Esoterica Penzance comes in both, a 2 ounce tin and an 8 ounce sealed Mylar bag. Very no-nonsense packaging but likeable with the old style script.
A wonderful complex secret recipe of the finest Virginias, choice Turkish and Orientals and Cyprian Latakia, all hand blended together, hard pressed and broad cut into thick flakes. Long matured and easily crumbled to facilitate pipe filling.
I was provided a sample that came to me in a plastic bag, already rubbed out, so I cannot comment on the tin, packaging or the state of the tobacco as it is presented to the customer. However, the sample I received from forum member tjameson, was prepared in a cube cut. Upon opening the ziplock bag, I was greeted with an enticing, mysterious smell of smokey, fragrant tobacco. It reminded me a lot of how a burned log of some fragrant wood like pine smells on the next morning after the evening campfire in the woods. Most notably is that this burnt smell is not sharp and pungent, but rather perfume-like woodsy. I like it very much! Overall, the tobacco has a very dark appearance, about 50% black and 50% dark-brown. It appears to me from the looks that there is a considerable amount of Latakia in the blend.
I selected a group 3 sized Comoy’s Grand Slam Tiger Grain billard from the ca. 1960s, just for this special occasion. I had previously cleaned, reamed, and completely restored the pipe, including covering the bowl in a fresh layer of home-made breakin paste. As such, the pipe bowl was seasoned, yet fresh and free of imparting any flavor to the smoke. I’ve been keeping this pipe for just such a moment as to sample a majestic blend like Penzance. I gravity filled the bowl and applied light pressure on the top. The draw as such was a bit lighter than I tend to favor, but since I planned to smoke slow and carefully, and because the sample was little drier than I usually like my tobacco, this lighter packing was on purpose.
Charring and True Light
The tobacco takes fire very easily. The first puffs reveal a surprisingly earthy and light taste – something that I did not expect from the tobacco smell out of the bag. Despite appearing heavy in Latakia from the look of the tobacco, the first puffs are dominated by the Orientals, with an intese sweetness provided by the Virginias. The tobacco didn’t bloom very much, a quick light tamping down was all that was required to smooth the surface in preparation for the true light. I was surprised at how easily and evenly the tobacco lit up. Top points for behavior and initial taste.
In the first third, the predominant tobacco taste comes from the Orientals in the blend. The taste is sweet and fragrant on the draw and a creamy, buttery – almost oily – full smoke fills out the whole mouth. Upon exhale, I can taste the spiciness of the Cyprian Latakia with the typical leather taste and the typical aftertaste that some describe as ‘burned rubber’. After the first 10 puffs, I realize how strong in Nicotine this blend is. Exhale through the nose tickles significantly and I already start to feel a little dizzy from the Nic hit. I think to myself: this blend should pair well with a dark coffee, and wonder off to my Espresso machine.
I come back with a cup of dark Colombian coffee in my hand and find that the pipe has gone out. Relighting is no problem at all – the tobacco is very well behaved all the way. The first 2-3 puffs upon relight are a little ashy but that’s to be expected from such a strong English. Now, I don’t know what it is, but boy! does coffee open up your palate for this blend. Maybe the Balkan style ingredients just resonate extremely well with coffee (an observation I have made time and time again with other blends such as Early Morning Pipe or Squadron leader), the Mediterranean folks are known for their love of strong dark coffee so it’s only reasonable that the tobaccos from that region should work well with that kind of beverage.
In the second third, the flavor comes together as I believe it is meant to be: the Virginia sweetness is still present but steps into the background to provide a tasty platform on which the fragrant Orientals and smoky/spicey Latakia resonate in perfect unison. Now I begin to understand the hype around Penzance: the blend reveals a depth of flavor that keeps my attention and concentration 100%. This truly is outstanding.
The Virginias start to become caramel-like towards the end which imparts another interesting dimension to the Oriental/Latakia pairing experienced in the second third. Overall, I’d say from midway all the way to the end is the best part of the smoke. While the room note is nothing to write home about, being your pretty standard English/Balkan room note that will most probably have the wife send you out of the house, the one experiencing this blend will follow her recommendation with a smile on the face – because you’ll be in a state of complete bliss.
The tobacco burns down to a very fine white, light gray ash that speaks of the outstanding quality of tobacco used in the blend. Throughout the bowl, the pipe stayed hand-warm and would have not required a relight if I hadn’t walked off to make some coffee. Outstanding no-fuss experience!
This smoke is highly satisfying, complex and rather strong. While Penzance has a very unique flavor, it also reminds me a lot of other blends I’ve tried before. In particular, it is as if Esoterica has taken the *best* characteristics from these blends and magically put them together. There is the interesting leathery spice from Dunhill’s My Mixture 965. There is the great Latakia and strength we love from Dunhill’s Nightcap. There is the sweetness and fragrance from McClelland’s 3 Oaks Syrian. There is the depth and oriental deliciousness we know from Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader. And yet, Penzance is unique in its own way and character, rather than trying to copy any of the aforementioned blends. That’s true blending mastercraft.
As is, for me Penzance is a tad too strong in Nicotine. I found one blend that is extremely similar to Penzance, but is toned 2-3 levels down in strength: it’s Pipeworks and Wilke’s #524 Blend, which I can now only describe as “Penzance light”. However, I believe that with a good amount of aging, Penzance’s strength will mellow out a bit and the flavours will merge together greatly, such that the sweet spot when smoking Penzance will start earlier than midway through the bowl. As such I can give a recommendation without reservation to any mature pipe smoker that enjoys English tobacco blends. If you can get your hands on Penzance, buy immediately and leave the unopened tin in the cellar for at least 3 years. You’ll be rewarded with a sublime English smoking experience that has no equivalent on today’s market.
This tobacco should have a full score of 10/10, yet I can only give 9/10. Why? First, there is such an artificial value connected to the blend due to market demand, low production volume, hype and hoarding that the amount of pain one has to go through to acquire a tin of the blend is almost not worth the reward. There are other blends on the market that are in the same ballpark, if not as refined and complex as Penzance, that are readily available everywhere. Second, I’m not a lover of overly strong (high in Nicotine) blends, just because I’m easily buzzed and feeling like a person with food poisoning on a roller-coaster is not my definition of a fun time. Penzance as such is by no means an all-day smoke. It’s a jewel that is to be kept treasured and enjoyed once in a while when the perfect time for the experience presents itself.
Nice review. I agree on most all of your comments but since I have a higher tolerance to nicotine the strength is fine for me. I do love the taste and the the development of flavors through the bowl. Thanks for the time and thought you out into this (and the obvious sacrifice lol).
This is an excellent review, and I agree with most of it, except for the nicotine hit. I think I have a low tolerance for nicotine, but I don’t get a nic-kick from Penzance.
Great review. Penzance is a classic. If you’re looking for a similar and more readily available blend I recommend GL Pease Meridian.
Nice review but I (also) disagree on the nicotine part. I am a nicotine wuss but can handle Penzance perfectly. Also a shame you got an already rubbed out version. I like to leave bigger chunks on the bottom of the bowl and sprinkle finely rubbed parts on top so it burns better.
Very surprised to see the review’s description of the nic kick which I — like others commenting here — find quite mild.
As for the difficulty of acquiring this blend, I’m not sure that’s really a basis for criticism. That said, Esoterica’s Margate is a close second to Penzance in most categories and very similar to it, while being easier to obtain.
Nice review! Although, like others, I am surprised that you found there to be too much of a nicotine hit. I consider Penzance to be an absurdly mild blend, nic-wise, almost on par with Frog Morton! I also don’t understand why one would dock points over the fact that the collector’s market has driven up the value. That’s not the fault of the tobacco, and has nothing to do with its flavor, smoking characteristics, etc.
Otherwise, though, it was a nice and well-written review.
Thanks for the review. One of my favorites that I have aging away and because of the difficulty in availability I rarely smoke.
Someone obligingly gave me enough Penzance for a couple bowls. I can honestly say it is the only tobacco thus far in 40 years of pipe smoking that I dumped without finishing even half a bowl, and yet it left a horrid taste in my mouth until well into the next day despite eating and brushing my teeth and rinsing several times. I’ve smoked English/Oriental blends since the 70s and am an occasional smoker of Nightcap, so I have no issue with the taste, aroma or strength of one of these blende. But Penzance to me tasted like an English gone rancid. I guess it and my tase buds just weren’t meant to be.