2015 shall be known henceforth as The Year of the VaPer. There are a slew of instant classics already out or coming down the pike this year—Russ Ouellette’s Firestorm, for example. Hot on the heels of the recently reviewed Wayfarer comes another stellar example of the style: The Seattle Pipe Club’s Deception Pass, a VaPer with a hint of O. If you smoke a pipe (and don’t live under a rock) then there’s a good chance you’re already aware of the Seattle Pipe Club’s other blends available—namely, Plum Pudding, Seattle Evening, and Mississippi River—all of which have a well-deserved reputation as standout Latakia mixes. The previous three blends were released back in 2008, and have garnered a legion of fans since then. Concocted by the SPC’s own Joe Lankford, these earlier blends are a showcase for Latakia’s flexibility and dynamism, offering three very different experiences within the genre. Plum Pudding, particularly, has developed an almost cult following; I’ll readily admit to being a fan of its unique take on an English / Balkan.
The Deception Pass Bridge in Puget Sound, where Joe likes to ruminate over his next blend.
As the years rolled by and the reputation of the three blends was solidified, folks began to wonder if there would be any more revelatory concoctions from the master blender. Not to worry; as reported here back in February, Joe had not been resting on his laurels. In fact, he was hard at work in his laboratory perfecting another trio of flavors to be released this year by Pipes and Cigars. It seems that the force is strong with this Lankford fellow, as he is as adept with the VaPers as he is with the Dark Leaf. In addition to Deception Pass, there is a smorgasbord of tobaccos in Potlatch, available beginning 1st May, and coming in July will be the first batch of Pike Place, another entry to the Balkan spectrum.
The Chacom twins, reserved for VaPers.
It’s not as easy as one may think to blend tobaccos; at least not ones that really taste interesting, balanced, complex, and most importantly, different from all the rest. Joe has that special talent to paint the picture that nobody else has seen yet. Even Deception Pass may seem … deceptively like just another VaPer—until you taste it, that is.
Let’s begin with the tin: a bluish-purplish-grey field, just precisely the color of the oft-overcast Puget Sound sky, the image of a great blue heron extending over a roundel with a view of the iconic Deception Pass Bridge, all rendered in a graphic woodblock style. The color and graphic nature of the design all sets a very strong identity for the new batch of blends from SPC, and is a vast improvement over their previous labeling. The club tapped the artistic talents of local Joe Melberg (LINK: techism.com) for the designs, and results are top-notch, as can be seen in the February announcement. The appeal only begins there, though, and is followed by a tart and fruity bouquet from the fresh-cracked tin.
The art of pleasing is the art of deception. –Luc de Clapiers
Flakes, plugs, and cakes seem to have dominated pipe tobacco world these past couple of years. They’re wonderful, of course, and pressure does things to the tobacco that can’t be replicated by other means. But it is nonetheless refreshing to open the tin and be greeted by a fluffy full two ounces of proper ribbon cut leaf—the ease of packing, tactile sensation and sheer flexibility of a good ribbon is not to be underestimated. The tin notes English style Virginias, Acadian Perique, Black Virginia, Black Cavendish, and a touch of Turkish Orientals, all of which can be easily discerned in the jumble of leaf, particularly the sprinkling of olive-colored strands of Izmir.
A deception that elevates us is dearer than a host of low truths. –Marina Tsvetaeva
The tin note transcribes accurately to the flavor of the smoke, giving form and substance to the diaphanous essence. From charring light to heel, the impression is of a thoroughly orchestrated, painstakingly crafted blend. Joe certainly has a gift for balance. The true beauty of the blend comes in the top third, when the ember is sure and one’s cadence can fall into a bare, slow rhythm, eliciting a delectable honey sweetness in the core of the tobacco built on the synergy of the Perique and Orientals. Flavors of muted dark honey, subtle bergamot and orange blossom, roasted malt, and earthy truffle predominate. It continues through to the heel, and is a just reward for slow and deliberate smoking, never growing too sharp or biting—in fact, remarkably soft and light; flitting through shades of sweet and tart effortlessly. At the end, it leaves the palate with a nectarous cola-like aftertaste, mild enough on the nicotine to inspire another bowl, and exceedingly gentle on the tongue.
The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions. –Leonardo da Vinci
For a perfect pairing to Deception Pass, I recommend a strong Assam black tea, iced or cold-brewed, mixed in a 75 / 25 proportion with a handful of pureed frozen strawberries, no sugar necessary. There could be no better way to greet the coming summer months than in peaceful reverie with a cold drink and a warm bowl. For the adventurous, a spot of white rum is not unwelcome. And remember to smoke it slowly; there’s a reason it was chosen for this year’s national slow-smoke competition in Chicago.
Deception is everywhere. –James Sanborn