A Two Year (Old) Odyssey

19th November, 2003: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

This morning, I came across a twenty month old tin of Odyssey in a box. Might as well check it out, see how it’s doing, and what magic time has worked on this blend. Upon pulling the top, a wonderful rich, sweet, almost milk chocolate-like aroma instantly teased my senses, mingling with deeper notes of earth and smoke. Mouth watering! The overall appearance of the tobacco has changed quite a bit, the lighter tobaccos darkening to rich browns and chestnut hues, with just a hint of olive being displayed by some of the oriental strands. Like a kid in a sweets shop, I couldn’t wait to smoke a bit.

The first pipe that spoke my name was one of my small Roush straight rhodesians. This pipe really shines with the deeper flavours of fuller English and Balkan style blends, bringing out every nuance of the tobacco. A few more sniffs of the tin, a careful packing of the bowl, and the first fire touched the leaf. Initial flavours of cocoa and something vaguely fruity mingled on my palate for a while, then made room for the spice, the bittersweet, almost black walnut character of the orientals, and a wonderful hint of black truffle and that dark, smoky, leathery taste that is reminiscent of wood fires on foggy nights.

The Latakia has softened just a bit, the sometimes sharp tendency it can have when young foiled by the passage of time. It’s less brash, while still vigorous. The youthful quality is apparent, but spending all that time with the more sophisticated Virgina tobaccos, and the worldly Orientals, have made it a little wiser, a little less forthright.

As the bowl progressed, more of the tobacco’s intricate characters were revealed, like a story unfolding, page by page. While full and powerful, the smoke didn’t overwhelm, didn’t tire my palate. Instead, each sip was familiar, yet somehow new. In the final chapter, the last few puffs, a hint of sharpness was present, the Latakia’s final attempts to cling to its youth. The end came too soon, and satisfaction mingled with sadness, but any sorrow was made temporary by the knowledge that another bowl was only a pipe away.

The last time I’d opened an “aged” tin of this blend, it had been comfortably resting in the cellar for only about 7 months. The changes were certainly obvious then, but it was nothing at all like this. Somewhere in temporal space between eighteen months and two years, exists that magical turning point for fuller blends like this one. The fermentations are complete, and a lot of the wonderful complexity that can only be found in tin-aged tobaccos really comes alive. I can only imagine what the remaining tins will show me at 5 years and beyond. The Latakia will continue to soften, but it’ll be a long time before this one goes “over the hill.”

It wasn’t that long ago that I tasted some Balkan Sobranie from a cutter-top tin, probably from the early 1960s or late 1950s. There was sorrow in the smoke. The tobacco showed signs of its pedigree, but it had really sat for too long before being smoked. Virginias, especially those with some perique, can last forever, it seems, but Latakia dominated blends don’t fare quite as well over the decades. It’s a matter of personal taste, of course, but as with wines, I’d rather sip something young, and wonder at what it will become, than something too old, and lament over what it must have been.

I’ll smoke this tin up quickly, I think. I’d better re-stock the cellar.