By Ernie Whitenack
A blend of the finest red and bright Virginias balanced by Basma leaf from 2014 and Izmir Orientals from 2013, Sun Bear showcases select varietals by highlighting their inherent characters with a range of unique and nuanced casings. South Carolina garden-grown honey — harvested from the personal beehives of C&D's head blender, Jeremy Reeves — combines with a whisper of silver tequila and elderflower to augment the fruity and floral notes of the choice Orientals and Virginias. The result is a natural, refined tobacco with a bright, refreshing character and a creamy, rounded finish — the perfect complement to these final days of summer.
And then it goes on to tell you how all of this interacts and mixes.
Prior to writing this, I read a bunch of reviews and watched a couple of videos, simply to see if I would agree. Everyone seems to love Sun Bear. Naturally I had to smell it right-off. To me, the tin aroma was reminiscent of frozen pudding ice cream, also known as Rum-Raisin. At first light, I tasted no Virginia, but the Basma and Izmir were boldly up front. There is an underlying sweetness; from the honey, I assume.
I have no idea what an elderflower* is, unless it is the flower of the elderberry bush, often used in gin, along with the berries. I can’t say what it adds to this tobacco.
About halfway through, the citrusy sweet tang of the Virginia emerged. That, along with the bite of the Izmir, pushed the honey away. From then on, it was just Virginia/Oriental with an odd, almost overpowering liquor, taste. I didn’t like it.
There is a notation on the label stating how this combination of ingredients makes for a natural, refined tobacco with an underlying swashbuckling boldness. I’ll agree with the swashbuckling boldness, but not the natural, refined tobacco part. Granted, it is all-natural ingredients, but not a natural tobacco taste. To me it is just another mucked-up aromatic using some odd materials.
Well, after proof-reading the above comments, I don’t think I am being quite fair to smoke it upon opening the tin and give it an evaluation. So I will let it sit for a while and continue this in a couple of days.
Three days later, and first pipe of the day, I tried again. selecting a clean and seldom used pipe. Nothing changed. Perhaps it needs to dry out a little, I thought. With the cover off, it dried for seven hours and I tried again. Nothing changed.
Letting Sun Bear dry for two more days, stirring it each day, gave me a nice moisture level, but unfortunately it remained an extremely spicy, hard on the mouth, strange tasting smoke, with a hint of honey – occasionally.
I must be in the minority, not liking this C&D presentation. It’s not the first time my opinion has gone against the tide and will undoubtably not be the last.
Based on some overheard conversations at the club last month, not everyone is a fan of the new Amphora Burley Blend. But SHPC past President Eric Kahn said this blend came to his rescue and he found it quite enjoyable. Here's what he had to say:
So I'm heading down to the Cape for the weekend just to hang with family. Clothes all packed, extra pipes and a couple of cigars. In the pipe case I put in cobs and a Sherlock Holmes head Meer, some pipe cleaners and an extra lighter.... you know the usual stuff. Oh! There is that Amphora Burly blend I've been meaning to try. Throw it in, just in case I run out of my usual and off the wife and I went.
First thing I want to do is sit in the densely wooded back yard and have a bowl. Birds of all types singing their songs, little critters scurrying about and even some mice minding their Ps and Qs. It was really relaxing. I reach for my usual tobacco in my back pocket. Hmm..., other back pocket. Hmm..., thigh pockets? Oops! Good thing I brought the Amphora. I hope it's good. Ready rubbed, nice aroma in the pouch, moderate moisture, packs well, should light nicely. First charring light, I'm expecting a bite... no bite. Let's see how it goes. Subsequent light, no bite. In fact throughout the smoking experience, no bite. Pleasing taste, if not exceptional. Mild. Nutty. Pleasing. Overall I'd rate this blend very nice. After I finish this pouch I'll try another and if it stays as good as the first I will buy a large can. I don't usually expect much from a Nutty blend, but from my view, Mac Baren’s has hit this one out of the park with their new Amphora Burley blend.
“Odyssey is huge: the biggest of the Pease blends. It's loaded with Latakia and harmonized by exotic Orientals. Wonderful red and jet-black stoved Virginias provide a perfect counterpoint.”
Obtained through the club’s Yankee Swap at the last holiday meeting, the two-ounce tin of Odyssey was tucked away in a box holding a minimal hoard of unopened tins. I found the box the other day and wondered what was in it; guess I completely forgot about my small stash. Anyway, I noticed the G.L. Pease Odyssey has “7/3/09”, in black marker, on the cover. I suddenly remembered Derik making a remark about who decorated the very attractive package housing this tin and decided to give it a try. Thanks Derek.
Having never had Odyssey before, I cannot compare this ten-year-old tobacco to any thing, so I’ll just tell you about it. The tin essence is a melody of wonderful smells, reminiscent of baking day in my mother’s kitchen when I was a kid; a combination of bread, cookies, cake and pot-roast, but not exactly.
In the pipe, Odyssey is delightful. The Latakia is definitely up-front but mixed in and tempered by the Virginias. The Orientals move in and out adding a bit of digression from the Latakia while the sweetness of the Virginia seems to bind it all together and is always there. I don’t think I have ever smoked such a complex blend. Now, I’ll have to purchase a tin just to compare the new to the ten-year-old Odyssey.
Samuel Gawith Bothy Flake was made for the Kearvaig Pipe Club. It's a flake made of ripe, matured Virginias which are combined with a modicum of smoky Latakia and then pressed and sliced into easy to prepare flakes. The Virginias used have more depth than most flue-cured tobaccos, and retain a mellow sweetness that's perfectly compatible with the small amount of Cyprian Latakia. To tie the flavors all together, and to add a bit to the aroma, they infuse the tobacco with a splash of peaty Scotch whisky. The result is gently sweet, with nice depth and a pleasant, tangy finish.
Wow! What can I say? They sure did this one right. I don’t know if the Kearvaig Pipe Club thought this one up, or Samuel Gawith devised it on an assignment from the club. This I do know, it is a delightful blend perfectly put together and processed -- to my taste anyway.
The Virginia is forever in the for-front, but not rudely. One is aware of a sweet and citrusy flavor that often allows the smoky Latakia to pass through. The peaty Scotch, however, doesn’t seem to present itself. Perhaps I just couldn’t differentiate it from the Latakia or it simply becomes a part of the whole. What ever it is, this tobacco is smooth and gentle with a wonderful natural flavor I have never experienced before.
Bothy Flake burned readily, cool, and long. Being a flake, how it is rubbed-out, shopped, or folded might change how readily and cool it will burn for you. I rub flake tobacco, if thin flakes, in the palm of one hand with the heel of the other (as taught by my father).
It’s Great, and Bothy Flake will be a desert tobacco for me, smoking it after dinner or on special occasions.
Pssst, I have a hunch I’ll be looking for times to call special occasions.
Peter Stokkebye’s English Oriental Supreme is a rich but gentle blend of excellent bright Virginias, mellow white Burley, smooth black Cavendish and Cyprian Latakia which creates plenty of sweet and smoky flavor is a very well-behaved mixture. English Oriental Supreme has been one of their most popular gentle Latakia blends for many years.
I just had to give this one a try! As you might remember, I have praised Stokkebye’s Proper English in this spot before and haven’t changed my mind. Fact is, as of now, it is my favorite English blend. However, the #306 English Oriental Supreme is finding its way into my pipes more often these days. It has many of the attributes of Proper English I enjoy, but is a touch sweeter and milder – just the thing for the last pipe of the day or if one has had a heavy pipe day.
The mildness does nothing to retard the flavors of its elements and they blend together nicely. The sweetness of the unflavored Black Cavendish mixes with that of the Virginia to offer a slightly different flavor while the Latakia hangs in the background unobtrusively.
If you are looking for a flavorful but mild smoke, give it a try.
Missouri Meerschaum American Patriot is a highly unusual type of blend to find in a pouch. This is a Latakia-based blend, enhanced by quality Virginia leaf, and the exotic influence of Turkish Smyrna, with just a touch of Burley for excellent burning characteristics. A light top note of Kentucky Bourbon makes for a nice addition to the aroma, but is undetectable in the flavor. For a superb value in an English-style blend, light up a bowl of American Patriot.
Well, sorry to say, I didn’t find this blend even close to the provided description. After the first try, I decided it should dry out a bit, so left the pouch sit open for a couple of days. When I went back to it, it hadn’t improved even though it dried out slightly. There were times when the Virginia and Smyrna were noticeable, but generally it was just very harsh and hot. I was hoping for something reminiscent of the “American English” blends I remember form the 1970s but was sorely disappointed. Perhaps it is the proportions of individual tobaccos, or the quality of same.
Pipe and Tobacco Podcasts
Country Squire Radio
A weekly podcast about all things pipes and tobacco. Beau and Jon David have a great chemistry and keep you entertained every week. Check their website for show times. They mix it up a lot YouTube | Website
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PipesMagazine Radio Show
A different interview every week with Brian Levine a well known member of the tobacco industry. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show! iTunes | Website
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Pipe and Tamper Pipecast
A Podcast for the Tobacco Pipe Enthusiast. Interviews with pipe carvers and industry influencers. Quick tobacco reviews and segments on pipes and tobaccos. New episodes are available on the 1st and 15th of every month. iTunes | Website
Sherlock Holmes Podcasts
I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere (IHOSE)
A delightful way to spend an evening with Holmes as your affable co hosts Scott Monty and Burt Wolder share their unique perspectives and sense of humor. Find out more than you ever thought possible about the greatest pipe smoker that never lived.
Shows come out twice a month. iTunes | Website
Sherlock Holmes: Trifles
From the producers of the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast, Trifles is a 15-minute, weekly audio program where Scott & Burt discuss something related to the Canon.
Have you ever stopped to wonder about why Dr. Watson was called James by his wife? Or of Sherlock Holmes's dining habits? Or what happened when he let a criminal escape? Answers to these questions and more await in Trifles, a weekly podcast about details in the Sherlock Holmes stories. iTunes | Website
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