It was time again to meet with the Okanagan Pipe and Cigar Club, so my men and I headed out on the road to the Southern end of the Valley, since it was their turn to host. It was the day after the Summer Solstice – we’d been to a fun ceremony and celebration the night before – and the day was finally something like the summer weather we’ve come to expect in Okanagan wine country: spectacularly hot and sunny. We were excited because our new club tobacco order had just come in on Friday, just in the nick of time. At the same time a sealed tin of Bacchanalia from Sutliff Tobacco’s private stock arrived. Erin had grabbed it for a steal on Ebay, completely surprised by the lack of bids. The listing said that the tobacco was a vintage tin, produced in 1985.
I was suspicious because the tin appeared far too new to be almost thirty years old, and furthermore, its design was very similar to those produced by Sutliff private stock this year. Wouldn’t the design have changed a little more than that in all this time? Also, the tin was hardly scratched, and it was constructed of that metallized cardboard stuff instead of being an actual tin, which should have been an immediate giveaway that we had been “misinformed.” And of course, I was right to be suspicious. Investigation by the magazine revealed that this blend was only invented in 2010 – caveat emptor! But an insider at Sutliff tobaccos was able to confirm for us that this blend, and this tin (as confirmed by the UPC code) was from its very first run in January 2010. So, still nicely aged! But hardly the age we were led to believe. However, we did get it for a very good price, so I could hardly complain.
Nevertheless, the seal was intact, and my gentlemen and I looked forward to sharing our treasure with our friends at the club. We demanded silence to pull open the can and listened to the pop with great pleasure. The initial viewing revealed a ribbon-cut with pleasant shades of varying earth colours. I am told that it is a mixture of Black Cavendish, Burleys and Virginias; none of which I generally gravitate towards on their own, but mingled and aged a while, they blend beautifully.
The tin note was strongly wine-scented and surprisingly complex. My initial impression was of Okanagan orchards and vineyards in late September or early October; there is a distinct scent that fruit fermenting under the sun produces, which for me conjures images of jumping in leaves out of my childhood; a scent that I thought the tin note captured perfectly. Other impressions from other members of the club: those who grew up in Western Canada were reminded of orchards and fall canning projects; those from Quebec and Ontario were reminded of late autumn maple and empty sugar shacks were maple syrup is stored before processing.
The tobacco proved to be the perfect humidity; neither moist nor dry, but that comfortable balance between that packs and lights easily. I imagine this is at least in part due to aging. There was no scent or taste of chemicals at all. The room note immediately brought to mind Okanagan autumns, when farms, vineyards and orchards burn off excess and overgrowth and the air is permeated with the aura of old fruit and wood smoke. I reminisced about a particular tavern in a medieval recreation society that I frequented in my early twenties, which was set up in a tent in the middle of a vineyard on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Candles and lanterns burned to warm us while we sang and smoked clay pipes and talked, and drank local wines and beers from the South Okanagan while the scent of campfire smoke drifted by. Another club member was reminded of fishing on the lake with his father in the fall, while he smelled the scent of cigars kept in the tackle box and of the forest and its fermenting vegetation drifting over the lake, stripped of all its negative ions.
The first draw was reminiscent of oak-cask brandy or port; sweet, earthy and woody. Jamie observed that it burned with an aftertaste “like the barrel stay of a wine cask.” Other reviewers have said that the wine taste is a major player, but that in no way overpowered the earthy and nutty burleys; and I would agree with that assessment. Others have said that you will never forget that it is a VaBur. I would agree with that too. I loved it and I puffed contently for several minutes, enjoying various textures of the overall liquor and nut element.
I think it’s worth noting that the tobacco stayed lit with almost no effort. For that reason I would highly, highly recommend it to beginners, because it is friendly and forgiving. But be cautious! It is also very strong. Its nicotine left me a little dizzy when I was finished my bowl and that didn’t pass for almost an hour, and even the regular cigarette smokers told me they found it intoxicating. Of course that could have been due to a very smooth inhale. Unlike most aromatics it offered almost no tongue bite, not even in a short pipe such as the one Erin was smoking, and in my churchwarden it was positively delightful, effectively eliminating the cross that aromatics usually bear.
As the bowl progressed the overall flavour suggested dry wine rather than porter, as it lost some of its sweet note and developed a pleasantly bitter cherry aftertaste, not unlike Spanish or Greek wines. Near the end of the bowl the sweet element returned, restoring the essence of an oak-cured brandy.
Perhaps we were primed to enjoy it by a sense of the vintage, but universally, we at the Pipe Club found it to be an outstanding smoke. It certainly went well with the sweet coffee I was drinking, and we imagined it might accompany Turkish coffee or espresso. We thought it might also go nicely with any creamy dessert, such as pie a la mode, Ouso over ice cream, tiramisu or ambrosia salad; or perhaps rich sweet foods like Turkish delight or black forest cake. Naturally, I also recommend your favourite wine, porter, or brandy, especially if they are full-bodied and have any kind of a cherry undertone. The ash smoked entirely clean. It left no dottle at all.
The tag-line of the Bacchanalia mix is “a blend worthy of the god of wine.” Well, with its pleasant liquor-cased flavours, its strong intoxication factor, its user-friendliness, and its invitation to accompany it with even more decadent delights, this Pagan agrees. It would be equally suited to mystical contemplation and epicurean parties. I intend to smoke it at Sabbat celebrations and I hope to experiment with it as a post-coital smoke as well; but as Jamie suggested, I think it ought to be savoured, and I would never smoke more than a single bowl of it in a day. I was utterly surprised by this delightful blend. This is absolutely everything I could possibly want in a pipe tobacco. My rating would have to be:
The fresh batch has apparently received some mixed reviews, so I suggest that Bacchus’ tobacco, not unlike his gift of the grape, should be gently aged. I will, however, try the newer vintage at some point, if for no other reason than for comparison. You can get this year’s drought for a very reasonable price at Cigars International, Pipes and Cigars, Smoking Pipes, or Cup o’Joes; and the creators will help you find a local retailer if you prefer.
And that, my friends, is a lady’s perspective!
By: Sable Aradia – Editor