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Introducing the Plum Pudding Cigar from Seattle Pipe Club

Introducing the Plum Pudding Cigar from Seattle Pipe Club

Posted by Greg Rosenberg on 18th Mar 2024

Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Special Reserve Cigars
Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding cigars

Seattle Pipe Club’s modern classic Plum Pudding finds another new format for fans of the Balkan-style pipe tobacco. The flagship brand from the notorious pipe club was of course the work of the late Joe Lankford, one of the first of many beloved mixtures he would gift us pipe smokers. His contributions continue to come, whether taken from the blender’s vast archive, or in fresh presentations of the classics. Most are aware of the several iterations of Plum Pudding and Mississippi River, another Seattle Pipe Club favorite, including Special Reserve and Barrel Aged versions. This time, Plum Pudding takes on a different smoking medium altogether—a premium cigar.

This project to introduce a Plum Pudding cigar was conceived a few years back, but it proved to be a challenging undertaking. However, the mission is complete, and Seattle Pipe Club’s Plum Pudding Special Reserve is now featured in a premium cigar alongside Jalapa filler, Habano Jalapa binder, and a Habano wrapper and available in Toro and Robusto vitolas.

Creating the Plum Pudding cigar

Applying band to Seattle Pipe Club cigar

I first learned of this project in August of 2022, when Jeremy McKenna, the President of Sutliff Tobacco who manufactures the Seattle Pipe Club pipe blends, handed me a cigar. He explained that Plum Pudding was among the filler leaf and requested I smoke it and tell him what I think. I imagine this was the first prototype in this venture, which has seen many developments and two factory changes.

I sat down with McKenna to get the story of how we got from the idea to the reality.

In getting this project started, Sutliff sent Plum Pudding Special Reserve to the first factory that was tapped to develop and manufacture these cigars. Pipe tobacco and cigars are very different products, so Sutliff and Seattle Pipe Club gave much creative leniency to the factory’s blenders to figure how best to formulate a recipe that complemented the Plum Pudding while solving for the discrepancies between the pipe tobacco and traditional cigar filler.

Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Special Reserve

“So, they gave it to their master blenders,” McKenna tells me. “And they came back and we said we need it at different levels of Seattle Pipe Club in the filler because we don't know if we want one percent, or all the filler, or what—no clue.”

The first samples to come back were well-received, everyone who tried one seemed in agreement that a good smoke was made, but the Plum Pudding wasn’t very perceptible. “They only had some very low percentage of Plum Pudding, you could barely tell that it was in there,” says McKenna. “It didn't scream Plum Pudding, but it was a damn good cigar.”

McKenna was aware from the beginning that this wouldn’t be as simple as replacing the filler with pipe tobacco. It would take some trial and error, and the more pipe tobacco present in the filler, the more liable it was to undercut the cigars smokability if adjustments weren’t made.

“While you don't want it to be like smoking Plum Pudding in a pipe, you still want to know there's Plum Pudding there,” explains McKenna. “[Seattle Pipe Club president] Matt Guss’s intent was not to have the most subtle nuance. It wasn’t supposed to be ‘I think I pick it up in the background,’ it was supposed to be as forward as it can be.”

Before more samples were sent, the factory of the first manufacturer was destroyed in a fire. The project was moved to another manufacturer, but that never panned out, which led to the current and final facility that has developed the Plum Pudding cigars, a small factory in Nicaragua.

Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Toro Cigar

They were given the same prompt as the first factory, and eventually Sutliff received samples of five blends, incrementally increasing the Plum Pudding ratio in each one. The results were unexpected for McKenna and the Sutliff team, who initially had reservations about Guss's desire to incorporate as much pipe tobacco in the filler as possible without impairing the smoking performance.

“We smoked them all and were surprised off the bat, because we at Sutliff thought that the ones that have the most Seattle Pipe Club were just going to be too much,” says McKenna. “We just didn’t think it would be a well-balanced cigar. We thought it'd be way too overpowering. We thought that a subtle nuance was the way to go. Even though Seattle Pipe Club did not.”

Eager to settle whether his assumption was correct, McKenna first smoked the cigar with the most significant ratio of Plum Pudding. “So, we lit the one that I think was 50% Seattle Pipe Club filler, and by the time I finished the entire cigar, I was like, yeah, that's the one.”

McKenna isn’t one to smoke a less than satisfying cigar down to the nub out of principle. His confidence in a cigar’s quality comes down to a simple litmus test—whether he finishes it. “I have free access to lots of cigars. If I don’t like it, I won't finish it. I’ll either go get another one or just stop smoking,” McKenna tells me. “Even if it’s an okay cigar, I probably won’t smoke it all.” Further highlighting the implication of finishing the cigar is McKenna’s usual lack of enthusiasm for Latakia. “When I do smoke a pipe, I'm not a huge fan of Latakia. But now all of a sudden you got me smoking an entire cigar like, damn, that was good!”

It seems checking some expectations at the door was a big part of seeing this project through.

Development wasn’t over yet. The quality that McKenna and others at Sutliff attested to was really an appraisal of the cigar’s profile—it was understood there would be more work to do to get the smoking performance right. A general recipe had been decided on, but now the issue of executing it in a well-constructed cigar was presented.

The samples were smoking well for the first half or so, but then the wrapper would start cracking. This was due to the difference in moisture content between the filler and the binder and wrapper. Now, the challenges proposed by using pipe tobacco in significant measure were palpable. 

Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Robusto Cigar

Pipe tobacco generally has a higher moisture content, which the factory addressed this by experimenting with curing. They devised a special curing room where the humidity was brought up more than usual, hydrating the leaf so that the moisture content was more balanced between the different fillers, binder, and wrapper, before being dried down to achieve a more uniform moisture content.

“There's all these nuances that go into it,” says McKenna. “Mainly getting the moisture uniform and the burn rate. And so that's been a trial and error to get those right. It's been a long journey. We feel like with the factory we have it.”

This exciting development may only be the first in similar experiments, as it vindicates a long held assumption of McKenna’s: “I've always been a firm believer that if you were to take very high end cigar leaf—wrapper, binder, filler—and then mix in very good quality [pipe tobacco], you're going to have a very quality cigar. And it's going to introduce different characteristics that have never been done before.”

Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Special Reserve Robusto tasting notes

I had the pleasure of enjoying one from the last batch a few weeks ago, and it was really something. Truly touted that Plum Pudding character, but as a part of a great cigar. However, this was the batch that needed the cracking issue corrected, so what I'm really interested in here is how the construction holds, and if it does, was that Plum Pudding reduced in doing so?

Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Cigar

I can already see just from looking at the foot that there's a nice core of dark Plum Pudding.

The Habano wrapper is a nice oily brown—a little bit darker than I anticipated from the product photos.

Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Cigar

Lighting up, it's not hard to find the mineral, leather smokiness, the dark fruit and currant—Plum Pudding, unraveled onto the palate with the cigar leaf’s cocoa and woody richness. A spicey, floral retrohale is a wonderful attribute. A spice develops, followed by some vegetative notes which subside around the halfway mark. A rye bready body comes through in the second third, the Plum Pudding persisting.

No doubt they succeeded at fixing the construction without compromising that Plum Pudding character. At the onset, I was somewhat concerned I should have cut higher, as the draw was a bit constricted, but it actually opened up quickly and was perfect. From there on out. No touchups, no flaking. 

Seattle Pipe Club Plum Pudding Cigar