Beginner's Guide to Pipe Tobacco
Winemakers mix varietals to create unique flavors. Brewers add malt and hops to change the flavor of a beer. Tobacco blenders do the same with the following leaves:
- Virginia: Naturally sweet and light, it burns quick and adds a nice flavor to your smoke.
- Burley: Slow burner that has a nutty, relatively mild flavor.
- Perique: A Louisiana-based leaf with spicy notes.
- Bright: A North Carolina-based leaf with a mild flavor.
- Latakia: Hefty, smoky flavor that adds punch and color to your blend.
- Oriental: An overall category of Middle Eastern leaves (Latakia included) that produce a bold, spicy profile.
Blenders use different proportions of some of these tobaccos to create a unique overall flavor profile. From there, tobacco blends are divided into two categories: aromatics and non-aromatics.
The tobacco aromas that often lull us into a world of cherries, blackberries and cream are the result of aromatics. One name you’ll hear a lot in this category is Cavendish, a mix of several different types of tobacco leaf that has a sweet smell.
Aromatic blends get their distinct names and smells from what’s called "casing," a syrup that includes said flavors and sugar. This syrup is added during processing. The tobacco soaks up the flavors and is then heated to remove excess moisture.
At the end of the process, some blenders add alcohol (rum, for example) to enhance the flavor. By the time the tobacco is packaged, the alcohol has burned off and moisture levels are back to normal.
I found myself in my neighborhood tobacco haunt because I wanted to move beyond the sweet-smelling Danish Gold I bought. The resident tobacconist pointed me to a blend called Highlander, which is a mix of non-aromatic English tobacco and aromatics of the Cavendish variety. Non-aromatic means the tobacco doesn’t have any casing. Because non-aromatics tend to have a pretty strong taste, they’re toned down with complimentary aromatics.