A mainstay in many a discerning tobacco rotation, English blends are not without their disputes. At least definitionally. The story is one of history. Until 1986, England did not permit additives in their tobacco, and so for the remainder of the tobacco smoking world, “English” denoted those blends specifically made in England that adhered to those restrictions. But times have changed, and the language describing English blends has evolved. In modern piper discussion, “English” captures blends that contain a showing of Latakia, Virginia, Perique and Oriental tobaccos.
So, what are a few of the qualities of an English blend? Because a given blend encompasses a range of distinct tobaccos and a given master blender’s vision, the flavor profiles will shift based on each maker’s offering. Some English blends are mild; others pack a serious flavor punch, especially when the Latakia is ramped up. There’s a veritable buffet of English on the market, with hundreds of blends from pipe tobacco titans like Mac Baren, Peterson, Sutliff, Seattle Pipe Club, G. L. Pease, and more. This robust rolodex of heavyweights can be intimidating, but we’re here to help with a quick overview of seven of our favorite top-rated English blends. Read on, and then most importantly, start sampling.
For the literary (and cinema) minded piper with an astute palate, it doesn’t get much better than G. L. Pease Maltese Falcon Pipe Tobacco. A blend suited for smoking any time of the day, your time with a bowl full of Maltese Falcon is guaranteed to be long, smooth, and flavorful. With the rich backing of Orientals and a Latakia-forward flavor that brings to mind premium relaxation time spent around the campfire, Maltese Falcon makes for an exceptional venture into English blends. Pick up a 2-ounce tin to try, but we can pretty much guarantee you’ll be springing for an 8 ounce tin in no time.
A blend for the thinking man, including the veritable American modernist author, William Faulkner, Peterson My Mixture 965 Pipe Tobacco is an exquisite English blend composed of Cavendish, Latakia, and Oriental tobaccos. This ribbon cut masterpiece has a bit of a punch, a lovely nutty taste, and a tolerable room note, but it’s the inclusion of Cavendish that affords this tobacco its ultra-smooth smoke. Veteran pipers who have been at it a while likely puffed on the original Dunhill blend, and we all have Peterson to thank for keeping the glory of this blend alive. Pick up a tin or two and you’ll be indulging in history and just maybe plotting out your literary masterpiece.
Seattle Pipe Club’s original Plum Pudding was blended by Joe Lankford, and many pipers consider it a mainstay in their tobacco rotation. Now, SPC has built on the smashing success of the original with the Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Special Reserve. Still overseen by Lankford’s expert hand, the Special Reserve features a 4-ounce pressed block of Black Cavendish, Latakia, Oriental, Perique, and Virginia tobacco. The resultant offering pairs a woodsy, rustic flavor with noticeable Latakia notes that aren’t overpowering, a fabulous streak of spice, a favorable room note, and a guaranteed spate of relaxation. Get yourself a tin now and see why this revisioning of an old standby has so many staunch advocates in the piping community.
Another worthy stop on our tour of top-rated English blends is Sutliff’s English #1 Crumble Cake Pipe Tobacco. Overseen by Carl McCallister, Crumble Cake consists of sophisticated Red Virginia, Burley, Latakia, and Oriental tobaccos. A mellow taste paves the way for the emergence of delicious flavors from a slightly sweet Burley nuttiness and muted fruit to a seriously lovely earthiness from the Orientals. Each tin contains two blocks of this gorgeous age-old crumble cake that is perfectly moist and flakes apart easily. Best of all, this mild tobacco lacks for nothing in flavor, making it the perfect candidate as an all-day selection that is even-keeled while still complex enough to keep your interest.
Another exceptional offering from Peterson, Nightcap is a hold steady for the discerning piper. Robust in flavor and powerful in profile, and with a gorgeous tin to boot, smoky Latakia, spicy Perique, and lighter Virginia tobaccos combine for an optimal winddown smoke after a meal, or at the end of the day with your libation of choice. Like My Mixture 965 above, Nightcap was originally a Dunhill blend, but when Dunhill ceased production, Peterson stepped in and saved the day once again. Reliable and delicious, it always pays dividends to have a tin of Nightcap around; it’s the full-bodied smoke that sends you sweetly into slumber.
File this one under those storied brands every piper needs to try. Mac Baren Plumcake Pipe Tobacco - Navy Blend first hit the scene in 1957 and it’s been a fundamental blend in the piping community ever since. Overseen by blending master, Henrik Halberg, this blend contains a delicate balance of ripe Virginias, Burley, piquant Cavendish, the perfect subtle touch of flavorful smoky Latakia, and gloriously flavored with aged Jamaican rum. The brilliant result is a medium-strength blend with a pleasant room note, making it a perfect choice as a slow anytime smoke. Plumcake is available in 3.5-ounce tins for starters and 16 ounces when you’re ready to go all in.
Germany’s Rattray's Black Mallory Pipe Tobacco rounds out our list for its unique flavor profile and excellent punch. This English tobacco blend contains Cavendish, Latakia, Oriental, and Virginia tobaccos in a ribbon cut that all work in heavenly harmony to afford a wholesome, comforting smoke with a delicious aroma and a superbly creamy richness. Best of all, Black Mallory has that golden quality of depth and nuance that commands your attention; it’s an engaging smoke, and perfect to send off your evening with its moderate nicotine level. Get yourself a tin—stat—and you’ll be seeing the right kind of stars; English stars.
Touring through the vast amount of English tobacco blends out there is a welcome challenge for the piper. It’s a big mountain, but we’re ready to start climbing. Though English blends contain many of the same tobacco categories and profiles, all blends are not created equal and certain offerings certainly soar. As with wine, the best way to grasp nuance, distinction, and those special qualities master blenders have woven into their masterpieces is in context with other flavor profiles. Intentional smoking, with a smoking journal, a couple of pipes, and a collection of desired blends is the optimal way to suss out the nuances of each individual tobacco. Once you have a grasp on the flavor notes and have identified what elements are activating your tastes, then you’re well-equipped to begin your tour of the wider world of English pipe tobacco blends.