offers some spice with raisin and fig notes in the background. The Oriental is also a minor player, not always detectable, but it is woody with a slight sour hit here and there. The strength level is in the center of mild to medium while the taste just approaches the medium mark. The nic-hit is shade past mild. It won’t bite or get harsh. Presented in an easily broken apart crumble cake, it may need a little dry time. It burns slow and clean, requires some relights, and has a well-balanced, rich and creamy smooth sweetness to the finish. There is just a little moisture left in the bowl. There is a very pleasant aftertaste and room note. This can be an all-day smoke. Those who are looking for a mid-strength English will find this highly enjoyable. It is truly a blend for all seasons.
JimInks Rating 4 out of 4 stars
In 2016, Joe got his hands on some well-aged, rare flue cured Virginias, and decided to experiment with the formula of the very popular Mississippi River mixture, resulting in a production called Mississippi River Special Reserve. My review details both the new version as well as citing the differences noticed between the two versions. I gave this four stars because of its heightened degree of intricate nuances.
The tangy, dark fruity, earthy red Virginia also has a smidgeon of ‘barbecue’ flavor as it forms the base of the blend. The stoved Virginias have a wine-like darkly sweet fruitiness and a little earthiness, and almost competes with the red for attention. The rare flue cured Virginia provides a hint of grass and some citrus in the background. The perique offers some spice with raisin and fig notes, and is a little more than a condimental addition. The Cyprian latakia supports the Virginias with a sweet smoky, musty woodiness. The Oriental is woody, lightly spicy, with a slight sour hit in places, and plays just below the threshold of the latakia. The nicotine content is just past the center of mild to medium. The taste level is medium, and the strength falls just shy of that mark. There’s no chance of bite or harshness present. The tobacco is an easily broken apart crumble cake. It was a little moist, but I did not feel the need to dry it. I recommend not totally rubbing it out. I broke off small pieces and dropped them into the bowl. It burns a mite slow, cool and clean with a very consistent, richly complex, deeply rich and creamy smooth, smokiness throughout the experience. It requires some relights, and leaves little moisture in the bowl. The lingering after taste is very pleasant, and has a stronger room note. It’s almost an all-day smoke for a beginner, and can be one for the experienced smoker.
In comparison to the original Mississippi River, I find this to be a little smoother and richer in flavor. Its sweetness has a mildly more fermented character than does the regular MR. The addition of the flue cured Virginia adds a pinch of extra complexity. I find the spice content to be a touch greater as well. Perfectly balanced, you’ll notice virtually all the inherent aspects of the tobaccos in every puff.
The use of a wide bowl will enhance your ability to capture all that this highly recommended blend has to offer.
JimInks Rating 3 out of 4 stars
Seattle Pipe Club introduced Deception Pass in 2015 when Joe, who had previously concentrated on English and Balkan mixtures, had a distinctly different blend style up his sleeve. This Virginia/perique blend is comprised of unsweetened black cavendish, red and stoved Virginias, a little Turkish ribbon and Acadian perique, and stands out as a singular entry in the SPC line up.
The base of the blend is black Virginia, which provides lightly tart, fermented dark fruit, earthiness and a little citrus. The mildly spicy, plummy, raisin and fig-like Acadian perique is a supporting player. There’s a little floral mustiness, some tingly spice and wood, a light buttery, creamy sweet and sour savoriness from the Turkish/Oriental that continually plays to your taste buds in small, but distinguishing role. The unsweetened black cavendish offers a little smoothing brown sugar. The strength and nic-hit are a step closer to medium than it is to mild. The taste falls a tad short of the medium threshold. It won’t bite and has no rough edges. It burns cool and clean at a moderate pace with a well-blended, varied, but consistent flavor from start to finish. The blend leaves little dampness in the bowl, and requires an average number of relights. There is a pleasant, lightly lingering spicy, savory aftertaste. This is certainly an all-day smoke that’s hard to beat.
Deception Pass is delightfully different from standard VaPer blends. Joe’s twist on the genre brings his point of view into full focus.
JimInks Rating 3.5 out of 4 stars
Rainier Levant was brought to market in 2016. This blend was Joe’s homage to the famous California blender Drucquer & Sons Levant Mixture, which was discontinued some years ago. It is the fullest Balkan blend in the SPC line up, as it is comprised of sixty percent Cyprian latakia.
The smoky, woody, earthy, musty Cyprian latakia is the lead component without turning this blend into a "lat-bomb". The earthy, woody, dry, buttery and creamy sweet and savory, musty, spicy, floral Oriental/Turkish (including Smyrna) is the second star in its firmament with all its inherent attributes in full display. The piquant, earthy, ripe dark fruity red Virginia is a complimentary varietal that you will always notice, especially the ‘fermented barbecue note’. The strength level is medium when you start and gets a tad stronger by the half way point. The taste is a step over the medium threshold. The nicotine will certainly get your attention as it is a little closer to medium than it is to mild.No chance of bite or harshness exists here as it’s cool smoking from first light to final puff. All the aspects I mentioned reveal themselves in every draw you take, which is the result of the superior blending in the creation of this meaty, flavorful invention. The burn rate is moderate. The tobacco burns cool and clean at a reasonable pace with a well-balanced, very consistent deeply rich flavor all the way to the end. There is a little dampness left in the bowl, and it requires an average number of relights. There is a pleasantly lingering musty, leathery, spicy campfire aftertaste and stronger room note. It’s not really an all-day smoke, but it’s repeatable. I find Rainier Levant works best as an after-meal smoke or to savor every puff as you contemplate the world you observe.
As revealed by these reviews, one sees that Joe’s goal is to develop savory blends that have nuance and character to please a discriminating smoker. Next month, the second installment of this article will focus on the other four luxury Seattle Pipe Club blends from Joe Lankford: Plum Pudding, Plum Pudding Special Reserve, Potlatch, and Seattle Evening. So stay tuned for more smoky latakia.
You can order Seattle Pipe Club blends from PipesandCigars.com and other fine retailers.
The author smoking a Charatan once owned by actor William Conrad