After reading more than one post singing the praises of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and learning it was more of a Balkan blend, not a Latakia-bomb, and knowing my general fondness for Samuel Gawith’s blends, I began to watch for a chance to pick some up. The description says: “Bright and Dark Virginias blended together with Latakia and Turkish leaf to make this a cool medium bodied smoke.”(TobaccoReviews.com.)
On a recent trip to my local B&M I noticed a single tin on their shelves and picked it up, along with a new, smaller-sized Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipe; I can never recall the shape names on these smaller cobs.
When I opened the tin I was greeted with a smoky Latakia scent, but not an overwhelming one, along with the fresh-hay-like aroma of Virginia tobacco. There was also another aroma that I couldn’t quite place; I suspect that was the Turkish. The ribbon cut tobaccos were mostly light to medium brown with reasonable amount of black leaf, and a few flecks of a greenish color, reminiscent of a candela cigar wrapper. It was actually a very pleasant looking blend that, for whatever reason, didn’t match what I’d expected – whatever that was!
The moisture level from the tin was perfect I thought. Many English/Balkan blends, in my experience, are fairly dry; I must admit here, though, that I often buy in bulk, not tims, and that could account for that to some extent. This one was, well, perfect: not crunchy nor clumpy-wet. Some might prefer to dry it for 10-15 minutes, and that probably wouldn’t hurt the blend. But I like to start with a blend as it comes – unless it’s just super wet and then it gets at some drying time; the amount of time depends on the moisture level, generally 10 minutes to overnight or longer for the wettest of flakes (read about Peterson’s University Flake for an example of this extreme).
I loaded a bowl into one of my favorite pipes for Latakia-blends: a German made basket pipe in an acorn shape.The tobacco took fire easily, both for the char and initial lights. Nice flavors on the initial light: sweetness from VA, smokiness from Latakia, and gentle zest from the Turkish. Nothing overpowering to start. The flavors danced together, playing off each other in a very nice way.
Besides the sweet Virginias and smoky Latakia, there’s an earthy-herbal flavor that’s a bit zesty in this blend that I like, the Turkish leaf I presume. The bowl smoked cool and evenly, as the description hinted it would.
While the flavor remained consistent with the initial light for about 3/4 of the bowl, the bottom 1/4 or so seems to get bitter in the first, and the next few, bowl(s) I had. The dottle is mostly ash with a bit of damp bits.
I switched up my pipes and packing methods and started to find combinations that worked better. Soon I was actually wanting to smoke this and only this! But there was a deadline for a review of another blend so I laid off of it for a week or two while I was reviewing Cerberus.
A day or so after finishing the notes for Cerberus, with a few weeks in the jar, being opened and closed occasionally allowing it to breath, it was time to revisit Squadron Leader for this review.
I found that this blend has just gotten better with that bit of jar time. The first few bowls, as I mentioned, were mostly good. But after the breathing period there was a seemingly radical improvement in such a short time, and I started wanting to smoke this “rested” blend every bowl again!
I’ve found that an air-pocket packing method, specifically the “Palm Roll“, clears up the bitterness I was getting at the end in the first few bowls and also gives a near 100% burn in every bowl. The blend shines for me in the little cob that I bought at the same time, coincidentally; the sweetness of the Virginia and the herbal-spice note really come out in the more neutral quality of the cob. The Latakia isn’t heavy to start with but really complements the other tobacco in this pipe/packing combination for me. exactly how I like my Latakia – conditionally.
While there’s plenty of flavor here, Squadron Leader isn’t as complex as Cerberus. This makes it a much better choice as an all-day, anytime smoke since it doesn’t really require nursing to get all the nuances from it.
For my tastes, Squadron Leader rates a solid 4-stars; a “keeper”, one to have on hand but not necessarily to cellar.