Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to me!

My lovely wife squirreled away some money with which to throw me a birthday party. When that failed to materialize she handed me the money and offered a new pipe in exchange for my now-broken Hungarian.

Arriving soon is a new Stanwell Majestic #217 from Frenchy's. I've been drooling over this gem for some time now.

Frenchy even sent me a personal email thanking me for the purchase. That made the transaction extra special.

More on the pipe after I've had a few evenings with it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Returning to Old Favorites

The Haddo's Delight is gone, and recent budget constraints prohibit me from purchasing another tin. So instead of pining over the 16oz can the could be mine if I wanted to give up eating I've taken to emptying my jar of Chocolate Flake.

I'll save us both the semi-erotic (not my wording) praise that I have lavished upon blends in recent history and make this a quick post. After all, 6 weeks is an awfully long span of time between blog posts even for a procrastinator like myself.

Let me start by saying that I have not tried Bob's Chocolate Flake, and error I hope to soon rectify. I have tried MacBaren's Honey and Chocolate, though, so I can give you two ends of the spectrum.

Where Honey and Chocolate attempts to give the smoker the impression that one is vaporizing actual chocolate Samuel Gawith's Chocolate Flake instead is a Virginia blend with a nice amount of latakia and a subtle hint of baker's cocoa. It is very much in the background, not overwhelming or even immediately obvious. The tin aroma reminds me of a cigar shop humidor, sweet and only slightly smokey, with a chocolate cake baking in the oven.

The flavor itself is mild, and one has to search for the cocoa aspect while smoking. Even the latakia is understated, allowing the Virginia to come to the forefront. It's a sublime combination, and one of the few blends that leave my office smelling almost as if I simply left the tin open by accident.

Both tin and bulk packages come moist, so prepare for a long, slow smoke or suffer the wrath of tongue bite. I like to let a few flakes sit out for half an hour or so before rubbing it out for maximum flavor and reduced smoking time. I have equal experience with folding and stuffing the flakes but doing this in a big bowl results in two hours minimum. While this method might make the smoke more well-behaved it also seems, in my experience, to reduce the flavor and aroma.

Luckily I have just under eight ounces in my personal stock so I won't have to go hungry or without an enjoyable pipe.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Evolution Of A Favorite

I'm sitting here at my console with a Savinelli full of Haddo's Delight and thinking about the road from first smoke to review-writer. What follows is a rather lengthy write-up of that particular train of thought.

It was just over a year ago when I bought my first pipe, a basket Viking from my local tobacco store. As a part of that process I had to choose my first tobacco to accompany the briar. I had tried pipes years before without success and only knew what I liked to smell. I didn't realize at the time that taste was so critical to the enjoyment of a pipe and so I chose a store blend called Watson's Druthers after much sniffing of jars. I suspect now that this was repackaged Captain Black but it would be another year before I had the experience to come to this conclusion.

Being my only blend to smoke it was, by virtue of its ability to wreath my head in beautiful aroma, my favorite, but it was severely lacking in taste. It's not that it tasted bad, it simply had no taste at all. Even a year later when I try a bowl in an attempt to deplete my supply I find it tasteless and boring. It smells great, though, and cakes a pipe like no other.

Not long after the purchase of my first pipe my wife bought me some Scottish Cake. To my amateur nose it smelled of salty, smokey beef jerky. I was unprepared for the bold flavor and immediately dismissed it, sidelining it while I tested pouch after pouch of drug store samples in a fruitless attempt to find the holy grail of aromatic blends.

During this period I became rather fond of Rum Mixture, an Altadis sample. I found it similar in aroma to Watson's Druthers but with some taste present. What I tasted certainly wasn't rum, but buttery, nutty burley tobacco. When this ran out I went searching for more rum-topped blends, landing on Gawith Hoggarth's Rum Flake.

To say that the transition from a relatively flat aromatic to a masterful blend like Rum Flake was jarring is to severely understate events. I was completely overwhelmed, much like my first bowl of Scottish Cake months before. My poor tongue didn't know what to think. The lakeland essence of rum flake had me thinking "WHOAHSOAP!!!" and I immediately dismissed it, lamenting the funds lost on the purchase. The thought of wasting money eventually brought me back around to the tin, which had then had a few weeks to mellow out. Three or so bowls later and Rum Flake had become my favorite by a margin the size of Alaska.

Despite my initial hesitance I began to find the lakeland essence, floral and soapy all at once, to be charming. A friend once told me that he found his Rum Flake experience to be like smoking incense, and I can't help but agree with him, though he meant it in a less-than-favorable light. It was here that I began to discern the different flavors and aromas that floated across my tongue and wafted up my nose: maple, vanilla, buttery burley and even a caramel essence (though to this day I haven't detected the slightest hint of rum).

Rum Flake remained king in my collection of canning jars for months and I began buying it in bulk. During one such order I purchased a sample tin of Samuel Gawith's Chocolate Flake and, in trying it, was reacquainted with an old taste, latakia. Earlier, during my experiment with Scottish Cake I found it to be akin to the proverbial cigar-chomping uncle: obnoxious, overbearing and entirely unwelcomed. With my newly-awakened palette, however, I found heaven in neatly-cut and slightly moist rectangles.

I found in Chocolate Flake something that was sorely missing from my experiments with drugstore aromatics. It had intense, satisfying flavor in the form of Virginia leaf and smokey latakia, yet offered a room note to die for. It was like walking into a humidor stocked with expensive cigars accompanied by the smell of fresh-baked chocolate cake. While Rum Flake remains in my rotation to this day Chocolate Flake had become, for the time being, the reigning champion.

In the same order months back that brought Rum Flake to my attention also came a tin of Dunhill's Nightcap. The aroma from the tin, at the time, caused me to set it aside and save it for an evening in which I felt more adventurous. My initiation into the latakia fan club at the hands of Chocolate Flake made such an evening possible and I found myself one night cautiously loading a brand new acquisition, a Bjarne freehand, with the leathery, peppery blend.

Much like my initial experience with Rum Flake I found Nightcap too assertive, not an uncommon first impression if you read other reviews. It was not without its rewards, however, and I was eager to try another bowl before the first was finished. By mid bowl my tongue happened upon a warm, rich flavor that had me patting myself on the back for having evolved my senses to the point where I could detect anything in the presence of a juggernaut such as perique.

I wasn't the only one to find Nightcap overwhelming and I was quickly relegated to smoking Nightcap on the patio. Despite two window fans and a towel at the base of the door my wife found the room note to be an assault on the nose as it crept into the living room.

In the interest of keeping the reader's attention I'll fast-forward to a handful of weeks ago where upon I fell in love with my current favorite Haddo's Delight (previously reviewed here). This tale is complete as is my over sized pipe. I have no more to say save that my experiences to this date have me looking forward with renewed anticipation to finding a new favorite. I cannot with any amount of truth call myself an expert but I find that each new tin, each unique blend brings me closer to that distinction.

It is worth mentioning, by way of closing, that I continue to keep Rum Flake, Chocolate Flake and Nightcap in my regular rotation. They may not be the favorite, but they do, and hopefully will, remain a favorite.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Review: Haddo's Delight (GL Pease)

Blend: Haddo's Delight
Brand: G.L. Pease

I would normally shy away from sharing my official thoughts on any tobacco until I had finished three or more bowls. As any pipe smoker knows the palate must adjust before it can determine the more subtle nuances of a blend and I am loathe to publish any information in which I am not certain.

With Haddo's Delight, however, I feel like I must share my thoughts or else I would be performing a great disservice, both to myself and to any potential readers. For the record I've finished two rather large bowls (a Savinelli 1616) and have something I want to say:

This is a fantastic blend.

There, I've said it. But if you'll indulge me I have a few other thoughts that might be of interest.

Arguably the quintessential moment of trying a new blend is that of breaking the seal on the tin. For me this brief fragment of time is the most exciting. Tin in hand, muscles poised with sufficient strength as to separate lid from vessel, lungs emptied in preparation for that initial olfactory impression, unsure of what to expect but eager to form an opinion. Limited experience says that this first step is crucial to the initial enjoyment.

Haddo's Delight certainly makes an impression. Right out of the tin the smell is almost overwhelming. Fruity alcohol is the first and foremost smell, followed by cocoa, then the perique makes itself known. I wasn't sure what I was in for, but I was more than willing to find out.

Loaded pipe in hand I was expecting an aromatic on the first match. Haddo's Delight, contrary to my first nasal impression, is far from an aromatic. With the false light behind me and the room full of billowy plumes I found myself wrapped in a blanket of smoke that promised a complete sensory experience. But what was it? It's not an English, it's not an aromatic, it's somewhere in between, much like my current favorite, Rum Flake (Gawith Hoggarth).

The perique is there, the Virginia is there, and underneath it all is a very mellow cocoa and yes, even some fruit. I was in briar heaven from the very start and by the time I dumped the ash I was wanting a second bowl.

Everything about this blend is strong. The room note, the flavor, the volume of smoke, and even Vitamin N. Yes, Haddo's Delight carries a massive velvet hammer and it's not afraid to use it.

Fast forward to bowl number two. It's late in the night, close to bed time. My stomach is empty to the point of discomfort and as I later found out one of my fans was pointing into the room instead of out of the window. Halfway through the bowl I found myself with cold sweats. By the three-quarter mark I was shaking and nauseated. By the end of the bowl it was all I could do to walk out out of the room. It was like I was smoking 1792 all over again. But unlike 1792 I wanted more, even with my ailing sense of health.

To wrap this up I can see Haddo's Delight becoming part of my regular rotation, right alongside Rum Flake and Nightcap. Enjoy its many attributes, but smoke it with respect. This one can sneak up on you, and by the time the nicotine makes itself known it may be too late to turn back. My third bowl will be after a meal or at least a snack, and I'll be certain to point both fans outside. Perhaps I'll even be outside. Loathe as I am to lose that delicious room note it might be easier on my stomach.


Welcome to Briar Consequences, a (hopefully) regular blog revolving around the ruminations and reviews of smoking pipes and pipe tobaccos. More often than not I'll have a pipe firmly clenched betwixt my teeth while doing so.