Paradoxical closes out this first collaboration between Per Jensen and Sutliff with a tobacco blend that includes the bold Rustica leaf. Each mixture in the series features one or more rare tobaccos. Of these, Katerini Perique, was a complete novelty, which debuted in the first and penultimate blends of the series—Uno and Anomalous. Rustica and the other rarities are uncommon, though not without precedent in a blender's arsenal.
To go a little deeper, you can check out my write-up on the making of Sutliff's Birds of a Feather series.
Sutliff - Paradoxical (Birds of a Feather)
|Paradoxical offers Burley complemented by the rare Rustica leaf. Supported by sweet Virginias, nutty notes are accented with underlying cocoa, characteristic of fine Burley tobacco. The stout Rustica then offers spice and earthy notes, bringing a bold character to the flavor and body.|
I first smoked Paradoxical with the rest of the series in January 2021 when the blends were developed. I held onto a sample of each from this time, and split each sample in two—half of each cellared, the other half on deck. However, my sample of Paradoxical was small and, being the furthest from release, I knew wouldn't last long, so I went ahead and spread it best I could. All this to say, I'm not going in totally fresh, but my familiarity is limited.
With these blends, it’s been my custom to write my first column entry alongside my first smoke from the tin, but I actually enjoyed that first-tin experience a few nights from the time I'm writing this, at the Chicago Pipe Show. I even kept to tradition, having my first smoke in my Georg Jensen Granat. Of course, there was too much merrymaking to concern myself with notetaking there, but I did go ahead and grab a quick, crude picture for this column.
That first smoke wasn't actually from my tin, I got mine upon returning to Richmond. So, it's time to break the seal and dig into the final instalment of the Birds of a Feather series—Paradoxical.
We have a classic Sutliff crumble cake—slabs as I think of them—medium to dark brown, with some bright and dark mottled through.
I get orange peel from the tin note, in a natural way. Leaning to tart and woodiness with an undertone of the fruit.
The cake breaks apart easily, and into a confetti of small to medium flakes of ribbon. Paradoxical is well-hydrated out of the tin, but not too moist to get a smoke out of now.
Once broken down, that dark, glossy leaf—the Rustica I imagine—seems in higher portion than I thought from the cake.
For this smoke, I've packed up my Old West Briar bent Billiard, a wonderfully petite tobacco pipe I brought home from Chicago the other weekend.
Immediately there’s Virginia citrus and tart and bready, toasty notes. A minute or so in, that nutty Burley comes about in higher resolution. There’s a weight that settles in and a pinch in the sinuous, which I imagine is a collaboration between the Rustica and Burley. I make out some of the Rustica earth and light-BBQ, but it seems to bring body and play more of a sensory role than lending to the flavor.
I don’t recall quite the Virginia focus I'm getting from this smoke, so I’ll be interested to see how it does or doesn’t align with my developing impression. Though not the same boldness and strength of Mac Baren HH Rustica, I feel those robust, earthy qualities had more of a say in previous smokes. At 15.87mm, the Old West Briar has the second most narrow chamber of all my pipes, so that could very well be a factor in how Paradoxical expresses here.
The ostensible correlation I find in how a given blend might smoke this way in a wide chamber and that way in a narrow one usually feels flimsy. When I notice the pattern, there's usually some pairing that inevitably challenges it. That's just how it is when so many variables have a say. But as for my experience with Paradoxical so far, the pipe size has been a reliable determiner of how the profile leans.
From a wider bowl, I get more from the Rustica and Burley. It need not be an especially large chamber. I started with a bent Brandy with an 18.84mm diameter (I know it's all relative—this is roughly a couple steps from the medium to wide side for my pipes) and have tasted Paradoxical in larger sizes from there.
I neglected to take a picture at the time, but the one above from the column on Eccentric (the fourth Birds of a Feather blend) shows the pipe in question, a Captain Kidd bent Brandy.
Save for in my especially narrow chambers, I find the Burley prominent and upfront, bready and woody. The Virginias aren't absent, still providing a necessary sweetness and imparting those grass and citrus notes as well as dark fruit. Traces of that Sutliff Red Virginia vinegar wade in the background, a nice complement to the Rustica.
I also pick up on the caramelized sweetness of stoved Virginia, though as I've gotten more familiar, this seems consistently noticeable, regardless of the pipe used. It makes sense that it's not merely Rustica making up the darker leaf in this mix, though it is far more noticeable in the larger pipes. The Rustica brings woody, vegetative notes and I get a mushroom umami undertone from it.
Be ready for a decent nic hit, even if it doesn't show at first blush—in the medium-full range I'd say. Some hearty mixtures land with authority on the char light, Paradoxical opens up.
Packing up my Meerschaum bent Billiard—my narrowest chamber—Paradoxical very much plays like a bready, somewhat bright Virginia/Burley blend. Still a nice smoke with some strength, and the Rustica seems to pull through in the profile from time to time, but ultimately, I find Paradoxical much more interesting in my larger bowls.
Also, if I may point out, this meerschaum is starting to look like a bit of a toasty marshmallow on the shank and face of the bowl, which has me excited. I have one other meerschaum pipe and it doesn't color at all.
Until Next Time...
Seeing the last Birds of a Feather mixture off is exciting, but a bittersweet chapter to close. But after all, it is just one chapter in the collaboration between Per Jensen and Sutliff Tobacco. The next series is already blended and will see its first launch this summer. Next up: Pipe Force.
As always; feedback, advice, requests, corrections, friendly hellos?—email@example.com.