Once in a while you smoke a blend that surprises you, that tastes so different in a pleasant way than you expected. Such a mixture is ChocoLat (notice the capital “L”) by HU Tobacco. You would expect that master-blender Hans Wiedemann is behind the tobacco but no, it is a friend of him (and myself): Rainer. It all began when he read the excellent book by Fred Hanna: The Perfect Smoke. In there is a paragraph where Mr. Hanna describes a tobacco blending experiment with an aromatic mixture called McClelland Tastemaster (a (Black) Cavendish – Burley blend) and 50% latakia: Smoky Chocolate Surprise. The first candidate for an excellent crossover is a McClelland aromatic called Tastemaster. It appears to be the typical McClelland high-quality tobacco that is cased and suffused with chocolate. Yes, I said it was chocolate, and, unbelievably, it even tastes like chocolate. It is a nice aromatic all on its own if smoked after allowing it to dry for a few days. It smells nice and burns rather cool as long as, like I said, it has time to dry out. However, when mixed with 50% McClelland Cyprian Latakia, you have the dessert equivalent of Smoky Chocolate Surprise. It smells great, has depth of flavor, and burns cool with a nice chocolate taste. It is actually rather amazing stuff. I highly recommend it to the Latakia lover who has a sweet tooth. And, of course, the room note is pleasant indeed.
So Rainer started experimenting, got some Tastemaster from the States, mixed it with pure Latakia and indeed with a good result. But now the arduous task lay before him of re-creating the blend with European tobaccos. First he approached the master-blender of Kohlhase & Kopp, Norbert Hedtke. The blend that came out of that was ok, but it was not quite what Rainer had in mind. Something was off.. Of course! American (unflavoured) Black Cavendish is mostly made from Burley and European Black Cavendish is based on Virginia. Too much of the latter and the blend becomes a bit dry, woodsy. But with some tweaking this was solved. Then the mixture lacked a bit of body. This time the solution came from Hans Wiedemann. He added some special Burley and high quality Virginia which was precisely what the blend needed. The mixture then was rounded off with, not an overly sweet milk chocolate, but a dark chocolate topping.
Description from the producer: The common passion for good tobacco has Rainer aka Raiko and me let become good friends. There was of course close to the Rainer finally created his own tobacco. The result is really fun – Chapeau Rainer!!! Luxurious, opulent and at the same time with a hint of decadence – ChocoLat has it all! Nearly half a measure of Latakia is sustained by high-grade Virginias, Burley and unflavoured Black Cavendish. A discreet cocoa flavour delivers a satisfying, indulging taste without ever becoming overly sweet. Deep and dark, pleasant and snugger alike a good Stout… ChocoLat – can also serve as an ideal companion to a dark beer.
Package/tin: A typical round European style 50 gr. tin is used. On the tin sadly no image but just plain text. Hans really makes wonderful tobaccos and some of his tins have really nice artwork. But also many tins lack that.. The eye also wants something and with a name like ChocoLat I am sure a good looking tin label could have been made.
Contents/Ingredients/cut: Upon opening the tin you see a simple white paper. When you remove that a blend greets you which varies in colour from light to dark. Bright Virginias, slightly darker Burley and black Latakia and Black Cavendish. Which also sums up the ingredients. The cut is a regular ribbon cut.
Smell from the tin: The smell from the tin is a bit strange, but in a good way. I smell the earthly, leathery camp-fire odour of the latakia but it is subdued by the other tobacco components and the topping. It reminds me of Sillem’s Black, marshmallows roasting above a camp-fire. But then less aromatic, more natural. A real chocolate smell I do not detect.
Taste: Upon lighting the pipe you get the dark earthy taste of the smoky latakia but without the bitterness you sometimes experience. After a few puffs the bright and sweet Virginias, together with some citrus, come through. They, in combination with the creamy Black Cavendish also provide a slight grassy taste. The Burley provides the nutty backbone of the blend. I don’t really detect a clear chocolate taste, it is just a bit of marshmallows roasting above a camp-fire. Smoking a pipe with this mixture is not a roller-coaster ride flavour-wise, all the ingredients are in perfect harmony and stay that way. Like with the smell I am taste-wise also reminded of Sillem’s Black; it is more natural than aromatic. Sometimes aromatic blends loose their taste halfway the bowl, but because ChocoLat leans on the natural tobaccos the flavour is consistently maintained throughout the bowl.
German made blends sometimes have the tendency to bite but like most HU Tobacco blends ChocoLat is a good boy. Nicotine-wise it is a mild blend, I can smoke it without any troubles. Burn-wise this is an excellent mixture. I rarely required so few relights and it burns right down to the bottom of the bowl.
Room-note: For Ellen it contains latakia so no… However, even when she says she does not really like it, she made no remarks while I smoked it, no leaving the room, no coughing noises.. And when I entered the living-room the next morning all I could smell was a faint roasted marshmallow odour. So for me the room-note goes into the “pretty decent” department.
Conclusion: This blend will appeal to pipe-smokers on different levels. If you are a lover of Latakia-blends this mixture will be a nice and perhaps refreshing change of pace. Don’t let the “chocolat” label put you off, this is not an aromatic, there are loads of high quality natural tobaccos to be enjoyed. And if your wife loathes the smell of your favourite Latakia-blends, try ChocoLat, perhaps she will like it. Because every woman loves chocolate, right? Also when you want to try out a mixture with latakia I believe this is a good blend to start with. You get the characteristics of the dark leaf but in a smoothed, tasty way that won’t put you off.
Like I said in my last blogpost “Luxury tobacco from Lauenburg” this year the destination for the summer holiday of Ellen and myself was Germany. Of course I planned to visit several tobacco-shops and the number 1 on my list was the store of Herbert Motzek in Kiel, one of the major maritime centres of Germany. With a lot of you the name “Motzek” will ring a bell.. Motzek.. Motzek.. Ah! From the Strang-Curly (rope-curly)! I first heard of the existence of that tobacco from Dutch pipe smokers forum member and walking pipe and tobacco encyclopaedia Huub, who has been smoking it, to his utter delight, for years. But that excellent tobacco is not the only thing Motzek has to offer..
Tobacco tins stacked up to the ceiling
The store is located at a busy street with lots of traffic and in front of it beside the door the Dannebrog, the Danish flag, proudly flutters. The signal that the business of Motzek, which he operates with his from origin Danish wife Lizzie (hence the flag) since 1975, is open. Inside the store the sound of buzzing traffic becomes even less than a background noise and a relaxed atmosphere prevails. Smooth jazz music is playing through the shop and behind the counter the tobacco tins are stacked up to the ceiling. As soon as I saw Herr Motzek I immediately began to ramble about the Strang-Curly and ask him questions. “Easy, easy! Time enough, do you want some coffee?” Ah! The sign of an old-world tobacconist. We were placed in some soft chairs and the hot dark liquid was served. Motzek sat opposite us and took a good look at me. “An old habit, when a new customer comes in, I always ask myself, what pipe would probably look good with him. But please, fill your pipe and smoke something!”
For me the shop has one big plus,cigarettes are nowhere to be seen! Motzek fulfils the wishes of smokers who smoke for their enjoyment. In 1978 he received a license for (pipe) tobacco production (recognizable by German tax number 12502) and is the only tobacconist in Germany who produces his own tobacco. Well, that is not entirely true, Herr Motzek does not produce tobacco himself. In a factory in a small town just a couple of kilometres outside of Kiel the entire range of Motzek tobaccos is made by his wife Lizzie. “She has acquired loads of knowledge at seminars and trainings, that is why I leave the mixing to her. However, for the final end control I take over again because I want to exactly know what I am selling.”In addition to the finest cigars from around the world in one of the largest walk-in humidors of Schleswig-Holstein, the shop holds a wide range of pipes. Currently about 1000 pieces. But there is something special. Not only can you buy pipes from well known manufacturers like Winslow (a personal friend of Motzek), Peterson, and Vauen but you can also purchase a real “Motzek”. Herbert Motzek is the only pipe maker in Kiel and one of only a few in Schleswig-Holstein.
Together with the opening of his business Motzek learned the craft of pipemaking from Viggo Nielsen in Danish town of Faaborg. “I did not only wanted to sell pipes, I also wanted to know how they are made.” says the trained stained-glass painter (his original profession). The thought behind it was originally that Motzek could offer his customers a low-cost repair service without long waits. From that the pipe making has grown. “At some point I was ready, so I dared to offer my pipes for sale”. 6 to 10 hours, from start to finish and nearly 80 individual steps it takes to produce a pipe in his small workshop. Motzek manufactures about 40 to 50 pipes per year, mostly on order. “First the pipe should smoke technically perfect, second comes the design that can extra delight a customer.” says the 69 year old. Even if the design is of secondary importance, the fact is that the pipes must smoke well and look good. So each piece of briar Motzek takes into his own hands in order to “read it”. To look closely at the wood and its grain before going to work. And sometimes it brings out so much that it is difficult for him to sell the pipe. “I have a pipe that I am working on for almost 13 years. That is perhaps my masterpiece. It has a perfect birds eye but I dare not properly complete it, because there is a small chance it might break..” Motzek gets a lot of recognition and positive reactions from his customers. For him the joy of a customer when he smokes a Motzek-made pipe or tobacco means almost more than the money he gets for his work.
When asked if he had famous people in his store he nods. “Oh yes, Sigfried Lenz, Vanessa Mae, Herbert Wehner, Vicky Leandros, Blacky Fuchsberger… Motzek thinks and sighs wistfully. “I had so many customers in this store. Especially creative people took on pipe smoking. The looking into the smoke, slowly sipping the pipe, the thought and consideration process. That has inspired artists.” says Motzek philosophically. In Berlin’s trendy pubs young hipsters transport pipes in their jute bags back and forth. But whether this trend also goes for the rest of the country? Kiel certainly has not been reached yet. Motzek is increasingly relying on his regular customers. “Every time pipe smoking is a new trend, but it is also politically incorrect. Why do many public persons smoke in secret? The times when Helmut Kohl (former Chancellor of Germany) was still to be seen with his pipe on the election poster are long gone. Once the pipe was a symbol of reliability and dependability. Today society is health conscious and keeps on doing fitness into old age. The pipe does not fit with that.” With his 69 years Herbert Motzek thinks harder and harder about quitting. Only one problem, “I can let go so badly.”
Me and Motzek
The fact that a visit to the store for customers is not “just” shopping almost goes without saying. Things are not “just” bought. There is conversation, there is smoking going on and there are discussions on equal terms. But many customers Motzek does not know personally, a sign of the times. Even on the Internet he sells his wares to customers throughout Germany, The Netherlands, England, the Mediterranean region and several other countries around the world even as far away as Dubai. Asked about the health hazards of smoking Herbert Motzek responds with a sly smile with a quote from Swiss-German physician Paracelsus (1493 – 1541): “Dosis facit venenum. All things are poison. Only the dose makes that a thing is not a poison.”
At the shop I bought two of Motzek’s house-tobaccos. Of course the well known Strang-Curly but also an English blend: Herbst 84. I already knew the Strang-Curly, I received samples from forum-member Smoking Rob from both the cut and uncut version for which I am still grateful! Here is a review of the two blends.
Package/tin description (translated from German): Strang-Curly:A strang (rope),a speciality, rare to find nowadays: finevirginiasfilled with darkburleyarespun together with a spicybutmildperique. This speciality isfor connoisseurs, we deliver it cut or uncut. The strang is packed in a large sealed zip-lock bag of 100 gram. Herbst 84: The classic amongst the English mixtures. Fine oriental tobaccos, brightlight and redvirginias are rounded off with spicylatakia. The slowcoolburnguarantees a highsmoking pleasure. The mixture is packed in 50 gram pouches and sealed zip lock bags of 100 and 200 gram.
Contents/cut: Strang-Curly:Virginias, burley and perique. It is a rope tobacco which is a delight to look at. In general the core of the rope is a bit darker with lighter leaves around it with traces of tobacco-stems in between. Herbst 84: Bright light and red virginias, oriental tobaccos and latakia. Remarkably Motzek still has some Syrian latakia, although not much, only 20 kg is left from his once large stock. “I can’t get it any more these days..” he sighs. When I asked if Syrian latakia was used in Herbst 84 he was unsure. “My wife better knows the exact ingredients of the blends. But if it is in, it only will be a couple of strands..” It is a ribbon cut with a beautiful presentation of light and dark tobacco strands.
Smell from the pouch/bag: Strang-Curly: An earthy but sweet and inviting smell comes from the strang. Hay and figs with a slightly dark nutty undertone are pleasing my spoiled nostrils. Herbst 84: When I opened the pouch I immediately thought that the name of the blend was well chosen. Itbrings fortha pleasant, earthy and slightly salty peatysmell thatis strongly reminiscent ofautumnleaves,forest floorandfreshlyharvested fields. In my head it smelled like a mix of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and Pipes & Cigar’s Magnum Opus. Needles to say, my anticipation grew.
Taste: Strang-Curly: A few puffs after lighting the pipe-bowl the mildly sweet virginias come forth upon a broad earthy, yeasty and slightly nutty layer. The flavour is complex but almost unbelievable very well balanced. It grabs your attention and basically stays the same throughout the bowl. I would almost say it has a signature taste, once you smoked it you can recognize it blindfolded a next time. Towards the middle of the bowl the flavours broaden and become a thoroughly enjoyable symphony of natural tobaccos. In short I would say, think of toasted bread with some walnuts on it and a small splash of honey. I can’t really detect the perique but I guess it adds some zest to the strang. At the end of the bowl an ashy taste begins to appear. A messenger that the fun is almost over. Oh, I very much recommend the uncut Strang-Curly as opposed to the cut version. The taste is just, fuller, better, more intense. Herbst 84: What can I say, like the strang this one is also unbelievable very well balanced. The smoky latakia stays in the background throughout the bowl together with the orientals and both support the dominant and sweet virginias in perfect harmony. Mid-bowl the floral orientals pop out now and then which provide interesting counter-flavours to the virginias. Towards the end of the bowl the well orchestrated blend gradually fades out into grey ash. Like with the smell I also had to think of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and Pipes & Cigar’s Magnum Opus when smoking it.
Miscellaneous: Strang-Curly: The strang is wetter than Ellen when she sees me coming out of the shower.. I am used to tobaccos that are pretty moist (hello Samuel Gawith flakes) but this one requires some serious drying time. At least 2 to 3 hours. Or less if you nick the hair-dryer of your friend/girlfriend. I tend to rub out the cut coins, it makes packing the bowl easier. Nicotinewise the strang is medium, it won’t kick you off your feet but will satisfy your cravings. Herbst 84:The blend packs and burns perfectly. Although it dries out pretty fast in the pouch. Motzek refuses to use hygroscopic agents like sorbitol, propylene glycol and glycerine to keep the tobacco wet. Only water is used to moisten the tobacco.
Room-note: Strang-Curly: Ellen has no trouble when I smoke this one inside. Although I kind of dislike the cigarette-like odour in the room the next morning. Herbst 84: Because it is not a latakia-bomb Ellen has no objections when I smoke Herbst 84 inside. The next morning only a slight incense odour was left.
Price: Strang-Curly:Tobaccos made by Motzek are relatively cheap compared to other German offerings. 100 gram will only cost you €15,50 (± $17.28) Herbst 84: A 50 gram pouch will set you back at €6,25 (± $6.97). 100 gram costs €12,- (± $13.38) and 200 gram €23,- (± $25.64).
Conclusion: Strang-Curly: I congratulate Lizzie Motzek, this is the best rope tobacco I smoked so far. Period. It has a signature taste that does not get boring. And bear in mind that the strang I smoked was pretty fresh. Imagine what a few years of ageing will do. Ooooh yeah… Herbst 84: For me this is one of the best latakia-blends made on Europe mainland. It utterly surprised me in a most pleasant way. I never expected such an excellent tobacco could come out of a pouch. I will be stocking up on this one. Because it has a more than good price-quality ratio and who knows when Motzek finally decides to quit…
EDIT 01-12-2015: Sadly (for us pipe-smokers) Motzek decided to quit.. This is written (in German) on his website: After a working career of 51 years, 46 years within the industry and 40 years with my own business, I’m almost 70 now and I want to retire. I’m looking for an able successor for my unique shop (Cigar lounge, pipe repair shop, and tobacco manufacturing license) in Kiel. Interested parties please inquire per phone +49 431 554162.
EDIT 18-04-2016: Motzek’s retirement is definitive now. His website states that he will say “goodbye” Thursday 28 April 2016. However, the store is not closing down because Herbert has found a successor who will begin on 1 May. I heard that he is currently learning the ropes of making THE rope, the Strang-Curly. So I have high hopes that the legend of the Strang-Curly will continue.
EDIT 08-05-2016: The successor for Herbert Motzek is pipe-maker Thomas Darasz! He also took over the Motzek name and the tobacco tax-number needed for producing the house-blends (under which the Strang-Curly). So it looks like the future of the store is secured.
At the latest Heukelum meeting I talked to fellow PRF-member Franz. Besides a fondness for old English made pipes (except Dunhill) he also very much likes the tobaccos made by the well known J.F. Germain & Son company from the British Channel Islands. Throughout the time I know Franz I was able to smoke quite a few Germain-made samples provided by him. Now he also did not disappoint me because from England he had ordered a vast amount of Germain Rich Dark Flake! I always wanted to try that one because according to a lot of stories it is similar to the famous Esoterica Tobacciana Stonehaven. I asked Franz if I could fill up a decent sized sample bag so I could compare it to Stonehaven at home. With a smile he said: go ahead!
Background information: Rich Dark Flake: Unfortunately I have very little background information about Rich Dark Flake. It is only available in the UK and is sold solely in bulk and not in tins. According to Mr Germain some of their blends maintained their recipe for 60 years. If that is the case with Rich Dark Flake, nooo idea.. I would love to hear from some elderly English pipe-smokers how long they are buying the blend. Stonehaven: The origins of Esoterica Stonehaven are easier to trace. The range of Esoterica tobaccos was founded by Steve Richman, the owner of the Piedmont Tobacconist in Oakland, somewhere halfway the 1980’s. He was looking for someone who could produce his blends. J.F. Germain & Son heard about his interest and made contact through the British embassy. They must have been what Steve Richman was looking for because they started doing business together immediately. For the evaluation of the created blends Steve Richman founded a panel in which GL Pease also took place. Stonehaven is the only blend in the Esoterica range which includes Burley.
Package/tin description: Rich Dark Flake: “A great medium to strong dark flake made using a combination of Virginia and Burley tobaccos. Very similar to the popular Germains Stonehaven blend.” Rich Dark Flake comes in standard plastic pouches of a variety of gram weights with a lot of health warnings and in the same gold-coloured sealed bag as Stonehaven. It is always hit or miss if it comes all broken up or in thin juicy flakes. Stonehaven:“A marriage of air-cured leaf and Burley with selected dark Virginia. Hard pressed and aged to produce brown flakes with dark undertones. A traditional English flake favoured by experienced pipe smokers.” Stonehaven comes in a gold-coloured sealed bag of 8 ounce with on it a simple but elegant label. As far as I know it never was available in tins.
Contents/cut: Rich Dark Flake: Burley and Virginia. The flake looks dark, long and thin but just not as thin as Stonehaven. On the picture the flake looks a bit broken up but this comes or from the journey to Franz, him dividing it in smaller portions and finally me putting it in a sample bag, or it was a batch which was a bit broken up. Stonehaven: The same as Rich Dark Flake: Burley and Virginia. Apart from the slightly thinner cut both flakes look the same. According to Mr Germain Stonehaven is made with 22 cuts an inch. To me this is the thinnest flake I know of.
Smell from the pouch/bag: Rich Dark Flake: When I hold the tobacco under my nose I smell milk chocolate, liquorice, treacle, leather, hay, raisins and some “earthiness”. Stonehaven: Upon opening the mason jar in which I keep the tobacco I am greeted by a whiff of dark chocolate and some kind of liquor (cognac?) which reminds me of certain Belgian bonbons. Close to my sniffing organ the chocolate still dominates with a faint odour of hay and treacle. Obviously Stonehaven has a “darker” smell than Rich Dark Flake.
Taste: Rich Dark Flake: Already after the first few puffs you know you are on to something good. It has an “ancient”, traditional typical tobacco flavour to which only British manufacturers hold the secret. The first part of the bowl is utterly delicious and the creamy, rich flavours I encounter remind me of the typical Dutch “kerststol“: yeast, butter, (brown) sugar and almond. I did even taste some hints of dried fruit (plum?) and raisins. In the second part of the bowl the burley rears its head, the flavours deepen and the tobacco becomes more “manly”. A certain leathery earthiness develops and the sweetness sometimes gives way a bit to a pleasant bitterness. The flakes harmoniously burn down to a fine grey ash with no gooey stuff left behind. Stonehaven: Dark chocolate hits my taste buds upon lighting and with the first couple of puffs. Pretty fast a dark sugary flavour comes in which diminishes the chocolate tones. There is not as much going on as with Rich Dark Flake in my opinion but the overall taste is excellent and harmonious. Here also a rich and creamy smoke but with a darker edge. Halfway the bowl you can really notice the burley (kept in check with a dark treacle sweetness) and the smoke becomes even deeper, fuller, with hints of nuttiness. Stonehaven clearly has a higher amount of burley than Rich Dark Flake. I detected nothing in the smoke itself of the liquor I smelled before on the bare flakes. Stonehaven also burns down to a fine grey ash.
Both tobaccos and the pipe I smoked them in: a Rattray’s Old Perth
Miscellaneous: Rich Dark Flake / Stonehaven: I don’t know how they do it but I seldom have tongue-bite with British made tobaccos. Rich Dark Flake and Stonehaven are no exceptions, even though they contain burley which has a tendency to cause pain on my tongue. They both smoke deliciously cool. Because of the thinner flakes the combustibility is good although they benefit from a bit of drying time. Nicotine-wise Stonehaven packs a bit more punch in my opinion and it is advisable to smoke both tobaccos after a good meal.
Room-note: Rich Dark Flake / Stonehaven: Both tobaccos I could actually smoke in the vicinity of my girlfriend Ellen. Not that she liked the odour of the smoke but it was bearable. Especially with Stonehaven I detected a faint cigarette like smell in the morning when I came downstairs but nothing too bad.
Price: Rich Dark Flake: At MySmokingShop you pay £11.65 (± $18.24 /± €14.62) for a 50 gr. pouch and it seems the stuff is readily available. But beware, the shop does not ship to the USA.. Stonehaven: At 4noggins you pay $29.95 (± €24,-) for an 8 ounce bag. IF you can get it. Like so many offerings from Germain Stonehaven sells out almost the minute it hits the shop.. Oh, you can often get it on ebay but then an 8 ounce bag will set you back at over $ 100..
In my opinion Rich Dark Flake and Stonehaven are not the same. Like Mr Germain said, they are similar. But not too similar. In Rich Dark Flake Virginia is the main component and in Stonehaven burley plays the leading role. For me in Rich Dark Flake there is more going on, more flavours, more sophistication. One of the few magnificent traditional British tobaccos. My mouth waters at the thought of some well-aged Rich Dark Flake.. Yummieyummieyummie! Stonehaven is more “Americanized”, an occasional treat and no all-day smoke but nonetheless superb. Very broadly speaking I think of Rich Dark Flake as milk chocolate and of Stonehaven as dark chocolate. The first I can eat all day long but the second is only tasty now and then. But then again, if you are a lover of dark chocolate… I would like to end with a thank you to Franz for making this blogpost possible!
If in the world of pipe tobaccos Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture is the king of Balkan-style blends, then Escudo Navy De Luxe reigns over the Virginia–Perique (VaPer) offerings. A legendary tobacco which is still made today, despite the many times it looked like the blend was going to be discontinued.
Escudo is a so called Navy Cut tobacco. In the old days sailors twisted tobacco into a roll, a Navy Plug, and tied it firmly in ropes or canvas while regularly moistening the leaves with liquids like rum and molasses. This way the tobacco matured during their voyages and (of course) improved which was certainly noticed. The sailors cut pieces from the end for chewing (this happened most of the times because smoking was often forbidden on the wooden ships, imagine, a little spark and *whoosh*) or they cut coins that could be loaded into pipes. The flakes we know today from tobacco manufacturers are evolutions of the pressing that the sailors invented to keep their tobacco usable. These days the term Navy Cut is used inadequately and it is often applied to any tobacco that is pressed and cased with anything you can think of. So tobaccos like Escudo, Three Nuns, twists and ropes are true Navy Cuts and are as close to the real thing as one can get today.
The old Cope factory in Liverpool
Escudo was first made by Cope Bros & Co; a Liverpool based company that manufactured tobacco products from 1848 until 1952. There is much to tell about Cope Bros & Co but that will be for another time. Let us focus on Escudo for now. Tobaccoreviews.com says that it was produced there from 1870 to 1936 but I think that is bullshit. First, Cope had a blend called “Navy Cut” but there was no trace of a “Navy De Luxe”. Pipesmagazine forum-member misterlowercase (hello Troy! Also thanks for the pictures below!) has several old Smoke Room booklets (promotional booklets made by Cope) from the 1880’s and he says no mention was made of Escudo Navy De Luxe. He could only find an ad for Cope’s Navy Cut. Second, the Portuguese Escudo coin (after which the blend was named) was introduced on 22 May 1911, after the 1910 Republican revolution. An ad from 1964 says the blend was perfected in 1912, which could very well be the case keeping the Portuguese Escudo coin in mind.
A&C Petersen made Escudo
Late 1952 Cope Bros & Co was bought by Gallaher. Tobaccoreviews.com says the date was 1936 and I have noooo idea where that comes from.. They manufactured Escudo until 1994 when it was discontinued worldwide. Gallaher claimed that the costs of making it for a smaller and declining market were too high. Behind the scenes Danish company A&C Petersen was negotiating for the trademark, original equipment (!) and recipe in which they succeeded in 1997. At first they re-introduced it to Denmark only with Danish language tins. Later in 1999 A&C Petersen started shipping Escudo to the USA again to the delight of the pipe-smokers there.
Dunhill Deluxe Navy Rolls
Here in good ol’ Europe mainland the blend also did return. But not for long.. I asked fellow Dutch Pipesmokers forum member and VaPer fan Huub (who has a vast knowledge about pipes and tobacco) when he bought his last tin of Escudo in The Netherlands. “At the end of the 90’s I was able to get one tin and then it did not came back” was his answer which fitted perfectly with the information I already had. Also, at the end of 90’s a new blend under the Dunhill name appeared on the market: De Luxe Navy Rolls. Eejj, a new navy cut blend just when Escudo has disappeared from the market, what a coincidence! *ahum…* My suspicion is that there may have been a problem with the worldwide use of the Escudo trademark and somehow we in Europe ended up with the De Luxe Navy Rolls in stead of Escudo. For the discussion if the De Luxe Navy Rolls taste the same as Escudo I am directing you forward to 2 interesting articles on PipesMagazine.com: Dunhill & Escudo Navy De Luxe the Same? and Dunhill & Escudo Navy De Luxe: The Verdict. Plus I read somewhere that somebody did a test with the pH-measures of both blends. The outcome was that they were the same..
In 2000 A&C Petersen were acquired by Orlik and the blend was taken off the USA market very shortly after that because of a trademark issue. It was not clear if A&C Petersen had the worldwide rights to Escudo. The involved parties went to work and cleared it up so that it returned. Despite Orlik ownership the blend was continued under the A&C Petersen brand. At that time the Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG) had a 50% share in Orlik (in 2008 that became 100 %). In 2004 they both decided to apply for a trademark-transfer to STG and the production of Escudo went from A&C Petersen to the Orlik/STG factory in Assens, Denmark. In 2006 they won the trademark and slowly started re-labelling the tins. So if you have a 2005 Escudo tin with A&C Petersen on it, well, it was made in the Orlik factory. Oh, dating Escudo tins is simple. Look for the code on the left of the barcode. The first 6 digits stand for the Year, Date and Month. So if the first 6 digits are for example 121105, the production date is May 11th 2012. And for those of you who have tins with “Made in Denmark for Peter Stokkebye” on the backside, that company has been owned by STG for many years. Nowadays it is simple and clear: “Made in Denmark by Scandinavian Tobacco Group Assens A/S”.
So, now on to the review. Yeahyeah, I know Escudo already has been reviewed to death but screw that, I am still going to do it hehehe. Unfortunately I never had the chance to smoke or buy (*kat$jing!*) the Cope, Gallaher or A&C Petersen Escudo incarnations so my humble tin comes from the Orlik/STG factory and was produced at August 9th 2011.
Package/tin description: A round 50 gr. tin with on the front the classic trademark “Escudo Navy De Luxe” and on the backside the following description: A combination of full bodied Virginia from North Carolina and Virginia blended with Perique from Louisiana are the cornerstones in Escudo. The blend is pressed and matured before it is spun and cut into coins. This process ensures the unique character of “Escudo”.
Contents/cut: Like I said before the blend is a navy cut, coins with a thickness around 1.5mm. They are neatly placed half on top of each other around the tin. And they look stunning! A piece of art for the pipe-tobacco connoisseur. Dark and light tobaccos are spun together to a very pleasant to watch coin which gets darker by age. The moisture level is perfect, immediately ready for smoking.
Smell from the tin: Newly opened there comes a fresh, bright smell from the tin. A kind of fruity (my guess would be plum), peppery (hello perique) smell which mingles elegantly with the hay-like scent from the Virginias. There definitely is some kind of light topping. I also noticed a slight odour which reminded me of a typical Dutch menthol liquorice sweet when I just pulled the lid off for the first time. But after a couple of days I did not detect it any more.
Taste: First of all there is a bit of difference flavour-wise if you rub out the coins or fold and stuff them. Rubbed out you get a more consistent flavour throughout the bowl while with the fold-and-stuff method you get a bit more detail of the tobaccos involved. The times my nose started started to tickle while smoking I used that last method and probably hit a bit of perique. I prefer to rub. With the charring light there is no bitterness, just the full sweetness of the Virginias followed with a bit of zing from the perique. The first part you get bright top notes which are never too sharp (this blend does not bite). In combination with the occasional pepper-perique and the darker Virginias in the background these provide a rich creaminess. Halfway the bowl the tastes become stronger, fuller. Hay, wood and earthy flavours mingle with the sweet ones to a full creamy whole. Creaminess.. That is the main theme here. On the last small pipe-smokers meeting I attended someone smoked some Escudo for the first time. And he indeed said it was creamy. And lamented the fact it was not available in my small country.. The last part of the bowl I always dislike with this blend because before I know it, it is gone.
Combustibility: Very good, also because of the perfect moisture level of the coins. However, with the fold and stuff method Escudo requires some more re-lights. What amazes me is how long this blend lasts. In my Dunhill group 3 billiard (which fits one and a half coin) I am easily puffing for 1.5 hour!
Room-note: My girlfriend Ellen never says anything about the smell when I smoke Escudo. Which is a good thing! The blend produces rich fumes but Ellen does not seem to mind that plus the next morning you can barely notice I smoked the last evening.
Vintage Escudo. Should be very, very yummie!
Miscellaneous: In the nicotine department this blend is a tiny bit on the heavy side for me. But when I had a good dinner and smoke Escudo later in the evening, no problem at all. Also the blend ages very, very well. I believe it is the most cellared tobacco in the USA. I guess this also comes because there have been a couple of “Escudo-scares” throughout the years in which rumours were spread that the blend was being discontinued. 4noggins owner Rich certainly was very happy with the last scare halfway 2013, he sold dozens of Escudo tins per day!
Price: At 4noggins you pay $9,99 (± €7,32) for a 50 gr. tin.
Conclusion: I am not amazed at the fact that after all this time Escudo is one of most cellared and best selling tobaccos ever. It is the benchmark for all VaPer blends. I puffed away quite a few of those in the couple of years I smoke pipe, but every time I crack open a tin of Escudo it feels like coming home. The secret is that it is not an overly complex tobacco. All the ingredients are so well balanced that they provide a fullness of flavours for the archetypical VaPer smoking experience. Regardless of the age of the tin and in what kind of bowl you smoke it. All hail the VaPer king: Escudo!
In my blog-posts Latakia Lover and Syrian Latakia I described the dark leaf that comes from Syria and why it is so rare these days. In fact, there are only two companies of which I am 100% certain that they still have it: Danish based Mac Baren and American based McClelland. Important to know is that they both use Syrian latakia that originates from the same stock! Which is the reason for this post. I was curious what was the better, tastier blend that contains the fire-cured shekk-el-bint: Mac Baren HH Vintage Syrian or McClelland 3 Oaks Syrian. I choose these blends because there is no other type of latakia in them. For example, McClelland Wilderness also contains Cyprian latakia.
Background information: HH Vintage Syrian: The inspiration for the recipe of HH Vintage Syrian originates back to the start of Mac Baren Tobacco more than 120 years ago. This blend is typical for that time and it is easy to describe as a “back to nature” tobacco. The reason for calling this tobacco HH is quite simple. HH are the initials of the founder of Mac Baren Tobacco: Mr. Harald Halberg. If you look closely you will find the same initials in the small Mac Baren logo at the top-centre of the tin. It is incorporated into the shield held by the lions. 3 Oaks Syrian: The original 3 Oaks Syrian was composed by Ted Gage for the Bufflehead Smoke Shop in the Kansas City area. In 2005 or 2006 there were changes in the laws for mail orders which went outside the state. These ruined the thriving store and it had to close down. In 2009 McClelland started manufacturing the blend according to the original recipe.
Contents/cut: HH Vintage Syrian: Syrian latakia, oriental, Virginia, Kentucky. Coarse cut, so that means it can contain some chunky pieces. Surprisingly enough this blend contains (or should contain) more Syrian latakia than 3 Oaks Syrian but the looks do not show it. 3 Oaks is darker in appearance. 3 Oaks Syrian: Syrian latakia, oriental, Virginia. Ribbon cut which I also found to be a bit chunky.
Package/tin description: HH Vintage Syrian: A flat stylish 100 gr. tin with a black lid containing a stylized illustration of a lion’s head. “The base of the blend, a little under half of the volume, is a smooth and yet powerful Latakia from Syria. This tobacco gives the blend the overall smoky taste, a powerful taste and yet without any tongue bite. To add a spicy note to the blend, Turkish Oriental has been added. A mix of different Virginia tobaccos from 3 continents adds a sweet natural taste. To complete the taste with depth and body, we added a little Dark Fired Kentucky from the US. The HH-Vintage Syrian Latakia is a loose cut tobacco, which guarantees a smooth and steady burn. It does not get hot which means you will find extremely little bite on your tongue. When you empty your pipe after smoking, you will find only fine grey ashes, the sign of a slow and dry smoke.” 3 Oaks Syrian:A typical 50 gr. American “pop” tin with a yellow label. On it is an illustration of a weapon shield with the name of the blend and oak-leaves around it. “Rare Syrian Latakia, with its renowned mellow smokiness, is balanced with naturally sweet Orientals and aged Virginia leaf to create a satisfying blend reminiscent of classic Syrian Latakia blends of old. Formulated by Tad Gage to reflect the character of original Three Oaks Pipe Tobacco, it tantalizes with intriguing differences.”
Smell from the tin: HH Vintage Syrian: When I opened the tin it did not smell like an average Cyprian latakia blend. Yes you can smell the smoky dark leaf but nothing overpowering. It reminds me of the current time of the year, autumn, with its fallen leaves. Imagine smelling a campfire in an October-time forest from 100 meters away that mainly consists of dry and half-dry autumn leaves. I also detect a certain sweetness that (I think) comes from the Virginias. 3 Oaks Syrian: Even more muted than the smell of HH Vintage Syrian is the tin-odour of 3 Oaks Syrian. It just whispers “subtle”. Fortunately there is almost no hint of the typical McClelland “ketchup” smell. Maybe when you have freshly opened the tin, but after some time that odour vanishes. Overall there is a certain kind of mustiness with none of the contents overpowering each other.
Taste: HH Vintage Syrian: What surprised me when I first lit this blend was the overall sweetness. Hmm, I think the Virginias are cased.. However, this sweetness combines nicely with the herbal flavours of the orientals. But undeniably the star of this mixture is the Syrian latakia which unlike its Cyprian cousin has a warm, broad, smooth and subtle taste of smoky incense, sandalwood and red wine. It just says, ey, don’t worry, I am here, I will not overpower the rest of the contents, just sit back and enjoy. If you smoke very slow you can sometimes taste hints of apricot and apple-cider which I found fascinating. Halfway the bowl the sweetness goes away and the nutty Kentucky comes a bit more to the front. This stays until the end of the bowl when there is only fine grey ash left. 3 Oaks Syrian: The first time I tried this blend I only smoked pipe for half a year. I found it to be too mild and flavourless. I reluctantly finished the tin and gave away some. Some months ago I decided to pop open another tin. I let it air for several days and loaded some in my beloved Dunhill patent era Shell Briar prince. After all my taste buds had improved in the 2,5 years after I first tried the blend. With the charring light I got a symphony of flavours. 3 Oaks does not contain as much Syrian latakia as Vintage Syrian so the orientals get to shine more. Which they do halfway the bowl. I think the Virginias used are mainly the red variant because of the breadlike, yeast taste I experience throughout the smoke. At the end of the bowl the flavours get a bit more dark, like in dark chocolate. Here also a fine grey ash is left. What struck me about this blend is the subtleness and complexity. I now smoke for a bit over 3 years but I still feel my taste buds are not up to par with what this mixture has to offer. It reminded me a bit of the John Cotton’s No. 1 Mild I smoked before. There is magic happening but you have to carefully, with your full attention, search for it.
Combustibility: HH Vintage Syrian:No problems here, even if you are not paying full attention during the smoke you do not have to re-lit often. 3 Oaks Syrian: This one is more difficult to keep lit is my experience. Like if saying, if I do not have your attention I might as well go out..
Room-note: HH Vintage Syrian & 3 Oaks Syrian: My girlfriend Ellen seems to handle Syrian latakia better then the Cyprian dark leaf. She still does not like it but at least she does not force me to sit at the other end of the room in my smoking chair. When I smoke one of the blends in the late evening I notice a nice, faint incense smell the next morning. My benchmark that the used latakia was of high-quality.
Miscellaneous: HH Vintage Syrian: In my first months as a pipe smoker I tried a couple of generally available Mac Baren blends and they bit me HARD. Later I learned that I was not the only one who experienced the phenomenon. So when I first lit up this blend I was fearful of the dreaded “Mac Bite”. And.. It did not happen to my relief! Ok, if you provoke it by puffing way to hard it will bite you, but that goes for a lot of blends. In the nicotine department I would rate this one light-medium to medium. 3 Oaks Syrian: This blend benefits from a bit of airing time when you have opened it. The flavours will improve then. If you like a nicotine shot while smoking, don’t go for this blend. It is just way too mild. A disadvantage of 3 Oaks was that it did not shine in many of my pipes. Only in a couple I had the impression that I got a lot out of the blend. HH Vintage Syrian on the contrary tasted good in all pipes I smoked it in.
Price: HH Vintage Syrian: At 4noggins you pay $13,43 (± €9,88) for a 100 gr. tin. In Germany such a tin will set you back at €19,75 (± $26,84). 3 Oaks Syrian: At 4noggins you pay $10,49 (± €7,72) for a 50 gr. tin.
Conclusion: And my winner is…… *drumroll* HH Vintage Syrian! I admit I am not a Mac Baren fan. Often I called the brand Mac Blahren, masters of mediocrity, never a satisfying smoke only a burned tongue. Well… I had to swallow those words bigtime for their magnificent HH Vintage Syrian blend. Mac Baren did an amazingly good job with the creation of this almost divine mixture. A classic. That also goes for McClelland’s 3 Oaks Syrian despite it being second. Maybe in a couple of years when my taste buds have (hopefully) developed even more it can push off HH Vintage Syrian of the Syrian latakia throne. Only too bad the supply of Syrian latakia is not infinite. Until when can we enjoy these blends? No one precisely knows but I hope long enough for me to squirrel away a vast amount of tins in my tobacco closet.
When I first contacted master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco at the beginning of 2012 I asked him if it was possible to receive some samples of his blends. From fellow Dutch pipe-smokers forum members Smoking Rob and Huub I had heard and read some positive things about Hans’ mixtures, so I was very curious. I mainly ordered samples from latakia blends. All blends were good but there were 2 “touchdowns”. One of them was Balkan Passion and the other one Olaf’s Favourite English. It was made by Hans for pipe artist Olaf Langner, who prefers solid English mixtures for his smoking den. That sounds just like my cup of (lapsang souchong) tea!
Package: Olaf’s is only available in typical German 100 gram “paint” tins. This because of the lid which resembles that of a paint tin. Ideal if you ask me, because it keeps the tobacco fresh for a long time. I opened my tin half a year ago (I have more tins open and I only smoke 2 pipes a day) and the little tobacco left inside is still as moist as the moment I first popped the lid. On the front is a nice drawing of Olaf and the name of the blend, on the backside a description of the contents. Inside on top of the tobacco is a paper insert with an illustration of a compass on it. The sign the mixture inside was blended and tinned by DTM.
Contents/composition: A sweet base of Virginias, 40% Syrian latakia, 10% Cyprian latakia, perique, quite a bit of Smyrna oriental, darkfired leaf and English black cavendish. Whooo Arno.. In your blog-post Syrian latakia you said that there is almost nothing left of that dark leaf! That is true and despite the contents description there is no Syrian latakia in Olaf’s. I smoked the mixture a couple of times and could not detect the Syrian leaf I know from blends like 3 Oaks Syrian and Wilderness. So I mailed Hans about this and asked if he could verify the use of Syrian latakia. A couple of e-mails further I read that DTM reluctantly acknowledged there was no Syrian dark leaf inside Olaf’s. So from now on 50% Cyprian latakia is used in the blend. Oh, don’t be afraid the taste has changed because of this. I smoked some of a new batch and it was the same as the old one.. The tobacco itself looks dark with some blond strands and is mainly a ribbon cut with some small chunky pieces which make for easy packing.
Smell from the tin: A classic latakia mixture smell arises from the opened tin. Sweet, bitter, sour, salty and smoky notes. However, between these I detect something I can’t really define, a bit mushroom like odour. The only blend in which I smelled this before was GL Pease Lagonda.
Taste: With a lot of latakia mixtures there is a bitter taste at the charring light. Not with Olaf’s. The latakia makes itself known but does not overpower, it provides a kind of full roundness of taste together with the darkfired leaf in which the Virginias can develop. It is not a latakia-bomb. Halfway the bowl the sourness of the Smyrna takes the upper hand a bit which combines nicely with the underlying Virginias and latakia. I know there is perique in the mixture but I think I get more of the spicy pepper side of it than the fruity side. Although… At three quarters of the bowl the smoky and salty latakia is a bit tuned down by the black cavendish. What I then taste I can best describe as a bit salty liquorice with a honey-sweet edge. Maybe that is caused by the combination of the perique and the black cavendish. In the last bit of the bowl the flavours slowly starting to fade out similar to that of the fading sound a great musical piece and in the end a fine grey ash is left.
Combustibility: Once lit the mixture keeps burning pretty easy with few relights. No comments here.
Room-note: I don’t see my girlfriend Ellen hurrying out of the chamber or coughing violently while I smoke Olaf’s so I guess the room-note is acceptable for a latakia blend. She has smelled worse.
Miscellaneous: Olaf’s benefits from a longer shelving time so the flavours have more opportunity to meld together. Pretty necessary for a complex blend like this one. When I opened my tin it was tinned one year before and I found it good for consumption. However, I am very curious how the mixture will taste after a couple of years of peace in my tobacco closet. The nicotine level is medium, it really is a late night smoke in that regard. Maybe it fits together well with a glass of fine whisky or red wine. Also because of the complex character of the blend I would not advise to smoke it in the morning. One thing that sometimes bothers me a bit about Olaf’s is that now and then it has the tendency to bite in the first part of the bowl. From the other side it could have something to do with my body chemistry on some days.
Price: My tin was a bit cheaper but thanks to German tobacco-taxes one 100 gram tin of this wonderful mixture will now cost you €18,35 ($24.21) in Hans’ online shop.
Conclusion: From the first puffs I took from this excellent blend I fell in love with it. For me Olaf’s Favourite English delivers everything I expect from a wonderful English mixture; it is complex but without bragging about it. All the flavours from sweet to smoky to leathery to sour to salty weave throughout the smoke in perfect balance. Personally I think this is one of the best latakia blends on the mainland of Europe and it can easily compete with the finest offerings from blenders like GL Pease.
These days there is a lot of news surrounding Capstan. This because after an absence of 18 years the legendary brand returns to the USA. Not only as the well-known flake, but also as the lesser-known ready rubbed. Also the manufacturer is no longer Orlik / STG, but another Danish company, MacBaren. Of course under license of Imperial Tobacco. Luckily we in Europe were able to enjoy Capstan all this time. It actually is one of the few tobaccos that is available in The Netherlands that I like very, very much.
Old Capstan Navy Cut ad from 1898
Capstan already exists for a looong time. The brand was introduced by W. D. & H. O. Wills around 1893. The company was founded as Wills, Watkins & Co. by Henry Overton Wills I and his partner Watkins. He opened a shop in 1786 Castle Street, Bristol in 1786. After the retirement of his partner in 1789 the name became “Wills & Co.”. From 1791 to 1793 the company was known as Lilly, Wills & Co when it merged with the firm of Peter Lilly. Then, from 1793 to Lillly’s retirement in 1803, as Lilly and Wills.In 1826 Wills’ two sons, William Day Wills and Henry Overton Wills took over the company and finally in 1830 the company took the well known name of W. D. & H. O. Wills.
Sorting and cutting tobacco for mixtures at the Bristol factory in 1926
The company was good for its workers and pioneered canteens, free medical care, sports facilities and paid holidays. Their first brand was “Bristol”, made at the London factory from 1871 to 1974. “Three Castles” and “Gold Flake” followed in 1878, “Woodbine” in 1888, Capstan around 1893 and Three Nuns from 1957 to the late 1980’s. The company not only had factories and offices in Bristol, but also in Swindon, Dublin, Newcastle and Glasgow. The largest cigarette factory in Europe was opened at Hartcliffe Bristol in 1974 but closed in 1990. The beautiful Art Deco Newcastle factory closed in 1986. In 1901 Sir William Henry Wills formed the Imperial Tobacco company from a merger of W.D. & H.O. Wills with John Player & Sons of Nottingham and 11 other independent family businesses, which were being threatened by competition from the United States by the American Tobacco Company. Imperial remains one of the world’s largest tobacco companies. The last member of the Wills family to serve the company was Christopher, the great great grandson of H.O. Wills I. He retired as sales research manager in 1969. Some time after the closure of the Bristol plant the making of Capstan was finally licensed by Imperial Tobacco to Orlik and now MacBaren. For more (old) pictures of the W.D. & H.O. Wills factories click on this link.
My old (± 1989) Capstan Medium Navy Cut tin
My love for Capstan began when I made a bid on an old Medium Navy Cut tin on the British e-bay. And did not win it.. Fortunately something went wrong with the winner and the seller approached me if I wanted the tin. Of course, but not for the money the winner offered. I’m still Dutch after all. That was possible and after some price negotiations she sent me the tin. It was my first vintage tobacco so I eagerly pried with my Czech pipe-tool under the lid and was rewarded with a *Ssssssss*. The flakes inside smelled absolutely hea-ven-ly. Since then I never came across a vintage tobacco that smelled so nice. A deep, sweet hay / grass/ raisins / figs aroma that reminded me of the hay-barn of my uncle and aunt. Even to this day, when I stick my nose in a Capstan tin I have to think of that. *Sighs* Good ol’ times.. Speaking about those, Capstan used to be the favourite tobacco of well known writer J.R.R. Tolkien and also later of his son Christopher until he quit smoking..
Older rectangular Orlik made Capstan tin
When I put a flake in my Winslow Harlekin and lit it my taste buds had a shuddering orgasm. Before that I smoked some aromatics and wasn’t converted to the dark latakia leaf yet. The taste was full and naturally sweet with the hints of hay and raisins / figs that I smelled before. In other words, the Virginias had aged very well. Yes, that old Capstan really was an eye opener. So I mailed the e-bay lady if she had any more tins left that she was willing to sell and asked how she got does. She answered that she had acquired them from the left over inventory of a closed tobacco-shop and that she had a couple more tins left. I bought those and I still have them. Only on very special occasions I pop one open. After I finished the old Capstan I went looking for the new version. I was in luck, the local tobacco store had one left. When I got home I opened it and was a bit disappointed. Yes the sweet hay/grass/ raisins / figs aroma was there but it lacked the depth of the Old Capstan. But that is not so strange since it was a new tin..
STANUNED flavour info
When I did some research about the Capstan topping (I knew it wasn’t all-natural) I stumbled upon the used flavour in the earlier years. It had the code-name STANUNED. After some more research I discovered that the Tonka bean (tonquin, coumarin) was used as an ingredient. Unfortunately the use of tonka bean in pipe-tobacco is now prohibited in most countries.. So I wonder how the current topping is made. A chemical rip-off? Imperial Tobacco has the original recipe so who knows what they have done to it over the years..
Different Capstan tins fltr: W.D. & H.O. Wills tin, older Orlik/STG tin, later Orlik/STG tin, MacBaren tin
Ok, now it is time to do some comparisons between the Orlik / STG version and the new MacBaren version. As you can see in the picture on the left both the latest Orlik / STG tin and the new MacBaren one are identical. The folks in the USA are fine, every new tin is the MacBaren version plus it has the manufacturing month and year clearly stated on the back. But here in Europe we have some “old” Orlik / STG stock left that looks exactly the same as the new one! The same yes, only the codes on the back of the tin are different.
Let me explain. On the picture on the right you see the backside of the two similar Capstan tins. Left the Orlik / STG version, right the new MacBaren. The Orlik / STG tin has 10 digits and then 4. The MacBaren one has 8 and then 5. That is the difference. As you zoom in on the MacBaren tin you see: 09130281 30212. This is how the code can be deciphered:
– 09 = Packing machine used
– 13 = Year of packing
– 028 = Calendar day of production. That means day 028 in 2013. January 28th.
– 1 = Shift (1 indicates it is packed on the day shift)
– The 5 digit number is the internal batch number.
The Orlik / STG tin code is a bit harder to crack: 1208025527 0164.
– 12 = Year of packing
– 08 = Calender day of production. That means the 8th day of the month.
– 02 = Month of packing.
What the rest of the digits mean, no idea.. The 4 digit number is an internal batch number I guess. But this tin comes from February 8th 2012.
When you open both tins the flakes inside look the same (I already smoked from the MacBaren version at the time of the picture). Ok, maybe the Orlik / STG verison is a tiny bit darker but that is because it is almost a year older. The tin odour is also almost the same although I find that the MacBaren version smells just a bit sharper. Also maybe because of the youthfulness of the flake. I must say that that sharp edge goes away after a week after opening. For the last one and a half week I have been smoking both versions extensively in different pipes. And… I can detect no real difference. They both are a damn fine smoke. The Orlik / STG version tastes just a bit rounder, fuller but once again, that could very well be the age difference. Also Orlik / STG have brought 2 flakes on the market: Orlik English Original and Orlik English Gold. I have not smoked these but it is said that they are similar to the Blue and Yellow Capstan.
Truthfully I never expected that MacBaren could pull off a tobacco that I actually like very much. I am not a big MacBaren fan to be honest.. But they have done a damn fine job with the new Capstan, I got to give them credit for that. And for the people who say, it tasted better in the past! Yes, the old W.D. & H.O. Wills tins taste superior. But keep in mind the formidable ageing of the Virginias! Anyway, I am just glad that I can buy a new tin of an old brand without worrying.