Cringle Flake 2023 releases December 5th at 6 pm Eastern Time
It's that wonderful time of the year—true for many reasons, but for plenty of pipe smokers, Sutliff Tobacco's Cringle Flake tradition is among them. Each year since 2019, we're treated with a Red Virginia flake, using specially sourced leaf.
- Matured Red Virginia (age not specified)
- 2010 Stoved Red Virginia, 2003 Perique
- 2000 Stoved Red Virginia, 2003 Perique
- 2000 Stoved Red Virginia, 2003 Perique
Previous Cringle Flakes:
As for this year, we see that vintage Perique isn't tapped yet. But perhaps that 2000 Red Virginia is, since 2023 uses decade old Reds. The two details really setting 2023 apart are that the Reds are not stoved as they have been—at least partially so—since 2020, and the inclusion of Stoved Katerini, which Sutliff developed earlier in the year with Mac Baren master blender Per Jensen as part of the Pipe Force series.
Sutliff Cringle Flake 2023
|Mark Ryan's 2003 Vintage Perique leads the way for this year's Cringle Flake. Stoved Katerini has been added to the blend combined with decade old Red Virginias to create one of the most unique blends available today The whole leaf is then pressed and sliced into broken flakes.
I break the seal, but not before clocking the delightful tin art by Eugene Falco—a classic Santa with pipe in mouth (as it was meant to be) is a departure from the traditional wrapping paper tin art, and a nice contrast to Krampusnacht's naughty (a recent limited release straight Red Virginia flake from Sutliff). I did like the quaint simplicity of the wrapping paper, but enjoy the change up as well.
Moving on to the tobacco, I find Sutliff slab-like flakes of pressed whole leaf. Honey brown, reddish shades, with dark striations of Stoved Katerini and just a little bright mottling.
I don’t find much of a tin note at this time. A very light woodiness and a touch of vinegar. This is certainly a departure from last year. I wrote in the 2022 Cringle Flake Tobacco File, "...but the first thing I notice is the tin note—I need not bring my nose to the open tin. The moment that seal was broken I could smell the fermented, vegetative, barnyard bouquet from that aged Perique."
I take a few pieces to rub out—I’m a bit surprised at the dryness of the leaf for a Sutliff flake.
Cringle Flake 2023 as whole leaf prior to pressing.
I’m packing up my Rattray’s Marlin—the deep, red wine finish seems Christmas-y enough to get this year's Cringle Flake started off right.
Toasty bread and some dark fruit start things off, but the Perique spice is clear from the jump. Smoking on, that spice rises, as does a very natural woodiness. A lot of pepperiness in this Perique.
Plum from the Virginia comes back into focus with some floral notes, likely from the Stoved Katerini. Minimal sweetness so far. There was some molasses sweetness early on that seems to have faded.
All in all, this smoke has been a lot of spice and wood, and I'm interested to see how it expresses in different pipes. And I'll certainly do a side-by-side with Cringle Flake 2022. With the inclusion of Stoved Katerini, it does follow that 2023 may have a bit more going on, but then again, bold, aged Reds and Perique can have a complexity in and of themselves.
I'll start this entry by updating on the tin note, because that's taken a turn. That barnyard-y fermentation is really on show now. This is something I noted in a recent column on Sutliff Pipe Force VI—a lack of that particular tin note when breaking the seal only to see it bloom in the coming days. Not sure what that's about—maybe how soon after tinning I'm breaking the seal, or something about the interaction once exposed to the air, or my unsophisticated olfactory.
Maybe all three, maybe none, but I know that funk is a green flag for me so it's a welcome development.
As for the smoking properties, Cringle Flake 2023 gave me some grief as I initially struggled with pack consistency. Because it's pretty dry, its not so easy to get down to my preferred ready-rubbed state that I can "ball up" and get a nice not-too-tight, not-too-open draw; it breaks up more so than rubs out. I found it was easy for there to be more airflow than I wanted, but it was also easy to overcorrect and get a restrictive draw. I've calibrated as I've gotten familiar and usually get a good pack now, but I recommend testing the draw before lighting so you can repack if need be (a practice I should really make more of a habit in any case).
Packed right, Cringle Flake 2023 offers a great experience, not too eager on the burn rate and produces a creamy smoke.
However, I do think I'll go ahead and jar up soon. I'll usually wait a bit before jarring a tin I've recently opened, there's usually a decent window before too much moisture is lost. But in some cases, I can tell that any more drying would be at variance with my preferences.
As for the profile, I've found the more I've smoked Cringle Flake 2023, the more I'm getting that Oriental component from the Stoved Katerini. It wasn't terribly concealed initially, but I'm certainly picking it up more now.
I don't even think it’s so much the pipe used as it is acclimating to the blend, as I notice I made very similar notes regarding the Katerini during my prior two smokes, one in my Chacom Star—one of my smallest pipes—and the other in my Longchamp bent Billiard—which is about an average sized bowl for me, with similar dimensions to my Weber Meerschaum Poker that I'm currently smoking.
The opening notes have been fairly consistent smoke to smoke—brown sugar, woody, dark fruit, some tart citrus, and a light spice. That light spice accelerates early on in the first few minutes and that Perique comes up with a meaty, umami quality as well.
The Stoved Katerini seems to bring herbal, vegetative notes, as well as a sweetness that accentuates the Red Virginias, which I imagine is carrying much of the dark fruit and a modest vinegar note. My early impression of little sweetness has not persisted. It's not super sweet, but it's not lost in the darker qualities as it seemed that first smoke.
The spice and earthy qualities bring a good deal of physical sensation, rising through the smoke but plateauing at what is, for me, a comfortable place. Bold but not distracting or eclipsing the profile. At least not usually; I've maybe found an exception in tall chambers (with admittedly only a couple smokes to glean from). There aren't a lot of bright values to Cringle Flake's profile—the opening citrus tending to fade some ways in—but there's still nuance and complexity, which seemed lost in a couple smokes from tall, not so wide chambers. I've mostly settled into small to medium chambers with this blend.
To wrap things up, why not do a brief side-by-side of the 2022 and 2023 Cringle Flakes?
As a refresher, 2023 is different from 2022 in that the Red Virginia is not the same crop as the two previous years, nor is it stoved, and that Stoved Katerini has been brought into the mix. The Perique is from the same 2003 stock. Also, keep in mind that Cringle Flake 2023 was mixed a few weeks ago while 2022 was jarred a little under a year ago. Though, I've dipped into it several times, so it likely hasn't passed from aerobic to anaerobic fermentation in the aging process. Nonetheless, even a little age can make a difference, especially compared to this fresh out of the press.
2022 is somewhat moist and I give it about 20 minutes to dry. Of course, 2023 is ready to go. Although there is much more of that fermented, barnyard aroma to 2023's tin note than when I first opened it, 2022 is absolutely pungent.
Smoking each, 2022 has a more concentrated fruit note that's not so dark—it actually brings to mind Cornell & Diehl's Folklore. It's a fruitiness I can only describe (reluctantly) as exotic bubblegum. Reluctant because I think that might sound like a put down when I don't mean it as one, it's just a niche fruitiness I struggle to describe, but I don't mean "bubblegum" to say artificially sweet.
2023 is more to the earthy, woody side—more nuanced flavor—while 2022 is more up front flavor with that vinegar and a sour note. 2023 has a woody retrohale, while 2022's is spicy but less weighty.
Though I'm sure the ingredient differences account for much of the difference between these blends, I think 2023 was a different approach to the blending in other ways, whether that's casing, proportions, or whatever it might be. Certainly doesn't have the same acidic vinegar as 2022. Both are treats as far as I'm concerned, and though different, I don't know that I can say which is more up my alley. However, I'm definitely curious for how 2023 will be with even a bit more age.
Until next time...
Well, I believe that just about does it for the seasonal blend columns! Quite a few special releases this time of year, but I'm happy to say I will return to doing regular Tobacco Files for 2024—that is, the monthly column where I give my notes on two regular production tobacco blends and perhaps a premium cigar or two. I last did one of these monthly Tobacco Files in May, so I look forward to getting back into it. If anyone has ideas for blends/cigars to cover, I'd love to hear from you.
But as always; feedback, advice, requests, corrections, friendly hellos? Always welcome—email@example.com.