Football season, also known as "autumn" by the uninitiated, is well and truly underway. For many this is a time of debaucherous tribal gatherings, facepainted weekend warriors, grillmasters holding court at tailgates, and the primal harvest of last year’s struggles reaped on the gridiron every Thursday, Sunday and Monday. Every game matters in this short season, and we rejoice in our teams’ triumphs and mourn their defeats. Unless of course if you’re a Giants fan, in which case you stiffen your upper lip and carry on as if you had not a care in the world, muttering under your smile about this being a rebuilding year.
Football season is also about sharing the spirit with friends. Rooting for your team and consuming mass quantities of fried foods and booze is a ritual we look forward to indulging, and is made even better when we tobacco enthusiasts can enjoy it in our last bastions of smoking comfort—the man cave, a local tobacconist or cigar lounge, or tailgating in the out of doors. I particularly enjoy bringing a nice aromatic pipeful to such gatherings, and week 7 of this season found me accompanied by a fresh tin of Sutliff Private Stock Barbados Plantation.
"SWEET BARBADOS RUM, SMOOTH AND RICH" is how the tobacco is billed, though much like the Arizona Cardinals this season, it was off to a shaky start. The aroma in the tin is certainly lush and luxurious, with the distinct top note of dark rum mingled with the earthy tobaccos: Burley, Virginia and plenty of Black Cavendish. If you’ve ever spent time in the tropics, you’ll also pick up the sharp aroma of fresh-squeezed raw cane juice. It’s a flavor that brought fond memories for me, particularly at this chilly time of year. But it didn’t respond well to my smaller aromatic-dedicated pipes, which was a bit disappointing; often times when I crave a quick smoke I’ll reach for an aromatic, particularly when in mixed company, and during my taste testing regimen I found the flavor coming up short. Fortunately there are ample instruments in my arsenal, and after sampling through a few different chamber and bowl configurations I found that a larger-chambered briar (group 4 or 5 minimum) was necessary to allow the blend to come into its own, which it did admirably in a Savinelli bent billiard. It is a thoroughly cased aromatic, with plenty of Cavendish, and the balsa filter was perfect for regulating the moisture while keeping the smoke cool yet unfettered. Once the right combination was found, the flavor really came through and took charge, much like the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday as they went on to dominate the game.
"SWEET BARBADOS RUM, SMOOTH AND RICH"
Friday and Saturday of week 7 were spent teasing out the particulars of the blend. The flavors are not widely varied, being all in the vein of sugar sweetness—rum, butterscotch, molasses, brown sugar, jaggery—but as repeated bowls went through the pipe, I was able to settle into and better distinguish them. By Saturday morning my cadence and packing had been sufficiently adjusted to bring out the best in this blend, and a lazy afternoon charting out the fantasy league and preparing for the next couple days found me surrounded by a thick haze of sweet smoke in the home office. After a couple days in the tin it had settled down in aroma, and started to offer some more complex chocolaty notes that brought to mind a rich black forest cake.
Football Sunday was a typical rollercoaster ride of cheers, jeers and beers; the Bills pulled through a tough contest over the Dolphins, which led to many cheers of jubilation. Chugging away on this sweet aromatic kept me and my team in the sweet spot, and amplified the festive air as the 23-21 score was finalized. A couple of the cigar-smoking members of the crowd even (rather sheepishly) complimented me on how good it smelled, particularly compared to the aromas issuing from their sticks. Perhaps I had found my good-luck smoke; the Bengals put down the Lions, the 49ers made easy work of the Titans, and the Chiefs squeaked by the Texans—each game putting money back in my pockets and a smile behind my pipe. Confirmation of this blend’s miraculous (if scientifically unproven) winning mojo came when the Jets, beleaguered as they often are with remembering how to play the game, were assisted by the overtime penalty of the season and clinched their win over the Pats with a stat-saving field goal. Hail Mary indeed.
The true test of Barbados Plantation’s magical beneficence would have to wait until the following evening’s game. Monday night’s matchup between the Giants and Vikings wasn’t looking to be a spectacular display of sports artistes at their peak; rather, it was a crapshoot of which team could play worse. I managed to smoke through half a tin in the three-hour game time, pacing myself with a potent recipe of Jolt Cola, Kraken rum and 2 maraschino cherries—a perfect high-octane accompaniment to the tobacco that framed its sweetness well, not to mention dulling the pain of watching the passing game that was on display. The nicotine quotient was comfortable for repeated bowls, enough to satisfy and tempered well with the addition of alcohol and finger food. Spicier fare tended to cancel out the full flavor of the blend, not unexpectedly, but there was enough tobacco goodness to carry through. As the final quarter ticked away and it seemed the Giants may be able to hold on to some semblance of dignity, I quietly said a prayer that included thanks to my newfound talisman for accomplishing the impossible—Barbados Plantation came through with the win.