The Virginia Cream, 2015 Year End Hit Or Miss?

Close up Vir Crm“The long wait, for me at least, is over. The Virginia Cream begins shipping today!”

And with the reading of those words on the Greg Pease website, I began my eager anticipation to smoke a new pipe tobacco, an anticipation I’d not felt in years. G.L. Pease and his blend manufacturer released The Virginia Cream (TVC) generally in late October (2015), I believe, but I jumped at the opportunity to make my purchase some couple weeks earlier during the early bird exclusive at Smoking Pipes.

G.L. Pease is unarguably leaving a legacy of remarkable blends for pipe smokers… Union Square, Abingdon, Haddo’s Delight, Sixpence, these happen to be some of my favorites. So when I read about his soon to be released The Virginia Cream, I, along with countless other fans of his, could not wait to get my hands on this mixture.

The Virginia Cream is the latest in G.L. Pease’s “Heirloom Series – Tobaccos of Exemplary Character.” According to Mr. Pease, the Heirloom Series is a collection of singular blends…“full of unique personalities…. Each has all the characteristics that can ultimately make a blend a classic.”

The story of getting to The Virgina Cream goes like this… In Greg’s words, “When I sent the final formula off to the factory for a prototype batch, Ted [of Cornell and Diehl] said, ‘It smells like a really good cream soda.’ After muttering some incomprehensible syllables that might find their way into the name, I blurted out, ‘Vanilla Cream!’ It stuck. In designing the label, I put ‘The’ in the name because I loved the way it worked typographically, and it seemed to enhance the old-time style I was working with, while also indicating that I really do think this one is a little special.”

He certainly targeted the yearnings of a significant market segment of the pipe smoking community with his ‘old-timey’ label and tobacco flavor profile. I count myself among that segment: a smoker who harkens back to the memories of grandpa and his pipe (maybe great-grandpa), but who appreciates the highest quality leaf and sophisticated use of toppings in his mixtures. And I admit, I’m a sucker for anything that’s basically a bourbon topped VaBur. What TVC promised seemed centered within my wheelhouse…

From the label: “Distinctively delicious! We season fine red and golden flue-cured Virginia tobaccos with rare condimental leaf, enhancing the result with a subtle vanilla/bourbon topping that is never overbearing. Rare for a blend of its genre, The Virginia Cream delivers on its aromatic promise from the first puff to the bottom of the bowl, while leaving the pipe clean and free of phantom flavors. An all-American blend ideal for Virginia fanciers craving something a little sweeter.”

Some six or seven long days after ordering, finally, the knock of the UPS driver at my door and the arrival of a most treasured package.

If I’m getting into a tin right away, usually, I’ll still let it get a couple weeks airtime within a sealed jar before lighting a bowl. I feel this gives the blend a way to more honestly reveal itself; but the popping open of TVC became one of those rare occasions when my immediately digging in was the only action I had in mind.

Indeed, TVC begins with promise of a classic…

Delicious vanilla-esque bourbon and fig scents greeted me unreservedly as I peeled back the aluminum lid from the two ounce container. I was surprised by how perfectly ready-to-smoke the in-the-tin moisture level appeared to be, which served to support my decision to enjoy a bowl then and there.

Grabbing a medium-sized corn cob for a carefree smoke, I loaded it with the nice mostly ribbon cut tobaccos, settled back in my garden chair and put flame to leaf.

Hmmm…

My first impression was of a brighter Sixpence with a dirty edge to it. No vanilla present on the palate but nicely aromatic in the sidestream. Only at about a quarter down the bowl did I pick up what could be described as a sweet, maybe even a cream soda-ish flavor. Something about the tobaccos seemed out of balance to me. Too much dark fired? Young Virginias? I couldn’t put my finger on it, but while one intake of smoke tasted smooth and creamy with just the right touch of spice, the next assaulted my senses with a harsh, cigarette-like profile that kicked up the “Hock-O-Loogie” meter substantially.

No problem. Though extremely disappointed, I left it for the following morning when I’d fire some up in a Stanwell #118 I reserve for aromatics.

Better. The fruity, grassy, bready notes of the Virginias came through more distinctly and as a whole was much more palatable. But the Kentucky still posed problems. One of my indicators if I’m enjoying a particular blend or not is where the needle rests on my Hock-O-Loogie meter mentioned above. Lat bombs and significant amounts of dark fired Kentucky, for instance, push the needle into the red zone, an unpleasant experience, and a blend I will stay away from. This blend pushed the needle ever closer to the line as I neared its smoky end. Furthermore, I’ll be danged if I noted any sweetness about it. I’m thinking something like Dunhill Flake when I think Virginia sweetness. I can’t say I noticed sweetness in TVC. I ‘decanted’ into a mason jar and let the tobacco rest a few days.

For my third go, I selected a 7/8ths inch wide Dublin meerschaum bowl. And something magical happened. Everything balanced. The dark fired and Perique gave just the right amount of depth and spiciness to be satisfying, while neither overwhelming the Virginia notes nor pushing the needle to uncomfortable levels. The finish proved pleasant with what I can only describe as an old fashioned honest Virginia-Burley tobacco flavor with a hint of vanilla sweetness. But because of my initial high expectations, the questions raised by TVC were daunting. Maybe it just needs age, after all, as Greg Pease likes to point out about his blends.

I’ve stayed with meerschaum as I’ve leisurely smoked through the majority of the tin – as of this writing I’ve a couple or three bowls remaining. My experience as described in my third go remains consistent; however, my assessment is such that I do not anticipate purchasing another tin. The dirty base likes to kick in a bit much here and there throughout for my liking. Because of that, I don’t know that I can recommend TVC, certainly not whole heartedly anyway, perhaps especially because of the danged near disdain it earned from me at the start. And because there are tobaccos I do like upon first smoke and smoke to this day, while others have left me unimpressed and without reason to return to them. Overall, The Virginia Cream leans for me more toward the latter than it does the former.

As every pipe smoker knows, given time and a second chance, a previously un-liked tobacco blend can become a new found favorite. Maybe that’ll happen here. But in the meantime, as much as I looked forward to the G.L. Pease’s The Virginia Cream, I’m looking forward to going back to other old standbys. That makes, for me, anyway, The Virginia Cream a big 2015 year-end miss. The appellation of ‘classic’ will have to wait.

Quickie Pipe Tobacco Review: Capstan Gold Flake

Capstan Gold Flake tinCapstan Gold Navy Cut flake pipe tobacco is a bit of a strange bird… There’s nothing extraordinary about it, yet there’s something that keeps me going back for more.

Neither as nuanced to my palate as are some gold Virginia flakes, nor as “sweet & tangy” as others, it offers a truly middle-of-the-road smoke, but somehow it satisfies.

Opening the tin, the nice slab-of-bacon like slices offer that sweet hay aroma I enjoy. Moisture content is good, requiring little dry-time, and the slices pack and burn easily.

The charring light provides a hit of good straight Virginia tobacco flavor, and, overall, I’d say the smoke is rather full and rounded for its type with a subtle and unique flavor I can’t identify. It’s also mild to medium in nicotine.

Although I’m compelled to call this an unremarkable blend, I experience a slightly sour yet pleasant aftertaste that makes me want to load up and have another bowl — I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me load up with more tins at the premium Mac Baren is asking.

I can’t highly recommend Capstan Gold, but you certainly could do worse. You wouldn’t lose anything if you picked up a tin to give it a go, yourself.

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.