For May's Tobacco File, I thought I'd choose two pipe tobaccos that are on theme with another blog I was chipping away at through the month; One Decade of Sutliff Tobacco - A Mac Baren Company.
May 2023 marks ten years since Mac Baren acquired Sutliff, or, the Altadis USA Pipe Tobacco Division, as it was then named. So, while I explored the long and recent histories of these company’s, I thought, why not smoke their flagship blends? This month we have Sutliff Mixture No. 79 and Mac Baren Golden Extra.
Sutliff Mixture. No 79
|Mixture No. 79 is a classic American Burley blend with a unique combination of flavors that has been a favorite of many decades. This blend is a classic, and is totally unique in flavor and aroma. See for yourself why so many pipe enthusiasts have enjoyed it for so long.|
Oddly enough, though I work right above the Sutliff factory this will be my first taste of Mixture No. 79. I understand it was widely popular in the decades following its 1933 release, but is now somewhat polarizing among pipe smokers. Whether it’s to my taste or not, I’m always happy to broaden my experience, especially with infamous blends.
The pouch note gives a licorice and root beer aroma.
Taking a pinch and placing it on my mat, the ribbons are cut short and there is contrasting reddish brown and yellow leaf, and just a bit of black. Though not mentioned in the description, I supposed it's Black Cavendish.
I’m a bit surprised by the moisture content. I assumed more wet—a “goopy” Aromatic, to borrow the epithet. But the hydration seems perfect to light on arrival. I’ll be inaugurating this one in my Longchamp leather-bound Billiard.
I notice cocoa Burley abutted by some interesting flavoring. I get the root beer anise notes and liqueur. A soapy floralness and vanilla sweetness.
It's been a while since I've had it, so I may be way off, but something about Mixture No. 79 reminds me of Sillem's Commodore Flake. Not that they're similar blends, but an isolated note the two share. I mention in last September's Tobacco File that featured Commodore that it has "a bit of anise, almost a root beer note without much sweetness," and "...a subtle creamy vanilla hit," so I can see why the association came to mind.
I find a bit more of a woodsy side going along, and the burn keeps consistent and smooth.
I can see where Mixture No. 79 may have stood out as something peculiar yet founded in the palate of its era. I get the impression of a classic over-the-counter (OTC) Burley that's been flavored generously (OTC blends being those, usually Burley-based, mixtures found in super markets, drugstores, or other places beyond the tobacconist shop in the heyday of pipe smoking: Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Granger, etc.)
It almost seems to bridge the American trends of Burley supremacy and Cavenidsh Aromatics. But the flavorings don't exactly seem intuitive. It's not maple and walnut, vanilla and honey—it's, well, its own thing.
It's not unordinary for a blend to need quite a few smokes before seeming familiar, the resolution slowly heightening as the subtleties emerge. But there are times when it isn't that there's some great complexity to navigate, the puzzle is simply whether it's something I like. When it comes to peculiarities, the difference between off-putting and delightful can be a little experience. Mixture No. 79 is certainly a distinct flavor, and that often takes some experience to really locate my own impression.
Smoking now in my first pipe, a Molina Barasso Billiard, I haven't noticed any correlation between factors like pipe size or material and taste. Sometimes I do find this to be more OTC-cocoa-Burley-centric, somewhat like Sutliff Ready-Rubbed Match, but not totally without the anise, fruity, floral, sweet topping. Sometimes the topping is more forward, and sometimes one constituent of that bouquet is more vibrant than expected. I assume the "why" is a matter of my own palate.
I can see why Mixture No. 79 would seem like a polarizing you-love-it-or-hate-it blend. I mean, it's not all that different from licorice in that regard, or the smell of gasoline. It also makes sense that 79 was prominent at a time when these flavors were probably more represented in general—not just in tobacco, but in the treats I imagine aren't commonly stocked in most of today's candy aisles, but perhaps the Cracker Barrel gift shop.
Acclimating further to Mixture No. 79, I'm finding myself enjoying it more and more.
Though, after this pouch, I don't expect I'll be returning to it regularly, but that's more to do with broader preferences. Aromatics aren't so represented in my routine smokes, and when they are, they're usually teetering on that edge of Aromatic and another category.
None-the-less, I'll be packing from what's left when the mood strikes. I'm interested in how I'll feel about the topping when returning to Mixture No. 79, not as total strangers, but some time removed from the repetition of smoking it this month. Sometimes that's just not so conducive to experiencing a blend, especially when it's a style I wouldn't smoke that regularly even as a favorite.
For Fans of...
Instead of giving blend names here, I'll just say, if you like OTCs and you like Lakelands and the idea those colliding stirs any feeling in you between keen and curious, this might be your niche.
Mac Baren Golden Extra
|Since Golden Blend was introduced in 1952 it has gained many, many fans all over the world - and rightly so. The special selected brown Burley tobaccos, mixed with just a touch of golden Virginia, are carefully pressed and stored. The large slices are cut and partly rubbed up, which gives a cool burn.|
Golden Blend (or Golden Extra as it's named in the States) was the first Mac Baren blend when it was released in 1952. Granted, "Mac Baren" as we know the company, was Harald Halberg Tobacco Factories at the time. Mac Baren was the name of the brand of tobaccos that garnered such popularity, the company took on the name in 1995.
Although Golden Extra kicked off the Mac Baren brand, The Solent Mixture is actually the earliest blend still in production. It was released in 1950 by Harald Halberg Tobacco, two years before the Mac Baren brand was launched, but it was inevitably absorbed into it. However, it was Golden Extra, created by Jørgen Halberg upon his return from studying tobacco in the US, that set the trajectory of a global staple in pipe tobacco, with Mac Baren Mixture, released in 1958, truly solidifying the brand's success.
To be honest, Mixture is probably more of the Mac Baren flagship—its success inextricable from the company's—but Golden Extra is also crucial and fits my theme here. And frankly, though it's not a rule, I like writing about blends I'm less acquainted with for the column, and I know very well I'm a big fan of Mixture.
This particular tin is from August 2021, a year and nine months back. Not uncommon to get a tin of Mac Baren with some age on it, which is always a nice perk.
I break the seal and remove the lid and paper liner, then fluff up the ready-rubbed strands, as the tin was packed tight.
After a little airing out, I take in the tin note. A dry, natural aroma—nutty and woody with light grassiness.
The ready-rubbed is nearly ribbons and doesn’t need any further breaking down, unless it’s one's preference. Seems to be perfectly hydrated to smoke immediately, so I pack an estate pipe I recently spruced up for the inaugural bowl, a Schoenleber Prince.
First I’ve ever heard of the brand but it's a handsome pipe. A look at the Pipedia page relays that Louis Schoenleber was an Austrian pipe maker who immigrated to New Jersey. He opened a shop in Newark in the 1920s, perhaps closing in the 1960s.
First thing I notice are bready and molasses notes over nutty Burley.
Smoking on, the cocoa aspect rises and I get a bit of that feeling in that chocolate feel back on the palate.
As I get more familiar, some subtleties come into view. The Virginia is grassy, hay, and slightly woody. Very natural and underscoring the Burley and cocoa topping’s more forward role here.
The burn rate has been perfect. In my experience, Mac Baren blends have never been uniquely prone to bite as some attest, but Golden Extra seems especially amenable; over-stoking would take an active effort. But keeping a mellow cadence, the smoke is nice and voluminous.
Most of my notes from the ensuing smokes don't stray much from my initial impression. Mac Baren Golden Extra is a consistent and straight forward smoke. Toasty baked bread and nutty, light honey sweetness, and Virginia grass and citrus. Probably most forward is that cocoa flavor, but it has a natural character and has a role in serving the tobacco, not covering it.
Golden Extra also has a place in the OTC realm. If Mixture No. 79 is an eccentrically flavored defector somewhere between OTC and generously topped Aromatics, then I'd say Golden Extra is more between the OTC style and Burley flakes like Wessex Burley Slices and Cobblestone Hiking—sparingly flavored and leaning natural.
I should note, I mentioned in the first entry that over-stoking Golden Extra "would take an active effort." Though the tobacco had a smoke-ready moisture content out of the tin, I did smoke some after drying further, as I always want to approach a blend I'm familiarizing myself with from a few angles. While I still had no problem with bite, it burned a bit quick and flavor seemed to be lost. After a couple instances of that, I just kept pulling from the tin. It may take me some time to get through the remainder of the 3.5 oz tin, so I'll probably jar Golden Extra soon to keep it sealed with that perfect hydration.
Until Next Time...
I think I ought to consider more angles for picking Tobacco File blends and cigars around themes of sorts. The blog I linked at the top of the column was one of my favorites to research and write, and it was interesting having these blends relate to a topic I was currently in the weeds of.
As always; feedback, advice, requests, corrections, friendly hellos—email@example.com.