I'm not sure what happened to my old reviews page. I know I intended to move a lot of my reviews online (meaning, off my own homepage) but I don't remember actually getting rid of my old reviews. Anyhow, I guess this means I get to start again.
I'm dividing the reviews up into Aromatic, Virgina, and English/Orientals. If I get enough in any given subgroup, I will probably divide them up even more (possibly by company that blends them).
Like a lot of (American, at least) pipe smokers, I started out as an aromatic pipe smoker. Some cheap, nameless cherry blend was my first and my second (of note) was Big Spring Vanilla (a Huntsville original, as far as I know). I used to love the sweet flavors. As I grew used to pipe smoking, I noticed that a lot of Aromatics had a tendency to bring up secondary flavors into the fold. Unpleasant ones, really. Tongue bite and bitterness caused me to experiment outwards. I now only have a few aromatics that I smoke, but I give them all my stamp of approval.
I am a Virginias man. I like the natural, basic sweet flavor they have. Even the English blends I like tend to be heavily Virginia. Some people get severe tongue bite from them, apparently, but I don't. The last time I did, I smoked five or six bowls pretty much back to back (so basically about four or five hours of continuous Viriginia smoking). That I would not recommend.
One of the problems with being a Virginia fan, if this counts as a problem, is finding blends that have a true character to them. Many are variations on a theme. This is also a blessing, in that you have a lot to choose from without much worry about it being too far off your beaten path.
I picked up a two ounce bag of the Flake from SmokingPipes.com. It comes in a thick, somewhat moist flake which is mostly dark brown with light brown hightlights. I let it dry and then rubbed it down to a medium size. Small enough to light evenly, but thick enough to have a bit of a chunk to it. Excellent aroma unlit. I loaded it into a mid-sized bowl and lit up. Smoked three bowls over three days.
In the first few puffs, it comes on with a rich, kind of woody flavor. Well-rounded and full, but missing some of the natural sweetness that makes me love Virginias. The roomnote has a good, mild-tone to it.
Over the middle of the bowl, the flavor starts to become less appealing. The woodiness fades into a cross between a weak, sweet chocolate and a light coffee flavor. That is not a complaint, by the way, just an observation. There also develops a mid-tongue leathery taste that is pleasant but almost cloying. Not sweet, but not unsweet at the same time. It starts to go out kind of regularly in the middle, and requires relights. Finally, while it does not have an extreme tongue bite, it does have moments where it feels a little hot and tastes a little burnt. My mouth feels on the verge of rawness after I get about 2/3s through a bowl. [Doug's Note: From other reviews I have seen on this Flake, I probably did not let it dry enough. Most other reviewers recommend a long time of aging/drying (6 month to years).]
By the end of the bowl, the woodiness begins to reassert itself and a more natural sweetness develops, blending in nicely with the mid-bowl flavors. It gets quite tasty, and starts building up a pleasant aftertaste, but it was pretty much gone at this time with the pipe I had. With this in mind, I would say that a deep bowl is definitely the way to go. This blend needs a few minutes to get cooking. The roomnote stays pleasant throughand through. And the ash is a nice, light powder with no problems. Even when smoked fast, moisture is not really a big deal (but watch your tongue). Possibly an excellent candidate for DGT (which I will try next bowl).
This is not going to be a mainstay VA for me, I like them to be a little lighter on the tastebuds at this time, but I do think I will keep some around because it is deeper and stronger than many of my favorites. This would be for when I want a VA to have a thicker body.
Final ranking will be a Good, probably higher with age and greater drying (and a slower smoke).
Most of my tobacco fits into this category. This has the natural taste of Virginia with a difference of flavors that appeals to me. My favorites are those that use the lighter Oriental blends, with faint little tastes on the tongue topping out a Virginia, but I smoke a wide variety (or at least have, my current smoking habits only include about three strong blends and a couple weaker in this category).
Tastes like chocolate. I kid you not. In fact, it tastes so much like a good rich, dark chocolate, that I feel a little weird smoking it. Most Choco-blends use sort of a generic sweet-rum-esque flavor with a hint of something that is not quite vanilla. The overall effect can be pleasing, but is chocolate in the same way that some candies taste like melon, in that they taste like no melon you have ever tasted but you enjoy it all the same.
As I said, Bob's is very much so chocolate. That alone wins it some praise from me.
Its flake rubs fairly easy. I couldn't, without spending a little time to it, get it quite as finely rubbed as I like, but it still lit and burned well. A couple of relights but I think that was more my fault. Not precisely a bite, but it burns a little warm. Dry smoke. Even puffing it I have gotten essentially no dribble.
Roomnote is an unknown to me. It smells pretty good and the only brief time my wife was in the room she said something like "oh, hmmm" which I took as a generally good sound. I haven't given it any sort of "general populace" test (and I never really smoke in crowds unless I know people are ok with it).
This is one for the corncob, by the way. I have smoked it in a briar and a corncob, and the latter's little "grassy" aftertaste worked the best for me. There is a hint of "soapiness" that creeps into the favor, and the cobs seem to work with it instead of isolating it. Keep in mind, though, that this is Latakia sporting blend. This is not going to taste good in a seasoned aromatic pipe. It doesn't cling to my briar, so it seems generally safe, but this might be another reason to use a corncob unless you really like the blend and dedicate a pipe to it.
Its price is roughly at the 3-4 dollar amount per ounce.
My final rating is Good.
Upon first melling it, I guessed a Virginia with a bit of Burley, which is a popular mixture but one that strikes me as a bit too throaty and I would rather leave the Burley to the old "Prince Albert" and be done with it.
I had a relatively new (less than 20 smokes) Dr. Grabow (lord help me if I can recall what name they gave it...its a straight pipe with looks somewhere between a short bowled Dublin and something else) that had, due to my Burley guess, only touched Prince Albert and I figured it would blend well. Turns out, there is no Burley in the mix (my nose was apparently thrown off by the bit of oriental leaf) but there was Perique.
First smoke was a bust. Flavor did not sit well with me. Well, I should say it did not sit particularly well with me, and came off with the tendency to mimic one of those oft-lamented "drug store blends". Its punch was higher than expected, and its room note was more pleasant that most similar blends would lead toward, and so I decided to give it another go a few days down the road. I mean, I had dropped six dollars on what (for me) will be a month or so worth of pipe bowls and might as well play out a few weeks before tossing it.
I am glad to say that following bowls (of which there have been four or five) have each increased my like of this blend. It is strong, straight flavor that works really well as an outside smoke. Its best to let it fan out and linger on the back of the tastebuds than saturate in it. The Virginia flavor is the most important part of the combination, and the others are just there to add a hint of spice.
It burns pretty thin and cleans up easy. Leaves a spicy flavor in the bowl. Would probably mix well with a clove flavor.
It has strong grown on me over time.
I must add one caveat. Some bowls have an almost burnt flavor at the bottom. Some tobaccos can burn or turn sort of funny at the end (but rarely English Blends in my experience) but this was a notable flavor change. Really don't know what was up with it, since it has yet to happen before. Maybe some especially dry leaf got mixed in. Or maybe it was the ghost of the Grabow pre-smoking (which sometimes manifests as a burnt "liverish" taste).
My final rating is Great.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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