Just after the first of the year a new tobacconist opened in my area. Though they are primarily a cigar store, the last few months they’ve started really delving into pipes and pipe tobacco, giving me a new choice to shop locally; they are about 20 minutes away so it’s not very often I get to peruse the shop. The last time I’d been in the shop they informed me that soon they would have some tinned tobaccos, two of which were my suggestions.
A couple of weeks ago I was in the area and stopped in to see if they had the new inventory. The six different tins they’d ordered had sold well and a new order for more new blends is in the works. They had sold almost all of the stock with one tin of Peterson University Flake remaining, a blend I’d not tried before. The label read like something I would enjoy:
I purchased that tin and one of Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader, the only other new-to-me blend they had left, and a new Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipe, another suggestion I’d made, and headed home.
The tin note of the University Flake was very pleasant: pure tobacco, slightly hay-like and earthy. The flakes were very attractive, mostly dark with specks of lighter browns dispersed in them. They were very damp, wet would be a better word actually. But I like to try all blends as they come at least once; I remember hearing someone in the industry suggesting this so as to experience the smoke as the blender intended it to be. If I’m not satisfied with the experience, the next time I smoke the blend I will dry it out to my preference.
I folded and stuffed the flake then charred it. Immediately I got a strong, sweet taste; I thought it odd to have such a fruity-sweetness to a Virginia-Burley flake. I don’t usually read many reviews before I smoke a new blend; I want my thoughts to not be swayed by other opinions. After the true light the flavor remained strong, something between berries and plums I thought, making me think it unlikely to be a “natural” flavor. I smoked half the bowl, with several relights along the way, before setting it aside to get a fresh cup of coffee – and to take a look at what Tobacco Reviews had to say about the blend.
Relighting the bowl I was greeted with more mystery-fruit as I read up on what I was smoking. It was soon clear that this is a topped blend, apparently a plum flavoring is applied, not a natural one as the tin label had led me to think. Although it took many relights, since I’d not dried it before loading it into my pipe, the blend burned down to mostly dry ash; there was only a small amount of the unburnt flake left in the pipe.
After obtaining this information about the topping and the knowledge that most folks allow for a long drying time – from three hours to a few days – I decided to do some experiments with the blend to see how it would smoke best for me.
I began by rubbing out two flakes completely and letting them air out for about 24 hours. I noticed after rubbing them out I could faintly smell the plum topping as I sat near the drying pile during dinner that night, though I couldn’t smell it shoving my nose into the pile either then or the next day; odd, I thought, but perhaps a good omen. The note was still of tobacco to me: hay-like Virginia and slightly earth burley.
I loaded a County Gentleman with the dried, rubbed out tobacco, using the three-pinch method, a little on the loose-side. It charred and lit well. The smoking experience was better since I wasn’t having to relight so often; I actually only had to relight twice due to inattention but did have to tamp a fair amount because of the looser pack. Flavor-wise I experienced almost the same as I had the day before; lots of fruity-plum flavor with little tobacco taste (though the plum was a little less intense) but no bite or excessive nicotine content. The whole bowl was consistent until the last quarter, which began to sizzle and turn bitter so I let it go out at that point. Still, the dottle was very minimal and not nearly as wet as I would’ve thought.
Later that evening I tried another bowl in a smaller Kaywoodie pot-shaped pipe from the same batch I’d previously dried out using the Frank method. The tobacco felt too wet for this method as I packed it, even though over 26 hours of air time had passed. The experience was short: the tobacco required many relights due to the moisture it still had and the flavor was the same fruity-plum as before. I smoked about half the bowl before letting it go out and dumping it to find the wettest pipe so far.
I laid out a couple more flakes across the open tin the next day for another 90 minutes and then cube cut the flakes with a pair of shears I have for just this purpose. I let the cubes sit another 20 minutes or so, leaving the tin open both during this time and as I smoked the bowl I was preparing. I loaded the cubes into the Country Gentleman, since I had gotten the best smoking experience using it thus far, by gravity, tamped gently and topped it off with a little more of the cubes and small pieces for tinder.
The blend charred well and had almost no fruit-taste, giving me hope for this bowl. The true light brought back the fruit, though in a more tolerable level than in any bowl to this point. Cube cut flakes, for me anyway, take a little more tamping-attention than other methods but if it works for a blend it is worth it; I was about to find out this would be the case for me here.
After a few puffs the plum subsides a bit and I taste the burley and something a bit spicy, almost peppery. After around fives minutes, less than a quarter of the bowl, the fruit finally steps back, but never away, and allows me to taste more tobacco flavor than I have in this blend yet: the spiciness, slightly nutty and earthy burley and hay-like Virginias are all there and they play well together, I dare say even well with the lowered-volume of plum, too.
This bowl, though it took more tamping, needed only one relight, and that was because of my inattention. It burned well, leaving very little dry dottle and mostly grayish ash. Again, it was without bite and a cool smoke without a large dose of nicotine. Without a doubt this was the most pleasant bowl of the blend I’ve had (also the last as of this writing).
I have about half a tin left which I will jar and age to see if that makes the blend improve for me. While the flavoring is too “artificial” for my tastes, the quality of the blend and the easy way it smokes (after finding the moisture level and packing method that works for me) demonstrated how this could be so popular among the pipe community; I can certainly see where for some folks this could be an all-day favorite. While I doubt that I’ll buy more University Flake I will reserve final judgement until the remainder of my tin has aged some and I’ve re-visited it.
The differences I experienced with this blend from experimenting with the drying time, pipe used, and different packing methods is, I think, a great example of why one needs to be open-minded with new blends and not just write-off a bad bowl or three as a bad blend. This hobby is one that is highly subjective but luckily there are innumerable blends available to us, assuring we will find some that fit our tastes, even when our taste differs from the masses.
I’ve left the remaining flakes in their tin, rather than jarring them up as I normally would. I find they are now perfect for me moisture-wise. I still prefer it cube-cut. But the most important thing is the overwhelming topping has subsided substantially, to a point I can enjoy the smoke now.