THE PROFESSOR'S PIPE TOBACCO REVIEWS

Rattray's Tobaccos


These pipe tobaccos are imported from Germany now, although they were originally produced in Scotland. I have witnessed many a discussion on how these revered tobaccos are not "what they used to be," yet most participants ultimately admitted that they are still quite good in their own right. Usually, Rattray's tobaccos are sold tinned, but when I lived in Montreal, I used to purchase them in bulk from Blatter and Blatter. Interestingly, I've never run across Rattray's blends sold in bulk since then.

Accountant's Mixture
An uninspiring name for an excellent blend if you like latakia. Mottled medium with dark brown, this is a rich tobacco with a unified flavour. The latakia melds into the Virginia base and smokes smooth and rich, without the very pronounced ashy, "fireplace" flavour and aroma that dominate some heavy latakia blends. Sweet, natural English-style aroma (with latakia) while smoking. Burns slow but well. '95

Black Mallory
I've never smoked anything quite like this. The vibrant flavour is simultaneously fruity and smoky, sharp and smooth, refreshing yet heavy. A delicious, dark, full-flavoured blend that always makes me want more, but I enjoy it best as an occasional smoke, as I find it fairly sharp on the tongue. This is a one-of-a-kind blend that must be tried at least once. This review was based on the bulk version of this blend. Since then, I've tried the tinned variety (including a 25-year-old tin once), and must say that these lacked the fruity notes I had first detected. '95

Brown Clunee
BROWN CLUNEE
Body: 6/10
Nicotine Strength: 7/10
Flavour Depth: 8/10
Flavour—sweetness: 6/10
Flavour—fruitiness: 4/10
Flavour—floweriness: 3/10
Flavour—smokiness: 2/10
Flavour—mustiness: 2/10
Flavour—nuttiness: 1/10
Bite: 6/10
Room Aroma: Sweet-musty
This comes as dark, reddish-brown, broken flake with a few nearly black patches. Much of it has been pulled-apart to the point that you might think of it as ribbon-cut rather than as broken flake. The scent in the tin is a complex mélange of light and rich. I smell some of that sour, wine-like aroma that many aged red Virginias offer, notes of cinnamon and spice, and the faintly sweet and grassy wafting of a flowering meadow. As I light up, my nose says that some of the sidestream smoke smells simply like good, clean, no-frills tobacco. It comes off as fresh-tasting and a little sharp, but as quite neutral. Nothing is jumping out to wow me—yet. Hmmm... a nice, light, natural sweetness is definitely attracting my attention though. Very subtle... I do like this. After another five or ten minutes of gentle puffing, I'm finding this almost as spicy as it is sweet. The spiciness whispers to me that puffing with any amount of vigour would be an error, so I puff onward carefully, but deliberately. Another ten minutes or so and it seems spicier than sweet. In fact, I'd now say that this is downright rich-tasting, though I could not have said that at first. Somewhere around the half-way mark, I start to taste the flavour equivalent of that complex range of scents that I smelled in the tin. This didn't strike me as a strong tobacco at first, but I've suddenly attained that wonderful zone of relaxation that only pipe smoking can provide. What a fine evolution to complex flavour this has been! In the lower depths of the bowl, the flavour is unexpectedly dense and a little woodsy even. It's much smoother as well, though it still has a distinct drying effect on the palate. Puffed as slow as possible, it keeps improving. Brown Clunee occupies a special place for me. I love its taste and it has provided a few of the most memorable smokes I've ever had. I like it enough to have carried it in my pouch from time to time, but it never satisfies as well as when I sit down at home to properly appreciate the singular experience it offers. It burns well to a fine, light-grey ash, but the broken-flake cut keeps it from burning hot. If you're not used to smoking Virginias, you might find that this bites (I can't smoke this too often), but it's such a rewarding tobacco that it's well worth exploring. Smoking this leaves an aroma that is fairly plain and a little sweet and musty. '01

Dark Fragrant
Here's another one that has to be tried at least once due to its unusual character. Before you fill your bowl, bear in mind that it doesn't burn very well and must be well lit in order to burn. This dark Virginia and black cavendish mix comes black and crumbly and doesn't clump together at all. When smoking, it's almost not tobacco-like, in that it hardly tastes like smoke. It's extremely mellow and cool, rich yet not cloying, with a dark, slightly sweet flavour that might be said to resemble dried figs or raisins. This makes for an excellent pipe to sit and relax with. The room aroma is similar to the taste: heavy, slightly perfumy, and not very imposing. As much as I enjoy smoking this, I for some reason don't get the urge to do so all that often—perhaps because its pleasant flavour is so straight-forward and one-dimensional. I remember the first time I smoked this (about a year ago), I was totally ambivalent toward it. However, I have since written off that experience the result of an ever-developing palate. After a while, a pipe used for smoking this will takes on a scent that reminds me of roasted raisins. '96

Hal o' the Wynd
HAL O' THE WYND
Body: 8/10
Nicotine Strength: 7/10
Flavour Depth: 7/10
Flavour—sweetness: 4/10
Flavour—fruitiness: 3/10
Flavour—floweriness: 0/10
Flavour—smokiness: 2/10
Flavour—mustiness: 3/10
Flavour—nuttiness: 1/10
Bite: 7/10
Room Aroma: Musty-plain
A deep-brown flake tobacco with golden shreds, you might notice some fine, shiny sugar crystals on its darker areas if you look closely. Its sweet-pungent, vermouth-like alcoholic aroma in the tin has hints of rum and a very faint background sourness. I hadn't smoked this blend for years, so it has been interesting to come back to it during the last month or so. Indeed, it is still as spicy as I recall, but today I notice its full body much more than before. Though meaty, its spiciness gives it a kind of false lightness. Despite this, after the first quarter of the pipe, you are likely to realize that you are smoking a reasonably strong and relaxing tobacco. If the tin didn't claim that this is a "pure virginian tobacco," I'd probably guess that it contains a good dose of perique as well. Unflavoured, the natural and assertive taste leans more toward sweet than salty, but more salty than tobacco-musty. However, each of these elements is present in that order, with none being predominant. Unlike many Virginias, there's not a lot of change in flavour while smoking this one, though it does become a tad sharper and smokier near the bottom of the pipe. I still don't think I could make an all-day smoke out of this, but maybe it would be worth trying, since I like its full-strength semi-sweetness so much. The aftertaste is spicy, extremely clean and non-specific—just pure tobacco, while a slightly sweet and not-smoky scent remains in the moustache. The room aroma after smoking is also clean, but quite pronounced. Excellent for a jaded palate looking for some quiet excitement, though it might come off as harsh or biting for a newer pipe smoker. '03

BACK IN '95, I wrote: This is a strong, sharp aged red Virginia blend that will perk you up quickly. I have particularly enjoyed this as my first pipe of the day. A fruity bouquet, dark like wine (although not as rich as some Virginias) with an almost citrus aftertaste. As much as I enjoy its taste, I find it too sharp for frequent smoking. Or do I? '95

Highland Targe
A combination of factors in this fairly mild mixture always pleases me. This is a subtle blend that smokes quite smooth for such a light flavour. Yakka (I am told) and latakia add a bit of body and subtly perfume a Virginia base that has a slight, natural sweetness resembling that of raw almonds. What is especially pleasant is that I seem to experience this blend's perfumy aspect through smell, not through taste, even while smoking. I find this somewhat intangible quality quite rare and admit to enjoying this in a full-bent whose bowl sits just below my nose, so that a fair amount of smoke envelops me. A short-stemmed pipe would do the trick as well. Medium cut, burns well and doesn't lose flavour or aroma as it reaches the bottom of the bowl, nor does it get harsh. Good to the last drop. '95

Marlin Flake
MARLIN FLAKE
Body: 6/10
Nicotine Strength: 6/10
Flavour Depth: 7/10
Flavour—sweetness: 4/10
Flavour—fruitiness: 1/10
Flavour—floweriness: 0/10
Flavour—smokiness: 3/10
Flavour—mustiness: 2/10
Flavour—nuttiness: 1/10
Bite: 6/10
Room Aroma: Plain-sweet
In these long Virginia slices, dark brown fades to blackish and marbles with a little golden leaf. Speckles of blond birdseye decorate throughout. The tin aroma is rich and fermented, situated somewhere between miso and red wine. Hints of burnt caramel contribute to the scent and produce a suggestion of bitter chocolate. At the charring light, a simple, natural tobacco taste accompanies a creamy smoke that is slightly sweet in a grassy, herbal way. Classic Virginia tanginess is featured here in the right measure, adding just enough bite to the smoke to be refreshing, yet not annoying. The flavour is perhaps a little lighter than I would expect for a dark-looking Virginia flake with such a rich tin aroma. In fact, it is transparent enough to allow a delicate smokiness to come through much of the time. The flavour doesn't undergo any major transformation while smoking, but it does gradually get a little richer, sweeter and smokier. I especially enjoy the bottom quarter of the pipe, where more spiciness develops. This is one of those tobaccos that doesn't have a big initial kick or grandiose flavour, yet is soothing and satisfying when puffed gently over a relaxed period of time. It burns nice and slowly if not rubbed out completely, but will get hot and lose its personality if you smoke it enthusiastically. This smoke finishes with a pale bitterness on the palate, but it leaves a light, sweet aftertaste in the moustache that recalls the tobacco's aroma in the tin. I love to be in a room where someone else is smoking this. It gives off a clean, subdued tobacco scent that is absolutely non-aromatic, and a little sweet. '02

Old Gowrie
OLD GOWRIE
Body: 6/10
Nicotine Strength: 7/10
Flavour Depth: 6/10
Flavour—sweetness: 4/10
Flavour—fruitiness: 2/10
Flavour—floweriness: 0/10
Flavour—smokiness: 2/10
Flavour—mustiness: 2/10
Flavour—nuttiness: 2/10
Bite: 6/10
Room Aroma: Musty-plain
It's nice to look back at my older tobacco notes and compare my current perceptions. In this case, I still agree with nearly everything I said about Old Gowrie in 1996 (below), but today I only barely remark the grassiness that I commented on back then. I really enjoy this tobacco. Its flavour is so clean and precise, slightly astringent and citrus on the palate, as if it were perfumed with just a few shreds of lemon rind. The natural Virginia sweetness mixes in with a little peppery sharpness to create a refreshing smoke. The smoke has a satisfying weight as it fills the mouth, particularly upon lighting up. While puffing, I often note that the sidestream smoke has a faintly sweet, aromatic quality to it, which contrasts with its plain, natural flavour. After a while, however, I tend to notice the smoke's spiciness more than its body. The bottom of the bowl can be fairly sharp, but I love its concentrated taste. As with Brown Clunee, one bowl of Old Gowrie doesn't really bite me, but my tongue can get sensitive if I smoke multiple bowls of it. In fact, this is quite similar to Brown Clunee in many respects, with a little less natural sweetness and a little less complexity of flavour. A newbie might find this a little sharp—a fast smoker definitely would. Still, it's well worth smoking at least occasionally, delicious and pleasurable as it is. Sit back and relax. I also like the simple, antique room aroma it gives off as it burns to a fine, light-grey ash. '01

BACK IN '96, I wrote: The taste of these pale yellowish-brown broken flakes is pretty neutral. It is characterized by typical aged-Virginia sweetness, but being based on lighter tobaccos, it lacks the fruitiness of red Virginia blends. The most distinctive aspect of its flavour is a slightly green, grassy undertaste that is quite pleasant and not that common. The closest thing to this that I've smoked is Blatter and Blatter's Danish Slices tobacco, which lacks the greenish note and isn't as rich. This succeeds in being a very relaxing tobacco without being overly strong or coma-producing. Smokes smooth and burns slowly, but easily. The room aroma matches its taste—mild, subtle, and slightly sweet. Competes poorly with other household odours.

7 Reserve
The attraction of this blend lies in the way it combines lightness of flavour with some of the richness of fuller English tobaccos. It is an extremely well-balanced taste: the base Virginia tobacco recalls Old Gowrie's naturally sweet and slightly grassy taste, rounded out with darker oriental tobaccos, including latakia. I love its light oriental aroma while being smoked, which to me is richer than the tobacco actually tastes. Since the flavour is surprisingly light, I am quite aware of its aroma while smoking, and I consider this distraction by aroma to be a positive quality. However, like many lighter blends, I find this rather sharp on the tongue after a while (even though it was supposedly designed for all-day smoking). A better choice for my tongue would be Accountant's Mixture or Highland Targe, even though they possess less of 7 Reserve's refreshing quality. 7 Reserve is perfect if you want a satisfying smoke with some rich, English taste, but without the heaviness that is often part-and-parcel of the darker blends. It is medium reddish-brown in colour, with darker flecks, and comes in a medium cut that burns easily to a dry ash. '95