First, let me qualify this blog. Pipestud.com webmaster Andrew Wohlmuth shamed me into writing it. Andrew loves Latakia blends and was greatly disappointed a few weeks ago when I wrote a blog regarding my Top-5 all time favorite tobaccos and not a single Latakia blend was on the list. There was a reason for that; Latakia blends are 4th on my favorite “tobacco types” list behind Virginias, Burley’s and Orientals. Yes, I know that Latakia is an Oriental tobacco that has simply been heavily fumigated, but Andrew wasn’t about to let me off the hook due to a minor technicality. I do like to smoke blends with Latakia in them, but only on occasion when the urge hits, and even then, my choices always seem to gravitate toward the lighter Latakia fare that is associated with Scottish blends. Andrew also wanted me to be sure the list was comprised of tobaccos that can still be obtained. No unicorns, he demanded!
If I could smoke just one Latakia infested blend for the rest of my life the choice would be Rattray’s Black Mallory. And not the original Made in Scotland version either. The Perth made variety is not sweet enough. The current Kolhasse & Kopp version is, to me, sweeter and more flavorful, and because it has all the right components for aging, the older the tin is, the better. This is Rattray’s best English blend. More refined and laid back than its companion blend, Red Rapparee, it contains a hint of sweetness and changes character as the bowl is smoked. If Latakia overwhelms you in large doses, then Black Mallory may be for you. Not real strong but full of flavor. And the smell right out of the tin is heavenly.
Number two on my hit parade is McClelland’s Wilderness with both Syrian & Cyprian Latakia, created by Fred Hanna about a decade ago. I remember the first time I opened a tin. I stuck my nose within a whisker of the leaf and took a long whiff… Oops, there went some drool. I plucked a bowlful of leaf from the tin. I then spread it out on a sheet of paper and somehow managed restraint and let the broad ribbon cut tobacco greet the fresh Texas air for about 15-minutes. I then carefully loaded up my pipe. At the match (well, my Old Boy lighter), a thick cloud of creamy, rich smoke began to fill my shop. I took a few long, slow pulls. I don’t know how deep an ocean is, but this tobacco surely matches its depth with a starburst of flavors. The delightful Oriental presence made itself know immediately. The sweet Yenidje and bold Drama interplay was stellar as was the leathery background provided by the highest of quality Syrian and Cyprian Latakia. My tongue was also occasionally washed with the Virginia addition that always supported, but never interfered with the star players.
Probably really in a virtual tie with Wilderness is the Tad Gage invention (also tinned by McClelland’s), 3 Oaks Syrian. It hit the market in 1989 and is still a top seller on my website today. This one can fool you. Some bowls make you think you’re smoking an Oriental blend with a background dose of Latakia. At other times you’ll think you’re smoking a Latakia blend with a background dose of sweet Oriental leaf. Either way, it’s a bell ringer for me. And boy, is it ever rich in smoke. Don’t puff too fast if you are near a fire alarm! I really like the smoothness of the rich and smoky Syrian Latakia and the sweetness of the Orientals. It is a killer combination and one I thoroughly enjoy when I want an infusion of Latakia in my tobacco.
Number 4 on my list might surprise you. I don’t think it’s still in production but I have a couple of dozen tins stashed from about 15-years ago that may last me the rest of my life because I have only been pulling out a tin to smoke once every couple of years in order to make the hoarded leaf last me. This one is truly an English Aromatic. Sweet and Latakia don’t normally go together, but in this instance the rare combination is delightful. Gourmet English packs easily as the cut of the leaf is perfect. The Latakia is not overpowering and the Virginia leaf is now well aged and refined. And whatever the discreet sweetener is, it’s good! My pipes have taken a real liking to this one.
Rounding out my list was tough as there are perhaps a half dozen other blends with Latakia that I enjoy, but for this blog I wanted to make sure that I chose tobaccos that can still be obtained, and while tough to find, the true Dunhill London made My Mixture 965 can still be found if you look hard enough – on my website, of course. Meatier than the later Murray’s production, but gentler to the palate as the Latakia presence has softened considerably with all the decades of aging. I like 965 because although it is an English, the latakia does not overwhelm the palate. There is enough to certainly satisfy latakia lovers, but it is subdued enough to be enjoyed by those of us who don’t want our palates overwhelmed by the stuff. And folks, this tobacco is not one of the all-time greats for no reason. It is simply sensational!