Escudo, I’m Glad to Know You

23rd February, 2019: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

When discussing the venerable tobaccos of days gone by, it’s tempting to fail into the trap of comparing the new with the old, the what-is with the what-was, lamenting the passing of old faves, and sometimes lambasting their current caricatures. It’s fun. We all do it. But, is it really fair? Memories are interesting things. We can close our eyes and often bring up images of the past in what seems to be vivid detail. The more intense or novel the original experience, the more emotionally involved with it we were at the time, the more easily we can recall it, and the more details we’re likely to paint on today’s canvas. But, how much can we trust those memories? Like the fisherman’s tale of the one that got away, each time we tell the story, even if just to ourselves, we’re likely to embellish it slightly. Over time, those embellishments can become inseparable from the original reality, making it difficult to discern fact from our newly improvised fiction.

Those of us who have been around this pastime for a while have seen many tobaccos come and go, and it can be delightful, when the opportunity is presented, to revisit vintage blends that we may have tasted in their youth. It’s part of the fun of this strange journey we’re on. Those old tobaccos have the benefit of age behind then, with all the subtle nuances and added complexity that time’s magic has worked. When we first open those tins, old memories are brought to life, and we can find ourselves lulled into the notion that we’ll be able to experience them anew. This almost never works quite the way we think it will. Over the years, formulae can change, the component tobaccos, being subject to the whims of nature, may have evolved. It’s tough enough with a blends that have been in continuous production by the same factory, but seas become rougher if the blend has been licensed to a different manufacturer. Combine the changes in the new with the evolution of the old, and it can really be like apples and pears.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I love the phrase, and in some cases, believe it can be true; our enjoyment of a newly produced blend can sometimes be hindered by comparisons with memories of the same blend from years past. But, the opposite can also hold, and a little exploration through deliberate comparison can offer another kind of pleasure.

Not long ago, I came across some tins of Escudo from different eras, and thought it would be great to take a little compare/contrast trip with them. The oldest, a UK produced tin from the mid- to late-1980s, was the most exciting to me. Somewhat newer was a Denmark made A&C Peterson tin from about 2000. For fun, I also put some eleven year old Fillmore into the mix. Not that Fillmore is really “like” Escudo, but its components are similar, it’s pressed, and I thought it would be interesting to include it. These are all well aged tobaccos, so the “new vs. old” aspect would be somewhat less apparent. (Tobaccos change dramatically over the first few years of their incarceration. Additional change comes much more slowly after somewhere near the decade mark.)

It made sense to start with the oldest. I was anxious to sink my teeth into it, knowing that it would likely possess the greatest subtlety and complexity, and because it would set something of a benchmark. I chose a Ropp Vintage Sandblast belge, a pipe with a smallish bowl, reserved for blends of this type. This is very lovely stuff. It presents a rich, earthy aroma, with a delightful tangy sweetness. In the bowl, it’s silky smooth, never getting harsh or edgy. The perique delivers a stewed fig fruitiness, and deep, broad virginia character develops throughout the bowl. There are hints of dark cocoa, treacle, cardamom and soft notes of warm spices—clove and cinnamon. If it’s not obvious, I really fell for this stuff.

Next up, the Petersen produced Escudo in another Ropp, this time a long shank billiard, similarly sized to the belge. I suppose I may be somewhat influenced by the absence of the phrase, “Free from all scent or added flavours” that graces the UK tin, but to me, this has the tell-tale taste of added sugars upon lighting, and as the bowl progresses, it presents more sharpness around the edges. It’s not unpleasant, but when I focus on it, it’s a little distracting, and it leaves my mouth a bit dry. It’s not as deep and rich as the UK tin, and the difference is greater than could be reasonably explained by a few extra years of age. It’s a pleasant smoke, but if I were to assign scores, I’d give the UK version a solid 10; this gets a provisional 8 after going through several bowls.

Next, 2007 Fillmore in a Castello Old Antiquari #10, chosen because it’s seen its share of these weeds. Suprisingly, I found more similarities to than differences from the Escudos, but it is a different enough beast that comparisons are tricky. If I were to smoke them side-by-side, the differences would probably be more pronounced, but with a day or two between them, my palate seems to focus more on the similarities. The inclusion of a tiny percentage of latakia (less than 3%) does add another dimension to the smoke without overtly announcing its presence, but much of what I enjoyed in the UK Escudo is also here, just in different proportions, if that makes sense. The taste is a bit darker, balanced more towards earthiness, and it’s slightly less sweet than the UKE. Some of that dark cocoa is there, too, and the warm spice character, though more subdued. It’s a delicious smoke, and in this little taste-off, I’d give it a strong 9 points out of 10, putting it in close second-place behind the UK Escudo.

After smoking quite a few bowls of each of the Escudos in several different pipes, I’ll say that they’re all really enjoyable, but the UK version is the runaway winner. Its richness, depth, and complexity are remarkable. The A&C Petersen version delivered tell-tale signs of added sugars to my palate, and while still an excellent tobacco, it put it well behind the other two to my tastes, as I tend to prefer the natural sweetness of virginias to those enhanced by the addition of casings. Fillmore surprised me a little, and though I could easily make a compelling case for or against its inclusion in this taste-off, I’m glad I decided to throw it in. It’s been a blast, overall, though that thief of joy has picked my pockets, and I’m sorry to say there aren’t a bunch of UK tins in the cellar. I’ll have to console myself with knowing that there are a few more of aged (and aging) Fillmore.