A mixture of flue cured, or bright Virginias, create a light and sweet tobacco, often with a hay or grassy flavour. A skilful blender can produce tobaccos with honey and citrus flavours, naturally. The light nature of the tobacco makes for easy combustion, but can burn hot if smoked too fast or poorly packed. Pressing into a flake, thicker cuts or even sliced twist help reduces the heat. With a little practice and gentle smoking, you will be rewarded with a complex, subtle and gentle tobacco.
Red & brown Virginias fill in the middle ground of the Virginia spectrum. Thanks to the darker leaf from the extra curing time, these tobaccos burn slower and cooler. Red Virginias hold some of the sweetness and come across as slightly fruity; the browns on the other hand, are much more nutty, woody and earthy.
Dark Virginia is subject to more direct heat through being hot pressed or stoved (literally, cooked). This removes most of the sugar and gives the tobacco a very deep, almost black, colour. Dark Virginia is favoured by experienced smokers, as it is strong, cool, slow burning and packed full of earthy, smoky, leathery flavours and is produced in a wide array of cuts: plug, twist, flake, spun cut, ribbon and shag.
VIRGINIA & BURLEY’S
Virginia is commonly blended with other tobaccos, the array of flavours act as a backdrop for some of the more aromatic leaves. Still classed as within the Virginia category, we have blends with Burley, Maryland & Kentucky. Like Virginia these are all different.
Burley has almost zero sugars, (usually) moderate in nicotine and a nutty flavour profile, sometimes with cocoa notes. Burley is a very absorbent tobacco and picks up surrounding flavours from tobaccos and flavourings. When mixed with Virginias, it has very little flavour, but slows down the burn rate and adds a little nicotine kick. Often it can’t even be detected in the taste, but in the body it’s there. Air cured in open barns, the Burley is a golden brown colour and known as White Burley in North America.
Dark Fire Cured Burley is also known as Kentucky, a rich, pungent tobacco. Like Dark Virginia, Kentucky packs a big hit, with a complex flavour to match. Filled with earthy, smoky, woody and almost cigar tastes. Often blended with Dark Virginias, for a smoke you know you have had.
Maryland is a rare tobacco these days; it crops up in blends from time to time, with all the same characteristics of burley, but this air cured tobacco is noticeably milder. With that said it’s surprising to see how this tobacco has fallen out of vogue.
VAPER (VIRGINIA & PERIQUE)
Perique is a rare tobacco, originally only produced in St James Parish (Louisiana), but now produced elsewhere within the state of Louisiana. What starts as Burley is subject to a long fermentation process under pressure in barrels. Over the 12-18 month period, the tobacco takes on a very rich and pungent aroma. To smoke on its own Perique is a very dry & spicy tobacco, with a figgy and almost vinegary edge. Commonly used in strong Balkan & English blends (see below), it is also mixed with bright Virginias to produce a VaPer (Va =Virginia & Per = Perique). Due to its rarity and power, VaPer blends often only use up to 5% Perique. The low volume of Perique combined with the flue cured Virginia produces hay/grass-like flavours, with a slightly peppery and pungent twang. To keep the smoke cool and smooth, these are commonly produced as a flake or sliced twist. Due to the high Virginia content, these have to be smoked like Gold Virginia’s to avoid tongue bite. Many favour taller and narrower tobacco chambers, as this build up of ash is faster and keeps the smoke cool.
ORIENTAL & LATAKIA MIXTURES
So far we have only talked about tobacco varieties from North American descent; the Mediterranean/Middle East also have some interesting tobaccos. Commonly produced in Turkey, with a few coming from Greece and Cyprus; these small leafed tobaccos are air cured and then fermented to remove any acidic tastes; the result is a highly aromatic flavour. With a different method of curing, Orientals can be from the dry and creamy Turkish Izmir to the beautifully smoky Cypriot Latakia (originally produced in Syria).
Usually blended with Virginias, Cavendish and Burleys and grouped by the tobacco content, these tobaccos are popular among experienced smokers as the flavours are often very rich and pungent. Latakia is the most widespread and widely used Oriental; due to smoke curing, this tobacco has very oaky, smoky flavour. The tobacco leaves are strung high up in barns and pine and herb fires are lit at the base. The fragrant aromas from the smoke penetrate the leaf turning it black. Like peated whiskies, Latakia is not for everyone and when smoked produces a strong aroma. Even though Latakia has a big flavour, it is not overly strong (nicotine wise) and smokes very cool.
The march of history has seen these names developed and no real distinct definitions of English, Oriental, Balkan or Scottish now exist. These definitions are given after centuries of debate, but not everyone agrees…
Oriental blends. Often contain no Latakia (but sometimes do) and are made up from Virginias/Burley with a high Oriental content. These blends tend to be a little mellower with highly aromatic flavours, but without anything being added to the blend. Not so common in the UK.
Balkan Blends. Thanks to the success of the iconic ‘Balkan Sobranie’ in the last century, these mixtures are still very popular today. Made up from a base of creamy Orientals and Virginias, topped off with a dash of Latakia and from time to time Perique. Balkans are smooth, generally medium in strength, based on the Virginias used and quantity of Perique (if used). A wide variety of Orientals can be employed, from Turkish to Macedonian leaf.
English Blends. Not to be confused with the general style of unflavoured tobaccos. In England most blenders only use Latakia and a few use a little Turkish Izmir (or other Orientals). As a result, an English mixture contains more Virginia with a little Oriental, compared to a Balkan blend. These tend to be similar in strength to the Balkans, but are often woodier and less creamy too.
Scottish Blends. These do not differ massively from English blends; they are usually higher in Virginia content with (Virginia based) Cavendish tobaccos added for extra sweetness. Most people group Scottish and English together into the same category.