If you read a spirits blog you are unlikely to find a review of Jack Daniels. If you read over beer reviews you will find sparse opinions on likes of Budweiser and Coors Light. That is because these are known quantities, experienced by most anyone who has dabbled in whiskey or beer. Captain Black, a tobacco you will find in drug stores, gas stations, and tobacconists around the world, is the Bud or Jack Daniels of the pipe tobacco world. Yet for just that reason, seasoned smokers, warned off aromatics to start, are loathe to ask their beleaguered Walgreens clerk to pull down a dusty pouch of the stuff, sandwiched between the Swisher Sweets and cans of chaw. Yet the question remains, for pipe smokers new and old: is Captain Black worth smoking? I’ve been in this hobby over eight years and I’m finally trying out these blends. Instead of reviewing a single tobacco I’ll taste three of their more popular blends, Captain Black Original, Gold, and Cherry.
BULK or TIN: Pouch or Tub
SIZE: 1.5 oz, 7 oz tubs
BLENDING HOUSE/PRODUCER: Lane Limited
Original: Black Cavendish, Cavendish, Burley, Virginia
Gold: Golden Gavendish
Cherry: Black Cavendish, Cavendish
The armflap of America
Why can I hear myself sweat?
RELEASE TYPE available
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE 1956
SPECIAL RELEASE N
RESEARCH & BACKGROUND INFO
- Captain Black Original is the best selling pipe tobacco in the United States
- These tobaccos were originally released in 1956
- Lane Limited started in the 1890s in Germany
- Lane’s founder emigrated to the US in the 1930s and reestablished the company in Manhattan
Captain Black has stuck to a basic look for the last seven decades, a solid color background which indicates which blend it is, with a black silhouette of a tall ship. It’s an iconic package that is easy to recognize for anyone who has been in the hobby for awhile. The latest iteration gives us a simplified, almost clip art rendition of the three-master, which gives it a stripped down, timeless appearance.
The pouches are the standard fold style with a bit of adhesive tab that lets you reclose the pouch quite a few times before it begins to fail. The added humectant means you can keep this out for several weeks before you need to be concerned about this drying out excessively.
LOOK & FEEL OF THE LEAF
Captain Black Original is an approximately 60/40 mixture of black to tawny ribbon of average length and breadth. It is wet and spongy to the fingers. Touching it leaves a slightly sticky residue on you.
Captain Black Gold is well not quite gold, but in that direction. It’s a fairly uniform bronze-orange. It is drier to the touch than the Original. Most distinctly its much finer in cut than the other two Captain Black products reviewed here. It’s not shag but this will lead to a pretty quick burn without careful packing and puffing.
Captain Black Cherry is another mix of light and dark leaf, this being much heavier on the side of the lighter stuff. The cut is similar to the Original, but its far less uniform. There are larger flakes in here, with lots of standard ribbon cut, and some thinner strands similar to what is the Gold pouch. Similar to the original it’s spongey and sticky,
Captain Black Original has a rich and inviting aroma of vanilla, raisins, and milk chocolate.
Captain Black Gold is much more natural in aroma, hay, a hint of vanilla, and bit of an ammonia off-note.
Captain Black Cherry is, woof, that’s an intense blast to the nasal cavities. It’s just cherry. Fake, fake cherry. It’s not cough syrup but more cough drop or maybe cherry hard candy.
LIGHT & DRAW
Packing Style: As a codger tobacco I packed each of these simply using a 2-3 pinch method. The finer cut of Gold meant it needed an extra pinch and a firm push down.
SMOKE & ROOM NOTE
The heavy cavendish component gives all of these tobaccos a silky mouthfeel, but the smoke is strangely thin.
As iconic aromatics, you would hope these would deliver on the aromatic component:
Captain Black Original certainly provides the sociable portion of the pipe smoking experience, emitting a warm tobacco and vanilla smell. If you buy a pipe tobacco aroma candle, you would want it to smell like this humble white pouch.
Captain Black Gold smells like cigarettes which you tried to cover up with dollar store vanilla body spray.
Captain Black Red has a cherry cough drop note folded into warm tobacco. This is one of the few cases where the room note is superior to the tin note.
CAPTAIN BLACK ORIGINAL
>> AKB Tekin Meerschaum, 1 hour dry
Starts with some mild sweetness. Rum spices, vanilla, and hay. There’s a hint of vinegar and salt. Lemon, vanilla, spiced rum, salt, mild hay, and now quite vinegary. It settles into this quickly and is very consistent through the bowl. Towards the middle the cinnamon from the rum spices ramps way up. In the last quarter the rum and spices dominate.
This burned hot. It gave me tongue bite. It took a hefty number of relights. But…it was remarkably tasty. I was shocked how much real tobacco flavor came through, mostly in the form of the Virginia, lending the lemon and hay notes. If I could figure out how to tame the mechanics this would be something I could find myself reaching for, particularly when I was smoking around company.
CAPTAIN BLACK GOLD
>> Missouri Meerschaum Dwarf Cobbit, 1 hour dry
Soft vanilla, fruity, salt, with a light vinegar. It’s waxy and a hint sweet. Lemon, strawberry, waxy vanilla. I can’t tell if the nip on my tongue is pepper from the Virginia or tongue bite. It sweetens up with more salt and a strong lemon zest. Settles here in the balance of sugar-salt-sour. Some toast comes in about halfway, but it is otherwise sweet, salty, lemon, strawberry, vanilla through most of the bowl.
This stuff burned effortlessly, a little too effortlessly. It burned my tongue fiercly despite all my efforts to smoke slow, cool, and dry. Yet like Captain Black Original I was quite impressed with the flavor. Again there was genuine tobacco flavor, even more than the original, with a measured touch of pleasant additional flavoring.
CAPTAIN BLACK RED
>> AKB Tekin Meerschaum, 1 hour dry
Waxy. This tastes like the cherry lip gloss my older sister would buy and I would try to eat like candy. It’s not a natural cherry flavor. A hint of sulphur. It’s sweet. After a few puffs a faint vanilla joins the cherry. Sugar water with a cherry flavored cough drop stirred in. Warm tobacco. More vanilla, a touch of cinnamon-raisin. Some spiced rum. About the halfway point the cherry flavor has faded to just a tickle, but it’s very sweet now. There’s also a light vinegar and salt, bringing this somewhat close to Captain Black Original. A return of cherry lip gloss joins in with sugary-vanilla-salt-lemon-vinegar.
I had quite a few relights trying to smoke this stuff. However I received the least amount of tongue bite smoking this out of these three tobaccos. The cherry flavor was not as offensive as the pouch aroma promised, and it melded well with the general Captain Black profile of spiced rum and vanilla. My suspicion is that they soak some light cavendish in cherry goop and mix that with Captain Black Original to produce this blend.
RATING & FINAL THOUGHTS
Captain Black Original has fairly consistent vanilla-rum-lemon-vinegar-hay profile up to the last quarter when the spiced rum takes over.
Captain Black Gold has next to no development, sticking with a hay-berry-salt-vinegar-lemon Virginia profile with just a touch of Vanilla on top.
Captain Black Red had the most dramatic development of these three tobaccos, being very cherry dominate in the first half, then switching to essentially the same profile as Captain Black Original for the remainder of the bowl with just a hint of cherry.
This is the true downfall of the Captain Black Blends. They smell nice in the pouch and while burning. They taste remarkably great. However I’ve not had a bowl yet of any of these tobaccos without having to nurse a burnt tongue for a day or two. On top of that both the Original and Red required numerous relights to coax the fire along. The Gold if anything burned too well, which added to the tongue bite I’m sure.
I’ve not had any of them, but there are fairly similar bulk Lane equivalents for each of the Captain Black offerings. Captain Black Original is based on Lane RLP-6 while Gold is based on HS-3. There’s not a direct equivalent for Captain Black Cherry, but you may be able to blend something very similar using Lane Very Cherry and RLP-6.
MacBaren has a full line of Captain Black inspired tobaccos which are usually ranked higher than the original, all under the Seven Seas line. I did have Seven Seas Original years ago and my general tasting notes are fairly similar but I can note that the mechanics of the MacBaren version was vastly superior.
RATING BREAKDOWN Original, Gold, Red
0.45, 0.45, 0.45 / 0.50 … Craft & Aesthetic
0.50, 0.40, 0.10 / 0.50 … Tin Aroma
0.05, 0.40, 0.05 / 0.50 … Lighting Process
4.50, 4.25, 3.75 / 8.00 … Smoking Experience
0.25, 0.35, 0.10 / 0.50 … Personal Enjoyment
COMPLIMENTS & CRITIQUES
HANDSOMEDLY NOW YE LUBBER.
For a tobacco so ubiquitous, so marketed to the novice pipe smoker, Captain Black tobaccos are incredibly challenging to smoke. They come from a time where pipe smoking was far more prevalent so there would always be someone around to show a new smoker the ropes. They also came from a time where manual transmission was not just called standard but was the standard, when taxes were done by hand, and we were plotting our way to the stars with slide rules. These three Captain Black offerings, the Original, Gold, and Cherry all have lovely flavor but are primed to give a smoker, lubber or rated able, a fair challenge to smoke without numerous relights and a burnt tongue.
Of these three I am most likely to smoke the Original more than the other two, as the mix of warm, comforting flavors and some real tobacco flavor. I think the Gold is technically superior, but it’s lemony-vanilla taste is so close lemony Virginias like MacBaren VA No 1 that I’d be more likely to reach for the latter. The Cherry was not for me, but as my first cherry it was good enough that I’m intrigued to try other, hopefully more forgiving blends in that direction.
In summary for a new smoker with numerous options available to smoke, I would avoid these. For an old hand who is looking for an intro to aromatics, well, again I’d not recommend Captain Black at all. However for those hard up, in countries with limited tobacco distribution, or if you are in the sticks without your tobacco, there is good flavor in these blends, but be ye warned about the burn.