Sutliff asked me to review eleven of their MacBaren blends. Here's what I thought of them.
Capstan Blue Flake:
This is a little stronger, less sweet, and less cased than its brother in the gold tin. Slight citrus, fig, and a little grass/hay and earthy taste with a nice mild to medium Virginia flavor. It's not a very complex blend, though there are a couple of different Virginias in the mix. It's the kind of Va. flake that does well as an all day smoke. If you want something a little stronger and less sweet than Capstan Gold, or a straight Virginia that's less stronger than Gawith Full Virginia Flake, this will give you what you want. A very comfortable smoke to pack and light with enough nicotine to get your attention without overwhelming your senses.
Capstan Gold Flake:
A moderately sweet and mild easy to rub flake with a little sugar and citrus flavors complimenting the light Virginias. There's a light grass note present. A rather uncomplicated blend that burns well and even. It's comparable to Dunhill Flake, but with more sweetness and a little less citrus. There are several kinds of Virginias in the flake for a mild to medium balance of taste. This is the kind of blend I'd recommend to aromatic smokers who want to delve into straight Virginia blends without sacrificing the range of sweetness they are used to. It also works for the smoker who wants a gentle, sweet flavor without the earthy characteristics darker Virginias provide.
Old Dark Fired:
This is my favorite MacBaren blend. For my tastes, it's a little closer to medium than strong in regard to strength and taste, but I think it depends on how used to strong tobaccos you are. Burleys and Virginias work in darn near perfect harmony, and you can taste both in every single puff. There's a natural sweetness that was enhanced by being steam pressed, slight nuttiness, tart and/or slightly sour and tangy at times, with a light earthiness and smokiness, and the complexity works to its advantage. I didn't really get the fruitiness some have noted, except for maybe a little date note. There may be some flakes that are more complex, but not by a whole lot, and this gives you plenty enough as it is. It always smokes smoothly, and fairly evenly, and is tinned at the perfect moisture level with a decent nic-hit that gets stronger as you smoke along.
There are stronger tobaccos, and I'm glad this is not one of them. I find these burleys work better with the Virginias than other kinds of dark-fired ones; not too strong to knock you off your feet, and certainly not weak. The flavor is dialed to the proper level. Though I like quite a number of other tobaccos, I find myself craving this one at times, and when that happens, not a whole lot else will do.
One of the easiest flake blends to rub out without being dry, and one of the easiest burning flakes, too. A slight taste of rum with lots of sweet honey and fruit notes, and an occasional hit of hay and oats. The burley flavor is subdued a little and is more noticeable as you smoke it down. The sweet Virginia and cavendish taste compliments the casing of this blend. There's a very light spice/cinnamon flavor here and there that really helps to make this tobacco interesting to smoke. It's a mild all day smoke with flavor, leaves a very pleasant after taste and has a pleasing room note.
Vanilla Cream Loose Cut:
A creamy vanilla smoke that burns well and isn't so sweet that it overpowers the smoker. I get a little honey and very light fruit taste that adds a very mild balance to the mix. It has some black cavendish as you would expect a vanilla flavored tobacco to have. The Virginias act as a base to tame both the BC and the top note, not to add their normal characteristics. It's a mild all day smoke with not much complexity as by intentional design. I find it more palatable than stronger vanilla flavored blends. People will like to be around you when you smoke it, so expect to be social when you're out and about in public.
The first thing that hits you when you smoke this is a honey and sugar taste. After a few puffs, the citrus and grassy/hay flavor you expect from a mild dark gold Virginia broken flake makes itself known, and the honey flavor becomes a little less obvious. There's also a spice note that joins with a hit of toast to offset the sweetness with just enough tang to keep this from being one-dimensional. Not much nicotine involved here, nor is there supposed to be. This tobacco was designed for the all day smoker who just wants a pleasant smoking experience. It's also a nice lighter change of pace for one who prefers stronger, darker Virginias.
Scottish Blend Mixture:
Because it's a complex medium blend aromatic with a variety of flavors, I had to smoke a lot of it before gaging how to describe this one. I didn't mind doing that because the more I smoked it, the more I liked it. Sometimes the Kentucky in the blend is more evident than other times, but no matter how present it is or isn't, it relays a very tasty spice note that contrasts nicely with creamy flavors. I don't know what kind of liquor topping it has, but it's pleasant and compliments the mild sweetness of the blend with a fruit and honey taste. And the cavendish hints of a mild sweet taste that works well with the topping. The burley is choice, with a little nutty mild earthy touch. The Virginia is slightly sweet and woodsy, with perhaps a touch of citrus, and creates a solid base for the other flavors. Occasionally, one bowlful will taste a little different from another, but that's due to how you pack it, and whether or not one component is more present in your pipe than other times. I like that.
A tasteful mixture with several flavors going on in the smoke. There's just enough latakia to add a slight smokey note. The rum flavoring is very mild, and is a team player with the dried fruit and plum taste. The burley is lightly sweet without the nutty flavor often found in the leaf. The Virginia is mild and lightly sweet, too, and is complimented by the cavendish. Some people claim this tingles your tongue, but I think that's a matter of individual body chemistry and/or poor smoking habits, e.g., puffing like a freight train. I just don't have that problem. It's a mild to medium semi-sweet blend to be savored for full enjoyment.
Dark Twist Roll Cake:
A rich, flavorful easy to pack coin cut mixture with a very slight honey and citrus taste complimented by a fig note or two. A third of the coins have dark spicy cavendish and some don't. Depending on how you rub out the coins or stack them, you can get a variety of flavors as you go down the bowl, or from bowl to bowl if you want that to happen. At times, I've stacked the coins so that every other coin has the spicy cavendish in it. Other times, I've rubbed it out and codger filled the bowl. No matter how I've done it, I've enjoyed it. One of the things I like about this is that the cavendish does not impart any essence of vanilla to disrupt the Virginia base. Btw, this is the same kind of light and mostly dark Virginias I've noticed in some other MacBaren blends like Scottish Mixture, though DTRC blend is fuller in taste and less sweeter, and has a different flavor profile. I really recommend smoking this in a pipe with a wide bowl for the full experience of what this unique mixture is all about.
HH Vintage Syrian:
This is a smooth and creamy latakia dominant blend, well balanced by the other ingredients. The Kentucky is noticeable here and there, and adds a pleasing burley note and a hint of spice that takes a back seat in the latter department to the Oriental and Turkish components. Quality light and dark Virginias give a solid base to the blend, adding the natural sweetness one would expect from them. I am surprised that a Balkan with this much latakia is not a lat-bomb, which works to the favor of my personal taste. Smokey and woodsy, it is like a better, bolder version of Gawith's Squadron Leader without the hay taste, a more pleasing naturally sweet Virginia base, and light spice. The components are well mixed, resulting in a consistent tasting mixture that burns even and cool. One match and you may finish without relighting. Made for smokers who want a semi-complex tasting creamy mild to medium English blend. Your friends will smell it and think you've started a campfire in your den.
A little personal history is in order for this review. I've smoked Three Nuns since the early 1980s, and when it was no longer sold in the United States (199, I started buying it from Switzerland. In 2003, Orlik licensed the rights to make Three Nuns from Imperial and when they did, they substituted Kentucky for perique, and did not announce the change. The only way to discover the change was to buy and open a tin, and discover what had happened. In the beginning, I even found some tins with no Kentucky at all.
Both blends had the light sweet and sour notes, but the spice and raisin notes from the perique were replaced by a mild to medium Kentucky flavor. I smoked that version for years, too, though I could never get over the disappointment of the change in the formula. I will say the second version improved greatly when aged, but it wasn't enough to make up for what was lost. I smoked it until June of 2013.
MacBaren licensed the rights to manufacture Three Nuns, and in the summer of 2013, began distributing it to the American market as well as for Europe. I was unhappy to discover they were using the Orlik formulation instead of the VaPer. However, I have now been smoking this new variant, and will relate my thoughts on the subject. There are differences between the new production and Orlik's product. The cut coins are a little bigger and more loosely spun. The Kentucky is generally more spread out in the coin rather than centered. The tobacco was fairly dry out of the tin, unlike previous versions, which had a slight moisture to them. The sour taste that was present in the earlier incarnations is very similar, but toned down a little. The sweetness is very slightly more prominent at times, which possibly comes from how the Kentucky is processed or perhaps there's a very light difference in the topping? This Kentucky is darker, fuller, a little more woodsy, and certainly spicier than what Orlik used, and is superior in every way. In fact, it's the same dark fired Kentucky MacBaren uses in several of their other blends. The Virginia is also darker than what was employed in previously made variants. Essentially, Three Nuns has gone from the original Bell's blend to being a MacBaren product that uses the Orlik recipe with their own tobaccos. The flavor profile is similar, but in a blind taste test, anyone who has smoked any of the previous versions could tell which was which. This is now a full fledged MacBaren product.
How I feel about it now is the main point of this analysis, being that this is a review of the MacBaren Three Nuns. I like it. Very much. It's good fresh out of the tin, and I expect it to age very well if left in these exceptionally sealed tins over the course of time. But smoking it fresh out of the tin will provide you with lots of enticing, satisfying flavors. I spent a fair amount of time comparing this to earlier productions, but judging the MacBaren Three Nuns on own merits - which are considerable - it's most certainly worth your money and time. I'm going to smoke and cellar it.