The Smoker

This was one of my favourite pipe shops and I would always stop in whenever I would pass through Albany. Sadly, they closed the shop in 2000, but their tobaccos are still available on-line. The Smoker's tobaccos are blended in-house and feature a particularly excellent selection of full Englishes. Most of the blends that I've tried were fairly gutsy, ranging from medium-smooth to almost harsh (as in the case of Saint James). Legacy, Smoker and Woodlands have been favourite Englishes of mine for extended periods.

What I notice and enjoy most about this light, natural blend is how it starts out with a fairly mild flavour and then intensifies. The simple, nutty and slightly sweet taste that starts out is mostly light burley with a dash of perique and black cavendish, I think. You could smoke this in a pipe reserved for heavy latakia blends and end up thinking that it contains lots of latakia, though it doesn't. Smoke it in a Virginia pipe and it becomes remarkably sweet and peppery as a bowl-full progresses. At the end of my two-ounce packet, I smoked this in a fairly new Savinelli and found it not really sweet at all. It's lively without being harsh and offers a comforting nicotine kick. During the second last half of a pipe-full, however, it gets spicier, sweeter and much fuller in flavour. I didn't light up a bowl of this and say "wow," but after a couple of pipe-fulls and getting to know its characteristics—spicy, refreshing, natural, slightly sweet—I found it quite compelling, enough that I kept coming back for more. '00

Civil War
This light aromatic mixture consists mostly of medium-colored leaf and a few flecks of dark. Its light burley base ensures a satisfying smoke and provides a mild, nutty taste that is sweetened slightly by a faint, pastry-like flavoring. Unlike moist, heavily cased aromatics, this one has a more natural character. It smokes dry from beginning to end, and leaves a fragrant, semi-sweet tobacco aroma in the room that suggests a much sweeter-tasting blend. I found this to be extremely smokable and went through the two-ounce pouch in no time. '98

This is an English-style blend with a strong Virginia character. Some of the Virginias add a slightly fruity taste, but overall their flavour is nutty. Blended with latakia and perique, its flavour is not as rich as the description might make it appear. When I taste this blend's tart note, which is not by any means all of the time, it begins to remind me a little of Rattray's Black Mallory. Here though, the flavour is less perfumy, less concentrated, and a bit smokier. Although I generally enjoy the flavour, I find it a bit too middle-of-the-road for my own tastes. Coarse cut, slow burning. Smoke it nice and slow for maximum enjoyment and so as not to get bitten. '96

This blend is striking in its complexity of flavours. It includes five different Virginias, latakia, perique and a hint of Turkish, which keep their individuality, yet come together to create a sweetness that is punctuated by fragrant and smoky elements. Coarse texture, including pieces of broken flake. Slow burning. Very much a full-flavoured blend, of various shades of dark brown, with a pleasant, heavy aroma both in the pouch and when smoked. Owing to its smoothness, it is quite relaxing, but its more piquant components make it somewhat refreshing as well. '95

New York, New York
Dark and medium brown, coarse cut. A heavy medium blend. Flavour is similar to Smoker, except that, here, one tastes the Virginia component more, (latakia is definitely still present, though). The result is a satisfying full-English smoke that is spicy and not too rich (perhaps not quite enough for me), and sharper on the tongue than some full-English blends. '95

Olde Virginia
This blend is said to be somewhat along the lines of Escudo, but as a mixture instead of flake form. Semi-sweet red Virginia competes with a strong perique flavour to create an interesting smoking experience. I like how during some puffs I notice the sweet undertones more, whereas at other moments I notice its pepperiness. This is unquestionably a strong and satisfying blend with the capacity to scorch your tongue. Although I often avoid harsher blends, I find this one worth smoking occasionally for its flavour. Its medium-large cut helps you smoke it slow, which is an absolute necessity. Reddish-brown and dark brown colour, burns well and smokes dry. I love its room aroma, which is pungent yet somewhat sweet and perfumy. '96

Red Virginia Supreme
Medium cut, medium and dark brown. Another medium-full English blend, but much better than New York, New York (above) to my palate. Although the base is a red Virginia, this isn't the sweet, aged variety. Mixed with latakia and perique, the flavour is meaty, slightly bitter and slightly sharp, but enjoyable in its own right—a bit like how a cup of black coffee might taste. Although the latakia definitely smooths out this mixture somewhat, I find the flavour to be dominated by the Virginia-perique mix. Given the fullness of the flavour, it isn't quite as rich or smooth as I might expect. Still, I really enjoy its bold taste. '96

Saint James
Quite appropriately, the label on the jar of this tobacco showed not only its name, but the descriptor "This one will get ya!" I'm not sure, but this may be the most perique-laden tobacco I've smoked to date. Or maybe it's just the burley and perique bouncing off each other... Dark brown and black, flecked with medium brown, this medium-coarse cut blend is strong, tending toward harsh. This is true on the levels of pouch aroma, room aroma when smoked, and flavour. The Virginias in the blend add a hint of sweetness, but not enough to counterbalance the intense perique flavour. Likewise, the latakia that is present adds body, but not enough to produce a really smooth smoke. The strength, body and lack of sweetness of this blend reminds me a bit of of smoking a cigar for some reason. Sometimes while smoking this, I wonder if a similar mixture might be produced by doubling the quantity of perique in C&D's #965. This is almost overwhelming to my taste buds; if you're not a lover of this kind of piquancy, you might as well not bother with this blend. I have especially enjoyed this most-relaxing tobacco late at night, or at a bar with a bottle of stout, but I don't find it suitable for daytime smoking. The flavour is consistent throughout the smoke and it burns clean to a fine white ash. '96

A ready-rubbed blend of various Virginias, containing about 50% darker tobaccos along with lighter golden and reddish flecks and strands. It's a long and short medium-cut blend that includes the occasional piece of broken flake. One advantage that some bulk hand-blended mixtures have over their tinned counterparts is that the different ingredients remain somewhat separate, which creates a flavour that is more complex than unified. This is the case here, where there is a wonderful complexity of flavour; it is spicy, tart and fairly sweet, with underlying notes that remind me vaguely of cloves or cinnamon. The tartness is particularly noticeable during the first 1/4-1/2 of the pipe, as it leaves a dryness in the mouth not unlike some wines or a glass of lemonade. When I first tried this, the tobacco seemed rather dry (the way I usually like it), but I thought maybe it needed to be humidified a little. Guess what—it still bites. So I accept it for what it is. It's only a light to medium-bodied smoke that seems to have a fairly low nicotine content, but its distinctive flavour makes it seem fuller than it is at times. I can't smoke a biting tobacco all that frequently, but this one has an exciting, delicious flavour that makes it nonetheless worth smoking from time to time, and is exceptionally refreshing on a hot summer day. Not only that, it keeps me coming back for more! Despite its sharpness on the tongue, it paradoxically doesn't seem at all harsh when exhaled through the nose. When I tried inhaling it, the smoke came off more as hot than as harsh. Savour the flavour slowly and keep it just barely burning. This mixture burns fairly well, but when it does extinguish, it still tastes great in the pipe, with a pleasant burnt-sugar and spice taste that overrides the taste of the half-burnt tobacco. I also find the way that the flavour develops while smoking to be superb. The flavours of the different Virginias meld together to produce a richer, fuller taste, and a lot of the tanginess experienced at the beginning of the smoke subsides. Meanwhile, the sweetness of some of the tobaccos in the blend concentrate and introduce a caramelized flavour that was barely existant earlier during the smoke. This blend would probably be best appreciated by Virginia aficionados who enjoy a tobacco with lots of flavour and a bit of bite. It burns clean and dry to a fine ash that ranges in colour from pale grey to almost black, accompanied by a small amount of dottle. It has a distinctive aroma that smells light and sweet in the room, without being truly aromatic. For me, this is a perfect example of a mixture that is obviously blended with skill, and whose taste I enjoy very much. Now, if it were a little cooler on the tongue, I could smoke lots of it. '96

Smoker II
A medium-to-coarse cut English, with a pronounced and agreeable (at least to me) smoky flavour and aroma. A good helping of latakia makes this a nice blend to relax to (because it smells like a fireplace perhaps). It is a fairly dark blend, but contains just enough lighter, sweeter Virginias to make it quite lively tasting for a full latakia blend. A non-smoking friend couldn't resist a few puffs of this one and his impression was that it is ashy tasting, but in a pleasant way. It is of medium-full body and fairly smooth, with just a slight bite from the Virginias. This is one of those tobaccos that I could smoke practically all day and it's on my best-ever list. To compare, it's not nearly as rich and sweet a blend like McClelland's Frog Morton. It's more in the league of Balkan Sobranie 759, but a little less full and heavy. Absolutely delicious if you like this kind of blend and probably perfect if you like Woodsman or Woodlands but find them a little too dark for your tastes. This blend comes dry, burns well, and clean.... to a fine, grey ash. '97

Turkish Supreme
Quite satisfying for a somewhat light blend. Mild and pleasant with an earthy, almost sandy, natural and neutral flavour. However, I was surprised that it has none of the heavy, sweet taste characteristic of many Turkish blends. Nothing outrageously exciting, but a nice change of pace. '95

A dry, crumbly, blackish tobacco with a few lighter flecks of red and yellow tobaccos. This is a heavy, latakia-dominant blend that is distinguished by a slight sweetness to the smoke, probably furnished by the particular Virginias and Turkishes that are in the blend and perhaps a dash of black cavendish. It's definitely a full-flavoured blend, yet it's slightly lighter in body than its taste might suggest. The way that it produces a rich, dark latakia flavour without undue bitterness makes it akin to blends like Blatter Reserve (which is slightly smoother and heavier in body, lighter on the latakia, more aromatic and more complex in flavour) and McClelland's Frog Morton (which has a much more unified and sweeter kind of dark taste). Aficionados of the two above-mentioned blends would probably enjoy Woodlands, and find that it's little heavier and more lively, and also that it probably contains a bit more nicotine as well. Toward the end of the smoke, the underlying sweetness tends to evaporate, and it develops a slight bite, but nothing unpleasant—probably the perique content at work. Anyone who enjoys dark latakia blends could fall in love with this one. Its dryness makes it burn easy and it burns clean to a dry, grey ash with perhaps a few unburnt flecks of latakia remaining. '96

This is a dry, blackish-looking blend, with maybe 30-40% lighter tobacco mixed in. Its dark, English flavour and high quality classes it in that category of blends which includes Dunhill's Nightcap and Sobranie's 759. A slight sweetness from the Virginia tobaccos and perhaps some Turkish balances the heavy latakia and perique to make this an excellent mixture to put in your pipe if you like full-flavoured English blends. It is probably this subtle sweetness and the rich, smoky taste at the outset of the smoke that reminds me somewhat of Sobranie's 759, but it lacks the very smooth, almost creamy aspect of 759. Like a bowl of Nightcap, the sweetness subsides slowly and it becomes darker-tasting and a bit more peppery toward the bottom of the bowl. Overall, it's a little heavier and less sweet and fragrant than Woodlands, and a touch sharper. It's not a bite-free tobacco, but the bite it provides is subtle and pleasant. It also could be compared to Cornell & Diehl's #965—but it has a more woodsy, ashy taste, less of the intense leathery pouch aroma, it's not quite so sharp on the palate, and it's perhaps a little richer in terms of actual flavour when smoked. Dry-smoking, very satisfying, and burns well to a greyish-white ash that sit upon a few crumbs of unburnt tobacco. '97