The Tobacco Files - Sutliff Barrel Aged No. 5 - Rustica
Posted by Greg Rosenberg on 7th Feb 2023
A quick column today to usher in the most recent addition to the Barrel Aged Series from Sutliff Tobacco. Barrel Aged No. 5 goes live today at 6:00 PM eastern time.
The Barrel Aged Series in a limb of Sutliff’s Crumble Kake line. Red Virginia, English # 1, and Va Perique comprise the regular production Crumble Kake blends, but every so often we get a barrel aged mixture—a limited release, each with a new recipe. Not only do the tobaccos change, but a different spirit-imbued cask is thoughtfully chosen to compliment the given blend.
The previous 4 iterations:
- Straight Virginia; Apple brandy barrel
- Bright Virginias and Kentucky; Cognac barrel
- Virginia, Burley, and Black Cavendish; Bourbon barrel
- Virginia and Burley; Bourbon barrel
And now we have Barrel Aged No. 5—a base of Burley and Virginia enhanced by the bold and uncommon Rustica leaf.
Sutliff Barrel Aged No. 5 - Rustica
In the early 17th century, John Rolfe procured seeds from Trinidad, cultivating a milder tobacco than the harsh Nicotiana rustica then being grown in the colonies. Thus set in motion Nicotiana tabacum’s dominance in most all tobacco consumption to this day. However, equipped with a modern knowledge of tobacco processing, the hearty Rustica has found a place in the blender’s arsenal, and it now finds a home in our Barrel Aged Series with Crumble Kake No. 5.
Sun cured to retain the leaf’s natural sugar, Rustica is joined by zesty Virginias and nutty Burleys before being aged in a bourbon barrel. Finally, it is pressed into a crumble cake, mellowing and melding the bold mixture. With full body and flavor, Sutliff Crumble Kake No. 5 delivers a rich smoking experience.
Rustica isn’t a varietal we see very often. It’s a species of its own separate from Nicotiana tabacum (which most of our other familiar tobacco varietals belong to). Though eclipsed by N. tabacum, Rustica—a harsh and robust tobacco—has been used in certain niches, such as Makhorka in Russian or Thuóc Láo in Vietnam, but it’s seen a revival in smoking pipe blending in recent years.
Part of what made N. tabacum superior was its comparative mildness, but with all the developments in the processing of tobacco, Mac Baren master blender Per Jensen sought to tame Rustica, mellowing it through strategic curing and pressing. No doubt, it’s still a hearty ingredient, but manageable now as a unique component to a stout blend. Jensen’s first use of the novel leaf was for the HH series, Mac Baren HH Rustica. We then saw it used in Aberrant, also blended by Jensen for Sutliff’s Birds of a Feather series (which includes one more Rustica blend yet to be released).
Breaking the seal of Rustica No. 5, I’m met with almost uniformly dark crumble cakes, with just a slight speckling of lighter leaf. The yellow mottling would be easy not to notice at all if not for the stark contrast against the brown leaf.
The tin note is stout but not loud. It doesn’t burst at the break of the seal, pervading the room like some full-flavored blends. But lean in a bit and there’s a dark, vinous richness—a tangy BBQ note, and the expected bourbon.
Breaking some up, it’s quite moist. Not surprising for a barrel aged tobacco (I know I've been accused of being a bit soppy when imbued with spirit). Things may get a little finicky but that’s alright. I pack my trusty Kaywoodie White Briar and get to smoking.
Okay, "get to smoking" may be simplifying things. There have been a few char lights involved, but now we’ve got a nice consistent smolder.
I’m met with a woody, floral, incense-y forward profile. Some notes of dry fruit—figgy. It takes little time for the Rustica body to bear down. Pepper in the sinus develops as does a subtle, savory smokiness. The bourbon flavoring offers a sweet oakiness that seems to round things out a bit.
I've needed a few relights, but as I keep that smoke going, a bit of the presence in the sinus lays down, not totally docile, but settles and allows me to experience the full profile more.
I’d be interested to try Rustica in isolation. After a big meal of course. Besides its effects to the body and strength, it’s difficult to glean exactly what its flavor profile is having had it in so few blends. But from Barrel Aged 5, I get a Dark Fired Kentucky reminiscence that I also get from HH Rustica, and I wonder if there is something to Rustica that brings that on.
No two smokes seem quite the same with Barrel Aged 5. Not erratic—but leans into different sides of its profile. I think experimenting with different moisture content accounts for a good deal of this. For me, airing out for a little is best. I get more of this tart, dark currant and fig. But too much may lose some of that bourbon—I may still be trying to find my sweet spot for prepping Barrel Aged No. 5.
In general, there’s more to the fruity side that seemed peripheral my first couple smokes. A consistent citrus as well that I didn’t really find before. A Burley and perhaps Virginia breadiness offers a nice warmth to the blend. At the moment, I have Barrel Aged No. 5 packed in my Missouri Meerschaum Dagner Poker, and it’s embracing a floral, woody, cigar-like forward profile.
Something about Barrel Aged no 5 I’ve enjoyed is how well it plays in that liminal space between taste and smell. It’s a floral earthiness that hangs in the back palate/sinus, conspicuous but not so imposing.
Virginia and Burley do very well to balance the mixture. I get a lot of what I consider the “sharper” Virginia notes—grass, tart, and citrus—which are nicely dulled in terms of sharpness but not the color they offer the mixture with the foundational wood and bread of the Burley, and the tangy, vegetative, dark fruity Virginia. And of course, being packed between those bourbon imbued staves has its say on the cohesion of the profile.
As for the strength, it’s certainly heavy—on the far side of medium to full. There have been a few smokes that have had those nic-hits you feel in your gut, but I admittedly didn’t exactly come prepared in those instances (i.e., I should have waited till after dinner.) Not the heaviest blend ever, but could get wobbly if not ready.
I was gonna wrap this up with the second entry, but I decided to do a little side by side with HH Rustic so see how the two compare. I should give the caveat—the HH Rustica was jarred up about two months back after aging for a year and some change in the original sealed tin, which may have given it some time to smooth out.
They are certainly their own blends, but not without similarities. Barrel Aged No. 5 leans more into the floral and incense, with a touch more sweetness. HH Rustica seemed to express more on the tangy, vinegar side, and more of that cigar earthiness. I find the Virginia in higher resolution in HH Rustica as well.
While HH Rustica did offer a slightly smoother experience, it seemed a touch heartier.
I'll certainly set some aside for the cellar. I’m eager to see what some age will do to Barrel Aged No. 5, but I can say right now that in the months to come, when I’m yearning for that robust evening blend, I’ll be reaching for this one quite often.
Until Next Time...
Thanks for reading as always. I can say already that the two blends I'm smoking for February's regular Tobacco File is one of my favorites yet—both blended to the style of the original Richmond recipe.
As always; feedback, advice, requests, corrections, friendly hellos—firstname.lastname@example.org.