It truly is a great time to be a pipe smoker! There has been a resurgence in recent years of the tobacco blending art, and many new blends have hit the scene. Not only that, but many blends that haven't been produced in years, sometimes decades, are making a triumphant return! Gone are the days of choosing one blend and smoking it for 80 years; as with pipes, there are literally HUNDREDS of choices.
I always recommend trying at least one of the following 5 blend types to help you figure out what types of tobaccos you like. Some of my recommendations are a bit muddled because of the inclusion of other tobacco types, but I feel these blends are good starting points. See below for a downloadable one-page reference of these recommendations!
1. Aromatics - There are plenty of these, and I would recommend starting with a simple flavoring, like a Vanilla (Lane's RLP6 or 1Q). You can branch out into Chocolates, Rums, Whiskeys, Cherries, and other Fruit Essences from there. For me, Lane and Drew Estate generally make the best aromatics, unless you're looking for something less over-the-top. Then I would recommend Hearth & Home's Vermont Meat Candy, and Cornell & Diehl's Autumn Evening.
2. Natural Virginias - Dunhill Flake is a straight Virginia, supposedly medium, but a bit on the light side. For more matured Virginias, I'd try McClelland's Virginia No. 25, which is the easiest to pack of their Matured Virginia Series. For me, straight Virginia's can tend to be a bit one-sided and lackluster...but I will say that the best pipe smoke I ever had was Dunhill Flake in a Stanwell 88...no idea why, and I haven't been able to replicate that smoke. Frustrating.
3. Natural Burleys - I love Burleys. Carter Hall is a good old standby Burley Blend. John Patton makes one called Moe's Confetti that's really good. Cornell & Diehl makes a Viginia/Burley/Perique called Three Friars that is bright, light, and outstanding.Peterson's Irish Flake is a Burley/Virginia, with various treatments to make a remarkable blend. University Flake is also a good Virginia/Burley with less trickery. A darker, more robust Burley/Virginia is Mac Baren's Old Dark Fired. And of course, there's always the elusive Stonehaven--if you find 8 ounces of it for less than $40, buy it; if you don't like it, send it to me! :)
4. Latakia Blends - These are sometimes referred to as English Blends, although that term is up for debate. Dunhill's Early Morning Pipe is a great light Latakia blend. McClelland's Frog Morton Series is made up of middle-strength Latakia blends. I wouldn't recommend a "Latakia Bomb" to start out with, and wouldn't even know what to recommend as a "good" heavy Latakia blend, cuz I don't usually like 'em. Many seem to like Hearth & Home's Black House--I don't, but there you go.
5. Perique Blends - Ah, Perique...my favorite. It can add that little something extra to so many different kinds of blends. Orlik Golden Sliced is a good, light Virginia/Perique (you might not even notice the Perique). Some medium-bodied Perique blends are Seattle Pipe Club's Mississippi River (there's a little bit of everything in that one), Dunhill's Elizabethan Mixture, and Stokkebye's Luxury Navy Flake. A big more full-flavored is Mac Baren's Acadian Perique. And if you want to ride the Perique Roller Coaster, there's always Dunhill's Nightcap, and John Patton's Cool Hand Fluke.
I could sit here and come up with many more, but that's plenty enough to get you started down the yellow brick road that eventually branches in so many directions, you may never reach the Wizard of Oz! But that's kind of the point with Pipe Smoking--the journey is much more important than the destination.
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