The Six Million Dollar Smoke: Lane Crown Achievement

E. Roberts
“The question everyone has is: Will the old Lane blends come back? If I have anything to do with it (and it’s kind of my job), the answer is yes. But it may take about a year or so.”
Those were the words of Leonard Wortzel, brand manager at Lane Ltd. / STG, on the forums; here we are, one year later, and several Lane Limited blends have indeed been resurrected—among them HGL (Herman G. Lane’s personal smoke), Hazelnut, Black Raspberry, LL-7 and HG-2000. Not to sound redundant, but the return of Crown Achievement to their portfolio is, well, a crowning achievement for Leonard’s evangelism. broke the story on Christmas Eve of the odyssey that Leonard undertook to resurrect this marque. To say his efforts were herculean would be to downplay them. Very much to his credit, Leonard listens to the community, and listens intently—going so far as to directly ask the forum members here for their help in choosing the Lane blends they’d like to see brought back, and Crown Achievement was the popular choice in that poll eight months ago. There was more to the story, though; the blend had changed over the years, a transformation that was not unnoticed by its adherents. The fact that he did the detective work in restoring the recipe to its pre-RJR glory was a masterstroke. There was a lesson to be learned from the recent re-introduction of Three Nuns, and Lane learned it well. The original Crown Achievement would be reconstructed like Steve Austin: better than it was before. It would once again be the superlative mixture that deserved its name, with the finest Virginias, Cyprian Latakia, Mahalla and Dubec—two varieties of Basma leaf that are the cream of the Macedonian crop—and of course, Perique.

We can rebuild it…we have the technology.

Tin: This blend has one of the classiest presentations of any currently produced tobacco. As noted in the article, Leonard went to great lengths to recover the old Lane tinning machine to present Crown Achievement in the European “shoe polish” style tin, which is labeled in a regal deep blue with gold lettering and a spot of red on the Lane shield. The label paper is also embossed with a marbled texture, similar to the pattern on a composition book; it’s subtle, catching the light and inviting the hand to trace its pattern, adding to the tactile experience before the tin is even opened. Opening the tin, there is at first blush a tart, leathery slap of Cyprian Latakia that wafts out from the familiar sunburst-pleated paper and—what’s this? A window? Indeed, a small circle of plastic is inserted under the paper, presumably to keep in the moisture, but also serving to complete a most elegant construction to house the tobacco, which sparkles behind it. The leaf itself is as handsome as the package; a dark mottle of black and mahogany ribbons in equal proportion, speckled through with lighter tan and olive threads, interwoven tightly in the tin. After the tobacco has aired a bit, the bouquet eases in tartness and offers clues to its complexity—whispers of musty fruit, mushrooms, and yellow glue linger behind sharper, gingery, grassy notes—there’s a lot going on in this blend, and it’s evidenced accurately in both sight and scent.

But soft! What leaf through yonder window peeks?

The original label-art was lost and perfectly re-created from scratch by matching it to a vintage tin

Char: On the cold draw as well as the charring light, there is a highlight of sweetness balanced against the peppery-sweet midground, and the leathery smokiness of Lat filling out the background. The high notes tingle the edges of the palate, and can be a bit sharp in their Virginia citrusy range. With a tinge of apricot and olive, the spiciness from the Oriental component comes through with the whisper of Perique.

Top: Getting into the bowl proper, the flavor range immediately begins to revolve on a sort of Möbius strip from puff to puff of sweet, smoky, bready, spicy, and back to sweet again. The balance is refined and quite clearly articulated with the constituent tobaccos, an achievement of no small import on its own. Also notable in the top of the bowl is the mouthfeel, leaving a ginger ale-like tingle on the palate and pronouncing the nuance of the spicier Oriental flavors magnificently. In this fresh tin, the sharpness of the Virginia component can be a wee bit aggressive; I can however see this auguring well for aging purposes.

Mid: The mid-bowl hits its stride well and early with this blend, playing like an expertly arranged string quartet—think Schubert’s 15th: powerful, variegated and inventive. There is remarkable balance, as mentioned, but also striking solo performances from the ingredients. Here the Latakia interjects a sonorous adagio phrasing, immediately counterpointed by a scherzo voicing from the Orientals and Virginias, and returning with a ritardando from the Perique’s fruity alto. It’s also a very pliable smoke, modulating slightly with different pipes and when smoked at different times of day, or with different beverage accompaniments. Throughout, the composition maintains the smoky Latakia as its central theme, and accentuates its complex flavors nimbly with the use of the other elements. Sweet honey and apricot notes, vinegary olive, wisps of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, pepper and clove weave through the tart burnt sugar and cedar smoke facets of the Lat.

Schubert am Klavier II, Gustav Klimt 1899

Finish: As the bowl reaches its coda, I automatically prepare a pinch for the next pipe—this blend begs to be smoked again and again. It does require some tending to keep lit; Orientals can be finicky on the burn, and demand attention. Fortunately, it’s no chore to devote one’s attention to this smoke. The Virginias are still a bit young as well, and can lean toward burning a bit hot, though mouth fatigue is mitigated with strong tea or coffee easily enough. The nicotine quotient is a comfortable medium, and suitable for smoking morning, noon and night.

Room Note: Although it’s a decidedly Latakia-forward blend, the Virginia and Macedonian leafs lend an intriguing spice and subdued sweetness to the smoke, gracefully tempering the room note. Mild to medium for tobaccophiles, and lacking the malodorous bent of some Latakia blends, instead it’s distinctly spicy and crisp.

Rating: 91
Lane simply could not have done better on the presentation. Recreating the classic label from a vintage tin, and the succinct verbiage on the back label noting the pedigree of this experiment, are both astute marketing moves and clearly done for the love of the product. Beyond that angle, though, the tobacco itself is gorgeous: perfectly prepared, free of any detectable additives, and richly showcased in the packaging—an easy 15 points here.

The draw and burn cost a few points on the overall, scoring 29 points. Despite careful smoking, it tended to burn a smidge hot and required relights particularly toward the bottom of the bowl. I would like to revisit this when it ages.

The heart of the blend is in the composition, and this is one adroitly realized opus. Balanced, nuanced, and smacking of luxury, Crown Achievement certainly earns its name. Though the Virginia is a bit sharp young, it should soften with some time—it will be a great delight to revisit this in a year or three. Tasty to the smoker and pleasant to those around you—47 points for flavor + aroma.

Photo: Kevin Godbee, Art Direction: Lori Brown

Cellar or Smoke?
My unreserved advice is to start stocking the cellar now, as this blend promises to age spectacularly. Its balance and complexity are exemplary, and would be a great introduction to the genre for those unfamiliar with Latakia, particularly Balkan, blends. I’d love to read your thoughts and prognostications on its cellaring potential, or comparisons to vintage tins already squirreled away.

Brand: Lane / STG
Blend: Crown Achievement
Blender: Lane Ltd. 
Type: Latakia – Balkan 
Country: USA
Cut: Ribbon
Tobaccos: Virginia, Latakia, Oriental, Perique
Strength: Medium 
Room Note: Medium 
Tin Size: 1.75 oz
Tin Age: New 
Tin Description: This rare mixture is composed of the finest Latakia, Virginia and Oriental tobaccos. When it was first introduced, the blend also contained Perique, but this element was removed circa 2004. We have once again added Perique to this faithful recreation of a storied brand.


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16 Responses

  • Although I forgot to mention it in the caption, the picture of Schubert at the piano is a clickable link to an excellent performance of the first movement of the string quartet 15. I highly recommend giving it a listen as you smoke a bowl of CA, and note how well they fit together dynamically–if you try it, post it in the comments section!

  • Thank You romeowood for an Excellent review, I have acquired some Crown Achievement and have put it away in my cellar, I will give it a try in about a year.

  • “Here the Latakia interjects a sonorous adagio phrasing, immediately counterpointed by a scherzo voicing from the Orientals and Virginias, and returning with a ritardando from the Perique’s fruity alto.”
    I’ve read that sentence a dozen times and cannot make a rational sentence out of it. Sonorous adagio is a deep slowing slow, and scherzo is jumping, and ritardando is a further slowing.
    I can’t wait to try this but Bill’s reviews are killing me.

  • Hey KC, let me attempt to clarify that statement, which may have read a little opaquely on the page. I was trying to convey the layered dynamic of the smoke to music in general, and a rather specific piece of music which I mention in the article–Schubert’s String Quartet #15. If you click on the Klimt painting it will take you to a video link of the Belcea Quartet performing (fantastically) the first movement, allegro molto moderato. “Extremely lively and moderate” is the translation for the tempo direction, and, at least *I* think, an apt descriptive of the overall smoke experience of Crown Achievement–it doesn’t bowl one over with a bombastic solo performance from any of the players; rather, it’s an extremely well structured, harmonic blend. Following the music, at the 2:41 mark there is a short pause, after which the lyrical theme is introduced, carried by the cello. It’s a bit slower in tempo than the rather frenetic opening (adagio), until a minute later when the violins make a break for it with the high notes and the tempo rushes into triplets (scherzo); it then crescendos, and the viola leads us down the scale back to the cello’s deeper, slower restatement of the theme (ritardando). The dynamic is repeated and expounded on more slowly in the second movement, which may even be in better correlation to the smoke. This rise and fall of the rhythm, with deeper, more sonorous lines from the cello and brighter melodic phrasing (often in double-time to the cello) echoes perfectly the natural cadence I fell into with this blend, the deeper Latakia and Perique tastes anchoring the lyrical theme and the Virginia and Orientals playing the brighter, sweeter notes above. Check out the full piece here: and tell me what you think. “Extremely lively and moderate” may at first seem a contradiction, but paradoxically, it perfectly describes the dynamic of the smoke.
    tl;dr = confusing music metaphor means the smoke was tasty.
    I hope my brief foray into some purple prose there didn’t throw anyone too far off the trail of the overall taste testing. 😀
    @Spartan: off the top of my head, McClelland’s Syrian Super Balkan is in the same vein, though perhaps a bit lighter and drier, lacking some of the sweet notes of the Basmas; Chelsea Morning or Quiet Nights from GLP are two excellently rich variants on the theme; Three Oaks Original has a lot of the same feel, if not quite the same flavor profile. I always worry about cross-comparisons like that though, because on more than one occasion I’ve been surprised when what may seem like a perfectly similar tobacco to me is anathema when suggested to someone else.

  • Someone on another forum compared this blend to the earlier Lane Release, “Leo”. I was a little disappointed in Leo, it was a little too one-dimensional for my taste. Any thoughts on the two?
    I’ve yet to find Crown Achievement and now know it was a P&C release only for the time being. I enjoy Ginger Ale, so reading that reference has piqued my interest.
    I love reading your reviews!

  • Unfortunately I’ve only had the 3oz. sample of LEO from the John Cotton Throwdown tasting, Al–it was long ago, but I fortunately kept notes: (And now that I read that again, I see I intended to add some to the cellar, so I must’ve liked it.)

  • Bill
    When I spoke to you last night at the NYC Pipe Club meeting and mentioned that I read the review, I should have really said that I ‘glanced’ at the review, and did not read it in depth. My apologies.
    I have not so far read any review of pipe tobacco that compared it to a structure of a string quartet, or for that matter, any classical musical piece. What a great idea and you executed it beautifully in your prose. Clearly you know this piece in depth (I am more aware of Schubert’s piano music than string quartets-and thanks for posting the link)and the comparisons of the flavors of this new tobacco to the rhythmic pulses and melodic phrases were done with a trained musicologist’s insight.
    Whether or not I agree in this case doesn’t really matter. I just loved reading your review.

  • This really is a wonderful smoke, and a great value for the quality of the leaf contained…truly a must try for most, a must continue buying for me.

  • Thank you for the interesting review romeowood. It was a pleasure to meet you at the ny/nj pipe show.
    I enjoyed your comparison of the blend to the musical piece mentioned.
    The full version link in the comment section no longer works but the picture link is still functionable.
    I have been looking for a new Balkan blend to try and will certainly pick this one up. Once its in hand, I will smoke, listen to the piece and reread this review.

  • I’ve been undecided about buying CA, but this fine review has pushed me over the top.

  • Absolutely as I remember it in the 60s. I have 4 tins of it and enjoy it as an alternative smoke since I am primarily a aromatic Cavendish and Balkan tobacco smoker.

  • It’s really nice to see a blend recreated with the intent to recreate it true to the original product. I remember reading about this before and the reviewer stating it was his favorite smoke but he couldn’t get any as it wasn’t discontinued at the moment, there just wasn’t enough demand for it as for them to make up a batch. Plus at being only roughly 8$ a tin they aren’t price gouging in my opinion like with the new 3 nuns which is over 10$ a tin. Personally I’d love to see a blend that could do Tchaikovsky’s Piano concerto #1

  • This is certainly one of the finest full-latakia blends that I’ve smoked. I had a couple of bowls just after I opened the tin that tasted like incense, and they were delightful!