It was pretty wild to me today as I was writing no “1” in the space allotted for denoting the year. 2019 went out no more spectacular or horrific than any other given year this decade. Personally, if I were to do a review of the last decade as a whole (minus getting through this new year), I’d say this: “…first quarter, it was pretty alright—pleasant notes and easy to get going; halfway through however it bit like hell, burned a hole in the heel of my favorite pipe, suddenly went cherry-flavored then Lakeland, got out of the bowl, then pissed in my coffee: but to its credit, it burned to a nice, white ash.” I’ll ride along for whatever journey happens, good or bad, that’s just who I am. I’ll tell stories about it, bitch a little even try to see the bright side. That includes knowing when something is finished, putting the lid on it, and moving on.
Jumping right into everything, Happy New Year. I’m compiling my notes and thoughts not only about the calendar but about my take on Seattle Pipe Club’s “Plum Pudding Barrel Aged.” I doubt many are here to read my complaining about life, after all. Their newest creation from a one Joe Lankford claims from the label to be “the best Balkan blend ever made.” To be fair, I’m going to have to apologize: I have a tin of regular Plum Pudding from about eight years ago that I’ve never smoked. Yes, I’m human garbage, but I’m also a busy man leading the most colorful yet mundane life. I cannot imagine how happy I’d be to do nothing but smoke all day. The good news is I’m unbiased. Plum Pudding Barrel Aged, according to the label, is Latakia, Turkish, Virginia, Cavendish and Perique packed into charred oak Kentucky bourbon barrels, aged 30 days, and pressed into cakes and crumble cakes. If you must know, a small block of the aforementioned bourbon barrel accompanies this tobacco in the tin. Is this the secret formula for making the best?
Opening the tin one can smell the bourbonesque lineage wafting from pressed cakes. It’s certainly not boozy, as that would be silly and irresponsible. If one has ever visited a distillery’s aging room for whiskey, the predominant smells are oak and a warm, nose-tingling sweetness. Plum Pudding Barrel Aged gives this to whomever cracks a tin. There was another tobacco I smoked a couple years back as a retail tobacconist that also had a chunk-of-the-barrel included with the tobacco. Gimmicky and cute, I suppose, but I remember commenting to a customer they most certainly weighed the tobacco before adding the block of wood to the tin. As for what to do with a random one inch block of wood? Let the cat play with it.
The tobacco cakes of PPBA are quite compressed, at least in the tin I have. They are dark, a little sticky and have a distinct layer on one of the outer edges that reminded me of fat on a steak. I made sure to break apart an appropriate portion of this lighter colored layer to give my smoke the best chance to make itself known. The chunky nature of the tobacco makes it a little hard to load into a pipe and get the draw right, but it’s not tough to overcome. It takes to a flame nicely every time.
The first quarter of the bowl is an explosion of different flavors. It’s smoky. It’s spicy. It’s bourbon-y. It’s all very well balanced, but I often got a grassy, dry-mouth quality from perhaps the Virginia that hasn’t mellowed out completely. It is fleeting, but present—much like the Latakia. The flavors are awake and not sweet in the slightest (the name could be a bit misleading, I suppose). I’m actually surprised the (unsweetened?) Cavendish didn’t counteract this, as that’s the best use of Cavendish in my opinion: mouth feel and rounding out flavors.
The middle of the bowl seems to “burn off” the bourbon quality, and then the Latakia and the Perique take center stage almost exclusively. The green Virginia notes disappear and the Cavendish begins holding together the other tobaccos in harmony. By my reckon, Perique and Turkish are tricky to use together because many Turkish and Oriental tobaccos have different kinds of subtle spice and other warm notes to them, and Perique can easily take over, being too bold and even a little bright. Not one for Perique all too much, I can say the use of it here is subtle and not overdone. The Latakia still seems to be relatively mild. At this point each time I’m anticipating for some of the warmer Oriental notes to come through…
…and come through they do—the last part of the bowl the Perique seems to either become background noise to the palate or perhaps the heat and chemistry in the bowl have hushed it a bit. The Turkish chosen, if this is what I’m tasting at this point, has a pleasantly toasted almost herb bread quality to it and the end of the bowl has to be the most balanced.
I found my Plum Pudding Barrel Aged experience to be a pleasant one. Balkans are a preferred genre of mine, and I think as any Balkans go, this one fits in. To clarify with some wisdom Greg Pease imparted on me years ago, tobacco “aging” is an aerobic/anaerobic dance. Once the available oxygen is used up in a sealed environment, that’s when the magic happens. I think the label denoting “rested” 30 days in barrels would be more accurate, as that’s a lot of tobacco volume and not a lot of time for what we might consider aging. Makers of spirits don’t usually call something “aged” if it’s merely taking a short siesta in a barrel. Pedantic? Probably, but I do like to clarify: and if I’m mistaken, I have no doubt a correction can be made for everyone’s benefit.
Overall, my first experience with SPC’s Plum Pudding Barrel Aged suggests it’s a good, honest tobacco. Balkans are fun because there are only a few classification “rules” to follow, yet they have their own genuine namesake. I find that interesting. Some of the more tame and on-topic Internet discussions one can find on pipe tobacco usually involve Balkans, as their appreciators are passionate. I can’t say it’s replacing any of my top five favorite Balkans right now, mostly because in the beginning there’s almost too much going on. Because of this, I found pairing a whiskey while smoking Plum Pudding Bourbon Barrel Aged muddles the tastes of both, but a good Irish stout did the trick as well as coffee and Earl of Grey tea. Nicotine content never got unruly for me, mindless puffing without much fuss is a bonus, and the tobacco while smoking behaves itself in both heat, attitude and tamping.
To its credit, PPBBA is a lively and certainly unique product with the added bourbon twist. I’ve never smoked anything like it, and I enjoyed putting it through a trial-by-fire. How it is packaged and the moisture content of the product will certainly do this tobacco even better if left sealed in the tin for a few years. So, is it the best Balkan ever made? I’ll let you be the judge of that. Available (hopefully) at the point this is being read, I’d encourage guys that know what Balkans are all about grab a tin and try it for themselves as well as the new guys out there curious about the Balkan experience.
Smoke what you like, and like what you smoke in good health. Let’s ring in the new Roaring 20s, everyone.
- Editor Rating
- Rated 5 stars
- Review: Plum Pudding Bourbon Barrel Aged by Seattle Pipe Club
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Seattle Pipe Club's Plum Pudding Bourbon Barrel Aged claims to be the "best balkan". Is it? You be the judge.