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Exploring Bright Leaf - 9 Great Virginia Blends to Try

Exploring Bright Leaf - 9 Great Virginia Blends to Try

Posted by Greg Rosenberg on 5th Jul 2023

Table of Contents

  1. Mac Baren - HH Pure Virginia
  2. Peter Stokkebye PS 402 Luxury Twist Flake
  3. Sutliff 507c Virginia Slices
  4. Escudo Navy De Luxe
  5. Cornell & Diehl Bayou Morning Flake
  6. G. L. Pease Telegraph Hill
  7. Cobblestone Outdoors Hunting
  8. Rattray's Old Gowrie
  9. Peterson Irish Whiskey

What is Virginia Tobacco?

Virginia tobacco is a commercial term for sub-strains of the species Nicotiana tabacum that are (usually) flue-cured, resulting in a higher sugar content than other sub-strains in the species. 

Virginia tobacco does originate from the mid-Atlantic region of the United States that we now know as the state of Virginia (or Commonwealth if we want to be pedantic), but at the time of its early cultivation, it was the colony of Virginia. Colonists smoked and cultivated  Nicotiana rustica, a very bold, harsh variety of the Nicotiana family that natives smoked. However, Spanish tobacco had begun to garner favorability for its more agreeable flavor and less harsh qualities—this was of the species N. tabacum.

John Rolfe secured seeds from Trinidad and began farming Nicotiana tabacum in the rich soil near the James River. The resulting crop became immensely popular. However, it’s the innovations to curing and tobacco cultivation that have developed over the centuries that have given us the sweet, versatile leaf we know today. Though still grown in the southeastern US, Virginia is cultivated in many countries around the world including Zimbabwe, Brazil, Malawi, India, and China.

Again, “Virginia” is more often used as a commercial term for what those on the agricultural side would call Bright leaf. But in pipe tobacco, “bright” usually takes a more narrow meaning. Bright (or Yellow) Virginia, Orange Virginia, and Red Virginia are all approximations along a spectrum of Virginia characteristics. Stalk position and when the leaf is harvested factor into how the leaf is graded by the farmer and ultimately categorized by the blender. 

The "Bright" end of the spectrum is lighter colored and milder, most often attributed with citrus and grass flavor qualities. Reds are dark and deeper with wood, earth, dark fruit, and fermented notes associated. However, the growing conditions and curing method play a huge role in the individual characteristic of a crop, so this "spectrum" is useful for sorting, but even crops categorized the same will have unique attributes.

This is all to make the point that Virginia tobacco is incredibly versatile—it's no surprise it's used in some measure in most every blend. Whether a main player, base component, or a light complement to the other flavors, Virginias are crucial to the blender's arsenal. What's more, there’s just as much diversity in what we might call a “Virginia blend” as there is in the varietal itself. So, we’re going to look at some of the best Virginia pipe tobaccos to try. I'll be choosing a few from different Virginia sub-families, starting with straight Virginias.

Straight Virginia

A straight Virginia blend is exactly as the name suggests, a  pipe tobacco mixture of only Virginia leaf. But as we touched on in the introduction, there is a great deal of diversity in Virginia tobacco, so these blends are indeed blends—i.e., a recipe, not just a single blending component. Some may be mixed in such a way that showcases a balance of Virginias across the spectrum, or alternatively, may lean into the light or dark characters. Grades of Virginia are scrupulously chosen and ratioed, and casing is applied to play to the best attributes of the Virginia leaf.

Mac Baren - HH Pure Virginia

Mac Baren HH Pure Virginia Hot Pressed Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia
Cut Flake
Strength Medium
Flavoring None

Through the talents of master blender Per Jensen,  Mac Baren introduced the HH series in 2006 as an embrace of tobacco’s natural character. Blends in this series have no top flavoring and minimal casing, just enough to soothe and bring out the natural leaf’s best qualities. A good place to start for our dive into the Virginia style.

HH Pure Virginia was released in 2015 to showcase Virginia tobacco’s natural flavor and sweetness. The familiar fruit, tang, and citrus all come into effect with grassy and hay notes accenting, mellowed and melded in the hot-pressing process. HH Pure Virginia offers a delightfully smooth Virginia experience that is mildly complex, presenting a broad view of the flue-cured leaf. But even so, it is straightforward and consistent, very much fulfilling the HH series ambition. 

Peter Stokkebye - PS 402 Luxury Twist Flake

Peter Stokkebye PS 402 Luxury Twist Flake Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia
Cut Flake
Strength Mild - Medium
Flavoring Sweet, Caramel

Manufactured by Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG), the  Peter Stokkebye brand offers some of the most highly appreciated Virginias in several styles. In addition to PS 402, the Luxury Flake line includes Navy and Bullseye Flake—two excellent VaPers.

Luxury Twist Flake, however, is a pure blend of Virginias with a light top flavoring that wonderfully plays to the inherent character of the flue-cured leaf. Fine Virginias from the US and Zimbabwe are blended and hand-rolled before being cut into a unique and pristine flake. Luxury Twist Flake brings honey sweetness and toasty bread notes front and center with accents of dried fruit atop a woody base. Some equate bulk with less quality, but the Luxury Flakes definitively contradict the premise. I recommend any nascent Virginia fans explore their taste with some of these quality and affordable  bulk options.

Sutliff 507C Virginia Slices

Sutliff 507C Virginia Slices Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia
Cut Flake
Strength Mild
Flavoring None

Getting that fine, perfectly pressed flake that doesn’t crumble easily takes particular equipment.  Sutliff Tobacco Company, not having the necessary pressing capabilities, collaborated with Orlik to create a Sutliff straight Virginia flake. The result was Sutliff 507C Virginia Slices, produced by Mac Baren since 2013 with their acquisition of the Altadis Pipe Department.

Another great bulk option, Virginia Slices present an especially natural Virginia experience. The sweetness is there, but less underscored by added top flavoring as it is with Luxury Twist and some other prominent straight Virginias. The Bright Virginias here evoke more of the herbal, lightly woody, citrusy side of the leaf. Virginia Slices reminds me of Orlik Golden Sliced with an attenuated sweetness (and without the minimal Perique, of course). Both have this naturally herbal spice quality about them.

Virginia/Perique (VaPer)

There’s no varietal that doesn’t work with Virginia tobacco, but the emulsion of the flue-cured leaf spiced with Perique has ascended to a subgenre of its own. Perique is a unique tobacco in  how it is processed. Having been barrel fermented for one to two years, it is a special condimental tobacco with a dynamic character. A little goes a long way, but the abutting flavors in a mixture and the ratio added can bring out totally different sides of the rich, complex leaf noted for its pepper, spice, plum, and umami qualities.

Escudo Navy De Luxe

Escudo Navy De Luxe Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia, Perique
Cut Coins
Strength Medium
Flavoring None

Escudo Navy De Luxe is a legendary tobacco with a long history. First made by Cope Bros & Co in Liverpool in the early 1900s, Escudo would go on to Gallaher, A&C Petersen, Orlik, and finally STG, where it is manufactured today in Denmark.

Escudo is the quintessential VaPer blend. The original Navy cut sees twisted rope tobacco sliced into immaculate golden-brown coins. For lovers of a full-body Virginia, Escudo layers tangy, figgy Virginias with a good portion of Perique spice—enough that the Louisiana condiment is a major player, but not so much it overpowers the dynamic profile. 

Cornell & Diehl - Bayou Morning Flake

Cornell & Diehl Bayou Morning Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia, Perique
Cut Broken Flake
Strength Medium - Strong
Flavoring None

To a VaPer lover like me, Bayou Morning Flake is among  Cornell & Diehl’s best, and with a selection as large and varied as theirs, that’s saying something.

Blended by Bob Runowski, Bayou Morning Flake offers a Perique-heavy mixture—in fact, it’s not often we know the ratios of blends, but the label proudly touts Perique’s 25% share in Morning Flake. Even still, the Red Virginias are vibrant and offer a lot of flavor. This is a VaPer with grit, leaning into the tangy, zesty, fermented side of the Virginia sub-family. However, delightful lemony citrus notes accent for a full experience across the palate. For those in the early exploration of VaPers, this may be one to work up to. But you never know, many  beginner pipe smokers take to the spice quickly. 

G. L. Pease - Telegraph Hill

G. L. Pease Telegraph Hill Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia, Perique
Cut Ribbon
Strength Medium
Flavoring None

No doubt  G. L. Pease would have a place on this list, the difficulty was just choosing one (I should say up top, every lover of straight Virginias should try Union Square). However, Telegraph Hill is one that has really grabbed me lately. Telegraph Hill was released in 2005 as part of the Fog City Selection, a collection of blends that are built from a refined base of Virginias, atop which carefully chosen tobacco spices and accents.

In this case, we have Perique added to the Fog City resident. Earth, wood, and dark fruit notes from the Virginias make for a rich and flavorful base. The Perique embellishes with spice and a somewhat savory quality. “Each sip builds upon the last,” reads Pease’s description, and that resonates to me. Telegraph Hill offers a view that’s just a little bit richer with each few ascending steps. 

Virginia Based

The diversity of profiles represented in straight Virginia or VaPer blends is wide, but this is truly the miscellaneous drawer of the Virginia sub-families. Virginia based blends are simply those in which the Virginia role is significant, yet don’t fit squarely in any other category.

But even that’s subjective, there are blends that perhaps have a Virginia base spiced with Perique and Dark-Fired Kentucky that many wouldn’t hesitate to call a VaPer. To some, Peterson Irish Whiskey, which I include below, may be more accurately called a Virginia/Burley. For our purposes here, I think a broad, catch-all definition of Virginia based within the taxonomy of Virginia blends makes sense. So, simply put, the following are some Virginia focused blends that play outside the straight Virginia and VaPer families.

Cobblestone Hunting

Cobblestone Hunting Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia, Perique, Burley
Cut Broken Flake
Strength Mild - Medium
Flavoring None

Cobblestone tobacco is a somewhat new brand of pipe tobaccos and accessories that has recently garnered some interest and recognition with blends such as the Burley flake, Hiking, or the sweet offerings of the Aromatic Indulge series. There are a few Virginia blends in Cobblestone’s young catalog that I’ve taken to, especially Hunting. This particular collection, the Outdoors series, comes from German manufacturers Kohlhase & Kopp, though some series from Cobblestone are produced at Sutliff.

Grassy, woody Virginias with a light honey sweetness is the first thing noticed when lighting up Cobblestone Hunting. Burley shyly comes through with natural nutty and hay notes, imparting body to the mixture. The Perique is noticeable and earthy but is included sparingly enough so as not to impede the Virginias, whose role is ascendant in Hunting.

Although not specified in the tin description, I get the sense that we have some Kentucky in the mix, supporting the spice of the Perique with some floral, smoky accents. 

Rattray's Old Gowrie

Rattray's Old Gowrie Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia, Kentucky, Perique
Cut Broken Flake
Strength Medium
Flavoring None

Next we have  Rattray’s Old Gowrie, a classic Virginia based mixture also manufactured in the German Kohlhase & Kopp factory. 

Old Gowrie features superb dark Virginia leaf, elevated with Perique and Kentucky. The Virginias bring tang and earthy tones, atop which the Kentucky accents with a floral, smoky character. Perique is applied just above a whisper, offering a spicy, dark fruit complexity in melodic accord with the Kentucky.

I should say, I try to pick blends that are for the most part regularly available for these lists, but there are a number of Rattray's tobaccos that move rather fast, Old Gowrie among them. If this one piques your interest, I recommend entering your email in the "Notify Me" area of the listing, that way you'll get an automatic message when it is restocked.

Peterson Irish Whiskey

Peterson Irish Whiskey Pipe Tobacco

Tobacco Virginia, Burley, Kentucky
Cut Ribbon
Strength Medium - Strong
Flavoring Whiskey

Peterson’s Irish Whiskey may be more accurately considered a Burley based blend, or some may say Virginia/Burley—it’s just a matter of whose palate it’s alighting on. But the Virginia’s are certainly central to this blend and it’s a great illustration of just how murky our categorizes can be.

The grassy and sweet Virginias seem to speak to the bright attributes of the varietal. They are in pleasant harmony with the Burley, providing nutty and woody tones to the base. The outfit is pulled together by the sweetness, spice, and slight smoky accents from Dark Fired Kentucky and a light Whiskey topping. The topping adds a liquor and apricot overtone that pairs graciously with the grassy, nutty base. Very flavorful, though its lithe, bright and fruity character belies the  healthy nic-hit that develops through the smoke. 

This list only scratches the surface. I could go on and on in any of the categories, but I think that would only serve to overwhelm. But I hope it does provides a useful jumping off point for exploration into great Virginia blends and navigating the wonderful diversity of this tobacco—or for those already fans, perhaps points you to something you haven't yet tried.

Being summer, it's a great time to try some of these, as many find Virignias particularly suited for the warm months. Although I'm a big year-round fan, there is something intuitive about the combination. But whenever you're reading this, it's always a good time to discover something new! Checkout any of our other lists of  tobacco recommendations.