Thursday, 13 July, 2006
Kensington – Three Years After
The Classic Collection has been around for a little over three years, now. Last week, I pulled one of the first production tins of Kensington out of the cellar to see how it was doing. The tin I grabbed was just a little puffy on the bottom, brining greater enthusiasm to the prospect of exploring its contents.
Kensington has continued to be quite popular, though I must confess, it’s never been my first choice from the collection. I’ve always tended to gravitate more toward Piccadilly for a lighter, sweeter blend, or toward Blackpoint for something richer, fuller, more complex. So, after I’d introduced it, I’ve all but ignored it until now, having only smoked from a few tins to ensure consistent quality. That’s not to say it isn’t a great blend, or that I’m not happy with it. It is, and I am, but the others have always seemed to call to me a little louder.
What the hell was I thinking?
After spending a few moments savoring the wonderful aroma that was relased, along with a slight puff, upon pulling the ring, my attention was captured by the wonderful shades of red, orange, brown and black that were presented. Some of the tobaccos were very light when the blend was put up – yellows and straw hues – but, what magic has time wrought? The individual components are still visibly discernable, but the contrast is not as stark as it once was. What was once like spring is now more autumnal. Lovely stuff.
The aroma, though, was what really had me. Beneath the smoky campfiire notes of the Latakia lies wonderful delicate verdant tones of lavender and basil, pronounced fruity aromas of apricot jam and fresh, ripe plums, and woody mid-tones that remind me just a bit of some exotic hardwoods like Padouk. Perhaps it sounds like an olfactory cacophony, but in reality, it’s really quite intoxicating. I could spend hours just sniffing this stuff. I nearly did.
When this first batch was made, in a bit too much of a hurry for release at the big Chicago extraveganza in 2003, the Latakia was still quite fresh from the cutter, and had been a bit over-smoked besides. It didn’t really have enough air time, and was slightly more than a bit too pungent, too acrid. After three years, even incarcerated in its little 2-oz prison cell, it’s far less aggressive; the edges have been rounded off, and it’s working with the blend, rather than figting against it. (Subsequent batches were produced only after the Latakia had settled down a bit. These will be even better!)
In the bowl, this stuff is remarkable. The time has transformed it into a truly wonderful, ripe, complex blend. There’s an underlying slightly tangy sweetness, punctuated by the rich, pleasantly bittersweet notes of oriental leaf, all surfing on the waves of smoke and leather from the Cyprus Latakia. I’ve found it best to do a charring light – toasting the top, bringing a few puffs of smoke through the bowl – and then set the pipe aside for a few minutes. This seems to open up some of the more delicate aromas and flavors, and seems to amplify the overall experience. (I often use this “method” when I’ve got time to really savor a pipe.)
The flavors develop and shift throughout the bowl, continuing to bring something new to the experience. By the half-way point, it’s really starting to sing. Here is where I start to find similarities to the blend that originally inspired it. (One of these days, I’ll reveal the archetypes that encouraged me to develop the collection.) The exotic Balkan character is there, with delightful spices mingling with the sweetness from the Virginias.
If you enjoy this blend, I encourage you to put some away for a few years. I’ve got several tins from different vintages on the shelf, and am looking forward to the next time I pop the lid of one of them. It might be quite soon; the contents of this tin are disappearing at an alarming rate…