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10 Strong Pipe Tobaccos for the Full-Strength Enthusiast

10 Strong Pipe Tobaccos for the Full-Strength Enthusiast

Posted by Greg Rosenberg on 6th Jan 2023

Strong pipe tobacco can be the delight of a waning evening, the punctuation to a good meal, even the coffee companion to spur on the day for some. That strength enriches a blend, accentuating how we experience the flavor profile and the sensory pleasures of pipe smoking.

When we hear of the “balance” of a blend, it’s easy to imagine that being a simple matter of what flavors are present and how they’re proportioned. But there's more that factors into the expression of a blend, and crucial to the balance is the relationship between strength and taste.

This list wasn’t assembled to be “these are the strongest tobacco blends out there, try them if you dare!” Rather, they are masterfully crafted mixtures that showcase the allure of full-strength pipe tobacco. Depending on the smoker, some may not even meet one’s criteria for “full-strength,” but I’m hoping it offers some different options for exploration of the heavier side of things.

One clarification before we get into it—strength and nicotine content are sometimes used interchangeably, but understand that "strength" here means something a bit broader. No doubt the nic-hit of a blend factors into its strength, but it's one component. The potency and boldness of a blend are also elements of strength—the body, the weight on the palate. Yeah, it’s a bit imprecise, a bit abstract, but ain’t it always with these things? 

Nonetheless, nicotine is relevant to strength and it's a good idea to come to such blends with some understanding of how to deal with nic-hit.

Mac Baren HH Bold Kentucky 

Mac Baren HH Bold Kentucky Hot Pressed Pipe Tobacco

Type:        Virginia/Burley
Tobacco:     Kentucky, Virginia
Cut:         Flake

Blended by Per Jensen, each tobacco mixture in Mac Baren's HH line means to illustrate the brilliance of a particular varietal with no top flavoring and minimal casing. With HH Bold Kentucky, we have the fire-cured Burley known as Dark-Fired Kentucky on display. Of course, Kentucky is a strong, flavorful leaf that makes for a wonderful condiment. Much like Perique or Latakia, a little goes a long way. But since HH Bold Kentucky is all about showcasing the varietal, a good helping of USA and African Kentucky is blended with bright Virginias. The mixture is then hot pressed to marry the flavors and round out the rough edges.

With HH Bold Kentucky, the grass and hay of the bright Virginia gives the forward Dark-Fired a nice contrast. The overall profile has that fire-cured meatiness, tang, and fermentation notes. It doesn’t offer a complex array to sift through, but a simple, rich fullness that is very desirable when reaching for the heavy hitters.

Peterson Irish Flake

Peterson Irish Flake Pipe Tobacco

Type:        Burley Based
Tobacco:     Burley, Kentucky, Virginia
Cut:         Flake

Peterson Irish Flake is yet another stout blend that’s all about pure tobacco flavor. As per the description, we have an equal-parts mixture of Virginia, Burley, and Kentucky that has been pressed into a flake. Floral, earthy, woody and spice notes abound in the forward profile, rounded out with tart and citrus from the Virginias. This full-body blend is a force—you would do well to save it for a full stomach.

G. L. Pease JackKnife Plug

G. L. Pease JackKife Plug Pipe Tobacco

Type:        Virginia/Burley
Tobacco:     Kentucky, Virginia
Cut:         Plug

JackKnife Plug brought us the first blend in G. L. Pease’s New World Collection, a series that exclusively sticks to “new world” tobaccos, which Pease lists as “fine burleys, flue-cured virginias, perique, Carolina brights, dark-fired leaf from Kentucky, and perhaps some Maryland.” 

Pease attests that JackKnife was the answer to frequent requests that he create a plug and stronger blends—two birds, right? We have the powerful Kentucky leaf blended harmoniously with red Virginias around a golden Virginia core. 

In an effort to give the bright Virginias prominence, Pease employs a novel approach to the presentation of this blend. Only the red Virginia and Kentucky leaf are mixed before pressing, resulting in a layer of bright Virginia in the middle of the plug. With JackKnife, we are offered the complexity with the umph. It is a dark, hearty blend—wood, cocoa, and spice, with quaint accents of sweetness. While the nicotine is above average, JackKnife’s strength owes much to its full-body and potent flavors. 

War Horse Bar

War Horse Bar Plug Pipe Tobacco

Type:        Virginia/Burley
Tobacco:     Burley, Kentucky, Virginia
Flavoring:   Anisette, Floral Essences, Tonquin Bean
Cut:         Plug

A recreation of the original War Horse tobacco. Once produced by Gallaher, this blend was fondly remembered as a quintessential example of the classic Irish style. The Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania acquired the trademark in 2015, along with other expired brands. Then came Russ Ouellette to put his blending brilliance to work, sampling that original mixture to inform a modern take. Interpretations of War Horse, Bengal Slices, and John Cotton blends were created, and are now manufactured by Sutliff Tobacco.

This powerful blend from the tobacco hay days sure does kick. Of course, there will be some neigh say—oh wait, that’s my pun cap.

But really, War Horse Bar is strong pipe tobacco. Bold and earthy with floral and herbal notes and plenty of Burley vigor. There’s an elusive topping of floral spice and Tonquin bean that gives substance to the Kentucky. Not unlike the miscellany of a Lakeland topping, but more modestly applied.

Cornell & Diehl Bayou Night

Cornell & Diehl Bayou Night Pipe Tobacco

Type:        English
Tobacco:     Burley, Latakia, Oriental, Perique, Virginia
Cut:         Ribbon

This list makes pretty clear, Kentucky is often king when it comes to strong blends—makes sense, it’s a great source of power and flavor without the potency of smokiness of Latakia or of spice from Perique. Or so I'm positing as an explanation, but whatever the reason, there’s a trend here, but certainly not a rule. Case and point, Bayou Night.

Cornell & Diehl Bayou Night is a modern classic from the great Craig Tarler—a varietal-party that packs the house and yet somehow all involved have the tact not to step on one another's toes. This is pipe tobacco that doesn’t shy from being as complex as it is hearty. Perique provides fig and pepper in abundance against a base of Burley and red Virginia with accents of Oriental spice and smoky Latakia, the latter quite mildly present. The "English" label here is one of those, well, close enough categorizations. Bayou Night has a style all its own. 

Gawith, Hoggarth & Co. Kendal Kentucky

Gawith Hoggarth & Co Kendal Kentucky Pipe Tobacco

Type:       Burley
Tobacco:    Kentucky
Cut:        Shag

Gawith, Hoggarth & Co.'s Kendal Kentucky is a great, strong pipe blend to have on hand both to give a blend an interesting something extra, or to smoke alone. You'll certainly want to have a decent nicotine tolerance smoking this one straight, but peppering a blend one finds a bit too docile is one of the nice things about having some powerful tobacco around. Kendal Kentucky is a blend of pure Kentucky tobacco sourced from several African countries (Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania). Woody, toasty, and nutty—Kendal Kentucky delivers full-strength and flavor with a super pack-friendly shag cut.

Cobblestone Kentucky Plug

Cobblestone Brick Kentucky Plug Tobacco

Type:        Burley Based
Tobacco:     Kentucky, Virginia
Cut:         Cake

Quite a few of these offerings from Cobblestone have been proving to be secret gems. The rather recently established brand (manufactured at the Sutliff or Kohlhase & Kopp factories depending on the series) doesn't have the brand recognition as some of the major players out there, but blends like English Plug, Hiking, and Knight (to name a few) show they can sure hang with 'em. Kentucky Plug is certainly further evidence to the point.

High grade Virginias are mixed with a good portion of Dark-Fired Kentucky before being pressed into a cake (plug, cake—the light between these terms is ever dimming, but this is a pretty loose brick).

Floral, woody, and smoky notes take the lead, backed up by a bit of tang. Quality Virginias are blended as a base offering dark fruit and some brighter, grassy notes, playing an effective role in soothing the potential rough edges of the Kentucky without dulling the vibrancy. 

Kentucky Plug is on the strong side but it isn’t a bear, so I thought it would make a good inclusion on this list. If you’re interested in strong blends but feel unsure where your tolerance is, Cobblestone Kentucky Plug is an excellent place to test the waters. 

Rattray's Stirling Flake 

Rattray's Stirling Flake Pipe Tobacco

Type:        Virginia/Burley
Tobacco:     Burley, Kentucky, Virginia
Cut:         Flake

When production of Peterson pipe tobaccos moved from Kohlhase & Kopp, a handful of Rattray's blends popped up that are rumored to be reworkings of some of those Peterson tobaccos. Apparently, Stirling Flake is a tweaked version of the previously listed Irish Flake. 

This pristine flake delivers a wonderful bouquet; anise, earth, spice, smoky, a little fruit and tang from Virginia and some nuttiness from the Burley. To me, the Kentucky and Burley stand out a bit more than with Irish Flake. There's a lot of flavor but from light to finish, it's a constant, rather straightforward smoke. One that I quite enjoy for winding down the evening when my focus is elsewhere—great company to a book. 

Tabac Manil Réserve du Patron

Tabac Manil Réserve du Patron Pipe Tobacco

Type:        Burley
Tobacco:     Semois Burley
Cut:         Ribbon

Tobacco has been grown in the Belgian Semois river valley since the 16th century for local consumption, but Joseph Pierret propped up cultivation in the mid-19th century, bringing Belgian tobacco to the wider pipe smoking world. However, myriad factors eroded the country's tobacco industry, and it just about ceased entirely in the mid 20th century. Of the few brands that sustained, none were widely available until recently, when journalist and pipe smoker Wil S. Hylton made a pilgrimage to Vincent Manil’s home in pursuit of the elusive tobacco he had a chance encounter with through his uncle-in-law. The New York Times article he wrote about the experience piqued the interest of the pipe smoking community and led to wide distribution of the Tabac Manil blends.

Semois tobacco is a special varietal. Resembling Burley, it is born of an environment one would assume incompatible with tobacco cultivation. Going through air and heat curing processes, the golden brown leaf imparts a brawny, natural profile. Reserve du Patron offers an earthy, floral, full-body smoking experience. Truly rustic with nuance to sift through. This uncased and dry blend is a curious delight that skirts expectations

Captain Earle's Ten Russians

Captain Earle's Ten Russians Pipe Tobacco

Captain Earle’s Ten Russians, blended by Jay and Louise Jones and manufactured by Cornell & Diehl, is a decidedly English mixture for the Latophiles. This heady blend is no joke in its strength or smoky flavor that is tamed just enough by sweet Black Cavendish. The Oriental component offers a little spice but is a minor player, while Virginia dark fruit brings a layer of depth beyond the Latakia. 

The best strong tobacco blends are those that harness that vigor for it's balance and enrichening of the dark, low, earthy end of a profile. I hope that this piece can lead to some boldly fulfilling smokes for you, but of course, it only scratches the surface. We have plenty of wonder pipe tobacco blends and premium cigars that run that gamut of strengths.