by Matthew Tremblay
Welcome to my inaugural column in the Briar Report Magazine. Although you might know me by my You Tube channel, Picking and Piping, I find it easier to articulate my thoughts about pipe tobacco blends in writing, versus recording a video. Another thing you should know about me is that I’m a pipe smoking neophyte. I’ve only been seriously smoking for a few months, although I started smoking on an occasional basis about 20 years ago. As a result, both my palate and my ability to distinguish and identify flavors are developing.
I intend this monthly review to be just that, an assessment of a different pipe tobacco blend. I’m not going to pick blends that are just my favorites or the most popular out there. Most months I’m going to choose tobaccos that are from reputable companies, readily available to purchase, but aren’t the typical blends that everyone else and their brother reviews. Each time I’ll describe the “four Ts” of a blend: touch (or cut), tin (or bag or jar) note, taste, and scent. I know scent doesn’t start with “t” but at least it has that letter in it. Regardless, I will also give each pipe tobacco overall rating out of five. Please remember you are reading my opinions based on my taste. I recommend that you try each of the blends I review and see how they taste to you.
Care to take a ride on the high seas? G. L. Pease’s Navigator is an homage to navy blends, while not overtly pigeon-holed to that style. Combining Virginia and dark fired Kentucky (DFK) tobaccos, it is “enhanced” with a small amount of rum. Some purists might think this makes the blend an aromatic, but I beg to differ. Navigator features just a hint of rum and should be classified as a Va/Bur or Va/DFK (if there is such a thing). I’ve read others compare it too as less potent version of G. L. Pease’s Sextant, or similar to Cornell & Diehl’s Blockade Runner, just with less rum but stronger flavor.
First off, the tin note. I couldn’t help but stick my big schnoz in the tin multiple times. I enjoyed it very much. The rum is evident and provides a nice, leathery sweetness. In addition, the nose affords a smell of dried fruit. While muted somewhat by the rum, the DFK still provides its signature bbq-esq bouquet. Personally, of all tobaccos I enjoy the smell of DFK more than any other.
The mild rum sweetness comes through in Navigator’s scent as well. I feel the room note would be considered pleasant to a pipe or cigar smoker. I’m not sure if a non-smoker would like the zestier aroma that is still present from the DFK tobacco.
The blend comes in a rubbed-out broken flake. The pieces are standard sized for similar cuts that I’ve seen but are easy to break up or rub out even further if you choose to. The moisture out of the container was just fine, but I chose to let it dry out a few minutes before smoking it each time.
My first impression of Navigator’s taste is how remarkably well-balanced the tobaccos are. The rum casing just complements the blend and is even more mellow when smoked than its initial tin note. The DFK doesn’t overpower the blend either though. It adds a peppery spice that starts off tepid, but I found to grow in strength the deeper into the bowl I got. Likewise, the rum flavor dissipated the longer I smoked it. What I enjoyed most about the taste is that I could still pick out a distinctive natural tobacco flavor, despite the casing and piquancy.
While not as prominent as a straight Virginia blend, the more bowls I smoked of Navigator, the more I could pick out the delicate earthiness and depth to its Virginias. Additionally, the combination of Virginias and DFK also gave me a taste of cooked oats. It’s reminiscent of the aroma from the many grain mills and large cereal plant near where I live.
I’d classify the flavor of Navigator as medium. It’s more full-bodied than many other blends I’ve smoke, but I wouldn’t call it bold. Lovers of DFK might be longing for a more dark-fired forward blend. Orlik Dark Strong Kentucky or Mac Baren HH Old Dark Fired, to name a few. Navigator offers a nice alternative or break to those mixtures. I also feel the strength is well-suited for a cigar smoker to enjoy.
One final point to mention is that the tobacco burned really well, to a nice ash. I only had to relight it a one or two times each bowl.
Overall, I give this blend a 4 out of 5. I recommend this to fans of Virginia and burley blends, dark-fired Kentucky tobaccos, as well as those who really enjoy more flavorful, complex tobaccos like Va/Pers. While this probably isn’t an ideal morning smoke with your coffee or even an all-day blend, I think this makes a relaxing smoke for either the afternoon or evening, as long as you puff on it slowly. Remember, as I was once told by a much more experienced pipe smoker, “Take your time and your smoke will be just fine.
Tip of the Month
In addition to my review, each month I’d like to share a pipe smoking tip that I have found helpful. As a newer smoker, I’ve had many questions and have received tremendous help from people in the YTPC and various online sites, and I’d like to pass on some of that advice.
For the first few months of smoking, I opened my jar or bag of tobacco, packed it in my pipe right away, and lit it. Of course, there’s really nothing wrong with that. After hearing for the umpteenth time to let tobacco sit out a little while first, I finally tried it. What a difference. Now I use this method. I put the amount of tobacco that I need to fill my bowl on my tray and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Finding this method helps dry a blend that is too moist, but helps reduce tongue bite. It makes the bowl smoke cooler, and reduce the number of relights.
Since this is my first column, I don’t have any questions to include or answers to share. However, if you have a pipe smoking or tobacco related question you’d like answered, email me and I’ll include one in each of my columns with my answer, or the best answer I can find out from those more knowledgeable than I am.
Last, I need to give a shout out. Kudos to all the brick and mortar tobacconists out there. I can’t imagine how challenging 2020 has been for them. Thankfully they continue to be the backbone of the tobacco industry. Due to the taxes in my state, like many of you probably, I purchase most of my pipe tobacco online. Any time I need supplies though, have a question, or just want to try a good-quality, hand-blended tobacco, my local B&M is my first stop. I have been truly impressed with their customer service too. No matter where you are located, don’t forget to support your local shops!
If you’ve tried Navigator, what do you think of it? I’d really like your feedback. Please email me your thoughts on this blend or my review. You can give me suggestions on other tobaccos to write about. Share a great tip or ask a question you’d like answered, or anything else – to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, while you’re at it, check out my YT channel, and give me a sub.
You can reach Matthew by emailing him at email@example.com or on Twitter @MatthewTrem
His You Tube. channel is Picking and Piping