Wessex Burley Slice

Kyle Weiss
I have the most ridiculous system for storing my “cellar” of tobacco. It’s a bookshelf-stand kind of thing with solid, sliding front doors. It’s from the 1970s, rescued from the company rubbish pile years ago. It weighs a ton, the doors constantly fall off, and this is where I keep my much lauded and prized tobacco collection. The contents are various jumbles of jars and tins stretching back from current times to maybe 2010 or so. What, exactly does this have to do with me reviewing tobacco? It’s my most reliable source for what to try next: meaning, tobacco falls out onto the floor that I haven’t seen in years.

Heresy aside, and the whimsy of storms rolling across the country, that’s how Wessex Burley Slices came to me. I remember writing a few notes on it some years ago, and I wouldn’t doubt if this tin came from that same time of purchase. Wessex tobaccos are from Germany, and like many things German, everything is exacting. The tins are sleek and direct with little more than smart text that’s easy to read. The tobacco contained inside (especially in their slices) are cut and fitted to near flight-spec tolerances. The paper folds to the smart little sticker holding the flaps down all smack with too much Deutschland charm. Wessex tins are also somewhat spendy ounce-for-ounce when compared to other tobaccos–it is German, after all. One preferred tobacco of theirs for me is Wessex Gold Brick, which is unceremoniously packaged in little more than a cellophane bag.

Thunder cracking, rain keeping me indoors or under the porch, I snicker over the fussy little way Wessex packs its slices each and every time. The paper folds, the little gold sticker, and the slices themselves. The dark and mottled slices are angled exactly at 45 degrees. I do hope they’re still doing it this way, because it is charming in an awkward way, even if staring at them during a power outage had me easily amused. If they only knew the smoker would be sitting on wet, rusted outdoor furniture amongst weeds with an old karaoke machine playing classic Cuban salsa in the Nevada desert they might not have put so much effort into this particular tin.

The slices are relatively dense, and it takes a bit of effort to get them unstuck and properly loaded into a pipe. I did try the fold-and-stuff method at one point and I admit I had to carve out the mass and chop it up for it to keep lit properly. Out of the various pipes I chose, cobs were my favorite. I have a few smaller billiards that fared well too, but the density of the tobacco causes it to retain heat a little. The smoke was cool, but some of my pipes got hot! Flavors upon first light are best described as a little gritty–there’s a bite. It’s not unpleasant but I usually smoke a lot of bready-sweet red Virginias. Burley Slice has an effervescent and lively punch from a pressed, nutty angle and it surprised me. It took my palate and tongue some time to realign sensors and maintain course.

This is not a particularly sweet mixture, even naturally, and most of it is on the nose. It smells spectacular and I found myself really enjoying the proto-exhaling experience. I’ve smoked my share of various Burley tobaccos over the past few years, and many of them are on the boring side. The good ones are subtle and nutty, and the bad ones are ashy and brittle with a lot of bite. This is excluding the burley that typically gets used to make aromatic tobacco due to its ability to soak up the sauces so well. A few other people make pressed/aged Burley, two major notables being C&D and Solani. Of these, the Wessex variant was the most tame and subtle. I’m not entirely sure I liked that about it. The first quarter of the bowls were spent letting the tobacco even out heat distribution and the flavors to meld, and this took some babysitting with the lighter and the tamper. Once it got going, however, it started to come together. Think distant, toasted sunflower seeds and white pepper. Think smells of the neighbor down the road burning a small pile of autumn leaves. If you’ve ever been on the inside of a granary, a little like that, too. The good news is once the crucible is properly stoked, it takes an act of the heavens to put out–it will keep going. This proved nice while puttering around doing chores or even writing a review.

The halfway marker to the end of the bowl takes what is to be found for the first half and concentrates the flavors a little more, but the nuttiness goes away. It’s a thicker, more earthy-tarry experience, and relatively pleasant. The upper palate smell reminded me of bags of warm potting soil left in the sun, which I rather liked. Nicotine overall is moderate and doesn’t sneak up suddenly. I found cold-brew or just regular black coffee was a real winner paired with this in the morning, but I didn’t like how Burley Slice paired with my whiskey. What worked? Gin. I’m a gin guy, and a savory gin like my local favorite Virginia City Cemetery Gin over some ice with just a thin sliver of lime was the surprising companion.

I’m glad my ridiculous tobacco filing system works as it does, as revisiting Wessex Burley Slice was a fun time, even if I was forced inside to take photographs as storms tested the power grid. The aging doesn’t seem to do a heck of a lot to make this tobacco soar to new heights, and it really isn’t a tobacco I’d see myself jumping into every chance I got. It did, however, make me want to go back and write a bit more about what Burley really can do, as I’ve had examples in the past that pleased me greatly. Considering the cost, performance and lackluster aging results, I think I could do a little better in the Burley area, but I humbly thank Wessex for a lovely experience nonetheless.

3 Responses

  • Burley doesn’t improve much with age but it keeps well. I’ve never heard a tobacco paired with gin, but my dad liked burley and martinis, so there it is.

  • mso: I’m just a fan of gin. If gin doesn’t pair well with something, I’m more inclined to change that something.