Wessex Red Virginia Flake

Brad Pitt is never going to win a Best Actor Oscar. Plain white rice tops very few lists of favorite foods. And you rarely see Red Virginia all by itself in a tin of tobacco. These are all things that are good in ensemble but alone tend to be rather dull. There are just a few pure Red Virginias out there, though the scarcity of the leaf may also go into their rarity as well. 

Most of the Virginia tobacco plant is yellow, starting at the base up through the middle. This tends to be sweet, haylike, with some natural lemony sourness to it. From the middle towards the top there’s a region of orange leaf, which has a distinct clove-cinnamon flavor.   Just the very tips of the Virginia tobacco plants are red, the parts that receive the most sunlight. This leaf leans earthy-bready-lactic, mellow, which is a nice way of saying boring. With age or the right processing this leaf can pop though. Let’s see if this is the  ponderous wonderbread of Pitt in Meet Joe Black, or the punchy brilliance of him in Twelve Monkeys.

OVERVIEW

BULK or TIN:   Tin

SIZE:   50g

ORIGIN:   Germany

AGE WHEN SMOKED:   3 years

BLENDING HOUSE/PRODUCER:   K&K

BLENDING COMPONENTS:   Pure red Virginia

STRENGTH:   3/7

SOURCE:   tobaccopipes.com

ENVIRONMENT

WHERE:   
In the land of round mountains

WHEN:   
February-March 2024

WEATHER:   

Spring-Winter-Spring-Winter

WHAT’S ON:   
Wind gusts whistling through the fence

PRODUCTION

RELEASE TYPE  Seasonal – Wessex sells out in a few days each release, which happen 3-4 times a year

SPECIAL RELEASE  N

AVAILABILITY BREAKDOWN
Tin

RESEARCH & BACKGROUND INFO

  • Wessex was founded by a London Pipe Club 
  • The blends were taken over by K&K
  • Has an added ‘Red Sun’ flavor
  • No one knows what that means

TIN DESIGN

Wessex’s style borders upon plain packaging. It’s not going to grab your eye, but you might look at the plain stately package and hope that they spent their marketing budget on what’s inside.

PRE-LIGHT OBSERVATIONS

LOOK & FEEL OF THE LEAF
This is all Red Virginia…but it looks pretty brown to me. Roan if you want to be kind. There are tiger eye stripes of yellow in there which is likely to be from the spines from the leaves.

TIN AROMA
Ketchup, malt, petrichor, cocoa, and zebra stripe gum. Intense, complex, and a little perplexing.

SMOKING EXPERIENCE

LIGHT & DRAW
Packing Style:  I took the easy way out, I rubbed this pretty well and packed gently in a few pinches
Fire:  Pickle Bic!

SMOKE & ROOM NOTE
The smoke from this Virginia Flake is thin as you’d expect, and quite dry when the leaf is dry.

The aroma from the smoke is a bit surprising, fruity, like artificial strawberry or raspberry, layered on top of mild cigarrette.

FIRST BOWL
>> Two hour dry, well rubbed, 3 finger pinch in the Brigham 147

Earth and leather. Sugar and lactic. Mildly spicy, both pepper and cinnamon here. With a hint of clove as well. Salty. The pepper revs hard. It’s fruity and, forgive me, very tobacco tasting? That is, it tastes like hay, raisin, earth, and leather. The fruit is raspberry-ish, or maybe lingonberry. Some vinegar pulls in, along with some malt. Fake raspberry, earth, leather, hay, and salt. A dab of butter – warm and lactic, cinnamon, pepper, sugar, fruits, vinegar, butter, hay, and salt. The taste has grown more intense and cohesive. Once it hits this plateau, about halfway through the bowl, it stays exactly the same all the way down.

Even after a couple of hours of drying the leaf was very moist to the touch. It needed quite a few relights. And I had a bad case of tongue bite for a couple of days. I’m gonna dry this until it’s powder next time.

SECOND BOWL
>> Dried for most of a day until it was crispy, pinched into my Brigham Dublin

Sweet, earthy, wheat bread, and red wine vinegar. Rich and buttery. Sugar bomb with some light salt. This is intense on the red wine vinegar, with some sulphur. Sugar, salty, vinegar, and intense. Unlike the first bowl, this has no mellowness in it, this is thrash metal Virginia. Earth and bread hang underneath the salt-sour-sweetness. There are snatches of Worcestershire sauce here and there. Raspberry shrub. Still a touch of heavy cream. Raspberry cream, lemon, with vinegar, salt, and still quite sweet. Stays this way from about the halfway point almost until it goes out. Before the end it grows oily, darker, with more Worcestershire sauce, some malt, but the raspberry cream still headlines.

This smoked easy, and cool, with not a touch of tongue bite. The flavors popped hard too, this was not a retiring mellow style Red VA, but a big, vinegary-salty-sweet one. That raspberry flavor is intriguing, it’s good, but I’m guess that’s the ‘Red Sun’ – it doesn’t taste natural at all, pleasant but fake.

THIRD BOWL
>> Dried for 24 hours or so, pinched into my handcarved Mr. Brog pipe kit

Starts with sugar, caramel, malt. Before long the raspberry creeps through. This is a salt bomb. Sugary, heavy malt, caramel, and a bit lactic. The raspberry comes in here and there. Then comes a vinegar and lemon spike. This leads to a wonderful sweet-salty-sour phase, with the malt and raspberry holding strong – this is magical. Before too long it settles into hay, lots of Worcestershire Sauce too. Sugary, hay, malt, light salt, huge raspberry, and doesn’t waver a bit.

Every so often it’s good to work against the standard advice and try to smoke an English blend in a tall thin bowl and Virginia in a short fat bowl. This blend certainly lost some of the complexity and intensity from the previous bowls in the very narrow dublin, and hit the plateau quickly. It wasn’t necessarily worse – the raspberry notes came on earlier and stronger – but it was much more consistent, which some smokers might find a boon, and others a bore.

RATING & FINAL THOUGHTS

FLAVOR PROGRESSION
Wessex’s Red Virginia Flake starts with sugar, fruits, spice, vinegar, and salt, develops some bread and malt, very classic red VA flavors. But every bowl I’ve had once I get to the halfway point it gets absolutely dominated by the raspberry flavoring.

BURN EXPERIENCE
Before it gets dried to an absolute crisp it’s tough to smoke. It doesn’t take flame easily, it doesn’t stay lit, and it gives the devil’s own tongue bite. Dried aggressively it’s wonderful, easy to light and easy on the tongue.

SIMILAR BLENDS
The Red Virginia flavor tastes, well, like other Red Virginias. In that tame, wet bowl it was akin to the dialed back McClelland 5100 and Watch City Simply Red. Dried out it’s more dynamic, like Sutliff 515-rc, Sutliff Red Virginia Crumble Kake, and H&H Anniversary Kake. The ‘Red Sun’ topping smacks strongly of Boswell’s Raspberry Creme.

RATING BREAKDOWN
0.25 / 0.50 … Craft & Aesthetic
0.45 / 0.50 … Tin Aroma
0.40 / 0.50 … Lighting Process
7.50 / 8.00 … Smoking Experience
0.50 / 0.50 … Personal Enjoyment

COMPLIMENTS & CRITIQUES

THE POWER OF THE RED SUN.

I was set up for a pleasant but boring smoke from this tin. I’ve found I like Red Virginia in mixtures, not too long ago I was blown away by how it elevated the burley in GLP Barbary Coast, but things like Simply red and the legendary McClelland 5100 mostly fell flat for me – good, but no fireworks. Wessex took some high quality Red Virginia, dressed it in their typical malty style, then splashed it with some raspberry. There’s nothing natural about those flavors. Some might object taking a beautiful flake of Virginia and gussying it up, but it elevates the whole experience. It pushes this firmly into aromatic territory. It takes over the flavor and even makes the normally cigarettey vibes of Virginia pleasant with that fruity aroma.  Maybe given a long sleep the added flavor will fade, but by the the decades will have done their magic and this stuff will transform even the most boring Virginia into pure brilliance.

SIMPLY STOGIES RATING:  9.1/ 10.0

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