Well the days keep getting shorter, and the nights keep getting colder…and we’re getting older, too. Winter is well and truly here, and so is some new tobacco, just arrived in the post: Mac Baren’s Dark Twist, as well as a sample pouch of Modern Virginia Loose Cut. With so much more evening time to enjoy each day, a suitable companion for the pipe is a must. Mac Baren, as always, obliges handily with their wares, both old and new.
Dark Twist is one of Mac Baren’s stable of truly classic blends developed in the 1950s and 60s (’55, to be exact), a few of which have been reviewed here at PipesMagazine.com—see our write-ups of Mixture Scottish Blend, Roll Cake, and the erstwhile Burley London Blend. In fact, it’s becoming somewhat of a Christmas tradition to review Mac Baren tobaccos—last year we indulged in some Navy Flake at holiday time, which reminds me it’s time to crack open another tin of that blend after this review.
Mac Baren has an unbelievable stockpile of tobaccos and equipment, and the blending knowledge of several generations of tobacconists to put it together like nobody else can. One of the few manufacturers able to produce coin tobaccos, Dark Twist is a shining example of the genre. From the company literature explaining the process:
Whole leaves are used as wrapper for the rope and the inlay is divided into two groups.
The first group contains 100% pure Virginia tobaccos, meaning that the whole leaves are used as wrapper leaves and the leaves with small imperfections are used as the inlay.
The second group contains whole Virginia leaves as wrapper and Dark Fired Kentucky as inlay, meaning you see the dark tobacco in the centre and the brighter Virginias around it.
After the tobaccos have been spun into ropes it is stored for weeks and then cut into small coins. The blend of Dark Twist is broken down as follows. For every 2 coins of Virginia tobacco there is 1 coin with a centre of Dark Fired Kentucky.
Coin cut, spun cut, roll cake, or round flake—no matter how you slice it, it’s my favorite presentation for a tobacco. The process derives from the Age of Discovery, when sailors would wrap their precious tobacco leaves up tightly in sailcloth, perhaps spiced with a bit of rum, in order to preserve it for long hauls between ports. The physical pressure would crush the cell walls and allow the tobaccos to meld their flavors agreeably, and time would work its magic in mellowing the leaf comfortably. The process is mechanized now, of course, but the effect is the same—brilliant tobacco in an appealing, tactile format.
This blend is all about richness of flavor. The Virginias tend toward the dryish, woody notes typical of African strains, while the Dark Fired Kentucky lends additional earthy bass to the mix as well as some strength. Topped off with the Mac Baren signature of maple sugar, the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts. Very lightly sweet and rather mild in the tin, a bit more aroma can be coaxed out of the leaf when breaking up the coins. It’s quite enjoyable to fine-tune the mixture of one’s smoke from bowl to bowl by separating out the coins: selecting only Virginia coins for one sitting offers a sharp, snappy smoke that tingles on the palate; sorting out several Dark Fired centers and packing a large, deep bowl leads to a hearty, meditative session wherein the reviewer’s eyelids begin to sweat from the nicotine. The overall palate and profile is like a red velvet cake, if that red velvet cake were made of leather and dried hay and old wood.
A new contender.
A newcomer to the Mac Baren lineup, Modern Virginia has leapt to the top of my "to be cellared" list. PipesMagazine.com broke the news here in October of its release, and to facilitate introduction to the market Mac Baren has produced 20-gram sample packets, which retailers can include with orders. Billed as Virginia sourced from two continents and blended with a bit of burley and Mac Baren’s Modern Cavendish, topped with a light fruit note, this is a worthy addition to the brand’s pantheon. The loose cut is basically a shag tobacco, faintly sweet in the pouch. It’s easily one of the best small-pipe blends I’ve encountered, perfect for a quick, flavorful smoke. While technically an aromatic blend owing to the topping, don’t be misled into thinking this is of the more confectionary styles of aro. In true Mac Baren form, the flavor of the tobacco itself is primary, with the gossamer-thin veil of topping laid ever so lightly over the profile. For the smoker it is a delicious, natural tasting blend, and for bystanders the room note carries the faint hint of sweetness amicably. I look forward to reviewing fully both the loose cut and flake varieties of this new concoction in the coming months. Well done, Mac Baren, and thank you for the holiday gift.