Pipe Tobacco Review: McClelland Beacon

For the Holidays many of us treat ourselves to something a little special. A bottle saved for the occasion. Of course sweets, snacks, and several good meals.  If you go pure Victorian, Christmas Oranges. And maybe you’ll pull something from your tobacco chest to help you celebrate. I’ve broken into my rarities cabinet and stolen out a legend, McClelland Beacon. This is Virginia Perique Flake, crafted from aged Virginia, aged Perique, married, and aged again. It was advertised as a delicate VaPer, just the kind of thing I prefer over a heavy pepper bomb. At least one professional pipe smoker listed it as his absolute favorite and daily companion. Alas, like all of McClelland it is no longer being produced. This particular tin is 10 years old. Let’s see if this – yes Orange Virginia – driven flake was worth the wait.

OVERVIEW

BULK or TIN:   Tin

SIZE:   50 g

ORIGIN:   USA

AGE WHEN SMOKED:   10

BLENDING HOUSE/PRODUCER:   McClelland

BLENDING COMPONENTS:   Orange Virginia, Yellow Virginia, Perique

STRENGTH:   3/7

SOURCE:   Smokingpipes.com, in 2017

ENVIRONMENT

WHERE:   
Pennsylvania

WHEN:   
November-December 2023

WEATHER:   

Wonderfully cold

WHAT’S ON:   
Are those sleigh bells?

PRODUCTION

RELEASE TYPE   Discontinued

SPECIAL RELEASE  N

AVAILABILITY BREAKDOWN
Tin

RESEARCH & BACKGROUND INFO

  • Uses 7 year old, I guess now 17 year old, Perique
  • The tin art, like all McClelland tins, is the handiwork of Mary McNiel

TIN DESIGN

Beacon’s tin art looks like a mid 90s Desktop Publishing class project. It’s even got dot matrix to early inkjet patterning, and a fauvistic illustration of a lighthouse and seaside that looks like it sprang from MS Windows 3.1 era Paint.

PRE-LIGHT OBSERVATIONS

LOOK & FEEL OF THE LEAF
Like all of McClelland Flake, it’s a bit rough and tumble broken flake style. The flakes are moist to the touch and quite pliable. Age hasn’t taken all the tawny glow off, and lighter flecks are the there. 

TIN AROMA
Ketchup. Ketchup. And hmm, a faint hint of Ketchup. Classic McClleland. If you really nose it you’ll pick up some balsamic vinegar, earth, and maple syrup.

SMOKING EXPERIENCE

LIGHT & DRAW
Packing Style:  I tried this out a couple of different ways, rubbed a bit and gravity fed if I smoked it drier, or rubbed to absolute atoms, and packed with a two pinch if I smoked it a bit moist.
Fire:  Bics don’t go out of style here

SMOKE & ROOM NOTE
This might be the wispiest smoke I have ever had. It likes to burn at just a faint ember which adds to that thinnest. 

Smoking Beacon you’ll reek of cigarettes. The smoke has a faint hint of fruit to it, but that’s not going to keep your friends and loved ones close when you’re burning this stuff.

FIRST BOWL
>> No dry, rubbed to bits, gravity fed into the Savinelli 2022 St. Nicholas Prince

Sulphur, vinegar, and brown sugar. It’s rich, very malty. White pepper, light salt, and apple cider vinegar counters the intense sweetness. The spice grows to a fierce cayenne. To quote the CBC adaptation of Anne of Green Gables: “Twenty pounds of brown sugar”. Some complexity comes through, with must, hay, and oak, but the brown sugar, salt, and apple cider vinegar star. All of this sits in the shadow of the intense pepper which now has a jalapeno character, all that heat with a vaguely fruity edge to the spice. Halfway through the bowl cigar notes come through, leather, and earth, and a less cigar like raspberry jam. The smoke takes on an oily feel. It’s spicy, hay, brown sugar, cigar, and raspberry jam for a good while. In the last quarter the sweetness and spice both fades a bit, with leather, earth, coffee notes, oak, cedar, and fruit taking over. As I chase the embers, the brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. A hint of lime joins the vinegar push. Sulphur, faint raspberry, and a tiny hint of pepper hang in there with a long hay and oak finish.

That was incredible but it’s not the ‘Delicate’ VaPer the ad copy promises, that’s a pepper bomb. Maybe that will fade with some dry time.

SECOND BOWL
>> Dried a few hours, rubbed out some, in my Mr. Brog homemade pipe kit

Brown sugar, wheat bread, salt, and white vinegar. Sulphur and mild pepper. It’s oily much earlier on. Heinz 57 blips – that is heaven. Apple cider vinegar, pepper, hay, oats. It’s well balanced between sweet and salty, with the pepper much milder than the previous bowl. Cigar like richness steals in bringing leather and wood. Dried fruits, raisins and figs. Stays here for a good long while.

Halfway through a bright fruitiness comes through. It’s strawberry, raspberry, and lemon. Surprisingly the cigar, leather, and earth pick up as well. After a bit of back and forth, the fruits win out, so you get a burst of strawberry-raspberry-lemon peel over hay, cedar, leather, and mild pepper.

The pepper did indeed fade appreciably with dry time, but I feel like I lost some of the intensity, some of the sweetness, and the complexity I had in the first bowl. But the performance certainly improved. Maybe if I rub it finer and dry it, things will all come together.

THIRD BOWL
>> Rubbed to pieces, dried to dust, 2 pinched into the Brigham Dublin

Sulphur, sugar, salt hay, with a lingering vinegar finish. Brown sugar, hay, earth, and a bit floral. It’s a musty floral,  not soapy-lavender, its more like dried roses. Black pepper and jam. This bowl is mildly sweet thus far. Sugar, spice, vinegar, and salt all pull forward together. Now that is delicious. Rich malt, lemon oil, with earthy leather undertones. There’s that whiff of a cigar there. Musty, raspberry, jam, and pepper. It’s more pronounced here than in the roughly rubbed, dried bowl than the at tin moisture, but it’s still a light, delicate VaPer, as advertised. Apple cider vinegar, honey, brown sugar, and hay. Sulphur, lime hay, and buckets of brown sugar. It’s growing even sweeter, with even more lime, and white vinegar. Still it grows more oily and rich, so you get the cigar like leather,  earth, folding amazingly well with hay, lime, and salt. That cigar feeling is even stronger here, but the orange Virginia doesn’t shake, it spills out some cinnamon, cloves that joins the lime, hay, brown sugar, leather, salt, and punchy vinegar. It finally sticks that way till I’m stirring ashes.

I missed the Heinz 57 notes I always want from McClelland, but that was easier to smoke, and just captivating every puff.

RATING & FINAL THOUGHTS

FLAVOR PROGRESSION
There are usually two phases of this smoke. The first half it tries to get on its legs, it’s typically brown sugar forward, with hay, salt, must, and vinegar. About halfway into the bowl you’ll get a blast of both intensified fruit and cigar like earth and leather. The wetter you smoke this the more pepper you’ll get, the drier the leaf gets, the more balance you’ll find.

BURN EXPERIENCE
This is a Virginia Flake from McClelland, a phrase that gives some smokers cold sweats thinking about trying to get asbestos afire  and stay lit, but this wasn’t the absolute worst. I’d say it was easier than Samuel Gawith’s Best Brown Flake, but it took some careful steps. I had the best luck rubbing this out while it was still moist. And when I say rub, I mean roll it until it is shreds, then roll those shreds until they are hair like and wispy. Then let it dry out for 2-24 hours until its real crunchy. Then pack it however you like to pack ribbon but be prepared for a bit longer of a lighting process, and few relights.

SIMILAR BLENDS
With unicorns like this I always like to point folks to the closest actually available blends. I’d grab 4th Generation Evening Flake first, it’s got the brown sugar, salt, vinegar, and lime. H&H Viprati is a fantastic mild VaPer. Samuel Gawith’s St. James Flake and Cabbies both exude some of the depth of flavor and even can hit those Heinz notes if you are lucky. Escudo is sweet and malty and just a general must try. Any good orange Virginia is also going to capture a bit of the magic, so Watch City Simply Orange, Samuel Gawith Best Brown, and Wessex Brown Flake are worth checking out if I’ve not already sold you on those.

RATING BREAKDOWN
0.40 / 0.50 … Craft & Aesthetic
0.50 / 0.50 … Tin Aroma
0.25 / 0.50 … Lighting Process
8.00 / 8.00 … Smoking Experience
0.50 / 0.50 … Personal Enjoyment

COMPLIMENTS & CRITIQUES

LIGHT IT UP.

Sadly I don’t know how much of this stuff is left in the world. I only bought the one tin myself. Maybe you have a tin or two squirreled away from before McClelland closed up. Maybe you caught one from Pipestud or another consignment shop or bought one from a pipe smoker downsizing their cellar. No matter how, you’ve got some golden in your hands. At this point the youngest that tin could is 5 year, but it might be 10 years like mine or even older. Maybe you were saving it for a special occasion. Now is special enough.

If you like anything in the VaPer family you’ll find something you’ll love in Beacon. There’s pepper if you want it. It is sweet as sugar, full of fruits both dried and fresh, citrus, salt, and vinegar. There’s hay and wood; earth and leather. And it’s got those orange Virginia hallmarks, cloves and cinnamon. If you are especially lucky you’ll get that magic McClelland Heinz 57. All of it melds together perfectly with no off notes, and it smokes fairly well shredded and dried.

Maybe you planned to celebrate your retirement with your tin of Beacon. Maybe your Golden Anniversary. Maybe you ear marked it to sell in 20 years to pay your kid’s college tuition. Those are all bad plans. Retirement is going to be outlawed in 2037. You should smoke cigars to celebrate wedding anniversaries. And just stick $50 in a 529 today and you’ll be better off than selling this in 20 years. Pop that tin and enjoy the good moments now.

SIMPLY STOGIES RATING:  9.65/ 10.0

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