Semois Pipe Tobacco, Tried Some Yet?

Vincent Manil, La Brumeuse picIt’s been called by afficianados to be the best tobacco in the world, described as earthy, rustic, and yet delicatley herbal and floral. The promise regarding the contents of the 100gram package I will soon have in my possession is “it will be unlike any other pipe tobacco you’ve ever had.”

Semois tobacco is a product of the Ardennes Valley in Belgium. It gets its name from the Semois River that winds through the valley. What makes for the unique qualities of the leaf is the misty,  Sun-deprived climate in which it grows. Believed to be a descendent of Burley, Semois has  mutated into its own subvarietal. Its processing by blenders is basically one of drying, fermenting, shredding and packaging… the product, 100% tobacco, no additional essences of any kind.

Having become extremely popular throughout Europe around the end of the 19th century, it began losing market share to cigarettes after the Second World War, and today, only three boutique manufacturers remain.

La Brumeuse, “the Misty One,” a full flavored, full strength rendition of pure Semois, produced by blender Vincent Manil is now available for purchase in the U.S. through ‘The Pipe Guys’. With its new introduction into the U.S. market, I’m curious to see if this product becomes the next highly-sought-after-and-hard-to-obtain pipe tobacco. You might want to get yours right now, while you can. I do mean, right now. Until further notice, you gotta get it from The Pipe Guys.

(Nice little NY Times Magazine article about Semois and Vincent Manil)




Quickie Pipe Tobacco Review: Stanwell Vanilla

Stanwell Vanilla picStanwell Vanilla is a lightly cased aromatic tobacco that provides an enjoyably subtle vanilla flavor and sidestream aroma.

The tin holds an attractive array of light golden tans to deep browns in this blend of Dark Cavendish, Burley, Virginia and Turkish. To me, the tin note has a sharp vanilla scent, and something about it “stung” my nostrils at my first whiff. My example is not at all sticky and seems  just right for loading. I set aside a bowl’s worth to air for a good 15 minutes before filling my Stanwell #118 (with filter) and lighting up.

The vanilla makes its first muted presence known with the charring light and sticks around, drifting in and out from start to finish. I find it takes me a couple of false lights before getting the pipe going, but once going, it burns easily. The gentle “breathing with the pipe” technique, letting the smolders set their own pace, is to me the most satisfying way to coax flavor from this blend.

The nice, not too sweet, vanilla comes into its fullest beginning around mid-bowl, along with some other sweeter taste — maybe the Virginias? The sour of the Turkish provides a smoothing balance to the flavor profile. About the final third of the bowl, the Burley comes through with its toasty nuttiness. Stanwell Vanilla smokes down to a generally grey ash and leaves a dry bowl. With Vanilla, I do not experience that “candle-wax” sensation in smell or taste as I do with Stanwell Melange. Vanilla also leaves less of an aftertaste than does its apricot sibling.

Stanwell Vanilla is a light smoke in its flavor, nicotine, and in its room note. As I’m currently looking for an aromatic that fits certain criteria, Vanilla would fit the bill if only it had a bit more”oomph” in its flavor. Granted, I’ve been smoking it with a 9mm charcoal filter, which is bound to subdue its tastiness, but I choose to smoke aromatics with a filter, so in the smoke I’m looking for, the flavor essences must get through.

I recommend Stanwell Vanilla to someone who would enjoy a light, natural vanilla tasting tobacco. At its price point, it offers good value.

Quickie Pipe Tobacco Review: Stanwell Melange

Stanwell Melange picStanwell Melange is possibly the first tobacco I’ve smoked where its flavor profile and sidestream aroma resemble the blend’s tin note and label description – presenting a “unified” smoking experience of apricot, vanilla and a kind of peachiness. It is mild in taste, room note and nicotine. I’ve smoked four bowls of my first-ever tin of this blend at the time of this writing.

Melange is lightly sauced. My 18 month old example has no stickiness about it and was ready to smoke upon opening the tin. There are some ribbons and weedy chunks I choose to break up before loading. It has required one to two more lights after my true light and usual tamping to smoke a full bowl to my satisfaction. It smokes without a threat of bite, leaves a fine enough ash and no dottle to speak of.

I find no cloying unnatural sweetness in its taste or aroma. There is something about it that I can only describe as “candle-waxy” that I experience about halfway through a bowl and a short  while in its aftertaste. It isn’t unpleasant, just kind of odd to me.

As I don’t normally smoke this type of aromatic blend but happen to be in the market for one, Melange needs only to be a bit fuller tasting – and a little less “waxy,” perhaps – for me to find it completely enjoyable. I would classify it as a value-priced quality smoke that I would return to, though not enthusiastically, and recommend it to someone looking for this kind of mild smoke.

SoCal Pipester’s 2014 Pipe Tobaccos to Start the Year

SoCal Pipester Tobacco Tins
A few tins lined up for 2014 smoking pleasure

SoCal Pipester’s 2014 Pipe Tobaccos to Start the Year…

If you’ve read what my favorite tobaccos of 2013 were, be assured I’ll continue to load up a bowl or two of those throughout 2014; however, this year I have a hankering to revisit some old favorites as well as sample some new, or new to me, blends – especially, some light aromatics.

Indeed, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, for a number of reasons I count myself among those who generally dislike aromatics. But because of extenuating circumstances, for 2014, I’ve set course for a new mission in pipe tobacco exploration: to find a couple of aromatic tobacco blends that meet my criteria for the spring and summer seasons, and then something for the fall.

Why the focus now on aromatics?

It’s political…

Firstly, although my wife grew up in a household where both parents were lifelong cigarette smokers, she cannot abide the smell of tobacco. And though I do my best to keep even the residual aroma of my piping pleasure at bay, you know how difficult that can be. So I’m thinking maybe I should re-double my efforts to find a smoke that might garner the response, “Hey, that’s almost like incense!” rather than, “At least that’s not as bad as the other stuff I’ve smelled,” which is about the best remark she’s given me regarding my pastime.

Secondly, the anti-anything-tobacco anywhere, anytime lobby is unrelenting in its campaign to eliminate it from our lives. The federal government has been considering classifying and regulating tobacco products in the same manner as they would a drug. The “Tobacco Free” movement in California doesn’t just want to help people to stop smoking but wants to criminalize those who do. In the Los Angeles suburb in which I live, one cannot walk the streets pipe alighted without running the risk of a hefty fine by happening to within 25 feet of a no-smoking zone – whether anybody else but the constable is around or not.

Now, I have always understood the need to be thoughtful about the exposure of others to my secondhand smoke. And I have always agreed with the notion that we should ban smoking from certain public and private spaces as long as exemptions were allowed for taverns and smoke shops and the like. Cigarette butts laying about?  Don’t get me started. But today’s anti-smoking propaganda is going beyond the pale.

So… in the event that I’m somewhere outside of a “safe-to-smoke zone” enjoying my latest pipe or tobacco acquisition, and the fragrance of my activity comes within olfactory range of another person, I’m hoping – as with my wife –  the reaction to an aromatic might be one of, “Wow, such a nice vanilla scent!” rather than, “Off with his head! Off with his head, now!!”

Among the criteria that this aromatic tobacco must meet is that it be of quality leaf, not overly cased or topped, taste pretty danged good, not cherry, be a complete joy for me to puff my way through an entire bowl, burn to a fine enough ash, leave little to no dottle, and present a great smelling smoke trail. Note that, of course, this is fairly subjective, as by nature the entire pipe smoking experience is.

To this end, in addition to settling back with a pipe of 1792, Special Latakia Flake, Brown Flake, Royal Yacht, Bob’s Chocolate Flake, and Drew Estate Meat Pie (oh, haven’t tried Gaslight, yet, guess I ought to pick up a tin of that, too). I’ve also already grabbed a couple of Drew Estate aromatics, Harvest on the Hudson and 7th Avenue Blonde. Additionally, I’ll be loading up bowls of Stanwell Melange and Vanilla, Brigham Ripely Avenue, Peterson Sunset Breeze and if I can still pickup a tin, maybe I should give their Summertime Blend 2013 a go, haven’t heard if they’ve got any 2014 summer blend coming out.

I’ve got a couple ounces of Comoy’s Cask No. 5 lined up, as well as Mac Baren’s version of Capstan Gold Flake.

So that’s what I’ll be up to this year, tobacco wise, so far as I can see for the moment. How about yourself?

If you’ve got an aromatic recommendation I should consider, let me know. In the meantime, I’ve certainly got some smoking to do.