Hot, hot, hot. The American West started summer with a hellish vengeance before summer even officially began. It’s made doing everything difficult. Places like the Northwestern states were seeing temperatures in some places that rivaled that of Phoenix, AZ—except they actually had humidity. Sagebrush Country where I call home wasn’t as bad off, we’re used to seeing temperatures in the triple digits—well, perhaps a month from now. “But it’s a dry heat…”…but it’s also the Great Basin’s mile-high elevation that makes the sun feel even more brutal. It’s going to be a rough summer.
That hasn’t gotten me down. After switching apartments (yes, in the blazing heat) I have had to adapt my piping accordingly. The new place doesn’t allow smoking on the premises, and will charge me $50 for each incident I am caught. Unfazed, I have gone back to doing something I haven’t in a while: become a piping hobo. I go where I want, friendly outdoor spaces or places where tobacco is okay, and ask for forgiveness rather than permission if it’s frowned upon. Such is the life of today. My focus this month will be on C&D’s “Americana,” a Latakia-light mixture that is predominantly Virginia and Burley. It invited me to ”take a stroll down memory lane,” but usually that takes the tone of a few drinks and random flashes of when I was a child and enjoyed Schwarzenegger’s cringingly fine performance in Total Recall. Regardless, Americana is a nod to classic tobacco, but relevant for those of us here in the future-world of 2021. Join me as I take on what could be called an “American-English.”
The tin is labeled in a contrasting red-white-blue theme, making it appropriate and lightly patriotic for the month of July. Upon opening the tin, besides a raisin-like typical tobacco smell, there’s not much to it. It isn’t unpleasant, it just smells like…well, tobacco. Any Latakia that is included is in such scant amounts, they’re barely noticeable to the nose before packing and lighting. Speaking of which, the loose and fluffy ribbons are of appropriate moisture content, easy to see the trifecta of tobaccos featured; they’re easy to load, pack and tamp to the right draw.
First puffs are an easy light, and immediately it’s an all-Virginia show, or so it seems. On the very back end, there’s a little bit of Latakia that flirts briefly with the experience, followed by very faint classic Burley nuttiness. This is a straightforward tobacco blend, all-savory and unapologetic in its declaration of being tobacco, nothing more and nothing less. Two things were hindering my experiences, the heat for one, as I mostly smoked outside, and the other issue was that I kept choosing pipes that smoke hot. Half a dozen times I dusted off a few briars I hadn’t spent time with lately, and now I know why. It’s always a shame when some of the pipes you love are only good for looking at. It was steady-as-she-goes smoking, and difficult at times to get lost in the tobacco.
Midway through bowls I began noticing a very decidedly “cigarette” quality to the smoke. I could smell it as I retrohaled, as I sensed an increase in a papery, road-tar kind of taste hitting the roof of my mouth and back of my throat. It reminded me a little of Sam Gawith’s Skiff Mixture, but without any of the buttery depth. Surprisingly, there was a consistent bit of bite from what I assume is the Burley. The nuttiness I got in the beginning was being overwhelmed by the cigarette attitude of the mixture, and with the heat, I found myself putting the pipe down more often than not just to take a break. This helped matters a little, but the brittle, acrid smoke wasn’t doing me many favors, unfortunately.
The later-to-end points of my bowls of Americana ended up getting even more bitey. This was with cool-smoking pipes as well as some of the supermodel briars (termed as such because they’re pretty to look at, smokin’ hot, and don’t have much going for them otherwise). This was purely chemistry, and for some reason my chemistry didn’t care for whatever was going on in this mixture. It was solved in part by smoking much smaller bowls. I suspect it’s the post-harvest cure that was used with the Burley, as I’ve had problems like this in the past. The good news is toward the end of the bowl, the cigarette nature calms down, likely from the heat and tamping, meshes the other flavors. The final 20 minutes of each time I sat down with Americana was the best for me, and it was a bit difficult to justify getting there just for that. To its credit, at no time did it get ashy or bitter, and performance qualities were great (despite my choice of pipes a few times).
It’s always a fine line being critical of a tobacco, because I do this for enjoyment, but I also do this for a living. Such cop-outs like “your mileage may vary” I don’t have the luxury of using. To me, this wasn’t a slam-dunk tobacco, and it certainly wasn’t my kind of tobacco. To be fair, it is a quality mixture. On an optimistic note, this could be a great tobacco to let sit for half a decade to age-up a bit, and it might turn into a forgotten sleeper. The American-English mixture trend always has a decidedly low level of Latakia, so it’d probably vanish completely in that time. I’ve had Burley-heavy mixtures from many manufacturers, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed is that Burley is a cured superstar or it’s just basic tobacco. At times it can get downright unruly. In the right hands, it can do beautiful things Virginia simply cannot, otherwise it gets to play host for things like sauces and flavors for aromatics: and there’s a reason for that. This is the first time C&D has surprised me by not making me a fan of their Burley in this instance. Someone will enjoy this tobacco, it just didn’t happen to be me.
Americana is a take on a classic I’d agree, and perhaps it takes 50 years of smoking experience to appreciate something like this. If anything, I’d call this a great “cantankerous old man’s tobacco.” I have some decades before I claim something akin to that title. For now, I’m content with grumbling at the sun and hiding in the air conditioning.