In the heyday of pipe smoking, around 1830-1970, pipe smoking was a local experience, dominated not by large national or international tobacco conglomerates, but by your local tobacconist. These stores would source single component tobaccos which would be blended in house to serve the customer’s needs. As smoking a pipe became less and less fashionable, fewer and fewer tobacconists continued to blend their own leaf, relying instead upon mass produced blends, often disingenuously renamed so they seem like store blends.
There are a few standalone pipe tobacco shops who truly blend their own, including LJ Peretti, Uhles, Watch City Cigar, The Country Squire, and Boswells. Some of these have survived over a century, some are a bit newer, but long enough established to have their own devoted followings. Blended in house, these micro-batch blends are sold to their local clientele or increasingly online to the resurgent pipe smoking community. Each of these houses has a blending focus or claim to fame. LJ Peretti for instance is known for it’s high quality burley blends and Watch City for small batch flakes and well crafted Virginia blends. Boswells is renowned for both it’s English and Aromatic offerings.
This summer I made the pilgrimage down to the original Chambersburg Boswell’s location. I came away with a beautiful Boswell pipe and a dozen of their blends. The first one I loaded into my pipe was Northwoods, an English Aromatic which has been loved and lauded for years, which combines both of Boswell’s areas of expertise. Below I’ll talk about how well this boutique blend holds to it’s high reputation against the larger blenders.
BULK or TIN: Bulk and Tin
SIZE: Bulk in 1 oz increments, Tins in 2 & 4 oz sizes
BLENDING HOUSE/PRODUCER: Boswell’s Pipes and Tobacco
BLENDING COMPONENTS: Virginia, Latakia, and Black Cavendish
SOURCE: Boswell’s Pipes
Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio
October 2021 – January 2022
Cool to cold days and nights
RELEASE TYPE: Available
SPECIAL RELEASE: No
RESEARCH & BACKGROUND INFO
- Boswell’s started as a pipe manufacturer in the 70’s
- Located in Chambersburg and Alexandria Pennsylvania
- Offers 42 different in house blended tobaccos
- Northwoods is their flagship English blend
LOOK & FEEL OF THE LEAF
This is a very dark mixture, with lots of brown and black leaf in a roughly chopped ribbon of varying widths and lengths. A few light strands present a small visual contrast.
I just opened the jar next to my wife and she says ‘That smells delicious’. More distinctly it is smoky and earthy, like a hearthfire, with an overtone of dates, prunes, dark cherries, and caramel.
LIGHT & DRAW
Packing Style: Single or double pinch
Fire: Cosmic Taco Bic
Northwoods has just a touch of moistness in the jar, but never suffers from it in the bowl.
SMOKE & ROOM NOTE
Northwoods emits an average density smoke with a distinctly oily feel to it.
This is an English mixture you can smoke around company, it has this lovely warm campfire smell with a sweet caramel note.
>> Savinelli 320 KS, no dry time
Caramel-vanilla with peaty smoke. Salty and sweet with herbal undertones. Char and caramel, beef jerky. Light garlic and onions with a dash of herbs. It’s fairly sweet. A bit of vinegar comes through. Fruits, well not exactly, lemon and Swedish Fish. The salt ramps way up, and evolves, taking on a Worcestershire Sauce expression. Lemon, vinegar, and sugar. Oily smoky peat. Oregano. This thing is a saltlick. Caramel. Effervescent vinegar and lemon. Worcestershire sauce, sweet, oak, and a touch of black pepper right before I tap my pipe out.
This is intense. It’s incredibly like an Islay Scotch Whisky, with peaty-smoke combined with sweetness and complexity. The aromatic portion of this blend shows itself some, but I wonder if a bit of drying time might shift the flavor profile.
>> Savinelli 320 KS, 1 hour drying time
Candied lavender and earthy. Vanilla, smoke, and a hint of cumin. Salty, sweet, and black bread. It’s floral but not soapy. The caramel arrives and in spades. It’s very earthy, quite vinegary, and rather salty. It stays with the balance of sweet-salty-sour over floral-earth for a bit. It’s quite Balkan like here as some garlic and onion comes through. The aromatic elements return, strong caramel-vanilla that fold well into the existing earth, smoke, and salt. A pleasing malty richness creates a round center for the high and low notes to hold onto. A bit of black pepper. The lemony-vegetal-peaty notes I expected show up, with cocoa. It’s Ardbeg 10 with cocoa if you are familiar with that Whisky. Grows saltier and sharper, beef jerky and vinegar. The caramel has never faded, though now it’s a background note to the lemony-peaty smoke. The vinegar really ramps up along with the alliums once again giving it that sweetened Balkan feeling. Towards the end of the bowl the sharpness and smoke is tamed a bit, as the caramel-vanilla rise to the fore over the earth, salt, and light peaty-lemony-smoke.
Typically drying out an aromatic of any sort will fade those elements, but a quick hour of drying seems to enhance the caramel-vanilla so those show up in nearly every puff. But they don’t overwhelm the whole experience as the Balkan like flavors also seem to be intense as well.
Next let’s see how a long dry affects the flavor.
>> Savinelli 320 KS, 3 hour dry, which brought it to a crispy state
Lavender and smoky earthy. Musty. The sweetness of the blend is obviously muted. There’s strawberry and vinegar but faint, like music playing from the next room. Vegetal and a greasy peat. The vinegar rises a little bit along with the appearance of salt. The vanilla-caramel comes through. Slowly grows sweeter. There’s some distinct Graham Cracker here, along with some nutmeg, and cinnamon. Little pepper pops come through here and there. Peaty whisky. Stay caramel-vanilla with peaty whisky for a good bit, which works so much better than it sounds like. The sweetness, sourness, and salt have grown but are all about half as intense than previous bowls. Shifts to just Graham cracker and cinnamon for a good while. Then greasy-peaty salt and vinegar for a decent stretch. Then back again. Towards the end it finishes with greasy peaty whisky with a very strong smoke and oak.
I was surprised to see the trend from the shorter drying time continued, even though the leaf was dead crispy it was even more aromatic-centric, with the English-Balkan flavors taking more of a backseat to the caramel, vanilla, and the new Graham Cracker flavor which marked this bowl.
RATING & FINAL THOUGHTS
If you don’t dry this to a crisp, there’s a marked progression from aromatic-english, to aromatic-balkan, to caramel-vanilla lemony peaty whisky. As said before the more you dry this out the more pronounced the aromatic elements become, so much that they overwhelm the English flavors.
While I was not able to one light this I imagine with some more careful packing you could. It’s incredibly easy to burn and it doesn’t bite.
While folks often recommend this as a replacement for the now discontinued Frog Morton Cellar, this not going to satisfy, as that is distinctly whiskey flavored, has no orientals, is lighter on the Latakia, and is more Virginia forward. That is to say Northwoods is much more flavorful and intense. Amongst the English-Aromatics I’ve tried, it’s closest to Sutliff Eastfarthing, but much better composed altogether. In general this reminds me most of Arrango Balkan Supreme, a very smoky-caramel Balkan in its own right, though it recalls to me at times of Hearth and Home’s Blackhouse, McClelland Balkan Blue, Esoterica Penzance, and C&D Engine #99.
0.25 / 0.50 … Craft & Aesthetic
0.50 / 0.50 … Tin Aroma
0.50 / 0.50 … Lighting Process
8.00 / 8.00 … Smoking Experience
0.50 / 0.50 … Personal Enjoyment
COMPLIMENTS & CRITIQUES
A FINE STAY AT THE GREAT NORTHWOODS
If it were not for the forgettable packaging and generic look of the leaf, I believe I’d have no choice but to give Boswell’s Northwoods a perfect score. It smells great in the jar. It burns perfectly. It never bites. It exudes a pleasant aroma when burned. And most importantly, it tastes fantastic.
Before I had my first bowl of Northwoods I thought that Aromatic English were a bit of a novelty, enjoyed by those aromatic smokers who were afraid to commit to a full English, or English smokers who did not want to commit to a full aromatic. Northwoods broke that illusion. This blend has something for every kind of English smoker, from the tangy Virginia and Orientals you’d find in a typical Balkan, to the deep peaty smokiness of the best bruising Latakia bombs. The addition of the caramel-vanilla flavoring is perfectly proportioned and infused in such a way that it is there in nearly every puff, even when dried to a crisp.
After this experience I’m certainly looking forward to the rest of the Boswell blends I picked up this summer, and investigating what the other small blenders out there offer.
SIMPLY STOGIES RATING: 9.75/ 10.0
HOW WE COMPARE
I love reading other reviewers’ thoughts on the blends I smoke – it helps to show that no one review is perfect and there’s always different opinions and tastes out there. Here’s how my review stacks up with reviews around the web.