It doesn't feel like it was more than a couple months ago that I was in smoking tent at the Chicago Pipe Show, popping a tin of Paradoxical for the first time. We were a few short weeks away from its release, marking the end of the first Per Jensen Signature Series—Birds of a Feather. It was at this show that we introduced the next series, Pipe Force.
It feels more recent, but it was 6 months ago now. It's hard to believe we're about to be halfway through this series with the release of Pipe Force Episode VI - Specialist Falfa—going live 6pm EST on November 25th.
|A woody, tangy mixture of select Virginia leaf is elevated with Stoved Katerini, adding dark berry and spice. Dark-Fired Kentucky and St. James Perique enrich the base with earthy notes, pepper, and a light smokiness. Episode VI is a savory, vinous evolution from the natural sweetness and dark flavor of the Virginia/Perique genre. Richness with nuance all the way down.|
You can read our blog for all of the details around this Pipe Force series, but the most important bit is that two tobaccos have been stoved that never have been before, Rustica and Katerini. Each blend in the series features at least one of these tobaccos.
As for Pipe Force VI, we get our first blend in the series to feature only one of these unique tobaccos—Stoved Katerini.
I smoked each of these tobaccos in isolation, outside the context of a blend, and included some notes in the Tobacco File for Pipe Force Episode IV.
I break the seal on Pipe Force VI and find a large crumble cake, though somewhat different from Sutliff Tobacco's usual cake. Not too different, but it leans more into the "crumble" part of the name. It all gets broken down anyway.
Taking my nose to the open tin, wood is most apparent, with a bit of fermentation accompanied by that hallmark Sutliff 515 vinegar, which is subtle but by its acidic nature tends to cut through. All in all, the tin note is somewhat mild.
The loose block begins to crumble as I remove one of the pieces. I rub out a couple chunks into a mixture of ribbon of many shades. Reddish brown and dark, nearly black leaf is especially well represented.
The leaf is somewhat moist but I'll go ahead and pack it as is for the first smoke and adjust from there. As is tradition with the Pipe Force series, I'm inaugurating Episode VI in my Georg Jensen De Luxe S779.
The surface was a bit reluctant to take the light at first. But I give it a few char lights so that I can get things going in a nice even smolder. First noticed lighting up is stone fruit, somewhat berry, with that rounded, caramelized sweetness.
Some of the darker characters come through quickly. The Kentucky is woody and has a wonderful unique spice, or perhaps it's the emergent flavor between the Kentucky and Stoved Katerini.
Perique spice is certainly present, vibrant across the palate, not just a sensation in the sinus and back-palate, but more expressive throughout. I’d also guess the Perique is imparting this umami quality to the body. I also find that Sutliff 515 vinegar note but it’s a fine accent that is subdued in the ensemble.
I’ve consolidated my tasting notes and will cut it here. I always try not to overwrite Entry 1. As anyone who smokes a pipe knows, it takes some time with a blend to really “know” it. This is especially true with complex blends, which this seems to be. I have sampled all of the Pipe Force blends, but I’m not coming to Episode VI with much familiarity.
I will say for the smoking dynamics, after the slightly finicky char light, Pipe Force VI has smoked well with little fuss, but I do feel it could benefit from some dry time—I’ll be interested to vary my approach in that regard.
Well, having had several smokes in various pipes, I can say my inclination toward more drying time was corroborated. I can also say this blend is layered and has offered something different from smoke-to-smoke.
Though I find Pipe Force VI to offer something different each smoke, the only smokes I’ve found lacking were from small pipes. It’s actually what I’m smoking now—one more trial to see if that correlation holds up and, to my experience at the moment, it does. I really love this pipe—a petite, nameless Volcano estate pipe. It has delivered many wonderful smokes, so I do think this is just a matter of pipe-to-blend compatibility.
I notice this with complex blends with a good deal of spicey, dark condiments. The Kentucky and Perique, perhaps more concentrated in a narrow chamber, don’t seem to complement, they seem to define and compete. With larger chambers, the nuance these varietals offer comes through. By "larger," I don't mean my biggest pipes. What I consider my average sized chambers—maybe even slightly under—have served this blend well. A good example is a wonderful smoke yesterday had in my from my Duke of Dundee bent Billiard (36mm depth, 18mm inside diameter).
No big deal, now I know what doesn’t work with Episode VI, at least for me.
Also noticed since Entry 1, I get a lot more of a fermentation, vinegar, barnyard-y VaPer scent from the tin note. I’m not sure if the day I opened it up was just a bad nose day or it’s some response to exposure to air since breaking the seal—but whatever it is, the aroma is stronger than I thought, and in a very good way.
About two weeks in, and Pipe Force Episode VI remains an excellent smoke, but a fluctuating one. With other blends, I can sometimes find some rhyme or reason to account for this—pipe dimensions, dryness, etc.—but I'm not sure with this one.
The stone fruit and spice are central features in each smoke, but seem to rotate in lead like John and Paul on vocals. Sometimes it’s more one than the other, but they harmonize nicely whichever way.
Currently, I’m enjoying a bowl in a new pipe, now my largest—a Brigham Giante. This big thing has a 20mm chamber and nearly 50mm depth, so it’s good for a long smoke to bring this final entry home. Sadly for me, no clenching this monster.
Barnyard-y Perique and spice with tang and plummy Red Virginia were the first things I noticed, which was quite a different out-of-the-gate experience for Episode VI.
It has started out leaning more to a familiar Perique-heavy VaPer, but more of the complexities start to come about, which has mostly been my experience with the first 5 minutes or so of each bowl. This smoke is leaning into the darker, spicy and woody side of things, but natural honey sweetness lightens things up.
The sweetness is tucked in the right places but less definitive as it’s been in some smokes.
I’ve come to notice the Stoved Katerini more and more as I’ve continued to smoke Episode VI. Herbal, floral, with a woody incense sort of spice that harmonizes well with the Virginias. Most smokes—particularly from larger bowls—I find the lightly smokey character of the Kentucky accent.
The strength is medium, pretty approachable but I made the mistake yesterday of lighting up after a meager lunch that consisted of a few pieces of rugelach I made for some Friendsgiving festivities the night before—not quite the nourishment this blend asks for!
Until next time...
In January 2024, we're in prequel territory with the launch of Episode I - MAJ O'Meara. This Pipe Force blend most leans into the English style for this series, but of course has its own individuality, being the first of the series to feature Stoved Rustica not alongside Stoved Katerini (though Katerini that has not been stoved is used as the Oriental component). But before that, I'll have a few holiday blends to feature in the files.
Finally, I'm pleased to say that I'll relaunch the regular, monthly column in the new year, where I write about two regular production blends as opposed to special releases.
As always; feedback, advice, requests, corrections, friendly hellos? Always welcome—email@example.com.