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Welcome to the World of Cigarillos

Indulge me, as I talk a bit about my exciting life outside of work. On my last day off I had to be up early to go for an appointment. Once I was done, I found myself in the unusual position of being out and about early on a day off. It was also an uncharacteristically nice day, so I decided to jump onto a train for a few stops, into some of the finest countryside Cheshire has to offer for a walk and a bit of fresh air. As if to immediately disregard the whole “fresh air” thing, once I got off the train I reached into my pocket for my tobacco to have a smoke.

However, I suddenly realised: Shock horror, I’d left my nearly full pack of rolling tobacco at home as I hadn’t planned on being out for very long. Now, I really resent paying around £15 for the minimum amount of tobacco in shops, just for the sake of a few cigarettes, but once I had found the nearest newsagents, I remembered: As cigarettes and rolling tobacco prices have risen exponentially, we’re now in the strange position of some small cigars/cigarillos costing significantly less than an equivalent amount of cigarettes or rolling tobacco. Naturally, there were slim pickings at the small newsagent I found, but on investigation, we have a larger range than you might expect, so I thought this would be a good chance to take a look at them.

First up though, a couple of notes:

I’m basing this on a pack of Marlboros generally costing around £14 for 20. Most cigarillos or small cigars come in packs of 5 or 10, so I’ll be including those that are under £7 for 10 or £3.50 for 5. Yes, as I alluded to above, I have covered this before, but there have been quite a few new brands out since then, so I thought it would be a good time to revisit the subject.

 

Menthol Crush balls – Assorted prices

One major change since the last time I covered this subject is the ban of all menthol cigarettes and rolling tobaccos. Crucially, the rule doesn’t include pipe tobacco or cigars, which has given birth to a brand new hybrid of cigarillos and menthol crush ball cigarettes. There are a few brands that have introduced these crossbreeds but they all follow the same basic concept: They are roughly cigarette sized, with a cigarette filter that contains a menthol flavoured crush ball and are wrapped in a tobacco leaf, in order to fulfil the “Cigar” criteria. It’s worth mentioning that most of them also have a thin layer of paper underneath the tobacco wrapper, so theoretically it is possible to arduously remove the wrapper

to expose the paper, if you really miss traditional menthol cigarettes. At the time of writing Sterling, JPS/Players and Signature (Formerly Café Crème) all have versions of these available, none of which cost more than £5.75 for a pack of 10.

 

Burton Crush – £4.75 per pack of 10

I could have potentially lumped these in with the previous section, but I feel like they deserve highlighting. They’re the same basic concept: cigarette filter, crush ball, tobacco wrap, but have a very specific (if personal) distinction.

They represent the only time a cigar/cigarillo has made me do a doubletake after taking a puff. They’re available in two flavours: Blue is a standard menthol, but it’s the purple variant that took me by surprise. I knew that it would have to be something other than a plain menthol taste, but I wasn’t expecting this. Even the most gentle drag after cracking the crush ball flooded my palate with a cool, but juicy fruity taste, which I’d compare to a blackcurrant flavoured cough sweet/lozenge. I’ve never tasted anything like it in a cigar! The manufacturers define it as “Blueberry Menthol” but I definitely thought it was more like blackcurrant. This might not seem that exciting, if you’re not a nerd like me, but it’s worth pointing out that we didn’t see fruit flavoured crush balls in the UK, even when they were widely permitted in normal cigarettes. It took me far longer than it should to try these, especially considering that my favourite flavour is “Purple,” so I’ve been compensating by recommending them to anyone looking for something a bit different in a cigarillo.

 

Al Capone – £5.99 per pack of 10.

Finally, we have Al Capones. These are another vaguely hybrid-esque option as they once again fit loosely within the cigarette style format, utilising a cigarette style filter, but choose not to incorporate a crush ball. Instead, you have the option of a Original: A straight, unflavoured cigarillo, or Flame, a directly flavoured/aromatic version, which is where it gets interesting. You may well know that I have a bit of a thing for non-specific, intangible flavours/scents (Hence my aforementioned love of “Purple” as a flavour and why I always opt for air fresheners with scents like “Starry night” or “Summer Morning”) and Al Capone Flames are a great example of this. When I first tried them, I thought they tasted like those Fireball gobstopper sweets I used to get from the newsagents, a fiery aniseed/liquorice type flavour. However, when perusing a catalogue, I noticed that the manufacturers claim they have a Cognac flavouring. Since then, I’ve made a point of discussing the flavour with customers who buy them regularly and have had it described as anything from Whisky to Cherry. So yeah: definitely worth a try, even if it’s just to see how your taste buds interpret the flavours personally!

 

That’s all from me for this week, from this bizarre timeline where cigars can be cheaper than cigarettes!
See you next week!
-Calum @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester

My A-Z of Pipe Tobacco

C is for Century

Welp, now we’re cooking with gas! After blasting through the B’s, I’m now cracking on with the C’s, with a brand that is a tentpole blender for any good tobacconist or pipe shop (while admittedly being slightly niche) Century, USA.

The brand

As the “USA” suffix might imply, Century specialise in highly aromatic, American style pipe tobacco blends. To me, they are the quintessential American style blender with a consistent style across the blend, which stays true to the distinctive American style: Mild tobacco with a pronounced, sweet casing and an enticingly pungent aroma. From its roots in Kentucky, the brand’s factory itself has survived for a long time, through many different owners in America due to various buyouts over the years. However, it managed to come out smelling of roses (Damn, it would have been too convenient for them to have ever done a Rose flavour tobacco that I could humorously link to here, wouldn’t it? Maybe I should’ve said “Came out smelling like cherries” instead?) and has emerged as America’s best-selling loose tobacco brand, with a respectable following on this side of the pond too.

Sadly, as is the case with many flavoured tobaccos – especially American Style ones – the range in the UK is very small compared to what is used to be/currently is, in other countries. However, even though we have been reduced to just five blends available, they manage to cover a decent variety of options, including some slightly less expected ones.

Black & Brown.

This is an interesting one to start off with. Normally, American blends tend to go for a more specific (if abbreviated) flavour name: Black C. Golden H, etc. However, in this case, they have gone for a more generally descriptive “Black & Brown,” referring to the colours of the tobacco itself. It has actually had a few names in the past, including “Tweed” and “Black and Tan” (the latter being changed for obvious reasons…)  The Black and Brown in this case, is a mix of Black Cavendish, Burleys and Bright Virginias. When researching this blend, I found that there seems to be some debate about whether or not there is a casing involved, the general consensus being that if anything, it has a light vanilla topping. Regardless of that, there is a pleasant general sweetness to the blend. As well as the vanilla, I also get hints of a slightly syrupy, molasses-like sweetness, with occasional hints of caramel. As is often the case with American style blends, the tobacco itself is extremely mild and barely detectable under the sweetness. All in all, this is a nice blend for sweet-tooths who don’t want to be overwhelmed.

Black Cavendish

Following on from Black & Brown, this is another simple, uncompromising blend: Pure, sweet Black Cavendish. Weirdly, this is another one where the casing has been debated, before settling on “Vaguely vanilla.” Although, I guess it isn’t that weird if you consider that it’s the same Black Cavendish that is used in the Black & Brown. While Black Cavendish is quite simple in theory, this one has been fire cured to add a little bit of earthy character, to the traditional sugary sweetness. Once again, it’s extremely mild, but it does have some utility. Personally, I see this as the polar opposite of pure Latakia. I often suggest keeping a portion of Latakia on hand for if you ever find yourself with an English/Balkan type blend that you find a little weak or lacking, so you have the option of giving it a little extra “Oomph!” You can do the same with this Black Cavendish but for when you have a sweet American blend, that you feel could use a little sweetness boost.

B23 Black C

No self-respecting American style range can exist without having a Black Cherry option and Century is no different. This might be slightly biased as it is far and away our best-selling pure cherry blend in Chester but to me, Century’s offering is the archetypal American Black Cherry blend. It uses toasted Black Cavendish, as well as Virginias and Bright Cavendish, topped with a strong, sweet black cherry flavour. This is a fairly rare case where you can somewhat taste the tobacco flavour under the casing, but it is still pretty mild in the grand scheme of things. They do a good job of keeping the cherry both sweet and pronounced, while avoiding it becoming too sweet and therefore sickly. A great starting point for American Aromatics in general.

BR (Buttered Rum)

I’ve got to be honest; I didn’t know buttered rum was a thing until I found this tobacco. It makes sense though, rum is an extremely varied drink with a few different extremes of flavour. I guess that’s why Century opted to cover a couple of bases, by using two types of rum for the casing: Buttered New England rum and a more traditional Sweet Jamaican rum. This topping is added to a fairly straightforward mix of Virginia and Burley, a classic unobtrusive base that allows the casing to shine. I’m not always the biggest rum fan, but I really enjoy this blend. I feel that the buttery element comes forward more than the rum, with occasional hints of creaminess to boot. This works well for me though, as I feel a full-strength rum flavour would be a little too overpowering for this sort of blend. Also, worth noting: the cut of this blend as a little longer than a lot of the Century range, which gives it an excellent slow-burning character.

RC (Royal Champage)

We finish off with one that I find myself torn on. I’ve got to admit, I’m not massively into champagne as a whole, but as regular readers will know: I love it when an aromatic blend goes for an unusual and “Out there” flavour and I don’t think I’ve ever seen another champagne flavoured blend. In spite of me not being into Champagne, I still really enjoy this blend for its idiosyncrasies. On top of being a less used flavour, it’s also a rare case of an aromatic blend that couldn’t be described as sweet; it has a tarter and tangier sort of character that really stands out amongst other American Aromatics. As should be expected at his point, the tobacco isn’t particularly noticeable here, but it works well as a whole. So, I’d definitely say it’s worth trying, even if you wouldn’t usually go for a bit of the old bubbly!

So that’s what remains of the Century range. It’s sad to see what used to be a massive selection reduced down so much, but I’m warmed by how much they still manage to pack into what’s left. They’re a real pillar of pipe tobacco and well worth experiencing if you haven’t yet!

Until next time:

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

-Calum

Store Manager @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester

 

My A-Z of Pipe Tobacco

B’s: The Best of the Rest

I’ve had a little thought on my alphabet-based exploration of pipe tobacco; there are a few brands/blenders that only produce one or two tobaccos (…that are available in the UK, anyways.) Even with my rambling, tangent-filled writing style, I’d struggle to stretch out one or two blends into a full blog. However, I don’t want to exclude the smaller guys, so going forward, at the end of each letter I’m going to group together all the smaller brands into one blog and look at them as one.

Here’s me doing that exact thing I just said, for the letter B:

Bayside and Blue Ridge

How’s this for convenient? Two brands with a similarly unusual characteristic both start with a B, so I can include them together in one entry. Along with some other brands out there, these brands will be well known to certain communities and only really make this list on a technicality. Yes, they are legally pipe tobaccos, but a majority of people buy them as an alternative to rolling tobacco, as they are the finest possible cut before they would start being classed as fine cut/rolling tobaccos (Seriously, if the cut was 0.1mm finer, they’d be rolling tobaccos.)

There are a few advantages to this style of tobacco, over rolling tobacco:

  • They are generally slightly cheaper than the equivalent amount of rolling tobacco.
  • They are not held to the 30g minimum pack size of rolling tobacco.
  • They are still allowed to be produced with flavours/menthol characteristics
  • They don’t have to go in that grim, sewerage coloured packaging.

Bayside is a light, golden tobacco with a subtle taste. It is available as a straight Virginia blend or in a menthol variety (just to destroy any final pretence that this was ever intended as an actual pipe tobacco.

Blue Ridge, on the other hand is a far darker blend, much more inline with things like Old Holborn or Drum Original.

While I may have spent the last 200 or so words talking about the farse of calling these blends “Pipe Tobaccos,” it’s not to say they can’t be enjoyed in a pipe. Menthol isn’t something you’d usually see in a pipe tobacco, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but if you’re the adventurous sort it might surprise you (just beware of potential ghosting.)

Bells: Three Nuns

Three Nuns is one of the true pillars of pipe smoking. It might not have quite reached the famous heights of things like Clan or St Bruno, but it certainly belongs on the same podium. While some people dismiss it as a “Supermarket tobacco,” it doesn’t immediately discount it from being a good blend. Three Nuns is a simple but satisfying blend of Virginia, Dark Kentucky and light Brazilian tobacco. It lights and burns very well, with a robust, woody depth and a subtle natural sweetness that many liken to chocolate.

It’s worth mentioning that while it carries the Bells name, it is currently produced by Mac Baren, a very well-established blender, that I will eventually get to, when I reach the M’s (In a few years, presumably.)

A true classic that should never be overlooked.

Blenders : Highland Ready Rubbed

The only true cased pipe tobacco blend on this week’s list (excluding the menthol version of Bayside, of course, but that’s a grey area,) Highland R/R used to be known as “Player’s Whisky” but had to change its name due to the UK’s ban on “Characterised flavour” names. This blend uses a tried and tested formula for the base tobacco in a cased blend: a simple combo of Virginia and Burley, which provides a subtle tasting launching pad for the whisky flavouring (I’ve just realised I didn’t actually specify that this blend is whisky flavoured, but I’m guessing you inferred that from its old name, right?)  The casing is pronounced, but not overwhelming and the tobacco comes out of the packet extremely fresh feeling (to the extent where it might require a little bit of airing out before smoking, but nothing prohibitive.) All in all, a well-balanced blend.

Wow, after the months it took me to get through the A’s, I can’t believe I’m already through the B’s!

Join me next time, as I move on to the C’s.

Until then: Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

-Calum

Store Manager @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester.

MY A-Z OF PIPE TOBACCO

B IS FOR: BORKUM RIFF

I can’t believe it’s taken this long, but I’ve finally reached the B’s in this lengthy A-Z rundown of tobacco blends.

The Brand

Borkum Riff is a tried-and-true exemplar of the Scandinavian style of tobacco blending/flavouring and has seen some evolution of its decades of existence, as well as – sadly – a bit of downsizing. The brand was founded in the 1960s in Sweden and their original release was a relatively simple blend of Virginia and Burley, coarse cut, with no casing. While it is now a very well-respected tobacco, it didn’t release to a huge fanfare. In fact, it wasn’t until the very end of the 1960s, when a version of this original mixture combined with a Bourbon Whiskey casing finally took off in the USA, that Borkum Riff found its feet and began to run with it. Over the following years, the range grew massively and incorporated an impressive selection of flavours, from certified classics, such as Cherry to some truly wild options, including things like Sweet Melon or Champagne! Sadly, due to the UK’s notoriously strict rules on tobacco, only a very small selection of these were available on these shores. In fact, for a long time we only had the option of Original, Cherry Cavendish and Bourbon Whiskey. To make things even sadder, this has now been reduced down even further, as the Original is no longer available here.

In spite of this pared down range, Borkum Riff remains consistently popular, which shows that in this case – as with many things – quality outweighs quantity.

The Range

Borkum Riff Bronze (Bourbon)

The blend that helped make the brand. Originally, this was simply the original Virginia/Burley Borkum Riff blend, with an added Bourbon flavour. However, it was eventually changed to a mix of African and Brazilian Virginias, combined with a variety of Black Cavendish from Africa, Europe and the Philippines. This is a very handy tweak for this sort of aromatic: Scandinavian Aromatics tend to be sweet, but not to the insane levels you’d find in American Aromatics. So, the naturally sweet character of these tobaccos works well with the more subtle style of casing, as it helps add to the sweetness, but in a natural way that doesn’t allow it to become too sickly.

As you may well know already, I’m a big fan of any tobacco blend that is a little bit different. Highland Whisky blends are pretty common, but Bourbon whisky tobaccos are actually surprisingly rare, especially if you consider how popular Bourbon is in the UK. As I mentioned above, the base tobacco blend works extremely well with this casing; It has the sweet, caramelly taste of a gorgeously smooth Bourbon, which is accentuated by the natural sweetness of the tobacco, without marring the “true tobacco” taste underneath. A great choice for pipe smokers and Bourbon drinkers alike.

Borkum Riff Ruby (Cherry Cavendish)

Even though cherry is easily the most common of all pipe tobacco flavourings, Borkum Riff still manage to do something a little different with their take on it. American Aro’s tend to lean into the very heavy, syrupy style of cherry, to match their intense sweetness, with the results ending up akin to a Black Forest Gateaux style of cherry, or a very heavy Xmas pudding. In stark contrast, this Scandinavian version goes for something altogether fresher and livelier, that tastes more like a natural, fresh cherry. Curiously, this casing also includes a very slight hint of vanilla, to balance it out with a slight creamy edge. In American styles, this really adds intensity to the overall sweetness, but in Borkum Riff’s case, it just balances out perfectly. By the way, I’m not criticising the American styles of Cherry & Vanilla,  in fact American Blends CV is one of my all time favourite blends (as regular readers might be able to tell from the fact I mention it in nearly every blog I write…)

Once again, the base tobacco blend strays away from the original Borkum Riff Virginia/Burley combo. In this case, they use a robust, heavily fermented combo of Dark Kentucky and Burley, which allows for the tobacco flavour and aroma to work in harmony with the casing, rather than one totally destroying the other.

Sadly, that’s as far as I can go with these weeks A-Z, as that is all that remains of this range in the UK. To me, that’s a genuine shame, as both these tobaccos show a real aptitude to blending and flavouring tobacco in ways that are similar enough to classics to not scare people off, but simultaneously put their own, personal spin on them.

I hope to see you again next time for more Alphabet-based tobacco tasting.

Until then: Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

-Calum

Store manager @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester

Some things to actually look forward to!

Right, I’m going to be very careful of what I say here, as I vaguely recall saying “It seems like there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel!” around May last year… Oh dear. Well, at the time of writing, it’s mid-March 2021 and the UK is hopefully only a month or so away from taking some big steps back towards normality [frantically touches every piece of wood within reach] so we might actually have some stuff to look forward to in the coming months. However, as last year proved, that is far from guaranteed. So, on a more positive note, I’m going to use this blog to take a look at some new and exciting products that are definitely coming out this year (or have just been released).

New Havana Cigars:

  1. H.Upmann Connoisseur No.2

This is great news for me; H. Upmann has been one of my go-to brands ever since I first started smoking cigars, both from a consumer and retailer’s perspective. They’re such a versatile brand: their light to medium blend means I’m confident to recommend them to anyone who is curious about trying cigars as well as any more experienced smokers looking for an easy, reliable choice for a daytime smoke. It’s also why I always like to make sure I always have a few on hand in my personal stash. So, any new addition to the brand is going to be an immediate winner for me, but the Connoisseur No.2 brings some genuinely new things to the table. Firstly, it’s a brand-new size for Habanos, known as “Bohemios” and measuring 5 ¼” x 51 RG. Fellow cigar nerds or people with OCD may have noticed their second unique property: the 51 ring gauge. Yes, this is the first time ever that a 51 gauge Havana has been released. So, a brand new format, from a very reliable brand: What’s not to love?

Hoyo de Monterrey Rio Seco Tubed

This might not be quite as sexy and exciting as the previous entry (at least from my perspective, as you may well have guessed from the 200 words of gushing praise, I just gave it) but I feel it’s still worth mentioning. The Hoyo de Monterrey’s 56 gauge behemoth, the Rio Seco is now available in cedar-lined tubes, in either singles or packs of three. As always, tubed hand-made cigars are a convenient option for travelling as they offer both physical protection and resistance against drying out, if you’re going to be away from your humidor for a while (remember, we might actually be able to go away on holiday at some point this year!)

I feel it’s worth mentioning that both these cigars fit in a very specific niche that I personally really like: Beefy, 50+ gauge cigars that contain a mellow blend. There’s just something about a cigar giving copious amounts of creamy, delicately flavoured smoke that I absolutely love.

New pipe tobacco

Chacom

Chacom is a new-ish brand of pipe tobacco which arrived on the market last year with a range of four blends. I was personally very impressed with how competently this pipe manufacturer turned its hand to pipe tobacco blends, which I covered in this blog. It seems like I’m not the only person they impressed, as they have been popular enough for them to add another two blends to their range: Chacom No.5 and Chacom No.6.

Chacom No.5

The original quartet of Chacom blends consisted of three ready rubbed mixtures/shags and just a single flake cut (Chacom No.4.) So, fans of flakes will be happy to hear that they are redressing the balance by making one of their two new releases a flake cut in Chacom No.5. While No.4 was a simple but effective Virginia/Perique combo, the No.5 ups the variety by building on the VaPer combo while also utilising a bold amount of rich Latakia and Black Cavendish. These additions, combined with the use of a darker Virginia in the base creates a true English flake that is darker and more robust than the No.4, while remaining as tastefully refined as you should hopefully expect from an English style blend.

Chacom No.6

In the last entry, I mentioned the ratio of tobacco formats across with range. But what about the other distinction between pipe tobacco blends: Trad/English blends (/aromatics) Vs Cased Aromatics? So far it stands at three English (No. 1, 4 and 5) and two cased aromatics. So it’s nice to see that Chacom No.6 rounds this out to 3:3. In my original blog on this range I commented on how much I appreciated them going a bit off-piste with their casing choices, shunning the more tried and true flavours such as cherry, in favour of things like Yellow Plum and Vanilla Bourbon. I’m ecstatic to see they’ve carried this ethos forward by using a combination of Rum, Espresso and Caramel, topping a classic aromatic base of Black Cavendish, Virginia and Burley.

It always baffles me that coffee isn’t more common in casings, considering that it is one of the most universally popular pairings for all forms of tobacco, from humble roll up cigarettes to fine Havana cigars. I’ve always loved Coffee flavoured pipe blends and one of my favourite “Pudding” blends happens to also involve caramel: the insanely sweet American CC (Coffee Caramel) so I had very high hopes for this blend.  I was a little surprised to see the espresso actually takes something of a back seat in this blend, with the rum and caramel doing a lot of the heavy lifting, which gives it a sumptuous character, vaguely reminiscent of Rum n Raisin fudge. Not at all what I was expecting, but still a very worthwhile addition to this fantastic range.

So that’s my quick rundown of some of the more exciting new releases. Hopefully it’s a sign of more good things to come this year after everything that happened in 2020. If you’d like a more in depth note on the things I’ve talked about today, keep an eye on our

 YouTube channel, as I’ll be doing video reviews covering all of them in the coming weeks.

Hopefully I’ll see you there.

Until next time: Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

-Calum

Store Manager @ Turmeaus & La Casa del Habano, Chester

MY A-Z OF PIPE TOBACCO

A IS FOR ASHTONS

Part 2: The Traditional/English Blends

In my last blog, I looked at the Ashtons range of pipe tobacco. As an extremely varied range, I decided it would be more manageable to break it down between two categories: Flavoured (/cased) and natural. So, having looked at their fantastically diverse selection of aromatic blends, I’m now heading into more traditional territory, with their natural/English Mixtures.

Winding Road

As I said, Rainy Day was the final fully aromatic blend in Ashton’s range, but Winding Road keeps one foot in that particular camp. In fact, according to the manufacturers, it is specifically designed as a bridge between aromatic blends and traditional/English ones. They do this by carefully selecting naturally sweet and aromatic Gold and Brown Virginias and combining them with a touch of smooth and fragrant Black Cavendish. There is also a very restrained use of a slight nut and apricot casing, so it isn’t fully pulling the casing rug away in a single motion. The end result is perfect for anyone trying to wean themselves away from cased blends and into more traditional styles, or for more traditional smokers looking to give their sweet tooth a little bit of affection.

Consummate Gentleman

Consummate Gentleman is the first stop we’re taking into “Spiced” tobacco territory with a small portion of Latakia, along with Virginia Maryland and Burley. This combination allows for the rich, crisp smokiness of the Latakia to shine, but without overwhelming the overall blend.  This makes for an amazingly well-balanced blend of medium strength but with a satisfyingly rich and complex flavour. There is a primarily creamy base with a slightly toasty hint, which really accentuates the aromatic spiciness of the Latakia. This is the sort of blend I’d recommend for anyone looking to try Latakia based blends but is wary of their potential to be a bit on the intense side. I’d normally suggest starting with something like Peterson’s Early Morning or Charatan’s first bowl, as they are extremely  light in Latakia. If you’ve enjoyed those and want to take the strength up a little bit more, this is the perfect place to stop next.

Artisan’s Blend

Right, now we’re getting to the real deal, as far as Trad blends go. Artisan’s Bend has a little bit of everything that makes traditional blends (and the smokers thereof) tick; A Virginia and Black Cavendish base lays a foundation that is crisp, semi-sweet and cool burning. This is built upon with a stunning combination of Latakia, Turkish and Oriental tobaccos and a hint of Perique, creating a perfectly harmonised blend that is subtly sweet, while also showing off all the flavours that can be naturally coaxed from fine tobacco, without the need for casing or flavouring. There are hints of perfumed smoke, cracked black pepper, smoked wood, sweet smoked-cured meats, to name just a few. I compared Consummate Gentleman to the lighter, “introductory” English blends, such as Early morning and First Bowl. Artisan’s Blend is right on the other end of the spectrum, far more akin to the heady, full bodied likes of Peterson’s Nightcap and Charatan’s Eventide. While this is certainly one of the more full-bodied blends out there, they’ve done a remarkable job in keeping the blend well balanced and preventing it from getting too wild. Definitely one for the more experienced smokers out there, but very rewarding once you get a feel for it.

That completes my taste test of the Ashton range, an impressively varied range that manages to maintain a consistent high quality throughout. Definitely worth a try, especially if you’re experimenting with different styles of blend.

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but next time, I think we’re finally ready to move onto the B’s!

Hopefully, I’ll see you there!

-Calum

Store Manager @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester

MY A-Z OF PIPE TOBACCO

A IS FOR ASHTONS

Part 1: The Aromatics

Ok, I know I’ve been on the A’s for ages now, but we just have one more brand to look at before I can finally move on to the rest of the alphabet. I’m finishing off with the Ashton’s range, which is sizeable, nicely varied and features one of my favourite aromatic blends ever! As has been the case with a few other brands I’ve written about in this blog of late, Ashtons started out as a pipe maker in 1983, before their success in that craft allowed them to also lend their name to a range of excellent cigars the following year. Once they had showed their ability in those fields, they finally branched out into producing pipe tobacco itself.

Gold Rush

I’m starting simple with this one, as it is an absolute exemplar of the concept of KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) being an effective rule to live by.  It’s also a rare case of a tobacco really doing what it says on the tin: It is a pure Virginia blend with a beautiful golden hue and a very subtle honey and lemon topping. Considering that lemon and honey are both quite powerful flavours in their own rights, they have done an astonishing job keeping them in line with the strength of the tobacco, which is pleasantly mellow and sweet. The subtle honey taste helps accentuate this flavour, while the lemon allows for an occasional dash of gentle citrus tanginess, to balance out the sweetness. All these elements are just pronounced enough to be noticed but subtle enough to make it a versatile smoke that most palates can enjoy at any times of day.

Smooth Sailing

After starting with an ever so slightly aromatic blend, I’m staying in the same area but turning the dial up significantly with Smooth Sailing. It is a Virginia, Burley and Cavendish blend, topped with a flavour of nuts, cocoa and maple. This is the blend I referred to in the intro as one of my favourite aromatics ever. The reason I like it so much is that it’s a really nice change from the more common fruity aromatics on the market. It has much more of a pudding-y or cakelike taste. The fact I use the word “Taste” there is relevant too; many blends sneakily call themselves “Aromatic” rather than “Flavoured” to protect themselves in the event of people saying they don’t think the taste is as good as the aroma. Well, Smooth Sailing can confidently call itself a Flavoured tobacco, as it tastes just as good as it smells… and that taste is divine.

Guilty Pleasure

Guilty Pleasure maintains the level of flavouring of the previous entry, but goes back to the tried and tested fruit-based formula. However, it manages to retain a unique character by taking the road less travelled and using a mango and citrus casing. This is added to a mild blend of Virginia, Cavendish and Carolina Burley, along with a hint of vanilla. This creates a blend that sits back and lets the fruit do the talking with a big and powerful taste, while its refreshing, tropical nature allows it to be tangy and lively rather than sickly and heavy.

Rainy Day

We’re turning the intensity dial back down for the last fully aromatic blend in this range (you’ll see what I mean in the next one…) with Rainy day, which once again goes for a slightly more

unusual take on the style. The base tobacco is described as a “savoury” blend of Virginia, Burley and Black Cavendish, which is aged in ex-whisky barrels to enhance its flavour. Pipe tobacco is very rarely flavoured in this manner,  so – along with the savoury style of the blend – it makes for a very different character, with understated fruit and nut flavours.

It’s at this point I realise there are more blends in this range compared to the others that I’ve covered in this A-Z so far. So in the interest of keeping this blog brief and digestible, I’m going to split Ashton into two parts: Aromatic and Traditional. So next week I’ll be looking at the more traditional side of this range. Then I PROMISE we’ll go onto the B’s.

Hope to see you then!

-Calum

Store Manager @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester

Another new pipe tobacco range: Nording

Last week I taste tested a new range of pipe tobacco from a brand that is generally more associated with making pipes, rather than tobacco: Chacom. Strangely enough, this week we have more of the same. The Erik Nording brand is normally associated with making exquisite and unique pipes. As is also the case with Chacom, Nording is a small, family-run business. If you haven’t looked through the range of Nording Pipes before, I highly recommend at least having a glance through it, as they make some of the most striking, eye-catching and unusual pipes on the market. As I’ve suggested though, this week I’m not looking at the pipes, as – like Chacom – Nording have now made the leap into the world of pipe tobacco blending, with a modest but fulfilling range of three tobacco blends. So once again, it falls to me to give the new range a thorough taste test.

Erik’s Reserve

Erik’s Reserve gets the ball rolling in simple, classic style. It is a straight, no-frills “Fairly bright” Virginia Flake. That’s it; beautifully straightforward. The flake itself, while described as “Bright,” certainly has some darker flecks, but I’d agree that it falls just on the lighter side of the spectrum. The cold aroma is about what you’d expect from this type of tobacco, subtly sweet with a slight tanginess. What did stand out was how easily the flake rubbed down, I barely had to poke it with a finger before it was mostly crumbled. It also lit (and remained lit) exceptionally easily, straight from the tin, with no need for drying or any other prep.  Taste-wise, it’s also about you’d expect; slightly sweet and woody, developing a warm toasty character as the bowl progresses. That classic Virginia tang is also present. All in all, this flake probably isn’t going to surprise you, but it does what you expect of it in a very competent manner. Actually, I tell a lie; the ease of preparation might surprise you, as I found it striking enough to bring up twice in one paragraph…

 

Sea Weed

Next up we have Sea Weed. This takes us in a different direction as it is a traditional yet striking Scandinavian style aromatic tobacco. The tobacco blend is a mix of Virginia, Burley and Black Cavendish, with a “Caramel and Cream” casing. One thing that immediately struck me on opening the tin was just how pronounced the “Cream” element of the casing is. All too often, when tobaccos promise a cream flavour, it turns out to be a bit nothing-y; just a vague hint or a light tobacco that gives the impression of creaminess. However, I’ll be damned if this blend doesn’t actually smell and taste of cream. The caramel side of the casing pulls its weight equally well too, which when combined with the cream taste, gives a flavour similar to crème brulee. As far as the casing: tobacco taste ratio goes, I’d call this a textbook Scandinavian aromatic, as the casing is strong enough to be noticed, but not so strong that you can’t taste the tobacco. Perfect balance.

Tumbleweed

Finally, here is Tumbleweed. As with the Sea Weed, this is a traditional Scandinavian aromatic, but there’s something quite arresting about it. It starts fairly by the book, a mixture of Virginia, Burley and Black Cavendish, with a Vanilla casing. Classic, right? The reason I call this blend “arresting” is that the aromatic casing is surprisingly pronounced for a Scandinavian Style Aromatic. The blenders also describe a more floral element, along with the vanilla, but to me it all comes together to make something a bit different. This is especially noticeable in the cold aroma. In fact, from the second you unseal and unscrew the lid, the aroma immediately seeps out to entice anyone in the vicinity. This aroma lead to a debate between me and my colleague, Karen. My immediate thought on the aroma was chocolate sponge cake, while she thought it was more of a fruit cake. Either way, we could agree it was definitely very “Cakey.” Once lit, I found the taste to be a combination of chocolate and a gentle vanilla undertone. Once again, I found the casing to be surprisingly strong for a Scandi Aro – almost bordering on American Style – but I could just about taste the tobacco underneath.

So, that’s the small but intriguing range of tobacco from Erik Nording, yet another pipe manufacturer turning their skilled hands to producing pipe tobacco. All in all, I’d recommend this range. It does a lot in a small range and dares to wander outside the confines of tradition, which is always a plus for me!

-Calum

Store Manager @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester

My A-Z of pipe tobacco

A is for Amphora

Another week in the A’s! Give it a few more and we might eventually hit the B’s. This week I’m looking at Amphora, a small but varied range, brought to us by MacBaren.

Amphora Full

Formerly known as “Full Aromatic,” this is a genuinely interesting blend. It has the base of a traditional English style aromatic (Virginia, Burley and Oriental/Turkish) but it also uses a surprisingly varied casing, with hints of chocolate and fruit with a slightly floral element. Pipe tobacco tends to sit in either one of these camps, so it’s very unusual to see a blend with a foot in both territories. The result is very satisfying. The cold aroma is very distinctive: deep, rich tobacco, invigorated by the fruitiness of the casing. It translates really nicely to the taste when burning too. The natural tobacco taste comes through very powerfully, which is a rarity in a cased blend. Again, the tobacco is rich, full-bodied and earthy with a slightly smoky edge. The casing doesn’t fight with this taste, it simply adds a slight puddingy sweetness to it. Overall, this blend has really surprised me (in a good way) as it uses casings in a way very few blends do, but with excellent results.

Amphora Special Reserve No.2

After quite an “Out there” start, we’re getting into more tried and tested territory with the Special Reserve No.2. It has its feet planted firmly in the aromatic side of the scale, with a blend of Virginia, Burley and Black Cavendish, topped with a “Ripe cherry” casing. While cherry is very familiar grounds for any aromatic pipe smoker, this blend takes it in an interesting direction by choosing a casing that isn’t “Black” cherry. This means it has a much more fresh and natural character, compared to Black Cherry, which is often extremely sweet and can sometimes stray into sickly sweet. The casing is clearly applied with restraint as it doesn’t totally dominate the blend, allowing for the quality of the tobacco to shine through amongst the sweetness. This is definitely one to try if you like cherries, but have found other cherry flavoured pipe blends not to be to your taste.

Amphora Original

After straying back to more traditional territory, the final blend I’m tasting goes straight back to the more unusual (but not totally unheard of) side of the tracks. It begins simply enough; a blend of Virginia, Kentucky, Burley and Oriental. So far, so normal; a traditional sweet, slightly spicy and smoky English style mixture. However, the interesting twist on this blend is the addition of a chocolate flavoured casing, not something you usually see in conjunction with “Spice” tobaccos. Like I said though, it’s not totally unheard of; Bob’s Flake from Gawith & Hoggarth goes for a similar concept.

While it might seem a little strange at first, I think it works really well. The chocolate is sweet but subtle, so it simply balances out some of the base blend’s intensity, rather than trying to override it. As the bowl progresses, the two types of flavour start to mingle beautifully, turning into a crisp, caramel type flavour, almost like burnt sugar/Crème Brulee. I feel they’ve also made a smart choice with the cut of the blend: It is a long, ribbon type cut, with pieces of what appears to be broken flake. This creates a very cool, slow burning mixture, which really allows the blend’s character to develop in a slow, tantalising manner.

All in all, this range has really pleasantly surprised me. Considering it only features three blends it manages to cover a lot of different bases, sometimes within the same blend in ways you might not expect. The blend names are quite unassuming, so I imagine a lot of people could have overlooked this range, not knowing the intriguing concepts that lie within the packaging (I definitely did.) If you’re in the same boat, I definitely recommend giving them a go, even if it’s just for a change of pace.

Next time… I’m still on the A’s but I think it’s the last one and then I can finally move onto the B’s!

-Calum – Store Manager @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester.

New Pipe Tobacco Range: Chacom!

I have a rare but very welcome experience this week in Chester; a whole new range of pipe tobacco has just arrived. New individual pipe tobacco blends aren’t that common, so it’s especially exciting when we get a whole new range (and not just because It means I get the arduous task of taste testing it…)

This time our new arrival is from brand with whom you might already be familiar: Chacom. However, those who already know of Chacom will most likely associate them with their pipes, rather than pipe tobacco. Chacom (a portmanteau of “Chapuis-Comoy&Cie”) are a French pipe-maker from St. Claude with a well-earned reputation for making extremely high-quality pipes. They are a small, family-run company, with their current MD being the sixth generation to head the small team of 20 dedicated employees. After a storied history of pipe-making they have decided to throw their hat into the ring of tobacco blending, by launching an interesting and varied range of four tobacco blends. Naturally, that means it’s time for me to roll up my sleeves, fire up my pipe and get to taste testing!

While the range is small – featuring just four blends – Chacom have done a very good job of giving a wide range of blends a fair representation, with two natural/non-aromatic blends and two with casings, as well as a combination of three shags/ready rubbed mixtures and one flake.

Chacom No.1

Chacom are starting off their range with a traditional English mixture that confidently and competently hits all the right notes. It utilises broken Virginia and Black Cavendish for a comforting, naturally sweet base, with the broken flake style of Virginia allowing for a cool and slow burning smoke. Naturally, this wouldn’t be a true English Mixture without a little bit of added spice: this comes in the form of the classic combo of Oriental tobacco and Cypriot Latakia. As is often the case, this stands at the forefront of the blend’s flavour, giving it a rich, smoky taste with a slight hint of perfumey spiciness. However, they manage to nail the essential task of not letting these elements completely overshadow the other tobacco, but simply allowing each to enhance the character of the other. It is fairly strong, but not flooringly so, all in all a very well-balanced blend.

Chacom No.2

While it would’ve made sense for me to work through these blends in numeric/name order, I’ll be honest and say I couldn’t resist trying this one first after reading the description. This aromatic blend uses a base of “Various Virginia and broken Virginia” as well as Burley and Black Cavendish. All of these have been chosen for their natural sweetness, so as someone with a massive sweet tooth, it would have already really appealed to me. However, that’s not the thing that hooked me. That would be the casing: a “Delicious but subtle flavour of fruity yellow plum and sweet vanilla.” Right?! As someone who loves it when blends use slightly more “Out there” flavours that stray off the beaten path, I couldn’t resist a plum-based flavour. Man, I can tell you it does not disappoint. The tobacco itself is sweet, but subtle enough that the fruity flavour can shine and it does so beautifully. The taste and aroma with its sweet fruitiness and vanilla reminds me of a delicious comforting pudding, like fruit sponge (or maybe crumble?) with custard. Super warming and comforting but without being overwhelming or sickly. Definitely a potential all-day smoke and I can’t recommend it enough.

Chacom No.3

Chacom’s third blend is another sweetly cased aromatic. This time, they have gone for a mixture of double fermented Black Cavendish, golden and red Virginias and a small portion of Burley. This is topped with a “Bourbon Vanilla” flavour. The Black Cavendish makes up a large proportion of the blend which gives it an extremely smooth, creamy and slightly sweet flavour and the casing really amps up that sweetness, while still remaining pleasantly light. Personally, the aroma and flavour of the casing reminds me of honeycomb, with a satisfying crisp edge to the sweetness. It is definitely the sweeter of the two aromatic blends, but it manages this without being sickly. The room note is super enticing too; my colleague, Joss walked by while I was testing this one and he immediately asked for a bowl so he could also “Help me test it.” Always a promising sign…!

Chacom No.4

The final blend in the range, Chacom No.4 is a flake cut, Virginia and Perique combo. “VaPers” – as they are often referred to – are very popular among pipe aficionados, yet they are surprisingly uncommon (pure Virginia/Perique blends, that is, without other tobaccos mixed in too.) For some reason, Chacom have decided not to actually state that this is a flake cut tobacco on the tin, so it might come as a surprise to some people. I can’t see it being a huge issue though, as this is a masterfully made flake; fine and precisely cut, mid-brown in colour with some golden highlights and some smaller, dark patches. It rubs down very easily and is packaged at a perfect level of moisture content, so it is ready to be rubbed, loaded and lit straight out of the tin, with no need for drying. This makes it an ideal “First flake” for a curious new pipe smoker. For a Perique-driven blend, the flavour and aroma are surprisingly subtle, as the four-week cold-pressing process really gives the tobaccos time to marry and merge flavours. The Virginias have that classic sweet tang that develops a great toasty character as the bowl progresses, while the Perique adds an ever so subtle layer of fruit and spice to elevate it from a straight Virginia blend. As I’ve already said, this would make a great introduction to flake tobacco. However, now I’ve tested a few bowls, I can also say it would make a great introduction to Virginia/Perique blends (or just Perique-centred blends) in general.

So that’s the full range of Chacom’s new pipe tobacco blends. Overall, I’m impressed; In a small range they have managed to give even representation to a number of different types of blends and styles of presentation, while also offering something a little different from the standard varieties. Not only that, but they have done so with impressive competence for a completely new range. I’d strongly recommend trying them. If you can’t make up your mind on which to try first (and frankly, I wouldn’t blame you; even now, I’d struggle to pick a favourite) we offer all four in a sampler, so you can do your own taste test.

Amazingly, Chacom isn’t the only new range of pipe tobacco to launch recently, we have another brand new range to test, which I’ll be covering in my next blog. You’ll have to wait till then to see what it is though. Hope to see you there.

Calum

-Store Manager @ Turmeaus & LCDH Chester