This blog is extremely subjective. Every person on this planet has a unique chemical makeup. Just like fingerprints, no two are the same. Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Only about 0.85% is composed of another five elements: potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine and magnesium. All 11 are necessary for life. The remaining elements are trace elements, of which more than a dozen are thought on the basis of good evidence to be necessary for life, too. All of the mass of the trace elements put together (less than 10 grams for a human body) do not add up to the body mass of magnesium, the least common of the 11 non-trace elements. And no, I don’t have a doctorate in chemistry, I just know a little bit about how to use Google. Your mixture of all of the above elements determines a variety of sensory sensations, including your preferences for pipe tobaccos. That’s why some people think that Dunhill’s Royal Yacht is the greatest tobacco ever made while others think it’s putrid. That’s why some people can’t tolerate Perique while others think its the greatest invention since, well, tobacco blends of any kind without Perique.
You may love or hate my all-time favorite tobacco blends. It just depends on your chemical make-up. And if you are fortunate, like me, to have a chemical make-up that adores Royal Yacht, then good for you because the Murray’s version of that one certainly has to be one of the finest tobaccos ever put together. The original Dunhill England version was terrific, and in a shag cut form that I love, but it didn’t have nearly as much of that still secret casing that I enjoyed when Murray’s took over the blending and was more liberal with whatever that nectar of the gods is. I discovered this exemplary blend back in the 1980’s and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t enjoy at least one bowl of the stuff, and often I pamper myself with a second helping. Royal Yacht is not for neophytes. The tobacco spice upon lighting, and the powerful dose of nicotine will cross the eyes and blur the vision of newbies. If you enjoy true tobacco taste (the Virginia base is excellent) then you will enjoy this powerful blend. It can be smoked all day with no fatigue or tongue bite. The delicate flavoring only adds to my enjoyment.
Number two on my all-time favorite tobacco list is a naturally cased Virginia that I have a hard time finding since it has been out of production for several decades. Still, I have managed to squirrel away a fair amount of it and I smoke it only on special occasions like Christmas, my birthday, my wedding anniversary, and whenever I am feeling nostalgic. It is Gallaher’s Rich Dark Honeydew. It came in flake and Ready Rubbed form, and I only collect the Ready Rubbed version. I personally think that Gallaher’s was one of the world’s top blending houses and they had almost a half dozen employees whose job it was to travel the world to find just the right leaf for this blend, which comprised almost 50% of their annual sales. Gallaher’s was purchased in 2007 by the Japan Tobacco group which still uses the Gallaher name with their UK based products. Deep, dark and rich certainly is an apropos description of Rich Dark Honeydew. Those who are still fortunate enough to pop a tin will be greeted by a shag cut, fully rubbed-out tobacco that will be almost black in color. The scent is that of an extremely rich Virginia with just the hint of “English type” topping that is not at all fruity and just a wee bit sweet. Upon lighting, you will be immediately smacked with nicotine – Woo Hoo! The flavor is strong and spicy, yet as smooth as a baby’s bottom and as mellow as an old Basset Hound. No matter how hard one puffs, this tobacco will never bite. My palate is simply blanketed in quality, deep, dark and naturally sweet Virginia leaf flavor that only years of aging can produce. Further, the leaf stays lit evenly and burns to the bottom with just a hint of wet dottle due to the discreet and mysterious natural casing employed.
Running neck and neck with Gallaher’s Rich Dark Honeydew is the old Ogden’s classic, St. Bruno Ready Rubbed. It was similar in taste to the better known St. Bruno Flake, but I liked this one better as it had a little less topping and to me anyway, a deeper flavor. The current Mac Baren’s version is okay, but nothing like the original. The no longer produced tinned version was more of a shag cut with a deeper, darker Virginia flavor that was loaded with nicotine and the casing caused the blend to smell and taste of hints of fermented raisins. If you want to sample a quality, cased Virginia that packs enough wallop to keep the kids away, I can easily recommend this blend. If you are fortunate enough to locate a sealed Ogden’s 50g tin, please forward it on to your friendly neighborhood Pipestud.
Number Four on my hit parade is McClelland’s No. 27. I can still recall back in 2006 when I cracked open a 22 year old tin of this delightful Virginia shag. I cannot remember a time I had more fun smoking a tobacco. The tin top was actually puffed a bit and let out a gentle whoosh when the seal broke. The tobacco was was extremely dark and the smell told me the leaf was richly fermented. The leaf was mostly dry, but retained just enough dampness to make it perfect for smoking. It burned clean and cool right down to the bottom of the bowl leaving nothing but ash. Just past mid bowl on my second smoke, I hit an otherworldly zone that I’ll remember forever. That grand old 100 gram tin did not last long.
Rounding out my Top-5 list of all-time favorites is Mick McQuaid’s Ready Rubbed. I’m talking about the original Carroll Company of Dundalk, Ireland production version. It was certainly one of the best Matured Virginia tobaccos that I’ve ever smoked. I do think a bit of burley was included, but am not positive. In the tin, this blend was actually very similar to Dunhill’s Royal Yacht in both cut and color. It is a very dark, ribbon (almost shag) cut tobacco that has a wonderfully semi-sweet and slightly fermented fig smell that entices the pipe smoker to hurry and load up! The taste is very naturally slightly sweet, but I think I also detected a very discreet casing that I cannot begin to identify. It smoked clean and mostly dry all the way to the bottom of the bowl and I wanted more almost immediately. It is unfortunate that before going out of business, the Carroll Tobacco Company of Ireland quit importing McQuaid blends into the USA years ago for fear of lawsuits by the tobacco Nazis who are currently being allowed to run rampant with their dastardly, despicable and downright ignorant behavior.
Do you notice a theme running through my favorites? All but McClelland’s Number 27 are strong, mostly Virginia blends in ready-rubbed form that feature some sort of slightly sweet casing. To keep the Latakia crowd happy, my next blog will feature my top five favorite English blends. I don’t smoke them nearly as often as Virginia and Virginia/Burley combinations, but probably like most of you, I do have my favorites and there are times when only a Latakia/Orientals/Virginia combination will satisfy my palate.