Wessex Brown Virginia Flake

Frequent readers will throw up their hands and ask ‘What! Another Brown Virginia?’ New readers will ask ‘What even is Brown Virginia?’ As we’ve found in previous reviews, Brown Virginias are another name for Orange Virginias, which are in the middle of the stock, above the yellow Virginias at the base, and below the Red tips.

So yes, this has been the year of Orange and Brown Virginias. This tin pop was unplanned, a friend wanted to try this blend out so I figured I’d review it since it was opened. Wessex is one my favorite brands, like James feels about Casdagli, so my expectations come in unfairly high. But I’ve yet to have either a Wessex or an Orange dominated Virginia I didn’t dig.

OVERVIEW

BULK or TIN:   Tin

SIZE:   50g

ORIGIN:   Germany

AGE WHEN SMOKED:   4 years

BLENDING HOUSE/PRODUCER:   Wessex, a sub brand of K&K

BLENDING COMPONENTS:   Brown, aka Orange, Virginia

STRENGTH:   3/7

SOURCE:   Tobaccopipes.com

ENVIRONMENT

WHERE:   
Ohio and Pennsylvania

WHEN:   
July-September 2023

WEATHER:   

The heart of summer to the first cool days of fall

WHAT’S ON:   
Crickets and road noise

PRODUCTION

RELEASE TYPE  Limited run, like all of K&K blends these tins show up 2-4 times a year and sell out fast.

SPECIAL RELEASE  N

AVAILABILITY BREAKDOWN
Tin

RESEARCH & BACKGROUND INFO

  • Wessex started as a friendly London area smoking club that turned into a pipe brand
  • The tobaccos are made by K&K in Germany
  • This is the middle range of the Wessex Virginias that range from the lightest, Golden Slice/Brick, to the stoved dark of Campaign Dark Flake

TIN DESIGN

Wessex doesn’t put much stock in flashy marketing. The tin label is a stately black with a simple brown rectangle the with blend name on it. The leaf is packed in the typical K&K cardstock wrapper with gold sticker, just a touch of extra class tucked away inside.

PRE-LIGHT OBSERVATIONS

LOOK & FEEL OF THE LEAF
Wessex Brown Flake is well uh, mostly brown. There’s a range from light beige through to a dark chocolate brown, with some yellow veining. 

To the touch there’s a slight tackiness in this and feeling of moisture you can sense with your fingers. They are rather pliant from the tin.

TIN AROMA
Juicy Fruit Gum, seawater, raisins, earth, hay. That’s intriguing and promises some complexity.

SMOKING EXPERIENCE

LIGHT & DRAW
Packing Style:  I am too tired to do more than rub and gravity pack with a good tamp
Fire:  Pickle Bic
Wessex Brown Virginia Flake is pliable enough you could probably fold’n’stuff this, but I took the easy way out. It puffs up monstrously so take that into into account. If you gravity pack this squish down hard or tamp heavy.

SMOKE & ROOM NOTE
The smoke has a lovely oily mouthfeel. The room note, that’s less lovely. It’s like a high quality cigarette, but still a cigarette, hay-y, slightly sweet.

FIRST BOWL
>> No dry time, well rubbed, kit pipe

Sweet and mild. Brown sugar, hay, grass, with a touch of cinnamon clove. Oh and milk, lime, and vinegar. That’s a strong start, very Orange Virginia indeed. Oh it’s very limey. Rich hay and a good amount of salt. It’s Brown sugar, lime, vinegar, sour cream, with a hint of clove. Hmm. Cigarettes. Which is shorthand for hay-butter-grass.  Clove and fruits help break it from the cigarettes. Zebra stripe gum, juicy plums, raspberry, heavy cloves.

There’s a big shift about midway, some malt teases through, the salt rips through everything, with a Worcestershire sauce tang, and very fruity. It’s sugary sweet, extremely limey, with raspberry strawberry. The salt lessens and it swings into the perfect balance of salt, sour, and sugar. There’s a tingle of pepper here and there. It’s quite consistent for most of the middle portion of the bowl.

In the last third lemon oil, loads of fresh red fruits, brown sugar, cinnamon, heavy clove, oily, rich, umami, like msg, salty, with a long sweet finish, with a hint of honey.

Well. This is incredible. It is the kind of bowl you never want to end. And you think about for days after.

SECOND BOWL
>> 2 hour dry, well rubbed, Washington Missouri Meerschaum Corncob

Sweet, molasses, earthy, sulphur, with a pepper finish. Malty, with a fermented funk. Butter, hay, barnyard – that’s usually a cigar note but it’s there. Vinegar pops up. cinnamon, clove, malt, and earth. It’s bakery sweet, something pastry like there. Fruity. It’s growing oily. Grass, hay, butter. Rock candy, sulphur, vinegar, and grass, with cinnamon and clove. It hang’s here for a good while. 

Around the mid bowl mark strawberry lemon folds into that sweet grass-hay, with an oily cinnamon, clove, and peppery finish. Settles in here quickly and stays there till the final quarter. There some hints of cocoa, and growing vinegar. The high sweetness ebbs a bit, the pepper revs, but it’s less black pepper and more the heat from cinnamon. At it’s heart it’s still hay, cocoa, grass, cloves, and cinnamon.

In the Cob Brown Flake is much more, well Brown Flake. It was complex, but had it’s wings clipped a bit. But it’s still a treat, like an improved Samuel Gawith Best Brown or what WCC Simple Orange might taste like in 10 years.

THIRD BOWL
>> 2 hour dry, well rubbed, Brigham 147

Delicious. Ok, that’s not a tasting note. Starts very sweet, salty, malty, with Worcestershire sauce, strawberries, and swedish fish. This is a salt lick – consult your cardiologist before smoking. Oily. Sweet from sip through exhale to the end of the long finish. Umami heavy, even a bit mushroomy. The vinegar balances the sweet, salt, and umami notes perfectly. Cocoa blends with mushrooms with plenty of Worcestershire sauce, raspberry, strawberry, and swedish fish with a white vinegar finish. Lemon peel adds another dimension to to the acidic vinegar. There’s a hint of woodsmoke in there and heavy cream. It’s flavor on flavor. At midbowl grows a bit earthy, filling out the sugary strawberry-lemon, cocoa, oak, vinegar, salt dynamic. The smoke has become noticeably oily. There’s a hint of sulphur there. Pastry with a touch of oak. The vinegar is effervescent, tongue tickling like a shrub based cocktail. Lime joins the fruit basket. So we have strawberry, raspberry, lemon lime, all on top of earth, oak, cocoa, with vinegar, lemon peel, and salt forming the long, intense finish. The sweetness is very doughy, or pastry like. Malt comes and goes, not as heavy as other Wessex but still there. Finally some expected brown Virginia notes, cinnamon, clove, along with cocoa and cedar. Grows maltier as I near dottle, my senses dazed, it’s still a sweet, sugary, vinegar bomb to the end.

This Brigham really does elevate every Virginia blend I’ve put in it. I’d say I’m at a loss for words but, well look around.

RATING & FINAL THOUGHTS

FLAVOR PROGRESSION
Wessex Brown Flake tends to start fruity, grassy hay, then rolls up complexity the whole way through, usually shifting more umami in the second half to last third. Drying the flake a few hours accelerates the transitions earlier in the bowl.

BURN EXPERIENCE
I have a few relights every time I smoke this, but it’s nothing like a McClelland or Samuel Gawith Flake. Drying helps it, as does a firmer pack.

SIMILAR BLENDS
This is most similar to Wessex Campaign Dark Flake, with a similar sweetness, though that is much more malty-umami, while Brown Flake has more fruit, baking spices, and vibrancy. It’s similar to other Orange VA blends I’ve had recently like Samuel Gawith Best Brown Flake and Simply Orange. But Brown Flake blows them both out of the water. It exhibits some of the same baking spice flavors, but adds so much on top of that it’s a completely different beast, particularly out of a great Virginia pipe. The extreme fruit flavors are quite similar to F&T Vintage Flake, Astely’s 44, and Savinelli Brunello Flake. The pastry sweetness is not unlike McClelland’s Dark Star, Blackwoods Flake, and the like. 

RATING BREAKDOWN
0.40 / 0.50 … Craft & Aesthetic
0.50 / 0.50 … Tin Aroma
0.30 / 0.50 … Lighting Process
8.00 / 8.00 … Smoking Experience
0.50 / 0.50 … Personal Enjoyment

COMPLIMENTS & CRITIQUES

BETTER THAN THE BEST BROWN FLAKE YOU’VE EVER TASTED.

This is a masterpiece. I was already in love with this blend before I finally smoked it in my Brigham Bent Dublin, but now I have a hard time thinking of a Virginia Flake I’ve enjoyed more. There are some of those old McClelland VAs that sing with flavor, but there’s always a bit more struggle to get them going and to keep them lit. I’m surprised to say I like this more than the other Wessex Virginia I’ve had. It’s bolder and more complex than Gold Slice/Brick, that doesn’t surprise me, but it even outshines their coveted stoved offering, Campaign Dark Flake. I suspect that Dark Flake is Brown Flake, in a stoved state. The stoving amps up the malt and caramel, but you lose much of the complexity of the Virginia in the process. Wessex Brown Flake covers all the flavors you could desire in a Virginia, ripe fruits, citrus, hay, grass, earth, wood, umami, Worcestershire sauce, salt, vinegar, and a pastry sweetness that captivates you on every puff. 

If we used a less scientific scale, this might get the highest marks – 4 out of 4 jalapenos – but this might be the highest a Virginia Flake can reach, which will always have some mechanical difficulties. So it gets a:

SIMPLY STOGIES RATING:  9.7/ 10.0

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